Nov 10, 2010
Today in the school cafeteria, we were served great big sheets of seaweed, wet and fresh, with the faint taste of saltwater. I waited in the cafeteria lineup, wondering how many I could stack on my lunch tray before getting called out as piggish by another teacher.
Closer and closer I got to this great, slippery plate of sea-awesomeness, as the teachers before me scooped up one or two modest pieces for their meals. As I was trying to figure out the Korean way of saying "yes I do need ten pieces, I'm iron deficient," my turn came. Joy of joys! I grabbed the metal tongs and scooped up a great wad of slippery, slimy seaweed.
These sheets were HUGE! You could put them in a photocopier and run off administrative memos on these suckers. Unfolding a sheet was like like watching a clown pull one of those never-ending handkerchiefs from his coat pocket. Seaweed just kept coming, layer by layer.
The seaweed, laid flat in all its glory, covered half my tray. I looked down at the utensils in my hand; a spoon and two metal chopsticks.
Maybe it's boiled, and comes apart easily? I thought Yes, boiled seaweed. Sounds weird, but no weirder than scooping A4-sized vegetables into one's mouth.
I took my green pile to the staff table and found a seat.
Jung-ee, the meek history teacher, gave her signature shy smile as I sat down. Poking at my rice, I watched her carefully for seaweed-eating tactics.
Jung-ee took her chopsticks and, in a few twists of the fingers, had folded the sheet of seaweed into a bite-sized portion, which she popped in her mouth with a small smile. Somehow, the plant folded passively under her touch. She probably could have chopsticked an origami bird if I had asked.
I took my own chopsticks and folded the seaweed, which sprang back to it's flat shape. Defiant, are we? I took a deep breath and tried rolling the seaweed, cigar-style. The roll stayed intact, but I was left chomping the roll, bite by awkward bite, unravelling bits with my teeth.
I turned to the teacher beside me, Soon-nam, the bubbly math teacher who wears pink lipgloss and sparkly eyeshadow, even on staff hiking trips. Obviously, Jung-ee has circus freak dexterity. I would study someone else.
Soon-nam folded her seaweed, and I mimicked. She folded again, and I followed the lead, my knuckles turning white trying to keep the thing from springing open. She scooped the seaweed up quickly and put it all in her mouth. I tried to scoop, and tried again. Desperate, I took my spoon and cornered the seaweed ball, stuffing it frantically in my mouth.
Soon-nam looked up then, smiling as she swallowed. "You're so good," she said sweetly, "with chopsticks, so good."
Eight more seaweed sheets to go.