The story goes like this: I’d been out of my apartment in Busan for a week because my family was visiting Korea and we were busy in Gyeongju and Seoul. Before I left I turned the heat off because I wanted to save power, and opened the window a little bit because I didn’t want the room to smell too weird when I got back; the must in Korea takes on this uncomfortable sweet odor when you’re away for awhile. Or maybe that’s just the nature of my own specific brand of dead skin. Anyway, when my wife and I returned we discovered that instead of smelling like a mothballed grandmother the apartment was freezing and the ondol heating, which is under the floor, just didn’t work.
I got an idea in my head because I’m just like that sometimes. I went to my school, on my vacation, with the notion to bring back the cheap heater I’d left there. Everyone who works in Korea knows that Koreans think heating is something superfluous, and so in elementary schools the hallways don’t get any heat at all, and in the classrooms a number of teachers are obsessed with keeping the windows open when it’s freezing outside. The evil teacher I often mention here may do this to passive-aggressively torture her own shivering students. It may also have to do with an old maid’s natural desire to match the temperature of her surroundings to the temperature of her own nether regions. So a heater is necessary sometimes, as it’s difficult to deskwarm when you’re freezing your ass off.
But when I got there I found that someone had, over the break, appropriated my heater. Suspecting the evil teacher, whose only purpose in life is to make me unhappy (she must have known about my apartment, too, and perhaps even snuck across town on her broomstick to sabotage it while we were out), I nevertheless had no choice but to go home heaterless. I went downstairs to check the mail for wedding presents on the way, noticed that there was a portable heater in the decidedly toasty main office that no one was using, asked permission to borrow it for a few days, and got it from a very nice man who gave me a rather warm hug this afternoon just before the principal drunkenly told me that I was too beautiful to get married so young.
On the heater there were two words written in marker and Korean: Vice Principal.
I trudged back across the cement with the heater slung over my back as if I had just looted it from an electronics store smashed to bits by a mob of rioters, and stopped along the way to buy some clementines from a fruit truck I’ve been to a thousand times. The seller looked at the heater I had slung over my back and said two words, in Korean:
And, in Korean, I said back to him: “I’m borrowing it.”