It was the fall of 2000 and my second semester as an English teacher in Korea. I had a nice schedule: no classes after Thursday morning, so I got into the habit of going to lunch with some students after class.
We went to the student cafeteria-so different from the faculty dining room on the floor above it: loud music, loud conversation, crowded. I enjoyed being with my students, was flattered that they invited me. I always ate the same thing, which I loved: pork cutlet with a kind of coleslaw in a sweet dressing, with rice.
One of the students said something about a storm. “Tae pung,” he called it, “typhoon.” He said there would be heavy rain for several days, that I should be sure I had the basics of food and drink.
I thought the word “typhoon” sounded romantic. I couldn’t wait to email my family and friends: “Here I am in Asia, and we’re having a typhoon!”
I went home a little early, when the rain started. A little rain didn’t bother me at all here. Since I had no car, I walked to campus in all weathers, and I had a wonderful, huge golf umbrella someone had advised me to bring. I was fine in the rain.
In the Middle of the Storm
That night in my apartment, though, I heard the rain become fierce, beating against the windows on my balcony. I could hear tree branches lashing against them over and over.
One thing I missed there was quick access to news and weather reports. I didn’t have a laptop then, and I couldn’t understand the local TV. So often I was left wondering what the temperature was, and I was vulnerable to what might happen later in the day, when I set out for work.
One thing was clear now, though: We were in the middle of a storm, a tae pung, typhoon.
Boom! Something crashed outside my window.
When I woke up, the rain had stopped. I went out on the balcony to see that two screens had been torn off my windows by the wind. Then I saw my favorite tree, the one with the fragrant white flowers, lying on the ground. That was the loud crash I heard the night before. The tree had been uprooted.
After the Storm
A few nights later, I began to notice a presence outside on the balcony, a light but definite commotion.
In spite of the missing screens on the balcony, I had my sliding doors-to the living room, to the bedroom-pushed open for air. I went and pushed one open wider, and walked out.
I saw an invasion of little kelly green creatures jumping and squealing, like little fat tadpoles, all over one end of the balcony, on the floor, on the walls.
I screamed, of course, then ran and got a broom and began smashing and smooshing them to death. I am not proud of this. I should have set them free. But I was alone in Korea, and I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I had to defend myself as best I could, and I did. I killed them all.
A few weeks later, I received a flyer in my mailbox asking that all faculty living in our apartments pitch in to clean up the mess the storm had left outside.
I hated this idea, so I was glad to see that the cleanup was scheduled for six o’clock on Tuesday. I would be in class then. Tuesdays were my longest days; I taught until nine p.m.
But on the scheduled day I was surprised, when my alarm woke me, to hear voices and activity outside. What was going on out there? It was six a.m.
Then it all came clear. Six a.m., when everyone was free, including me, of course. I heard those cheerful, tough Koreans getting to work outside, and I sank deeper under my comforter.
Three months later on a rare warm November day I looked at a neglected plant outside on the balcony and decided to give it some water. When I did, a bit of bright green jumped out of the leaves, surprising me. A tough little Korean tadpole. The lone survivor of the typhoon killings.