The Good Sisters of St. Mary’s

Taejon, South Korea

Saint Mary’s is the name of an all-girls Catholic high school in Taejon where I taught English for three months way back in 1996 before abruptly departing. As part of my Round the World Trip, I decided it would be interesting to return there.

The main character in the teaching drama I endured was the difficult and rather disagreeable principal, Sister Park. In hindsight, it’s clear she did not really trust foreign instructors and had her own ideas about how the language should be taught. Having her looking over my shoulder while trying to deal with classrooms of often unruly girls ultimately proved be too much. During my final weeks of working there I sometimes harbored fantasies of splashing her with water, causing her to melt.

To my surprise, Sister Park is now the Spiritual Director of the Convent! The day I stopped by she had just left for a conference up in Seoul, so I ended up drinking the bottle of mineral water I had carefully concealed in anticipation of a confrontation. However Sister Jang, the nearest thing I had to a friend amongst the Korean staff, was still teaching at the school and we enjoyed a pleasant reunion. She had retained some of her prettiness and my first words to her were, “You are still nice looking!”

The fact that I was flirting with a nun suggested I had not fully made the transition from Thailand Decadence to Korean Catholic Abstention. This is particularly strange since my sex life had closely resembled that of the Sisters until about five weeks ago. Perhaps I enjoy the challenge. In Pattaya, I could hardly get my pickup line out of my mouth before the lady was taking me by the hand out of the bar. So nowadays I welcome situations where one’s chances of success can be measured in fractions of a percent.

Sister Jang and I had non-romantic lunch in the school’s cafeteria, whose nondescript food had remained unchanged. It was there I received a shock when one of the Sisters at first glance appeared to be my old Korean girlfriend of a dozen years before. What a blow to my masculinity, the knowledge that I had driven a woman into the Catholic Sisterhood! On closer examination, however, I concluded the lady was too young to have been my “ex”.

To have some fun and help out at the school, I taught Sister Jang’s English classes for three days, regaling the students with stories from my recent travels plus my special rendition of the Beatle’s “Yesterday”. They got a big kick out of my theatrics. After the final class on Friday,  Sister Jang took me to a small, pleasant restaurant near my motel and ordered a scrumptious Korean dinner for me, explaining that she could not stay because of the Good Friday Worship Service that night. It was at that point I began to realize the effort that would be required attempting to make a dinner date with a nun during Easter Holy Week.

Sister Jang has promised to email me when the cherry blossoms come out in Taejon, giving me a reason to return in another week or two after I’ve finished seeing a bit of the country. She also says that next time she will join me for dinner, which I take as a sign of progress. Having for a few unsettling moments thought I had lost my old Korean girlfriend to the Catholics, it’s time to even the score by trying to steal one back!

Cherry blossoms in back, students in front.

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