Like all stories written by women, my story is about a boy. But, don’t worry, like all my stories, it’s nothing sexual.
I never officially met this man, we just happen to work together. I just know his name, sometimes teach classes with him, and that his wife is having a baby, and he wouldn’t look at me if I was doing the macarena naked, and knows my name is something with an A.
Despite his status as an English teacher, he often consults others before attempting.
At his best, he has the sex appeal of someone recovering from food poisoning. And at his worst, he is imagined as an anchovy by small children. (They also believe him to be bald because he is “too tall for hair.”) He attacks food gifts similar to a baby discovering their own reflection, and has old man grunts when forced to stand, or sit.
I know what you are thinking—Amy, this man sounds perfect, just take that lankly old man to pound town. And let me stop you. Because 1: No. And 2: the fascination is nothing sexual. Not everything needs to have sexual tension you pervs.
Let me also add that this mystery will never be solved. Because that would require interactions with the Balding Anchovy. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some great interactions. Maybe, one day we will have a Freaky Friday situation, and by the end we would finally understand each other.
We are getting there, everyday is a little more, then a lot less.
One night he said, “Bye,” when I left.
Two weeks later, he called me Ally.
The day after that, five words: “You need to make copies.”
Until finally, something like a conversation.
I was sitting at my desk, doing nothing.
When I felt it getting darker.
He was standing at my desk, starring at my name tag.
Until finally he gained the courage to say the word.
I turned, and he looked like a child after you tell them you ate their Halloween candy.
He turned away and spoke in Korean to the others for a few minutes.
I’m still sitting here. Doing nothing. Waiting.
Finally, he remembers that I’m there, and says, “The gas man needs to check your house. I need your door code.”
So many words. I finally realized he can speak English.
I gave him the door code.
He said, “Thank you.”
We haven’t spoken since. The mystery remains unsolved.
Day 160: No words. More tomorrow.
Chapter 2: Unraveling the Mystery
The Singing Anchovy
Day 170: The subject seemed usually happy today. As he was making copies, he began singing, which is usually only something obnoxious chewer (another cog in the machine) does.
I couldn’t tell what the song was. I hoped it was something catchy, like k-pop or American pop. #BTSislife
I can see it now. On stage with V, Jin, Jimin, and the Balding Anchovy, the crowd would scream BA for short. I want to say he has the moves of J-Hope, but he’s more of a Rap Mon.
(If you still don’t understand these references, watch the BBMAs once in awhile!)
I bet he dreams of being on stage with them. I know I do. Go BA! Go BA! Go BA!
Or maybe he got lucky last night. Good for him.
Day 171: I got trapped with the Anchovy in the small kitchen area. He was making coffee, and I wanted water. I wonder if he knows about the obsession. I mean, I definitely spend less time just starring at him now. So that helps.
Instead of just saying something, we awkwardly both try to navigate the tiny space.
I miss the days when I had 30 minutes dedicated to just observing. I would sit and just narrate his thoughts while “making phone calls.”
[inside the mind of the subject]
(two minutes of grunting) These kids are so dumb. And they never stop asking for food. I wish they would just shut up already. There’s so many of them. (more grunting) [singing] I just wanna goo hoOoOme.
I feel like he sings a lot in his mind now. Oh look at me, rambling on like a schoolgirl.
Day 172: Maybe this is becoming sexual. Not sexual like we would ever talk or touch. But this fascination has turned the Anchovy into a tall, sickly prince.
Today, he changed a light-bulb. And as he stood on top of that rolly-chair, with the balance of an Olympic gymnast; I thought, he looks kind of handsome in dim lighting.
For the rest of the day, I watched him as he stared at his computer, looking confused. What a man!
Day 173: Today, he spent 30 minutes starring longingly out the window. I wonder if he was dreaming or just standing there to fart. Either way, I couldn’t bring myself to get my things to go home and waited until he was done.
Day 174: He gave me candy today. And not just gave it to me, but he put it in my hand and touched it. Is it sad that this is the most interesting relationship I have right now? I know, I know.
But he gave me candy.
I’m glad he didn’t say anything when he did, because calling me Ally would’ve ruined the moment.
Chapter 3: From Anchovy to Hero
Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to swoon.
Full disclosure, this happened to a friend of mine, because nothing this cute happens to me. I just have one of those faces I guess.
Day 180: This is just a normal day for me. He said nothing to me, I said nothing to him. But this day will change everything for everyone.
This is like the first Ross and Rachel kiss on Friends, beautiful and sweet until you realize he’s still with Julie. (I’ve bee watching Friends a lot because I’m a normal human.)
Here we go. Seriously, cannot over-hype this enough.
We have a new teacher at our school so that means she gets to sit through every class and watch the goings ons. It’s very boring. Until, you get that one student that wants to ask this silent observer a question. So when the moment came, you, as the teacher, are so excited to have a break from the constant questions.
The students start the easy questions like How old are you? Where are you from? How much do you weigh? Stuff like that. Then comes the question that stirs up trouble: Do you have a boyfriend?
The new teacher answers truthfully: no.
Then the student, being the annoyingly inquisitive thing she is, asks “Teacher, are you a lesbian?” And not just asks it, but screams it. So even someone walking by the room to get to the bathroom can hear. That someone was, you guessed it, the Anchovy himself.
Worried about the well-being of the teacher, he rushes to the office to send in reinforcements. He quickly informs another teacher of the inappropriate questioning of the child and orders her to go properly punish the student and check on the teachers involved.
Great story, I know.
And if you are not squeezing a pillow right now out of the cuteness of this story. Then you have no soul. Because this is what K-dramas are made of. This is the that-beautiful-man-has-a-beautiful-soul scene. The only thing that could’ve made it better is if the Anchovy and teacher he rescued shared a glance and the scene freezes.
I promised a “But Ross is still dating Julie” moment, here it is. The thing we learn most from this story is that yes Anchovy can understand English. And more than we thought. So we know that he knows.
Day 181: And if you aren’t swooning yet then you’ll be happy to hear that today he asked me a semi-non-work question, and I answered it.
Chapter 4: The Anchovy and the Ice Cream Cone
Day 200: There was nothing to do at work that day. No students. No classes. Nothing for three hours.
I chose to spend this time writing, Grandmaw Ames is a tribute to this time. But the Korean teachers decided to spend this time differently. And our favorite lankly teacher took this time to enjoy ice cream.
I have no idea how he got it. He just appeared at his desk with an ice cream cone, a drumstick to be exact. There was a childhood sparkle in his eyes as he decided what side to bite into first. And there was nothing I could do but pretend to do work on the computer and watch. I failed to get a picture. I really tried.
He ate it surprisingly slow. Like he was a mother of five finally getting time to herself to eat without kids pulling on her.
When he finished, he looked so satisfied yet sad.
So I hopped on the table and started singing “My Humps,” which I know ALL OF THE WORDS TO apparently. Jumping from table to table, singing at the top of my lungs, all the teachers were happy and laughing. When the song ended, the anchovy helped me down and hugged me, respectfully, because he’s married.
“Amy, did you make that worksheet yet?” my co-teacher asked, and I was back in the boring office. And the anchovy was sitting, looking depressed, with his fingers holding up his nose for some reason. He likes to sit in this position. I’m convinced it’s because he got a nose job and needs to hold it up periodically throughout the day so it doesn’t slide off.
Day 202: He has started to dress nicer now. Not the usual tan pants and small, very bright blue shirt. The pants now have patterns, and the shirts fit. Things must be going well at home. Maybe he came into some money recently. I wonder what he looks like when he shops. Is he a casual shopper? Or a treat-yo-self person?
I bet he’s a treat-yo-self based on the amount of packages he gets at work.
Day 205: The anchovy seems to have more energy now. I wonder if he is working out. He is grunting less when sitting and standing. Now he only grunts when kids walk in the room.
Chapter 5: The Regular Anchovy
Day 250: I got to see him behave normally today.
Let me explain.
I needed to wash my hands, but he was in there filling up a cup with water, pouring it out, then filling it again. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen too. He didn’t care at all that other people might want water. He would drink some, then pour the rest out. Then get some more. Like a boss, because he is a boss. Did I ever mention that this person is technically my boss?
Usually when this happens, he abandons ship as quickly as possible. Maybe he’s worried I’ll actually talk to him. But everyone knows that’s not my move.
This time he was able to stand in the room. I think it was because another teacher was in there, and he could speak Korean.
He seemed so relaxed. It was strange. It was like he was a real person, not the uncomfortable spy I always imagined him to be. I always thought he was either a really good spy just pretending to be awkward or just someone with English social anxiety.
English social anxiety is what all the students have as well. It’s the social anxiety that comes when they are forced to speak English. Basically, when I walk into the room. So now, I’ve become a trigger for these kids and this grown man. So in ten years, there will be all these adults and one old man talking about me as a trigger of their anxiety to their therapist. Like, “And then, and then, she made me say what I did on the weekend WITHOUT GIVING ME ANYTIME TO PREPARE!” Then just crying uncontrollably.
But all this time, all I could think about how far this has gone. When I first came into contact with the Anchovy, I thought he had the smell of old men and coffee. The first email I sent that was about him read: “This room smells like old man coffee. Also, what’s wrong with this podium?”
Do you know the smell I’m talking about? Like imagine an old man drinking coffee, that smell.
And by contact, I mean I went into his classroom. Because we all know, actually talking is not an option.
During this time of “first contact,” someone described him. I didn’t know who he was, so I guessed, “Oh, you are talking about Marilyn Manson.” He does not look like Marilyn Manson at all, but one of my friends was describing a person she finds attractive. She was like he’s strange, tall, and skinny. Also, no one thinks he’s attractive. Based on what I know about this friend, my first thought was Marilyn Manson, but she was talking about the Anchovy. That story is nothing, but it just shows that I never thought of the Anchovy until the day that I did.
His birthday is coming up, and he seems very excited about it. Not as excited as Donald Trump, but still it was adorable how he talked about it. Of course, he talked about it in Korean, but I knew what he was talking about from context.
Chapter 6: Preparing to Say Goodbye
“I love you more and more.”
“I love you more and more.”
“I love you more and more.”
He just kept saying that.
Not to me of course. But to another teacher. I think they were talking about something grammar related, but you never know.
I’m coming to the end of my year in Korea, which means I’ll have to say goodbye to the Balding Anchovy soon.
I go back and forth on how I’m going to do it. Part of me wants to choreograph a dance for him or memorize a dance from High School Musical. While another part wants to write a heartfelt letter and not sign my name.
Either way, I can’t decide if I should tell him about the existence of the Anchovy chronicles. How do you tell someone you have never talked to that you constantly write him because he’s such a mystery?
But either way, I know he “accidentally” called another teacher my name yesterday, so I like to think he’s going to miss me.
Our relationship has come a long way from him laughing at me at the Christmas party when I sang Journey. And what we have now is a beautiful and completely unspoken bond between us.
I should invite him and his wife over for Christmas one year.
Chapter 7: The Mystery Ends
He holds his coffee as if it is a gift from God. This gift was never extended to me or any of the other foreign teachers. But watching him wait patiently for the coffee to drip slowly into his cup, like a child supervising their mother baking cupcakes, I felt like I too was able to drink the coffee. Of course, I can’t drink the coffee. The nice old man didn’t even offer us a cup when he installed it. The nice old man just came in one day with it and showed only them, not us. We are the neglected children toys of the office, only sought out when they realize we are worth thousands on E-Bay auctions.
But tomorrow is my last day so I must find a way to say goodbye to people I have studied for one year when they called me simply, “foreign teacher,” the entire time. But now, they probably won’t even notice the new person at my desk. My replacement has the same color hair as me so they will never know. I like to think he will notice. Of all the others, he will miss my invisible presence, like when people miss their moles after they are removed.
As for my goal of talking to the Anchovy for an entire conversation, I failed. I didn’t know what to say. The only thing I know we have in common is we get water at the same time, and we both believe in ghosts, I assume. I have no idea. I have a new goal of getting a selfie with him on my last day of work, I’m not sure how that will go.
Yeah, that goal failed, too.
The Anchovy has a kid. I have said this before, but I just want to remind you. That kid is 100 days old today. In Korea, this is an important day which is celebrated with gifts of food and drink. So let’s all take a moment to say congrats to the Balding Anchovy and his unknown wife about their 100 day old baby. Based on the name of the child, I cannot tell if it is a boy or a girl. In Korea, boy and girl names are completely interchangeable. Isn’t that cool and super trendy now?
Today’s it. Today’s the day I say goodbye. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I did my hair and makeup for real today. So anything goes really. I will have many hours to think about as I have nothing to do at work today.
There will be a party, I will have to say something to all of them as parting words. I don’t know anything I want to say; I mostly just want to take a picture to prove they all exist, especially Anchovy and Loud Chewer. Loud Chewer chews so loud. There are no words to express how loud it is, except excessive smacking noises. Some people think I make them up. I can’t make this up. For one year, I’ve been starred at while also being ignored at the same time. Like a homeless man selling cans. I suppose the weirdest thing about leaving is becoming visible again. Fully visible, not just a zoo animal to be watched be never approached.
In the moment I decided to say, very uncomfortably, “This year has been fun. Let’s eat.” This was coupled with nervous gesturing towards the snacks they bought for me. The perfect way to end this experience. I ate the snacks and smiled politely so I could leave and never come back. I said goodnight as I was leaving, but they still said nothing to me. Sounds about right, eh?
Other than that, I’ve just been reflecting on all that I’ve done this year. And it wasn’t a lot. Sure, I did a lot of travelling, and I’m about to go to India (this part was written before I went India), but I still don’t know how to pay bills or balance a checkbook. But what 23 year old really knows how to do that stuff anyway. And what does it mean to even balance a checkbook? When is it unbalanced? Why does balancing help your financial situation anymore?
There are some things that living here has taught me. For example, I want to be an elderly Korean woman. They have so much confidence. They will do or say anything they want. That is the way to live. (Unless you are a man talking about reproductive rights. You shut up.) So every day we should all say to ourselves, we deserve as much as an elderly Korean woman does. (Again, unless you are a man talking about reproductive rights.) That means you deserve the seat on the subway, and you deserve to push anyone down that gets in your way, even a nice younger woman carrying many bags. You deserve to put your stuff down at the checkout counter first, even before the people behind you. You deserve the best.
You deserve to harass people on the street until they take your Jesus tissues. Or force them to grope you for some reason. Nevermind, please don’t do that. That is not okay. An old lady did that to me. It was not okay. But you deserve to enter the many women-over-60 beauty contests and win. You deserve it all.
Now we know we all deserve the best. I will apologize for the lateness of this post. I started it a long time ago, but couldn’t finish it. I didn’t feel like the experience was over yet. But when I finally got my license renewed, I realized that my year in Korea is over. The experience has changed, and everyone wants me to reflect on it now. That means I must officially say goodbye to the Balding Anchovy. This was difficult. What made it the most difficult was learning that the foreign teachers are now required to talk to the Korean teachers for 30 minutes twice a week. I want to know if he wonders if the tongue or the lips get in the way more for a dentist.
I must accept that he is a mystery I will never fully know. Because I don’t speak Korean and he doesn’t speak English well. He is probably just a normal dude that is shy. But in the words of Wonder Woman, “It’s about what you believe” (read in bad Gal Gadot accent), and I believe he is teacher by day and crime-fighting anime character by night. Based on the evidence though, that is the most logical explanation of his life.