Winter Sniffles

Saliva scratched its way down her throat as she swallowed. She sighed through her mouth, though a small amount of air managed to whistle its way through her nose.

She reached for another tissue as a sneeze lingered, prodding slightly. Testing. She wrinkled her nose and glanced at the bright light in her room. Excited, the sneeze bounced around until it was time for it to explode outward into the etiolated tissue. It fairly shredded and she wiped her nose before dumping it into the garbage.

Groaning, she leaned back against her multitude of pillows placed strategically on her bed. She pulled the covers up and turned the page of her book. She sniffled yet again, though whether from the book or her illness, it was uncertain.

A cough clawed its way free, feeling vengeful for the tight hold she had kept over her lungs. It brought with it its companions, each as eager as the next, their freedom celebrated with sharp hacks. Her stomach muscles clenched with effort, and she doubled over until it was over. Only then did she lean back and allow her head to loll sideways, book now held uselessly between limp fingers.

Then the door opened, and something delicious made itself known. She tried to smile, but all she could do was glance over. Her mother set a bowl down on the small table, and gently felt her forehead. With a smile she promised some tea, and left her to eat.

She eased the spoon out of the bowl, relishing the steam’s warm encouragement. She knew the taste more than well enough to make up for her lack of smell. And sure enough, the moment it touched her tongue, she found herself smiling.

It did not last long, the soup. Soon all that was left was a yellowish residue that clung desperately to the bowl’s edges. And when her mom returned with tea, she pulled her lips upwards as her eyes softened. The warmth from her mother’s hands passed through the mug to hers.

You’re miserably sick? Excellent, please pass it on.

Koreans don’t seem to believe in sick days. My Korean coworker cracked a rib and still came in to work the very next day, and every day after that. Amazing.

As a foreign teacher here, I get three ‘sick’ days. Sick as in I’m dying in the hospital and can’t make it to work, sorry.

So basically every day I get a bunch of students who, being very young, have no sense of hygiene. They cough and sneeze and wipe their snotty hands all over me. They’re my precious students, but I don’t like how they come to school no matter how sick they are. I don’t believe that kindergarten students should be at school when they have fevers or can’t stop coughing long enough to say a full sentence.

Now I know the particular Hagwon where I teach is quite expensive, and the parents have to pay a lot of money for each class, but sometimes it still seems very unreasonable.

Today two of my students had fevers and were very sick, but had to go to class anyway. One was in Kindergarten, and the other was in grade 4.

When I had a fever growing up, I didn’t go to school. There are a few reasons for this.

1) Stress on the body, aka school, is not going to help you get better. Sleep will help you get better.

2) Nobody wants to get your germs. If you go to school sick, then it’s easy for most of the people around you to get sick too. Teacher included.

I can’t even count the number of times I wash my hands every day. It’s futile. I cannot evade the voracious appetite of vulturous viruses that circle the hallways and classrooms.

This is written as I am hacking out a lung and sniffing a black hole into existence.

The high cost of classes is not the only reason the parents may send their sick children to school (coupled with the intense desire to see their children succeed in English).

Maybe both parents work and there is no one at home during the day.

Maybe both parents happened to be busy that day with other plans that they could not cancel.

Maybe they couldn’t find a babysitter on such short notice.

Who knows.

But the fact that this is such a common occurence makes me wonder.

I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I let both of my sick students rest in class today. The fourth grade student, especially, is one of the best in the class. She was so obviously miserable that I walked to her desk, closed her book, and told her to just sleep.

I don’t understand the point of sending your child to school, when she can barely keep her eyes open and focus. It makes much more sense, to me, to let her stay home and rest, so that she can recover, and be fully able to catch up much sooner than she would if she strained her body by going to school.

I guess my views on this are very Westernized.

My students have my utmost sympathy.