When the first rains of monsoon season fall, I walk into school looking like I have spent all morning wading in the lake. The principal asks if I used an umbrella, but I don’t have the words to tell her that I can only shrink myself so much under its cover. Water squishes out of my socks with every step as I trudge up three staircases to my office.
Inside the school, it is always raining. Clouds line the ceiling of my classroom and pour down until a child asks in broken English to open the windows. The class, up to their necks in water, the small ones already submerged, let out a collective sigh. We drain out slowly enough that the humidity creeps in, settling over the class with an unconscientious greed.
During lunch, I ask my co-teacher how long the rain will last for.
“I don’t know,” she says, looking out the window. “Maybe a month. Last year the season was very short, so maybe this year will be the same.”
I read once that running in the rain only absorbs more water. One could stay drier by walking calmly between buildings instead of dashing across courtyards. During monsoon season, it rains an average 11 inches per day in Daejeon, which is better measured by pizza deliveries per week and hours spent in bed. There are some cities that might be worth braving the rain for, but Daejeon is not one of them. Even in rainy season, the KTX still operates across the country with speeds of 305 kilometers per hour.
After lunch, I walk up to my office where I’ll stay hidden until it’s time to go home. My umbrella is propped open beside my desk, a wet omen that refuses to dry. Walking to and from work used to be a battle with the heat, annexing me in layers of sweat by the time I reached school. Summer brings a new struggle, taking the form of a relentless rain that does not care about white shoes or weekend plans.
A common trope in dramatic literature is for a woman to slowly walk out into the ocean, dripping in grief and weighed down by a flowing dress, until she is never seen again. Take Shakespeare’s Ophelia, who gathered flowers around the mountain of white that hung off her body until there was no need for her to float anymore.
A student, no older than seven, knocks on the office door and cracks it open. Water rushes out into the hallway, and he wades into the room. His hair is matted to his forehead, whether from rain or sweat I cannot tell. His legs make strong strides to my desk, where he lets out a long string of words without taking a breath. I decide that he must be doused in layers of sweat. He repeats the same string of words as rain begins to assault the roof above our heads. Words tumble out of his mouth in the silence between droplets of rain, but I only understand the words “English teacher.” My co-teacher floats over to answer him in Korean, give him a candy, and send him wading back to the door.
“Does he not know who you are?” She asks.
“I’ve never seen him before.”
I spend the rest of the day folding old crosswords into flowers and placing them around my classroom. I run out of paper quickly, so I print out several hundred more and watch as raindrops run the fresh ink off the paper, dripping letters into the half-submerged room. When the room is finally a soggy mess of paper balls, I stuff the rest into my pockets and close the windows, watching the water rise.
On the second day of the monsoon, I wear shower shoes to work. The sidewalk is a gridlock of pastel umbrellas, ensuring everybody will be late behind the first graders who lead the pack. As the road curves up the hill, the colours bob together in unison like a caterpillar inching along in the rain. Koreans usually opt for monochrome tones ranging from charcoal black to pearl white, yet appear to express themselves through the twirling clouds they hold above their heads from late June through July.
My first three classes proceed as usual, but after lunch everyone is weighed down by the humidity that has taken over the school. The rice we eat everyday balloons in our stomachs as the rain continues to fall. The air is a wet blanket that no sixth grader can sit still under, so we opt for a lesson outdoors.
My students complain even more outside, now exposed to the earthy smell that arises from the ground. From the west entrance, we can look out at the courtyard below, where younger grades are practicing flood evacuation drills. In the distance, the Gyejok mountains look as if someone has coloured over them with a gray crayon.
“Teacher, what are we doing?” Asks the class leader.
“Naming the raindrops.”
“In English raindrops have name?”
“No. We will give them names.”
Half of the class doesn’t understand. The higher level students shout over each other to give each droplet the best name. The first raindrops that fall outside the school are named after K-Pop idols, fruits, Spongebob characters, and farm animals. It doesn’t take long to exhaust those possibilities. It is monsoon season after all.
The next round of raindrops is random English verbs. Run, jump, eat, drink, play, study. The whole class understands by this point. Low level students opt for the conjunctions. And, but, so, for, or.
“I’m fine!” The class leader yells. “I’m happy! I’m tired! I’m bored!”
We shout names at the sky until our throats are hoarse. Something must be listening, because the rain lightens up for a minute and then stops altogether. The bell rings, signalling the end of the school day.
“Good work today,” I say with a smile on my face. “We will work on this again tomorrow.”
While my students run off to their after-school activities, I linger in the humidity, looking up at the grey sky. My clothes are dripping with sweat and water. I’m half expecting the sun to come out, but instead a black fly buzzes across my nose. On the first day of the rain, a downpour followed every five minutes of clear air. Defenseless without an umbrella, I head back to my office, where I will wait until the next rainfall.