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Observations 1/22: Ordinary Walking

January 22, 2010

I am going to try out more creative posts on Fridays, where I try to capture something of what I am observing around me in the city. This one is an older writing from my normal school year. Please let me know what you think!

After a meal of thick noodles and baby shrimp in clear soup broth, I stood briefly at the top of the elevated, storefront span of the sidewalk along the street that I travel to school on every day. The atmosphere was wintry but the air gave off a kind of warmth, perhaps more of an intimacy than a heat, as it caught the rays of the high noon sun bearing down from cloudless skies. I stood and breathed a bit before walking down the two concrete steps towards the street, watching and smiling at a child confusedly crawling up and down the height of these steps as if attempting to realize and master all the nuanced forms that motion on stairs might take.

The air, warmed but chill, somehow put me in the mind of New York City, and the objects in my field of vision seemed, under the illuminating brightness of this high noon, to cut through space with more freedom, more simplicity, as though the raw light had succeeded in sloughing off their ordinary patina – those appearances that always indicated some agency or hidden force they concealed – and instead revealing in them no more than what they already presented the eye: the child storming the concrete steps concealing no ulterior intention but to climb; the newspaper kiosk, where a young mother called to her climbing kid, possessing no other function but to sell. And this, too, reminded me of New York, for some quality of the light in that city had often left me in a similar state of surprised fixation, beholding in the familiar a sudden and unplaceable frankness.

I walked down the steps behind the toddler now waddling frenetically towards its mother and turned right to walk back towards my school. The students had already mostly gone; the school was letting out early this whole week due to construction that disabled the school’s cafeteria. The teachers, however, were required to stay in the school until 4:30, as usual. So I walked back, but walked slowly, fearing lest my comforted impression and calm interest in the world suddenly escape me in the everyday chaos of plans, destinations, tasks and obligations. Craving a snack just then, something thick and butter-sweet, I diverted my path back to school by 6 or 7 feet to swing by the newspaper kiosk, where the 6 or 7 types of candy on display left no impression on me. I paced indecisively in front of a street food stand selling Bungeoppang – a fish-shaped pastry filled with red bean paste, by turns delicious and disgusting.

A group of my students passed by, involved in their own animated conversation, but, upon noticing me, perked up and yelled ‘hi!’ – a word that will never cease to be new for them and will never fail to fill the halls in my travels from cubicle to classroom, classroom to cubicle. The smallest of the three had pig-tails, red glasses, and a smile that enveloped her whole face with pure delight from her happily squinting eyes to her mouth agape with exclamatory excitement. Upon realizing it was me, she plugged her thumbs on the side of her head and waved her hands at me in a playful mockery: ‘Nyah!’ I repeated the gesture – expressing as much of an inside joke as a 22-year-old American and an 11-year-old Korean student who speak two different languages could have. They kept walking home; I walked back to my desk, my job, my afternoon.

  1. elliott permalink
    January 25, 2010 11:17 am

    How have I read this before?….?

    • jgerminario permalink*
      January 25, 2010 1:51 pm

      Haha it was on the short-lived ‘palimpsest’ blog originally. Shh, don’t tell anyone!

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