My friend has started running. More accurately, my friend has started re-running. I was there when she started running, whilst we were teaching in South Korea. Myself, and another friend, woke up early and went for a run before breakfast most days. ‘Stop excluding me,’ our friend whined. ‘It’s not exclusive,’ we pointed out. ‘I want to join your club,’ she insisted. Perhaps there was something in it.
To join our ‘run club’ (it wasn’t a club, or anything approaching one, but nowadays any time you do anything not alone, people want to make it seem like a hobby), all you had to do was set your alarm. Set your alarm, get dressed, leave your room. We met at the end of the corridor, and set off at 6.30am. We’d tried a number of different routes, but generally ran the best one: left out of the school, past the empty parking lot, and up the hill. You ran past vineyards and farms and occasional bewildered locals, and state-sponsored outdoor public gym equipment and broken cars, abandoned to rust. We stopped at the top, to look down on the city, and then returned, exactly the way we came. By the time we arrived back at school, it was 7.40am, and we had just enough time to shower and dress before breakfast.
The day our friend decided to join us, we left 5 minutes late, because we wasted a great deal of time falling about laughing at her running outfit. But there was still plenty of time to get up the hill and back, we assured her. ‘A hill?’ she asked, in a tone that suggested to me great enthusiasm and delight. ‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘It’s great.’
We set off, adjusting our pace a little to let our friend settle in. We had been running for approximately 8 minutes, just enough time to reach the first of the vineyards, when she stopped. ‘Are you OK?’ we shouted down at her. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I think I’m going to go back.’ ‘OK,’ we said. We were not the type of runners to pay much attention to other people. At that point in the Summer, I had already bumped into several Korean children, failing to adjust where I was looking for any one shorter than me as I ran about.
We finished our run, returned to our rooms and met each other again at breakfast. After breakfast, I realized that my other friend had a text-book I wanted, and knocked on her door to get it back. There was no answer, so I opened her door, rifled through her stuff until I found the book, and left to start my class. (We started each morning with a small rap performance by myself. There are now at least 20 South Korean junior nurses who can give you a detailed explanation of the relative merits of 90s rappers, as well as a sampling of their lyrical output).
My friend popped his head round my classroom at break-time. ‘You seen her?’ he asked. ‘No-one else has.’ I stared at him in horror. It was true, that most mornings our friend brought her class into mine, to enjoy my rapping. I had thought that maybe she was setting up a rival performance in her own classroom, and had really given that day’s show my all.
She arrived back at the end of break-time, rushing in to another of the classrooms to ask for taxi money. It took a while for her to explain what had happened, mostly because I couldn’t really hear her over the sound of my face breaking from laughing. To this day, the facts are hazy: she got lost, or perhaps she wanted to support the local economy, or her ballet slippers proved not to be the perfect running shoes she had hoped they would be.
Anyway, she’s started running again, which just goes to show that people will do absolutely anything to get into my club.