On the bus ride to school Wednesday I saw a dog doing a handstand. But that wasn’t the most unlikely thing that happened.
That was also the *day Barack Obama defied the odds, silenced the cynics and made me, and millions of others, proud to be an American.
Congratulations, President-elect Barack Hussein Obama. Or as I called him in numerous emails and posts that day, OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Barack Obama. After eight years of chewing on ground glass, it’s a name that rolls around in the mouth like a sweet marble of… marbley sweetness.
*Korea is currently 15 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time.
When I arrived at school my co-teacher was waiting for me on the front steps, hopping up and down and apologizing for not telling me Tuesday that there were no English classes, as all the students were testing. Ha. I actually found that out by accident. I’ve learned that without being able to converse with the teachers or read the message board, I have to look for subtle clues that something is up. Tuesday I noticed that the desks in one sixth grade class had been rearranged into neat, single file rows, instead of the usual communal clumps.
When I asked the teacher about it, as we were about to begin our lesson, she said it was because all the students were testing tomorrow. Then it dawned on her that that meant there were no English classes.
So, while my co-teacher looked like she was afraid I was going to be upset about having my classes canceled, I was anything but. A day without facing nearly 200 blank faces and gawping mouths is never a bad thing, but I knew I would have had trouble concentrating anyway, as it was the long-anticipated day of the U.S. presidential election.
With the time difference, when the polls started closing Tuesday night on the east coast it was 10 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5 in Korea. I was so nervous I left my computer on all night, in case I needed to jump to check if anything catastrophic had happened while I was sleeping. Or not sleeping, as was the case.
I was grateful for the high speed internet and big screen TV in the English room, as I was glued to the computer for most of the day, watching history unfold, hopefully in the right direction. At one point a swarm of sixth graders from the class next door came to see that I was doing. They were as welcome as snakes on a plane. Korean children have no sense of personal boundaries, and think nothing of getting right up in your face to see what you are doing. I had to slap their hands away from the keyboard and keep them from playing with the microphone, while trying to explain the U.S. election process to them. I finally said the electoral votes were like points, and the person with the most points is the winner. They understood that, natural born gamblers that they are. If they ran the country elections would be decided by bingo. Or, beeeengo!!! as they call it.
I alternated between watching MSNBC and the New York Times (CNN required a special download that I couldn’t do), posting comments on facebook and emailing people back home. Thank goodness I didn’t have to be interrupted by teaching! One of my main goals on facebook was to try to arrange, or hook up with, a celebration party of fellow expats. Alas, those efforts fizzled. It was deeply disappointing to see the celebrations going on around the world and not be able to join in.
When the election was finally called for Obama, I was at another computer that didn’t have Adobe Flash, so no video. I saw the news in the New York Times headline. I let out a cheer, which startled the Korean teacher sitting across from me. “Obama won!” I explained. She just smiled and nodded. When the athletic director came in I attempted a high five, which he lamely returned. Not exactly a champagne shower or dancing in the streets. Everyone went back to work and I was left to try to keep from sobbing with joy while I emailed people in silence, giving the exclamation point key a good workout. Everyone here is happy that Obama won though, saying he is very popular in Korea. His worldwide popularity is one of the things I like about him. Finally, a president we can be proud of!
I had hoped there would be an impromptu celebration at the local expat bar, but when I checked at 5:30 it was dead. I ended up having a hamburger and Heinken with C, then calling it a night.
One sour note of the day was when a person whom I considered a friend posted a message saying she didn’t think Obama was going to change anything, that he was just another politician, and other very negative opinions. I was sad because anyone who thinks like that just doesn’t get it. They miss the magic, yes magic, that is Barack Obama. I’m as cynical as they come. I’ve lived through the heart-breaking assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, the Viet Nam war, Nixon, Reaganomics, and the current eight-year-long nightmare, not to mention my own personal disappointments and disillusionments. But when I saw Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, I was smitten. Yes, smitten, as corny as that sounds. He was articulate, intelligent and passionate. I said then that I would vote for him for president in a heartbeat. It’s been four long years and many, many heartbeats, but I finally had that chance.
As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said about the election, “”That whole dark cloud of the Bush administration has all the sudden been lifted.” Exactly!
So what’s the big deal about Obama? What can I say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times in this endless campaign? Aside from the obvious intelligence, youthful vigor and gifted rhetorical skills, he has given us all a chance to believe in America again; to believe that we can make a difference in the world, and in our own lives; that we are not passive passengers on a runaway political bus, but drivers of our destiny.
I had the chance to see him in Seattle in April, and it was the most moving experience of my life. Along with 18,000 others, I shed the last remnants of my cynicism and joined the chant, “Yes we can!” The millions of, truly, my fellow Americans who voted for him and his vision share that sentiment. It was a huge leap of faith to cast our lot with this unproven senator from Illinois, but we have made that leap and it paid off. I feel sorry for those left standing on the other shore. But he can say it better than I can. Just listen to his acceptance speech. I dare you to not be moved.