Friday, November 05, 2004

notes about school

Part One: The Christmas Party Invitation

A sign appeared in the tiny teacher's lounge today. I'll try and photocopy it so I can scan it and display it on the blog. It said something like: "You are cordially invited to a party on December 18." Two or three lines down from that, it said, "All staff must come. No exceptions will be granted." The latter sentence was written in a green font, just in case we might miss it.


Wanna start taking bets on whether I go to this December bash?

Also of note: the founder, K, made a surprise visit to our branch. I was, of course, caught without my lab coat on. K actually sidled up to me with that cheesy smile on his face and asked me, "So, are you getting used to the EC system?" I gave him a cheesy smile of my own and told him all was well, lying bastard that I am. He said nothing about the conspicious absence of my lab coat. I wonder whether he's gotten used to the fact that some of the expat teachers at his branch in Yeoksam are also refusing to wear their lab coats. If K was pissed at me, he kept it to himself.

The Korean way to express disagreement/displeasure depends on two things: how formally or informally the two parties are related, and where the parties find themselves in the hierarchy. Founder K had two options: he could scream at me in typical Korean-boss fashion (he's obviously top dog, so that's his prerogative), or he could express displeasure through intermediaries. I didn't hear any complaints this evening from my Korean partner teacher, nor anything from my Fremen-eyed branch manager. Did I get away scot-free? Stay tuned. I might get called into the office tomorrow for getting my manager in trouble.

Part Two: Reassuring Politics

A certain Miss Ahn, a college student, comes to EC for advanced-level lessons twice a week. She spent a good deal of time studying in international schools, and her English is quite good. We had a "topic tutorial" the other day-- basically, a class in which we "free-talk" about a given topic. On the day in question, the topic was North Korean refugees, and Miss Ahn earned a pile of brownie points by showing she was both aware of and open-minded about the North Korean situation. She doesn't view Korean reunification as a black-and-white issue, and hasn't been seduced by the "one people" mythology. She was willing to hear me out about how the NK government is basically starving and killing its own people, and she realizes that NK culture has evolved to a point where reunification, should it ever happen, would present enormous practical obstacles. Miss Ahn is hoping to become a diplomat some day; I think she'll be a great one. She loves her country but doesn't pretend it's flawless. A good balance.

This evening I had another student who expressed his disappointment that Bush had been reelected. Unlike Miss Ahn, this student was unsophisticated: "Bush will start a war here." By way of polite disagreement, I told him my thoughts about Iran-- i.e., that Bush would more likely start a war there than here, if he started a war at all. Then my student said something remarkable: "Mostly, I'm against war here, but part of me is for it." This floored me, especially since it was coming from a guy in his early thirties. When I asked him to elaborate, he said, "I think we need to get reunification over with, and it has to be South Korean-style reunification."

As I think about what he said, I both admire my student and feel a bit queasy. It's a noble sentiment, to wish for quick reunification under a democratic/capitalist aegis, but I didn't get the feeling that my student understood what war would entail. War here would be a thousand times uglier, a thousand times more horrifying, than what was portrayed in the Korean War movie "T'aegeukgi." In all likelihood, if a war broke out, my student wouldn't live to see a brave new Korea. Such a Korea would take years to build, and much of that time would be devoted simply to digging back out of the postbellum rubble, just as South Korea did after 1953.

But I think both of these students, Miss Ahn and Evening Dude, are on the right track regarding the big picture. North Korea is a criminal regime. Its people have been brainwashed, and their ancient culture has been largely destroyed by a filthy, leprous ideology that deserves quick eradication. Reunification can happen, and the "one people" mythology can become a reality once again, but it'll take several generations for the process to bear fruit. Both of these students are aware of this. That awareness gives me a lot of hope.


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