Sunday, April 02, 2006

the week in review

[Did you miss my Britney Spears tribute? Check it out.]

On the bizarre front, two strange events occurred this past week.

First bizarre thing:

One of my students didn't show up on Friday, which was quiz day. Class had barely started, so, feeling somewhat impish, I decided to break my own "Cell phones off!" rule. I whipped out my cell phone and gave my truant a call in front of my other students. I've done this on occasion in other classes, sometimes speaking in Korean and impersonating the student's grandmother. It makes for good theater. That day, I went for the direct approach and spoke English in a normal voice--

"This is Kevin! Your teacher! Why aren't you in class?"

What followed was astonishing: my student actually broke down in tears over the phone and started blubbering about how much her teeth hurt (she'd just had a few pulled) and how she was so, so sorry for not coming to class, etc., etc. I told her to rest and have a good weekend, but I was a bit nonplussed because I hadn't had an encounter with The Tears since I'd taught high school French.

My mentor teacher back in 1991, Madame Williams (don't be fooled by the surname: she was French and spoke English with a heavy accent), told me to avoid shows of sympathy when girls break down and cry. "Most of zee time eet's crocodile tears," she said, and my ensuing two years as a high school teacher proved her right. Plenty of girls learn early in life how to turn the waterworks on and off, so unless I see a woman who is actually holding her own severed leg in her hands, I'm not likely to be taken in by whimpers and sniffles. Yeah, I'm a cold bastard. Eat my dingleberries.

Most students treat their own truancy as a lark, and most are quite frank about the reasons for their absence from the previous class. "I overslept!" they usually chirp with a coy smile. I often tease the students by speculating that they had spent the previous night bingeing on soju and cigarettes while clubbing in the Hongdae district, and they generally laugh (probably because the picture I'm painting isn't entirely inaccurate), though some will flap their hands and insist, "Oh, no, no, no! That's not what I was doing!"

Second bizarre thing:

A Korean dude living in my dorm knocked on my door around midweek. It was about 9:30 in the evening, and it was a good thing I had clothes on, because I usually lumber about the premises in a shocking state of undress. When you're fat, the best clothing is often no clothing at all! Ha ha!

I opened my door and the guy, who's in his early thirties, sheepishly asked me how to use the upstairs washing machine. He's been living in this dorm for nearly a year, and up to now he's been washing his clothes by hand, then hang-drying them in his room. I understand the latter part: most Koreans don't own a clothes dryer, so it's quite common to see hang-drying laundry. But hand-washing one's clothing in a very nice, modern dormitory?

I told the guy he had to use a 500-won piece in the machine. He said he'd been up to the machines, but didn't know where to put the coin. We went upstairs, and I pointed to the obvious coin slot. He still didn't get it. "There are several slots here," he said. "Which one is the right one?"

"Only one slot can actually hold the coin," I told him. I pointed to the only slot big enough to hold a 500-won coin.

"Ah," he said.

I explained how he should dump in his detergent and clothing, make sure the clothing was evenly spread in the washer, adjust the washer's settings, and then slam the coin home. Then we covered the dryer, which operated according to almost the same principles.

I'm very tempted to complain that Korean men grow up pampered and unable to figure this sort of simple shit out for themselves, but I remember back to my undergrad days and clearly recall American guys who hadn't the faintest fucking clue how to iron a shirt, much less wash anything. While an argument can be made that most Korean guys are woefully unprepared for reality, it can't be said that this unpreparedness is in any way unique to Koreans.

It was a strange incident all the same because this guy was in his thirties, and had been avoiding the washing machine for months. He's lucky I have a talent for keeping a straight face in such situatons. My Vulcan training occasionally proves useful.

On the gustatory front, I have one major event to report, but I have to approach the subject delicately.

An online friend of mine in Korea very kindly offered to grab some provisions from on base-- a place I can't access unless my father happens to be in Korea. I'd been saying no to his offer for a long time, but this time I finally gave in and asked for something I'd been craving for over a year: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

This benefactor (why do I find myself thinking of Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations?), not content to buy me merely a couple packets of Reese's, ended up sending me a fucking boxful of those bad boys. I devoured quite a few on the first day the package arrived, and have been trying to pace myself ever since. I am in this friend's debt, though he insists on not being paid.

I said that I have to treat the matter delicately. This is because, if the mysterious benefactor is named, some of you folks might start badgering him to get you something from on base. I'd rather not put this friend into that position. He's a kind fellow, but there are limits to his patience and his wallet.

Anyway-- a thousand thanks, Mr. Magwitch.

On the academic front...

The only cool thing of note is that I got my student surveys back from our main office, and my own "approval rating" for the end of 2005 was over 97%. I finished the winter intensive (Jan-Mar 2006) with an incredible rating of 99.6%, so now I have to remind my swelling head that scores mean nothing. I have no idea how my colleagues did; I imagine they all got high ratings as well, because they're a talented bunch.

[Full disclosure: students who would likely give us teachers poor ratings usually drop out of class long before semester's end, which is when the evaluation forms are doled out. This, in part, explains the "ratings inflation."]

Among the uncool things this semester is the dismal student attendance in my 7:50am MWF Level 1 conversation class (at its lowest, 5 out of 12 students in attendance). Collective temperaments at that time of day historically break down into two types: (1) classes where the students are alert, energetic, and ready; and (2) classes where the students are barely alive. I'm afraid that, this semester, I'm cursed with a Type 2 class, which means I can expect a good bit of attrition well before the end of the twelve-week term. I see it happening already. Luckily, this is the only class giving me any real trouble, and since it's trouble of a passive-aggressive kind, I'm not all that concerned.

[NB: I do pine for the intensive class schedule, though. Students in intensive classes tend to take their coursework much more seriously. Those classes are also for-credit classes, which provides extrinsic motivation to do well.]

Also of note: I re-signed for a second year at Smoo. I genuinely like the place. It doesn't pay much, but it's a damn sight better than any hagwon. While my 7:50am class might be giving me the shits, the other classes are going swimmingly. My MWF 1pm class is a case in point: near-constant high levels of attendance, and the same is true of both of my Tues/Thurs classes. I've got good coworkers, decent bosses, and, quite often, great students. If the job paid about a thousand dollars a month more, I'd be tempted to stay for life.

I want to finish off this rambling entry by talking about axes, and why I like them. Many years ago, when I was barely leaving the tadpole stage of life, my dad taught me how to split wood with an axe. "Do a trial swing," he said, "and aim the axe a little bit short, because when you really take that swing, you'll automatically swing wider." Sound advice. I've split wood well ever since. It's something I enjoy doing.

I'd love to chop wood here, but I live in Seoul.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it might be like to spend my weekends in the mountains, maybe helping out a temple in need of a wood-chopper. I'm not a woodsman, mind you: I don't have the proper common sense to be one. But I'm good with an axe, and I'd like to do my own bit of hacking. Perhaps this'll be cause to research some local temples and find out if it's possible to, say, arrive on a Saturday morning, chop all day, meditate, do a bit of hiking, eat a vegetarian dinner, stay overnight, eat a vegetarian breakfast, then quietly leave on Sunday morning. Hmmm. Must look into this.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll see if we can set up some wood for you to chop when you come over for the barbecue. Although I don't know how much wood we're going to be chopping in the spring...