Well, I didn’t go to church this morning and the shit didn’t hit the fan.
At lunch the man who takes attendance DID sit next to me. He asked me if I knew Jesus Christ, and I said that yes, I had been raised Presbyterian. He asked me if I was religious and I told him no. I then told him that I didn’t believe in religion. He was about to ask me something else about religion and I beat him to the draw by saying “…and I PLAN TO KEEP IT THAT WAY.”
My co-teachers showed up at three of my four classes today, so that’s something. Don’t know how long that will last, but it was something. Surprisingly, aside from maybe two barks from the male co-teacher, he pretty much was like a limp noodle the rest of the time and contributed absolutely nothing to classroom management. Maybe I was doing all the things he would do or something, I don’t know.
I think he brought his stick, but I think those sticks are mostly just to intimidate most of the time. I also am beginning to think this is why the children are so unruly. On the one hand, the teachers aren’t earning their true respect, and on the other hand, their stick-wielding reveals them to be essentially impotent people. The teachers just become pathetic at some point, worthy of daily derision. I have to figure out how to avoid this, if it’s not too late.
Anyway, it WAS interesting to see him for a second and third time this entire time, twice in a row!. It was interesting to see his face light up with my lesson the first time, and then to see him dying of utter boredom the second time. I can’t for the life of me see why they would subject any teacher to seven classes of the same…
After lunch, during my once daily trip to the roof to smoke, I had an interesting conversation with Y and the really articulate man who paid for beer that night I cried. We talked about the corporal punishment, culture shock cultural differences, and the preservation of culture. And, BLESS HIS SOUL here was a Korean who totally agreed with me that the market was the living legacy of traditional Korean culture, and that I was very smart to go there. And then we talked about farmers markets in America, and about cowboy culture and zydecco culture and bayous and first nations culture and all those the little vestiges of our melting pot euro-descended culture that have become unique to America, and that are disappearing before our eyes, unrecognized because we are too far-sighted to see what’s at hand.
And here I am, at middle age, with my first bi-focal prescription, looking optimistically out to a blurry distance, yet straining to see what is right in front of me.
He told me about a street fair that takes place all over Korea, the five day fair. It happens every five days, in a circuit five locations wide, only in the rural areas. At that earlier beer for tears conversation we had, he told me about the traditional home and property he owns in the countryside, and that is how he knows about the five day fair. He had said then that he loved that house, but he will probably have to sell it to pay for his children’s education. To which I implored him to save it for his children’s children, that there will never be another opportunity to have anything like that ever again, on this ROK, with all these people. I do hope he adds my voice to the voice of his heart and keeps that family place with all that scenery, fresh air, and good memories.
This is also the man who would refuse his daughter’s marrying someone she loved if his job had no status. But I do so enjoy talking with him. His several years in the states made him appreciate that what Americans lack in formal respect systems, they more than make up for in being considerate and thoughtful.
This is the double-edged sword of his appreciation of culture. In his culture social standing means everything. His house is traditional. His values are traditional. Yet, he appreciates the culture I was raised in and feels it is healthier for modern people. It is a collision of worlds and not just a generation gap here in Korea.
When I look at the globe and think about all the countries that have coveted and emulated the west, I can’t think of any of them who have done a better job than Korea. The collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, was based upon a people that just refused to sacrifice its culture for its socio-economic goals. But Korea will sacrifice body parts for that goal if it has to. Its eye is on that prize. It is obsessed with nothing less. And it is willing to relegate its culture to the history books to do so. And the irony they live is that they will never truly be what they want to be, because their motivation is rooted in the very culture they would throw away.
If I could have a meeting of the minds on this place, I would definitely invite John Locke and Confucius himself. What would you do about this? Maybe the answer lies more in recognizing, acknowledging, and elevating the Confucian precepts being carried out in these modern times. Maybe then respect would be restored to the students and the youth’s loyalties between their family’s ambitions and their own hearts would not be so incongruous. Maybe Confucius was interpreted wrong. Maybe the answer lies in not trying to be like the west, but in being better easterners.