I’m so glad they let me have discussion classes: it’s always been good for my soul to talk to young people and find they’re not just a reflection of their parents or the f**d up things going on in society.
For instance, I was happy to hear that the kids really valued shi jang, traditional open-air markets. We talked about big box stores like E-marte and supermarkets and they weren’t that impressed with them. Power Pizza, the beat boxer, said “My grandma sells in the market. What would she do if it was gone? Besides, they are very cheaper than supa.” I told them how in America, supermarkets are actually cheaper than markets and they were surprised. I asked if it became the same way here in Korea, would they still support the shi jang? They all said yes, that shi jang can not die. But what if you had very little money? Some began to question if they really would pay more to keep the shi jang alive, but most felt it was important.
When I asked if rich people are happier than poor people, most of the students said no! Power Pizza told me that actually, he thought rich people could be happy. He said they work hard and many enjoy working hard. Milk Michael said they can not be happy because they always want more and more and more. Violent Victoria and Cute CL cited the suicide of one of the Samsung family as evidence that money can not buy happiness.
Which brought us to the topic of suicide. I asked the students why Korea has the second highest suicide rate in the world, (topped only by Belarus) and the students all chimed in unison with Wonderful Winnie, saying, “study stress.”
In exploring study stress, I mentioned to the kids how after Obama’s (cheers of admiration all around) visit to S. Korea he urged American schools to improve their testing and be more like Korean schools. Winnie got disgusted and said, “Obamma is crazy!” and everyone agreed – testing NO! I told them that some people believe preparing for a test makes students learn more than they would without a test. Several of the students agreed that this is true. I also said that others believe tests do not measure learning and I asked them if they remember what they have memorized for tests. Victoria, and Janny, both proficient note takers and never without vocabulary books to memorize, both bemoaned having short memories. (though I’ll be their ability is twice mine) Power Pizza said memory no. understanding better. The students all agreed that they would rather understand everything they are tested on and that they didn’t understand everything they memorized for tests.
I can only hope that a decade of this super focus on test scores on top of the already pressure-filled Confucian-based focus on elevating one’s status through scholarship gets turned down by these students when they come of age.
But, I argued, not all suicides are by students. Many are by adults, some are salary men, some are housewives! There must be some other reason…Tiger Top said, “chingus (friends) no.” Then he made a kicking motion. “girlfriend no!” And then he made another kicking motion. Violent Victoria and Sexy Sunny(?) both said together, “outsiders.” It’s a tough place if you’re an outsider in a collectivist society…
When I asked the kids if they would rather live in the country or the city, 70% of the students chose the country. Joking JiHye said she loves the corn. She needs lots of corn around her. Mammal Matt loved the fresh air, and Power Pizza liked the sound birds and mice. Really? Mice? All the kids agreed about the mice. (yikes!) Milk Michael preferred the city because of the bus, train, and subway. Oh you mean the transportation! I asked him if he has to walk a lot here, and he told me that his mother drives him everywhere. Sexy Sunny and Beautiful Bella liked the city because of the after dark. Oh! You like the night life! Winnie liked the high buildings. Oh! you mean the tall buildings or high rises!
When I told the students foreigners were worried about Korean food because Korea has the highest rate of stomach cancer in the world and asked them what they thought of that, Wonderful Winnie seemed very concerned. The students hadn’t heard that one before. At first they all said junk food. But, I argued, America eats about the same amount of junk food yet has lower stomach cancer…Choco Charlie thought it was smoking, but I argued that would cause lung cancer. Winnie thought maybe it was a combination of spicy and stress. Someone else said salt. But then I argued that kimchi was spicy and salty. Is kimchi causing stomach cancer? Tiger Top’s response was enrich many time. Ahh! So you think the fermentation makes it healthy? Yes, they said, but didn’t seem too sure. I think it was Choco Charlie that said it was smoke from cars and dirty air. Power Pizza said it was oil twice cook dark. food cook dark. Oh! So you think old oil and charred/burned food could cause stomach cancer? Head nods.
Disappointingly, when asked whether North and South Korea could ever reunite, 75% of the students adamantly said no. Sudden attack was their reason, referring to the recent downing of a S. Korean ship where 50(?) sailors lost their lives. Power Pizza said it was because N. Korea is hungry very so minds not good. When asked to explain, they had to put their heads together to find the right word and the one they came up with was beggar. They don’t think N. Koreans would work and would become dependents of the state. Winnie said Impossible because N. Korea would never let S. Korea unify the two countries. War, they all said. Or, I said maybe N. Korea just collapses like E. Germany did. But what about broken families? I asked. Your grandma or grandpa might have a brother up there. Joyful Janny, one of the few who was in favor of unification, looked me in the eye and said, “difficult.” Yes, it’s very complicated I told them.