what mandu can do

Last night, while trying to find Christmas music videos to play on my last morning broadcast of the year that were both: not obnoxious, could be shown in a public school, had some cultural or educational value, were not overly childish, were not already over-played on Korean t.v., and were not so worn out that I myself could not tolerate them, my old mac-book decided to protest. I would turn it off, let it cool off a bit, turn it back on, and then it would just shut itself off after about ten minutes. It seems the fan is totally worthless now and the rheostat inside is working frustratingly well.

So that’s where the mandu comes in. I pulled it out of the freezer and, putting a towel on my lap, then put the frozen mandu on the towel, and the over-heated computer on top of that. Do not put a towel between the mandu and the computer, as that is too insulating to make it work. Anyway, this stretched my research time from ten minutes a crack to over an hour! Mandu. Highly recommended. Although peas or corn would work far better. But, come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve seen frozen vegetables in Korea…

For weeks now, I’ve been coming to school and chomping at the bit to do something rewarding with the students, but am always frustrated, as my services are not desired. The students must review the final exam. The students need to see movies because they are “crazy and unteachable.” (not my words) I am never notified about these changes until the last minute. Sometimes I have a lot prepared, but it doesn’t matter. And so I have the expectation to work hard, but end up just doing research. And the schedule gets shuffled, and they don’t let me know until like ten minutes before I’m getting ready to teach. Or the whole day gets swapped and I find I have a class in a few minutes that I had no way of knowing I needed to prepare for it. It’s just like when I go to talk in the classroom and the Korean teacher anticipates what I’m going to say, rendering me pointless. It’s like inhaling to speak, and having your rhythm interrupted, only this is with your whole body. It makes me sad, not being able to spend some down time with the kids, as I don’t even get to see my favorite students’ faces before the school year is over. While my co-teacher uses my class time to cement her bond with the students, I sit alone at my desk. What I do is considered irrelevant here.

I like my co-teachers a lot. They seem nice enough. But there is almost no effort at communication or conversation. At first I was so bubbly and excited to be in a new place and I tried to talk to everyone, (I even heard – “she’s friendlier than the last teacher”) but I would hit a brick wall every time. After a long time of getting single word answers to questions or dead end responses to attempts at conversation, you just stop trying. I would be told about teacher activities – again, at the last minute, and not be prepared.

For example:

Do you want to eat dinner with us? (I say yes, thinking it’s an invitation to something finally personal, only it turns out to be a school function and nobody talks to me or explains what is going on) The teachers are playing a soccer game against another school after dinner. I hate playing soccer. Are you coming? You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.

This is how it always goes. They all know about these things for weeks. I’m invited as an after-thought, and I’m supposed to just jump in without any notice or preparation. I hear about half the things from the kids first…”Teacher, are you going to dance in the school festival next month?” I don’t know, when are the try-outs? “Today.” I asked for a copy of the student’s photos, which every class attendance book has, but was never given them, so I could learn their names. I asked for photos of the other teachers, so I could learn their names. I never got either. I have never been introduced to the other teachers, after almost a year of working with them. I have been given one chance only, by self introduction, to learn about three of the teacher’s names: but I’m the kind of person who needs to hear names multiple times, and these foreign names all get mixed up in my head. Except for the electronics and architecture instructors whose offices I have been to, I don’t even know who teaches what. I was told to make up a shopping list for any supplies I wanted, up to $2,000. 75% of them never appeared. The Korean teacher seems t have hijacked it and they appear to be things that the students will never have the time to access or use, just like last year, where an entire library was created, but kept under lock and key.

At the GEPIK Plus orientation, we spend an hour once again being told how we should be more understanding and accepting of Korean culture, and I remember my co-teacher saying our jobs were going to be phased out, she thought probably because of all the problems between the foreign teachers and the native speaking teachers, and even though we have no conflicts among us two, I think about how all the adjusting seems to be on my part, and how for God’s sake, at least they are on their own comfortable home turf and aren’t alone in a foreign land, and I ask – do the Korean teachers get ANY training on accommodating foreigners? It appears they do get one day of training. It feels like they only learn how to fill out all the paperwork…

This is what we will be replaced with soon. Seriously. They think the linear interaction with this programmed thing (and the speaker isn’t even a native speaker and how long will it be like the wizard hiding behind a curtain?) is better than a foreigner, with their foreign ways. And a test class of FOUR students. And for how long? How long before you get bored with the flapping plastic penguin?

I’ve recently realized that my co-teachers, despite being gifted at interpreting from English to Korean and understanding most of the things I say, are totally petrified to speak to me. And so they just avoid it. And me. Which is a far cry from the last school, where there were a half dozen Koreans who sought out the opportunity to speak to me. I love the students here, but the loneliness is horrible. And it has nothing to do with being in a rural location: it is all the luck of the draw, these English assignments, the luck of the draw. I once asked one of the co-teachers, why, since you live in Seoul, did you get a job in Gyeonggi province? And the answer was because you must have a high English level in Seoul, and the competition is fierce, so she didn’t even try. I don’t know if this kind of resignation is a side effect of living in such a competitive society, or if this is one individual’s response.

Despite all that, I enjoy the challenges of teaching. I’m no conversationalist, so I can’t impart that very well. But I can improve their speech and expand their world a little. Speech pathology seems like an interesting field to me now, and where I spend a lot of my research.

My American friends speak with great feeling about the reunion, yet I try to detach myself from it somewhat. It’s all very overwhelming and mind-altering, yet at the same time it won’t really impact my life much, though it will give me some peace, which is huge, but again I will go back to living like an exile in the country I came from, and despite this gain, I will lay awake at night knowing somewhere out there is another person like me who wasn’t so lucky and wasn’t so persistent and living in darkness imposed by others who may never know there’s another person from their history that’s alive. That will continue to keep me awake until something is done about it or I die.

The plane ticket is bought, but it’s a round trip ticket, which also makes me conflicted, because I have to come back to this place. It’s not like going home. It’s like I don’t really have a home. To liquidate your life when you are at its beginning is one thing: to do so after decades of scraping is another. There’s nothing left to call ones own. This is certainly not home. Even though I have service for four, and towels for four, for when my family comes to visit, which seems like will never happen, and which the few visitors who have come comment about how it seems like I am permanently set up here. And I just took out a two year contract for another phone. It feels like a jail sentence. And the t.v. I hate plays in the background because it’s company because music cuts open wounds I can’t deal with in this isolation.

I think it’s time my computer gets more mandu therapy, as it’s laboring again. Miscomunication about plans for accommodating the reunion has caused some family strife, so I go “home” to some tension. I recently discovered there’s a huge new patch of gray where I can’t reach, and I need to vanquish it somehow. I would just go all natural, if I weren’t living in Korea, where it might net me a seat on the subway but hurt my relationship with my students and decrease my already poor odds at any social interaction. I also bought a Guiness. So I’ll dye my hair and drink my beer and hopefully dream about the day I can leave this place for good and find somewhere in the world where I am welcomed and belong.

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