The other day, because I have no working computer and so had no powerpoints, which are the staple of my lessons, I had to read out of the dry text book. 2/3rds of the class had no books, (this is the 2nd of the highest level students in my school – gah) and I made a face and said, “how can you call yourself students when you have no books?” 1/3 of the class got the bright idea to have an excuse to run in the halls and they made a mad dash out of the classroom. At that time I said, “while those jokers are out finding their books, let’s tell some jokes,” and I pulled out the Konglish puns my friend Joyce gave me two years ago.
Before I’d even got through even one of the puns, the co-teacher asked, “What do they win?” “HUH?” “What’s the prize?” Me, frowning, “The prize is you get to laugh,” I said. The co-teacher thought this was wacky…
You know, almost three years here and pretty much inured of my culture shock, yet this competition thing still drives me crazy.
Take, for instance, A week ago after midterms and all the teachers had to go bowling as their mandatory morale activity. Usually they don’t make me go to these things, but I thought bowling with my colleagues would be fun, as there would be less bitching as when they have to hike or play intramural sports like their last outings. And it WAS fun! Until halfway through it became evident it was a competition. So half of the teachers had to sit and pick their noses while they had a playoff, which took forever.
The concept of personal best is something that just escapes all my students and their teachers. It always has to be a competition. And then, on the other spectrum, nobody in this society can lose. So there are no consequences for not putting in any effort. It’s a sea of mediocrity and resignation that one will never get ahead and a persistent focus on material gain with a resentment towards those who do win.
Speaking of competition, SuperStar K 3 is almost un-watchable for me now, as a foreigner. There’s just too much talking by the M.C. Towards the end, there’s almost a half hour of the finalists just standing there on stage in agony. Last week, the judges were a little too liberal with their judging at the beginning of the show and then just got tougher and tougher. Most notable for me was this girl This girl, Lee Jeon Ah, who got a low score, but I thought her arrangement of The Eagle’s Desperado was really artistic and fortunately, Korea voted higher for her than the judges did, placing her as 4th for the evening.
Not competition related, but not having my technology crutch related, today I had the students write a bucket list. Let me just say that if those same lists appeared in America, the police would be called and the school would be locked down. The kids said it was just a joke, but man…scary stuff! I told them I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. One boy put down as item #10 (#1-9 being blank) that he wanted to see his family before he died. I asked him where his family was, and he said Guri (about an hour away). “And you never see them?” Nope. I didn’t pry because there were other students around, but of course I wondered if he was adopted.
Next week I go to the Vice Principal’s daughter’s wedding. Nothing like having to find something to wear and cough up money for a present to someone you’ve never met in your whole life. Fortunately, I found a disco-era gray pantsuit reminiscent of Tom Ford that looks fabulous and only cost $8. Just need to find some shiny chemise to wear under it. So exciting to find a vintage store that’s actually affordable. Got three other fabulous things and the total was $24. Would have cost over $100 in Seoul.
This week is the school festival. This school talent show/carnival is the biggest event of the school year – much bigger than exams. It’s everyone’s chance to be like their pop idols. (There were no school events at Baekyoung, except teachers day – there is no teacher’s day here) I would have put together some dance routine, but nobody told me when the auditions were again, and it’s too late now. In reality, it seems like there’s always a whole lot of reasons for not studying going on at the technical school level. And Saturday I went to school to see if my computer might be fixed and saw a whole lot of activity going on, as club activities on Saturdays are also a whole lot of not studying. I sometimes wonder if these things I read about Korean student stress is even real. It just doesn’t seem like they have it so bad. It seems like every other day they compensate for the pressure – maybe even too much.
I’ve stopped eating rice this past week and I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER. Of course, every Korean has to comment and they all think I’m crazy. They can’t comprehend that rice = carbohydrate = stored fat, or that I could possibly enjoy a meal without it or feel full without it. Most times I walk away from a meal feeling like a slug, but by eliminating the rice the portions become perfect, though the rice does cut the huge amount of salt and red pepper, so the dishes seem even more heavy-handed on the seasoning than ever before.
Just edited my closet of emergency clothes that don’t work. They’re in little piles all over the kitchen floor. There’s not enough time to put them away, so I imagine when I get home Momo will have dragged them all over the place. Little miss is kind of funny, though, as I’ve seen her running around the house wearing my underwear in the past.
Feeling really anxious about the future, as nothing’s set and if Vegas doesn’t transpire I’ve got no compass. Next month is the dreaded “open classroom” again where the Native English Teacher has to prepare a showcase lesson and pretend they slave that hard every day and engage the kids as if they were best buddies and include the Korean English Teacher in the lesson as if they cared to help every day and make them look good. I’m told this one is really really important. I get the sense that this year will be the deciding factor whether the school district will even continue the high school program…This entire school year is just treading water, every day. Not a good feeling, despite being pretty at peace with myself. I’m just longing to be settled and have some security after so many decades in limbo. It’s not like I don’t recognize that even with Vegas I’ll become settled – but it’s a darn sight better than having the reduction axe hanging over your head, in a job where your hands are tied, the rewards are few, and which separates you from everything you care about. Still, it’s easy and pays relatively well.
Tread water. Try to appreciate the small blessings.