Seeing much, suffering much and studying much are the three pillars of learning ~ from the Day 1 class notes of my Korean co-teacher
Thursday was Independence Movement Day, commemorating the first mass resistance to Japanese occupation on March 1st, 1919. When my vice principal told me about it, I recalled climbing a small mountain/big hill not far from home, half an hour downstream along the Dirty River:
I’d scooted up this small but steep prominence…
..whose name I didn’t know and still don’t, and found that most of its summit was occupied by badminton courts…
..and some dormant exercise equipment:
Koreans love to top off a nice brisk walk with an outdoor workout. You see these things everywhere: in the forest and on hills and even at bus stops.
The other end of the summit was dominated by a monument to a local eruption of tensions against the Japanese in April 1919, a month after that first uprising :
A plaque depicted the bloody insurrection…
..and an information board explained:
So, Thursday. Another paid holiday. In Japan I worked every public holiday and even endured three Christmas Days in the language farms, so GO, KOREA! I had a great day in Busan, among the creepy-crawlies and their purveyors in Jagalchi, and scurrying between the massive hulls and cranes and paint-splattered workers in the docks of Yeong-Do.
Yesterday I slid open the door of the teachers’ room at 8:30 and stepped into chaos. It was the first day of semester (yes, on a Friday) and a meeting was in progress, preparing for the inevitable ceremonies and speeches. The principal was speaking; frantic notes were being scribbled. I fought through the bodies to my seat, sat down and prepared to smugly ignore it all at my computer, when suddenly a worried Mrs Kim appeared, handing me a Post-It Note.
Why aren’t you at N______ school?
“Shit!” Thursdays and Fridays, starting this very day, I teach at a different school. I’d completely forgotten.
“I’ll catch a bus,” I whispered, turning off the computer.
“You will be late. Please wait. I will drive you.”
I waited outside for 20 tense minutes, pacing nervously. Five years of private school have left me with a phobia of lateness. But Mrs Kim did not appear; I’d been forgotten, apparently, and a co-teacher called a taxi and gave instructions to the driver. Great first impression I’m going to make, I thought, increasingly miserable, as we approached the school.
I needn’t have worried. Their ceremony was well underway, and I was swiftly squeezed into five-sizes-too-small slippers, and guided into the gymnasium, jammed with several hundred manic students standing in rows, while a teacher addressed them from the stage. I became aware that many, many pairs of eyes were…eyeing me. It was like being back among the tanks of doomed eels and fish and crustaceans at the fish markets.
An English teacher said to me, “The new teachers will meet the students soon.”
“Yes, you are a new teacher, I suppose. Do you mind introducing yourself to the students?”
Suddenly I was prodded towards the stage with 10 or 12 others. The crowd convulsed in a communal electric shock. Somebody needed to remind these kids that their vacation was over and they were supposed to be miserable, not ecstatic. Was I the only miserable bastard in the whole room?
The guy with the microphone began introducing the teachers, who stepped forward and bowed deeply one by one, to rapturous applause. I tried to look nonchalant. Then he ran out of Kims and Parks and Lees, paused uncertainly, squinting at his list, turned and handed me the microphone.
I stepped forward, a thousand eyeballs…eyeballing me. The room went quiet.
The room erupted in cheers and applause. The floor was shuddering.
“My name is Ian, I’m from Australia, and I’m your new English Teacher!”
The girls were screaming. The boys were screaming. Finally, 50 years too late, Beatlemania had hit Gimhae, Korea.
“Er…yes. On Thursdays and Fridays. Nice to meet you!”
I thought a bow might misfire, so I waved my fist like Cassius Clay. The crowd loved it; the noise was deafening. I’d entered that stage a mere mortal. I exited it a god.
Ten minutes later I was led into the “English Room”…
..by a Mr Huang.
“Please call me Mr Huang,” he said, smiling nervously.
“OK…” — but he was already gone, and I didn’t see anyone again for about two hours. Fame can be so fleeting.
There was nothing to do, and the computer wouldn’t work, so I killed time admiring the graffiti, finding mistakes in the textbook, and laughing at the slogans:
This one embodies in one breathtaking hit everything that’s wrong about the way English is taught in Asia:
It was very cold. Korean schools are multi-storey morgues. I turned on the heat and settled down with my Kindle and Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Years. Warm and content, I began to doze off, roused myself, opened the double-layer of windows, and stuck my head out.
There it was: Independence Mountain.
I gulped down the air of freedom. At last a co-teacher appeared. I was to meet two classes that afternoon. “Just introduce yourself,” she said.
The first class was 3rd-year boys. I held their attention for 10 minutes, and finished the lesson hoarse.
Then came the girls — they separate the genders here. Same age and level but about five years more mature. “Just introduce yourself,” the second co-teacher said. I held their attention, responding stoically to the standard Do you like kimchi?, Are you married? and How old are you? questions.
At the end they clapped, thanked me, and one handed me a note. “This is for you. Present,” she said, giggling.
“Now it’s home room,” my co-teacher explained. “So…you are free!”
But I’d seen, suffered and studied enough for one day. I was already gone.
Elliott Smith, ‘Independence Day’:
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote