Korea, Random Rambles
Comments 20

The Young & the Desperate (Scene from a Stroll #7)

Lunchtimes Monday to Wednesday I escape N1 and stroll to a park five minutes away with a sandwich, a coffee and the Kindle. I didn’t think much of this scrappy little patch of green at first, but with Summer it’s grown on me, like much of Korea — an oasis of respite from the chaotic din of the corridors and the depressing chimes that divide the school day. It’s even better when the two old men who enjoy staring at me from the opposite bench are absent.

This week the end-of-term exams begin, signalling the approaching summer vacation holidays. Korean students live (and occasionally die) for exams, and I did my best to lighten the classroom mood with the following classic comedy routine:

TEACHER: Do you want the good news or the bad news?

STUDENTS: Bad news! (They always want the bad news first — very Korean.)

TEACHER: Well, as you know, you have very big and very difficult exams next week.

STUDENTS (groaning): Yes! And what is the good news?

TEACHER: I love your exams, ’cause I get to listen to music, read a book and relax.

I tried this with about six classes and never got a single laugh. Maybe it was my delivery.

But today. There was movement on the periphery of the Zone of Goatliness and I was disconcerted, and then fascinated, by the sight of a boy from N1 appearing to hunt for bees in the nearby clover patches. From patch to patch he moved, intently scanning the ground. Approaching, he said hello and I asked what he was doing, though I’d finally worked it out.


“You’re looking for a four-leafed clover?”


“For the test?”


“Good luck.” I wasn’t at all surprised. Like the Japanese, Koreans are very superstitious and many temples see influxes of desperate and seasonally devout students around exam time. Pretty soon he reached down and plucked up his prize; without hesitation he handed it to me.

“For me? You’re sure?” He nodded, I examined his prey — yes, four leaves, a perfect and presumably priceless specimen — and he resumed hunting.

Five minutes later my phone rang.

“Ian, it’s Sophie. Where are you now?”

I felt my hackles rise, anticipating the delivery of a fresh aggravation. Isn’t that why phones were devised?

“Almost back at school,” I barked.

“OK, well, I just spoke to Dorothy and the principal…”

“Yes?” Here it comes.

“..and they said there’s nothing for you to do because of the exams, so you can go home early.”

I nearly yelped with joy. Three hours early?! GOD. BLESS. YOU.”

I tucked the clover very, very carefully into a notebook. We Koreans are a superstitious bunch.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. This is a super post. I love the way you confound expectations, with the student handing you the clover leaf, and with the turn of events in your favour and then the final twist, “we Koreans”. Love it.

    • Thanks, Rachael. I suppose expectations are made to be confounded — mine included. My luck actually kept improving: I had a FABULOUS afternoon’s hike that just kept getting better and better.

  2. Well, you may not have a future in stand-up — but you are one lucky Goat! Find another clover like that and, who knows, you may get the girl.

    • I actually had to look up that word “G-I-R-L” on Wikipedia. I will be grazing those clover beds myself this lunchtime.

  3. I love the exam prep strategy that involves visiting some famous shrine and forking out cash for a good luck charm. What ever happened to methods like – you know – actually studying?

    • I know! Or studying WELL, anyway. You can only cram so much INFO in a developing brain. What would be funny would be if I started seeing whole herds of students working through the park today.

  4. am says

    “It’s even better when the two old men who enjoy staring at me from the opposite bench are absent.”

    Splendid photo and storytelling, Goat (-:

  5. Oh well…. the final exam (sigh)…it reminds me of my school life in Korea… I had so much fun and good memories with friends and teachers though… it absolutely was the worst part of my life at school ever… I can not laught on this story…it’s too sad.

    • Oh dear, sorry to bring up some bad memories! You survived anyway, and most of them will survive as well, good luck charms or just plain hard work and perseverance (damn, I never can spell that word right first time). Thanks for the comment!

      • 😉 you don’t have to feel sorry, just saying. I love my life and I’m a super positive person. Maybe that’s because I went through very difficult time and all hard works in my school life like that! hahaha. It’s my pleasure to read all your memories in Korea. Thank you so much!

  6. Oh yeah, the ‘we Koreans’ comment is a good one! Goat, you’re writing some very good posts lately. Most entertaining!

    • I’ve found the secret, Greg – you have to enjoy writing them! Sounds obvious, but sometimes squeezing in the blog between sessions at a less-than-ideal job makes for a tough haul. And I’m feeling unsettlingly content lately outside work. Don’t know what it is. Did I hit my head again when I was on that mountain?

  7. Jokes are a tough one, aren’t they? In the UK (elsewhere?) people these days talk of “Dad jokes”, the sort of joke one’s father tells one in an effort to relate to someone 25 years younger. A typical example: “What sort of cheese do you use to entice a bear? Camembert.” Secondary school pupils I teach accuse me of telling “Dad jokes”. Teenagers would die rather than laugh at them.

    Do I take it your birthday happened recently? Happy birthday.

    • rivron says

      Of course it did. Wishing you a happy birthday is becoming a habit.

    • Thanks, Dominic, yes a couple of weeks back, but plans are coming together for next year’s bash (if one person constitutes a bash).

      Yeah, those jokes are hard enough to people who speak your own language! I have the age AND language barriers, plus a pretty sturdy cultural one, working against my future as a comedian.

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