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