Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Serious Scarcity of Social Savvy

I’m a woefully awkward social peon. I was tempted to write 'pariah', but that's a matter of skewed perception. I’m just not socially savvy. My interpersonal skills could use some serious work. As I’ve gotten older, my social awkwardness has improved to the point that it can occasionally be mistaken for quirkiness. But just occasionally. Last week an acquaintance of mine aptly identified me as “socially handicapped” following a social blunder that was typical Me. Frequent dates with my friend Beer have resulted in my being mistaken for an extrovert, but don’t let Beer fool you; Beer serves no other purpose than to bring out the Bunny in me, an attention whoring alter ego who is wondering if anybody has seen her pants lately. Without Beer in abundance, Bunny doesn’t come out to play, and the odds of my being socially awkward increase exponentially.

An illustration of just how lacking in social savvy I am was drawn for me when I was out at the bar on Tuesday night. Practicing restraint that night, the plan was to take one drink slow then call it an early night. For once, The Plan was right on course. I knew a couple of people mingling around the bar, whom I greeted shortly before taking my brew of choice to a chair near the billiards table. Shortly after I began taking in my beer and the billiards game, the owner of the bar approached me. I recognized him from the countless other times that I had chosen his location to drown an idea with a Bud (my unfortunate taste in beer has been well documented). He introduced himself to me and asked if I knew anybody else there; if I didn’t he would be more than happy to introduce me to some of the other foreigners. His gesture was genuine; I’d seen him do it numerous times for others before me. I struggled to find a tactful way of pointing out that I did, in fact, know the people standing within 4 feet of us. I didn’t want him to feel bad for offering to help. I smiled and explained that I knew a few people, that I was just a little out of it that night. He accepted my explanation gracefully and explained his need to make sure that everybody is having a great time. I reassured him that I was, and all was soon well in his world again. I resumed my position by the billiards table and pondered the reality that I’m occasionally so socially awkward that I can be in the middle of friends and still look like that shy girl that doesn’t know a sole.

Some day soon, I’ll be chasing one of my friends around the bar trying to ensure that they’re having the best time possible. I’ll suggest that we do some shots, or introduce them to random people that I hardly know because at that particular moment I see a direct correlation between the volume of acquaintances present and the quality of my friend's enjoyment. Whichever friend I've chosen to annoy that evening will smile, nod, and humour me, because that’s just what I do. All will temporarily be will in my world. Later, when Beer has left the building and Bunny has found her pants, one of my friends will laugh at my efforts to be the great savior of the socially awkward. The irony will not be lost on me. Should I temporarily forget, Another Tuesday Night is no doubt right around the corner.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Barbie Teacher and the Princess Bitch Fiasco

People occasionally make the mistake of believing that I’m kind. Their confusion is understandable. I am That Girl that gives a complete stranger 10 bucks because he lost his wallet; That Girl that will sleep on her floor so that the other repulsively drunk people have somewhere comfortable to crash; That Girl that shows Random New Guy around Busan in spite of being atrociously ill, because it’s his birthday and she can’t imagine letting somebody down like that. You know, That Girl. The one that grates from time to time because she’s always in your face in search of being needed, but you can’t bring yourself to get rid of because you never quite know when you might need 10 bucks and a place to crash. I’m also That Girl that chirps out idiots while in line at McDonalds, that doesn’t hesitate to tell creeps not to creep, and skips out on your birthday party at midnight because the beach party up town sounded like a better idea. Really, I’m a bit of an asshole. Today’s offense involves referring to children as Princess Bitches. In this particular case, it’s true, but given my current occupation I would do well to show some restraint and simply refer to them brats. Sadly, the word brat just isn’t doing it for me. Princess Bitch it is.

My first class of the work week begins whenever it is that the Princess Bitches decide to roll in. The Princess Bitches are sisters, ages 6 and 7. Every Monday they storm into the classroom, leaving the door open behind them, and break into conversation about me in their native tongue. They intermittently break from their conversation so that they can look at me and giggle. After about a minute of this, they get their workbooks out of their bags and toss the in front of me, giggling. Their conversation, still clearly about me, continues as I mark their notebooks. Upon the return of their notebooks, the Princess Bitches then take another couple of minutes to take out their student books and pencils. Once they’ve finally done so, I begin the lesson. If I’m lucky, the lesson carries on for about ten minutes before either Princess Bitch the Younger decides its nap time or Princess Bitch the Older decides that it’s a good time to slap The Younger. At this point the Princess Bitches are finished learning for the day and begin requesting games. When I advise them that we won’t play any games until the lesson is over one of them cries, the other pouts, and I count down the seconds until class is over.

While I always expect the worst from these two, today the Princess Bitches caught me by surprise by seriously upping their game. Class was going smoothly for once, largely because the girls knew that we only had about 15 minutes of material to cover and then it was Game Time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it appeared we’d actually make it to Game Time for the first time in a month. Naïve, Barbie Teacher. Very naïve. I failed to realize that it was only a matter of time before one of them managed to get their Game Time privileges revoked. With only one more minute of good behaviour required, The Younger decided that there was no time like the present chuck her student book at me. Needless to say, I called the game right then and there and told them that I hoped they were as excited as I was to practice dialogue for the next 20 minutes. The Princess Bitches responded by putting on their backpacks and leaving. Normally I’m thrilled to see them go, but there was a serious flaw in their actions: class didn’t end for another 20 minutes. There was no way that this would fly with The Boss Man.
One may read this and think that the issue here lies with the one who created the Princess Bitch moniker rather than the Princess Bitches themselves. This person would be wrong. I’ll be the first to admit that I have absolutely no training whatsoever which would make me a qualified educator. While I’ve learned a lot in my 8 months here, there are still many flaws in my style. I’m not too proud to accept the responsibility when I’ve failed as a teacher. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Princess Bitches treat their two Korean teachers in exactly the same manner, I’d put the onus squarely on me. The only difference between the experience of my coworkers and mine is that my coworkers have the misfortune of being able to understand the Princess Bitches when they bicker in their native tongue. Apparently they spend a good deal of time complaining to whoever their teacher is that day that they don’t like them one bit and prefer whoever it is that isn’t teaching that day. Then they throw their books, hit each other, and ask if it’s time to play a game yet. I suppose it’s possible that all three of us are horrible teachers, but consider it more likely that poor rearing has resulted in a complete lack of discipline. When in doubt, blame Mommy and Daddy.

After debating the merits of chasing after the girls once they left the classroom, I decided to take matters to The Boss Man. Had I gotten angry and scolded the girls, they probably would have giggled at me and ran away anyways. If they chose to stick around rather than run away, they probably would have made faces at me and scolded me in Korean, like The Younger did last week when she waved her finger in my face and said: “bad, teacher! Bad!” Getting angry with them is a waste of energy, but I had to do something. As much as I find these children vile, they’re still children who I consider myself responsible for during our 45 minutes of scheduled time together. The thought of them wandering outside and playing in traffic wasn’t going to sit well on my conscience.

This wasn’t the first that The Boss Man had heard of the Princess Bitches, and he didn’t seem terribly surprised to find that they’d been acting up. A wild goose chase later and we eventually found them about a block up the street hanging outside of the elementary school. As The Boss Man summoned them back to class they complained to him that I hadn’t played any games with them that day. I explained to him that I was about to play a game when The Younger decided it was throw-the-book-at-Barbie-Teacher time, and that I refused to reward bad behaviour. The Boss Man looked rather embarrassed and quickly put The Younger in her place. At this point The Younger decided that she no longer wanted a game, a lesson, or anything to do with me. The Boss Man apologized and advised me that we’d call class for the day and that he’d speak to their mother and the other teachers about this. I thanked him profusely for his help and refrained from pointing out that I was pretty sure their mother wouldn’t be terribly impressed to get a copy of the memo that her children have been poorly raised.

The Princess Bitches probably returned home that night in tears and blamed the entire fiasco on the big bad foreign teacher. Tomorrow, when it happens again, they’ll blame Rambo Teacher and after that, Anna Teacher. It will be clear at this point that everybody at Barbie Hagwon is ganging up on the Princess Bitches, who will be rewarded with cake for the hardships that they have to endure. Next week, when they return to Barbie Teacher’s class, they’ll be as terrible as ever. Sometimes, all you can do is smile and not care.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rambo Teacher Brings His Drunk to School

One of the teachers at my school has adopted a not-so-English English nickname. His chosen name lends itself fairly well to what our students prefer to call him, Rambo Teacher. I was going to offer to rename him, but didn’t think that would fly. If he sees no shame in spending his work week being referred to as such, who am I to judge? So, Rambo Teacher it is.

On Tuesdays and Thursday I’m provided with a dinner break after my 4th class of the day. My 4th class consists of a mix of males and females that range from 13 to 15 years of age. They’re chatty, rowdy, and have little interest in learning from me. When I declared class finished last Tuesday, they immediately broke from their English banter and began snipping at one another in Korean. While my Korean is terrible, I understood enough to follow that they were joking around about Rambo Teacher.

I hate few things more than finding everybody else amused by a joke that has passed me by. I want laughs, too! In search of answers, I held Tom Student and Riley Student back to inquire as to what it was they were saying about Rambo Teacher. Riley Student giggled and informed me that Rambo Teacher’s face was really red. I nodded and pointed out that sometimes, sunburns happen. Tom Student, who has a potty mouth which rivals mine, interjected to reject my hypothesis that Rambo Teacher had a touch much sun on the weekend. Tom Student and Riley Student exchange words, probably debating whether or not they ought to fill Barbie Teacher in on the hilarity. Within a minute, Riley Student was ready to cave. Tom Student took advantage of her pause for breath, a rarity on her end, and briskly walked out of the classroom. He preferred to pretend that he had no part in deducing what she was about to share with me: “Teacher… no sun burn. Rambo Teacher… he…” Riley Student reached for an imaginary glass in front of her and chugged back an imaginary shot. “Rambo Teacher, soju!” she told me, looking awfully pleased. Amused as I was at the thought of Rambo Teacher being so half-in-the-bag that he was still sporting soju flush at 6 in the evening, I found this rather unlikely. If anybody was going to show up to work half-in-the-bag, surely it would be Barbie Teacher? "Riley Student, it’s called sunburn. Look it up”. Riley Student shook her head at me and giggled on her way out of the classroom.

After collecting my things, I went to the staff room to seek out my coworkers and fill them in that our 5:30 thought that Rambo Teacher had gotten his drunk on at school. Rambo Teacher looked extremely embarrassed, showing only a hint of relief when I explained that I had pointed out to the tykes that he was obviously sporting sunburn, not a soju flush. He told me that he really hoped the students believed me and didn’t tell their parents otherwise, then quickly changed the subject to something else. Likewise, I let the subject drop.

The next day when Rambo Teacher appeared at work with his complexion more or less back to normal, I refrained from asking any further questions; a rare exhibition of tact.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bob Student is Trashy

My students regularly provide me with material via their unintentionally hilarious utterances. Broken English is expected; without it, they’d have no use for me here. I like to think that mocking my students for their broken English is below me; I also like to think that I have unshakable self belief. Denial, denial, denial. Should one of my older students make a seriously unfortunate English blunder, I refrain from smirking and make a point of explaining the difference between what they meant to say and what they actually said. Given my inability to have emotions without wearing them on my face, this is harder than it ought to be. When one of my younger students makes a grossly inappropriate blunder I simply correct them and hope for the best. There really isn’t good way to tell an 8 year old why they shouldn’t replace the “Tell” in the “Tell Me” song with “Finger”, is there? A truly horrifying two minutes of my life that was. Thankfully, Bob Student’s English blunder last week wasn’t quite that awkward.

While in Itaewon last weekend, I bought an inordinate amount of Real Gum; that is, mint flavoured American gum. Korean gum isn’t awful; it’s just not as minty as what I prefer to snap. My students went completely gaga last time I brought in Real Gum for them. Their excitement was soon quashed by sour faces upon tasting a mint much stronger than what they’re used to. They would wave their hands in front of their mouths and say “teacher, hot!” I would smile, nod, and agree. There are few things that I enjoy watching more than other people making foul faces in response to things that I give them, so I decided to share the Real Gum love and pass some around in one of my evening classes. After humouring them throughout their chorus of, “ooh, teacher! So hot!” I tried to proceed with the lesson plan. Failure ensued.

As I was beginning to discuss the objectives for that day’s lesson, Bob Student decided that it would be a good time for him to speak. He was wrong. My response to this is usually to make a face at him then put a check mark beside his name on the board and threaten to remove him from class if he doesn’t learn how to be quiet when I’m speaking. Barbie Teacher hates to repeat herself! Sometimes I’m too tired to go through all the motions and resort to blowing a whistle at him instead. I returned from lunch break one day a few weeks back with the best 20 cent purchase of my life: a beautiful, blue whistle. My coworkers were extremely confused when I ran into the staff room to blow it at them; they had thus far failed to notice that my immaturity is off the charts. Blowing the whistle more or less has the same effect as putting a check beside their name, but is significantly more amusing for me. On this day I opted for the face-and-check method, largely because I was too lazy to sift through my purse for my whistle.

Before I could properly scold him for interrupting me, Bob Student waved his hand at me to indicate that he had garbage to dispose of. In other words, I had provided the entire class with gum and then went to scold one of them when they wished to get rid of their garbage in an orderly fashion. This never happens. Bob Student should have received a reward for the most unlikely behaviour by a Barbie Student. Ever. The children generally take whatever candy I give them, immediately pop it in their mouths and then throw their wrapper on the desk or the floor behind them. Manners; they’re a lost art.

Bob Student looked at me innocuously with his ball of gum wrapper and said, “Teacher, I’m trashy”. Double take. “Bob Student, you’re what?” “Teacher, I’m trashy”, he repeated, waving his garbage. I was tempted to have fun with this like I did with the Short Bus conversation from last week, but for once, professionalism won out. I spent the next 30 seconds explaining the correct way to ask me where the garbage is, and another 5 after that explaining why Bob Student shouldn’t run around in circles telling people that he’s trashy. If it’s true, they’ll already know.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dude, Where's My Steak

I woke up Monday morning in Itaewon (Seoul) with swollen eyelids. While this wasn’t terribly noticeable to my unobservant company, it was rather disconcerting to me. This called for sunglasses indoors. After perusing through What The Book? (a fantastic book store in Itaewon that was so stock full of English titles that I nearly lost my pants), hunger set it. The consensus was that our hangovers weren’t in the mood for Korean. The Tall One’s pleas for Mexican were immediately vetoed by my lactose intolerance. The Shanster, who is even more of a Yes Person than I am, was patiently waiting for somebody else to make a decision. The Tall One and I finally decided that we should trek back to The Rocky Mountain Tavern, home of my Coors Light (my love of weak beer has been duly noted, thanks) and Caesar salad from the night before. I remembered being disappointed to learn that The Rocky Mountain Tavern thought that Caesar salad could exist without some form of bacon, but allowed the fond memory of Coors Light dripping down my throat to impair my judgment such that I thought returning was a fantastic idea. Oy.

The first of several servers that we would be dealing with that day approached our table to collect drink orders. The Shanster, who always orders Sprite, spit out her request immediately. I had the audacity to look towards the beverage menu. The server responded to this highly offensive gesture by immediately walking away. Interesting. A few minutes later another server returned to take our food orders, as the previous one was clearly under the impression that seeking knowledge as to what there is to drink is a sign that one isn’t terribly parched. The Shanster and I ordered steak and whatever-came-with-it. The Tall One is neither man enough for steak, nor did she receive the memo that it was Steak Time. She ordered chicken quesadillas. I managed to sneak an order of gingerale (more or less the best nonalcoholic carbonated beverage ever) on the end by making sure not to foolishly look at the menu while doing so.

Twenty minutes pass. The Tall One begins to get a little fussy. I ensure her that they’re taking a while because I requested my steak well done; I have a fancy for burnt food. The Shanster looks unconcerned, probably because she had tuned us out twenty minutes earlier. Just as the words of reassurance were spilling from my mouth, the server who took our food orders gingerly approached our table. With a post-it. And no food. He sheepishly leans on the booth and asks which of us ordered steak. The Shanster and I answer in the affirmative. Our server, who looks truly sorry to be a part of this moment, advises us that he is sorry. Terribly sorry. There isn’t any steak. The three of us exchanged stunned looks of disbelief before I flap my trap: “Dude, we’ve been waiting 20 minutes”.

Mind numbing.

In twenty minutes, with only two other tables to take care of, neither of the three servers or the cook thought to pass on the memo that there was no steak. How the fuck do you possibly drop the ball on that? I’ve been a server. You take an order, bring it back to the kitchen, and return to the kitchen when it’s ready for pickup. If there is a problem with the order, the kitchen immediately notifies the server. Absolutely nowhere in that line of communication, over the course of twenty minutes, did anybody stop to think: Dude, where’s the steak? What do you mean there’s no steak? I’m going to spend my next five months in Korea randomly asking people: “Dude, where’s my fucking steak?!” and nobody is going to get it. And nobody should. Because this is not something that one should even conceive of having possibly occurred. Blasphemy.

Our server looked rather ashamed and apologized profusely, before asking if we’d like to order something else. A brief team meeting brought us to the consensus that we were far too lazy to get up and go elsewhere at this point. The Shanster and I ordered chicken fingers. I figured at this point they’d screwed up so epically that things could only improve. This was kind of like that time I didn’t go to intro biology all semester long and thought that I could pass the course merely by skimming the textbook 6 hours before the exam. Or that time that I thought eating three tins of cheese balls over 24 hours was a good idea. Or any time that I’m found near the tequila. What seem like great ideas at the time, scream so obviously of imminent failure that only I would bother to take them for a spin. Your suspicion that I’m at least part idiot is not incorrect.

The Tall One forgot that we were too lazy to get up and go elsewhere and decided to run off and get a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts down the street, in order to blow some steam off and hopefully suppress her desire to go postal on The Rocky Mountain Tavern. The Shanster and I waited for another ten minutes before they finally brought The Tall One’s quesadillas. Apparently it takes half an hour to cook chicken; that, or they had to slay a cat out in the back alley to conceal that there wasn’t any chicken either. A few minutes later, our chicken fingers followed. Saddened as I was that this was not steak, I was willing to make the best of it. I watched the Shanster chew her way through one without keeling over and decided that it was safe to proceed. I was horribly mistaken. One bite lead to the discovery that my chicken finger tasted a trifle strange and felt a little slimier than it ought to. One look determined that the chicken was pinker than pink. Uncooked chicken fingers; just the encore I was looking for after twenty minutes of No Steak.

All kinds of special.

Disbelief. Yet, still too lazy to leave the restaurant. Afterall, I had swollen eyelids and a sports injury to boot! After picking through all of my chicken fingers to confirm that it wasn’t my imagination, that their cook is in fact 5 years old, we called the server over to collect them. I absolutely abhor being rude to my servers. Thankfully I was simply too tired and mind broken to muster up words. Unable to look at him for fear of either screaming profanities or breaking into hysterical laughter, I handed the server my basket and said: “Not cooked. Not cooked!”

Eventually they brought me another set of chicken fingers. Oddly, I didn’t feel like eating at this point. I needed a bloody coffee. While the delivery of the coffee itself went smoothly, they dropped the ball on cream and sugar. Who drops off a coffee without offering cream and sugar? Once again, the server was gone before I could open my mouth with another request. This alone would normally be enough to stun me, but I was still struggling to understand what the fuck happened to my steak.

Seventeen dollars. Seventeen dollars for shoddy service, No Steak, black coffee, uncooked chicken fingers, and scores of lost brain cells that will never regenerate. The upside if that this has provided ample material with which to amuse myself for the rest of time. But seriously… where’s my fucking steak?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Barbie Teacher and the Short Bus Chronicles

You really shouldn’t need a reason to be happy. And if you insist on being sad, there really ought to be a damn good reason for it. My own default is such that it’s painfully easy to wallow in self pity; it’s a lot harder to put on my happy hat and sing a happy tune. The truth is I used to be completely unable to do so. Reality, should we chose to accept it, changes everything. Knowing that the world has lost somebody who never needed a reason to smile or put others before him makes me want to be more like my friend; I’ll never do it quite as well as he did, but a little bit of effort goes a long way. Or so I keep telling myself. In my last week I may have swallowed bottle after bottle in search of the end to my own insecurities, and I’m probably going to follow this up with more of the same. Yet, rather than write about my struggle towards self love, I’m going to ramble about something amusing that happened in class a while back, if for no other reason than the hope that it might make somebody else smile.

Tuesdays and Thursday end with one of my most advanced classes. Given that my most advanced class can almost have conversations with me, this isn't exactly saying a whole lot. That being said, from time to time I have rather enjoyable banters with these students. The load of suck is that I have to stay an extra hour to do it. I regularly debate whether or not this is worth it, with mixed results. On this particular Thursday, Rhea Student decided to be cute and show up 20 minutes late. I love it when they do that. In the same way that I love Fran Drescher’s laugh. Or rough anal sex. In other words, call me a prude, but I’d really rather that they not show up at all at that point. In spite of my annoyance, as it turns out, the ridiculous banter that was about to hand wrapped for me could not have happened had Rhea Student not stumbled in late.

Rhea Student has a penchant for punctuality, so her tardiness drew the attention of Kevin Student. After allowing 30 seconds of what sounded like light hearted Korean mockery, Rhea Student threw her book at Kevin Student. Confused, I asked Kevin Student what he had just told her. He calmly explains to me that Rhea Student was late because she “took the short bus to school”. Rhea Student promptly throws another book at him. At this juncture I had two options: I could either tell Kevin Student that he’s not being nice and to cut it out, or I could play dumb and ask what this whole “short bus” deal was all about. Consummate professional that I am, I chose the latter. Frankly, I was so surprised to hear that “short bus” as a euphemism for retard might translate similarly to Korean, that the former option didn’t even cross my mind. I had to get to the bottom of this. The result was more or less as follows:

Barbie Teacher: Kevin Student, what does “short bus” mean?
Kevin Student: *naïve face* Rhea took a taxi to school! Short bus is taxi!
Rhea Student: *throws pencil at Kevin Student* No! NO! That’s not what it means!
Barbie Teacher: *innocent face* Is it a bad thing? Is he insulting you?
Kevin Student: No! Taxi man!
Rhea Student: Yes! *looks sad that she has run out of items to throw*
Barbie Teacher: Well, how is it an insult? What does it mean?
Kevin Teacher: No, not an isult! *smirk* *insert three minute conversation, complete with illustrations, about how some busses just happen to be shorter than others*
Rhea Student: Teacher! He lies! He's calling me... like stupid!
Barbie Teacher: *chortling* Kevin Student, tell Rhea you’re sorry.
Kevin Student: Rhea Student… I’m sorry that you rode the short bus.
Rhea Student: *pouty face*

In other words, 5 minutes of awesome later and neither of them definitively confirmed my assumption that “short bus” serves a similar purpose in Korean as it does English. Later, I naively asked my boss what “short bus” meant. For a split second he appeared to be thoroughly embarrassed for me, before concealing his pity with a puzzled look and shrug of the shoulders. Either way, I walked away happy.