Monday, August 31, 2009

Hate at First Sight

Every month, I walk into my new classes and I hate them on sight. It's not personal. I just hate everybody that I don't know; those in the classroom are no exception.The feeling usually passes once I share a few words with them and am forced to accept them as people, but up until that point? Hate.

Okay, hate is a bit strong. I'm exaggerating, as I do. Hate indicates a degree of caring, which doesn't exist in this case. Apathy or, at worst, distrust would be more appropriate. Whatever it is, while I follow something resembling the social code which I was taught (holding open doors for people, not cutting in line, and other such blah), people that I don't know don't really register as real people.

Midway through the second day of class, once I've attached names to faces and seen a glimpse of personality, I come around to the idea that my students are real people. By the end of the first week, we're all pretty tight, such that I can cater my lesson plans to each of their individual learning styles and personalities. By the end of the month, I can even imagine that some of them exist outside of the classroom; this is in part because they insist that I have a drink with them, an invite which I rarely decline.

When classes come to a close each month, all the names, which went with faces, most of which had personalities, move on. A new sea of nameless faces, which I hate on sight, then grow to see as people, and finally like, maybe just a little bit, replace the old.

It's an exhausting process.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I Wanna Be Your Dog

Saw a t-shirt with this wonderful combination of words screaming from it.

Want this t-shirt.

Everything else is bad.

It will pass.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This is Why I Should Learn More Korean

Knowing very little Korean has served me well in some situations. Less so in others. I don't actually condone refusing to learn the language of the cow you're milking. It is undoubtedly more advantageous to be able to communicate effectively in your own backyard than not. Even if you have zero interest in communicating with the locals any more than is absolutely essential (odd, but this level of social retardation does exist), then wouldn't it at least be nice to have the satisfaction of knowing that your taxi driver understands that you think he's a nutless fuck weed for taking an unnecessary detour?

I stopped learning Korean because I'm lazy. Yes, Korea, you heard right: the primary reason for my having embarrassingly little knowledge of your language after almost 2 years has nothing to do with you! Once I acquire what I believe to be a reasonable understanding of something, I move on to something else. What you and I consider to be a "reasonable understanding of something" probably differs. Feel free to do whatever it is that you do. After learning to read Korean, count, say some useful phrases, and have a gist of what somebody was saying about 10% of the time, I moved on to something else. Then, something else after that. Probably not productive things, but things, nonetheless.

Every now and then I consider studying Korean again, only to realize that my motivations for doing so are less than pure. Once you realize that the only phrases you wish to learn in a language are insulting ones, then the world is better off without you knowing it. Or, so I thought. As it turns out, I really probably should have learned a variety of Korean insults, words for genitalia, and other such things.

The other day, my afternoon writing class was working on an essay. I had to put them in teams; they get fussy if they have to do solo writing too many days in a row (God forbid independent thought flow freely). Obviously you can't be a team without a team name, so the students were asked to come up with a snappy name for their pair. Unfortunately, they weren't very forthcoming with ideas on that. They rarely are. Being lazy and uncreative myself, I decided to combine the first syllable of each of their names. Hence, Teams JoKa (John and Kate) and JaJi (Jake and Jinny) were created.

Nobody really responded to Joka, which I was quite amused with because I thought it sounded like "joker". This really isn't funny at all but sometimes, when I get bored, these are the things that keep me going. While I was busy amusing myself by saying Joka, I noticed that the class was still snickering over Jaji. Having no idea why Jaji (Korean: 자지) was so funny to them, I made a point of calling them by their team names for the rest of the class, just to elicit giggles.

At the end of class, one of the guys hesitated on his way out the door. "What's up?" I asked, in language slightly more professional than that. "Barbie, you know... you know that jaji has... maybe kind of a bad meaning... right?" Blink. It hadn't even dawned on me that my random combination of syllables meant something in Korean (in hindsight, it should have and I'm a tool for not realizing this). In short, yes, as you probably already deduced, I had in fact been referring to half of my class as "Team Penis".

Apparently the students assumed that I knew what 자지 meant, thought I was being funny, so nobody told me to cut it out. While I did think I was being funny, it was because I think that random syllables sound funny together - not because I had any idea that 자지 actually meant something. I apologized to the student and explained that (knowingly) making jokes of that nature is completely inappropriate and unprofessional, so of course I had no idea what I had been saying. I addressed the issue again the next day at the beginning of class for those students that weren't there when I owned up to my ignorance. They had a good laugh at my expense, while I pretended to be above Penis Jokes (not a total lie; in the classroom, sexual humour is a no-go zone).

I haven't told my supervisor yet, though I suspect that when I do he'll laugh in my face for a while, like my other coworkers did. This, followed by "you're an idiot", is the appropriate response.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Teacher-Student Attachment Issues

Whether or not I like my students is unimportant. Some of them are good people; some of them are bad people; most of them just sort of are. Wherever they fall, they're all the same once they walk into the classroom. Good or bad, sometimes they say absurd things. One time one of my students proposed that "Western people are lazy because they demand overtime pay, unlike Koreans, who have excellent work ethic". Had I taken the time to process that, break it down, and explain to her that this was absurd, I would have sprouted a few white hairs in the process and she'd still think the same thing. It can be difficult for me not to out students as complete fucking idiots when they utter things like this, but instead either silently accept that they are idiots and move on with the lesson, or accept that perhaps they're not idiots and that various factors which are beyond their control have contributed to what I perceive as a demented World view. Whatever it is, it is what it is, and I consider it part of my job to accept it, ignore it, and just teach English.

Students, whether they are good people, bad people, or somewhere in between, occasionally ask more of me than what I consider appropriate. This is largely a cultural thing. With very few exceptions, I find it bizarre to socialize with my students outside of class - even though they're all, technically, adults. I do it from time to time, because I tend to just roll with the punches here, but I don't love it. Hanging out with students generally makes me feel like I'm working on my free time. Once I've thrown somebody into the Student Box, it's very, very difficult for them to crawl out and find their way to the Friend Box. As evidenced by recent events with a former student, boundaries are a good thing.

The first day this student walked into my class, I didn't like him. It wasn't anything that he had done, yet; it was that I immediately hate almost all old men here on sight. While this is surely the result of numerous incidents over the last couple of years in Korea that involved poorly socialized (by my standards, of course), repugnant old men, I have no issue acknowledging that this is completely prejudiced. In truth, I teach many older gentlemen, and they tend to be no better or worse than the rest. Rationally, I know this. Yet, I continue to hate them on sight, and eventually get over it once I get to know them as individuals. I am what I am.

After a couple months of this particular student walking into my class, he still rubbed me the wrong way. I dealt with it, because one-on-one lessons are good money for the school. It's my job to teach English; it's also my job to make sure that students continue to want me to teach English. I dealt with it, because while he seriously creeped me out, it's not important that I like my students and he hadn't really done anything truly inappropriate. Yet.

Over those couple months, Creepy Married Student's behaviour got progressively weirder. Some of this was the result of how I perceived his behaviour, due to cultural differences. Some really was him being fucking weird. First there was his request to call me his daughter. Then there was the never ending flow of gifts. English lessons interrupted by his sharing of family photo albums. Setting up dinners with his wife on class time. Trying to give me an envelope of cash as "allowance", like I was actually his child (while I refused to take it, I probably wouldn't think less of somebody else if they took it). The weird emails about family values, how to live a beautiful life, individualism is bad, and a bunch of loopy hogwash that I can't be bothered to repeat, which he undoubtedly found on some cult website somewhere.

In the beginning, I visited my supervisor and alerted him that this student was more than just a little bizarre. I made it clear that I wasn't trying to get out of the lessons; the student had already told me that he was going to quit if he had to deal with another teacher. I was merely sharing that this guy was seriously weird. I followed this up by reporting every other bizarre thing that this guy did. His behaviour became a bit of an inside joke between the supervisor and myself.

Then the student got needy. I hate needy people. Their constant need for approval. Their inability to do anything without reassurance. Useless. Creepy Married Student noticed my refusal to move him out of the Student Box and questioned why I couldn't return the "family love" which he was apparently extending. I wrote him back to inquire if he wanted me to correct the English grammar mistakes in his email, seeing as that is actually part of my job and all. Creepy Married Student responded to this by getting increasingly needy (Hate. So much Hate), writing creepy poems, and finally confessing that he previously had romantic feelings for me which he had pushed aside for the more appropriate, "family love". He didn't seem to see anything wrong with writing this, and proceeded on with another poem about "beautiful life" and a request that I please correct his English in my response.

Fuck That Noise. Class over.

After immediately forwarding the email which officially crossed the line, (as well as all of the other borderline ones which work was already aware of) to my supervisor, I made it clear that I could not teach this guy again. It wasn't even a choice. The second I read that email, I knew that the jig was up. I could no longer put on the Yay, This School Rocks, Show Us the Money show that I'd been performing so well, and he could no longer contact me.

Within about 12 hours management completely sided with me, canceled the class, and advised me that if he tried to contact me again they would take care of it.

Boundaries are beautiful.
Saving emails is always a good idea.
As is informing your superior of any peculiar behaviour from your students, long before there may be a real problem.
If you're never anything less than completely professional, people will be less inclined to question your character.

More than anything, I was lucky. If I worked for a sham hagwon with a sham management team, they could have insisted that I continue teaching the class. There probably wouldn't have been much that I could have done about it. I would have put my foot down and job on the line over this. I did all the right things, but still needed to be lucky.

It was a good month.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I Am Fat Expat. Hear Me Chew.

Where a torn hoodie, faded jeans, massive white tennis shoes, and barely brushed hair still manages to elicit compliments, why bother?

I did my hair last week for a birthday party. This was boring; I don't intend on making a habit of it. One of my coworkers, who I have known for about a year and a half, remarked that when he knew me last year, I always looked nice like this. What happened? "Oh, I just stopped trying", I responded. He was perplexed, not quite understanding what I meant by that. Further explanation was required.

There is stereotype about female expats in Korea that you see floating around the
Internet and uttered in corners of drinking holes, by people that I couldn't possibly want to have less sex with. If it is to be believed, it follows that female expats tend to be fat, loud, opinionated, ugly, bitches who are completely unmarriable. Obviously this last bit is the most damning of all insults, since the entire raison d'etre for any woman is to find a handsome man to marry and produce babies with. The richer the better. Working is for ugly chicks! Oh, fucknuts.

"You stopped trying what?", my perplexed coworker wanted to know. Wasn't it obvious? "You see", I explained, "today, I decided to brush my hair and wear blush. Last year, I did this every day. At the moment, I can't be fucking bothered. I'll brush my hair again when I go home".

There was a point sometime during my first contract where I realized that, within reason, it didn't really matter what I did. I could wake up half an hour earlier to straighten my hair and put on my best outfit, or I could pin my hair back messily and wear an unflattering sweater with slacks. As long as I showed up to class on time and brought the correct book, nobody cared.

"What about meeting guys?" my now less slightly less perplexed coworker wanted to know. I laughed at this for what I considered an appropriate period of time and started up again: "Well, Brad, I've done the expat 'dating' scene thing. Been there, done that, got bored. And I'm so negative about Korea lately that I have little interest in learning the language any more than I have to at this point; a failing attitude for breaking into the Korean dating pool, if there ever was one".

My coworker was going to break into a tirade about how the problem with female expats is that they don't get enough sex, but them he remembered that he is intelligent and doesn't actually have thoughts like this. The conversation moved to food soon after. This was excellent, since we were at a buffet and there was a lot of food to talk about.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My Wired Hiatus

A few weeks ago, I discovered The Wire. From then on, until I ran out of episodes, time that would have otherwise been spent reading, updating this blog, or writing elsewhere, was spent glued to the computer screen watching episodes, analyzing them, and reading reviews. It was a very sad period for my social life, but an enlightening experience as a TV fangirl. Not that anybody asked, but Season 4 of The Wire is the best season of television that I've ever seen, and while I'm at a loss of what the Hell to do with myself now that I've run out of episodes, I can't bring myself to start on another show just yet.

(How exactly somebody who claims to be a TV dweeb went this long without watching The Wire is beyond explanation. I'm a bit of a farce.)

In between episodes of The Wire, life has just sort of happened. The eclipse came and went, though the combination of cloudy skies in Seomyeon and my digital camera of questionable quality resulted in poor evidence of this. I've lifted the following photo from my friend Melisa, who had a better view in Minam (my old stomping ground). Also, probably better photography skills.

I tried to blame it on the camera, but compared and found that our cameras are of similar quality. I now suspect that my camera is faulty, and thus, still largely responsible.

My failure to notice when the eclipse was actually happening may also have played a role.