I'm having a hard S.Korea day today.
To be fair, I always have rougher days when I don't have any classes. It's harder to keep a positive attitude. But while I do think my appreciation of a lot of things is on the rise at the moment, and overall, I'm becoming more comfortable and more confident, I am also starting to realize a lot of things that naivete prevented me from seeing before.
I had an out-of-body rage moment when I was walking out of the school to go and pay a bill during lunch today. Most of the boys were out front kicking balls around and throwing snow at each other, and there was the usual rounds of his and hellos, which was fine. I greeted them cheerfully, although I wasn't in the best of moods. But then one kid got right in my face and screamed, "HI!" in the most aggressive manner possible. I stopped walking and it took all of my self-control not to grab the shit by the collar (he was significantly bigger than I am) and tell him not to fucking scream in my face ever again -- that I may be young and a foreigner, but I am still a fucking teacher (whether anyone else wants to see it that way or not) and I will not tolerate that kind of fucking disrespect.
And really, it's not about being a teacher and him a student -- it's about being a person.
Next time, I don't think I'll stop myself. None of the other teachers seem concerned about addressing some of the rude behavior I receive from students, which is all the better, because it's really not their place. If I'm going to be shown any kind of respect in the workplace, I'll have to start with the students, and I'll have to do it on my own.
For similar reasons, I went to lunch on my own and early today, instead of waiting for Mr. K. I sat at the men's table, as always, and watched as all the teachers who normally say hello to me when Mr. K is there filed past whispering to each other and pointing instead. I wanted to test out going to lunch alone and see what would happen. I got my answer. Not one person spoke to me the entire time.
I know there are all sorts of issues wrapped up in this, not the least of which being the language barrier. But the high school atmosphere is starting to get me down. Being left alone is one thing, but being gestured at and talked about is an entirely different matter. These are adults, we're talking about, after all. And the fact that they don't even attempt to be subtle is, I think, what bothers me the most. It's as if, in their minds, my not speaking Korean gives them free reign to treat me like a dog. I don't mean in the sort of demeaning traditional sense -- I just mean literally as something in the room that has no awareness of what's going on. And while I'm absolutely positive to the core of my very being that not one ounce of it is at all malicious, it starts to wear on you after a time.
My students in New York used to talk about it all the time.
Anyway, there's nothing to be done but to study harder. You can't control other people, and you certainly can't make them aware of things that may not have occurred to them -- such as how they would feel if I burst into fits of laughter every time they spoke a word of English to me, as some of them have a habit of doing anytime I say anything in Korean -- if you don't even speak their language.
And if I don't want to continue being touted as Mr. K's dong-saeng, then I'm going to have to break some of the reliance I've had on him up until this point. I'm not sure how to do this without seeming somehow averse to him, but I'm going to have to figure it out.
Anyway, I'm starting to understand what the other expats mean when they talk about Koreans befriending you for "free English lessons". I wouldn't phrase it that way at all, and as with all statements that include a title of one particular people, it very much needs to be clarified. I think what they are referring to is that we hold a peculiar position as foreigners in this country (and probably several others, I'm sure), in that there is some esteem (in some cases) associated with being a native English speaking Westerner. There is a novelty about it that arises on some occasions early on in the form of what appears to be a genuine hope for friendship. But because of this associated esteem, once the novelty wears off, at times so does the interest.
I don't want to become a more guarded person -- fuck knows I'm guarded enough as it is. But suffice it to say, I'll be a little more wary of gracious greetings until more time has passed, from now on.
Anyway, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and Mike and I have a lovely evening planned. I'm going to do my damnedest to pull myself out of my funk and really try to enjoy myself.
I'm doing my best to remember how harsh things were the first six months I was in New York, and how much of what was merely conditional I took personally and internalized for a really long time. For the most part, the ROK has been cake compared to my first few months in New York. There are a few really truly lovely people I've met so far and who, I trust with all of my heart, have the most sincere intentions. And that's a hell of a lot more than what I can say for how things started out in New York. But I got there, eventually. It takes time to really establish yourself in a new place. Any new place.
What I need is patience. Patience with others, with my situation and, most of all, with myself.