The Mary Poppins dilemma and the center boys, manners eobdah.

Are you people on crack? What is with the bazillion page views today? You must all have exams going on at school with all your classes canceled or something....

I've got a problem. It's a bag problem. Before I came to Korea, I was not a bag person. A bag lady -- some days, the comparison could be made. But a bag person, no. I had a lifelong habit of setting things down in public spaces and then wandering off without them like a fucking idiot. I had pockets and that was all I needed.

Then, I became a teacher. Then, I became a teacher who was studying Korean. Then, I became a teacher who was studying Korean and teaching 8-10 totally unmannered little wild men at a different location, who require things like markers, colored pencils and scissors to keep them from vibrating themselves into a frenzy and blasting off into outer space while being taught English for two hours.

Now, I'm Mary fucking Poppins. I could walk straight out of my office and into the airport, board a plane for Mumbai and probably get by on what's in my bag for a good six months. So long as I could find a job that involved over-sized dice and glue sticks. Or foregoing the assumption that underwear made out of completed English worksheets is an inherently bad idea.

In addition to what I purposely put in my bag, it also contains a collection of assorted nonsense from the students, either taken by force or given as (at times) mystifying little gifts, on any given day. Weird little cardboard circles with pop stars faces' on them ("Teacher Chanseung love! Chanseung 선물이요!" ), ninja stars made out of old vocabulary lists, chocopies, lint-covered cough drops, other people's cell phones.

Nonsense. All around nonsense. And suddenly, Teacher's worried that by the time she's proper halmeoni age, she'll have a proper halmeoni stoop to match.


The boys at the center. What I haven't mentioned is that Yejin (the girl I teach on Thursdays, who speaks fluent English) has been coming to the center to help me work with the boys, which will look really good on her foreign high school apps in a couple of years. I thought the boys would be full-on thrilled about this -- a girl their own age to hang out with for two hours every week. And Yejin is not hard on the eyes, it has to be said. But they've been less than enthusiastic. In fact, they've been downright 싸가지 없는 새끼들 little bastards about the whole ordeal.

They told the head teacher flat out that they do not want to study English with anyone but me. As lovely as that is as food for my enormous ego, it's been causing some problems while Yejin has been there. She's younger than most of them, so it's expected that they talk down to her a bit. But I've been horrified at their lack of manners throughout. In fact, the more Korean I've been picking up, I've been increasingly horrified at their manners when dealing with the head teacher as well. They think nothing of telling her to go and fetch them something in the lower form of speech. I was particularly crest-fallen when I heard Chanhee do something equivalent to this, when he thought I had already gone the week before last. I called him over in Korean and cussed him out left and right for it. He was impressively embarrassed and apologized to the teacher when I told him to. Utter nonsense.

I guess I had figured they had gotten quite comfortable with me, because we keep up a steady stream of jibing back and forth in Korean throughout classtime, and they generally try to get away with all kinds of nonsense, which I mostly allow, so long as some work is getting done. They always start out class speaking politely, but will switch to the familiar form somewhere through the middle, which is normal when in an intimate setting, and just fine with me -- it's hard to keep up the formal speech, when they're trying simply to be understood by me, and it shows (I thought) that we are close. But I guess what I've been getting is still their version of good behavior. Which is somewhat appalling and disappointing. I knew these boys were rough -- they don't generally come from good homes and are the equivalent of my very lowest students at my regular school. But I didn't know that they were without manners, as well.

And so, it's been a rough couple of weeks. Because they can speak to me however they'd like -- that's a die they're casting at the risk of their own well-being. But I won't tolerate them being rude to Yejin. And the kiboon has been awful, as a result. They also got all in a fucking tither because, when I corrected them and they explained that they were allowed to talk to Yejin that way because she's dongsaeng, I told them that I didn't give a crap how old anyone was, but Yejin is my friend and they won't be speaking to her that way.

Oh. They did not like that one. Saying someone is your "friend" in Korean is really controversial when that person is significantly older or younger than you are. Generally, when two people find out they were born in the same year in Korean, they will say, "Oh we are friends!" Because even one year sets you apart. Last year, for example, Donggyoo (my a level jjang crew boy) and I had had a conversation about how, in American culture, you can be friends at any age. When I saw him and Kyeongwon (another favorite student and a close hyeong of Donggyoo) talking together in the hall one day, Donggyoo turned and pointed at Kyeongwon, and said, "My friend!" Kyeongwon quickly grabbed him by the throat and asked him if he wanted to die. By calling Kyeongwon his "friend", Donggyoo had shown Kyeongwon a great amount of percieved disrespect. So me calling Yejin my "friend" was quite shocking for the boys.

Why can Yejin be Teacher's friend, but we are not? Because she speaks English? Cue the fucking attitudes to end all attitudes. Jesus.

A big part of it is resentment, see. They don't like some rich girl coming in and palling around with their English teacher, speaking in easy fluent English and trying to tell them what they ought to know. And they hate that Yejin and I can speak to each other and they can't understand, which I was quick to point out is exactly how I feel every single I see them and they're speaking to each other in Korean (they've been ridiculously attentive to slowing down their speech to each other, and not just me, since I pointed this out, by the way, and now I am able to know what the fuck is going on nearly all the time). But I explained to them that they can just fucking knock it off, because that is not how gentlemen behave. At all.

But this week Yejin has exams and we were back to business as usual, and somehow, despite Yejin's bilingual absence, things ran much more smoothly. I knew they would be in the midst of exams, and so I didn't plan on having them actually listen to me at all, but instead rolled out the ol' make-your-own-comics lesson, which (as usual, with low level students) terrified them at first glance, but they got really into it and did a great job. My head is throbbing, though, because this meant that instead of being able to process and answer one question they all had about one worksheet or activity at the same time, I had to process and answer a bazillion questions in Korean coming at me from all different directions. It's good practice, though.

On that note, it's time for me to take my aching little head off to bed. Tomorrow is another day full of killing time. Yeehaw and stuff.

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