Student Sketches III: Yeongchan

Yeongchan. What can I even say about Yeongchan? He is five feet zero inches of pure excellence.

Yeongchan speaks English about on the same level as I speak Korean. Which means that he generally has some clue what's going on, and can figure out exactly what's going on if I slow down and rephrase things enough times, but his speaking is pretty peckish, unless he's really having an on day. Nonetheless, Yeongchang is one of the students I know the best. Anyone who doesn't spend the majority of their time socializing with second-language speakers will wonder how that's possible, but it just is. After a certain amount of time, you just get comfortable with this way of communicating and it doesn't seem any different than normal. I don't really know how to explain it.

But that's not the only reason. Yeongchan has these eyes that positively radiate. When he makes eye contact with you, you hear full paragraphs of what he's thinking.

Yeongchan basically saved my life in my first after school class, all on his own. No matter how out of control and gripey the other students got, Yeongchan sat right up front postively beaming at me, and refusing to not give answers, even if he had no clue what the answer was. You would think he was sitting in a classroom full of bright, attentive, enthusiastic students all lined up in perfect rows behind him, rather than being the sole bright spot in an otherwise totally chaotic nightmare situation. Slowly, over the weeks, his enthusiasm began to garner followers, and first Yeongchan blossomed into a full table of attentive students, then two full tables, then three.... Yeongchan's just that kind of person. You can't look Yeongchan's face without wanting to feel, or involuntarily feeling, exactly what he's feeling.

One day, after all the students had come around, thanks to my pint-sized hero, the students were working in groups on a reading assignment, when some ridiculous chaos broke out at Yeongchan's table surrounding his shoes. When I went over the police the nonsense, the other students told me that there were cigarettes in Yeongchan's shoe. That didn't seem likely to me, but I've been shocked before, and, in my usual imitation of a Responsible Adult, I felt compelled to at least have a look. Yeongchan defiantly snatched up the shoe before I could grab it and took off across the room with it. This was extremely unlike him.

As he weaved his way through the tables, with me following after him, he attempted to compose a plea in English (at this time, my Korean was still basically hopeless). He ended up managing to explain that whatever was going on was a "man's problem" and please would I not look? His entire table were watching us closely with great delight and baited breath.

If I could go back and time and change ten moments in my life, this one would probably make the list. I took the shoe and peered inside. I ran my hand down across the inside of the sole. I looked at Yeongchan. He was still, as always, smiling, but the corners of his mouth were downturned a bit and his cheeks were red.

I looked up at the table and, now, the whole class, who were watching with interest and said, "There's nothing here.... what are you guys talking about? There's nothing here." I handed the shoe back to Yeongchan. He took it with both hands and a bow, and headed back to his seat.

What Yeongchan hadn't wanted me to see, and what his tablemates had, was that in the bottom of Yeongchan's shoes there are inserts that give him an extra couple of inches in height.

A couple of weeks ago, during the science fair, I was sitting outside on the steps while Yeongchan was running around taking photos for the school newspaper. Wherever he was at any given time, he would occasionally turn around and seek out my eyes from however far away and pretend to be taking sneaky photos of me: "Teacher I am paparazzi!" He even went so far as to climb through the bushes behind me at one point, completely creeping out the group of students I was talking to. MJ came over to sit and talk with me for a while, and at one point I got distracted from what he was saying. He followed my eyes over to Yeongchan, who was once again taunting me with the camera from about fifty yards away. I smiled. "That's Yoon Yeongchan. He's being paparazzi today."

"I think maybe he has a crush on you... that's quite strange behavior..."

I smiled and pulled my jacket collar up over my face, pretending to hide from Yeongchan's camera, and he fell over in the dirt laughing way too enthusiastically. "Nah. No crush. Me and Yeongchan are best friends."

"Best friends...?"

"Yeah. We've been friends for a long time."



gwern said...

That was, I think, a good way to handle the shoe thing. Did it work?

I'm no Picasso said...

All his classmates already knew about it, because the others had managed to communicate what was going on to them in Korean while I was chasing him round the room. They probably would've found out anyway, since the other table already had. What he didn't want was for me to see it. And he knew that I did. So. I dunno.