So last week I went into some random rant about religious conversion types in subway stations and promised I would connect it back to something a bit later. It is now 'a bit later' I guess.
Do you remember this story? Well, if you don't, there's a link right there. Click it.
The one thing I should point out from the jump is that, unlike I usually do, due to the content of that post, I actually changed the students' names. Maybe pointless, but you never know, and I didn't really feel comfortable posting something like that while using their actual names. I wouldn't want it done to me. I'm going to stick with those same names from now on (or try to... they're not their actual names, so if I fuck it up at some point, that's why).
Seongmin's school duty is to clean our English office. Everyday at lunch he comes in to refill the kettle, and everyday he's there during the cleaning period after school. Seongmin and I have done a lot of talking this year, as a result. He only gets smarter and more mature as the days go by, and one day when we were alone in the office, as he was sitting at the table working on some small task HT had given him, he suddenly said, "Teacher?"
He asked me whether I had wanted to be a teacher when I was younger, how I came to be a teacher, if I liked it.... and then he asked me if he thought he would make a good one. I said (of course), of course. I said, in fact, that I couldn't think of a single other student at our school who would make a better teacher. That he was kind, patient, a hard worker, good at talking to people and very, very smart. In my opinion, those are the qualities that make you. I went on to tell him that if every student was like him, everybody would want to be a teacher, and the job would barely have to pay. Maybe an exaggeration, but if you knew Seongmin, you might argue that it wasn't.
Originally, Seongmin was the student I was closest to, but as time went on, Byeongchan, Kwonwook and Changhyeon, his very close friends, started coming by the office during lunch to find him, or after school to wait to walk home together.
Byeongchan is one of the two who I referred to in the previous post -- the two who were, earlier this year, repeatedly molested by a group of older men in Jongno. The other student who was molested used to always be seen by Byeongchan's side, but shortly after it happened, they split off from one another. I don't know the specifics of why, but I have some idea. As I'm sure you do as well. Byeongchan and Changhyeon are hard to discuss separately, because they are always together, and they've been always together since they were in the first grade. Kwonwook completes their traveling trifecta. Seongmin is a little separated out, simply because he is an A ban student, and they are B ban, in all subjects. He naturally runs with a different crowd, because his class time is spent with other students.
Byeongchan is gay. I would bet my life that Changhyeon is also gay, but I've never heard anything to confirm this. But I feel it in the same way that I felt that Byeongchan and Seongmin were gay from the very first day that I met them. I don't believe that Kwonwook is, but I have no way of knowing.
Have you got all that? I feel like a Russian novelist. I'm sorry.
At any rate, as these students were hanging around the office waiting on Seongmin, they began to peck around in what little English they had between them, with Seongmin filling in a lot of the gaps as he wandered about sweeping, to speak with me. The real bonding moment came when they started flipping through my Korean book, which I'd left out on my desk and realized what level I was at. After that, all language shackles were shrugged off. We were BFF.
It might be important to note that this happened after the end of the first semester, which means that I am no longer teaching these boys and will not ever teach them again. After that happens, I allow a lot of lines to be crossed that remain very firm while I am still dealing with students in a classroom setting. Hence the speaking in Korean.
Anyway, the situation developed to where they were no longer coming to the office to find Seongmin. Now, they finish their lunch in a hurry every day and spend the remaining forty minutes in my office annoying me. Peeking over my shoulder at my computer monitor, digging through my materials for their 후배 that week, analyzing and tsking over my Korean homework, asking me nosy personal questions and eating anything edible that I have. In fact, their feelings got very hurt earlier this week when I was editing an exam during lunch time. They were fooling around by my desk occasionally interrupting me to ask some inane thing, until HT told them that I was working, that they were noisy and that they needed to get out. That was on Monday. Tuesday, they didn't come. Yesterday, only Kwonwook had the guts to show his face, and even then he spent the first ten minutes wandering in tentative circles around the office muttering about where Seongmin was, although we both knew full well he was down in their classroom.
Kwonwook is by far the loudest, although Byeongchan is not far behind. Kwonwook wants to be a pet shop owner, and Byeongchan wants to be a fashion designer. He wants to make clothes like the ones that Lady Gaga, his favorite singer, wears. Changhyeon is very quiet and not sure what he wants to be.
During all of this, a load of other students are in and out of the office, either performing tasks for other teachers or just stopping in to hang out for a bit. The other boys tease these guys a lot. It's mostly friendly, but sometimes it crosses lines, as it has a way of doing with kids. The whole group is known the school over for being a little effeminate, although this doesn't really seem to bother anyone in a serious way. What they do constantly scoff at is the boys speaking to me in Korean. It's always the A ban boys who get their feathers ruffled about it, commenting that if they can't speak English, they shouldn't be harassing the foreign teacher in the first place. But Kwonwook just shouts back at them that, of course I can understand them and I speak Korean very well and they don't know anything about it anyway, so mind your own business. Then does a superior kind of eye roll, and turns back to our conversation. The other two just kind of ignore it.
For the school festival which, sadly, I missed, Byeongchan and Changhyeon performed "Sunny", complete with the hip bobbing, finger pointing choreographed dance moves. Some of the other students teased the two ruthlessly about this, but they really couldn't have given less of a fuck. They practiced for months, taking videos to correct their mistakes. It was one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen (they showed me the video after I returned from the US). The boys obviously do a lot of "feminine" routines for these kinds of events, but usually they're done as a bit of a joke. Byeongchan and Changhyeon were not joking. This was their performance, and they were going to do it in their way, and they didn't give a fuck what anyone else had to say about it.
Byeongchan has always been a bright and sunny student. When he was a first grader, he was one of the first ones I remember noticing as standing out from his peers, because, although he couldn't say much, he constantly shouted out, "Teacher!" and then rattled on at me in Korean I mostly couldn't understand, and beamed. At some point during his second grade year, however, he changed. He started wearing a hoody, which he pulled over his head during class, when he would either try to sleep or just lay on the desk staring into space. He was grumpy and unresponsive when I tried to talk to him. I thought it was just a part of what most of the students go through during the second grade, when a lot of them become argumentative and contrary. But, looking back on it and knowing what I now know, I don't think it was just ordinary.
These days, he's back to his old self. Seongmin, Kwonwook, Byeongchan and Changhyeon have all started attending to the same church. It's just past the coffee shop where I study Korean and, while I worried about what attending a church may do to their already confused sexual identity, the change in Byeongchan since he started has been remarkable, and that's the most important thing for now. If it gives him a place of community and something that makes him smile and chirp again, that's good enough for me.
Do you see where this is going yet? I'm sure you do, in part. But there was something else that happened last week that I was in no way prepared for, which was that the boys specifically brought up being gay and asked me what I thought of it. Murky waters. I'll talk about that later.