Lovely weekend. It's nice that we have found a couple of regular little places here in my neighborhood. One is the tiny dak galbi restaurant, where we went for Christmas Eve. Every time we go, the food keeps getting spicier. And at this point, we don't have to say a word. Just slip our shoes off, take our seats at the table in the back, and the food and ashtray magically appear. The lady who owns the place still comes around to stir for us and tell us when it's ready to eat -- we do need that much babysitting. There's also a coffee shop, where the cafe mochas at least are complete rubbish -- they taste of some sort of awful sweetening syrup -- but, we can smoke and as before, now the ashtray simply manifests itself by memory. They've got a drink called The Tuxedo that I'm itching to try -- if it's crap, I guess we'll try to find somewhere else. But it's good enough for now.
Ran into a hoard of my students on Sunday afternoon. Second graders, this time. I don't know them as well, as I only see them once every two weeks and rarely, lately, as they've been missing my classes to study for exams. They were shouting at us from across the street. When we got caught at the light, they merged with us and the first order of business was for them to inform me that they were from HS Middle School. I said, "I know."
"Ah! 'I know'," they repeated to each other.
Second order, of course, was to ask, "Boyfrienduh?"
Mike made an X with his arms, a sign we've both become very familiar with as Korean Middle School Student Speak for an emphatic "no".
I asked where they were going.
"Ah, of course."
One decided this was not a sufficient answer, as it was in Korean, and did us the favor of translating it to "pc room". Then one boy picked another up and threatened to throw him in front of the oncoming traffic.
One of the students had an earring in his left ear, just as I do, so I grabbed mine, pointed to his and said, "Earring." He smiled sheepishly and then took off running down the street.
Friday night was the bar in Bupyeong, at which we are fast becoming regulars. We peeked into another bar highly recommended by the expat community, but it didn't seem to be our scene, so we headed around the corner to the other. On Saturday night, we went to the grocery store to buy supplies to cook dinner and a bottle of red. Then, back here to cook, eat, drink and watch The Dreamers. Sunday was The Big Lebowski, which I haven't seen (to my recollection) since I was in Glasgow. Over dinner I told Mike that the scene when they scatter Donny's ashes ranks in the top ten best scenes in a movie of all time.
Today the schedule was altered at school, and yet again, I was completely uninformed of this. I had all of my classes on my own, and decided to skip the coteacher bullshit and just ask the boys what the hell was going on. After mulling my question over a bit amongst themselves, they gave me complete and accurate details. God bless the little devils.
I had my one little badass kid today. He's not really little -- in fact, he's fucking massive for a first grader. I'm not quite sure what he's up to, but today he moved himself from a decently behaved table last week to the best behaved table in the class. I didn't have an ounce of trouble out of him for the first half of class, and during the second, he turned around in his chair, looked at me, and then turned back to his buddy and began to speak loudly during the movie. I fucking ignored it, and eventually one of the other boys at the table told him to shut up. And he did. He glanced back at me, then, to see if I was watching. I don't know what he's playing at, but I suppose it doesn't matter, as this is the last time I'll have him this year.
The kid that was his sidekick during the original rounds of trouble has now completely cut himself off from him, and has become remarkably well behaved, even participating eagerly in the answering of questions during class. So something must be working, at least in part.
They were all very good boys today. Only one little blip on the radar when one of the boys I sent out in the hall last week was talking, and I approached him with my finger to my lips. He said, "Teacher. No hallway. Too cold." I said, no. No hallway. But please be quiet. To which he responded, "Okay. Bye."
I fucking cannot stand it when the boys say "bye" as though they are officially dismissing me and ending our conversation. It hits a fucking nerve even they don't expect. I leaned over then and grabbed his shoulder, pulling his face close to mine. "Excuse me? Do you want to go out in the hall?"
"No, Teacher. Sorry, sorry."
On my off period, I walked past a load of nonsense in the hall outside another teacher's class. She's a tiny older woman, and she was showing a movie. Four third graders were outside her room (obviously thrown out for bad behavior) and instead of kneeling, like they should have been, they were jumping up and down in front of the windows, sliding them open and shut and shouting. They saw me coming from down the hall and started shouting hi.
I stopped walking in front of them and surveyed the situation. The teacher looked at me helplessly through the window. Asshole kids with no respect. Sometimes I don't know what to think, other than Mr. K must be right when he says I am at a "very bad school". Some of the students respond so well and immediately to any kind of chastisement -- fucking shocking to someone who came up in the American public school system. But then there are others who have the balls to behave worse than I've ever seen any American kids do. Which is just bizarre considering the amount and frequency of discipline I've seen at my school.
It seems to rest wholly on the individual teacher. My classes with my one coteacher who never shows up anymore are terribly behaved. They were even worse when she was still in the room -- it was just her who took the brunt of the disrespect, instead of me. Yet Coteacher's boys are positively angelic, even when she isn't there -- but it's hard to get them to participate in class. They have a tendency to sit quietly and stare. They always greet me with deep bows in the hallway -- some of the only students to do so, other than some of the third graders who have never had me for a class. Mr. K's boys are loud and rowdy, but never disrespectful. They greet me warmly and with great enthusiasm when I pass them, and usually pause to chat for a bit.
Anyway, I wasn't sure if I'd be stepping on toes or whatever, but I couldn't just walk past those boys without saying anything. They were completely tormenting this poor woman and her entire class, who were trying to get on with the movie.
"Hey guys. What are you doing?"
They slammed the classroom windows a few more times.
"Hey! Stop it. Stand still. Why are you being horrible?"
They positioned themselves evenly spaced in front of the wall and knelt.
"Be nice to your teacher, okay? Stop being bad."
Can't believe that worked. I don't know what happened after I went back up to my classroom, but I hope they stayed put. It probably helped that they realized I was ten paces away from the principal's office. I'd fucking love for him to walk out into the hall and catch them in the middle of that absurd behavior.
Today at lunch, one of the gym teachers gestured at me and said something to Mr. K in Korean. The gym teachers, on the whole, don't seem to acknowledge the fact that I exist, except for a couple of the younger ones. They don't really acknowledge anyone except their own, and a couple of the other male teachers who, I suppose, sufficiently meet their standards of manliness. Me, I hang with the other group of male teachers -- the ones who clearly fell on the other side of the jock/nerd divide back in school (which apparently still exists) -- the academic teachers.
Anyway, Mr. K seemed just as shocked as me that the gym teacher had suddenly decided to address the two of us. He looked at me and said, "He wants to know if you know we will go camping tomorrow."
"...... Pardon me?"
"Tomorrow teachers will take camping business trip." The term "business trip" seems to be a catchall for any activity related to work that takes place off campus. But this "camping" thing was throwing me for a loop. No, I had not heard of any business trip, first of all, and second of all, you don't by any chance mean "hiking", do you?
"Ah yes. Hiking. Not camping."
Well, thank fuck for that, anyway.
And thanks for telling me. I wasn't sure for a minute if i was just being informed that the other teachers would be hiking, or if I was somehow figuring into this scheme. The gym teacher, who had been watching the exchange, said something else in Korean.
"You must come."
Mr. K and I have had a discussion about "have to", but it seems to have curtailed his usage of this phrase exactly not at all. Even though when he asked me, "Do you think I speak aggressively to you?" I responded emphatically in the positive. He seems to have decided a clever way around the "have to" ban is "must", deciding that my suggestion of "should" is apparently not sufficient.
Perhaps I should say that he "has to" stop telling me that I "have to" and "must", instead of that he "should" stop.
"It will be, I think, three hours on the bus. Away from school. We leave eleven, come back maybe nine. You must dress warmly tomorrow."
Yeah. And pray for a decent seating arrangement on the bus.
After the gym teachers left, the music teacher sat down next to us. I love this man. He's fucking magnificent. There are two teachers I really, really wish I could speak to in the school -- one is the music teacher and the other is the art teacher. The music teacher is this fantastic bear of a man -- 45 or 50, I'd say -- with a drastic baritone voice. Lately he's taken to wearing delicate silk scarves knotted around his neck. He always gives me a big smile and bow when he comes into the office in the mornings, but something about his sort of fatherly demeanor makes me shy.
When he sat down, he pointed at my tray and said something to Mr. K.
"Ah. He says, do you not like strawberries?"
I do, as a matter of fact -- very much. But with coffee. Not immediately following spicy Korean seafood with no water to clean the palate. I looked at the music teacher's tray, which contained a heaping pile of strawberries. He said something else to Mr. K, but Mr. K didn't translate.
Normally if I address another teacher who doesn't speak English, I will still speak directly to them, even if I know it has to be translated anyway. Because it's the way I prefer to be spoken to in Korean. But, as I said, the music teacher makes me a little nervous. So, without looking at him or gesturing in any way, I told Mr. K that I always hear his classes in the hallway and want to come in. Mr. K nodded and continued eating. I put down my chopsticks and stared at him.
"Ah... uh..." He translated what I had said to the music teacher. Yes, it's annoying, I know, but it's not as if we were in the middle of having a meaningful conversation ourselves.
The music teacher responded. I didn't have the guts to look up at him while he did.
Mr. K "neh"ed him and went back to eating. I put my chopsticks down again.
"Ah.... he said next year he will invite you in his classes."
Today my very favorite third grader, the one with the beautiful smile, came in with a friend after classes had ended to say goodbye. They'll be off to high school after this. I certainly will miss them. His friend sat quietly next to him while we talked, staring at his shoes.
"Hi," I said. "How are you?"
He looked up for a split second and then laughed, shook his head and blushed.
"He is shy," the one with the smile informed me.
"Ah! Me too. I'm very shy."
"Really? I don't think so...."
"No I am. Very, very shy." I leaned over and caught the other boy's eyes and said, "Me too."
He laughed and shook his head again, looking away.
"Jesus. He's adorable," I said more to myself than anyone else.
"Ah, he is cute? You think?"
"Yeah. He's cute."
The boy with the smile translated.
I said, "So now.... onto high school."
"Yes. Very pressure. High school. Is very..." He clutched his chest and did an impressive mime of a panic attack.
"Yes, I know. You boys are too young. You should be having fun instead of studying all the time."
"Me too! I think so!"
"Well, best of luck to you boys. Don't forget to come back and visit sometimes."
"Visit! Yes! How long are you here?"
"A year, at least. Hopefully longer."
"Yes, really. I hope so."
"Okay. I visit. Okay. Bye bye!"
That gorgeous smile one last time. I really will miss my third grade friends. Don't even want to think about what saying goodbye to all of these boys eventually will do to me.