You cannot eat a poem.

Today, after we returned from the fish restaurant, smelling of fish -- in a bad way... because there's no good way to smell of fish -- I was graced with the very special presence of my Beethoven student and his best friend, Mincheol the bass player. They've already graduated, but continue to come in almost daily to assist their homeroom teacher with her paperwork. That's how great they are. Beethoven has excellent (but halting, due to his perfectionism) English, whereas Mincheol can understand a great deal of what I'm saying -- I know this because he repeats it back correctly in Korean under his breath, then tilts his head to the side, sucks air in through his teeth and says, "Ahni?" -- but refuses to speak any at all. I told Mincheol his hoody was cute and he proceeded to laugh nervously, turn bright red, and immediately stand up and exit the situation, leaving Beethoven to inform me that Mincheol likes a girl at their guitar academy (the word "noona" definitely came into this) but can't bring himself to talk to her.

I asked Beethoven if he has any amorous intentions toward any lucky young lady. He told me that before, when his hair was longer (which I commented on nearly everyday), he had "courage", but now that it's army-cut in prep for starting school next week, he has no more courage. And anyway, there's no one special around. I told him that he was smart, talented, honest, kind and hardworking -- hair? Who cares about hair?

Korean girl care about hair, Teacher.

Right. My bad. Most teenage girls the world over do. Their mistake.

We then proceeded to have the best conversation I've had about art -- specifically poetry and music -- that I've had with anyone in months. Unbelievable. He told me that when he started playing cello, at the ripe old age of ten, he wanted to know more about classical music, so he started seeking out video tutorials online. He then went on to give the most beautiful summation of his knowledge on the subject:

"In my head... there are rooms. There is a Beethoven room, a Chopin room, a Haydn room.... I think I must.... oh what? What what?! Not empty?"

"Full... fill up."

"Right! I must keep the rooms fill up."

He then started to tell me about a concerto he's been working on:

"At that time, writing, writer is ... was reading many poetry. Ahni! -- writing many poetry. So, in the music he have.... cello is dog -- pong pong!" He hummed the cello part for me. "Clarinet is -- how to say! -- tree.... wind...."

"Leaves blowing."

"Neh! Clarinet is leaves blowing..." Perfect mimicry of the clarinet part. "Teacher see? Song is poem."

"I see."

"I think... all art... what's word...." He interlaces his fingers. "Oh! Vocabulary...."


"Neh! All art is make connection! When poet watch painting, hear music, poet writes poetry. When musician watch painting, read poem, musician makes music. Connection."

Is it inappropriate to tell a sixteen year old student you would very much like to marry them? I thought so, so I didn't.

I asked him what he would study at university. The answer was a flat and definitive, "Law."

"Law? Really?"

"Yes. I want to be prosecutor."

"No... really though?"

"Yes I want to be."

"Do you know common sense?"


"Okay. If common sense was not important, would you study law?"

"Neh. I want to be prosecutor. Or detective. Maybe."

"Why? Who do you want to catch?"

A long pause. "Actually, I tell Teacher the truth. In my mind there is struggle.... music, law."

"I know that."

"My father says musician is fine, but cannot eat. So. I study law."

"What did I study at university?"

"Haha... Teacher studied poetry."

"Can you eat a poem?"

"Haha! No.... cannot eat..."

"That's right. But I did it anyway. And I eat everyday. I'm okay. You'll be okay too, whatever you choose." I patted him on the leg.

I gave him my email address with insistent instructions not to lose it.

I'm deeply disturbed to the core of my being that I can't find a grown man who can manage conversation like this in his native language. Deeply, deeply disturbed.

As I headed out the door, I called out Mincheol's name. His head snapped around, followed by a resounding, "Neh?" before he realized who was calling it and turned bright red, looking away again.

"Talk to the girl."


Beethoven was chomping on an apple and nearly spit it all over himself. All of the teachers were watching with curiosity. I patted Beethoven on the shoulder. "You tell him."

"Neh. Yes. I will."

Korean phrase of the day, courtesy of Beethoven, who is an excellent teacher: 난 갈 때까지 갔어.

Literally, it means something akin to "I'm going until I'm gone." It's apparently said a lot during card games, to mean something close to, "I've played all my cards," and it's idiomatic meaning is something like, "I've got nothing left to lose." It's apparently, also, hilarious that I would ask about this phrase. But it's had me stuck for days.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i think its more literally translated to 'I've gone to wherever I can go' or 'I've reached my limit'