My 짱.

There are a couple of students whose respect I've had to work hard to earn. There aren't many students who start in with the attitude with me to whom I give a second thought, other than embarrassing them in front of their friends a bit to get them under control (and to keep them from gaining allies and taking my recruits over to the other side), and just moving on. You don't like me, cool. I'm not here for you to like. Just sit there and be quiet and we won't have any problems.

But occasionally a student comes along who seems a little different, like they're just not someone who follows another person just because they are supposed to. Part of me really respects that, although I'm the person who's respectability is in question. So I try a little harder, for a little longer.

One of these students and I almost came to blows in an afterschool class last year. By that, I mean, I made him so angry that I genuinely thought there for a hot second that I was about to have a massive fist planted right in my face. He was that angry. And despite the fact that I was actually kind of bricking it (he's six feet tall and an easy 180 lbs), I didn't flinch or back down. In the end, I got my way.

At the beginning of class the next day, he came in and slung himself into his seat, tossing his bag across the table. I walked over and stood in front of him. "Hey.... HEY."

He looked up at me.

"You're getting really tall, you know that? Every day when I see you, one more centimeter, one more centimeter. What are you eating?"

Pure confusion. And then a strange half-smile. And that was all it took. He has been my absolute number one C student ever since that day. He sits right up front in the middle, by choice. He answers every single question, whether he knows the right answer or not. I've found out since then that he is one of our school's Jjangs -- not the top Jjang, but one of the top.

What the fuck's a Jjang? in Korean means "best". In the case of a school, the Jjang is sort of the school king. Usually, it means he has fought all other challengers and come out on top. Basically the best fighter, also usually handsome and totally full of crap. You can spot the Jjang by looking for the group of boys all wearing matching jackets and finding the quiet one at the center. Usually they don't make too much trouble in class themselves -- it's all their little cronies that kick up a fuss.

This obviously all sounds really stupid when it falls upon adult ears, but it's no joke to the other students. If the school Jjang is a vicious character, then all of the other boys have to watch their backs all year, giving up money, food and even expensive things like mp3 players or shoes to the Jjang's little gang to keep from getting the shit kicked out of them. They have to move out of the way in the hallway, lower their eyes and basically cowtow to these morons all year long.

I had two classes with Jjangs today -- the top Jjang, and my lower Jjang student mentioned above. In the first class, one of the Jjang's little asshat friends decided to call the other teacher "미친년" while I was standing right fucking there. I always find it really hard to make sure I don't slip out with a few profanities of my own when I hear something like that.

"F... Excuse me? What the.... what did you just say?"

Shock and surprise as they all realize I know what that word means. Ahni ahni ahni.....

"What did you just call a teacher? Say it again. Hey. Say it again. No? Don't want to?"

At this point, Jjang, who was sitting silently back in his desk, as he always is, suddenly leaned over and smacked the shit out of the back of the offendor's head. "Ya gaesaekkiya!" The offendor lowered his head and that was the end of that.

In the second class, there are four distinct groups: Baby JJang 1's group, Baby Jjang 2's group, one group of lower students with nasty attitudes, and one group of lower students who are just nice boys who happen to test low. This is one of my favorite classes, because both Jjangs are actually really good boys, and both groups are a lot of fun -- they accept the lower nice boys into their group activities and treat them as equals, although the nice boys are always a bit nervous. There's just that one lower group with bad attitudes to contend with, but My Jjang, my afterschool boy, always keeps them in line.

Today, we were playing a game which required picking a team name. My Jjang had been riding the bad groups' asses all class already because they were horsing around and taking forever to finish the worksheet. He was already mostly fed up, and getting irritated with the other Jjang's group as well, because they were doing comedy hour over on that side of the room and distracting me from helping him and his group with their papers. Now, on top of everything else, they were taking forever to give team names and we were running out of time to play the game. Which was evidentally very important to My Jjang.

I got to the trouble-making team and asked for their team name.

"Pink pig," the private school teacher translated, laughingly, without a clue.

Liz, keep your cool girl. You don't know everything. You don't know everything. Misunderstandings happen every day. My eyes drifted over the students and landed on My Jjang, who had lowered his eyes and was quietly telling the trouble-makers behind him to shut the fuck up, that they were going to die later. The other Jjang's team started to quiet down on the other side of the room, trying to figure out what was happening. My Jjang raised his eyes up to mine and that was all it took for me to understand that the group knew exactly what they were doing, despite the fact that the private teacher didn't.

I called the class to attention. "Hey. Sit down. Be quiet. Everyone look at me. Hey, you!" To the student who came out with the team name. "Pink pig means American, right?" His face immediately turned dark purple and his eyes dropped. "Right? Hey look at my eyes. Right? It means American? Like me?"

The private school teacher fans her hands in the air. "Oh! It does? He didn't know! He didn't know that!" She pats the offending student who is now about to cry, and is cursing his deskmate (who apparently was responsible for the suggestion that he unfortunately gave voice to) under his breath. I ignored her.

"Hey. Why can't you look at me? What's wrong? Pink pig? It means American. Foreigner. Like me. Your team name is Pink Pig. Okay." I wrote it on the board. "Okay! Everyone ready to start the game?"

My Jjang gave me a huge smile and a wink from the front row. I done made him proud.^^


Kosaru said...

haha, like it's made for TV. 선생님이 대단해 ^^

I'm no Picasso said...

It's ridiculous. I've seen this kind of thing in movies and dramas, of course, but I had no idea that it actually goes on. I had spotted the matching jacket thing and knew that those groups were always the biggest trouble makers, and that the other students were afraid of them, but it took me a while to work out how ritulaized it actually is.


MikejGrey said...

Liz. Can you please write a book about being an ex-pat teacher in Korea? Like some kind of teaching manual. I'll talk to my industry contacts and set something up. But I can only get you a book advance in Doe Fund cookies.