Yesterday was Tuesday in Korea, which meant my wife Jina and I had to take charge of a classroom of ambitious kindergarteners, a job we are paid for handsomely in the form of adorably cute gratitude. Yes, it’s a volunteer job; and yes, you get what you paid for.
When I went outside to prepare for the ten-minute journey to the church library where we teach the class, I was delighted to behold a dazzling array of snowflakes falling like little ballerinas from the sky. I stood in the middle of our street, waiting for my wife (an inevitable experience), and looked up as the snowflakes sailed smoothly down with the grace of miniature swans, only without the cocky attitude. It was the first bona-fide snowstorm of the season, and as I felt the smooth sting of each sizzling flake against my cheek, their number increased, until I began to get nervous and retreated to the shelter of the glossy marble floor before our apartment building so I could watch them without being gently assaulted by these silently parachuting white blossoms that plummeted from the tree of heaven, only to melt into the shining black pavement of the street like the ghosts of overcooked pancakes.
Jina finally emerged and we trudged up the street. I’m even more out of shape than usual these days, so I was huffing and puffing away like a chain-smoker after we’d walked for only a few minutes. I needed to sit down for a smoke before we forged ahead (no, I’m kidding). We walked down the other side of the hill and stood at our usual spot to flag down a cab, and when we got to our destination a few minutes later, Jina paid the driver and said, “Believe in Jesus,” in Korean. Who knows? Maybe we’ll meet him again in heaven. He’ll say, “Hey, thanks for the tip.”
Our cherubic charges were waiting for us at the church library, along with their watchful mommies. Jina was pissed off because neither of us had brought my laptop; she’d assumed I was going to, and I’d assumed we didn’t need it, since she hadn’t mentioned it. She’d wanted to bring it so we could play the You Tube clip of a guy playing guitar and singing a children’s song called “The Music Man,” again for the children while we conducted our extraordinary rendition of the song together for–what? the fourth time? Now that I’ve summoned the song to mind, its cloying melody and lyrics have instantly infested my head. (“Pia-pia-piano; saxo-saxo-saxophone,” etc.) I guess I’ll have to invest in some electro-convulsive therapy to expunge it.
“The target is destroyed; have a nice day.”
Betsy, one of my favorite students, came up to say hello, her smile just as unself-consciously genuine and heartfelt as always despite a newly missing eyetooth.
“What happened–did you get into a fist fight?” (I didn’t say.) Kids grow up faster than ever.
Hye Min was doing cartwheels again, as if that had become her natural way of walking.
I poured myself a cup of instant coffee from a foil sachet, using the hot water dispenser on the side of the room near the entrance. I also prepared one for an aloof middle-aged gentleman sitting politely by himself, smiling upon the proceedings like a benign monarch (King Lear in the comedy version of the play Shakespeare jettisoned before turning it into a tragedy). I have no idea who he was–he could have been a pedophile, for all I knew–but he seemed benign and I wanted him to feel welcome.
Jina, always quick on her feet when it comes to teaching, devised a prototype of a little “guitar” out of used paper coffee cups and rubber bands for the children to duplicate with the trusty adult supervision of their dexterous mothers. This was also a fine way to kill time since we didn’t have any follow-up activity planned after conducting the body of the lesson (sorry–I’m channeling the lingo from my old job, a pedagogical nightmare I’ve yet to awaken from).
Teaching children is much more of a physical workout than teaching adults, even though these kids are blessedly motivated and not a bunch of shiftless slugs with their faces buried in the touch screens of their smart phones. The song we presented to them is so relentlessly redundant, while also meaningless enough to an adult to be forgettable, that I had to keep peering over the edge of the book I was holding up for them to see the lyrics (not that most of them could probably read them) to remind myself which instrument I had to stammer through for each new stanza. There’s a total of six in the song: piano, saxophone, bass drum, xylophone, violin, and trombone, in that order, with cumulative repetitions of each one in the refrain.
We sang the song first without the accompaniment of the C. D. player, and the children gave it their all. They were much less winded than I was. One of the mommies regarded me with what appeared to be contempt, maybe because I’d neglected to shave and my hairstyle makes me look like the love-child of Beethoven and Einstein. After the first round, I had to take off my sweatshirt and pull out my shirt-tails to conceal the missing button above my fly (the pressure of my gut made the absence visible, despite the gift belt I was wearing, which has the name of some church on the buckle, even though I wear it upside down to keep God guessing).
When I got home later and spotted myself in the mirror, I noticed that the little tag attached to my shirt-tail with two spare buttons sewn into it resembled a dangling piece of toilet paper; but hey, it wasn’t a job interview, okay?
After we played the song a second time, the recorded version being a few beats slower than ours (I just wanted to get the damned thing over with, egged on by too much coffee), Jina had me ask the kids to identify the laminated pictures of instruments she’d set out on the bulletin board at the front of the classroom. This they did with alacrity, and I had to be careful to make sure to call on enough different children who raised their hands to avoid accusations of favoritism or hurting anyone’s feelings.
Finally, we adjourned early (which the cartwheel-girl complained about) but we had the still-falling snow as an excuse, and I sat down in front of the children as they lined up for me to give each one of them a sticker depicting a sentimentalized representation of a bear, cat, dog, fish, etc., helping them adhere them to the backs of their hands.
I didn’t mean to write so much about all that; I’ll save what happened next for the sequel.