To return to our story in progress: I didn’t quite monopolize the discussion with Class B–though I tried my best. I got them to talk about their families a bit. Yoonhee, my sole female student, cheered me up by saying that she didn’t want to have children. That made me feel less alone. But she did me one better by saying she didn’t even like children, saying she’d never met a child who wasn’t noisy and obnoxious.
She added, “All children are angels–when they’re asleep.”
I told the class that I like children (true), but that I don’t think I’d be able to raise one very well because I’m too selfish (just ask my wife–that’s practically her pet name for me).
One man said he’s less patient than his wife with their children, and I told him he struck me as a very patient fellow indeed. My brother-in-law, years after suggesting that I become a father, changed his mind, telling me he didn’t think I’d have the patience. Whenever I visit a household full of hyperactive kids running around, I’m reminded that he’s right.
Most of my students are devoted family men and, frankly speaking (as a lot of these students like to say), it makes me sick. Not that I don’t admire them for their selflessness and envy them for their smug aura of radiant bliss, but come on, really. In today’s world? Nobody needs that kind of shit. The whole species is on its way over the waterfall, and there’s a churning pit of molten lava at the bottom. And in case you think I’m speaking as a prophet-wannabe, I’m not talking about hell, just the uninhabitable planet most of us are going out of our way to create. I’m high on the list of offenders, so I have no right to feel holier-than-thou.
I finally managed to finish writing my stupid student evaluations for the class I loathe (and I have a feeling they return the favor), along with the daily report to hand in to Cheryl, the head teacher. As soon as she and Grace appeared, we headed over to the cafeteria for lunch. Afterwards we ran into two guys from the company that recruits us. They were just finishing their smoke break but Alan, whom I hadn’t met before, had the decency to shake my hand with his nicotine-stained fingers. More on him later.
Now that I’d finished with the paperwork and had no academic duties left regarding Class B (for bastards–just kidding), I could sit in the classroom with them as they practiced their speeches for an hour for the big contest coming up afterwards. Some of them came up to me and asked me questions related to minor details in their presentations. Otherwise they recited the speeches on their own, or else stood up and rehearsed in front of indulgent classmates and me. I provided them with last-minute feedback and encouraging words.
Finally, the moment of truth had arrived (interesting how the truth only lasts a moment, making it a tiny island in an infinite sea of bullshit). Alan and Ron (the other guy from the recruiting company), my fellow teachers, and I joined all fifteen students in the largest classroom and sat down behind desks arranged in a U-shaped formation. A giant banner had been thumbtacked to the wall announcing the occasion. In previous sessions (each one lasts two weeks), one of the Korean recruiters would stand up and say a few words in his native language as a formality before the students took turns giving their speeches.
This time Alan, who was apparently a rookie, stood up in his slick silver suit and B. P. oil gusher-anointed head, and morphed into a game show host before our eyes. He walked around and asked the students desultory questions, before doing the one thing I really wished he wouldn’t: he turned to Class B, who sat together on one side of the room, and asked them, “So, has your English improved?”
Dead silence. They didn’t even look at him. They sat there like floating turds. Phlegmatic, genetically modified vegetables.
Hey, at least you can’t accuse them of being inconsistent.
To break the silence, I think I said, “My English has improved.”
Somehow we got on the subject of learning Korean, and I told the assembly something one of my students had told me during the previous hour: “Maybe if you studied Korean you’d be a better teacher.”
For all their attention to decorum, etiquette, and social niceties (at least in certain situations–I’m not talking about when they’re on the bus), some Korean people can be remarkably hurtful with their comments. They seem to pride themselves on being blunt. Honesty may be the best policy in most cases, but some of us do have feelings. Ah, how much easier life would be if we were all robots. (Don’t worry–Ray Kurzweil is working hard to ensure that we eventually will be, although I think he wants us to hang onto our emotions so we can be touchy-feely, immortalized automatons.)
After Alan finished fellating his foot, he passed around a stainless steel cup of numbers to determine the order of the speakers. The students generally conducted themselves very well. No one screwed up or forgot what to say completely–except for one of fellow teacher Grace’s students, who got choked up while talking about the birth of his daughter and became a lachrymose mess. Shortly after he finished weeping, he sat down, the awkwardness erased by the non-sequitur of the next student’s speech.
When the whole shebang was done, all present took a five minute break. I went with the other teachers into our office to decide who the winners were. Cheryl and Grace didn’t feel up to announcing the prizes themselves, so they elected me to do the honors. I’d had trouble keeping my eyes open during the ceremony–not that the speeches had been boring, but I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before. I asked if they minded if I announced the winners in Martin Luther King’s voice. They chuckled obligingly.
Another moment of truth had arrived (two in one day! must be some kind of record-breaker). Ron cut Alan off as he read out what was on the certificate of completion to the first student to receive one, telling him to keep it short and sweet. Everyone wanted to get the hell out of there and no one wasted energy applauding their victorious classmates. It wasn’t until I was hailed to come up to the front of the room and announce the big winners that the people clapped–
–until I screwed up. More than once, in fact. I announced the name of the student from Class B who’d done the best during the first week, then almost accidentally handed him the gift certificate from the department store even though I’d already given him one before (it was supposed to be for the best student from Class A, not either of the best speakers). We posed for photos. I nearly repeated my mistake when I called out the name of the student from the same class who’d won the prize for the best speech. Another photo op ensued.
Next came the real flub. When I tried to remember which student from Class A we teachers had decided on as the best speaker, I drew a blank. I wanted to ask Cheryl who it was, but it would have been too awkward, as all eyes were upon me.
So I took a guess.
The wrong one, as it turned out. I called out Yoonhee’s name, but a cringe from Cheryl told me she wasn’t the winner. Yoonhee was a good sport about it, however, even though the students from Class B laughed in simultaneously delighted and horrified awe in my face; I’m sure it will give them something to talk about around the water cooler this week. (They’d filled out their student surveys before the speech contest began; I expect they probably stabbed me in the back enough times so that I’ve got my own Julius Caesar-style knife collection to wear to cocktail parties.)
Cheryl set me straight and told me the real winner was George (his English nickname). I gave him the certificate and apologized vehemently.
He asked jokingly, “Are you sure it’s for me?”
We posed for the requisite photos.
One mitigating factor: Cheryl took over and announced the prize for the best student from Class A: Yoonhee.
So at least I hadn’t fucked things up completely, though it was bad enough to leave a parking garage-like taste in my mouth.
I shared a subway ride home with Grace, who told me that Sookyung, my sole female student, despite some flattering remarks made about us teachers and the program before giving her speech, had given the program only a six out of ten overall.
“Didn’t you hear Cheryl say that?” she asked.
It sounded fishy to me, as I don’t think Cheryl would have had time to see the survey results yet anyway, and Grace had taken the opportunity to stab me in the back (although that’s admittedly something of a paranoid exaggeration) a few weeks ago. You may have read about the incident on this blog. In other words, I thought she might be making the information up to put me off guard.
Before going to meet my wife Jina for dinner, I stopped at a bookstore and purchased a couple of paperbacks. As I was stuffing them into my backpack, I sliced off the edge of the tip of my middle left finger on the shaving razor I’d brought and stored in a thin plastic bag (I hadn’t had time to shave before leaving for work in the morning).
I went back into the bookstore and asked for a band-aid, then retired to the men’s toilet to rinse the liberally bleeding wound off in the sink. I continued to apply direct pressure as I’d learned in first aid class back in middle school, feeling a little woozy.
When I met Jina outside the restaurant where we had dolsot bibimbap for dinner, she chastised me for being dumb enough to cut my finger. For dessert we went to a place called Peggy Pie (I imagined an enormous woman named Peggy who subsisted entirely on pie), which I lovingly referred to as “Piggy Pie.” We ordered choux cream and mini-apple pies, which Jina liked so much she bought a box of ten to give to her church friends. She spotted a sign outside the place saying that customers who spent over twenty-five thousand won were entitled to a free coffee mug emblazoned with the establishment’s proud and silly name. We went back in and she asked the clerk for her free cup, showing him her receipt. Afterwards, she complained about how rude and uncooperative he was. I hadn’t particularly noticed, off in a world of my own.
We had a minor spat later on. I’ll have to save it for next time, as right now I’ve got to go back to bed. It’s 4:30 in the morning here, and I’ve got to get up in less than two hours and start another teaching session.
I can hardly wait!