Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

Despite being pointless, asinine, frustrating, tedious, ludicrous, futile, and depressing, life is worth living.  Sort of.  It’s always nice to know that it’s never too late to kill yourself.  I’m kidding, of course.  I mean about life being worth living. It’s not.  Well, sometimes it is.  It’s too bad you can’t just delete the shitty parts as they’re happening.  They seem to constitute far too much of what passes for life, both at an individual and a universal level.  If you don’t believe me, read on.

As I’ve told you before, I’m getting sick of Korea and am eager to return to the land of mass-murdering psychopaths. It’s impossible to take a vacation in Korea without leaving the country.  That’s how stressful it is.  It’s exploding with stress.  Of course, it’s a hell of a lot worse if you’re actually Korean.  Then the only way you can ever really let your hair down is by getting the fuck out of here and never coming back.

At least that’s how it appears to me.  Mind, I have a less than infinitesimal knowledge of the language, and even though I’ve lived here for eight years, a lot of the time I still have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on around me.

My wife Jina tells me I was depressed back in the U.S. too, and maybe she’s right.  But at least my life hadn’t gone into re-runs yet.  

The thing that’s pissing me off today is not the chronic pain of prostatitis and how it necessitates an influx of ibuprofen that’s giving my heart a run for its red money (by the way, I finally found out the source of the impotence–impotency?–I literally grappled with a month or two ago:  acupuncture; afterwards I was a little miffed at the doctor for pretending not to know the source of my problem; lucky for him I’m a slow enough study that he was able to treat me several times for the pain in my ass caused by caffeine’s irritating effect on the urinary sphincter muscle before I was able to trace the side effect of runaway flaccidity to his nerve-racking needles–not that I have anything against the man personally:  everyone’s got to make a living; now that I can get it up again, I’m more upbeat and there’s no need for me to beat him up).

No, it’s the fact that my adult students of English as a foreign language appear to be making no progress whatsoever in mastering the language.  It may just be that I’ve become afflicted by the cantankerous, impatient, bali-bali (“hurry, hurry!”), Jack Lemmon on crystal meth virus of contemporary Korean culture, and as a consequence have become unrealistically demanding and expecting of instant results.  When it comes to learning another language, delayed gratification is the norm, especially for those who’ve already been studying it in the classroom for years.  The plateau of intermediate ability is vast and seemingly endless.

I’ve griped before about how time-consuming it is to proofread my students’ speeches.  They have to give a new one every week.  I have to keep coming up with new topics for them to write and speak about.  Tonight while I was going through the latest batch, I marveled at the plethora of errors in each one.  I believe I’ve saved each of their speeches somewhere in my sea of clutter.  I keep meaning to assemble them and try to trace any individual development or heroic breakthroughs or climactic triumphs of syntax.

Instead I’m met with the same swamp of mediocrity, week after week.  It’s discouraging because I like my students and I want them to learn.  As their teacher, I think it must be my fault that their English isn’t getting any better.  Or maybe it is and I just can’t see it.  Am I becoming a crusty old perfectionist, a desiccated prune?

Today I lost it while teaching another class of young guys in their early twenties, underachievers who are studying in a no-frills, low-budget university program sponsored by a department store.  (Hey kids, get your diploma from a vending machine!)  It’s my second week of subbing them.  The weather in Seoul is starting to get hot and humid, though it’s a long way from the sticky misery yet to come, and monsoon season’s just around the corner.

Anyway, after letting them rearrange their desks in formations of four so they could face one another, I found that one foursome was using the opportunity to chat among themselves while I was trying once again to explain how to use third conditionals (if sentences in the past contrary to what actually happened).

“What the hell is wrong with you guys!” I said, or something to that effect.  But I was just getting started.  I let them have it, unleashing the whole arsenal of caffeinated wrath.  It was a controlled explosion (inspired, perhaps on some level by Albert Finney’s tirade in The Browning Version) but it got the point across.  I asked them what they were doing when they were supposed to be writing answers to questions in their textbook containing prompts with “if” clauses.

Afterwards it occurred to me that they just didn’t understand how to form the grammar structure, so I gave them another demonstration on the board.  Learning a language is a huge pain in the ass; it demands endless repetition in order for the learner to absorb the lessons at hand.  Otherwise it’s a total waste of time.

It’s also possible that my wife’s dictatorial approach has influenced me a bit.  As the old saying goes, “You become what you hate.”  (Once again, I’m just jesting.)


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