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Return of the Students

I was sitting in my class with the blinds up letting the sun shine into my dark room. I never put the fluorescent lights on until the kids beg me to (pretty much the second before class starts). I’ve always thought florescent lights had the ability to burn my eyes and singe a tumor into my brain. Beyond my day to day paranoia about workplace fixtures, I was actually excited to be back at work. Could I have possibly missed these Korean kids? I pushed my feet up against the lip of my desk and teetered on my office chair as I read into A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

I was instantly taken by the author’s vanguard writing style. Dave Eggers has a way of telling the truth’s about life that not many people have the heart or courage to write about. As my students rushed into the room chattering quickly in Korean I thought to myself. Would I ever have enough courage to talk about the world in an entirely uncensored and honest way? How do these authors do it? They tell memoirs of hard times that involve losing their virginity, bitter hatred toward certain family members and political and social ideals that could offend half of a bookstore. Dave writes his book about his two parents who die literally months apart. He is only 22 and has to suddenly take on the role as parental figure to his seven year old brother. He finds himself in precarious situations which usually involve typical 20-something sexual urges. Fortunate enough for Dave he wrote his book after both of his parents had died. He didn’t really have too much to worry about in terms of parental, peer and family judgment. Hell, he writes about his tumultuous and heartbreaking childhood and his book ends up on over 50 Book of the Year lists (including Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). I have a lot of great stories to tell but I think I have to wait for a few people to “pass on” (God rest their souls) before I publish.

“I saw a picture of someone who looks like you in the newspaper, said Michelle. After several minutes of questioning I found out she was likening me to a dead ex Korean Presidents Caucasian American wife. Michelle, God bless her, was trying to tell me that she saw a “white person” in the newspaper. She sort of messed up the delivery but the attempt was charming.

I started the class by instructing my students to take notes on today’s reading, The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde. I sat back at my desk and laughed out aloud as I read, “He had been much attracted to Hughie at first, it must be admitted, just because of his personal charm. ‘The only people a painter should know,’ he used to say, ‘are people who are both beautiful and stupid, people who are a pleasure to look at and restful to talk to.’ But after he got to know Hughie better, he liked him quite as much for his bright, cheerful spirits, and his generous, carefree nature, and asked him to visit whenever he liked.

Of all the stories to be reading. The content was rife with homosexual insinuations.

In small italicized letters at the end of the story reads:

Bio: Oscar Wilde is a famous British playwright who was one of the greatest celebrities in Late Victorian London. At the result of a famous trial, he suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned after being convicted of gross indecency.

Why did he go to prison teacha?

Um, because he didn’t fit in.

You mean people think his plays are not good?

Yes he went to prison because his plays weren’t funny. *Rolls eyes*

I didn’t exactly want to spring open that can of beans. Although, oh, I was so compelled to. As the students worked on a handout I sat at my desk silently dreaming up what I could have said to these somewhat sheltered conservative children.

Rewind. Stop. Play.

Why did he go to prison teacha?

He went to prison for gross indecency.

What is gross indecency?

He was a gay. A flamer and a puff. You get the idea.

Teacha?! A GAY!

Yes Hyewon Oscar Wilde was a gay and was put in prison simply because he didn’t really fancy the ladies.

*I would then walk up to the board and list many famous gays.*

Class write this list down. These are gays who today aren’t put in prison and forced to do hard labor for their personal preferences. Use highlighters to underline your favorites.

Boy George, Ellen Degeneres, Dolce and Gabbana, Jodi Foster, Elton John, K.D.  Lang, Ian McKellen, George Michael, Rosie O’Donnell.

I would be certain to include a large “etc …” to hit home that there are many more who are in the closet.

I would conduct an open dialogue by describing a world without Ellen and Rosie (two woman who recreated the day time talk show), unarguably the worlds best singers George Michaels, Elton John and K.D. Lang (Boy George, c’mon shear brilliance!). The children would all well up when they imagined a Lord of the Rings Trilogy without Gandalf. I’d finish by explaining how Dolce and Gabbana have made so many people across the world feel better about themselves (surely saving hundreds of lives a year). Several students would put up their hands and tell me they love the gays. We would all hug and rainbows would flash across the sky.

I snapped out of my day dream as one of my more boisterous student’s yelled “teacha we need to do Chunk!”

The company has coined the term CDI Generative Chunks. Students are given a hand out with ten pairs of sentences. The first sentence is from the reading of that day and contains a group of words strung together in bold. This is the chunk which they need to then use again in their own words in the sentence bellow. I ran up onto the board and scribbled the following chunk:

1) The origin of the feudal system can be found in the late Roman Empire.

2) The origin of FRENCH HAUTE CUISINE can be found in ESSCOFIER’S COOKBOOKS.

The class stared up at me with their hands shooting into the air. Before they even had a chance to speak I knew exactly what I would have to explain in great detail. Who is Esscofier? What is Haute Cuisine? And at that moment I relished in my profession.

The following day we started the hellish final exam process. The students were all on pins and needles as they would be put through a rigorous three hour exam with one five minute break. I was trying to sort out all of the test papers and tried to memorize the order that each part of the test was supposed to be conducted. I fumbled with my stop watch and MP3 microphone. Korean’s take tests seriously (and would put most University exams back home to shame). They practically strip searched the children at the door before the exam to ensure that no cheating would take place. I felt ill. Tests make me nervous and this would be my first time administering one. It felt funny to be on the other end of the bubble sheet. All of the other teachers tried to calm me down before class but I was still all nerves. I just knew something horrible was going to happen.
And with my luck it did! In my second class of the day as I was playing a 30 minute audio questionnaire when my computer suddenly make a popping noise and the screen went black. My heart starts to race. This cannot be happening. I run into the hall and call the Manager into the room. He sees that I am far more nervous than I need to be. I’m making the students nervous I think. They all take deep exaggerated sighs as we fiddle with the computer. The Manager frustrated as I am whispers, “ah shit!” He runs out the door. I stand in front of my students and try to come up with something witty to say. “Well isn’t this just a silly situation!” I am the loser teacher everyone makes fun of behind their back. Heaven help me. The Manger runs back into the room with a CD Player. It takes five painful minutes for us to find the exact section of the test where we had been interrupted. The Manager rushes out and I finish conducting the test. Until, the CD Player dies. I stand in the corner of the room pounding the top of the darned machine while pounding the PLAY button. Blasted! The CD Player starts and breaks two more times before the end of the Listening portion of the test is over.

My heart is pounding. The final part of the test involves the stop watch and microphone. I have to interview each student by first reading them a question and then recording their answer. They have a total of 60 seconds to give me a response. This entire test has me so overwhelmingly whelmed. The grading rubric makes no sense. I start to randomly give marks to students. Low marks for those I can’t understand. High marks to the kids who speak clearly and have nice shoes. We are assigned a question to ask each of our classes so that no questions overlap (again to prevent potential cheating between classes). My question seems straight forward, “What is your favorite personal possession and why?”

Fifteen of the sixteen students in my class have no clue what the question means. I even explain what a personal possession is. I get many random answers such as, “my mother is my favorite personal possession because she feed me,” my favorite being, “my favorite personality is one that is kind, not hate and always laughing.” Oy vey get me out of here.

I stepped out of my class and into the lobby at the front of the school. I looked half dead and all of my coworkers laughed as I explained in great detail my dreadful day of testing. We all marched downstairs to Cheers Bar and indulged ourselves with a tabletop keg of beer.

The Return of the Swim

It had been over five days since my last swim. I assumed I was still in tip top shape since I had been running around the city every day throughout the holiday. I noticed a beautiful six foot tall blond in a scantily clad bikini on my first day back at the Gwangjin Sports Complex. I gave her a smile and asked her where she was from. She wasn’t hard to miss. We were the only white people in the place. I stupidly assumed she spoke English (don’t all white people speak English? Come on.) She tells me she is from the Ukraine and is living in Seoul as a model. She isn’t really a talker but we smile every so often. It was the next day that she brought a throng of Eastern European supermodels to the pool. Just yesterday in passing I told my coworkers during our break that I swim with anywhere from four to eight Russian supermodels every day. The guys lose their breath and almost faint and fall out of their chairs. Some of them promise to commit to my exercise regime. I tell them that I will not take any part in snooping underwater, model, voyeur activities.

The Return of Bjork

I have been sort of mildly obsessing over Bjork for the past few years. I have been mildly stalking her as I run around the world to watch her various performances. This April I found her at Coachella Music Festival in Palm Springs California. In August I saw her play on Toronto Island at the Virgin Music Festival. I now sit with my Bjork: The Volta Tour ticket in hand three hours before the concert is to start. I have spent the last hour sipping on a Chilean Chardonnay and dancing around my room to Bjork’s Greatest Hits album. Whenever I see Bjork live I have to gather my thoughts, compose myself so I don’t start crying or manically jumping for joy during her concerts. It’s hard to contain so much glee and sorrow which bursts its bubbles at the moment of melodic impact. I spent the early part of the day chopping my hair to bits. I felt this final concert was a bit of a pilgrimage and decided to symbolically rid myself of my past by shaving my head. My scalp is now smooth like a baby’s bottom. I try not to think what they may say at work. Who cares really.

I was going to the concert with Shareen and Stacy (two lovely ladies who don’t know a single Bjork lyric but are excited to see this muse that I so often talk about at work). We all put on face paint at TGI Fridays (and probably terrified our waiter. I assume he thought we were in a cult). After we had stuffed ourselves with dinner we ran out of the restaurant to catch a taxi. Bummer. The streets were bumper to bumper. We ran around and even tried to take the subway as a last resort. In the end we were able to hail a taxi as I had the guts to run into traffic and throw my hands desperately in front of the cab. A life or death situation. We screamed, “Olpympic Park!” We arrived at the park as my heart was racing. I hate being late. I hate it. How did this even happen? The driver rolls down his window at one of the park attendants. He asks the man holding the large flashlight where “Beyonce is playing.” I scream, “it’s not Beyonce its Bjork!” In minutes we are running into the theater. My heart is heaving. We have arrived thirty minutes late and I could hear the thump of bass as we ran up the stairs to our seats.

And in a flash I was standing in Seoul Olympic Theater and struck by the venues beauty. I could see Bjork just bellow to the right of the balcony. She was belting out one of my favorite tracks, Oceania, from her Medulla album. We were escorted to our seats which looked directly over the stage. She was wearing a fairy costume made of pink and shiny silver. It appeared as though she was dressed in a huge bowtie made of leftover Christmas paper. I grabbed Shareen’s hand and we both shook in our seats with excitement. Stacy and Shareen fell in love with Bjork in the next hour and both declared that it was the best concert they have ever been to in their lives. The venue was truly amazing. I could see across the stadium as thousands of Koreans and foreigners alike sat and stared at Icelands musical genius. The concert was far different than my other two Bjork experiences as I was sitting. Everyone was sitting and quietly absorbing her lyrics. Most importantly I could actually see Bjork as this was the first venue where I was not standing on a huge field amongst thousands of giants. Short people love balconies. I felt as though I could reach out and touch her. She was so close. Everyone was seated as though they were at an opera transfixed on the stage. Total silence broken only when a song ends and she chirps, “Thank You.” The acoustics were amazing. The air smelled of harmony and the tiny hairs on my scalp bounced about as the electronic dance bass flickered into the sky. The show featured many memorable moments. Notably: several new remixes and one laser bonanza where the brass band ran into the middle of stage surrounding her. They all went crazy jumping and flailing their trombones, tubas and trumpets into the air.

And then I cried. I couldn’t hold it back. The simple organ started to play and she started to pelt out her folky Icelandic, Anchor Song track. I had one of those moments where all of time and space evaporates and it’s just me and that girl on stage. And my heart beats normally and I can hear my breathing even though the noise around me is on par with a space shuttle launch. I stare up at the screen and see Bjork croon:

I live by the ocean
and during the night
I dive into it
down to the bottom
underneath all currents
and drop my anchor
this is where I’m staying
this is my home

Each line is sung perfectly. I stare at her eyes and try to read into her heart. And then, she starts to tear. And her eyes fill with tears. And my eyes fill with tears. And at that very moment Bjork and I both share a connected moment. Albeit with thousands of other overly emotional euro electronica avant guard music loving nerds. As the lights went up and the stadium roared under a plume of confetti and green lasers the echo resonated with me, “drop my anchor, this is where I’m staying, this is my home.”

 

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