If you’ve spent half as much time as I have backpacking in Asia, you’ll understand this. It’s the short film I made when I was working in Korea as an English teacher.
Leaving a place that you’ve lived in for a long time is a violent process – even beyond the self inflicted violence against your brain cells that comes with all the boozy farewells!
Essentially, what you’re doing every time you dismantle a part of your room, visit a place for the last time, or say one more goodbye to one more person is slowly killing off part of what you have considered to be your ‘self’ over whatever stretch of time you have lived in that place. I’m not saying that you will lose all of the changes that you’ve undergone over the course of the year, or that your experience will be dead – but that entity that people refer to as “Chris”, “Gyeong-Mo”, “Captain Jack”, or whatever your name happens to be – built up from and defined by all of the habits, surroundings, work, and friends, that you’ve surrounded yourself with all year is very rapidly ceasing to exist.
Whether you’ve loved a place or hated it, have been dreading your departure or longing for it, it’s absolutely impossible to leave without feeling sad, like something is disappearing. That thing that’s disappearing is you. You can always see the friends that you’ve made again in the future, you can always come back to the same place, maybe it won’t have even changed so much, but it won’t be the same. Because ‘you’ are gone. That guy that you once were when you lived there is now nothing more than a story that you remind yourself of; a memory residing in the minds of the people that you’ve known.
Today I gave my Global Leader Class a new assignment. We were practising using the phrase “I have never..”, so I asked each of them to write out ten sentences about things that they have never done, but wish that they had. The first five were supposed to be things that are possible and that they expect to maybe do one day, while the second five were supposed to be impossible things that they wish they could do, but never expect to.
I couldn’t help sharing some of the highlights!
I have never…… (Possible)
Eaten a coffee bean made from cat shit.
Loved a western girl
Made a fantasy chicken
Drank non Korean alcohol
Raised a tiger
Picked up money on the street
Gone to the moon
Dated a girl
I have never…… (Impossible)
Had a harem
Met Almighty God
Read everyone’s mind
Upgraded my IQ to an infinite number
Dated Emma Watson
Had a Samsung company
Married famous Korean talent
Made counterfeit money
One of my co teachers just put forth a rational argument as to why one should not marry for love based on the song Gangnam Style.
First of all. I’ve been asked to teach a Gangnam Style lesson. A two part Gangnam Style lesson. And, seeing how I have to teach each lesson 36 times over the course of three weeks, I was looking at spending a month and a half teaching a class on Gangnam Style. Maybe you can forgive me now for not posting over the last month!
Recently though I had the staggering good fortune of having almost the entire final week’s worth of classes cancelled! When she found out, my other co teacher approached me saying “You hate Gangnam Style now don’t you?”. I couldn’t deny it. “Whenever you listen to a song so many times,” she continued, dying of laughter, “You will hate it by the end. That is why you should never teach your favourite song! Hearing something too many times makes you hate it!”
But it didn’t stop there. “That is why you should never marry someone that you love! Eventually you will hate that person! Better to marry someone who has money and you are comfortable with. Love should be short and stay in your memory!”
The next time that she called me over to talk, she could hardly speak through the laughter, as she wanted me to see some pictures of dogs whose facial expressions resembled members of an administrative hierarchy.
Well, it’s October 11 and I’m still alive!
For over a month now students all over Korea have been fervently insisting that October 10 would be the day that the Chinese came to Korea to feast on human flesh, issuing dire warning that one mustn’t walk home alone or take a taxi under any circumstances. It wasn’t just students either. Facebook was full of posts and comments insisting on the event by 20 something year old Koreans as well! I never managed to unearth any more details beyond that – everyone stood firm that it was real, it was happening October 10th, and that the Chinese are all cannibals, but no one could explain the reasoning behind it or give any details about what was going to happen at all.
I can’t help but wonder whether it might have anything to do with the incident earlier this year where the Chinese were caught smuggling thousands of capsules filled with powdered human fetuses into the country. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2140702/South-Korea-customs-officials-thousands-pills-filled-powdered-human-baby-flesh.html
But one way or another, if you’re reading this blog, congratulations! You’ve managed to survived the Chinese cannibal invasion!
The other day, my co teacher finally got around to springing the “when are you going to start saving money to get married” question on me, and it ended up leading into a conversation on what one ought to do with one’s life. Based on this, other conversations, and the better part of my experience here in Korea, it seems that life here is generally perceived as a task with a very clearly defined set goal.
First you need to get a good job that allows you to save enough money to afford to get married. 27 (Korean age – which is one or two years older than your ‘international age’ would be) is the age at which one is expected to have started saving, as one is 20 when one graduates high school, a university degree takes 4 years to get, and you have 2 years of compulsory military service. After several years of saving from the age of 27 onwards, one is to choose a husband/wife, of suitable practical compatibility, and soon afterwards produce children. It is essential that children are then raised and educated (studying in a private school after regular school til as late as 10pm every day) to a level that ensures that they will be able to go on and repeat the cycle themselves, so that that they’ll one day take care of you when you’re old.
For bonus points, be sure to appear to work harder (or at least longer) than everyone around you, conspicuously consume expensive items frequently in public, and for God’s sake, make sure no one ever sees you with a hair out of place!
Ok, have you made it? Let’s check. Are you old and financially established, with offspring to look after you? Congratulations, you have won at life! Why not reward yourself with a trip to the Norebang?
Wouldn’t life be so much easier if it actually had a defined aim? I’ve met all sorts of people who have created a plethora of different criteria against which to judge whether or not they have won at life.
Some want to find their true love, some to hook up with as many people as possible. Some to amass wealth, some to become famous. Some to visit every country in the world, some to never leave their house if they can help it. Some to attain salvation or enlightenment, and more than a few fall in with the Korean model that I just outlined – though we may be less obvious about it back in the west.
I personally love the Dalai Lama’s conjecture that the purpose of life is to be happy.
I recently told my friend Adam Brown that he will officially have won at life once he can play a ukulele while he’s riding his unicycle.
I’ve always struggled with the fact that I have no idea what I should actually be doing with my life on an almost daily basis! After a bit of thinking, I’ve managed to form some sort of guiding statement that seems to work:
Follow your enthusiasm, and light this place up everytime you find an opportunity!
Ok, that might not be the most practical statement in the world, but maybe life just shouldn’t be that practical? Maybe the trajectories of our lives are meant to be changing liquid things. Perhaps the best strategy is just to adapt, meet each moment in good faith, and see where you get swept off to! It’s certainly worked so far and taken me to some pretty goddamned interesting places!
There comes a comes a moment in every teacher’s life when they come to realize that they have had a real and positive impact on the lives of their students:
As of today, whenever they point at a fat kid, they yell ‘He looks like a big pig!’, instead of just yelling ‘Big pig!’.
The spirit of the English language probably just shed a tear of gladness somewhere.
My friends teaching elementary school here in Korea are always telling me about all of the adorable pictures that their students have drawn of them.
While cleaning out desks the other day I actually came across a portrait that one of my students had drawn of me – but of a decidedly more sinister nature!
I know who it was too, because I remember him interrupting class to ask me what my height is – apparently so he accurately label how tall the skeleton version of me would be!
Seung Ho is one of those kids who’d just absolutely break your heart if he never managed to pass his interview. He is easily one of the sweetest, hardest working kids in the school, and spends every hour of his free time (when he’s not dealing with girl drama – ie. trying to hook up with the his ex girlfriend’s best friend) studying English into the early hours of the night. He even listens to English pop songs on the way to school on the subway.
Unfortunately, though he has been improving, it doesn’t really show as much as it should. Seung Ho once told me, “I work very hard, but my brain – not very good.” It doesn’t help either that he is incapable of coming up with a simple answer for anything. He always has some excessively complicated philosophical response to any question you could ever ask him.
His main reason for wanting to get an internship position in Australia: to make new friends from around the world. He also dreams of one day becoming a carpenter and travelling from country to country. He’s even promised that he will build a house for me in Thailand if I end up moving back to Koh Tao.
When he decided that he was going to play his guitar as part of his job interview, I figured why not teach him something specific for the occasion and take it one step further? So, the next week or two of Global Leader class unofficially turned into ukulele and singing lessons, as I prepared Seung Ho for the most important performance of his life!
I convinced him to let me film a video of him after his interview. Although the song was my idea, he and his mother were completely responsible for the outfit that he wore to his interview!
Did he get the job? Well, if you were an Australian, could you really say no to a Korean kid who started his interview with this?
Next month Seung Ho will be moving to Canberra to start his new career in construction!
“Well that went well, didn’t it!”
After weeks of painful struggle, I’d finally managed to hit my stride and take control of a class of unmotivated low level high school boys! Not only did they finally listen, but I think they actually started to enjoy the lesson!
“Yes, that was good,” replies the head of the English department, “But you know your normal classes don’t matter. You’re only here to make The Global Leader Team pass the interview.”
The Global Leader Team.
Much in the same way that my school had spent a ludicrous amount of money to install a fake grass soccer pitch, my school had hired me exclusively for the purpose of grooming The Global Leader Team for success in an English language interview – because the only measure of a school’s success is clearly how many times it can one up all of the other technical high schools.
Evidently, every scrap of credibility I had at this school rested on the ability of six poor English speakers to pass an English proficiency interview within four months. If they made it through, they’d be in Australia in two months participating in a prestigious internship program.
So, I’ve found myself spending two hours every day after school and fifteen minutes of every lunch break with The Global Leader Team, in a desperate attempt to cram as much of the English language into their heads as one could possibly hope to fit. And, most importantly, bring greatest glory to the mighty Gyeongnam Techincal High School!
What would they ask in the interview? What does the internship program entail? All details clearly far too superfluous for a mere Guest English Teacher to know.
Isn’t it great to be shipped over here to make a difference in the lives of as many students as possible?
Stay tuned next episode for tales of brave Seung Ho and the interview that he was born to conquer!