Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Few Things Understood…and Many, More Mysterious Than Ever Before (Day 21 – 20 October)

Firstly, I’ve discovered that my vice-principal does in fact exist – or perhaps my tired eyes are hallucinating someone I would like to believe is the vice-principal for the sake of what little sanity I still have.  Either way, I suddenly feel like I’m under constant surveillance at work.  That’s not to say that I sit at my desk and play on the internet all day but I do tend to send occasional emails and check my mail on a daily basis.  I also have a look at interesting sites that can usually, plausibly, pass as work related.  Since Monday, however, I feel rather more exposed in this regard and realise that I have subconsciously been ‘arranging’ my desk to look as busy as those of my colleagues.  To be fair, I don’t have the filing that the Korean teachers have and I had just returned a pile of journals that I’d marked so my desk looks ‘tidier’ here – it’s also the end of a school day.

Secondly, I’m starting to understand that Korea truly is a collectivist society.  Just how collectivist is something I’m still trying to work out.  I often arrive at my desk to find random objects have been delivered.  Sometimes these objects are easily identified or explained while at other times, they’re cautiously moved to the corner of my desk and generally eyed with suspicion until an explanation is offered.  Another such item appeared on my desk on Monday morning and I have to ask:  What would you think if the following item suddenly turned up on your desk?

The presence of a can of an unrecognisable drink beside this object suggests it’s food of some sort.  It doesn’t move when poked and, like most of the strange things my colleagues give me it’s warm and fairly soft.  It seems to have green peas and olives in it.  Closer inspection reveals red kidney beans which seem to be popular here and the green thing turns out to be something other than peas.  I don’t have to wait too long for an explanation of this oddity:  It’s rice cake from one of our colleagues to celebrate her daughter’s recent marriage and it’s actually rather tasty.  Koreans often bring baked goods for everyone they work with to celebrate the birth of a child, a milestone birthday, weddings, etc.

Thirdly, it is not considered unusual in Korea to take a nap at your desk.  I know the students do this on a daily basis but it seems a bit odd that the teachers should do it too.  I don’t know if I could bring myself to do this although it has been tempting.  With the thermostat constantly set at 25 degrees, some days in my office are just unbearably hot at the moment.  The doors and windows are seldom open and the result is a room that’s either slightly too hot for me or just warm and cosy enough that, combined with a ridiculously comfortably swivel chair (that reclines more than expected) I sometimes find myself struggling to keep my eyes open – particularly when trying to interpret students’ essays about a most enviable school trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

Fourthly, Gunsan may be a rather remote town and my school may be located in the ‘countryside’ as my students delight in informing me but, impressively, there is a medical centre only 10 minutes from my apartment (by taxi, of course) that provides a Korean-English translator for English-speaking patients.  How fortunate to have discovered this, and on the day my health insurance card arrives, after four days of abdominal pain when a doctor’s visit seems inevitable.

Fifthly, good timing and the perfect props are essential for avoiding uncomfortable situations without offending anyone.  I have regular encounters with a male colleague who asks me random English grammar questions to which he already knows the answer.  Apparently seeing me engrossed in a task is not a clear enough indication that I am, for a change, genuinely working on something.  The Kiwis have already informed me that this particular colleague targets all of the English teachers with various excuses.  Some students joke that I should carry a mirror with me like Hermione in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when she goes looking for the basilisk.  I’m tempted to do this since this colleague seems to have taken to sneaking up on me in the stairwells.  Invitations to lunch and dinner and weekend things are becoming very uncomfortable.  I now need to ensure that I have plans for every single weekend; whatever the day, I’m busy…unless you happen to be Irish Sean.

The Mysterious Irish Sean

Things I know about Sean:  He is Irish (but was born in Korea before moving to Russia and America according to one student), is 185cm tall, has dark hair and blue eyes (sounds Irish!), is very funny and likes to joke around, brings his students pizza or ice-cream from time to time, participated in several musicals in high school (he showed the students the videos), he is very handsome (but apparently was even more handsome at school), his father’s in the air force, he (or his father – I’m not sure) can fly a fighter jet, he speaks Korean quite well, his students went shopping with him at Lotte mart with his rather American shopping list and he and his students are going to cook together at his apartment, which is not far from Lotte mart, after their next lesson. 

I don’t know Sean from a bar of soap and please don’t mistake me for some pathetic, lonely stalker who hangs around Lotte mart waiting for good looking foreigners to arrive; I haven’t even explored as far as Lotte mart yet although it sounds like the place to meet foreigners.  I haven’t cyber-stalked him either: My information is from the numerous journal entries I marked from students (mostly girls) who attend extra English lessons with the mysterious Sean – when they find the time to do this, I don’t know but perhaps they’re motivated by something other than a desire to improve their English.  There’s a mischievous part of me that is eager to meet Sean, about whom I know many random details, just to see his reaction and then, once he’s convinced that I’m not some crazy or dangerous foreigner, hopefully discover the secret to his success with students who can’t seem to wait for his next lesson.  It must be the Irish accent…

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