Saturday, March 26, 2011

Graduating With Robert Pattinson (9 February)

My desk calendar and diary both record my school’s graduation as Friday 11 February.  After all, graduation is the reason that I couldn’t change the dates of the second half of my winter vacation in order to go to Thailand with Catfish who leaves on Friday 11 February.  Therefore, when I arrive at school this morning, I’m a little upset to discover that graduation day has been changed and no one has told me.  When I dressed this morning, my gut instinct was to wear my black suit but I didn’t feel like wearing a suit just for deskwarming so I went with jeans, a casual top and sneakers instead.  Lesson 5: Always listen to your gut instinct.  Despite my colleagues’ reassurances that I’m fine as I’m dressed and it’s not necessary for me to nip across the road to my apartment and change, I feel self-conscious and awkward.  After all, when the PE teacher, who (understandably) lives in sweatpants and a hoodie, arrives at school dressed in a suit, you know you’re severely underdressed for the school day!

Since there’s no way to get out of going to the graduation ceremony, even though I don’t teach or even know any of the third grade students, I settle for hiding in a seat at the very back of the auditorium as the parents file in dressed smartly and bearing bunches of flowers for whomever they’re supporting today.  However, these are no ordinary bunches of flowers like we buy back home – no simple bunches of roses, mixed flowers, carnations, gladiolas, etc.; these bunches of flowers have all been Koreanized.  Since I didn’t have my camera with me for graduation, I’ve borrowed some of Catfish’s photos from the graduation ceremony at her school.

All together now...

I always find school gatherings in the auditorium entertaining to watch at the very least.  Since I clearly don’t understand anything being said, I pass the time observing personal behaviours instead.  It’s funny to watch Korean teachers falling asleep in their seats, students playing games, the younger teachers running around and taking photos and the prompt responses to any instructions made up front regardless of what everyone has been doing until that point.  Koreans bow in greeting and no exception is made even when they are seated: I love the synchronicity of it all.  The MC gives an instruction while the principal stands on the stage facing the school and I think that this is the preparation time for the bow.  Once ready, the MC says something else and the entire school bobs their heads in perfect unison while the principal bows on the stage.  At my last two schools in South Africa, we could’ve practised that for months and we probably still wouldn’t have achieved anything close to the synchronicity that these students have achieved with minimal practice. 

I’ve never seen our auditorium filled to capacity but this is an important occasion for the third grade students who have finally completed the three year endurance test that is passes for high school in Korea.  Following the head bows and formal greetings, the actual ceremony starts.  First on the agenda is singing the national anthem.  Catfish has already experienced a graduation ceremony at her main school and has told me about it so I actually have some idea as to what is going on right now.  A moment’s silence in remembrance of everyone who died in the Korean War and, I think, includes every soldier whether he has already done his military service or is currently doing his military service follows the national anthem.  Since military service is compulsory for all healthy men in Korea, it’s safe to say that all of the male staff and all of the men present today have done military service in some form.  The pride they place in their military service is incredible but that’s another post entirely. 

And Now for Something Completely Different

With the national anthem and moment’s silence out of the way, it’s time to get down to the business of acknowledging the survival of the class of 2010.  The MC says something and all of the third graders stand up and wait for their name to be called for their 25 second walk across the stage which symbolises their graduation.  It’s strange to see them all stand so that the parents can’t actually see their respective child’s walk to freedom; stranger still is that, just like at a Korean wedding, everyone seems to be talking during the pesky business of handing over the actual certificates.   The handing over of the certificates takes only 5 minutes as nearly 120 students are hustled across the stage for the last time in their school careers. 

With that out of the way, it’s time to acknowledge the really exceptional students – this means the ones who obtained 99% or 100% in everything since a ‘bad’ student’s marks seem to seldom be below 90% in Korea.  Finally, there are speeches from the students to the principal.  A representative, I’m not sure who, stands directly in front of the podium and the principal while giving this speech.  I find this most peculiar because it seems to relegate the majority of the people in the room to some near invisible presence since the focus is on the principal.  I’m used to speeches being made at school ceremonies but the speaker usually has to face the audience.  This photo is actually from Catfish’s graduation ceremony but my school was identical.

Robert Pattinson is Present!

The last thing to do before everyone is dismissed is the singing of the school song which has a fairly easy and catchy melody that is repeated.  From my vantage point at the back of the auditorium, I’ve been entertaining myself watching the audience members’ behaviour and actions throughout the ceremony – it’s been an enlightening experience.  Just before the school song starts, NZ2 taps me on the shoulder and asks for the name of the “guy who plays the vampire in Twilight”.  Strange timing but I fill him in on the name which is followed by him pointing out an audience member and commenting that he looks like the Korean version of Robert Pattinson.  Of all the times not to have my camera with me, this has to be worst.  This kid looks exactly like Robert Pattinson and I struggle to contain the laughter that rapidly bubbles from my throat!  The outfit, the hairstyle, the pose and even his facial expressions are identical that, if it weren’t for the obvious fact that he’s Korean and Robert Pattinson isn’t, he could easily be mistaken for the real deal – a Korean doppelganger. 

The entire ceremony is over by 11:30 – barely an hour – and we’re allowed to go home straight after the ceremony which is a rare thing at my school.  I’m so grateful for the early day as I can feel a cold forcing itself on me so I look forward to going home and resting.  Resting, of course, involves catching up television shows via the internet which leads to a long chat on Facebook chat with YeonJeong.  Sleep, however, wins in the end as I pass out on the futon in my spare room where my internet connection is.  At 19:30, my Canadian friend phones me to ask if her husband can bring around the sleeper couch and desk that I’ve bought from them.  I’m so excited that my apartment will finally be fully furnished that it takes me a while to realise that I should probably sweep out my spare room where the furniture will go since he and another mutual friend are getting everything ready to bring it down to me.  With the sleeper couch and desk in place, I finally feel like I’ve fully unpacked and my apartment is not only furnished but looking like a true home after four and a half months.

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