Incredibly, I’ve forgotten that today is April Fool’s Day. I had planned the most perfect prank for my students but it required the involvement of my co-teachers and this is where I’ve fallen flat – I forgot to speak to them and fill them in on the prank! Since my school seems to have only just accepted that I’m actually planning to stay for at least the duration of my current contract, I was going to tell my students that I’ve decided to go back to SA and see what the reaction was. Apparently this would be a bit mean so maybe it’s a good thing that it didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. My poor planning didn’t prevent my students from pranking me however.
After my first lesson of the day, I must have decided that April Fool’s Day isn’t really acknowledged in
. I was a little disappointed that my first (and favourite) class hadn’t done some type of prank so I am a bit surprised when Mr Jeong tells me to watch out for student pranks just before I enter my second lesson of the day. As I walk into the classroom, I see them scurrying to get into position for their prank. My students have turned their jerseys and ties around and are facing the back of the class. It’s a well-organised prank and I appreciate the trouble they’ve gone to in organising things so I decide to play along for a few minutes. Korea
No Ms Kim, It's Not Radiation Poisoning...
My co-teacher arrives about 5 minutes into the lesson and doesn’t seem to appreciate the humour. With that, the prank is over and students return to their normal positions and bored expressions. In the scramble for books, I notice one of the boys looks like he’s about the throw up – and he does, right next to my co-teacher who looks horrified and scared. A couple of the students look concerned to see that he’s thrown up blood, I’m a little confused as to what’s going on and my co-teacher quickly shuffles him out of the room while asking if he’s okay. My attempts to begin the lesson are in vain as everyone’s attention is focused on the student and teacher outside. Suddenly, the student jumps up shouting some form of surprise word, which my co-teacher seemed thrilled to hear. She’s visibly relieved to discover the blood is nothing more than a fake blood capsule and an well-timed April Fool’s joke rather than some serious health condition or reaction to the feared radiation poisoning that heading straight to Korea from Japan.
The students seem to have planned fairly elaborate pranks for several teachers throughout the day and this is a topic of much discussion among the teachers during lunch. I’m surprised to discover that today is also my fantastic co-teacher’s birthday. I find it rather ironic that today is her birthday since I’ve been meaning to ask her for several weeks when her birthday is. I’m happy, however, that the English teachers – who are all sitting together at lunch today – are actually speaking English and including me in the general conversation.
Mistranslations and Interesting Conversations
I leave school early for an acupuncture appointment. My back is really sore but I’m also, undeniably, looking forward to seeing cute doctor again since it’s been a while. The co-ordinator seems happy to see me and tells me that it’s been a while since she last saw me. Cute doctor seems just as happy to see me. He greets me with, “Long time no see” and comments, in Korean, that it’s good to see me. I get cheeky for a moment and ask if he’s happy to see me even though it means he has to speak English but, as usual, I speak too fast. All he says is, “too fast” so I repeat myself at a slower pace, which still doesn’t seem to be successful. The co-ordinator translates what I’ve said as, “even though you can’t speak English” which seems to prompt cute doctor into proving me wrong.
He tells me that he saw me about a month prior to this outside Angel-in-us coffee shop, meeting a friend. He specifies that it was a female friend because he knows I’m single – I’m assuming it was Catfish he saw me with – and that he was very happy to see me then. I’m disappointed that he saw me but didn’t say hello and I tell him this. His response: “I’m shy boy” which prompts me to sing the Korean pop song ‘Shy boy’, which just happens to be playing on the radio at that moment. I seem to embarrass him too much because he scurries away for something. While he’s gone, the co-ordinator tells me that Koreans are shy to speak to foreigners when they see them unexpectedly even when they know the people – it has to do with a lack of confidence in speaking English. Nevertheless, I make cute doctor promise to say hello to me the next time he sees me somewhere other than the medical centre.
The co-ordinator keeps disappearing during the consultation and cute doctor seems to be out to prove that he can hold a conversation in English. He also seems to be trying to say something else but is uncertain of how to proceed. I’m confused by his comments of “hav[ing] an idea that [I] might not like” and “want[ing] to talk to me lots” despite his bad English. I’m a little too enthusiastic when I hear this and respond in a manner not too dissimilar to that of a golden retriever pup. He tries really hard to communicate with me in English and I’m impressed that he’s managed to keep it up for nearly two hours. He even goes so far as to show me an anatomy book, in English, to try and explain what he thinks is wrong with me.
Towards the end of the appointment, his confidence seems to have grown and he tells me that he wishes he could speak better English so that he could show me how funny he really is. He says that he’s actually a very funny person, and has a good sense of humour, but this doesn’t translate well due to his bad English. I’m touched that he seems so concerned about the impression he makes and assure him that I do find him funny.
Out of the blue, he asks if I have any Korean friends and seems somewhat taken aback when I confirm that I actually do although most of them live in
. His next question is how I know people who live in Seoul followed by whether or not my Korean friends speak English (yes again) which seems to intimidate him – especially when I try to make him feel more comfortable by telling him that most of them are English teachers or deal with foreigners regularly; unfortunately, this seems to backfire rather than work as I’d hoped. Despite this, he continues to talk to me and informs me that he is currently doing his compulsory military service; that is how he ended up working at the Gunsan Medical Centre. Seoul
When he asks me how he can improve his English, my brain shouts that this is the perfect opportunity to say, “Let’s hang out” but I don’t and the opportunity quickly passes while I proceed to kick myself repeatedly. Again, he seems rather concerned about the impression he seems to be making on me and is eager to clarify that he actually had good marks for English when he was at school but that he is now old (32) and English is difficult. He’s also quick to apologise for causing me pain during the treatment when he asks if I hate him for hurting me before repeatedly telling me that he doesn’t want to hurt me – a common statement from oriental medicine doctors who recognise that acupuncture is rather foreign to many westerners.
At 5pm, I feel a bit guilty that he’s still working with me although he seems quite content. I’m relieved to find out that, as of today, the medical centre is open until 6pm so I have nothing to worry about. After confirming another appointment for the following Friday, I text Catfish and we arrange to meet for dinner at Hoa Binh. Not having brought my yoga things with me, I have to rush home to change and get my things before heading back to Naun-dong at 8:20pm for yoga.
Not So Pleasant News
By the time I finally get home for the evening, I’m exhausted. I switch on my computer to check e-mails before heading to bed and my delirious mood takes a sudden nosedive at the news awaiting me. My mom has e-mailed to inform me that my cousin’s dog was cruelly murdered and thrown into a dumpster near their house and that my cousin, with whom my parents are currently staying in Cyprus, has been rushed to hospital for an emergency operation to have a rather large ovarian cyst removed. I feel torn between my elation at today’s conversation with cute doctor and the disturbing news of my cousin and helpless in the knowledge that there’s nothing I can do until at least 4pm tomorrow afternoon thanks to the time difference.