Sunday, 26 July 2009

Kindness Cheers a Lonely Heart

It was a lonely ride and the subway car seemed cold and sterile, and the people, distant within the circle of their own. Thoughts of isolation and longing swam in front of my eyes, clouding my vision, making it difficult to comprehend the Gaiman novel my hands. Longing; longing; longing...

Longing for intimacy, longing for touch, longing for whispers of stolen secrets in the night, longing; longing; longing...

The doors open, I push past, the escalator whirls to life as I approach. Nothing more than a charade, it knows only my weary legs yet it does not care. And then a distant smile, an excited but hesitant wave, my old 'friends' from Icarus, extreme martial arts. Essentially we practiced flips, cartwheels and kicks for show, but never spoke very much, language being a significant barrier. My Korean has improved though and we talk briefly, and I smile a little bit, these guys want me back at training. Smalls things.

We hit a stumbling block and we're lost for words, but then from nowhere a stranger appears, a small Korean woman wheeling a large travel bag behind her. 'Excuse me, do you need my English? Can I help you? Are you lost?' The sincerity, the kindness and the care in the voice melted my cynicism in my mind, warmed the loneliness in my heart and kept my despair, thoughts of the bottle, at bay. I did not need help and without words she realised 'oh, you speak some Korean?' I replied that I did and that I lived nearby, and with that she was gone. But the effect resonated, such simply kindness produced from nowhere, given freely and without cost.
It is the value of a smile, of a warm thought, of a hug given unasked, but sorely needed. It is a commodity we could not do without.

Thank you subway lady, where ever you are.
oh how long for intimacy, for the capacity to share myself, f

Friday, 17 July 2009

My favourite troublemakers

Call me insane but one of my favourite classes is 1-9, the lowest and the baddest of them all. These kids are not bad kids, they're just not suited to the typical learning system of sit down, take notes, memorise and reproduce. Sure, this class is the biggest headache, but its also the source of some of the greatest rewards. Here's two stories, just to prove the point.

One of my low level students gave me the biggest smile ever today. He clearly has a social problem, is extremely skinny, perpetually nervous, and barely speaks a word of English OR Korean. He's so terrified of other students that he refused to work with a partner for our recent speaking exam and I've never seen him converse with another student inside or outside of class. But everyday he's the first one to my class. Maybe he enjoys it there, or maybe he's simply taking the chance to escape from the others, but either way, when he sees me his entire face lights up, bright smile and bright eyes. In or out, I'm treated to the same result, bright eyes and wide smile. Honestly - I don't know if I'm teaching the kids any English, I really don't. But I damn well hope I'm making them feel better about themselves, and I guess that's an important lesson in itself. That's the reason I'm teaching High School, to make a difference. Now for my favourite trouble maker. I found him in the hallway as I often do. He was cleaning, the school's favourite punishment for anything from smoking, to being late. Today it was for wearing pants which were an inch or two too short, revealing his socks, black with a fluro rainbow pattern. That darn kid! He should have known better! He's a repeat offender too! But anyway, he greets me as he always does, 'Hello teacher', I respond and continue about my business.

That day I roamed the corridors a lot and passed him on numerous occasions. Each him he says 'Teacher, two times we meet'. This continued until we hit 'Teacher, five times we meet.' Whoever said 16 year olds couldn't be cute? It was about this time he explained his story to me, as best he could. I know I shouldn't, but all I could really do was laugh. There was another teacher nearby, but she didn't hear me. The boy was missing out on all of his classes, running about the corridor with a small group of other trouble makers, cleaning and generally having fun. Occasionally they were checked up on by other teachers, but really,
there has to be a better way. There have been
times when six of my 1-9 class (low level My two favourite trouble makers, taken on sports day.
computer students) have been doing this
ridiculous punishment. Today it was only
three. Perhaps in future I'll move my class
to the hallway and we can all clean and
learn together, yeah, that'd show them!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The problem with being liked.

Now this is an interesting predicament I find myself in, and that's the problem of being liked. First of all this isn't something I'm used to and second of all, I certainly didn't go out of my way and ask to be treated this way. But nevertheless, such is my situation.

My Vice Principal likes me - no, scratch that, loves me - in fact he's gone out of his way several times to tell me this. In both Korean and English. So what happens when somebody likes you too much? Well, you run the risk of every little thing you do causing them grief, worry or concern. The smallest of your actions need justification, clarification, phone calls and SMS messages. You're no longer letting the company down, you're letting down a friend. But these details are minor. And you might even say, 'What are you whinging about? Surely this means you'll receive preferential treatment and your school life will be grand!' Well, this was the assumption and the above mentioned problems aside, this has been the truth - until now.

It would seem that the Vice Principal likes me so much that my presence is demanded at all possible times, for as long as possible, irrespective of whether or not I have any work to do. Of course I'm referring to the summer teaching program. Now Korean schools are not like Western schools when it comes to holidays. Holidays simply mean 'time to focus on studies more specific to your interests'. Hence I'm teaching a dozen students for 3 hours every day, for three weeks. Now typically teachers go home once they've finished their teaching, however in a moment of panic the Vice Principal has explained that I should stay until 4pm (my contracted time) simply to plan lessons for next semester. Okay - that's all well and good, but preferential treatment? And what about the fact that I will be the only teacher in the school as all the Korean teachers, also needing to plan lessons, will leave around noon? *sigh* I've seen that expression before, it happened the other week when I was required to stay back after all the Korean teachers had left. Why? To pay regular visits to an old Korean dude in need of some company. I've got no problems with that, in fact I really like the guy and am very thankful for his assistance and the golfing lessons. But come on man, I'm working my butt off for you I'm burning out. It's summer holidays and I really need a break.