I thought I'd better write some new stuff rather than digging into my past as I have done in recent blogs. My reasoning for this is twofold. Firstly it is material that's fresh in my mind and therefore not tinged by the passing of time. Secondly, I want to prove to myself that I am able to still have great and funny experiences even though I have now entered into my fourth decade.
June 20th 2009
I am told to do my first weekend English camp and have no idea what this will entail. I am briefly informed that during the course of the afternoon I will have to play the role of a supermarket worker, waiter and immigration officer. I am also told that I will be working alongside another Western English teacher although no further information is provided.
I make my way to Yang Gok school to assist my co-teacher, Ina in getting the kids to the purpose built school somewhere in Changwon. Upon my arrival at Yang Gok school I am told that they have struggled to get the 20 required kids together and 8 of the kids have actually had to be forced into going. In South Korea kids are forced into education far too much. They go to school all day and then they are picked up at the school gates by buses supplied by private language academies, where they are deposited to endure their evening activities. The fact that these academies have such wonderful names as Toss English is a possible indicator of how below par South Korea really is in it's linguistic capabilities. In my opinion this forced education has to lot to answer for in South Korea's extremely high suicide rate. The pressure to succeed is unprecedented anywhere in the world.
I arrive at the English academy with a co teacher and 19 kids in tow. One kid has dropped out already, wasn't he the lucky one! We take off our shoes at the school entrance, as is custom in South Korea and follow 2 academy assistants to a waiting room upstairs. We are half an hour early and the other English teacher is yet to arrive. The kids sit and eat their pack lunches whilst Ina embarrassingly makes excuses for why she has not made me a packed lunch. Although the kids English language abilities are virtually non existent, they are finely tuned to the sensitivity of the situation and club together to make me a packed lunch.
I am informed by the assistant of the school that the other English teacher has arrived and is cooling down in the library. I am eager to see who he is and start walking towards the library to introduce myself. However, as I am halfway across the room, the school assistant stands in front of me and mumbles something like "let him cool down first, he's just walked here".In Summer time South Korea, I am informed is an extremely humid place. Today, it is hot and sticky but nowhere near what we are about to experience in August. Personally I feel mildly affected by the weather today and have a few beads of sweat on my head. With this in mind I return to my seat and wait for my Western co assistant to emerge.
Ten minutes later the library doors are literally flung open and an exceedingly overweight, ridiculously sweaty, old American guy launches himself into the arena of education. He proceeds to walk around the room at pace opening windows, shutting doors, turning on fans and generally preparing the room to his exact specifications. He does this in a robotic manner without looking anybody in the eye. This is his routine and it is apparent that nobody can talk to him until he is ready to talk. Maybe a little cruel to say this but if you saw this guy on a paedophile most wanted list you would not be in the least surprised. He has a mop of greasy, sweaty hair complete with centre parting, and his belly protrudes well beyond the belt of his trousers. He is wearing a pair of dirty chino trousers and a ragged old dirty shirt. He oozes sweat from his every pore and in his hand he clenches a hankie which he periodically uses to wipe his brow. This sweaty hankie ends up in his mouth on many occasions throughout the afternoon, as he delves both hands into a candy bag to throw sweets to the better achieving kids. Finally, his routine complete, he stands in front of the class and we all await his words.
He stands and he stares at the kids. He does not have to speak for me to realise that this guy is nasty, he's a power tripper, he enjoys putting fear into kids. He is lacking something in his life and bullying kids is compensation for that which he lacks. When he finally decides that we should be graced by his words, he bellows them at us with such velocity and volume that we all reel back in our seats in fear. His voice is loud and I'm talking Jack Black loud. I can't exactly remember his opening words but they went something like this,
"These are the rules kids, when I speak you listen, when I don't speak you listen and god forbid if you speak when I don't tell you that can speak". He then goes on to tell the kids,
"today kids we are here to have FUN, what are we here for"? This last question is hit by a wall of silence. This visibly angers him and prompts him to wipe his sweaty brow with his now sodden hankie. I am drawn towards this action with a disgusting fascination. I watch in detail as his perspiration soaked hankie squelches across his forehead, like a sponge soaking up spilt milk on a kitchen surface.
"I said T-o-d-a-y we are here to have FUN, FUN, FUN, do you kids no what FUN is hey"? Once again a wall of silence.
"Oh, so that's the game is it, you kids can't speak English can you "?
"So am I wasting my time"?
"Put up your hands up kids if you can speak English". No hands are raised. The only sounds are the sweat dripping off the guys head and hitting the floor and 21 heartbeats thumping like bass drums. When it is established that no kid is going to respond to his question, Tom (his name) picks on one kid,
"you boy, stand up". The poor kid stands up and takes a public humiliation for the whole class,
"Can you speak English boy"? Once again silence.
"I said can you speak English boy"? The poor kid is terrified and has not got a clue what the guy is saying to him.
"What's your name boy?"
"Do your have a name boy"?
The kid in question shyly mumbles his name "Lee Hoon Hyunoun".
"NO,NO NO, NO, it is not Lee Hoon Hyunoun", bellows the sweaty American. I'm thinking to myself, how in gods name does he know that this kid is not called Lee Hoon Hyunoun. My question is soon answered.
"This is not a Korean class boy, you may be Lee Hoon Hyunoun in Korea but Internationally speaking you're Hyunoun Hoon Lee -oookkkaayyyy". The way he says oookkkaaayyy really grates on my nerves, it's really creepy and it is a word that he is to use thousands of times during the course of the afternoon.
"Rule number 1 today kids, is International language, not Korea, not American, I-n-t-e-r-n-a-t-i-o-n-a-l language oookkkaayyy".
"So what's rule number 1", once again no response. He throws this question to the kids at least 10 more times throughout the afternoon and they respond in fear, like Pavlov's dogs.
I could go on for hours rattling this type of dialogue off and believe me there were some gems in there. However, I assume that you get the gist of the afternoon's conversation and general public humiliation. At one point he leaves the room and shouts to me as he is leaving the room,
"Hey Paul, entertain the kids man, yeah, keep them entertained, whilst I set up the first activity". Before I have time to protest with him that my name is Andy not Paul, he has left the room and is storming off down the corridor like Storming Norman. I turn to the kids and have no idea how to follow this act.
"Right kids, are you enjoying yourselves"? I mumble. This is met by a sea of blank faces, so I employ a new tactic.
"How do you like the fat guy"? I say whilst making a big fat belly shape with my hands. Once again there is no reaction.
"You know fat guy", I say whilst pointing down the corridor and once again making a big fat belly shape. This time I get a reaction. The kids look at me and begin to nervously smile. Great, I think, I'm in.
"Yes, he's so fat, he's eaten all the pizza's", they start to laugh and a few of them are making belly shapes with their hands. I'm on a roll now.
"He is so fat and sweaty that he stinks", I mimic him wiping the sweat from his forehead and then hold my nose to insinuate a bad smell". Brilliant, the kids are loving it, even the ones that don't understand any English have been informed of my conversation by their friends.
"He's so loud and crazy", I say raising my finger to my temple and spinning it around in circles to signify craziness. The kids are now in their element. Some of them are making big fat belly gestures, others are holding their noses and the rest are making the crazy gesture. All are laughing and letting loose after their hour of tension.
Now, those of you that know me are probably cringing already and know what is going to happen next. I have got so carried away with my actions that I have not been paying any attention to my surroundings. I feel a tap on the shoulder and turn around to be confronted by the object of my ridicule. I literally freeze, my heart almost shocked into submission.
"So Paul, you like to make fun do you boy"?, just like the kids, I have no answer to his question.
"erm no", I say with the conviction of a red handed thief.
"Well, that's not what it looks like to me ooookkkayyyy, I've just stood and watched you telling the kids that I'm a fat, smelly, crazy guy". I have no comeback, how could I, there are 19 kids stood in front of me either making big belly shapes, holding their noses or twirling their fingers around in crazy motions. At this point, Tom literally explodes.
"Ooookkkayyy, that's enough", he points at the kids and shouts "stop". This time they understand him. They all stop and look at me, as if to say -teacher Andy said it was ok.
"Oooookkkkayyy boy", he shouts at me.
" The supermarket scenario is set up, you go there and role play with the kids. I'll stay here and do the immigration role play". I try to move but am literally frozen to the spot, my knee's are knocking and my heart beat is erratic.
"I said GO, lets get this day over with boy". This time I give it legs, out of the door and assume my position behind my make shift cash desk.
Thank god that this is the last activity and I do not have to endure this for much longer. The kids walk into the pretend supermarket and buy their goods using their very limited English speaking abilities and I stumble through the charade the best I can with my mind in a totally different place. In the distance I can hear Tom's voice booming from up the corridor in his makeshift immigration office.
"No boy, your nationality is not Korean, it's ROK , Republic of Korea, ooookkkkaayyy. What is wrong with you kids"?
After this activity, we are have a group photograph and Tom appears behind me in a puppets mask, I feel his sweaty palm on the back of my neck and he whispers, "Don't ever let me hear you making fun of me again boy oookkkayyyy". I shake my head and then smile for the camera.
Upon exiting the building I feel a great sense of relief. Bidding farewell to my kids, I head for the nearest bar.