Not Everything Sucks In Korea

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Yesterday morning I was greeted at random by one of the university security guards, who smiled, bowed, and offered up such a polite peace-be-upon-you that I could barely respond to him. The baby had cried a bit the night before—we’ve both caught the same terrible cold, but as usual my wife’s implacable immune system has left her completely unscathed—and I was still smarting from the wounds leftover from battling random strangers on the internet, so it was not until I found myself conversing with one of my nicer students a few hours later that I realized how foul my mood was.

All of my students are remarkably pleasant human beings, and I can say that without any exaggeration because, up until a week ago, there was one exception, an incredibly surly fellow who attempted to plagiarize the same paper twice, who refused to look at me in class, and who generally appeared as though he completely despised me. I’ll probably never know why he hated me so much, but for the most part I put up him until one week ago, when, after refusing, as usual, to participate in editing other people’s papers, and deciding instead to pretend for over an hour that he was working, I caught him fooling around on his cellphone, and demanded to know if he was ever going to contribute anything to the class. He sort of rolled his eyes and bobbed his head, pretending, in this very patronizing way, that he couldn’t understand me—blatantly goading me on—and so, with my eyes flaring, but (I believe) without yelling, I told him to get out, and not to come back. A few seconds later he had gathered his things and exited, but not before slamming the door.

He was the only student I disliked, and he didn’t show up to class the following week, so I’m guessing that he’s decided to fail the course rather than come crawling back—although if he had been brave enough to return, I would have acted like nothing had happened, unless, of course, he had started acting like a shithead again, in which case I would have picked him up and thrown him out the window.

The conversation with this different student, this good student I’ll call Sophie—a nice, smart, tough, woman, who slightly resembles one of the most consistently evil students from the elementary school back in Sasang, which means that I like her even more, because I can pretend that that horrible little child I knew in the distant past has matured into a strong, intelligent, and beautiful adult—this conversation revolved very briefly around my wife. Sophie told me she admired A. for speaking English so well and thought that she was really smart; they’re in this pass-fail Buddhism class together, and many of the other students just seem to spend most of their time jerking off in front of their monk-professors, but A. gives these really serious, passionate speeches, usually in English, and castigates the irresponsible freshmen for their laziness.

The clouds of gunsmoke leftover from the battles on the internet lifted with the advent of this conversation.

Later in the day I took my eleven month-old son out for a walk in the riverside park, and ran into a crazy ajumma whom we had met before—a woman equipped with a medical mask, a poker visor set over her dyed-black curls, and headphones—and once again this woman asked me where I lived in Korean, or, rather, she asked me where I was from, although her accent made the question sound completely different from what it was. I told her I was from America, and she blabbed out twenty syllables in the space of as many milliseconds, and I didn’t catch a single one of them, but that didn’t stop me from nodding. She kind of freaked out my son, who ran away from her and hugged my legs after she told him, repeatedly, to join her on her walk.

As Harry picked up little rocks, put them in his mouth, and then spit them out again, all before I could knock them out of his hands, one of my students (who was looking for a frisbee match) joined me, and talked for a bit, and then one of his friends joined us as well. This young Korean woman had just gotten back a week ago from a nine-month stint in America, and she lost no time in spouting out the exact same complaints that Western newcomers to Korea typically make—everyone dresses the same, there’s nothing to do here. I only saw her for a few minutes, but I’m sure I could have drawn out a lot more of this stuff from her, if I had really wanted to.

I’m thinking that since there was such an incredibly negative reaction to the article I wrote, it might be wiser to publish my book under a Korean pseudonym, and to pretend that it was translated from a Korean writing a Korean novel about a foreign English teacher (or something). I’m not sure the ruse would convince anyone, but it might lend the text more attention and authenticity, and deflect (or possibly even inspire) accusations of racism or petty whining and complaining.

At the end of the day, as I was walking home through a nice neighborhood across the river—there are three neighborhoods I know in Gyeongju: Songun-dong, which is very small but full of young beautiful university students; Gumjang-dong, which is packed to the brim with families; and Everywhere Else-dong, which is so geriatric that in twenty years it will either be completely depopulated or full of South Asian factory workers—as I was walking home, the mother of one of my students shouted after me, in Korean, and very respectably, too—seonsaengneem!, she cried, and forked over a doan-bong-too, or envelope stuffed with cash (English needs to adopt this excellent Korean word, doanbongtoo), and then offered to give me a ride back to my place, but I turned her down, all in Korean, because I didn’t want to trouble her, and I felt so good, and I went on boogee’in just the same.


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