Episode 12: In Which DFM Suspects Big Brother Is Watching Him, And Takes Is Taken Away From A Subway Station In A Stranger's Car
On my way to work today I got the rare chance to witness some good old-fashioned racism first hand. I was sitting on the subway and two seats over was a black man. An older Korean woman came and sat down between us because there were no other seats. Later, when three seats opened up across from us, she got up and walked over. Had she sat in the middle seat I would have thought, "she just wants a more comfortable seat" and would have thought nothing of it. However, she chooses to wedge herself between a pole and another Korean woman who was wider than either the black man or myself.
When I finally got to work, I was met by an unexpected guest. I never did learn his name, but he was there when I showed up and proceeded to follow me around for the majority of the morning.
During my last stay here, I heard of a teacher for the same company who had the cops come and inspect his class and arrest him for teaching English (our visas do not cover English teaching). What he was doing, and I am doing is not illegal. I am teaching art, not English, and so legally I am safe. However, this other teacher was also legally safe, and he was arrested by the police who hoped to get a bribe payout by his boss. Our boss instead hired a lawyer, at considerable expense, and beat the charges. Regardless, the situation was fairly stressful for everyone.
Not wanting to experience the same unpleasantness myself, I felt a bit uneasy by presence of this strange guest who seemed far too official, and seemed to be asking a lot of questions about me teaching the children English. Later, though, I found out that he was from the head office for the Korean English teacher at the school and must have just been trying to ascertain the progress of the children. He cannot have been too impressed though, since the children seemed as wary of this new "friend" of mine as I was, and would answer "are you a foreigner?" to him (in Korean of course) every time he asked them a simple English question. (Note: he was Korean.)
In other interesting happenings, the six-year-olds (Canadian five-year-olds) were making banana and apple smoothies. To cut up the apples and bananas, each pair of students had a plastic knife (bigger than a butter knife you'd use at a picnic though, and thicker too). One of the boys came up to me and decided to show me his knife fighting skills. When I told him he could not chop my arm with his banana slime-covered knife, he turned the knife on himself and showed me his seppuku skills (look it up). Although he was just joking, I'm sure glad Mr. Official had stepped out of the room at that moment. Yes, I understand Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world, but usually Korean men wait until they're a bit older and have kids and a family of their own and are passed over for a promotion before they kill themselves. Furthermore, it is considered impolite in Korea for a younger person to try and rise above his age-defined place in this rigid social hierarchy by committing suicide before his elders do. (Sorry to all the Korean readers out there for my tasteless joke.)
After work I went to teach a private lesson in some outlying area of Seoul. I had no idea who I was meeting, but my friend (whose job it is to find teachers) needed a favour this week and asked me to go because he needed a teacher on short notice (that's how I got my current job too).
The lesson took place between 5:45 and 6:45 PM. I thought I would be teaching one or two children, but when I was taken to the apartment there were six children in a living room. I suspect that the woman had told all her friends about the coming tutor, and they decided to get in on the good fortune by sending their kids over.
I already figured an hour would be a long time for the kids, who could not have been more than nine. Today though, I found out first hand that children that age have a maximum attention span for learning English of one-half hour. The children started out eager to learn, but the last fifteen minutes of the lesson were hell, as I had children jumping on the couch and pretty much doing everything but studying. Normally I would not have cared, since they had covered all the necessary material (actually, they were far beyond the material being covered and were probably quite bored). However, I was being paid for an hour, so I got my whip out and cracked down hard. Eventually (I'm not sure how) I managed to get everyone back on task and we hobbled towards the finish. It was fairly stressful, and I was worried I had failed, but when the mother came back in to the room she seemed to think that I was the world's greatest tutor.
She begged me to come back and teach the children, and even offered me $60/hr. I suspect the reason she has so much trouble finding tutors is that no one wants to teach those kids for a full hour.
I felt bad for her actually. She was clearly trying very hard to learn English herself, and even though it would appear to most Canadians that she was pushing her children too hard, Korea is a country where, for better or worse, the government has told its citizens they need to learn English. In many cases, companies will hire or promote an employee based solely on his or her level of proficiency in English, regardless of that candidate's job-related skills, or whether or not the position in question actually requires English language proficiency. This woman was only trying to provide her children (and those of her friends) with a chance to find a successful job. Sadly, though, I really did not want to add another full day of travelling to my already exhausting schedule - not to mention lose another day of climbing - so I told her I was too busy with an ever changing work schedule (not entirely untrue).