Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Stranger in a Strange Land
I don’t know how to begin, any thought I can offer will be incomplete by default, so I suppose the least I can do is offer up some thought, some observation about my life here in Cheongju thus far. It amazes me that, as of next Monday, I will have lived in Cheongju for a month, an entire month come and gone in what feels like the blinking of an eye. In many ways my life could not be better, I have a great homestay family, I have two of the sweetest homestay sisters I could have asked for, and my colleagues at work are far more helpful, kind and understanding than I could have imagined.
Quickly, a few notes about the people and things that make my life what it is:
My homestay sisters, Dabin (다빈) and Dachan (다찬) are young, 8 and 12 respectively, and still exist within the bubble of youthful energy, zeal, and ignorance. It is interesting for me, being so unaccustomed to having sisters, to discover firsthand the emotional ups and downs my sisters experience daily at what seems like the flip of a switch. They are nice and sweet one minute, and the next they are yelling “hajima!” (stop) at each other in the worst kind of nasally whiney voice you can imagine, and won’t even acknowledge my existence. I am learning to develop a kind of sensor that can detect such unfavorable moods so I can avoid at all costs. The girls and I play games a lot, when I am not at work, among the favorites are UNO, badminton, and yoga (my sisters have a book of yoga poses that we try to duplicate to the best of our ability.) Recently, Dabin, the older sister, has taken a liking to chess, and challenges me nightly to a game or two. Unfortunately, sometimes these games end in a bad way. For instance last night, at the end of our game, our interaction went something like this:
Dabin: Teacha there! I ween!
Me: No you killed my queen one move after I killed your king, therefore I win.
Dabin: No! My rules!
Me: Read the back of the box, those are the rules.
Dabin: No I kill queen so I ween!
Me (beginning to become annoyed): Listen, if you don’t want to play by the rules, then I won’t play anymore.
Dabin: No! You play my rules! I am weenah!
Me: No, you are not winner, you are cheater!
Immediately after this interaction Dabin began to tear up and ran to her mother. I began to see that my reaction may not have been best, but I remained resolute in that she was indeed a cheater and deserved to lose, she just needed tougher skin. So as you can see, living with girls is a bit different than living with boys, and I am still adjusting.
I am about to finish my first week of teaching at Namsung Elementary School (남성초등학교) and I have already lost my voice. This happened much sooner than I was expecting, as I was not expecting to lose my voice. But, due to the raucous nature of that jungle they call elementary school, my voice has met its untimely demise quickly. Everywhere I go, and I mean everywhere, students react in one of two ways:
1) They let out a high-pitched yelp and run and hide behind their nearest friend (which annoys me to no end,) or,
2) Punch their friends to gain their attention, point at me and together yell “teacha teacha nice to meet you!” or “teacha so handsome!”
I may never get used to the attention, I have to plan when I go places based on when kids will be out of the halls, and I have to be careful of when I walk pass other classes, because even the sight of me is enough to get kids yelling things and completely disrupt their class. As I sat at my desk today during my short ten minute break between classes I looked up from my computer to see a crowd of elementary aged girls standing in a semi-circle around my desk, saying nothing, but only staring very intently, examining me carefully, and it is weird after a while. I enjoyed the attention at first, but feeling like a rockstar has quickly devolved into feeling like a zoo animal, kids pointing their greasy fingers at me and yelling their incoherent English phrases.
Every morning I drink coffee with my principal: a kind old man who wears his pants up to his nipples and walks down the hall with fists clenched and a confident swagger. He is a powerful guy at my school, and he knows it. Unfortunately for me he knows no English at all. Our interactions usually go something like this:
Principal: Oh yes yes, prease ah sit down.
Me: Thank you
Principal (after several seconds): Ah, wesa is berry nice?
Me: Yes sir, the weather is very nice today.
Principal (after several minutes of silence): Ah, copee?
Me: Oh yes please, I would like some coffee.
Principal: Oh ah, ah (nods affirmatively as he calls his portly assistant who brings us our morning cup)
(At this point we both sip our coffee in silence for a while, both sitting and staring at nothing in particular, until I offer up some kind of slow, basic English phrase I hope he will know.)
Me: Rrrrhmmm (I do this to gain his full attention prior to speaking in a slow, deliberate manner) Do you like warm weather? (as I say this I use my arms and point to the sun as I gesture to him to indicate that I am asking a question.)
Principal (after a few seconds of looking at the ground): Ah, ah yes thank you berry much.
Me: Ok….but do you (gesturing to him) like (pointing to my smile) the sun (pointing out the window to the sun, then shrugging my shoulders so he will have no doubt that it is a question.) Do you? (I reiterate in hopes that somehow by repeating it it will sink in.)
Principal (after a long pause and more staring at the ground, looks at his watch and says definitively): Ah, about 10:30.
So this is how our interactions usually go, I have learned to embrace the awkwardness and let it be, for whatever reason he wants to drink coffee with me every morning, and other teachers tell me that is a big deal, so for now I will soak up the awkwardness, and enjoy the coffee.