Noreabang [NRB]

I was recently trying to explain to a friend exactly how amazing Noreabang (pronounced NO-REE-BHAANG) is when he said to me “Yeah, I went to Karaoke night at this pl-” SHUT UP. Don’t even compare the holy grail, the sweetest heaven that is noreabang to your stupid thursday night at T.G.I Friday’s.

Noreabang is a tradition. It is a culture. It is a release.

SINGING SONGS IN A ROOM IS FUN.

It is one of the best things in South Korea and in actuality one of the best things in the UNIVERSE.

Everyone does it in Korea. Drunk English teachers sing their faces off till 6am following a hard night of drinking, blowing off steam so we can teach better come Monday. The hardworking Korean students sing at 4pm in between school and academy. Boys out on the lash. Girl’s night out. Families. Entire school staffs. Drunk ajashis(old dudes).You can’t go wrong, come one, come all.

READ THE WORDS AND SING ALONG. IGNORE THE RANDOM RACING CAR, FIGHT OR SOAP OPERA FOOTAGE THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SONG WHATSOEVER

Noreabang literally translates to “singing room”. They have them all over Korea and elsewhere (I’ve seen a couple in L.A). Instead of going up in front of a whole bar, you enter a private room. They range from cheap and basic rooms to lavish penthouses. The cheap ones usually have a couch, a worn carpet, a crap tambourine and a mic. And they’re still very capable of giving you an unforgettable night. Personally, I love NRB so much that I have no problem coughing up a little more dough for a straight up luxurious experience. Ironically, I usually did this at Luxury, a chain of upscale noreabangs.

LET IT BE

We did it BIG at the Lux. This palace of song spared no expense flying in marble from the Taj Mahal and snacks from the GS25. They also featured huge bay windows overlooking city lights, wall to wall black leather couches, at least 4 tambourines and nice cozy slippers. The message was loud and clear, HEY NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS, WE KNOW YOU DIRTY SCUMBAGS DON’T TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES AT YOUR CRAP APARTMENT BUT THIS PLACE IS MUCH NICER SO TAKE THEM OFF AND TRY ON THESE KOREAN LOAFERS and even though my heel stuck out the back of the loafer by about 4 inches…it was comfy as hell son. It really was. The only downside w Luxury was they didn’t allow outside alcohol. I didn’t mind the rule until the one time they enforced it. NOT COOL. I had to take a tambourine home to even the score. Still, they were good people and I remember them fondly. Some people don’t know this but there is an even higher level of NRB. Unfortunately, I never made it there. A friend who shall remain nameless (*DAVE*) told me all about it. At certain noreabangs, guys go in and sit around singing while “helper girls” sit with them, all the while flirting with them,feeding them and pouring drinks into their mouths. (In Dave’s defense, his school took him. Every other day. For a year. He didn’t like it but the culturally sensitive Dave didn’t want to offend anyone.)

DON'T STOP BELIEVING

People approach singing in different ways. It’s fun to see different styles on the mic. Some people just yell every song the same way. Others sing pitch perfect renditions of your favorites. Some are nervous, some are crazy, some are crazier, some are better than others. Some hold back a little and others let it fly. I always loved watching people sing. I really felt it let me know a lot about them, like what songs they liked and how drunk they were. The drunker the better, by the way. THAT IS INDISPUTABLE. For the best and most honest performances, one has to be wasted. Or at least buzzed.

I BELIEVE I CAN FLY.

Americans have football. Brazilians have futbol. Koreans have noreabang. I’ve been stunned by Koreans singing. They’re truly next level. I’ve seen teachers from my school put tissues in their noses and ears and jump around on tables. I’ve heard dudes deliver note perfect renditions of all kinds of English and Korean songs from ballads to rap. However, the all time number one performance I ever heard was my friend Hee Hoon singing “Lately” by Stevie Wonder. He gave me chills, he was that good. It’s not just that he sang it perfectly but he sang it with such overwhelming emotion.  I had never even heard the song till that night but it is one of those things I will never forget. Later on, I would find out that Hee Hoon had been born a poor, blind, black child.

KOREANS BLOW FOREIGNER MINDS AT THE NOREABANG

NICKELBACK.SERIOUSLY. CANADIANS.

The whole thing is about letting loose. When you lose your inhibitions and swing for the fences, it doesn’t get any better. It doesn’t matter what you sound like. And don’t discount the fact that when you go all out with your friends and let it rip on the mic, those are friends for life. It’s like serving in a war together, it’s like winning a championship. That room is the locker room and if you’re in there, you’re part of the team. Now, are you going to pull your weight or are you going to choke? You’ve got to look into that foxhole (couch) next to you and see if that soldier (singer) is locked and loaded (mic + tambourine) and then make a pact that you will be there for each other (band). Trust. Songs. Drunken.

____________________________________________________________

SWEET HOME ALABAMA.

9 TO 5

JANGSU ELEMENTARY SCHOOL FAREWELL PARTY

ONLY HAPPY WHEN I'M NOREABANGIN'


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Dear K

Dear Korea,

I miss Cass. I miss Hite, I even miss O.B. I never thought I would, but I do. I hated O.B but damnit, I miss it now. I guess that’s a “don’t know what you got till it’s gone” situation.  I miss walking everywhere and getting stared at. You really made me feel like a bigshot,  like someone special.  Like a D-list celebrity. Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been wearing ridiculous outfits in a pathetic, desperate plea for attention. Nobody notices. The other day I wore one of those animal winter hat thingys I bought in Bupyeong, hoping it would cause a stir. It was 80 degrees and sunny but no dice. These people are so de-sensitized. My size and stature mean nothing to them. And curse this melting pot of a society, I don’t even stand out a little. For God’s sake, I fit right in.  Sucks to be me, K. I miss the adulation from the kids. All I had to do was walk down the street and they loved me. I saw myself as John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever swaggin down to school each day. Over here, I leave home and feel like John Travolta in Battlefield Earth. The other day, a friend and I went down to the park to play tennis. He’s awful (which makes me feel great), I was really channeling my inner Federer. As I crushed the one and only overhand smash of the day (and my life) , a car passed and a male voice yelled out “FUCK TENNIS!”. We cracked up instantly and were immediately grilled by the father of three boys at the next court. For the next two games , we tried to hide our laughter looking away from him and his little tennis prodigies. A similar incident had happened once to a friend in Colorado and I couldn’t help but think that would never happen in Korea. I don’t like understanding what people are talking about K. With you, I never had any clue what people were yelling about and I liked it a whole lot better. The other day I had to listen to a Puerto Rican woman haggle over the price of a box at the post office and it was really painful. Let’s hope I recover soon. Let’s hope she never needs a box again. Likewise, I hate people understanding what I’m talking about. With you, I could listen to music and feel free to sing along to the f-word, n-word, b-word, motherfucker and what have you. And nobody was EVER offended. Ever. I miss that freedom. My co-workers here would be all up in arms if I sang along to some 2Pac or Em.  I really miss the kids. They were superior to my new co-workers in every way. They were cheerful, they always high-fived me and two of them gave me Peppero on Peppero day. I don’t miss Peppero though, it’s a gimmick and it’s overrated.  I do miss Donenu, Galbi and Seaweed Soup. That was some good eatin’ and cheap too. I miss those nights where I would deliberately eat as much as I could, risking spontaneous combustion just to see how much it would cost. I miss paying 8,000 won ($8) for a meal that could stuff Andre the Giant. I definitely miss not tipping anybody. And I really miss saying Yeogeeyo. That was fun. Maybe my favorite Korean word. I used to say it with such swagger that waiters would drop everything and come ask me how I speak Korean so well. And I would tell them to quit lazing around and to go get my fuckin food. And they would. I miss getting excellent service, free ‘service-uh’ and THEN not tipping. I miss the several bottles of cold water provided when I asked for water. Korea, when I left you, I went to Europe and she charged me for water and then charged me to piss too. I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger but she ain’t messin’ with no broke n-words.  K, you were so kind that you never taxed my ass. You didn’t tax beer, you didn’t tax cigarettes, you didn’t tax meals. Goddamnit, you didn’t even tax my salary. I miss that feeling. The only two certainties in Korea, death and kimchi. Lately, I pay sales tax, income tax and all that stuff George was talking about on “Taxman”. That’s another thing I miss. I miss downloading things at the speed of light. Remember that time I downloaded the entire Beatles discography in 2 hours? Or how about when I got the first three seasons of 30 Rock in one day while I was at school? Over here, I’ve been trying to download Freaks & Geeks for a week and I’m still at 14.7%.  K, you never gave me less than 110%. Well, you did enroute to completion but I always knew you’d get there. Here and now, I can’t be so sure. It’s gotten to the point I’m thinking about (gulp) buying the dvd. You see what I’ve been reduced to?  I blame you K.  I was in the city the other day and I flagged down a taxi. I walked up to the door and instinctively tried to pull the handle from the top like I did with every one of your cabs for the past 18 months.  But I couldn’t grab it from the top because of it’s awful design.  Where there should have been a hole for my hand to slip in, there was metal. I stood there in the rain for a few seconds examining the door handle and cursing the moron who chose to go with a handle that could only be opened from the bottom.  Thanks for making me reach down and come back up to open the door you putz. K, you’ve got some short people over there but you also realized that the average person is taller than the fuckin door handle on a taxi.  So, you offered a choice on how to open that door. Wanna pull from the top? No problem. Bottom? Whatever floats your boat.  God, I miss you. You were so efficient. Sure, you were a little screwy sometimes but who isn’t ? I was sick the other day and I went to the doctor. This guy charged me a cool 20 bucks like it was nothing. Then, the medicine cost another 13 bucks. I got misty-eyed and thought of you and me and our arrangement, 3 bucks for doc, 3 bucks for meds. Plenty left over for a night on the town.  Speaking of soirees, I went out here the other night and it was so weird. These “bars” here close at 2am. Nerds. By the way, over here, HOF stands for Hall of Fame, I thought that was kind of cool. If they only knew. First Ballot, son. I sure miss getting wasted for 10 bucks. Those 3000 CC pitchers are not that common here. God knows I’ve been looking, but I guess I’ve been missing them.

___________________________________________________________

Smart.

Idiotic.

Update

A Topsy Turvy month by any standards, this last one was a doozy. When last I wrote, I had decided to not continue at my school. After that, I changed my mind and decided to continue at my school having spoken to my co-teachers and being assured that the future would not suck. But it did. The very near-future sucked in fact and so the mistake the establishment made was to double cross me too early in the game, in fact leaving me time to pull off a dastardly backstabbing of my own. And so six days after changing my mind for a 4th time, having signed a contract to stay, then voided it and now signed it again…I was about to change my mind again. 

I couldn’t even keep track of my own decision anymore.

My school was understandably upset and confused by my lackadaisacal approach to contracts. As they dangled my contract in front of me, pointing out exasperatedly that I had just signed it a few days earlier, I only watched absentmindedly, repeating my time proven mantra of 

 “It’s my fault. ”

And it was. But either way, at the very last hour, using connections made at a Open Teacher Class or some pageant of a class, I had a connect who gave me a 2 week extension. Which I used fully to finally make a decision to teach elementary school next year. It will be in Korea, in the same town of Incheon, just another ‘hood. Hoping it goes well…It starts september 1st and until then I am just gonna enjoy my summer holidays and last days at Dongam Middle School and Gangseogogori. In the end, I really love Dongam school and some of the students are just amazing but the administration and system have just become so difficult for me to stomach that it would have been impossible for me to go through the same process for a second straight year. It’s not been a bad process, it’s been rewarding but trying as well. In all honesty, the prime difference is that a TON of colleagues I loved left the school between the first and second term and that’s left me feeling that the experience at Dongam is not getting any better.

 

I just feel like a change.

Learning About Teaching

Fourteen days ago, I extended my contract to stay in Korea.

Eight days later, I changed my mind and voided that contract.

By doing so, I won’t have a job as of September 1st.  I usually would think nothing of not having prospective options but for some reason, I am annoyed about this. I am not worried but I feel that at this point of my life, I should have a more concrete idea of what the hell I want.

Like always,  I have no idea. This infinite process of trial and error continues…

I am now certain that I don’t want to be a teacher. I reached this conclusion because I have the same problem now in Month Ten of this job that I had in Week One. I constantly take out my frustrations about the staff and administration on my students and it’s grossly unfair to them. It’s not a conscious decision but I am often frustrated with the system and I then wind up snapping on some fifteen year old kid.

This happened again last week. I was tested and angered by my co-teachers and some students from 9am till 2pm and shortly thereafter I flipped out on some poor kid who wasn’t even misbehaving or being noisy, but couldn’t understand me.  He was  sitting there quietly and not tearing his paper in half like I had asked about ten times and demonstrated twice.  I told him to look around. He didn’t understand me. I told him to look at everyone’s papers half the size of his. I shouted and shook my paper frantically. He stared at me, completely bereft of emotion or understanding. I ran to his desk, picked up his paper, crumpled it into a ball, threw it in his face and threw him out of class. I still cannot believe I did this. His only mistake was not understanding me. Which isn’t a mistake. He didn’t do anything wrong. Two minutes later, I went outside and he was facing the wall and visibly upset and confused. I told him to join the class again. When I brought him in, I couldn’t even look at him and I had to leave class, disgusted with myself. It turned out he is one of the most quiet boys in school and I still can’t get him to say a word to me.  I apologized to him after class and told my co-teacher to tell him in Korean that it was my mistake and I had a bad day. But really, who cares? People have bad days. That doesn’t give them the right to displace their anger and humiliate others. That kid probably thinks I’m a total asshole and he is right. Cos to him, I have to be. How could I not?  If you think about it, the only thing I taught him that day is that it’s okay for adults to become angry and throw things at children. Not my finest hour.

If  I can’t control myself then I am no better than a child and probably worse than half of them. Two weeks ago, I felt that leaving school was quitting on my students but I am now absolutely convinced that they will be better off with a new teacher, some one who will almost certainly be more patient, committed and able to make a difference.  Since I told my school I am leaving, the teachers have all been complimenting me a lot. The staff asks me to stay and the word they all use to describe me as a teacher is “sincere”. That means a lot to me because I think sincere is one of the best things anyone can be in this life. Although I am nowhere as efficient as I wish, for the school to recognize that I have given my sincere best everyday is very gratifying. Still,  I realize that sincerity is not enough. Far from it.

Teaching is great. The joy of getting something through to someone is very rewarding and trumps any “success” I have had at any other job. This job has left me looking forward to having my own children because  I would love to teach them, but while doing something else for a career.

It’s strange knowing I will probably never see any of these boys again. I wonder if they will achieve their dreams and what they will be like when they  grow up and have girlfriends and things like that.

I wind up missing everyone . I miss everybody. Leaving all these boys behind is going to be difficult. I imagine I will wonder about them the rest of my life.

I suppose being a teacher is about giving it all and then letting go.

It’s a tough business. Maybe the toughest there is. Too tough for me.

KOREA 2: THE SEQUEL

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana – Groucho Marx

It has been 6 months in Korea.

I can still remember sitting on the plane moving here, not just the experience, I remember the faces on the plane, the fabric of the seats, the hot, muggy Incheon air when I arrived. I remember all of it down to the music i was listening to. I can recall that sensation more clearly than i can recall last month. Korea has been a blur, the days turn to months and minutes to memories. You only realize time passing in the context of big changes like the seasons, holidays or through the people and places you know. For example, this week , school has been transformed. The academic year ended. Students graduate. New kids come in. Teachers and friends bounce. New people show up. My desk was moved. Don’t underestimate the importance of your desk’s location. I was loving life in the corner of the second office. I had been left to my own devices in the back of the lesser used office. It was the equivalent of being in the witness protection program. Now, I’m going to be sitting next to the vice principal in the main office. The new semester is like a sequel. I know the setting. I know the cast of characters. I’m still the protagonist. I still keep the beat. I still run these streets. A month ago, on some days I craved something fresh. I definitely got it, this semester is going to be different. Four out of my five co-teachers have left. Twelve out of the fourteen people in my old office have left. My whole camp’s under siege and i’m fighting Jason Vorhees. While they leave for all kinds of reasons, I’m still excited to be here. I’m looking forward to the next six months. Hopefully, I can be more professional and learn from the mistakes I made last time around. One plus is having a new set of students who have never seen me before. It’s like a blank canvas. You never get a second chance to put on those first strokes. Last time, I was green and didn’t really know how to go about it. This time, I hope that I can be better. Instead of attacking, I’m going to counter-attack. I’ve learned that how you use your energy is very key in teaching. I used to exhaust myself by stressing and trying to control things. Now, I’m very comfortable in anarchy. Controlled chaos. I know the angles a little better now.

Like I said, it’s the sequel.

I even told the students last week, I’LL BE BACK. I am hoping this term will be a sequel on par with T2 or The Dark Knight. Not a pointless and painful rehashing of the original semester but a fresh and new take on things.

I’m back and this time it’s personal. 

Ill BE BACK

Don’t believe the poster, IT IS PERSONAL

breaking outta incheon

As December and January came, I found myself in a solid routine. I was reasonably satisfied. Then a funny thing happened…

 

It came in the way of a holiday. Holiday itself was a somewhat huge issue. When I came to the K, I figured my vacations would all be exotic locales like Japan, Cambodia or Mongolia. However, I chose to spend my first real holiday in Korea by going to a little place called India. Not only had I been there before, I had lived there. I promised to visit my family and so I was committed to going there well before the holiday came. As the time neared, I was quite envious of people who were going to the Philipines, Cambodia and elsewhere. I sort of regretted that I chose India instead of venturing into new lands…

 

However, a twist of fate changed everything. Originally, I was scheduled to have a 2 week break and I was to arrive in my hometown of Bangalore on Jan 24th. I have always loved Bangy but I don’t love it as much as I used to. It’s grown so much that I hardly recognize the town anymore and there are so many new people there that the pleasure of seeing familiar faces disappeared many years ago. Although I was excited to see family and friends, I wasn’t ecstatic about going to Bangy for 14 days or so…

Then… On Jan 15th, I was informed that nobody had signed up for my Parent’s Camp which was scheduled the week of January 19th to the 23rd. I was quite surprised since I had already taught a few of these mothers two months ago, they sounded excited about the camp and one of them was Gung-Ho. That is not her name, it means that she was quite enthusiastic. So, when I was informed, I had to take a good hard look at the man in the mirror, did I lose these parents because of a poor showing during my previous lessons? Were my teaching methods not effective??? WAS I DOING MY LEVEL BEST TO IMPART KNOWLEDGE ON THESE PARENTS??? COULD I LEAVE EARLY IF THE CAMP WAS CANCELLED??? I ignored the first few questions and attacked the one about whether I could leave early… Now, my principal and vice-principal do not speak English. I do not speak Korean. So, I made Meeyoung, my stalwart co-teacher act as an interpreter and we went into hostile territory to see if we could negotiate my early release. At this point, I resorted to being my crafty self. In a calculated move, we waited until the vice principal (who could be described as ornery or a prickly pear) was away so that we could directly ask the principal (who you could say is cuddly or a regular pear). Korean schools are like the armed forces in that you always ask your commanding officer first. However, him being a bit of a prick, I felt quite smart waiting for him to be M.I.A and then going straight to the big dog. But the best laid plans…

 

As sunset approached, I tiptoed down the empty corridor. I ducked into the main staff room, it seats about 12 teachers and on one end sits his majesty, the vice principal himself. I asked the teachers where he was and they informed me that he had gone home. Meeyoung and I sprang into action and went directly to the principal’s office…time was of the essence! I opened the door to the promised land and smiling, I pleadingly said to the principal “Anyong Sa-heo” and then pointed at Meeyoung as in “She’ll tell you the rest.” However, as Meeyoung started filling the Princy in on my status, I saw the silhouette of a man sitting on the couch in the back of the room. It was my arch nemesis. He was glaring at me with a look of absolute disdain, similar to the look that Ivan Drago gave Apollo as he landed the death blow. I was sort of uncomfortable. Then, the principal smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up. Euphoria!! I felt like a million bucks (U.S) and then the prickly pear interrupted my happy little moment. He launched into a ten minute barrage of rapid-fire Korean and peppered Meeyoung with little phrases and loud ass exclamations. I stood in the middle of this back and forth and I began to suspect the VP wasn’t wishing me a safe journey or recommending a nice hotel. As we stepped out of the line of fire, Meeyoung told me that the evil troll had vetoed the Princy’s thumb and that he was now holding me hostage, unless the Incheon Board of Education could convince him that I was not doing anything wrong by leaving early. I called the board and in a rare moment of brilliance, they said “Why would we care what you do on your vacation?” I paraphrased this to my VP as “They said I should go.”  I added that the reason I was leaving early was for my cousin’s wedding and that my cousin is more like a brother, A TWIN BROTHER, okay?? I cannot emphasize how close we are…

 

We had to sit and listen to the VP fume and sputter about how we tried to go around him, I told him that I looked for him first but he was AWOL. In the end, I walked out and screamed like Mel Gibson for I too had fought like a warrior poet and won my FREEEDOMMMMM…..to leave a week earlier than scheduled.*

Now, I had 3 weeks to work with in India and the ideas were coming, there was a wedding to attend (the wedding of a buddy I met through my best friend) and it would be in a tiny village in the far north, in the land of Punjab, an area as foreign to me as Mongolia or Bolivia. What’s more, I was going with that best friend from schooldays, a loafer cut from the same cloth as me. Things were shaping up. I wasn’t sure we would even reach this wedding, but I knew we’d have a blast trying.

 

* But, my VP informed me, I had to bring back a copy of the marriage certificate…I’m telling you, I am dealing with a lunatic here.

 

The next week, the day before I was due to leave, the VP came running into my staff room, his short little legs gamely taking long strides and he fired some angry words at Meeyoung and left. I thought to myself, I am so happy I am out of here tomorrow. Aaah yes, I need a break.Then Meeyoung explained to me that, he had just come in, on the eve of my holiday and said that I could not leave now because ….wait for it….. ONE MOM had called and said she was interested in the class. I laughed and said “That’s a shame because I’m not going to be here.” We had to go have a sitdown with our little Napolean/ Kim Jong-Il/ VP again and in this meeting I said “Tell this nutcase I AM OUT.” I think Meeyoung’s translation was more like “He is begging you for permission, it is a very special family event.” In the end, the little despot made a huge production of it, but all I could do was laugh. I was feeling good, my mind was in India already… and the next day, the rest of me as well.

 

 

To Be Continued…

 

the joke’s on me (leggo my ego)

An aspect of teaching that’s been tricky for me is making the transition from the schoolboy who laughed at everyone (yes, EVERYONE, and this has been proven) to occasionally being laughed at by my students. Often, for no apparent reason. Some of them laugh their heads off when i say “hello”. A lot of my students simply find it hilarious that a guy of my epic proportions is teaching at their school in Korea. To put it in perspective, it’s akin to Hulk Hogan walking into your middle school to teach French. It’s a reality show without cameras. I am a sort of D-list celebrity around school and thats not a good thing. Two months in, the staff marvels at how the students still seem amazed everyday to see me walking down the halls. Kids routinely scream “Hello Seed-a teacher!!” as i walk to the bathroom. AND the same kids yell it on my way out. I wonder about them sometimes. They see me on the street , walking to school, and they are shocked every time despite me taking this road everyday. In fact, this experience has given me a tiny inkling of what it would be like to be a celebrity. I think it would suck. Of course, the money would be nice but still I can say firsthand that having all eyes on you gets tiresome sometimes. Well, for me anyway.

Either way, back to the question of laughing. My entire life i have valued laughs over anything else. If i stay home and laugh my ass off on the phone and you go to a club and meet the hottest, flirtiest cheerleaders around, I will still feel i had the better night because odds are i had more laughs than you that day. (I’ve been told that’s lame already) Still, nothing drives me crazy like students laughing in my classes. I try to pull the old “Share the joke with the class” thing but they can’t explain it in English and it’s even worse when they do so in Korean, the entire class starts laughing and i still have no idea what the joke is.

One day, I was pointing at a photo in our textbook of a boy handing a girl a book. I asked out loud “What is he giving her?” A 7th grade boy who is particularly loud and goofy yelled out something in Korean and laughed. He began to laugh and not knowing any better, so did I. Then, the entire class erupted into laughs. I thought “wow, this is what it’s about. We’re all learning and laughing. This is what education is about.”

However. Then. My co-teacher walks up to me and whispers “He said “Penis”.” Good one, lil buddy. You made a dick joke in class and got teacher to laugh at it. Kudos. It was way too late so i just let it go. Needless to say , that class thinks seed-a teacher is so down.

A few days later, i had a fun run-in with a particularly annoying student. From week one till now, roughly week 7 or so, everytime i look up at this kid, he is cracking up. He is just always giggling away and burying his face in his chest when i look at him. I’ve probably checked to see if my fly is open in class about four times because of this joker. So, yesterday..two minutes into class…i look at him and he is laughing hysterically and he looks down at his book as if he is reading. Still, knowing all the angles, I see he can’t keep his head still because of the violent laughter consuming him. I call on him and he just bursts out. Ha Ha Pal. I kick him out of class. The entire class is a little surprised because I haven’t even begun class yet. haha that was funny to me. So, I go out fifteen minutes later and i say to him “Okay, just tell me what’s so funny and i’ll let you in.” He says “sorry”. I say i don’t care about sorry, i just want to know the joke. Part of this is that i really really want to know the joke. I could use a laugh, you know? Finally, my co-teacher comes out and i tell her i won’t let him in until he tells me the joke. She looked surprised but played along. She tells him what i said and he replies. She just starts laughing. Exasperated, i say “WHAT DID HE SAY!!??

She tells me. He said ‘I’m just a happy person. I love to laugh.”

Well, i had to let him go. That’s the best answer he could have given me. Why? Cos i’ve used that answer with my teachers and it was true when i said it. Nobody ever believed me but it’s true. When you like to laugh, sometimes you don’t need much of a reason. The smallest things set you off. If he’s like that, i give him props. Cos the world needs more people like that. And he is seriously laughing so much, there cannot be that many funny things going on.

So, after that I began to think I shouldn’t care if these guys are laughing in class. I really don’t want to be the guy who tells them not to laugh. Still, i had to swallow my pride a bit to let these guys chuckle away class after class. They might be laughing at me cos I KNOW they aren’t laughing with me. Still, I let them because i like the vibe better than if we are all serious. And, also they respond to me a lot better if I laugh with them. Later that week, i was mid-lesson when i noticed the boys in the front row all huddled over the worksheet i gave them. Problem was they were having way too good a time. I walked up to them and saw a curious drawing. Lo and behold, here was a pig standing up on it’s hind legs and it had thick, black, curly hair on it’s head. As far as caricutures go, it was an A. However, for a split second, i wondered how to handle this. Then, i had my first genius move as a teacher. I proceeded to “help” them with the worksheet and ignored their drawing. Literally, i wrote down notes and answers all over the paper while they squirmed and kept looking at each other nervously. I approached the drawing and wrote all around it while acting like i didn’t know it was supposed to be me. I did this for about ten solid minutes and one kid looked like he was about to faint. Probably, because another teacher would have given them a beating. I kept smiling really cheesy smiles and asking them for answers while they prayed i would just go away before seeing it. It was just heavenly. I got such a kick out of it that i hope it happens again. Soon.

So, turning the corner and realizing i don’t want to be too controlling has been great. The only negative aspect is feeling like i’m not in control, that maybe i don’t have their respect. Well, then came sports day. About 50 parents and teachers lined up for the tug-of-war and then my supervisor came up to me as i was taking pictures and told me to get out there. As i walked out, hundreds of students on both sides of the field started chanting my name. ‘SEED-A!! SEED-A!!” It meant a lot to me that they cared enough to do that. That’s never happened to me before and it won’t happen again. I felt like i have established something with my students, whatever it may be. Tug of War was another crazy story but i’ll leave that for another time…

What I’ve learned is that laughs are always good. If it’s you laughing or getting laughed at. No more penis jokes though.

Foreign Concept

OK, first of all I am Indian. As in, I’m from South India, born and raised, on the playground is where i spent most of my days…

but then i moved to the U.S

And i noticed a phenomenon that i’ve now come to understand takes place everywhere in the world.

See, in the states, it was very common for random Indian people to come up to me and start a conversation and the first question would always be “You Indian?” . I was always annoyed by this because i wonder how that can be the first thing you ask somebody. So, initially i would very dryly say “Yes, I am Indian. ” I would get a response such as “Oh! OKAY, GOOD. Here is my number. My name is _____. Feel free to call me”

That began to piss me off. Soon after, i would respond to this question with “No, I’m not from India, I’m from Trinidad & Tobago” However, this did not dissuade these buggers. After all, we are a persistent bunch of fellows. They would continue “Oh yes yes, MANY INDIANS in Trinidad. ” And than they would give me their schpeel and song and dance as if i had just narrowly passed the INDIAN test despite being Trinidadian or a Tobaggoner. So, I then changed my answer to “No, I’m from BRA-ZEEL” . Figuring that there is no significant Indo-Brazilian community, i assumed i was in the clear. However, my Brazilian accent didnt cut the mustard with my Indian brethren and they always asked me pointedly “BRAZILIAN?? What is your name?” ..Somehow this repeatedly caught me off guard and instead of saying “Wanderlei De Silva” or “Kaka”, i always said “Huh, oh uh, Michael”

And that seemed highly dubious to my inquisitors. Still, i was free for another day! Thank God I looked like a man of indeterminate ethnic origin!! Imagine if I was the spitting image of Mahatma Gandhi or Amitabh Bachchan. It would never stop. So, i successfully ducked out on scores of conversations with Indian men (Indian women hardly ever do this, I’m assuming because they’ve already been accosted by about a 100 indian guys that day) and quietly seethed at the manner in which a person could come talk to you and expect to be friends simply based on nothing but a shared subcontinent and a bond between 1.2 billion people…

but then I moved to Korea

And proceeded to do exactly the same thing. Irony of ironies, i caught myself walking down the street and if i saw a non-Korean, i immediately wanted to go talk to them and see if they lived by me and if they wanted to hang out and if they knew any girls who wanted to hang out and if so were they as desperate as i was? Okay that never happened but the truth is i caught myself looking at every white guy/girl, black guy/girl and even just people wearing a baseball jersey or NBA hat and wondering if i should talk to them. In a handful of instances, I did . And with disastrous results. See, the people who travel to faraway places can be broken down into these categories

1) the adventurer – cool, down for whatever, fun and frolic, these people are the ones that make things fun for all, hakuna matata on steroids, they left home cos the world is their oyster

2)the traveler– chill, down , reads a lot, learning about life and himself/herself, left home cos they wanted to learn about the world and themselves, good people

3)the type a personality– annoying, this was the latest thing on his/her agenda to be a complete person. Between their internship and grad school, thought it would be a good thing to put on their resume while they travel (not cos they enjoy travel, but so that they could compare notes with the other grad school kids) surprisingly common and unsurprisingly already focused on next year and the twenty after that.

4) the complainer– wack, popping up all over the place. My personal nightmare scenario, i have a way of attracting these people. My face appears to be screaming “DO YOU HAVE ANY COMPLAINTS?!?? NONE?? COME ON!! THERE MUST BE SOMETHING??” because the complainers seek me out and in the rare event of me talking to a stranger (eventho my mom told me not to) , they have been just DYING to complain. Why? Cos nobody else wants to listen to that shit! And then i walk in and they proceed to whine endlessly. Debbie Downer on Zoloft…

5) the herb – a conundrum, there are a lot of socially awkward people around here. Now, I’m not Ferris Bueller but i can at least understand how to NOT piss people off. Still, that seems like a tall order for some of the herbs around here. I assume they left home cos they were either friendless or surrounded by other herbs…good call leaving either way. It’s just not something i expected to encounter here and it doesn’t make me homesick or nostalgic. It just grinds at me. They keep talking and cracking joke after bad joke and i wonder “wow, he must really like the sound of awkward forced laughter followed by pin drop silence”

Obviously there are exceptions but still, this a broad overview. Now, the adventurers are not as common as you imagine. They are around but in limited supply. The travelers there are plenty of and these are the people you are keen to run into. When you approach someone or are approached by someone, you hope they are the traveler. However, it might be a TYPE A in disguise. In which case, get ready for a boring conversation that seems like an interview. The TYPE A frequently turns into The Complainer as well and at that point your best alternative is to run for the hills and never look back cos it is PAINFUL. Complaints around here turn into sessions where you can just get drained. It’s best to walk away before they start. I usually just say things like “Oh yeah, that sucks” and then zone out in my patented “sleepwalking while awake” state. Feigning ADD gets me out of a tough jam yet again! So, the point is , most cool people already have friends. It is the norm. Therefore, having learned the hard way, I know that the people who are waiting to talk to you on the street are usually herbs or are waiting to complain. There are exceptions, like me. But then again, I’m the exception to every rule. And you know this! ( I know I know, I’m a herb)

The moral of the story is when i was in America, I knew that being Indian alone was not enough to be friends with someone. Now, being a foreigner, it is even more obvious to me that this is true everywhere. Simply being English-speakers in Korea does not mean we will automatically be friends. Most probably, I don’t wanna know what you’re saying.

I’ll still take that chance though cos that’s what it’s all about.

Back To School

School Days are back and man, it is great. The biggest change being in school is acting like a teacher as opposed to the student I have been often for the past 28 years.

step into my office...

step into my office...

 

 

It’s very hard not to behave the way I want to. When you do something and you immediately see kids follow your lead, it’s weird. When I say “Yo!” to get someone’s attention, the boys all start yelling YO!!!!!! I had an incident where i broke my classroom door and i said (under my breath) “shit!” and it was pure hysteria with around 15 to 20 teens bouncing off the walls saying SHIT SHIT SHIT!!! I noticed this phenomenon on my first day when I went into school like Chuck Norris on some vengeance type shit. I was not gonna take any guff. So, I figured if I went in like a mercenary, I could become more lax later on. So, when I first started teaching, I went off on every boy in every class for every little thing. If I saw you giggle out of the corner of my eye, I was going to rip you to shreds. When i would yell at someone, the whole class would start screaming at him. Strange..However, this did not put fear in the hearts of the guys. Instead, they started to think I am a dick. So, that was a peculiar problem. I wondered how to keep these pirhanas disguised as little kids from tearing my flesh up, chewing me up and spitting me out. At the same time, I wanted them to like me. Hmmm, there had to be a middle ground…So, I learned that yelling and screaming isn’t working for me. It works in that they keep quiet but it doesn’t because they lose all enthusiasm or josh if you know what i mean.That is something i have to tinker with.

The one common goal with all my students is that they want to be rich and successful, when i ask them what jobs they want when they graduate, the most common answer I get is CEO. ( The other answers are usually singer, dancer, and drummer. I usually like those guys better) So..I began earnestly one day.. “I know many of you want to be CEOs and head your own companies…Do you know who this is? (I point at a slide of Yong Nam ,CEO of LG) This man is the CEO of LG (They are crazy abt cell phones so they go crazy that a korean man is CEO), Yong Nam says that the most important thing for Korean students today is to learn English! Do you understand now? Is it sinking in how much English can help you?”

 

 

Silence. Then, a hand goes up. ( Yes ! !

 

“Yes. Tell Me.”

 

“TEACHER, DO YOU LIKE SEXY LADY!!??? I LIKE!!” (and he kind of swivels his torso in a way that is more like he is trying to keep an invisible hula hoop going than a suggestion of anything sexual)

 

I  giggled and just moved on. Yong Nam would not be the answer.

 

I teach 7th, 8th and 9th grades so each class is quite different. Contrary to what I believed, it seems the younger the class, the easier it is to get them interested. The reason being, my ninth graders are going to graduate in 6 months anyway so they must wonder who this jolly brown giant is trying to harass them for their swan song..

 It’s justifiable that they don’t care seeing as how nobody really cared too much about teaching them English their first two and a half years at the school.

 

However, as a result, the 9th graders think they are too cool for school. These guys came in my first day and around four of them just put their heads against the back wall and went to sleep. They do not speak one word of english. Hence, it is awkward because i cannot really ask them to take part in group activities without everyone else laughing at them. The rest of the english department says to let it go, that it’s too late for them. Still, I cannot imagine letting them snooze for 6 months. That is another puzzle i have to solve. I actually care a lot because i like them and it’s probably because they don’t give a crap. They sort of remind me of me except there is one big difference. When a teacher yelled at me or even singled me out and this is through grade school, high school and even college, I usually held a grudge against that teacher for a loooooong time. If they saw me the week they dissed me, I would grill them so hard that they knew i wouldn’t whizz on them if they were on fire. But, my boys here, I will absolutely go off on them, make them stand against the wall (hahaha), if they are talkin, i’ll make them read even if they CAN’T read . That actually makes me feel bad but I told them if you won’t or can’t read, you should keep quiet and listen in class. Obviously, they still don’t keep quiet for two seconds. After all this, i see these guys five minutes later in the hallways and they are all smiles, there is this one guy who i usually yell at all class long and last week I didn’t want to see him cos i felt a little guilty. I ran into this dude on our class field trip to Lotte World (the Korean Disneyland) and of course all the bad ass kids are hanging out in the most fun place. While all the good kids were on rides, these dudes go to the gun range and proceed to spend all their cash tryin to shoot dolls off of pedestals. Obviously, I joined them. (I got 3 shots thus earning street cred w the Dongam bad boys)

guns blazing

guns blazing

 

 So, then i saw my arch-nemesis and he comes up to me and starts offering me a beef skewer and it was not even poisoned or anything. He just realizes when I am going off on him I’m doing my job. I give him and all of them  props because thats very mature and something I probably only understood in the past 3 years or so…Actually, i always understood that but was unable to not take things personally.

 

So..teaching has been really cool in the way that it’s rewarding when kids care and also you learn something about yourself every week. The funniest thing is i still think of school from the perspective of a student. The biggest pain for me is hanging out with staff members instead of chillin with the students. When the lunch bell rings, I instintively walk out to the field to see what’s poppin.

lunch meeting

lunch meeting

 

But, then the English Department and my co-teachers always want to talk and they feel like they are not being inclusive and friendly if they don’t bring me to lunch with them. So, I sit in the cafeteria laughing at jokes I’m not too sure about and looking pensive when getting advice I’m not sure I understand and sometimes I just don’t agree with. It’s funny..trust me…being a teacher is great but being a student is where it’s at…at least then, when people make bad jokes, you can just slap them in the back of the head and that’s always funny.

AUGUST, 2008 : World Without Strangers

This past month has been a  big one for me. Enjoyable as well, despite people dear to me having some troubles. Thankfully, all has gone well on all fronts! August started tough and is finishing strong. In the past month, Korea went from being a possibility to a reality, as i sit here writing in a PC Bang (internet cafe) in Incheon, South Korea.

I’ll start a month ago. I had become bored in the New York/ New Jersey area and I could not really explain it. I have good friends and I had been working all summer long while living at home, so I had saved a bit of money (well, more than usual) Still, something was missing. I couldn’t place it, but while at one time I had been apprehensive about coming to Korea, I began to count the days and hours until my departure. In the two weeks before I left the states, it began to dawn on me that each time i was chillin with friends, it could be the last time i saw them for a long time. That, in itself, was sad. However, i was still happy cos I was beginning to really appreciate my friends in the US more. I always wind up comparing my friends there to my friends in India, who i grew up with. That’s an unfair comparison as most of my friends in Bangalore are family at this point. It’s been fifteen to twenty years between us so it is unfair to expect the same kind of friendship from my U.S peeps. However, my U.S peeps are being missed now. That is for sure. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

A funny aspect of my journey was that i initially felt quite adventurous for coming to Korea. I always thought that this would be an awesome experience and some sort of test for myself. However, the world is so different now, so much smaller. I think there are a few places left that would be very adventurous to go to but Incheon/Seoul certainly doesn’t seem to fit into that category… i found out later that there are places in Korea that might be that wild…Still, the area I live in is more advanced than India so I had to accept the fact that I’m not exactly Marco Polo or Chris Columbus for coming here in 2008.

So, the day came to leave. I packed and went to the airport. As i waited for boarding, i made my phone calls, saying my goodbyes. The last call i made was to my mom. This was part of our convo.

Ma : You must be excited

sid : No, not really

Ma: Nervous?

sid : No, not at all

Ma: Well, how do you feel?

sid: Nothing, really. I mean , this feels routine. This has been a possibility for months so it’s kind of anti-climactic…

And that’s how it went down. I was leavin on a jet plane, don’t know when i’ll be back again. And I might as well have been picking up my laundry.

When I got on the plane, I met this guy in my program. He was very friendly and we shot the shit for hours on the plane, telling me about his days in the Peace Corps in Tonga, an island in the South Pacific. He lived there for 2 years with no running water or electricity and nobody who spoke english. Just read book after book. Grew his own crops. Ate off the land. Loved every day. I was thinking “wow, that sounds like an adventure”  I thought of that and of how my grand-dad (who passed away before i was born) went to Champange, Illinois in the 1950s when he didn’t even speak English. He did that in an age before phones let alone the internet. He taught himself English while studying for his degree and working at a gas station on freezing cold Illinois nights. I tried to imagine him the day he left India for that journey around fifty five years ago. I couldn’t help but think that I’ll probably never experience a trip that significant…because he did it for me.

When my plane took off, I looked out the window, and just wondered what lay ahead for me. I  didn’t even feel anything, which is very rare for me. Usually, i get a little buzz on takeoff. I began to think maybe I’m growing up or something. I certainly hope that’s not the case.

When we landed in Seoul, we all went and lived in Konkauk University for a week for orientation. That was a trip. I had promised myself I was going to learn 10 words of Korean everyday and so when i left, i would be able to get by on the street at least.. Well, i fell 10 words a day short of my goal. Hey, It happens…

Orientation was technically about taking classes almost all day long, but really it just offered you a chance to meet and chill with people from all over the world. THAT was awesome. I wound up chillin  with people from Cali, Chicago, Canada, Australia, Scotland, England and mad other places. It was a proper orientation to gettin drunk internationally. So, during the days we learned a lot about Korea and at night, we found out about bars and street food like deep fried squid, seaweed and awesome korean hot dogs. During the days, we occasionally had a great lecture that would give you enough pep to make it through the boring ones. Despite the long days (9am to 7pm average), we felt great all week and i’m happy that I used almost every single moment in trying to meet and learn about the other people there. Still trying to process it all, thank god for facebook!

Orientation came to an end two days ago. Although we were all ready to bounce to our final destinations, I couldn’t help but feel sad to say bye to my new friends who won’t be living near me. These kind of jobs attract people who are typically kind, fun, real and just chill.

Hopefully, we all stay in touch.

Next, I left on a bus for Incheon, my new home, it’s literally outside Seoul, same Subway line and everything. My co-teacher picked me up and we introduced each other. Her name is MeeYong and the first thing she said to me was “Oh, you are very tall. I don’t know if you will like your apartment. We were hoping you would be short.” I was surprised how perfect her English is. Turns out that she has lived in England and everything. Next, she told me that we were on our way to sign a contract for my flat. I said “but are you sure i can stand up straight in the flat?” She said “Yes, you can in the living room but not in the bedroom” Hmmm. I enjoy standing straight and this was getting a little Being John Malkovich for me so i asked if we could just check out the flat first and then sign the contract. Well, it’s a sweet pad, studio with a split level upstairs bedroom, kind of japanese style i guess. I can’t stand in the bedroom and in fact i can touch the ceiling when I’m laying in bed. Still, it looks awesome and I feel like I’m in a movie or something.

After my contract signing, I was late for a dinner where my school’s staff was waiting for me. Over here, when they go out, EVERY PERSON in the staff goes out and they sit in a Korean style restaurant where they eat all kinds of good food with a lot of beer and soju (Korean Liquor, kind of like a watered down vodka). I am not a fan of Soju but they told us at orientation repeatedly that in Korea, when you say “I don’t like drinking”, you are really saying “I don’t like you”. CLASSIC. I walked in late and when i walked in, everyone started clapping and people were yelling ‘Ohhhhhhh!!!!!!” and ‘Wowwww” and things like that. Haha, i don’t know what they were imagining but i’m sure it wasn’t me! A few shots of Soju later, I was tight with the Princy and Vice-Princy. Can you believe it turned out the party we were at was the going away party for my principal? I literally met him on his last day. He hired me, got me my sweet apartment and was a very cool guy. I hope the next guy is as cool, I’ll meet him monday. At dinner, the P.E teacher (It’s amazing how they are always the same in every country!) stood up, flexed and pointed at me. I must have looked confused because he said to me in perfect english “please stand up and turn around and introduce yourself to everybody in the school” Thank God for Soju because I was quite relaxed and i just said “Hello, my name is Siddharth. I’ve come here from the U.S. Everybody has been very nice to me since I have been in Korea. I’d like to thank you all for that. I love this place and I’m going to try to do a good job.”

Job starts tomorrow. I’m going to go in and meet the little hellraisers for the first time.

stern disiplinarian

stern disiplinarian

I can’t wait. I feel nervous. I feel excited. A friend was telling me it’s just Anticipation… My co-teacher warned me that the DongAhm middle school boys are worse than other schools and I might be a little dissapointed. I imagine that’s what our faculty told new teachers at my schools my whole life! I’m sure they are immature, impatient, naughty kids. Well, that’s how i always was and that is how I am. I would like to think I have seen all the angles on misbehaviour and can psyche these dudes out. Still, I think this will be an epic battle waged over the next year. Look for me to post the latest on here and thanks for reading if you are still with me! Peace!!