I am trying to write something longer. It is daunting but I really want to “finish”. I am continually surprised by what a long and arduous process it is. For this reason I am more amazed than ever by writers of anything, be it ridiculously bad movies to songs of any nature. I think we all underestimate how difficult the writing process is. Coming to the title…For whatever reason, no matter what, I NEVER sleep on Sunday nights and I lay awake or walk around thinking of ideas or trying to write. I always pay for it on Monday at school. Also, one last thought, I sit here and struggle to write with all my senses and a laptop in a comfortable apartment. How the hell does Stevie Wonder write all these beautiful songs (lyrics PLUS music) without even being able to see? He reminds me that this can be done by anybody, anybody who commits and works at it.
I majored in English in college because I love words. In terms of a job, I always wanted to be a writer or a copywriter in advertising. As college came to a close, I went to advertising fairs and agencies and I met the people in the industry.
I changed my mind.
Almost everyone I met was a well dressed and super slick version of a used car salesman. I grew up on Nike ads that were fun and creative. I always appreciated the writing and direction of those spots and wanted to try my hand at it. So, I kept the faith in the profession despite meeting nothing but shallow and materialistic zombies.
Sadly, I learnt that it is extremely difficult to express yourself creatively in advertising in the U.S. Eventually you can if you get promoted enough but your input is worth next to nothing at entry level. While I thought it a creative atmosphere where people went into the office and riffed, it was more like math, it was all formulas. The boss would give you your homework as in “We need a 7 to 10 word blurb about a tire. Three of the words have to be “grip”, “safe” and “protection”. You have to come up with the most effective combination of these words including your own FOURTOSEVEN words.” Not too much room to let your imagination go wild…
But, I still believed. I thought if I could somehow get my foot in the door, I could do this. However, one meeting convinced me that I didn’t want this anymore. The man was in his fifties and a mutual friend introduced us. He had been in the business for thirty years. I was certain I was about to firmly plant my size 14 in that industry doorway, but as they say, fate had other plans.
I walked in with my resume. He motioned for me to sit down. I tell him that I love words et cetera. He says to me, “If you love words, then you should be a writer. Don’t go into advertising.” I launch into a hard sell about how it’s been my dream and all that but he doesn’t bite. He listens to my pitch with a bored expression and then says to me “I have one question for you. Answer this question and if you still want to be in advertising, I will try to help you out.” I agreed and awaited the question excitedly.
This is what he said to me.
Imagine that tomorrow you wake up and you are gone. Wiped off the planet. It’s like you were never here. Nobody even remembers you. Earth is now “Planet X” because you have been crossed out.
Now, imagine an alternate scenario where tomorrow you wake up and you have been blessed with the power to transform everything on Earth. All your efforts are amazingly successful and all that you touch blossoms. Let’s call this Earth “Planet Y” (Y for You because this is YOUR planet).
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PLANET X AND PLANET Y ?
What do you want the difference to be ?
He told me to think it over for a week and then come back. I got into my car, stunned. I drove home, stunned. I ate dinner, stunned. Breakfast the next day was delicious, stunned. The week went by and I didn’t know how I wanted my Planet Y to be different. However, I did know that it would not be enough for Planet Y to simply have better tire advertisements.
I owe that ad man thanks because he reminded me that life is too valuable to spend it doing something you don’t care about. All of us are already on our Planet Y. Like Little MissSunshine‘s brother said, “Do what you love and f*ck the rest.”
From cavemen banging their heads on walls to that fancypants Mozart, from drugged out Miles Davis to thugged out Tupac Shakur, music has provided relaxation to the weary for centuries.
In 1825, along came the photograph and the ability to capture an image and a moment forever. This was an enormous breakthrough and in essence allowed people to “freeze time”. Thus science had given birth to a new art form. Although the concept of image capture has been written about since ancient times, the first known photograph was taken by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in 1825 by the heliograph process. According to the renowned Museum of Historic Photography and Art in Basel, Switzerland, Niepce ‘s photograph was found one hundred sixty years ago in a paper-mill in the south of France and is believed to be worth 1.2 million Euros. This is it…
Okay, that wasn’t the photo although it is memorable in it’s own right. This next one was the first photograph ever taken…seriously.
The image is of a 17th Century Flemish engraving showing a man leading a horse. You would assume that the first photo ever taken was of a really smokin’ hot gorgeous girl, right? After all, we are talking about the French here but there you have it, a photograph of an engraving of a horse… not even a photograph of a horse but of an ENGRAVING of a horse… one can only imagine a hundred sad frenchmen trudging home drunk after the exhibition of the world’s first photo.
Over time , the discovery of the photograph evolved into the “moving picture” or “motion picture” aka the silent movie. These movies featured images looped one after another and while a photo could illustrate an image or a place, a sequence of photos or a “movie” could tell a long and intricate story. These early flicks were short, black & white and silent, imagine the opposite of a Michael Bay movie.
Then, the “talkie” arrived and life was never the same again. An assault on the senses, these flicks combined the aesthetic beauty of images and expert photography with the beauty of language and even more so, music. The soaring scores and huge musical numbers of the first half of the twentieth century struck a chord with people. Soon after came colour. This was akin to throwing away everything in the artist’s kit. New brushes, new paints and most importantly, a new canvas. Once colour movies and sound were put together…we would never look back.
Imagine watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel in black & white.
Now, imagine him painting it in colour.
Now, imagine him painting in vibrant colours while the Beatles jam there. Sensory overload!
When sound and image are put together in a way that is tasteful and cohesive, the results are entertaining. True genius is impossible to define but when both the audio and video are perfectly in sync, it is impossible to imagine one without the other. Maybe you could imagine it, but you don’t want to, and you don’t need to.
Sometimes, the image comes first. One might have a stream of photos or a video clip and look to improve it by adding music. This is what the score of every film aims to do. This has been the case with movies since the silent era ended.The music aims to support the relationship between the images and the characters. In a flawless film, each note of the score amplifies the drama and nuances of the story. The score is an underrated area of the film and can greatly improve it if done well, think Chinatown, The Godfather, Police Academy and The Good, Bad and the Ugly.
Sometimes the music comes first. These were the first sound and image marriages I came across in my life. When artists strive to find visuals suited to the audio, there are some truly amazing collaborations and MTV was at the forefront of showing us these stunning examples of audio/video chemistry.
I had a simple litmus test to tell how good a music video was. Music is on it’s own a very powerful medium. Almost anytime that you get lost in music (with headphones in particular) you will start daydreaming and you are essentially playing a video in your head and it stars you and the people and places you know. Therefore, this video is personal and one would think it is impossible to trump. However, once in a while, a video will come out for a song you love, and the video will be so good that your personalized video is no longer the definitive one, even for you. Now, when you hear this song, your mind instinctively thinks of the video you saw on TV. That is a quality video.
This was the basis of MTV many years ago, before their goal was to encourage the world to idolize vapid teenagers. Music television was once a creative haven and I was obsessed with it from the time I was about four years old and Peter Gabriel and A-ha were cutting edge. Back then, MTV was home for audiophiles, cinesnobs and up and coming directors. However, by the time I was fifteen, it had gone to hell in a hand basket (full of money) and MTV was more caught up in it’s own image and brainwashing kids than music and videos. At least I gave up completely before The Hills debuted. I thank God for that every day.
Nowadays, media rushes at us from every direction. We are deluged with sound (NOISE) and images (BLINDING) at every turn. It is easy to forget that these two can make the world a more beautiful place, if only for a few minutes. The sheer volume of media being put out these days is so vast that it is no surprise that most of it is total crap. That being said, when you sift through the garbage and find something that simultaneously pleases your eyes and ears, in that moment, your worries seem to fall by the wayside.
The past few days, I have been thinking of what the near future holds for me. I have to decide whether to keep teaching, whether to stay in Korea and if I leave, where do I go? The answers aren’t obvious to me although I suppose they appear so to others. Unlike most people, I believe my problem is having too many options, although I know that is more a blessing than a problem. However, I think of the generations before me and they took their best available option and that was it. They didn’t put too much thought into it. If they did, it was only in practical terms such as distance and money. Today, at least to me, the infinite choices make it difficult. I always feel like there is something better, somewhere. And so I keep looking.
A man told me once that only one percent of the world gets to do what they want for a living, so if you have that choice, you should make it count. Most people are born into a job that they have to do and their lives pass them by as they try to make ends meet. Being given a choice of career is a luxury. However, this luxury makes me second-guess myself when deciding exactly what it is that I should do. I have a problem settling. Not settling down, but settling. I can never accept something which I don’t fully have my heart into or at least enjoy. I could never hang out with people I don’t like. I could never pretend to enjoy a meal. I could never act like I was into a girl if I wasn’t. In a way, it is honesty which is always a good thing but it’s also a refusal to compromise and that can get one into trouble or at least complicate matters.
And so it is, I find myself sitting here in my office in a Korean middle school pondering my next move. I can never forget that when I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I had such a confidence in myself that I thought the world was my toy. I firmly believed that nothing was out of my hands. But, that was fourteen or fifteen years ago. Now, I just think of how much time has passed and how different the life I live is from the life I pictured. I thought I would have it all by now and I don’t have much, although I still have opportunities others would kill for. I guess I got sidetracked.
I used to think that the rat race and working hard were overrated. I still don’t know about all that. Now, I think hard work is great , but only if it is for the right reasons. I’m not motivated by money. I’m not motivated by material objects at all, the things that seem to motivate most others. I really couldn’t care less about all that. The most valuable currency to me is laughs and I already have my share. However, I am reaching a point where that’s just not enough. No matter how raucous the time, something is missing. It always catches up with me, whether it be the next morning or the next Monday. I feel it eventually. It doesn’t feel bad or anything. It’s more of a sensation, like your wrist the day you forget your watch or your scalp after a haircut. You think something ‘s there but then you realize it isn’t.
I feel a greater purpose these days, something inside of me trying to get out. More than anything, I don’t want to hold myself back. I think I am great at certain things and horrible at others. That is a fear of mine, that I don’t have the right combination of tools, that I didn’t focus enough on building them up. I hope my lack of focus hasn’t rendered other skills useless. Like a baseball player great at stealing second, but he can’t get on first.
Honestly, I feel like I’m on a basketball team and one day I got fed up. I stopped practicing and I stopped scrapping. Didn’t care for any system and didn’t care about playin’ time. So, Coach gave my minutes to someone else and now I’m warming the end of the bench. Figured I would ride out into the sunset. Then, one day, the spark returned. I didn’t even know it had been gone. Suddenly, I wanted to go all out again. But it seems like I kinda forgot how. Everyone tells me I still got it, but I gotta get back in the game to prove it. It’s a long, hard climb. I know I have the will to win, but do I have the will to do what it takes to win?
It’s Friday night and the feeling’s right. You hit the local cinema. You have a decision to make and it’s a big one. Which movie do you see ? This could effect the rest of your life. It might be something you always remember, it could be something you hope to forget by Monday.
You make the call. They tear your ticket. That crisp Rrrrip. In the entire universe, that sound is second only to a Swish. You walk in. The plush burgundy curtains envelope you and are left behind as you march onward, looking for the Perfect seat with laser-like focus. You find her. You sit down. The lights dim as the studio credits roll. The Dreamworks boy fishing, the big WB, the reassuring 20th Century Fox theme, six and a half independent studios, whatever it may be…The weight of the world slides off your shoulders as you await the first frame.
You feel things out. It’s a crowded place, friends, acquaintances, total strangers, total douchebags, anything could happen. This could be a waste but this could be amazing. Do you feel that electricity in the air? (The Dark Knight, Buffalo ’66, Waking Life, The first Lord of the Rings on mushrooms) Or is it stale? Does it feel like impending doom? Do you wish you had stayed home and watched your favorite team get pummeled? (300, Van Helsing, About Schmidt, Doubt) It’s a gamble, as is every relationship. You have to go out on a limb and trust that this will be something special.
Movies. Oh, how I love thee.
If I had to choose between movies and friends, I would have to ask which friends because I most certainly would cut some people loose in order to keep a favorite flick. Cos in a way, aren’t movies your friends too? I would have to say Dumb & Dumber is a friend. In fact, one of my best friends. Lloyd and Harry and I go way back. When I was down and out, they were there. I knew I could trust Lloyd to sell a dead bird (Petey) to a blind kid and i knew I could trust Harry to knock over Lauren Holly with a vicious snowball. And Desperado? When I see Banderas getting knifed by Danny Trejo, I feel conflict that tears me apart. I ache. Real life shit. I want both sides to win so badly. What about Pulp Fiction? Jules Winfield is my motherfucker. I know for a fact I can always count on him to get righteous on me even though it’s gonna end his career. That’s some serious stuff, man. Jules taught me, You stick by your principles. Remember Roy Hobbs? Hobbs and I are tight. Through the course of life, our relationships and friendships are strengthened by familiarity and reliability. And I’m here to say, movies are consistent. They are the rock in my life, and yours too.
Do you ever ask yourself, What would so and so do? And you might be talking about your father. You may be speaking of your best friend, uncle, whoever. I find myself asking What would Maximus do? What would Rocky Balboa do? WHAT WOULD JASON BOURNE DO? WHAT WOULD ARAGORN DO? It depends on the situation but I, like you, often turn to my friends…except my friends are celluloid heroes.
Cue the music. Change location. As this scene begins, you know it’s the climax. This is IT, closure. If the movie’s been good, a lot hinges on this next 5 minutes. 300 seconds could make or break this experience for you. Believe that or as Martin Lawrence would say BELEEDAT or RUNTELDAT. Just like life, women, sports, everything, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not so much. So, for that last scene, even the tech-savvy world we live in puts away it’s Blackberry and is glued to the screen, hoping for something special, that this will stand up, that this will mean something, that this will at least make them feel good for the night.
Fade to black. End credits. Do you stand up and say to nobody in particular “Daaaaayamn” or do you look your friend right in the eye and say “Damn YOU, you sonufabitch, Damn You to HELL for making me watch Love Actually”
As you shuffle out, you may commit fully and say “Yo, coppin the DVD the DAY IT COMES OUT” (Old School) or you can play it cool and say “Maybe I’ll purchase it for under $4 on Black Friday” (Con Air) Then, there’s the sour times, when you say no, no, a thousand times no. I will not even speak on this thing we just saw, that’s not a MOVIE, that’s not a FILM. That ain’t no MOTION PICTURE. No comment. I will not even dignify that…there are simply no words for that. Spare me my life from this monstrosity! (Batman and Robin)
Then again, sometimes things work out. Serendipity. Not that crap Cusack movie. I’m talking about when you walk into something, not knowing anything, sans expectations and you are rewarded for your faith (Little Miss Sunshine, Election, The Air Up There – Yeah, I said it. Kevin Bacon Shake & Bake! )
Now, I want you to think of how many people you have worked with or been at school with over the years. Hundreds? Thousands? How many do you consider friends? How many have you really spent a solid couple hours with? How many make you feel a full range of emotions? How many could cheer you up on a shit day? My friends Lloyd and Harry can. How many of your friends stand up for integrity and unselfishness? My boy Bruce Wayne does everyday. How many of your friends would go up against insurmountable odds to stand up for their beliefs? My dudes William Wallace and Maximus do that on the daily. My on-screen amigos are always there for me and they often inspire me. And they are automatic with it. I just press play.
It all started a week ago. My principal granted me the week off from school (my former vice principal/arch nemesis has left) No small blessing, I didn’t want to waste it. I came to the Far East for the purpose of traveling and so I sat in my office and scoured the internet for deals to Asian spots. I had 6 days off and I aimed to use them. I pulled up a map of Asia and I already knew where I wanted to go. Mongolia. It’s actually quite close to Korea. Six days seemed perfect. The airfare was reasonable even though it was one day’s notice. Mongolia, BABY. I looked up “Mongolia” on Wikipedia and I was sold. The landscape looks different from anywhere I’ve been. Then Wikipedia told me it gets cold in Mongolia in the winter. Hmmm. Really? I know it’s next to Siberia but really? It’s the same latitude as Korea, how much colder could it be? The answer was 25 degrees colder, Celsius. It was Zero Celsius here in Korea that day and a nippy minus twenty-four degrees Celsius in sunny old Mongolia. Ya better bundle up, Genghis.
Mongolia was cold. I got there in my trusty Nike hoodie and caught severe frostbite fifteen minutes after walking out of the airport. Like an idiot I forgot my gloves…
Okay, I didn’t visit the Mongols. I was not paying to go to the coldest place on Earth. So, it was now 3pm on Monday. I had a school function from 5pm till 11pm that night. I had to work quickly if I wanted to leave Tuesday morning. The next place on my list was the Philippines. Some friends had gone there a month earlier and had loved it. The photos looked tempting. The price was right. An hour later, I had bought my ticket. I left for Manila at eight the next morning.
Incidentally, that night’s function was a total trip, my entire school staff got THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND DRUNK and proceeded to do karaoke in ways that I’ve never seen or imagined. Our accountant, a small Korean man who is in his fifties and wears glasses jumped up on a table and jumped around in a suit as he put tissues in his nostrils and ears. He did jumping jacks and pelvic thrusts with four tissues sticking out his head….it was good stuff but I went home at around 11pm so that I could pack and leave the next morn.
I got on the airplane and sat next to two Filipino dudes. By the way, Philippines as a place is spelled with a Ph but the people are always spelled with an F. So, these guys worked in Korea and had not been home in 3 years. Sheeeeeeeet, you think I was excited? Sitting next to them was like hanging out with men the day they get out of prison…they were hyped. They kept telling me how awesome it is and how much fun I was going to have. I believed them.
One of my favorite things when I was a kid was when you were traveling by air, when your plane landed, people would start clapping. If the landing was smooth, it would be a LOUD ovation and otherwise people would clap anyway, at least a half-assed round of applause. As I got older, I realized people did this less and less. I don’t even remember the last time it happened. However, when we touched down in Manila, I heard a handclap somewhere and so then I started clapping and next thing you know, the Filipinos sitting next to me are clapping and soon the whole plane is clapping and these guys are yelling “Philippines!! My country!!” IT WAS AMAZING….people in the front were turned around completely and waving and yelling…I figured if the Filipinos on the plane were like this, some good times were to be had.
Then, the buzzkill. In my hurry to leave Korea, I had forgotten to withdraw money. A bad thing to forget. But, I had $400 in traveller’s cheques. Plus, I had my credit card. As I left Manila airport, the cashier refused to cash my cheques. I found that a bit weird but thought I could just as easily do it at my hotel. I cashed whatever money I had on me which amounted to 700 pesos ($14). I hailed a taxi to the hotel I had booked online. It was in the nicest part of town, an area called Makati. As I pulled into the hotel, the cabbie asked me if the hotel would help with my money situation. I said yes but he told me to find out for sure because he would take me elsewhere if they didn’t. I agreed to check, thinking this a formality. They didn’t help me one bit. They said my credit card didn’t work either and I told them I used it all over the world and I even put my down payment at the hotel on it!! They basically pimpsmacked me and told me to hit the road. I went out and told the cabbie that I would pay him the 200 pesos I owed him and walk around to find a bank for my cheques. I paid him and he was really nice and said he would drop me to a big bank because it was on his way and he felt bad I had to carry my bags and all. The first bank didn’t help. Nor did the second. Or the third…This guy took me to six different places for free. It took almost two hours until finally we found the Am Ex office and they cashed my cheques. I was so pissed off at my hotel that I told him to take me to another one. I also asked him to make it a cheap one because I didn’t know if I could get any more money… and so it was I checked into the Raf Mansion in the somewhat grimy Baclaren section of town, exhausted and grateful to Randy from Sunshine Taxi Service.
The Philippines is great to me because it is a pretty, tropical locale but it’s a very underdeveloped tourism. You don’t find too much corporate tourism around Manila. Maybe you do in Boracay and elsewhere but Manila seems quite underdeveloped. You wheel and deal. You haggle. I love that.
It’s a saying in the Philippines. You use it while negotiating. Literally, in Tagalog, it means “cheaper” but the message it conveys is “Let’s work something out. It’s the Philippines.” And almost always you wind up working it out. The spirit of the people is similar to an island vibe.Though there is so much poverty, they are compromising and generous.
The next day I found out that my credit card would not work in the Philippines at all. I figured that my cheques afforded me around 70-80 bucks per day. My stay at the mansion was costing me about 35 bucks per. It was very comfortable despite looking shady as hell. And there was no service to speak of but I stayed there night after night because it was in the middle of this huge market with hundreds of people pushing stuff and in my mind at least, that was Manila.
I never budget. I don’t account. I keep my tastes simple and so things wind up being inexpensive. Still, I had to budget in a sense because I would have been in trouble if I splurged and made it rain now. I was quite impressed with myself because I cut back on some things, I went all out on others. I probably spent my dough as well as possible. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is some almost borderline smart and practical behavior”. It was trippy. Maximizing the pesos so effectively had me feeling like goddamn MacGuyver.
All the while, I kept saying “MoraLaaang!! MoraLaang!!” …I told people, up front ,that I was strapped for cash, I told them to treat me as they would knowing that they aren’t getting any tips. (Perhaps why I got no service at the hotel, but I doubt it) All the while, I was having a blast. Makati, Mallate, Intramuros, Luneta….I was doing Manila proper…every corner and I was doing it cheap.
Riding Jeepneys (a big open jeep/van type thingy that runs the whole city for usually under 15 pesos (33 cents) and eating whole meals for under 100 pesos ($2), I was loving the vibe. It had a lot to do with the generosity of the Filipinos. There were so many who just hooked me up because they were nice people. There were tour guides who showed me around for free, there were cabbies who gave me a deal, there were resorts that threw something in. Being a cheap man who revels in anything for free, life couldn’t get much better. In some instances, it was heartwarming how generous people were. Keep in mind that all these people KNOW that I have more money than them. They see me in a foreign country, in a hotel. These are things they may never be able to do in their lives. Still, they don’t resent it, they take pride in their country and want you to have as good a time as possible.
One day, I had saved a good portion of my cash for a journey outside of Manila. I wanted to go to the countryside. I could have caught a bus but I had deliberately saved to take a taxi to this place called Tagaytay. It’s where Manila goes to chill. Up in the hills, a volcano on an island in a lake, it’s very relaxing. I was told that 1500 pesos ($33) was a fair fare to and fro. After a No, I found a young dude named Alvin who said Yes. He didn’t seem too happy about it, he kept trying to raise the price on me but I told him my story and he was cool with 1500. Now, after Tagaytay, I wanted to see more. Being a greedy greedster, I wanted to keep going. He told me of the next province Batangas, which was more of the same, just some more lovely vistas, water and mountains. He recommended a boat ride over there but it was a good hour away. I had 3500 pesos on me. I had already promised him 1500. Now, Alvin said another 800 would be the charge to keep going. I told him that if I was spending 2300 on the taxi, how much is the boat trip? There’s no point in going if I can’t afford the boat, I said.
“MoraLaang” , said Alvin. With that, we were en route.
The family with the boat was not as down with MoraLaang as we expected. We talked them down to 1200 pesos from 1500 but they wouldn’t budge any further. I kept telling them to move down to 1000 but they just would not do it. I was trying to save 200 pesos for dinner but they were not concerned with my plans for grub. Then, Alvin said to give them the 1200 and to just give him a flat 2000 pesos. This is after I had already agreed to give him 2300. I told him that wasn’t right but he insisted and said “You came to Philippines. To Manila. To Tagaytay. To Batangas. For your experience, you have to take the ride.” It was an awesome gesture. We bought the ticket, took the ride.
The Philippines was impressive, the people even more so. Like a lot of poor places, the people are warm. An added plus, I think Filipinos are complete characters. They sing constantly, they seem to be obsessed with Celine Dion, they have more pawnshops than any other place I’ve been, they wear more NBA jerseys than any other country I’ve seen, they have few inhibitions. Their culture is a loud and playful one. They also have a lot of great names. I met people by name of Alvin, Edwin, Maleesa and a man named Perfecto. (He assured me that he was Perfect in name only) It’s definitely fun.
I enjoyed every moment there. I met a friend of mine I hadn’t met since high school. I made new friends. I saw some cool things. I learned some stuff. When I got on the plane to come back to Korea, I had exactly 1.25 pesos left (2 cents). I was ecstatic. My mission was complete. Every hour and every peso had been used as effectively as possible.
Having gotten used to being a day late and a dollar short, enjoying every minute and having some change left in my pocket was pretty sweet.
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.
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….. ONEMOM 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.