Serendipity. I hate that word, but I’ve been using it a lot lately. I had wanted to see Jens Lekman in the U.S since earlier this year but i never had a chance to. He had played one gig in NYC which sold out really fast. I moved to Korea in August and I’ve been checking out concerts in the area ever since. I’ve passed on seeing Billy Joel and Jamiroquai. However, two weeks ago i went to Jens’ website to check out what he’s been upto and saw that he was playing in Seoul on November 29th. It was serendipitous like kate beckinsale and john cusack. With a trusty crew, I found myself quite buzzed and a few feet from the Swedish crooner. The show was awesome. The opening act was a Korean band that did a cover of “My Generation” that would have made Pete Townsend proud, complete with rubbing the guitar strings off of the edge of the wall. I loved the show for the music but also for the differences that i noticed between this show in Seoul as opposed to an American show. Firstly, I could afford to drink here because drinks cost the same at the show that they do at any bar. What a concept! Secondly, there was no overzealous security staff and there was no pushing despite the show being in a small club. People were free to smoke and drink wherever they liked, which I enjoyed eventhough I don’t smoke. I suppose I’m just old-fashioned. I like to see people do things they were allowed to do thirty or forty years ago. At the end of the show, my friend Steph and I simply stepped onstage and went and talked to Victor, the DJ of the show and a very friendly,well dressed man.
He was very polite and to my surprise there was no S.W.A.T team popping up and surrounding us. Liberated and intoxicated from this new found freedom on stage, we made our way backstage and found Jens unwinding with a beer in a makeshift dressing room. He was just chillin with some friends and so we joined them, assuming the more the merrier. We had a brief convo with the troubador and complimented his show. I had never previously conversed with anyone whose music I had listened to so much, so I was sort of nervous and very relieved to find out he was as chill as suspected from his records. He was very accessible and gracious. We took photos and after finding the normal one a bit boring, we decided to take one of us “angry we were being abducted by aliens”. As evidenced in the picture below, Jens could have a future on the silver screen. Dare I say it, he may follow in the footsteps of crooners turned actors such as Harry Belafonte and LL Cool J. In the end, it was one of the best experiences I have had in Korea thus far. I got to go to a great show, get front row, sing every word of every song, meet one of my favourite singers, get drunk cheap and have a very memorable night out with my friends. Sometimes things work out.
some other photos of that evening in Club Freebird, Hongdae, Seoul:
In summer of this year, I was in New Jersey and I arrived at work on a morning like any other to find out that my hometown of Bangalore (India) had been targeted in a series of attacks across town using homemade grenades. It tore me up. I was born in Bangalore and grew up there. When I moved away to the states, I knew most everyone in town. Like the Cheers theme song, that’s where i went and everyone knew my name. However, in the last ten years, the town has grown into the tech hub it is today and when I go back now, I wander my old haunts and don’t recognize the faces. Still, if you grew up in 80s and 90s Bangalore, that place will never leave you. It was the most serene and amazing place to grow up. And now some fucking terrorists were trying to mess with it. It hurts because you are helpless. You just take it. You hope it won’t happen again. You hope common sense prevails. However, you know it won’t. You wait.
I found out about the Bombay attacks on a schoolday. I was on break between classes and I saw the photos and video footage on my Yahoo homepage. I never went to Bombay until I was 25. I loved it from the minute I got off the plane. It was my first time in India in a lonnng time. Bombay hit me pretty hard. It was huge. I felt like a tiny little speck in the city. And i love that. It had Beaches. Restaurants. Women. Bars. Clubs. Goa! More than you could ever see in one year. My friend Abhi had moved there and he showed me around. Maximum City. It’s like New York without the Yuppies. Instead, we have studboys. I noticed everyone was really proud that Bombay had a low crime rate. My friends told me that, like every other place in India, the judicial system accepted donations. So, how did the Bombay cops beat that? They started shooting criminals in their police cars before they even got to the station. Forget the arrest, they’ll be back on the street anyway. Kill them. Why did you shoot him? He was trying to escape , sir.Bombay cops were famous for this. Soon, all the troublemakers and criminals got the message and moved to other cities. (like Bangalore) So, here was this sprawling metropolis, it was like paradise to me. I was within an inch or a moment of moving there, I loved it that much.
And now. These terrorists struck Bombay. Although there have been a ton of terrorist attacks in India in the past year, this really was the dagger. I went to Bombay for the second time in April of this year for my friend Som’s wedding. It was even better. Both times I have gone there, I have decided that should I be lucky enough to make a lot of money, I will go live there. (It is the sort of place that you need a lot of cash to afford your own place) On this last trip, I hung out a lot in Colaba and went to a lot of places around the Taj Hotel. That’s why this latest terrorist attack had a strange effect on me. To see the places you chilled in, to see them riddled with bullets and on fire…it makes you furious. You boil.
The aftermath is horrible. A country on edge. Hatred builds. People assume that since the terrorists were Muslims, then all Muslims must support this madness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Do we blame all Hindus if a Hindu commits a crime? Do we do the same for Jews, Sikhs, Jains or Christians? The fact is the truth gets blurry when there are tears in your eyes.
He’s something else, huh? I don’t remember when i first heard of him. However, the first time i heard him speak, I was hooked. I thought to myself this is the voice of a guy with intelligence, character and conviction. When’s the last time that all those qualities were present in a “politician” ? In the first week of January 2008, I saw Barack Obama’s victory speech at the Iowa Caucus. I was mighty impressed. At the outset, it should be clear that I am not knowledgeable about politics nor have I really ever been that interested. Having grown up in India, I’ve long viewed politics as a dirty game ripe with charlatans and crooks trying to topple over one another in their race to the house with the big gates. And the U.S only strengthened that view when I moved there. In the 11 years since I moved to the states, there have been two presidents. Both douchebags in their own way. I always liked Bill Clinton because as slimeballs go, he was the most efficiently self-serving one and quite a charming character as well. I always think of the expression “snake oil salesman” when i think of Slick Willie. God bless him. And Bush….well, all you need to know is my goldfish Jake offed himself the day Dubya got elected to a second term. Jake was a smart fish…
Then, this Obama guy comes along. All righteous and stuff. Talking about Hope. Talking about Change. Talking about “Yes, I did inhale marijuana. That was the point.” (He had my vote right there) Whoa. Honesty? Are you really going to be honest through this election? Yikes, we’ve got an idealist here. He’s not going to win an election like this! But…a funny thing happened on the way to the White House. Honesty became cool again. Sincerity meant something again. Hope wasn’t corny anymore. All the new millenium bullshit fell by the wayside as a man asked us all to look around and see if we wanted to go where we were heading or if we wanted a change. It was so simple that it was ingenious. Right down to the slogans, the posters, the speeches. Most everything was simple and direct. Even more amazingly, almost as if in a fantasy, the Republican party began to fall apart. Their selection of Sarah Palin simply sucked. If a boxer made a decision that poor, you’d accuse him of throwing the fight. How could she ever be credible? How could the entire party not be considered laughable with her as VP? It would be equivalent to AC/DC naming Olivia Newton John lead singer after Bon Scott’s tragic death. OKay, I understand what you are going for here (youth + glamour) but this justDOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Add to the mess, the Republican assertion that Obama was friendly with a “terrorist” (Hands down, the most overused word of the past decade) and they looked more desperate than a steroid jock at the prom. Like the cop in Super Troopers said, “Desperation is a stinky cologne John McCain”. Okay, he didn’t say it to McCain but he would have if he knew him.
When Obama won the election, people were ecstatic that the Bush regime had ended so emphatically. I was impressed as well. However, it made me wonder. As little as two years ago, I would have bet ANYTHING that the American presidents for the rest of my lifetime or at least the next thirty years would all be :
Add to that, I also believe that they all would have been Caucasians. So, then here comes Barack Obama. As Chris Rock said “BLACK MAN!! BLACK NAME!! BARACK OBAMA, IT’S RIGHT UP THERE WITH DIKEMBE MUTUMBO.” So, how is it that we elected our first minority president in 2008? Obviously, most of it was due to Obama being a very charismatic and qualified candidate. However, it also had to do with Obama’s timing which was perfect because of Dubya. Never has a president pissed off a people like Dubya has done to so many Americans. The young, the poor, the anti-war, the literate. They all hate him. So, all those people were looking for a viable candidate to be the ANTI-DUBYA. The opposite of a cowboy, the opposite of a buffoon. Enter this intelligent, articulate man whose entire demeanor is like that of a professor. His voice is the perfect pitch, his accent untraceable. His words are sincere and well thought out. He walked onto our TVs a sight for sore eyes. Therefore, I have to give George W Bush a little credit because I do not think Obama would have had this much support had the ole cowboy not COMPLETELY ALIENATEDthe nation AND WORLD AT LARGE. Again, the words of the wise Chris Rock, “Damn , George Bush fucked up so much, he made it hard for a white man to run for president!! People want the opposite of George W Bush. They want anything he is not!! A black man, a white woman, a giraffe…”
This brings us to the present. Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States. In his thrashing of McCain, Obamamania took over the globe. My only concern now is that i feel the expectations are a bit unrealistic. Obama seems to have been placed in the role of savior and that’s not fair. Keep in mind that he is simply a man and not a magician. In his victory speech, he himself said “This is not the change. This is the chance to change.” The world and the United States are in a precarious position, the challenge ahead of him is enormous. It’s almost impossible to do his job without angering one group or another. That being said, I believe the reason he was the best candidate is because we can believe that he will sincerely try to solve the problems ahead and if not fix them, then at least explain the reasoning behind his actions. That, in itself, is a huge improvement over the administration of the past 8 years.
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.
This morning i watched some clips of Disney’s The Jungle Book on youtube. ( where would my life be without youtube? ) Well, the movie hit me pretty hard and is one of my all time favs. Easily my favourite movie of the first half of my life. And that means a lot, right? Think about how much more significant things were to you then. An ice cream sundae made your weekend. Okay, I’m exagerating slightly but when you liked something when you were a kid, you cherished it. So, i began to think of all those things lost in the shuffle. The indelible images of the life of a boy born in India and raised in between New Jersey and Bangalore for decades after. This is my life in snapshots, and not personal ones, just the massive images that a whole generation of kids dug on. When I check into my room in heaven, these will prolly be in that one minute slideshow of cool stuff that had a place in my heart. Stuff that sticks.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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. THATwas 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.
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!!