Goodbye, Mr. Song

22 09 2014

We said “goodbye” to Mr. Song today. Korean Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville held a service for him. About 50 church members came, including Mr. Song’s three elder brothers. Between them, there was plenty of animosity and years without communication, but today #3 brother lamented he “could no longer even argue with his baby brother.”

Yunchol, Mr. Song’s oldest son, spoke, and then Mr. Song’s older brother, and the pastor advanced the agenda without a long enough pause to give others a chance to speak. No matter. It would have been misplaced to speak further after the eldest son and older uncle shared their feelings.

We rode to the restaurant together after the service–Eddie, me, and Yunsu, my brother from another mother. He and Ed are the same age, and because Yunsu is so…활발하다, he’s been easy to get to know. This emergency with his father gave me a chance to appreciate what a mature, young man Yunsu has become. He made the difficult decision to withdraw his father’s feeding tube and ran interference between the doctors, my mother, and his brother. On the car ride to Hibachi Grill, I told Yunsu what I would have liked to say about his dad at the service.

“미스터 송 빨리 돌아가셔서 아주 슬프네요. 그래도 자기 아프신 것 없어져서 좋아요.
미스터송은 우리 엄마한테 항상 착해서 정말 고마워요. 우리 한테도 친절하게 되셔서 고마워요.
어떤기억 나…옛날에 미스터송과 우리 엄마가 우리의 집에 오셔서 Thanksgiving식사하러 오셔서…우리 식사한다음에 미스터송한테 젓가락을 주고 미스터송은 식탁에서 드럼처럼 치셔서요. 제가 깜짝 놀랐어요. 그때부터 교회에서 미스터송의 드럼을 치기를 보고 그건 잘 하셨어요.

특별히 미스터송은 마음이 넓은 분인지 어떻게 알 수 있는 방법은 자기 아이들이에요. 아뜰 두명 아주 좋은 사람이라서요.”

“I’m sorry that Mr. Song left us so quickly. It’s so sad. But I am glad he is not in pain anymore.
He was always kind to our mother and to us too, he was very kind.
I remember one Thanksgiving when Mr. Song and Mom came to our house. After dinner, we gave Mr. Song some big, cooking chopsticks, and he started playing drums on the coffee table. D@mn! I had no idea he was THAT good. We saw him play in church with his brothers after that, Mr. Song on drums, his brothers on guitar, and I could see how they traveled to all of the military bases in Korea entertaining soldiers. They were good!

Most of all, what shows you what kind of person Mr. Song was is his kids Yunsu and Yunchol. They are good people.
I am glad to have them as a family.”

R.I.P., Mr. Song.

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some good things about aging

17 07 2013

you can teach your students salty phrases like,

Life’s a bitch.
and Shit happens.

you have the confidence to take chances in class, knowing your lesson plan may flop.

you’re not the youngest person in the room, so you have other ways to bring value to your students, your friends and the world.

you know this life is short, but every day offers new opportunity.

*     *     *

each night, when i go to sleep, i die. and the next morning, when i wake up, i am reborn.





Tuesdays With Morrie redux

7 07 2013

I’ve wondered if teaching Tuesdays With Morrie for the second month in a row means I’m giving students less passion. Today though, we had a wonderful lesson.

We read The Tenth Tuesday: We Learn About Marriage last night. Today, using the word accommodate and Morrie and his wife Charlotte as examples, we talked about how we accommodate each other in our marriages.

Jason from New York class said he lets his wife go to bed first, even when he’s tired. “She feels scared and alone, if I go to bed first,” he said.

Justin said he does basically everything his wife asks him to do, which led to teaching the expression:

happy wife, happy life

We listened to Ray Noble’s The Very Thought of You, which Mitch’s wife sang to Morrie. The 1934 song echoed the lindy hop we watched on YouTube last week.

Finally, we wrote tributes to our teachers and loved ones. For some, saying “thank you” was an atrophied muscle. Cynical-@$$ London class protested most loudly, swearing they could think of no one to thank. So, a 20-minute writing exercise took 30 minutes to complete, because it took 10 minutes for some of the guys to get into a thankful head space.

In the end though, even the prima donnas thought of at least three people they could think, and this was a good exercise in empathy.

Not a bad way to spend an overcast Friday listening to Al Bowlly and reading about your students’ gratitude.

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Morrie makes em cry

27 06 2013

today is mid-terms today at Samsung Engineering’s English camp.

my student Eric started crying in the middle of his oral interview. again, we are reading Tuesdays With Morrie with a new group of students. Eric drew this discussion question:

“Who is Eva? What does Morrie gain from Eva? What did you gain from your mother?”

If you’ve read TWM, you know Eva was Morrie’s stepmother and the first person to show him love. Eric, I think, suffering from lack of sleep, exam anxiety and sudden remembrance of his mom, was defenseless. His face contorted and his eyes welled up, and you knew what was going to happen next.

He talked about how his mom taught him about love and sacrifice. His father retired early, so their family didn’t have enough money. His mother found a job at a restaurant and woke up every day at 5am and returned at 11pm, so the children wouldn’t be burdened by having to work.

Eric cried for about 10 minutes. He apologized and said he was surprised by this sudden emotion and remembering the restaurant. Eric said many times he’s wanted to visit his mom in Busan and doesn’t know why he hasn’t. I suggested he try to remember this feeling, even when he gets busy and to call his mom to thank her today.





saying goodbye to my student HyeonJin

16 06 2013

Love each other without expectations.

I keep thinking of what the monk told us at the temple stay this weekend.
We should be able to say goodbye without regret.
Approach your relationships knowing they will end and begin, such is the nature of life. If you can accept this, you will be closer to the way.

Dr. Seuss says:

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Easier said than done.

Two years ago, I met HyeonJin, my English student, through a recruiter, and next month, we will part. I have a heavy heart.

HyeonJin was a lanky kid with a boy’s haircut and black-and-orange specs. She chattered on for 90 minutes about how she loved snakes and snails and eating live octopus and wanted to in-line skate on the moon. What a weird kid, I thought. What a weird, wonderful kid.

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Over the past two years, I’ve seen her hair grow longer and her face morph into a young lady’s. I saw a few fine hairs in her armpit yesterday, and I’m glad I’m leaving before her boobs pop out. I couldn’t bear this beacon of growing up.

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I’m so heartbroken to leave this wonderful child. I like my friends and my family here, but HyeonJin breaks my heart. I would teach her for free to spend time with her. I feel grateful for having met HyeonJin and her mother. They are special people, and all that HyeonJin is and is becoming is because of her discriminating mother.

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The woman is my age, if not a year older. She’s a single mother living with her younger sister and HyeonJin outside of Seoul.

As far as I can tell, HyeonJin’s father is not around. The only clues to their family life are that HyeonJin’s dad is in none of their family pictures. (They once had to cancel a Saturday class, because HyeonJin’s father was sick.) HyeonJin’s mom worked for a company until ~6 years ago, when HyeonJin was five. Beyond that, I don’t know what her source of income is, though often, I hear mom telling her daughter not to marry a Korean man.

Outside of these clues, I see HyeonJin’s mom’s sensitivity manifesting in her daughter. HyeonJin has read:

Momo
Walden
Please Look After Mom
Outliers

and other books her mom previews and and passes on to her daughter.

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HyeonJin explaining how the devil and the angel live inside all of us, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

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said devil (dark) and angel (light)

So HyeonJin has been raised by this strong woman who loves horror movies and bungee jumping and takes her daughter to ballet, violin and English lessons each week. They are peas and carrots reading about life and politics.

Yesterday, HyeonJin talked about how unfair it is for the older generation in Korea to benefit from the labor of the younger generation. Sometimes I just look at this child astonished at what comes out of her mouth.

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i’m not smacking my student. hyeonjin told me to close my eyes, so she could give me her present.

Next to Steve, HyeonJin is the most empathetic person I’ve ever met and she’s only 11.

For example, we are making a magazine together, and HyeonJin insists on both of us taking “credit” as editors.

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She shares snacks when we meet for lessons, even if I tell her to finish the food. Lately, as we’re watching Mary and Max, HyeonJin has been disturbed to see little claymation Mary being teased by other claymation kids.

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Maybe all children have this empathy to start, and only the ones lucky enough to be blessed with sensitive parents (or alcoholic parents in fact) develop and maintain this character.

We’ve had dinner together, HyeonJin, her mother and her aunt, and I’ve seen how easily they joke with each other and kiss and hug HyeonJin. In spite of not having a father, she is growing up in a household of strong, loving women and in spite of marathon violin practices, HyeonJin must know how much she is loved.

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Gah, I love her too.

I’ve tried to be mindful of the fact that though I’ve grown to love HyeonJin, her mother pays me to teach her daughter English. HyeonJin’s mom is investing her money and her her hopes for her child in the time we spend together.

The thing is in Korea, teachers are given a huge amount of respect and gifts by virtue of their role. If you’re not a total @sswipe, you feel sheepish and undeserving and work your tail off for your students.

Of late, HyeonJin and I have worked on projects. I wish we had started sooner. As artistic as she is, HyeonJin gets bored with conventional grammar work, so we created a magazine, which she named World, and she was the chief editor.

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Her latest project is to make a short movie, so we’ll brainstorm a story, and I’ll ask her to write a short screenplay and a cast of characters. *sigh* I wish we had more time.

Yesterday, HyeonJin’s mom dispensed with class and took us out for dinner instead.
I didn’t know what to say when they gave me presents. They have been too generous.

Her mother gave me a lotus-shaped lamp made of traditional paper and pointed out the lamp is tailored for use in America. It’s special, because HyeonJin’s mom has shown me a lot of Insadong and traditional Seoul, and we three appreciate the old over the new.

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temple dinner with HyeonJin and her mother

HyeonJin personally picked out a traditional, lacquered pen, because she thought it was a good gift for someone going back to school. *gulp*

Most of all, I was speechless at the album HyeonJin made.
She wouldn’t let me open it at dinner, and when I opened it on the subway train later that night, I was glad.

The silly kid thought I might forget her.

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(though my time in korea is ending, our relationship isn’t. hyeonjin and her mom don’t have skype or the internet at home, so i will write or phone. i hope hyeonjin will visit the US or spend a summer with me, when she’s older. see, it is very hard to love without expectation.)





armpits and ESL

4 06 2013

as an ESL teacher, I get to imprint impressionable young minds with my own interests (maniacal moohaha). after Nightmare Before Christmas, HyeonJin’s now watching Mary and Max. she is dead sold on stop motion. win!

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my Samsung Engineering students had to read Miranda July’s Roy Spivey last month. brilliant! we had a blast.

in a nutshell, the short story’s about an OCD woman who meets a famous movie star on an airplane. the main character is so totally fleshed out, you can sympathize with her unique brand of crazy. in one scene, she goes to the bathroom to wash her armpits, so she can smell fresh to this Roy Spivey. oddball antics ensue.

my students were so confused by this.

“why does she wash her armpits?”
“I can’t understand why she washed her armpits.”
“what are armpits?”

so we had an enlightening conversation about bee-oh.
yes students, non-Asians’ armpits smell. there’s this product called deodorant, see…

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we had a lively discussion about why the batsh!t but ordinary woman and the married and famous Roy Spivey might want to stay in touch. this baffled many students.

“she must have been gorgeous,” David said, although July clearly describes the character as undistinguished. i think some of the students could not imagine there could have been something beyond sexual intention between the characters.

some students speculated Spivey felt a flash of normalcy with this crazy woman and wanted to have that experience again. we talked about the expression, “two ships passing in the night.”

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Roy Spivey, also included in The Book of Other People

still other students were put off by the idea of a married man talking to a woman not his wife:

“why did she take his phone number?”
“he’s married.”
“it’s wrong.”

my male co-teachers tell me about how male students take them out when camp ends and try to buy them women at the noraebang. some teachers recognize they’re being used as an excuse for the students to enjoy themselves. I couldn’t help thinking about this duality, as we talked about Roy Spivey. a few male students seemed unable to even engage in the conversation.

I asked them if it was possible to read a story and dislike the main character, even the entire story, and still learn something from it.

next month, we’re writing a 10-page circumspection on the cinematic similarities between Sofia Coppola and Richard Linklater.

*    *    *

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miranda july

p.s. FWIW, I’m sorry for bootlegging the Roy Spivey pdf and will be buying a July book next month as recompense. Miranda July, we are spreading your brilliance across Korea.

p.p.s. David Sedaris reading of Roy Spivey:





life’s a b!tch

4 06 2013

my students finished Tuesdays With Morrie this month. i’m so proud of them! for many, this was the first book they read entirely in English.

there are some salty phrases in Morrie too, so i had the opportunity to introduce colorful colloquialisms like~

  • Life’s a b!tch
  • You’re full of sh!t
  • Wipe your @ss
  • A hell of a lot, as in, teacher you give a hell of a lot of homework.

My gyopo co-teachers taught me some equivalents in Korean.

  • Life’s a b!tch = 인생이 엿 같다, literally, life is like yeot (Korea’s hard-@ss, break-your-teeth squash candy). A closer translation–>life is forked.
  • Fork you = 엿 먹어, eat yeot. Don’t use this one. Really bad.
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엿 the candy

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엿 the gesture