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10 December 2004
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KLB - Assistance or Annoyance?

Yesterday, Thursday, started off good. I usually leave my apartment at 11:30 and arrive to the school between 12:59 and 1:01 because of the train/bus schedule. On Thursday I left earlier for a change. By coincidence, Cathy sent me a message saying she would be late. I replied "No problem, I'm early. Take your time." She sent back 2 or 3 replies telling me she's sorry and the meeting at the agency's office was long and to tell me where she put the handouts for the Christmas Theme.

So, I got to the school 15 minutes early, unlocked the door and casually played with the kids for awhile before class. It actually seemed very nice not to have Cathy in the room yelling "No Korean!" and "Minus one point!" Everything was fine, but then, at just about 1 o'clock, I looked out the window and saw Cathy sprinting toward the school, her bag flapping wildly about.

At 1:00, she burst through the classroom door, huffing and panting and, without even removing her jacket and bag, she proceeded to make kids be quiet and sit down. "Stop doing! (gasp, pant, cough) Sit down - it's one o'clock. Time for study!"

"Cathy," I said. "Calm down. It's not a big deal. I can start class, you know." Half the students weren't even there yet.

"So terrible," she panted. "The meeting too long. Train, (gasp, pant) 3 transfer, so far, I hurry so much."

"But I told you I was early and to take your time," I said futilely. In her mind, she probably thought she was impressing me with this psychotic display, or trying to show me how important it is to be punctual. There can't be any other reason seeing as we're on the third floor far away from the main office and nobody checks on us. All the sign-in sheets are in her folder, which the office stamps once a week.

"This my job. I have to do like this. I can't late."

The problem here is that she is so typically Korean and I am so typically American that our personalities are in conflict. To me, it's a laid-back job, 3 hours a day teaching English to playful little kids...not to be taken too seriously - or too lightly, sure. To her, it's serious business. It's her job, and she has a responsibility to do it to the best of her ability. It's her duty. And, as she put's it, "I'm Korean."

I used to fall for this "I'm Korean, I have to be like this," routine until I met Julie who's shown me that it doesn't matter if you're Korean, it's who you are and how you choose to be. For example, as I said in my last post, Julie's boss was two weeks late her pay and, so, she quit. Simple as that. Her co-workers, mostly 30 something women who still live with their families, still haven't gotten paid (she knows this because she's sort-of close to one of them) keep doing their job, never even think to confront their boss, much less quit. These are women who make about 800,000 won ($750) per month teaching 8 hours a day (Julie had special pay and a special schedule because she was the English teacher).

Also, now that I think about it, I'm American - yet you don't see me running around the city eating Big Macs and shooting people. OK, that was a little joke. But really, you don't see me rushing off to work at 7:00 AM to help some corporation make more money. You don't see me taking out a huge bank loan to buy a house and a car which I have to work to pay off for eternity. These are things, if I were back there, I would say I do because I'm American and that's what Americans do. Still, though I'm not doing those things, somehow I'm managing a pretty decent life. I certainly am as happy as most people I know, if not more. I am almost positive I'd be miserable if I did like most people back home do. In fact, if I hadn't made the decision to make a change, to do something different, I'd probably be back there right now digging my grave.


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference

Robert Frost

Well, before I overdo it, back to Cathy. This conflict of interest reared it's ugly head again today. It was Friday, game/activity day. I was going to just teach the book, but since the kids were so good this week, and not many had arrived yet, I let them play Hangman. Since I rarely play this game, they really like it (if you play it too often they get bored fast). After they played it one at a time for awhile, I had them make teams and play using paper. They loved this and were absorbed in what they were doing, so absorbed that I took the chance to sit down. With nothing to do, I started the word jumble in the newspaper.

"Shawn, don't do that," Cathy said.

"Don't do what?"

"You can't newspaper, now."

"Why not?"

"Because this is public elementary school."

"Yeah, so?"

"So, don't do that, please."

I wanted to say, "You worry about you, and I'll worry about me," or "I need a thousand copies of this Hangman drawing - so get to it," but I was so taken off guard by her, I was speechless. All I did was make an odd kind of sneer and continue the word jumble. What the hell does she care if I look at the newspaper? She's just my assistant.

She didn't say anything else, but I could see her out of the corner of my eye fidgeting nervously as I worked on the jumble.

She takes this job much too seriously, in my opinion. In fact, she takes everything too seriously. She tells me all the time how she only sleeps 2 hours/night because she is so busy studying. I'm not sure why she tells me this so often. Is she playing the martyr role? Does she want me to feel sorry for her? Does she want me to think highly of her diligence? The only thing I feel is pity for her. Who gets only two hours sleep because they are studying? I went to college for four years and I never got less than 10 hours of sleep. I also had a part-time job at a furniutre store. I still graduated - with pretty good grades too (3.5). Even had my classes been in the morning, I wouldn't have needed to stay awake all night studying...then again, maybe if I was studying Korean Education (her major is English Education) I would have.

Anyway, I'd be happy if she were to sit in the back of the room and work on her studies or read a magazine when she wasn't busy, instead of annoying me and interrupting my class and making inane suggestions...oh that reminds me. What gave me the idea for playing Hangman rather than using the book as planned, was that most of the kids, as it turned out, were away on some kind on some kind of school trip. So I was playing the game with the first class for at least thirty minutes when Cathy says to me out of the blue, "Shawn, some kids are not come today. So, why don't we play game with the students." I looked from her to the kid at the board who was laughing insanely as he drew his Hangman caricature of me. I looked back at Cathy, but she didn't make the connection. "That's what we're doing, Cathy," I said, finally. "I don't understand."

"Oh, the kids go on a trip...blah blah"

"Yeah, I got that part. That's why I'm playing this game with the kids."

"Oh rearry? Oh, I see. Good idea."

I did have one piece of good news today. Three students quit. Two are pretty smart kids but very noisy...they're cousins and they're going to India for a few months with their families. And the best news of all...the kid with the mental problems who plays with toys and roams around the room all period causing trouble has also quit. No explanation was given, and none was needed. What luck! This even made Cathy happy.


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