Delusions of the Lowly and Mediocre: A Letter Home from the Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad and Wacky World of an English Teacher Basking in the Educational Splendor of South Korea.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Sorry I haven't written in a while, but drinking, playing computer games, and sleeping in really takes its toll on a guy. Wow, I can't believe it's been five months since I arrived in Pusan, Korea. Imagine that. Me, a 26 year old recent University graduate with five months teaching under his belt. Well, five months of playing hangman and bingo, but we won't tell anyone. Just imagine, last year I was getting my B.A. in Sociology, (minor in Leisure Studies), and stacking cat food part-time on the shelves of Wal Mart. And now, bam! I'm a teacher. Glad I refused that job offer at Burger King. If only the guys can see me now.
My students are amazing. They pick up English so quickly. All you have to do is say many words and they repeat after you. Well, some of them do anyway. Others sleep in class. But who can blame them? They go to school 14 hours a day. I really feel sorry for them. Each and every one of my students are little golden rays of sunshine. That's how I treat them. And how respectful and obedient they are. They never forget to bow to me as I enter and exit the classroom. I wish I can take all of them home. We can learn a lot from their system.
As you know I teach in a private school. Here in Korea they are called 'Hagwons', or academy. I think it means academy. The director, Mr. Kim is really nice too. There are many people named Kim in Korea. Maybe 10 million. Mr. Kim hasn't sent me to Japan yet to get my E2 work visa, so I'm still working illegally. But he said that when he saves up enough money, he will. He also hasn't paid me for last month and has only partially paid me for the previous two months. So I'm missing about $3,000. But I know he's good for it. Believe it or not, some teachers don't get paid at all! I guess I'm one of the lucky ones. Only $37,000 and I'm free and clear from my student loan.
The food here is incredible. And very healthy. Lots of fish, veggies, soup, and rice. You can eat as much as you want and not gain weight. You'll be happy to know that I'm losing weight. I'm now down to 96 kilos. Koreans eat something called kimchi with every meal. It's spicy cabbage and it's delicious. They claim it prevents cancer so I'm eating a lot of it. And it makes me crap like a bear. Nothing like a bit of kimchi to clean out your guts. They do have meat dishes too. Something called Galbi and Bulgogi. They barbecue it over open grills and wrap it in leaves accompanied with sauce and many side dishes. I love this because it helps to put me back in touch with the caveman in all of us that modern society has unfortunately left behind. (I learned that in sociology.) Of course there are American restaurants here like McDonald's, Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, and Outback. But who needs all that when you have Mandu-guk, denjang-jigae, and rice cakes?
Two nights ago I got drunk on makkoli, a traditional rice wine, and threw up on the street. Since many Koreans do this a lot, nobody noticed. So I just picked myself up and stumbled home. Speaking of home, I live in a one room apartment. Well, it's a room actually. Six whole pyung! (One pyung is 3.3 meters.) But it has a bed, a desk, and a TV with stand. My microwave is on the TV and my CD player is on the microwave. It may be small, but it's clean and cozy. My room looks out onto a small alley. So at night I hear children crying, dogs barking, and cats in heat. Nothing like a little night music to put me to sleep in the Land of the Morning Calm.
There's also something called 'soju.' Many of us foreigners, (and Koreans), drink it. Sometimes we have contests to see who can drink the most soju and remain standing. We call this, "Last Man Standing." So far my record is three and a half bottles, but I intend on breaking that record very soon.
The TV shows here are interesting to say the least. Lots of women crying and men beating their wives. It's refreshing to see people so in tune with their emotions. And the children on these shows are always so happy. Running around and playing games, they are. But you know what they say? At the end of the day, we're all people. We all have the same needs and goals. The same wants and desires. People are people, wherever you go in this world. At least that's what I learned in sociology back home.
I'm on several ex-pat websites, (is that what I am now, an ex-pat? And when does one go from a newbie to an ex-pat anyway?), and have made many new friends. One of these websites is www.pusanweb.com. We go by strange names like Ignint, ReNamed User, Lumberjack, Woodsman, Stardusk, and Dogarse. There is even a woman on there who calls herself Extreme_Girly_Girl. But from what I hear, she's too extreme and not enough girly girl. There is even a Spanish professor who goes by the handle 'Ewok.' (May the force be with him.) Some of us meet sometimes in bars, (they're called 'hofs' here), and talk about how great our lives are and how lucky we are to be here. We eat chicken and share huge pitchers of beer. Then we go home alone and masturbate to soft-core Korean porn on cable TV.
Last weekend was fantastic. I met a few of the English teachers in a bar and guess what? One of them was bi-polar, just like me. And another teacher was so depressed he kept talking about killing himself. Isn't that fantastic? And yet another teacher told me that she takes anti-psychotic medication. If it weren't for her meds, you'd never know that she has Tourette's syndrome. It's nice to meet other teachers here with similar problems. And it's so nice of the Korean people and their government that they are not afraid to employ such "damaged" Western people. So understanding of them to put us into the classrooms of their nation and to bestow upon us the awesome responsibility that comes with educating their offspring. I wish we in the West were that open-minded and accepting of others.
On pusanweb there are probably 20-25 of us regulars who like to 'shoot the shit' as they say. There are many socks as well. These people take a second or even a third identity so that they can back up their points when trying to make an argument. There are more socks on that forum than in the little boys section at Wal Mart. (Ha-ha!) We got all kinds on pweb. Anti-Americans, holocaust deniers, white supremacists, and religious nuts just like back home. In fact, whenever I log on, I feel like I am home.
There is one guy on who uses his real name. Steve Schertzer. What an asshole. He claims to be so much better than everybody else. He keeps talking about responsibility and how teachers should be professional and more dedicated. Screw him! Who does he think he is anyway, Mother Teresa? Anyway, this Steve Schertzer guy, (if that's is his real name), has been known to write columns for the Korea Times, a real pro-foreigner newspaper if I ever read one. He goes on and on about how most native English teachers in Korea, (and elsewhere), are scum; little more than losers and social misfits who probably couldn't get a job stuffing envelopes in the North Pole. What a monkey! What a buffoon! He claims that he uses a teaching method that guarantees results, and that his students learn English so much faster than everyone else. What a moron!
We really ripped him apart on pusanweb. And we'll do it again if he dares to show his ugly face. We called him everything from a child molester to a misogynist and just about everything in between. Serves him right, criticizing us like that. Just because many of us are here to make money, drink, have fun, and play games with our students doesn't mean that these holier-than-thou, self-righteous English teachers can have their way with us. This Schertzer guy probably doesn't even know how to teach. He said that he had so much fun in Thailand. Maybe he should go back to Thailand and get laid.
Speaking of getting laid, the women here are incredible. So slim and beautiful. Not just physically, but inside too. So coy and charming they are. So pure and pious. So loving and loyal. I haven't been this horny since dad bought me a subscription to Hustler magazine for my sixteenth birthday! And the best part: Most of them still live at home. I met one the other day. We went out for food and beer. She told me that she wasn't interested in holding my hand or kissing me goodnight. She just wanted a free English lesson. Wow! You really have to admire their honesty. Unfortunately we had to cut the evening short because she had to be home by 10:00 p.m. After all, it was Friday night and she was 27 years old. You have to admire such strong family values here. Such high ethical standards and moral turpitude. No point rushing them out into the real world too early. Better to keep them naive and innocent.
I know several teachers who are married to Korean women. The guys all tell me the same thing. They spend their vacations in Thailand or the Philippines drinking and having sex with prostitutes. That's amazing. Imagine being married to such a loyal and understand woman that she would allow her Western husband to go to South East Asia and cavort with ladies of the evening. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!
Anyway, I should end this letter now. It's almost time to get drunk. I know it's only 2:30 but it's 8:00 somewhere. I do hope Mr. Kim sends me to Japan soon. Word from the grapevine has it that Immigration is doing a sweep around the neighborhood. Just last week some guy got caught teaching without a visa and got deported. They say he was also fined a million won. That's over a thousand dollars! But it won't happen to me because I'm careful. And Mr. Kim said he likes me. And, of course, there are the students. I walk into class and they're all smiling. Except for the ones that are sleeping. And throwing paper airplanes. And hanging each other out the window. I feel like Sally Field at the Oscars. They like me. They really really like me!
Say hi to sis for me and give the twins Chip and Dale all my love. I miss your apple pie mom, but the black-bean cakes almost make up for it. Don't worry about me. I'm basking in education glory here. I'll think of all of you while I'm getting drunk tonight on soju. It sure as hell beats dad's moonshine.
Your son the English teacher, (or as I'm known on the website, "Little Tommy Too-too.")
For those with the courage to print this out and discuss this column in an adult conversation class, (and let's hope it's in an adult conversation class only), here are a few discussion questions:
1) What was your initial reaction after reading this?
2) There is often truth in satire. What do you believe is true in this column?
3) (For EFL teachers.) Do you think Schertzer is being fair to newbie English teachers? Why or why not?
4) (For EFL learners.) Do you think Schertzer is being fair to newbie English teachers? Why or why not?
5) Who do you believe is being ridiculed more in this column, EFL teachers or Korean society? Why? Give examples to support your answer.
6) Have you ever met an EFL teacher like "Little Tommy Too-too?" Tell the class about it.
7) What did you think of the title? Did it suit the column? What title would you have given it?