Monday, 27 March 2006

Update (March 2003)

Annyong Haseyo is about how you say "hello" in Korean.

This letter is almost expected (and maybe even
anticipated) by most of the people it reaches. It is
the first update letter to a few of you, and for some
of you, it is a totally out of the blue
first-letter-I've-ever-sent-you.

So here's the basics:
I am currently teaching English as a Second Language
to children in Seoul, Korea (I live just south of the
Han River), which can be found on most maps, in the
eastern end of Seoul. I occasionally send letters out
to my friends and contacts this way. I do not expect
you to respond, but if you do want to, I'd like to
hear from you -- if you'd please write a letter with a
little more to it than "got your letter. thanks"
(also, please delete my e-mail's text in your reply,
so that I don't have a bunch of 9K one-line notes in
my inbox).

Please do not send forwards, petitions, sweet stories,
protest e-mails, cute jokes, or "sunshiny thoughts of
the day" to this address -- if you write me, I'd
prefer it was written by your own hand. Since I send
out updates, I can't expect you to write me only
totally personalized letters, but at least my bulk
letters are original.

And now, enough business, as a teacher of mine used to
say, let's get down to meat.

The PC room where I am writing this stinks of
cigarette smoke. This does not please me -- one of my
kids asked me if I smoke today (we were learning about
jobs, and I taught them the word "soldier" which
sounds close to the word "soju," a traditional Korean
alcohol that tastes really gross. Then one of them
asked if I like "Mekju" (beer) and I said "not much,"
and then he asked if I like cigarettes). No, indeed.
The smell of cigarettes is all around this city (I
swear, if cars were outlawed tomorrow, the air in
Seoul would still by hazy from all the cigarettes).

Yet I love this place. Last night at ten o'clock, I
was walking one of my coworkers home after dinner, and
we passed some kids -- about two and three or so -- in
the street. They were playing with these little glow
sticks that flash in different colours and make really
neat patterns when you wave them in the air. I
greeted one with the children's greeting: "Anniyong"
and she said "Anniyong" back with the sweetest little
girl's voice. My knees almost gave out. I want to
learn Korean just so I can play with the little kids.

One of the little girls in one of my classes has a
crush on me. Her name is Serina. She's about six or
seven, has a cute round face and a sweet smile (and
adorable, pinchable cheeks, a common feature in Korean
children), and she wrote me a love note a few weeks
ago that said, approximately,

"Dear teacher (rob teacher)

I like teacher. Teacher draw good. I like draw.
Teacher good teacher. Teacher is funny. I am happy.
Teacher is good teacher. Serina like teacher!!!!!!!

heart heart

heart

heart"

That's about her command of English. Her mother has
written me two notes thanking me for teaching her
daughter as well, and the notes said that Serina says
English is her favourite subject, that she likes her
teacher, she studies hard, and her mom (Lee Il Su) is
"glad Serina interested English." Then, last
Thursday, she confirmed my suspicions that she fancied
me when first, she asked a girl to trade seats with
her so she could sit beside me, and then, after class,
she walked me to the stairwell to the staff room and
tried her VERY best to have a casual conversation. It
went about like this.

Serina: "Hi teacher."
Rob Teacher (which is what they call me): "Hi Serina.
How are you?"
S: "I am fine thank you, how are you?" (all the kids
say "fine, thank you, how are you" as if they learned
it phonetically)
RT: "I'm happy."
S: "Good." (pause) "Spring is soon."
RT: "Yes. Today is warm."
S: "Yes. I like spring. Do you like spring?"
RT: "I like summer more."
S: "I don't like summer. I like spring."
RT: "In Canada, summer is not as rainy as in Korea."
(Korea has a monsoon season)
S: " " (puzzled face)
RT: "Korea summer, many many rain;" (spread out arms
to show 'many many') "in Canada summer, little rain."
(hold hands closer together to show 'less than Korea')

Then I was at the stairwell door. Her face had
changed so I suspected she understood, and I said
goodbye. Really sweet kid. I wish I could take her
home with me or something.

I have another kid who's a HUGE pest in class, but
between class he'll come up to me and hug me and sit
in my lap -- he likes me, but he just doesn't know how
to sit still. Worst of all (I guess), he's really
funny -- he says things (in Korean -- he never stops
talking Korean) that gets all the other kids laughing
and distracted, so it's impossible to get anything
done in class. I get really upset at him in class,
but after class he's really sweet. Today I made him
write lines, and on Thursday I'll do it again if I
have to, until he gets it that I'm the boss, and not
him. I can't even send him out in the hall, because
he'll try to come back in, and when I'm struggling to
keep a five year old from getting his foot in the
door, it's really hard to keep the rest of the class
from laughing at me. And of course, once teacher has
lost his dignity, the lesson plan is shot. And then
he'll be almost quiet, not bothering anyone, maybe not
paying attention, but at least not distracting people,
and all at once he'll tip his chair too far and fall
over. And then I'm a goner too, and once teacher
laughs, the lesson plan is shot. At this rate, it's
gonna take me six months to get through the alphabet.

But yeah. I like my classes. I like my kids. I
badly need to learn more Korean -- I met two girls a
few weeks ago who are ready to schedule a language
exchange with me on week-ends, but I have to find a
time that works for all of us. I think I'm going to
have to sign up for some classes somewhere,
ultimately, and just bite the bullet and fork over the
won. Oh well. It'll be worth it if I can play with
Korean children by the time I go home. (I had a yes
yes yes no no no fight with a kid in the halls today
between classes. It reminded me of yes/no fights with
my nephew and how much fun they are).

So yes, I still miss all of you heaps. I am so
thankful to those of you who've kept in touch. It's
really encouraging. If I haven't replied to your
letter and you want me to, send me a reminder to get
on it. I am constantly talking about my brother and
my family and my friends to my roommate Dave (I asked
him how he felt about that once and he said "man, just
shoot me in the head now." -- but he means that
jokingly). I really like my roommate. He's hooked me
up with some really cool people so far.

Unfortunately, another of the things happenning is
that I need to find a new church. There was a church
near here that has English language services, but the
congregation was simply too Korean -- I found that I
couldn't fit into the community. The language barrier
was simply too intimidating, both for me and for them.
If I were two-thirds, half, or even one-third fluent
in Korean, it'd be possible, but as it is, I just
can't take part. So I'm going to look into some
English churches for foreigners that can be found in
Itaewon, the foreigner section of Seoul (it's right
near the US Army base.)

So pray that I find a community where I can feel like
I belong, and pray that the community I find also has
some inroads or connections to Korean lessons -- if I
can take Korean lessons through a church, I can't
think of a more ideal situation to be in for filling
both my goal to find a community AND my goal to learn
Korean.

Thank you for your support, through e-mails and
prayers. I love you all.

Rob Ouwehand