Saturday, December 23, 2006


Merry Christmas everyone! I'm going to Malaysia for nine days, to sit on the beach, ride elephants, and get massages and great food for cheap.

I love you all, I promise I'll post some stories and maybe even pictures, and I hope you all have a great Christmas and new year with people you love!

love: Rob

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Christmas Movie

Who DOESN'T love the movie Love Actually? If you watched it, I mean, properly watched it, paying attention and all, and hadn't just been dumped by your honey (so that it brought back the sadness), but you still didn't enjoy it, please, let me know why? I totally don't get it when people don't think that movie's sweet, funny, warm, and romantic. (Responses saying things like "needed some wild nekkid sex scenes" or "I h8 awl moovies wiht no kung foo so it sukkd," need not reply.) And don't say "it's too sappy and cute" either -- of COURSE it's sappy and cute. That's what you're signing up for when you get a movie called "Love Actually" -- that's like renting "Cheerleader Chainsaw Massacre 5" and then disliking it because it was kinky and gory. I suppose the "too many storylines" beef is legitimate: if you don't pay attention you'll get lost, but if you DO pay attention, it's so charming! And if you DON'T want to pay attention, if you just rent movies to snuggle with your sweety, then get The Santa Clause 2, so that you have a reason to look away from the TV and snuggle more, by gum, and rent Love Actually another time! That's right. I refuse to allow anybody reading my blog to dislike Love Actually! Unequivocally! (You can't tell, but I just pounded my fist on my desk.)

Also: if you haven't seen "A Christmas Story" (unavailable in Korea, and it hurts me, it hurts me so, that it isn't), go out right now and find it. Track it down if you must. It's the best movie that nobody's seen (though people with cable TV will say it's as overplayed as Shawshank Redemption (or Jean-Claude VanDamme and Steven Seagal movies in Korea -- they're always running on one channel or another)). I'd put Christmas Story right up there with "Army of Darkness" for cult classics. I'll even go as far as to call it the "Princess Bride" of Christmas Movies (and anyone who knows me could attest to my feelings about The Princess Bride -- tie me down and give me a lollipop, that movie's better than spaghetti!)

I'm going to Malaysia for Christmas. When I get back, I'm gonna put up something Sally (the bright one) wrote and sent to me, and tell you about our adventures in Saccaria. I'm a bit worried right now -- my stuffed elephant Zooey seems to have been kidnapped by aliens, and we hope to rescue him before anything really terrible happens. It might be the subject of my next story.

Merry Christmas all, love love love:

(ps: here's a video from the movie "Love Actually" DVD special features. You know how every Christmas, some sell-out washed-up rockstar records a crap Christmas record to grab some cash? Well this video mocks those cynical stinkers every bit as much as they deserve.)
Christmas Is All Around - Billy Mack

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Another student crack-up.

They were in fine form today. It was parents' day, so the parents could come, and sit in on a class, to see how their children were coming along. It's a stressful day for the teachers, but we made it through OK. Before the parents came, I briefed my kids on how to behave properly during the open class. I told them to sit properly, raise their hands, and wait to be called on.

James piped up, "Or else mommy will take you to bathroom, pok pok pok!" (he mimed a spanking motion with his hand.)

I said, "I hope your mommy won't take you to the bathroom and spank you, but I also hope you're very good boys and girls today!"

Then Willy said, "But mommy is a girl. I'm a boy!"

So I rubbed it in: "Yes, Willy! Maybe your mommy will take you into the girls' bathroom!" All the boys shrieked, thinking, "wow, that would be doubly embarrassing!"

One of my girls, Arooh, smiled smugly, "I'm a girl that's OK. I can girls bathroom going that's OK."

To which Willy promptly replied, "Your daddy will come."

Wiped the smug smile off her face like lightning, and made me laugh out loud.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm gonna post links and things like that on this blog, and just assume everyone has an internet connection fast enough for streaming video, large graphic files, etc.. If you don't, check out file sizes on pictures or whatever you want to download, to make sure you don't tie up your computer for long stretches of time, and just. . . kind of . . . be aware of that. You might miss out on some of the fun stuff. Sorry.

This one made me laugh out loud.

There's also a pretty good clip on the same website about Lord Of The Rings.

Silly conversation in class.

Had a lot of bloody noses in school today. Yuk. My student Danny's like a geyser-- get him excited and suddenly blood's flying everywhere.

Our former teacher Ashley came to visit at lunch time. She taught at SLP for quite a while, so the kids remember and miss her; a handful of the kids in my class now were in her homeroom back in the day. Ashley came to my class just after lunch finished to say hello to me and the students, so I encouraged the kids who knew here well to get out of their chairs (I've finally trained them well enough that they USUALLY wait for my say-so before they're up and about) and give Ashley a hug. Or a kiss. Or a tickle. You know, just to keep things interesting.

Once everybody returned to their seats, Kevin started teasing James (who used to be one of Ashley's favourites) that he wanted to give Ashley a kiss, so I kept pretending I heard Kevin saying he wanted ot give Ashley a kiss. Once most of the students were giggling, I asked Kevin if he wanted to marry Ashley. He, sensing the humour in the moment, agreed. "Yes, teacher."

I offered to phone Ashley on my cellphone and make the proposal. Kevin agreed, so I got out my phone, pretended to push some buttons, and then made a big show of asking Ashley if she wanted to marry Kevin.

"Oh. Kevin, before she agrees to marry you," I said, she has some questions.
"OK teacher."
"Do you have a car?"
"Do you have money?"
"Does your daddy have money?"
"Yes." (I'm relaying these yes's into the phone.)
"Will your mommy be nice to Ashley if she marries you?" (I've heard some really remarkable stories from women who married firstborn sons in Korea, and the epically harsh treatment some mothers in law give to their sons' wives -- Western mothers-in-law really have some catching up to do, if the stories are true. And it's much harder in Korea to convince your husband to move to a different city, because of the cultural, familial obligation of the firstborn to the parents -- sometimes, when Koreans find out that I'm a firstborn son, they're surprised that I'm here in Korea rather than living with my father and taking care of him, especially because 1. I'm not married, and 2. My mom died.)

"Yes," Kevin assured me his mommy will be nice to his new wife.
I passed that last "Yes," into the phone, and said, "OK, Kevin. Ashley says she'll marry you!"

The class had a good laugh together. I've had to spend a lot of time breaking up arguments and things in that class, so it's a really nice release to have a few good laughs with them, too.

One of my students told me I'm funnyman, so I answered, "I'm not funnyman. I'm BATMAN!"
(and I have the t-shirt to prove it).

In a related story, to file under "Rob is a nerd", this photo was taken when the photographers came to my school. We took another one that looks normal, but this is the one that got the best reaction when all the teachers looked through the proofs.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Definition of Irony

Text message I got from a Korean friend of mine yesterday:

"Sorry. I can't meet you tonight for dinner. I have to study English."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Here are some of my favourite pictures of my students.

Tom might be the cutest boy in any of my classes. Speaks amazingly well too.

Ryan actually thinks he's Tigger. Sometimes he climbs out of his chair, and stands in front of me, bouncing like Tigger. I sang "The Tigger Song" to him and he almost fell over from dancing so hard.
I love the pure joy in Jessie's face here, and also in Cecilia's face on the next picture.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

November 25th 2006: More sad news and a long-awaited update.

Hi everybody. Thanks so much for continuing to care and hear about me. One of my other friends, who writes updates, kindly gave her readers an opt-out clause. I never have before, but here you go. If you don't read these anyway, or if you don't want them, or never liked me in the first place (ha ha ha), please feel free to reply, and ask me to take you off the list. I'm not a great correspondent, so being off this list doesn't mean I'll immediately start writing you personal e-mails -- this update is intended to keep people I care about in the loop, despite my bad record at keeping in touch. But that said, if you don't want the letters, feel free to opt out. I won't give you any grief if you're too busy, or if you feel like your life has moved on.

Since my last e-mail, things have been hectic, beginning with...

A trip to Shanghai -- fantastic city! Interesting regions, lots of french architecture, because it was originally built up by the
French. Huge difference between rich and poor there, but a fantastically engineered skyline and some really, really, really great food. Also, the internationals there (though maybe this was just because I moved around in the tourist areas) were a lot more varied than in Korea, it seemed. In Korea, most internationals are English speaking teachers or soldiers, or German-speaking tourists (to be really general). I heard snatches of all kinds of languages in Shanghai, and faces that looked like they came from all kinds of places.

My longtime coworker Heather had a baby! They're all healthy, and her husband Caleb Overstreet (you know him, Cheryl) is so cute when he talks about being a daddy. Suddenly he turned about five times softer and sweeter. My brother once told me about one of his friends seeing his first child for the first time, saying "a whole new section of my heart opened up", and I've seen Caleb change once that new section opened in his heart. It's amazing. It's difficult for me to wax eloquent about such a thing because I've only seen the effect and not experienced it, except to say that anybody I've ever asked about it (including a
brand-new grandfather) still steadfastly tells me that seeing your own kids for the first time is one of the most transformative events in your life. Maybe sometime I'll get a chance to experience that. (Now don't everybody think I'm dropping hints or fixing to settle down by that -- this is just to say that I've been seriously touched by this parenthood thing.) Having seen how parenthood (or coming parenthood) has changed a handful of my friends (and more every year), it's a beautiful thing, the way their roots suddenly, so effortlessly deepen, and their lives suddenly have another meaning added to it, and a meaning that comes completely out of love. It also helps me understand how some of the parents I deal with in the preschool have so little perspective on their kids -- "Well, he's really a good boy -- he just has a little problem hitting his classmates and stealing their toys and ripping pages out of books for attention and whining when he's punished -- but he has a sweet heart inside."

As Heather's due date approached, the doctor's order for her to stop teaching and rest added a whole new wrinkle to the whole
work situation. Our boss didn't manage to find a replacement on time, so first I had to teach overtime to fill in for some of her classes, and then the replacement he did find. . .

None of the teachers at the school got a good feeling about the e-mails she sent, but we didn't really do much about it at the time. Then, she arrived. Her name was Angi. She was older than the rest of us, and an extremely intense person. We'd have a beer together and she'd want to have more, go to another place, go to the clubbing district, and go until six AM. Somehow, every time she talked to my boss, it turned into a shouting, crying fit -- I've never seen a relationship get to explosive so quickly before. She made unreasonable demands that were outside the contract's parameters, she lost the receipt for her airplane ticket, when my boss had sent her money to buy it. If she didn't get what she wanted, right away, she'd blow up, and turn extremely rude. Meanwhile, she showed up late for work regularly, smoked in our building (which is against the law), and basically made the workplace very stressful.

She got herself fired in only three weeks, which is remarkable. Really remarkable. Considering how expensive it is to get a western teacher out to Korea, to have Mr. Kim willing to cut his losses and get her out of the school community after such a short time shows how negative her influence was on the school, in just about every way.

So, I was back to teaching overtime until we could find another replacement. Meanwhile, the school's new academic supervisor
had her first September, which is the beginning of a new semester, and she had to learn the ropes while juggling new classes, new books, and hundreds of phone calls from parents who wanted their kids in a higher level. As she was busy, she passed the SLP Speech Contest completely over to me. So, I was working overtime, organizing a schoolwide contest, and trying to hold together a preschool program with a new teacher, and a missing teacher. My roommate Antony was a champ for filling in for as long as he did, working twelve hour days without complaining. Finally, Lorraine came, and she's worked out really well, and my schedule, since the Speech Contest finished (on my birthday), has returned to normal just in time for next year's preschool recruiting season.

All that to say, I've been busy. It's been an adventurous time. Melissa, my old roommate, left, and her replacement is great. I like Amy quite a bit. We miss Melissa, of course, but Amy's nice too.

Since mid-August, if you asked me about my life, I'd tell you that I was too busy to do the things I loved in life.

Too busy to see friends, too busy to spend huge tracts of time alone in coffee shops, too busy to take long walks, do yoga, and write poetry.

Then I'd tell you about the bright spot in my life:

When Melissa left, she introduced me to a family she knew. The two daughters were Sally and Lisa, and Sally is a certifiable genius. She taught herself English, and now she speaks it, and writes it, better than most native speakers her age. She's nine, and she reads books written for 12-15 year-olds.

here's a video clip from a movie I saw (one of my favorites) about a Korean girl who signs up for English lessons. Sally
appears in it. Wait for the clip to upload, and then skip to about the 8:20 mark, and you can see her. The movie was made in 2003, so she's a bit older now, but you get the idea.

[the video has been taken down, due to copyright violations]

That's Sally saying "Your English is terrible."

She's sweet and smart and awesome. Her tutor is teaching her advanced writing -- formal writing in particular -- because her mom wants her to score perfect on the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) also known as the test whose score will determine whether second-language English speakers can qualify for North American Universities. She scored nearly perfect on the TOEIC (Test Of English for International Communication), which is business focussed, rather than academic, and will earn you a job, rather than a spot in a university.

The first day we met, Lisa (the younger sister) was going through a book, and we were reading about Camels, and talking about Kiwi, and the phrase "Kiwi the Camel" came up. We thought that would be a good name for a character in a children's story. We decided to write a story about Kiwi the Camel -- I said "If you write me a story about Kiwi the Camel, I'll write one for you."

Next time I saw them, Lisa (the seven year old) told me a short story. Sally gave me a five-page long first chapter for a book about Kiwi the Camel! I agreed to write the second chapter, she wrote the third, I wrote the fourth, and so we'll go until we finish the story. Sally's funny, bright, inquisitive, and she soaks up everything I can tell her, and teaches ME stuff on the way. She's one of the three coolest ten-year-olds I've ever met. Maybe the number one!

Her younger sister Lisa was the funniest little thing. Seven years old, she earned the nickname Giggles in no time, and made me laugh out loud. She also liked storytelling, and we'd get into silly little tangents about one thing and another, and she'd draw little pictures in her or get into teasing, tickling fights with her sister. I was utterly charmed. See the attached pictures of Sally and Lisa.

Then, last Tuesday, I went to a Sauna with Caleb, and when I came out, I had two missed calls from Sally. I called back, and her grandmother answered the phone, didn't speak English, so passed the phone to Sally.

"Hi Sally how are you?"
"Not so good."
"Oh. Well what's up?"
"Guess where Lisa went." (Sally always has a roundabout
way of giving news.)
"To Thailand?" (I always give silly answers first when Sally
says, "guess what?")
"This is serious, Rob." (That was when I noticed her sad, tired voice.)
"Is she OK? Did she go to the hospital?"
"Rob, there was an accident with a bus. Lisa went to heaven."

A seven-year-old I know got killed by a careless bus driver! The family is absolutely devastated. On Wednesday I arrived at their house at my usual time, armed with a present for Sally, a card, and a lot of spaghetti sauce, for days when they don't feel like cooking. Everybody looked pretty rough, Mom and sister especially. I'll go back again next Wednesday, and then the challenge is to figure out how much a goofy Canadian can do in this situation.

Because I'm older, and not a long-time acquaintance, it changes what I can and can't do, but I've been through the wringer of loss just recently, so at least I know what not to do, and I know how cloying it is when people say "I can help you." I guess I'll take most of my signals from Sally, and if she wants to talk, I'll do my best to listen kindly, and if she doesn't, I'll just be around, and be steady. Steady's nice, too.

It's sad that a kid as young as Sally has to go through such a loss, and even worse that a kid like Lisa can be taken away so young. The random, arbitrariness by which some people die young and other live out their lives, by which some people's lives are just loaded up with death and others never lose anybody (I knew a girl named Erin who lost her brothers to malaria at age 10, and lost her parents in a plane crash at age 20), makes it difficult to make any sense of things that happen. Maybe that's the idea -- maybe we aren't supposed to make sense of it. Maybe it's just too big, too mysterious for us to say anything about it at all. Maybe the thing we learn from most deaths is simply that everybody dies.

I have a friend who stopped believing in God not long ago, and she said the main difference in her life (other than her Sunday routine) is that now she's afraid of dying.

Another of my dear friends just found out her dear step-father has terminal cancer.

And I just can't think of anything else to say.

Anyway, that's what's been on my mind lately.

My father spent two days in the hospital: there was some bleeding somewhere in his body, but it's healed up. I hope he'll be OK.

Take care, everyone.

love: Rob
(look for cute student stories and Engrish follies below)

Between the hammers our heart
endures, just as the tongue does
between the teeth and, despite that,
still is able to praise.
-Rainer Maria Rilke-
Ninth Elegy

(here is the cute students section of the letter. I wanted
to put a clear break between this and the rest. I almost
wanted to put them in a separate e-mail)

"David, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"A scientist."
"What kind of scientist? An animal scientist? A rock
scientist? A dinosaur scientist?"
"I want to be a make yummy food and chocolate scientist."
"You want to be a food scientist."
"Yes. Food scientist."
"Well maybe you can give me some of your yummy food!"
"No teacher. You can buy in the store."

"My daddy has a Christmas car. It's a Santa Fe"

Ten plus five is fifteen. Ten plus six is sixteen. Ten plus Ryan is Ryanteen!

Instead of activity book, my kid said "Get out your captivity book." -- and he actually knew what captivity was! He made that joke on purpose!

I taught them "silly billy". Next time I was giving silly answers to questions instead of straight answers, my kid reprimanded me saying, "Teacher, don't say a billy silly!"

and my favorite wasn't from a student. It was at the Chinese Circus I saw in Shanghai. There were signs around the auditorium saying "please turn off your cellphone and don't bring bombs" (maybe they meant flashbulbs)

It made me laugh: why haven't US airlines thought of this? Just put up a sign and that'll end all danger on flights! You could put it next to the seatbelt sign and the "no smoking" sign that never turns off.

Imagine the dialogues.
Head Attendant: "Excuse me, sir, I'll have to ask you to
return to your chair and stop threatening the flight attendants.
You'll notice that the 'No Terrorism' light is still on in the cabin."
Terrorist: "Oh. Oops. My bad." (Returns to chair, embarrassed.)

Here are pictures of Sally, and Lisa, who was killed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hey everybody! I'm famous!

click on the link and wait for the pictures to start scrolling. I'm right near
the beginning.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

June 2006: A Trip to North Korea

North Korea just sent a half-dozen missiles into the ocean, which is about the international relations equivalent to a drunk breaking a bottle over his head to show the people around he's hella tough, and they'd better not mess with him. Because some of you may be worried about me, I'd just like to assure you that I have been firmly landlocked, not exploring in any areas of the sea where a missile might land on me.

I got a concerned e-mail from one of my university friends asking what it was like living in Korea, in the shadow of Kim Jong-il's unpredictable madness and how that affects the South Korean mind. This topic is particularly current to me, because I just came back from a weekend trip to North Korea.

Yes. That's what I said. I just made a weekend trip to North Korea. I came back the day before they launched the missiles. When I heard the news with my roomie (who'd also gone) he asked me, "was it something we said?"

There's only one place in North Korea where outsiders can visit. It's called Geumgang Mountain, or Geumgangsan. It's roundly considered the most beautiful mountain in either Korea -- Sorak Mountain, Jiri Mountain and (one other whose name I can't remember) are the prettiest in South Korea, but a lot of people who care about such things will tell you that Geumgang Mountain takes the prize. As a symbolic gesture to show the desire for the Koreas to work together, South Korea, North Korea, and China worked together to create this little resort town where people are allowed to visit Gumgang Mountain on special tours. There's a tour group called Adventure Korea that focusses on arranging tours for Westerners in Korea – they put together tours and trips to areas that are hard for westerners to go on their own, because of language or cultural or simple "I've never heard of that place" factors, giving westerners a chance to see parts of Korea that we otherwise wouldn't otherwise experience. You may remember my story about visiting a scenic island with the same tour group in April 2004, and dancing to ridiculous music on a tour boat with a bunch of middle-aged Korean women. (if you don't, you can read it here)

So we gathered on June 30th, late at night, after all classes were finished, and piled onto two buses, left at about midnight, just in time to watch the Germany-Argentina World Cup Soccer quarterfinal on the bus TV (more about that later) as the bus drove through the night, right to the far east coast of South Korea. There, at about 6AM, we had a rest stop break to change into our hiking clothes and switch buses (and leave our cellphones and communication devices behind). Then we headed off toward the customs offices -- both North and South had to check our visas and documents, and we were carefully briefed on how to avoid getting fined at North Korean customs for answering questions with anything except the exact words and information on our passports and trip ID cards. Then we drove directly to Geumgang Mountain, and started our hike at about 9:30 or 10:00 AM, after an all-night drive. Most of us had between two and four hours of sleep.

The North Korean tour authorities seemed to like having everyone taking the tour in the same places at the same times: fewer variables and worries, easier to watch, I suppose. This meant that everybody visiting Geumgang Mountain that weekend was on the same mountain at the same time. The trails were crowded, and, where the trails narrowed, any time somebody far ahead in line stopped to take a picture, the whole line backed up.

I certainly was not expecting to encounter traffic jams in North Korea.

However, the path was fantastic. It ran alongside a river that tumbled over monstrous boulders and rushed down long rock plains with awesome speed and power. Walking up a mountain, alongside a tumbling, boulder-littered river, between trees, with the sounds of rushing water all around, set me right back in British Columbia, wandering around the mountains and rivers near Chilliwack and Mission.

Most of the hiking was under a smattering of rain that weekend, but the raincoat I bought before I hiked Jiri Mountain with Matt has continued to prove itself worth the money. Unfortunately, the absolutely unreasonably huge waterfall was also nearly obscured by mist. There were Korean and Chinese characters carved into dozens of the rocks. We were warned not to lean on, or touch, any of them. They were mementoes and monuments praising the leaders, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung, and as such, were respected almost religiously. Some of the monuments were amazing in scale -- huge, two-storey high Korean characters carved into bald rock-faces on the North Korean mountainsides. As with many totalitarian regimes, one of the main ways they retain their power is by developing a cult of personality around the leader -- Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong-Il have all put monuments and signs and statues about themselves all around their countries, to hold the people in control through devotion to their leader. We were warned strongly not to say "Kim Jong-Il" or "Kim Il-Sung" while we were around North Koreans, because they would take great offense for saying their names without prefacing it with their title, "Dear Leader" or "Dear Father". There was a huge sign with a images of the two leaders, father and son, in front of one of the hotels, and you were not allowed to to take pictures of it unless one of the North Korean hotel employees held the camera, so that he could frame the picture in such a way that both men's full bodies were captured in the photo. Cutting off any part of their bodies was a form of disrespect and, of course, unacceptable.

Here's an example of such a picture, as framed by the N.K. fella:

Back at the village, we saw more signs of Being In North Korea. You weren't allowed to take pictures of North Koreans without permission. You weren't allowed to take pictures of the North Korean guards. There were certain hillsides on one of the hikes where everybody was told to put away their cameras: there was an anti-aircraft gun concealed on the hillside. One of our co-travellers found a recording device in the bedside table of his hotel room. All the workers were thin. . . but not sickly thin. Best foot forward, you know. On a slightly less freak-out-paranoid note, a lot of the clerks and shopkeepers didn't speak a single word of English other than "Five dollars," while in South Korea, almost everyone speaks at least a few words of English to talk about their profession. I've heard, though I ought to fact-check this, that North Koreans haven't allowed any English words into their "pure" language -- instead of just saying "cheese" with Korean pronounciation,

they'll make up a new word for it that's totally North Korean. This led to the cute situation where a waitress at one of the restaurants asked me, with an endearingly shy tone, "what is this?" (in Korean) about one of the side dishes, to find out the English phrase for it. I said a few other words to her and she began to blush terribly. It was very sweet. . . but odd, because South Koreans her age have ALL studied at least enough English in high school and middle school to say "this is soup" and "here is salt" and "I learn some English high school."

So I asked her to take a picture with me.

But everything there was beautiful. The mountainsides, even in the drizzle, were cragged and beautiful -- ancient, worn rocks rounded by rain with cracks full of trees and green spurting out between rounded rock-faces.

I met a person who was really funny in North Korea, so I asked the old question: "How long will you be in Korea?" you know, to sound out whether I should invest anything at all in this person . . . "oh, about six more weeks" was the answer. Having Matt as my best friend, and having many Koreans among my friends, I'd almost forgotten just how transient most westerners living in Korea are. Sigh. It was like being back in my first year again.

As to the missile thing. . . Koreans didn't get too excited about it. Whether through denial, or from the sheer feeling that "oh, old Jong-Il's up to his old tricks again", South Koreans, even as close to the demilitarized zone as Seoul, are surprisingly blaze about the North Korean situation. It might just be that they/we have to keep on with their/our lives because what else can we do, really? Whether I sleep in my closet or in my bed won't change the aim of any of the long-range weapons pointed at Seoul. Koreans DO express that tension, I believe, in other ways. . . but to go into that would require making generalisations that wouldn't be fair to some of the Koreans on this e-mail list.

I have a new student named Cecilia in my youngest class. They're five year olds, and they're. . . well, they're five year olds. Sometimes really sweet, and sometimes. . . five year olds. (Recently, after seeing Harry Potter 2, where the character Dobby keeps beating himself when he feels like he's doing something wrong, Ryan started hitting himself in the head every time something happened that distressed him.) Anyway, my new student is named Cecilia, so, of course, I sing the Simon and Garfunkel song, "Cecilia" (at least the chorus, where it ISN'T singing about a woman cheating on her lover) as often as possible. The words go "Cecilia, you're breaking my heart, you're shaking my confidence daily. Oh Cecilia, I'm down on my knees, I'm begging you please to come home, come on home." My students have been trying to sing the song, too -- singing along, or singing it on their own, but, because they don't know the song's words exactly, they've been attaching words they know to the sounds they hear when I sing. Thus, I've been getting versions like this (with the tune totally correct):

"Cecilia, a look at my heart. A look at my heart and a
maybe. Oh Cecilia, a diamond my knee, a diamond my knee. . . "
"Cecilia, you're breaking my car"
"Cecilia, I'm breaking my stuff"

Some of my kids were talking about the Boogey Man – the monster hiding in closets and under beds -- but instead of Boogey Man, they were saying "Gogi Man" which is Korean for "Meat Man".

We were looking at shapes, and I showed them a flashcard of an oval. "What is this?"
"Teacher! It's offal!"

So yeah, lots of things have happened since I wrote another of these letters (how's 'gee, I sure don't write these letters often enough' for the most predictable running theme of my e-mail updates?)

But it's been mostly good. I think I"m in a much better place now than I was before -- January was rough, March was rough, April had its challenges, but things have slowly been improving since then, through a variety of small shifts and changes in my situations and attitudes. I'm writing a lot. And writing well.

Also, here's one of the coolest things I've seen in ages -- here in Korea, we have what they call "Fusion" culture -- restaruants, music styles, fashion styles, that fuse and combine disparate elements from east, west, past, present, and wherever else they find it. As you watch this one, think about the way that past, present, east and west combine. The musical instrument being played is called a Kayageum. Beatboxing and breakdancing both originated in the inner cities of America, but (especially breakdancing) have become really popular in Korea (team Korea's a regular contender in world breakdancing competitions). The musical piece, of course, is an ancient classical piece, with a hip-hop twist. . . yet it all works together to create a really neat impression.

Enjoy. Seriously, if your computer and internet connection are fast enough, this is REALLY cool. (and even better on a huge screen before a movie starts).

My Dad visited for two weeks at the end of May. That was lovely. My students still ask about "Opa". He came here with modest ambitions: a few weeks after returning to Canada, he needed a minor surgery, so we mostly took it easy, but it was good to be around Dad for a while, and it was good to supply him with a place where he could "get away from it all" for a while. We went to the church where he went with Mom and everybody was happy to see him there. We went to a sauna once or twice, and took some walks around Seokchon Lake and Olympic Park. We ate some fantastic foods while he was here, including a duck dish that was probably the most delicious food I've had since I came to Korea (and that's saying quite a lot). All in all, a very satisfying chance to see Dad again.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

May 2006 Update: New Coworkers.

Hi everyone.

Well, a few things. Two of my coworkers finished
their contracts this last week: Jared and James were
nice guys, but now they're travelling and will head
back to Canada soon. I have a new roommate -- I moved
across the hall so that I could have a guy roommate
instead of Melissa. His name is Anthony, he's from
northern England, and he's a pretty nice guy. Also,
April came from North Carolina and she's nice too.
The big bonus came at work, when I was playing a song
that I'd put on my work computer (while doing other
important work, of course), and April turned around
and said, "Is that the. . . and named the (somewhat
obscure) band?" Turns out both these new roomies are
the same kinds of avid music fans I am, which makes me
think we 'll have a lot of great conversations about
music, and which is a great starting point for the
rest of the friendship.

but my mailing address is still the same as before.
Please continue sending all gifts, money orders, tins
of Tim Hortons coffee, magazine subscriptions, Far
Side Collections, cards and fanmail to

*** if you know me, you know how to contact me. this is published online,
so I've taken personal information out of the e-mails.***

I saw Matt get married three weekends ago, and it was
fantastic. Matt's best friends came from Canada, and
my theory that Matt's true superpower is attracting
high quality human beings into his circle of
friendship, has been confirmed. To a person, the
people who came out to see the wedding were cool,
kind, fun, and generally about twelve different kinds
of awesome. So that was cool. My ex-girlfriend
Exgirfriendoseyo (the bride's twin sister) was there, of course,
but we've been doing some work to get back to a place
of friendship, and so that was all fine. She even
sent me her toast to the bride, and I proof-read it
for her. (She did a great job.)

Other than that. . . things have been going as usual
at work, I'm excited about the new roommates, it's
getting warmer, all good things. I don't get to tell
as many stories in my new classes as I did before, but
I'm mostly OK with that. I still have a lot of

Gloria's one of the sweet, cute little five year olds
that just started. She likes me a lot, and she'll
come over and play with me during break times. One
day she came running through the play room, chasing
her friend Sophia, and I called her name, "Gloria!
Come play!" Usually she answers that summons with a
big smile on her face, but this time, she paused in
the doorway, looked back and said, very
matter-of-factly, "Teacher, me busy," and ran off.

I can't say I've ever been blown off so cutely.
Usually, when they're my age, and a girl doesn't want
to spend time with me, I'm at least partly unhappy,
but this time I was all goo.

Another time, we were talking about butterflies in my
older class, and I asked,
"what do you call a baby butterfly?" (They all know
the story "the very hungry caterpillar", so I figured
this would be an easy one.)

Arooh says, "Butter?"
I laughed. "No, Arooh. That's not what you call a
baby butterfly. Do you know, Eric? What do you call
a baby butterfly?"


Eric got two laugh stickers for that answer.

"What is the smartest animal?" (dolphin)
No answers.
"It starts with a D."
"David?" (one of the students in the class' name)

The dinosaur "Apatosaurus" was recently renamed
"A-potato-saurus" by my student Lucas.

My student Harry recently wore a t-shirt to class that
bore the English letters:

"Your gsehkd dsfje fhdawj your jgwqd wedsh." The
literal translation is "English characters look cool
on a t-shirt."

One day I wore my Superman T-shirt to school. The
kids always get excited when I wear the Superman

"Teacher. You are Superman!"
"Yes. I am Superman. You are Super-Tom! Hello
"Hello Superman."
"Hello Super-Ryan."
"Hello Superman."
"Hello Super-Annie."
"Hello Superman." (The students all think this is
great fun.)
"Hello Super-Kate."
"Hello Supermarket."

And the kids are sweet, too. The other day I was
playing Beethoven's ninth during lunch time, and the
kids were eating quietly, and during the famous ending
theme, a few of the kids started spontaneously moving
to the grand, expansive feeling of the music. It
reminded me again how powerfully and unconsciously
music jumps right through our guards, and how
intuitively responsive these kids can be. Fantastic.
I teach gym class every day now, and I play a game
where the kids have to dance, and when I pause the
music, they all have to freeze. I get to play some of
my best cheerful music, the kids get to dance, and I
get wildly entertained by the silly dances I call out
for the kids. "Do an elephant dance!" "Do a rabbit
dance!" "Do a fat tummy dance!" (it also gives me
great ideas for when I go out dancing with my friends.
Hee hee hee.) Music makes me happy. I'm writing a
lot these days. Quite good stuff, too (especially the
poetry). And finishing a lot of stuff that's been in
progress for a long time. Seeing these things take
form is very satisfying. I feel better these days --
like the changes that have been trying to push through
are starting to take shape, and the things I've lived
through are starting to make me a new person, rather
than just creating tension within the person I can no
longer quite be.

I'm starting to see more colours. I'm starting to be
happy with my friends, and my situation. These are
good things.

So change my phone number in my address book.

More later.

Rob Oprivacyhand

Here's one of the poems I wrote. If you don't like
poetry, I'll sign off here, and you can pretend it's
just the quote that goes after my signature, and
ignore it as such. If you do like poetry, then you'll
wonder why I'm so apologetic.

Love you all.


"The Potter"

Slow, dust pushing
against each knucklebend,
heavy with riverbanks'
earthy murmurs,
the pottetr's dirty
mud-slick hands
banish the whole room
except the wheel
the clay
and the air pouring
into a new emptiness.

More perfecting
the vessel's
startling new capacity
than shaping walls
both spinning
and motionless,
the potter
sets a potential
into what once
was only mud,
and by preparing it for them,
also creates
all the things
it will one day contain.

Monday, March 27, 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

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



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

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

Rob Ouwehand

Sunday, January 22, 2006

January 22nd 2006: A Sticky Patch and a funny story at the end.

Well, it's been a sticky patch, and as I once said before, I don't like writing update e-mails when I'm feeling sticky. (Just wait till the humid heat of summer. . . haw haw haw.) But the fact is, I owe all you folks an e-mail -- have for a while, and by gum, I finally have a fantastic story I can use to finish it off with a laugh. (I didn’t even realize that's what had been holding me back until Sarah delivered her coup de grace of humour that day, and one of the first thoughts was "now I can finally write home."

May as well get this one out of the way: a few of you have already heard in personal e-mails that Exgirlfriendoseyo and I broke up. After a seven-month wait in Canada, and a really hard test, and a variety of tests both personal and paper, we simply seemed to be heading in different directions, and needing different things than we offered each other. It was done in such a way, and at such a time that we still respect each other, I don't have any regrets, and I wish her the best. We tried to make things work, but there was just too much else going on.

It was my first Christmas away from home this year. And my first Christmas without. . . you know, all that Mom dying of cancer stuff. I ran an entire calling card down on Christmas morning, and had some difficult and wonderful phone calls from a group of people who ranged from kind wisdom and caring to full, vulnerable empathy to some wonderful and necessary "talk-about-something-else-ification". Exgirlfriendoseyo and Matt both went down to Ulsan (where Exoseyo’s parents' extended family lives) for new year's, and I in turn got properly sick, and couldn't do much for new year's eve. On New Year's day I was still sick, and the next day, Exoseyo and I broke up, so I just put my head down and worked as much as I could handle for the rest of that week.

Being optimistic isn't always the same as being cheerful, and being hopeful doesn't always mean having a spring in your step. That's one thing grief has taught me. Right now, sometimes I walk as if I'm wearing a lead raincoat, and sometimes the best I can manage is friendly small-talk with my roommate before I disappear into my room to read or listen to music or head out and walk aimlessly through the winter air. However, (unlike the last time I was down and out like this, in 2001), I have absolute faith that, in time, things will start climbing, and in time, I will feel whole again. In time, I will be joyful and engaged again. (Engaged meaning participating fully in life, not engaged meaning rings on fingers.)

As for now, it's OK not to be swimming in a bucket of peach fuzzies. It's OK to feel however I feel, as long as I know that, here on earth, just as no joyous moment lasts forever, neither does any bad time. And until the wheel takes another turn, I can find fantastic, beautiful, funny things that can make me smile and enjoy my life, and think about those things, and I can talk to God if I need to, and God can handle any emotion I have (having invented them and all.) And if I feel joy 20% of the time these days instead of my usual 60%, well, that will eventually correct itself, as long as I don't hold onto my grief, but let it pass through me, effect me, and then end once it is spent.

I've looked up some of my old friends in Korea, from my first and second years here, and I've spent some good time with Matt, and been less distracted from my supervisor work. Those are all good things. Exgirlfriendoseyo didn't pass the test, so that must be disappointing for her (she found out on the 10th, a week after we broke up). I hope she has some good friends nearby right now. I've also made a new friend or two, and am really enjoying the making of new friends. All these things add happiness to my life.

Here are some of my best friends these days:

Deb. In the last year, I'm so glad, Deb, to see us grow closer. Thanks for your phone calls. Every time we've talked on the phone has been absolutely, perfectly, just what I needed at the time. YAY FAMILY!!!

Matt. As always, the staunch wingman. Gives good advice, listens well, and has a great knack for knowing when to engage a state of mind head-on, and when to help me get my mind off it. His good buddy Kris is in Korea now too, and he has proven his measure, and made me glad to have him around.

Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road -- this song sounds like somebody jumping into a big, '70s American gas-guzzler and chasing their dreams down the center line of a winding highway. Better still, it makes ME want to jump in a car (or on a subway, or into a pair of good walking shoes), and grab a map, or a shovel, or a ladder, and start looking for something beautiful and joyful.

Beethoven's 9th symphony, fourth movement. The third movement is full of storm and tempest, and the fifth is unbridled joy. But the fourth movement bridges them, it's still of the tempest, but there, in the distance, approaching like one of those fantastic prairie thunderstorms, comes joy as thrilling and powerful as a flash-flood. When I listen to it, I hear my life -- things are still stormy over here, but every once in a while, like a crack of sunlight through cloud, like a flash of heat-lightning on the horizon, or a rumble of thunder, joy is waiting, somewhere just past the horizon, just beyond my fingertips, at the edge of my peripheral vision, something I can smell but which moves back out of sight whenever I turn my head to look at it. Like a shy animal, I have to sit in stillness and patience, and wait for it to approach me again. I know I will feel well again. More than well. If you can get your hands on the fourth movement (or just all of the 9th), it's best to listen to it really, really loud. Then the fifth movement is awesome -- the musical equivalent of a child running down a really really long hill.

Another best friend: the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Especially his Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus -- Rilke understands how grief and sadness deepen a character and expand one's heart, enabling it to grasp for greater things than before. If you don't dig poetry, that's fine. Just skip to the place where it says "SO ENOUGH POETRY ALREADY" in all-caps (I made it all caps so it'll be easy for you to find it.)

"How we squander our hours of pain
How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end. Though they are really
our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen,
one season in our inner year -- not only a season
in time--, but are place and settelment, foundation
and soil and home." -- Elegy 10

***Sonnet to Orpheus - Part II, sonnet 13
"Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winger
that only by wintering through it will your heart survive.

Be forever dead in Eurydice -- more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.

Be -- and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.

To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world's full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourSELF, and cancel the count.

***(Dove that ventured outside) - thanks mel.

Dove that ventured outside, flying far from the dovecote
housed and protected again, one with the day, the night,
knows what serenity is, for she has felt her wings
pass through all distance and fear in the course of her wanderings.

The doves that remained at home, never exposed to loss,
innocent and secure, cannot know tenderness;
only the won-back heart can ever be satisfied: free,
through all it has given up, to rejoice in its mastery.

Being arches itself over the vast abyss.
Ah the ball that we dared, that we hurled into infinite space,
doesn't it fill our hands differently with its return:
heavier by the weight of where it has been.

Also John Keats:
(from Ode On Melancholy)
Ah, in the very temple of delight,
veiled melancholy has her sov'ran shrine,
though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
can burst joy's grape against his palate fine.
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might
and be among her cloudy trophies hung.

and if you skip the others, I still recommend you read this one:

"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And form the selfsame well from which your laughter
arises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the
more joy you can contain...
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and
you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that
which has been your delight...
Verily you are suspended like scales between your
sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at stand-still and
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold
and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow
rise or fall."

-The Prophet, Kahlil

Somebody told me that sorrow digs the mine-shafts in your heart, and the deeper and wider those holes are, the more joy can run through them later, when the
wheel turns.


Here it is, folks. This was one of the biggest laughs I've ever had from a student, and it came from one of the youngest students I've taught, but there you go. One of my classes really loves my storytelling. I have a tradition of telling stories on Wednesdays (show and tell days) -- I come into class looking dejected and say "sorry kids. I don't have anything for show and tell today." Then I tell a show and tell story about what I found for show and tell that week, and what ridiculous series of events led to me being unable to bring that show and tell to class that day. Once I invited a polar bear from the zoo to come visit, but he wrote down the date wrong, and once I offended a magical cloud, so he zapped my show and tell with his lightning, and so forth.

Well, on Friday, we had a birthday party for all the students in preschool with January birthdays. Three students in my homeroom class (Tiger Class) had birthdays, so I had three crayon boxes wrapped as gifts, for those three boys. When I walked into Lion class, my student Sarah (a wildly hilarious little girl), asked me if she could have a present. I said, "No. I can't. They're for Tiger Class."

"Please teacher?"

"No. They're not for you."

"Can I open one and see?"

"No. It's not your present."

"Why you don't have a present for me?"

Then Sally said, "Show and tell story."

"Oh," I said, "do you want a show and tell story about why I don't have presents for you?"

"Yes," all the students agreed. So, off the top of my head, I began.

"Well, I was going to get presents for all the kids in Lion class, so I went to a special toystore, and they showed me a new toy that's a small robot, and it talks and sings and it has a TV and 100 video games, and a phone and a helicopter! So I bought six of them -- one for me, and one for each person in Lion class.

"Then, I was so excited that I found a great present for my Lion Class students, that I put on my helicopter hat (a regular appearance in my Show and Tell stories), and flew into the sky. While I was there, I saw Quentin the Clumsy Dragon (another recurring character). He said, 'Why are you happy, Rob?'

"I said, 'I'm happy because I found some great presents for Lion Class!'

"He said, 'Wow! That's GREAT! When I'm happy, I like to chase birds! Do you want to chase birds with me?'

"'Of course I do,' I said.

"So Quentin the Dragon and I flew high into the sky, and we flew down really fast, and we scared some birds, and we flew higher, and we did it again (this is done with hand motions and funny faces), and we flew HIGHER, and we did it AGAIN! And then, Quentin flew SO high, he hit the moon!

"But when Quentin hit the moon, he hit a Moon Monster. The Moon Monster was sleeping, and Moon Monsters get REALLY angry when somebody wakes them up! So the moon monster grabbed Quentin in one hand and said, 'YOU WOKE ME UP! I'M REALLY ANGRY!!!', and he grabbed me in his other hand, and shouted, 'YOUR FRIEND WOKE ME UP! THAT MAKES ME REALLY ANGRY!!!'

"So Quentin said, 'I'm so so so sorry," and I said, 'I'm so so so so sorry!'

"But the moon monster was so angry he didn't say 'that's OK.' He said, "I'm STILL angry,' and he started to shake us in his hands. (This, too, was done with actions and funny faces).

"Finally, Quentin was very dizzy, and he said, 'rorororororob - pupupupupuplease give him thethethethethe prepreprepresent!'

"'Give him the present? But these are for Lion Class!' I said. Then the monster shook us both again, very very hard, so I said, 'Here, Monster. I'll give you a present so you aren't angry anymore.' I gave him one of the special robot toys. He opened the present, and he LOVED it. I thought, 'It's OK, because I still have five presents for the five people in Lion Class. Now I don't have one for myself, but that's OK.' The Moon Monster started playing with his new toy, and he was so happy that he jumped up and down, and when he jumped up and down, he woke up TWO MORE Moon Monsters.

"Very quickly, I gave two more presents to those two Moon Monsters, and they were happy too, so Quentin and I flew back down to Earth, and I went home. Now, I don't have enough presents for all the kids in Lion Class, so I'll give them to the birthday boys in Tiger Class instead. I'm very sorry, Lion Class, but I don't have enough Robot Toys to give them to you.

Well, Sarah wasn't satisfied with that. She said, "It's OK, Teacher, I'll share with Sally. Scott doesn't want one."

"Sorry, I have to give them to Willy and Zach and Steven now. I can't only give them to some people in Lion Class."

"Just me teacher. It's OK." (Please realize that she's saying all this in a playful, bantering voice that's charming and fun -- she's not whining or needling at all, so I'm engaging rather than cutting her off with my teacher-authority.) Before I could answer her, the door knocked, and I was called out of the classroom to deal with something. When I returned to class, Sarah had her head on the desk, so I tapped her on the back and said, "Wake up, Sarah! It's time to get out your books."

As soon as I tapped her on the back, she stood up and shook her fists and growled "WHO WAKE ME UP! I'M ANGRY!" -- demonstrating perfect comprehension of the entire story (very impressive for her English level), and the cleverest attempt yet to get her hands on one of those wrapped gifts. She absolutely slayed me. It's not often a kid will catch me right off guard with a funny angle or comment, but she just about knocked me off my chair with laughter. I asked her if she could shake me as much as the moon monster shook me, and before I sent the students off to get their activity books, I had all five Lion Class students pulling on my arms, trying to shake me enough to convince me that I could only placate them with boxes of crayons.

It was an absolutely brilliant day. I'll hold on to those kinds of laughs and smiles, and after a while, I'll notice them more, and remember them more easily, and in time, the whole world will be as shiny as it used to be for me.

Patience. Hope. Joy.