Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Are you crajy?"

Well, I'm mystified.

I have a student who is one of my very favorite kids. She works harder than anybody in school, asks a lot of questions (which I encourage), and really wants to do well. I had her in Creative Writing, where I continually praised her work and she earned an "A". I have her in cross country. I have her in English 11, where she responds to more of my questions than anybody else in any class. I've told her I really want her to be in my Advanced Placement class next year.

Yesterday I saw her making gestures in class, hinting at a quiz answer to another student. I went really easy on her, even though it isn't the first time she's done this kind of thing in somebody's class. I gave her a detention and a zero (out of a grand total of seven points). This dragged her semester average all the way down... to 101 percent. I specifically told her, "I'm disappointed, because I think very highly of you."

This morning, I woke to email from our executive secretary that said that the girl's mother had called saying that her daughter was upset because I don't like her and never listen to her in class.

I shouldn't take it too seriously, but I just can't get why one of my favorite students (not that I have any favorites, mind you) thinks I dislike her.

Meanwhile, last Friday was Teacher's Day in Korea. A student I haven't had since last year, and whom I never paid any special attention to, brought me a wallet as a present (the only gift, I think, she brought any teacher) and gave me a lovely card that said I was the nicest teacher she's ever had.

(An apparently total digression that isn't, really: the Korean language has no "z" sound, so the Samsung Lions are the La-ee-own-juh, my ex-colleague Zach was Jack, and kids go see animals in the Jew.)

...when the little kids in my hagwon classes in Daegu asked silly questions, I'd crack them up by crossing my eyes, sticking out my tongue, rotating my finger by my temple, and saying, "Are you crajy?!"

Concerning the current situation, I can come up with three possible explanations:

1) Koreans are crajy.
2) Teenagers are crajy.
3) I'm crajy.

Of course, all three may be true, and though I know I shouldn't put this picture out on the wild, wild Internet, I do have a clue to offer...
...it might be me.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A tale of two countries

A couple of things happened this weekend that reminded me what a backward, forward country I live in.

Yesterday after the hash I talked with Half an Angry Pirate. Pirate graduated from Cortland State, which is just 25 miles from Ithaca. Small world and all that.

We talked about animal rights and vegetarianism; Pirate sometimes puts on a bandanna and runs through the hideous dog farms nearby, taking photos. He's young and fast and knows the farmers can't catch him. He uses the photos in protests against eating dogs.

The treatment of dogs here, the big breed raised specifically for meat, is beyond barbaric, in their life and in their death.

There's a bosintang (dog meat soup) restaurant down the street from the school. In general, cooked dog is called boyangsik, "vitalizing food"; it's supposed to give you lots of energy on hot summer days and, like so much that decimates animals in this part of the world, to give guys stamina in bed. Always men's top priority, apparently.

I gather that the younger generation of Koreans is turning away from boyangsik, either because they feel it's wrong or out of embarrassment at what most of the world thinks. The dog restaurants aren't legal de jure or  illegal de facto, sort of like prostitution.

Do I think what they do to dogs is more horrifying than what they (and we) do to chickens and pigs and cattle and turkeys and everything else that tastes good? I do and I don't. I have a gut feeling that our species made a bargain with the dogs many thousands of years ago: protect us and love us and we'll protect you and love you. But I doubt the other "food" animals are impressed with our bargain, and a pig can suffer fully as much as a dog.

Pirate is far braver and more dedicated than I. I don't want to see the poor dogs jammed into cages like potato chips in a bag and I don't want, as a foreigner, to lecture Koreans on their morality. I'm a wuss, I guess; just trying to live the way I feel is right and explaining the whys to people who ask are about all I can manage.

Insert jarring segue here.

Today I went to E-Mart. The first floor of the building next door is a big showroom full of 3-D TVs and computer tablets and such. there are two signs outside, Samsung Di-gi-tal Pla-ja and LG Best Shyop. In front of the Samsung sign, there was a speaker system blaring K-pop while two young women, dressed in hot pink tops and black hot pants, gyrated to the beat. Fifty feet away, in front of the LG sign, there was another speaker system blaring different K-pop as a young woman all in scarlet danced, along with a ten-foot-tall guy (on stilts, duh) dressed as a Buckingham Palace guard.

The scarlet woman (pardon the expression) and the stilt guy seemed to be having fun. She was smiling and her dance wasn't completely robotic; he was blowing up balloon animals and waving to drivers. The pink girls expressed all the involvement of people watching their clothes in the washer going around and around while the laundromat's fluorescents flicker. Their dance isn't all that different from that of the cheerleaders at all the baseball games (who look as if they're having fun), but on the street they seem so joyless and mechanical. It's depressing.

Be that as it may, my point (and, as Ellen said, I do have one) is how strange it is to occasionally see the juxtaposition of one of the world's most aggressively modern, technological, capitalistic societies and the cruel medieval world that peeks through its cracks.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jesus, the Buddha, and me

I love this picture.
I've written before about how appealing Buddhism, as a philosophy, is to me, even as I'm turned off by the ritual and the iconography. The principles of nonjudgment, of compassion, of letting go... they really speak to me; they form a way of looking at the world that makes sense to me. I find it fairly easy to take what I find helpful and leave the rest.

Just lately it's occurred to me that I haven't done that with Christianity. The Universe is, to human minds, essentially infinite in both space and time; I don't believe that we (and only we, not Earth's other creatures) are offered eternal life-- or eternal punishment if we don't believe the right things or behave the right way. I've tried; I went to Baptist religious ed classes in elementary school, attended the Methodist church on Easter, sang in the Catholic folk group, got dragged into a Christian cult (briefly) by my first wife, taught for eight years in Catholic school... it doesn't make sense to me in any kind of literal way.

But I think I've neglected how the culture I come from really is suffused in the moral teachings of Jesus; does a fish notice water? I've been turned off by the hypocrisy of Christians, but the Buddha taught compassion for all living beings and virtually every Buddhist in Korea is a voracious consumer of animals.

There's so much to be gleaned from the Christian worldview, just as there is from the Buddhist. Maybe Buddhism is just more appealing to me because of my nonjudgmental, detached nature or my resentment of authority; Christianity seems to me to be an aggressive, militant pursuit. I'm not saying the Buddha's teachings are right; I'm saying they're right, or more right, for me.

If Facebook had a "relationship with God" status, mine would read "It's complicated". I guess I'm an agnostic/transcendentalist/panentheist/freelance believer-in-something. I know a couple of things have happened in my life that I can't explain in any rational way, things that made me feel as if the wheels of the Universe were aligning and Spirit was opening me, filling me with wonder and peace.

I guess I mostly believe, as Einstein said, "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion."

...and so back to the picture. I think I like it so because Li'l Jesus (must be a fake beard) and Li'l Buddha are gazing together, in an open, candid, childlike way, at something wonder-full. That's how I want to be.

Life goes od

The last ten days or so have been a slow, somewhat off time for me. After the half marathon two weeks ago, I ran with the cross-country kids on Wednesday, feeling fine, but on Wednesday night I had that ominous tickle in my throat: another cold coming on. I only ever get colds, but they whomp me upside the head pretty good.

My hashing friend Choopa contends that an extreme running effort leads to lowered immunity, and God knows my effort at the half looked extreme...
...though this was just in the last minute of my race, when I was busting a (n ample) gut to try to finish in 2:20.

But really the race wasn't that hard, and the last time I was sick, which was enough to cost me two work days, was under three months ago, three months after my marathon. So I don't think that's it.

The next day, Thursday, our school took a field trip, to a farm a couple of hours outside Seoul. I was feeling pretty cruddy. (As you can see, my hair went mysteriously white overnight.)

We had a good time, though, picking strawberries,
learning how to make tteok (rice cakes), which involved whacking huge mounds of rice with big honking mallets ("Okay, when I nod my head, you hit it with a hammer"),  and tofu...
video
...and riding rail bikes, four-person pedal-carts on a railroad track.
video

We got rear-ended at one point; somebody's car got derailed, my spine separated slightly, and I said a word I really shouldn't say at a school function.

I got home exhaustipated and each day thereafter I went through more Kleenex, slept less at night and more in the daytime, and blew my nose more frequently but less melodiously than Chuck Mangione on the flugelhorn. (The song I kept playing was "Feels So Bad".) According to my scale, I lost six pounds in a week, and I think it all came out my nose. (Sorry for the lovely mental image!)

I sleepwalked through the height of the cherry-blossom season...
(It's nicer when you can smell them.)

...and tried to focus on my planning and my classes, but I've been just so fuzzy and so snotty. (And not in the usual ways.)

I haven't run in ten days; I attended the Yongsan Kimchi hash each of the last two Saturdays, but could only walk each course, rather slowly last week and with a bit more alacrity yesterday. Every day I wake up thinking I'll be all better and every day I'm not quite right. (Actually, the last six words are always true for me.)

In the realm of longer-term importance, it's only six weeks till Lauren's gone for good and most of our teachers scatter for the summer. The school is going to find me a new, larger apartment. And the noisome recycling center across the street from the school is being demolished to make way for an apartment building.

It's got to be good for the school that we're accredited and the kids will no longer be telling the cab drivers to drop them off at the garbage dump.

So, even working at half-speed with a bad cold...
...life goes od. Bra. La la how da life goes od.

(By the way, it's a sharp picture; it's me that's blurry.)