By Conrad K.
The class is basically a relaxed chat. I present a topic and focus their attention on some new vocabulary and we try to talk about it. Usually it goes well. After fifty minutes, I have a ten minute break and then the next class. After that one, I got one more. I am done at 10 a.m. and have a break until 4 p.m. I have been at the school for about three months and already I feel tired. This schedule is a real downer. True, I am only working five hours a day and have all this time in between in the afternoon but it is a dead time, that’s what I call it. There is not much I can do in that time. If I had the choice, I would much rather do a block of classes, say five in a row and then be done for the rest of the day. The way things are, I go back to the dorm, eat something, maybe take a nap and before I know it, I have to be back at four p.m. to teach the annoying kids. But I digress again.
You get kind of lonely sometimes and jerking off doesn’t really alleviate the feeling. One evening I decided to call an old girlfriend of sorts, Mi-jeong. I was never that attracted to her but I used to like to sleep with her on occasion. Sometimes you just need to be in a woman, and if there is nothing available, an average one will do. She is tall, maybe 5′ 10″(177.8 cm), with strong muscular legs and an ass that was pretty good in its time. It has been three years since our last encounter. After some hesitation, she decided to come see me in my shit hole of a town. She took a bus from Daejeon, only 30 minutes, no big deal. We were a bit hungry and decided to go for some fried boneless chicken, tasty but not health promoting. I picked her up from the bus stop and walked with her, navigating among the concrete blocks of the apartment complex. I find it funny that no matter how small the town, one can always find high rise apartment buildings. One would think that in a small town there would be more space to build single family houses but it does not seem to work this way. Either Koreans love living in high rises or our Western logic or common sense does not apply here. Probably a bit of both. In a town like Gongju, these apartment buildings and not office blocks dominate the skyline.
We go back to my room on the 13 floor. We talk a little, I make her a cup of coffee, she tells me about her trip to South America. I am impressed. It is a rare thing that a Korean girl goes on a trip to a distant land, knowing nobody there and all on her own. She is more of a traveler than I am, I give her that. I tease her about the Latino men.
So Mijeong, how were the South American men? Did you like them?
She avoids the question.
Oh, you know, I did not have much time for that.
No time? But you were traveling? Isn’t it the point of traveling to enjoy your free time, to get away from a busy schedule?
Yes, but I was working.
Oh yeah? Some part-time job?
Yes. When I was in Colombia, I worked at a clothing store of a Korean owner.
I had no idea that there were Koreans in Colombia. How ignorant of me.
The best reply I could come up with was “Oh wow,” but I digress.
She keeps talking. I listen attentively. She stands up and looks out the window. I come up from behind and grab her hips and pull them to me. I whisper in her ear.
So, did you miss me?
She pulls away, turns around and looks at me.
Yes…but you know, we are just friends.
“We are just friends—that means she doesn’t want to…” flashes through my thoughts. Oh well. I go to the stove and make myself a coffee. I pull out a cigarette and light it.
I never liked her that much anyway. I just liked banging her when nobody else was around. I remind myself and resign myself to the reality of the situation. It is a forgone conclusion—I am gonna go to bed alone but I do not want her to stay here until the morning but… It is late and no buses are running anymore. Shit, she’ll have to stay.
But Mijeong! I missed you…It has been such a long time
I try to evoke pity as I grab her again. She doesn’t budge and obstinately reiterates that we are just friends. Okay, I give up.
I am tired. Let’s sleep.
I turn off the light and slide to my side of the bed. I sleep until the morning not caring if I farted or not during my sleep. She is just a body, laying there in the darkness, sharing the same air molecules. That is all. I am terrible and I will probably go to Hell if there is a Hell, but maybe I am living in it already? But I digress .
In the morning we both woke up with me eager to get rid of her as soon as possible. I could not stand the sight of her. I decided I was not going to be a complete animal and proceeded to cook a little breakfast. I had some leftover bacon and some eggs so I threw it all in one frying pan. I turned on the coffee pot. Mi-jeong went to the bathroom and by the time she came out, breakfast was already done. We ate quickly without saying a word. Finally, I put my shoes on, she put on hers, and I walked her out. I needed to take the elevator down to the first floor with her and swipe my card in order to open it.
Goodbye Mi-jeong, I said and closed the door behind her. What a fiasco, what a damn waste of time that was. I could have just as easily spent the morning whacking off, not to mention having awoken from a good night’s sleep.
In hindsight, working at Gongju University was a mistake but I took the job because at the time, there was nothing else going on the university hiring scene. The bastard director, Dr. Son that fired me from my previous job in Cheongju in the middle of the contract did not care one iota that the hiring season was over and the only available jobs were the reject ones that only the desperate teachers would take. At the time I felt somewhat desperate. And so I took it, regretfully. Maybe I should not complain but I feel like I have been demoted. My previous job was so much better. First of all I did not have to teach as much and I was paid more money. I also did not have to teach kids. This job would probably not feel so bad to someone that had just arrived in Korea but for me, after almost a decade of better jobs, this felt like I was going backwards, like I made absolutely no progress in all this time and was back at square one. I guess I got spoiled and I forgot that good times do not last forever. But I digress.
My schedule at Gongju was horrendous. Five hours a day split in the most awful possible way—a split shift. My day started at 7 or 8 a.m. and after two or three hours the morning session ended, then a long break and starting back in the afternoon at four. The day was finally over at 7 or 8 p.m. That long break in between was a real killer. It seems like an awful lot of time to do things five or six hours, but in reality, one cannot really do very much. The time just disappeared so quickly that before I knew it, it was time to go back to class. I did manage to occupy my time productively. The job was so dismal that I always felt that if on a given day I did little except for teaching, it was a wasted day. In order to avoid feeling this way, I would utilize my break by reading books, practicing my guitar and sleeping. For a while I was even going to the gym but I decided to switch that to the evenings instead where there would be more Poon-tang on display. Occasionally, I even managed to cook some lunch, nothing fancy but nevertheless. So what did I so dislike about my job? Well, the ugly schedule for one, the students for two, especially the kids whom I largely detested. The living arrangements—the room itself was alright but the fact that it was in a building full of students whom I had to trip over every morning while going to work—that sucked. The low salary was yet another downer. My hate and annoyance at the situation was growing steadily every day and becoming increasingly difficult to keep under control. When, for example waiting for the elevator on the fourteenth floor and not having it arrive promptly, I would lose it on occasion and give the doors a violent kick followed by an obscenity. There were days when I really needed some conscious anger management.
My attitude in regard to living in the same building with the students oscillated from indifferent to passive aggressive. The aggression level increased especially in the morning when I was in a hurry to get to class after getting into the elevator on my floor and having it pick up other passengers on various floors on its way down. That used to piss me off to no end! Can’t they see I am in a fucking hurry to get to the damn class? And to add insult to injury, the students that got into the elevator looked mostly like death warmed over from the night before. I had to endure the proximity of their unwashed faces, unkempt hair and horrible fashions, not to mention their shuffling feet clad in bathroom slippers. I used to shake my head at such a display of slovenliness. I even had students that would come to class with unwashed faces, and clothes that should not see the light of day. Okay, I was no fop but I always had a shower in the morning and tried to look as fresh as possible. The presence of these slobs that just got out of bed irritated me chronically.
Another thing that really irked me was the fact that I had to teach kids, every fucking day. I was never good with them and I found them too tiresome to begin with. They bled all my energy like some vampires. The constant noise and my constant reminders to keep it down, the attention seeking, the running around the class, the whining and complaining really took it out of me. I dreaded teaching the little bastards. A lot of them seemed so mean spirited that I failed to establish a routine with them from the very beginning and that is what kept biting me in the ass almost to the point of getting fired. At the same time, I decided I wasn’t going to expand excessive energy to teach the little brigands. My aim was to do minimal talking and maximum writing. Eventually this system worked. It was simple—first off the bat as I entered the classroom with a stony expression on my face, I would pull out a puzzle word search and hand it to each kid. While they began working on it, I would write some random story on the board, off the top of my head, about some random nonsense. The kids were to copy the story off the board after they finished their puzzle. This process would take about 20-25 minutes during which I did not have strain my voice. After their work was done which they would let me know by screaming “Teacher! Finished!”, I would walk around he class and sign each of their papers. This was to give the work an air of legitimacy so that their parents could look and see what their child has been doing at school. When I finished signing all their work, I would wait a couple of minutes to let the stragglers catch up and then direct the entire class to the book. We would all start some exercise in the textbook and if that was not enough, we would do the workbook. During this time, I would eagerly sneak peeks at the clock in order to end the class exactly on the dot. Hell, for such paltry amount of money I wasn’t going to give them any extra out of the goodness of my heart. The classes were fifty minutes in duration but a few minutes before the clock struck 50, I would tell the kids to pack up and line up. I would remind them to be quiet, telling them that they did good work, praise them and then let them out one by one. And that was it, no more, no less.
In the afternoons I usually had a three or a four hour block with ten minute breaks in between each class. During the break I would venture to the teacher’s room, sink into a couch and glance at a newspaper or read a few pages from a book that I had brought with me. During the breaks the other teachers would also come in and breathe a sigh of relief before doing it all over again ten minutes later. I could not help feeling that this work was such mundane and joyless drudgery which I truly detested. It really made me question whether I should continue being a teacher. In my ten years as one, it has been, without a doubt, the single worst teaching experience. Aside from the drudgery aspect, I started getting complaints. When I played games with the kids, the mothers would complain to the manager and then he would come to me and give me grief. The trouble with the complaints was that I could never get a straight answer. I would ask the manager, what were the complaints exactly about but he would just give me some vague answer. It was so frustrating and no matter what I did, the complaints kept coming. I was either too strict or too lenient, playing too many games or doing too much bookwork. I could not strike the right balance. Eventually they threatened to fire me if the classes did not improve. I managed to change a few things around and even contacted the labor board. This helped to get them off my back. The kids started behaving a little better but they were still noisy and annoying. With every passing day, I was living for the weekend and looking with anticipation towards the end of the semester. But I digress.
Then there are the adults and holy Christ, what a bunch of dead beats most of them are. The students start off enthusiastically but after a few weeks, the attendance drops off, sometimes by more than half. There were times, especially a few weeks before the end of the semester, where nobody would show up for class. At first it was a bit disconcerting but after a day or to of no show, I would actually enjoy it. There were no good porn sites that would come up on my classroom computer so instead I started bringing a book with me. If no student came to class, I would just sit there and read my book and jot down ideas . On days like those, I managed to get a lot of reading done and get paid for it. What a life! After the morning reading session I would go back to the dorm and resume my normal afternoon activities. Then it was back again starting at four with the kids. I always wished that the kids would take a day off and not show up but that never happened. They even came to class with colds, so eager were the mothers for their kids to learn English.
Some of the adult students were alright. In the advanced classes some were friendly and talkative but unfortunately for most of the time I was stuck with the lower levels and consequently, with the real dogs who struggled to string a sentence together. Another thing that surprised me and disappointed me no end was the almost total absence of good looking women taking my classes. What a downer, not even a good looker to hang my sight on! One would come really handy especially in the low level classes where at times, I was close to dozing off due to the dead silence emitted by the students. I tried hard to liven things up and rouse them from their slumber but sometimes it was like beating my head against the wall. No matter what I did, Hell, even if I danced like a trained monkey, there was no way of stirring them out of their coma. I don’t think even some good porn could do that, but I digress.
Whoever did the level testing, did a piss-poor job in assigning the students to the right class and choosing the textbooks. The textbooks were so horrendous that I refused to use them. I did not give a fuck anymore—I used to tell the students flat out in the first class:
“Do not buy this piece of garbage excuse for a book. I will make handouts for you.”
The books were simply unusable for what the class was supposed to be for: conversation. Our mission was to improve the students’ conversational skills but the book was of no help. It was a mishmash of grammar exercises, listening activities and artificial dialogues, far too brief to build anything upon. In short, the materials were a cosmic joke because nobody listened to our suggestions. Prior to each semester we had a meeting where each teacher could raise some concerns. At one such meeting all of us could suggest a book that could be used in our classes. All of us came up with a few titles but when it came to the final decision, it was made with a complete disregard of our suggestions. What the hell did they ask our opinions and suggestions for if they weren’t going to take any heed? Each semester, without fail, they chose a shitty book and so in turn each time, I ignored it. It was like working in the wilderness, no guidelines, no textbooks to be bound by, no syllabus—total freedom. Theoretically every teacher was supposed to use the textbook assigned to his class level but in practice everyone could do whatever the hell they pleased. The unwritten law is that as long as the students are happy, all is fine. But I digress.
Apartment collage photo from DoAn Forest.
Conrad was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1976, the year of the Dragon.
He spent his early childhood climbing trees, playing cowboys and Indians and running amok with other misfit kids around the concrete jungles of his town. In 1987 he was abruptly uprooted from his surroundings by his parents and taken to Italy where he lived for almost two years in a refugee camp in Ostia, just outside of Rome. There he attended the remaining years of elementary school where he learned to speak Italian. After the stint in Italy, his fate took him to Australian shores where he continued his education and mischief. After graduating university and driven by ennui and lack of ideas as to what to do with his life, he came to South Korea where he remains to this day plotting his departure.