Hayley teeeeeeeeeeeachhhhhherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!

Today I had the unsettling experience of being that teacher of whom the students say things like “Be careful, she’s in a bad mood today”.

You’re not supposed to have moods when you’re a teacher – something that has been rather a struggle for me, being someone who’s fairly, erm, expressive about life’s highs and lows. You’re supposed to maintain a steady, consistent persona of calm and patience, being fair and just every day. Actually, I manage OK, finding that the pleasure I get from teaching helps me to put aside any niggling problems that happen to be swirling around at the back of my mind. This afternoon, however, I failed miserably. I’m pretty sure my elementary students now have several unflattering but mostly deserved nicknames for me. Sigh.

The main problem is that I’ve been passing out, warm and drowsy, before dark for the past few nights – and then waking at 3 or 4am, unable to get back to sleep.

In addition, things are extremely awkward with the colleague I mentioned the other week, whose presence really has changed the atmosphere at work. Annoyed at being patronised and talked down to, I now just try to ensure that we’re not in each other’s presence for any longer than necessary, but it’s not exactly fun. The vibe amongst the staff just isn’t the same as it used to be.

And to cap it all off, this morning I made one of my 5-year-olds cry hysterically (I want to say she brought it on herself, but, well… she’s 5), which left me feeling like a terrible monster.

It was with this combination of sluggishness, irritability, annoyance, and guilt that I went into an afternoon of elementary classes, on a day when they all seemed to have taken leave of their senses and were apparently determined to cause as much noise and chaos as possible. I have 10 precious free minutes in between each class, which I usually spend chatting to the students as they arrive – or at least answering them distractedly from behind my computer and coffee cup. Today, however, I just wanted them to shut up and give my head peace, and became quite irrationally maddened by the fact that they were incapable of seeing this. In the end, I went out onto the small balcony at the end of the corridor and sat, out of sight, taking calming breaths, perspiring, and looking out over the city as I tried to block out the shrieks and shouts from inside.

Of course, they discovered I was there after about two minutes, and, unable to work out how to open the insect screen across the open door, simply hurled themselves against it in an attempt to see me, screaming my name like a crowd of tiny banshees. Hayley teeeeeeeeeeeachhhhhherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!! Muttering darkly under my breath, I went back in with a face like thunder, gave them a piece of my mind for breaking the screen and therefore ensuring that I have a constant supply of mosquito bites from now till Christmas, and proceeded to give the worst afternoon’s teaching of my short career thus far. They remembered nothing I’ve taught them over the past few weeks, they refused to actually think before answering questions, they squabbled and bickered and sulked, and I grew madder and madder until eventually even the most boisterous characters had the sense to shut up and pray for the class to end soon. And oh, did I hate myself! I heard the sharp retorts coming out of my mouth, and I heard myself actually refuse to answer questions with “I am NOT explaining this again, I have told you about 20 times what this word means, we have STUDIED it!!!”, and yet I couldn’t stop.

And yet the children have a weird sort of unconditional love for their teachers. Little 5-year-old Sally will rush up to me tomorrow morning and hug my knees as she always does, her anguish from today forgotten. My elementary students will hurtle in on Friday afternoon full of stories about what they’ve been up to, giving me random gifts like a rice cake or a handmade bracelet. I will regain my patience and explain with a cheerful smile what a word means as if I’ve never even mentioned it to them before, much less given detailed explanations on multiple occasions. They will dazzle me once again with their brilliance.

But all the same, I’d really love it if I could erase days like this altogether. A bad-tempered, irritable teacher is not a nice thing to be.

Funshine.

I picked up my fuzzy soju head this morning and headed off to Daejeon’s Expo Park with the kindergarten kiddies.

We’ve been there before – several times, in fact – but it’s so big and has so many different kinds of attractions that you can spend several days there without doing the same activity twice. There’s a theme park, a winter sports area, an open air water park, multiple playgrounds, museums, 3D movie theatres, picnic areas, and vast numbers of educational centres on various subjects (you know, the “let’s make learning about boring stuff fun by letting you walk through oversized models of the human ear” kind of thing).

We were supposed to be having the annual swimming pool day, but as it has been grey, cloudy, and raining cats and dogs (or “raining ropes” as I learned to say in French at the weekend) for an entire week, the pool idea was abandoned. So obviously today the temperatures soared again, and the sun was splitting the skies, and we were traipsing around with a hundred sweaty children all day. They enjoyed themselves all the same, but enjoyment turned to pure delight when we let them loose in a big playground at the end and they discovered a set of those fountain things that suddenly shoot up out of the ground and then disappear just as rapidly. With shrieking and squealing and screaming, the children ran – fully clothed – straight into their midst, getting soaked within seconds.

There’s something about seeing children in these moments of sheer happiness that is just plain good for the soul. They were so excited and delighted every time the fountains shot up around them that they laughed hysterically, often jumping up and down and clapping their hands just to let a bit more of their joy show. You can’t help but be happy in the presence of such undiluted pleasure. And of course, one of the best things about being a kindergarten teacher is that you’ve got an excuse to abandon your inhibitions and act like a child yourself. One by one, groups of excited children mobbed their teachers and dragged us, shrieking, into the fountains. Admittedly, I didn’t need much dragging – cool fountains on a scorching day, yes please! By the end, the teachers were mock-wrestling each other in the jets of water with just as much abandon as the infants, until at last we squelched, dripping and refreshed, back out to get the bus home.

Much as I suffer in the heat (and am of course as sunburnt as usual), I have to admit that summer in Korea can be a lot of fun. Smiling faces, sunshine, laughter, and ice cream… no matter how hard you’re working in between these moments, it does leave you with a feeling of being on a permanent holiday in the sun!

What was life like without soju?

Tonight I went to a restaurant called “Dino Meat” with my colleagues to celebrate a few staff birthdays.

Despite my fears about the kind of meat served here, it turned out to be the most incredible BBQ restaurant you can imagine. You each pay 15,000 won (about 8 or 9 pounds), and for that you have access to as much meat as you wish to eat for the rest of the night. It is fabulous. They have a sort of buffet chiller cabinet thing filled with plates of raw meat, from bacon and ribs to steak and burgers to all sorts of obscure cuts of pork and beef. There is no end to it. And you just go up as many times as you like and heap your plate high with the meat, and toss it on to the grill on your table. I could live there.

It never ceases to amaze me how much my slender Korean colleagues can eat in one sitting. They are still munching on the food long after I have sat back clutching my stomach and claiming that I will never be able to eat again – and I’m about three times their size. I genuinely do not understand it. How? How do they do it? Where does it go?

Also, the fact that it’s Monday never really seems to be taken into consideration here. When you go out as a staff group, you drink soju or live with eternal condemnation. Shot after shot was poured into my glass, with toasts being uttered in all the languages that we know (we’re up to 9 now), my boss becoming more and more affectionate and cuddly with each one. All the while, she reminded me that it was Monday and I have to go to work tomorrow even if I’m hungover. “Stop pouring me soju, then!” I exclaimed eventually, swaying slightly and feeling grateful that we were sitting on the floor already. She poured me another shot. “Drink. Tomorrow is Tuesday.” she replied. You have to respect your elders in this country, even if they’re completely devoid of common sense and logic.

And then, to my utter bemusement, when I asked if we were going to a noraebang (singing room), she said that we were, but that first we had to go back to school and make a few hundred paper fans for the children to use on tomorrow’s field trip. And we seriously did. A 20-strong group of alcohol-infused kindergarten teachers, back at school at 10pm, cutting out and laminating and gluing on lollipop sticks while singing 60s hits and giggling hysterically. I had the scissors confiscated from me after approximately 5 minutes, so was relegated to playing DJ and searching for upbeat k-pop tunes on Youtube, but I like to think I played my part.

This is my first drunk blog post. I hope I spelled everything right. Stoopid soju. Luvvit.

My TV debut

Last night I went to a cultural event organised by the Alliance française – which we ended up missing due to the usual communication breakdowns, but never mind. We decided to go for dinner and wine instead, and I walked back into the venue to look for Terri and bring her out. Let’s go! We’re going to have dinner, I called across the room as I caught sight of her amongst the crowd of people milling around and clearing up. I was promptly shushed by an event official nearby, who gestured towards a TV camera and a man in a suit giving an interview to the news crew. Oops. I was in full view of the camera, and suddenly very aware that there was no way of leaving without walking right past it again. And of course I’d now drawn everyone’s attention to myself by my noisy entrance. I skulked uncertainly against the wall, trying my best to be invisible.

Terri was hungry, and unwilling to wait for the interview to finish. Let’s just sneak past quietly, she said, and began creeping past the camera bent almost double, with exaggerated tiptoeing, in the sort of way that does nothing to conceal you from view but rather just draws more attention to you. Already embarrassed by my own error, I hissed at her from behind. Just walk, Terri! 

It was at this moment, as Terri skipped nimbly out of the door and out of sight, that my foot caught on a trailing cable and I predictably hurtled over it with a startled shriek.

Mortification.

I managed to stop myself from landing flat on my face by sticking my arms out and clutching a nearby chair, which rocketed across the slippery, rain-soaked floor with a noise that sounded louder than a herd of wild elephants stampeding through a forest of broken china. Utterly mortified, I straightened myself up and made a run for the door, where I bumped into an elderly woman and almost sent her flying before finally managing to get outside and away from the damn camera.

I really hope they did another take of that interview.

As requested…

A translation of the French post. :)

The French lessons are going pretty well, so I decided to do number 52 on my list of 101 things in French. Unfortunately I don’t think it’ll be possible to do number 51 … I’ve basically quit my efforts to learn Korean, because I couldn’t find a good course. The language is too difficult for me to continue to study it alone. And anyway, I’ve already decided to leave for France!

So I started writing a blog post in French … but it made me very frustrated! I think faster than I can type (and talk!) In French. But I had an idea after we did an exercise called “a Chinese portrait.” You say “if I were a flower, I would be…”, for example, or “if I were an animal, I would be….” It’s the kind of thing I like doing, and when I went home, I wrote a poem with the lines I’d done in class. I don’t know if the French have another word for “nerd”. ;)

Fortunately, the teacher of the class is very nice, and she read my poem to correct my mistakes before I put it on my blog. She said, smiling, that it was “very cute” – I think that means that I’m not going to be a famous poet in France, but not bad for a beginner! A bit like children who write with great care their little letters to me: “Teacher, I love you, thank you for teach me!” Ah, role reversal …! Cuter when I was 6, not 29, maybe.

And now: my poem. The title should be “If I were French, I could write a better poem.”

Avec des si… (Can’t think of the right English translation, but it means “With ‘if’s”, and relates to all the possibilities in life when you keep saying “If only…”. And the poem rhymes in French, but not in English.)

If I were a flower, I’d be a wild flower;
I’d wander, and enjoy the scenery.
With no fixed abode, I’d be happy
To take life at a slow pace.
 
If I were an animal, I’d be a cat –
It would be a good life, I think!
I would sleep and eat as much as I wanted.
My days would be filled with things that give me pleasure.
 
If I were a color, I’d be red:
Passionate, emotions overwhelm me like a flood.
I do not love you – I adore you!
I do not ask – I implore you!
 
If I were a shape, I would be a circle.
Around and around and around … I circle.
I don’t know if I’ve seen it before,
So around and around … I continue.
 
If I were a word, I would be “free.”
I wouldn’t need anything but my thoughts and my books.
I’d travel when my heart desired it,
And I would do only the things that I chose.
 
If I were a fruit, I would be an orange,
Because when you know me too well, it bothers me.
So I’d hide under the thick skin
Which would protect me against the world –  that’s my wish.
 
If I were a season I would be winter.
I would not be cold, but I would captivate you
Because I’d be silent, calm, and hidden
Under the snow I’d remain, but detached.

D is for drivel.

I think I’ve hit upon one of the reasons I get restless after being in one place for too long. It’s very simple: I run out of things to write. I mean, I can sit here writing about anything under the sun until long after all my readers have fallen asleep, but as a writer, you just can’t beat the feeling of arriving in a fresh new country and suddenly being overwhelmed by potential blog posts coming at you from all directions. Nowadays, after nearly two years in Korea, I’m perfectly content but suffering from a growing ache to write about something new. Nothing is strange any more! Not the crazy taxi drivers, not the nosey old woman upstairs who accosted Terri and me and inspected our shopping yesterday, not the suddenness of a monsoon downpour, not the women covered from head to toe for fear of catching a freckle, not the vending machines with live lobsters in them, nothing! Nothing is strange. It has become the norm.

So while my brain searches for a way to write about my second summer in South Korea without rehashing all the drivel from last year about humidity and monsoon season and big bugs and sweat and iced coffee and air-con, please accept this random, rambling, unrelated post on things I like beginning with the letter ‘d’. I did a similar post on ‘p’ yonks ago, and decided that another one could temporarily relieve my desire to write. I got a child at school to pick a letter for me. :) Here are my ‘d’ choices, in no particular order:

1. Depth

With every passing year, I become less and less interested in the shallow, superficial aspects of life, and more and more eager for deep, meaningful relationships accompanied by challenging conversations. Small talk becomes ever more dreary and unappealing to me. I mean, sure, sometimes it’s nice to switch the brain off and just have a bit of a giggle about nothing in particular, but for the most part, I’d rather have interesting conversations or no conversations at all. Having gotten the belated student partying phase out of my system, I now choose to spend most of my free time (which, admittedly, isn’t much!) alone, preferring to meet for a quiet meal or drink with individual good friends now and again than be part of a crowd. Two hours at dinner with a true friend, having a real conversation, is worth infinitely more to me than several weekends in a row making small talk in a large group – something that wears me out and drains away my energy instead of giving me pleasure. Quality over quantity, depth over area.

2. Dreams

Not so much the ones you have while you’re asleep, not even the ones you have for your life and your future, but more the unreasonable, unattainable, often-embarrassing, unrealistic, head-in-the-clouds dreams that you don’t share with anyone. I am a dreamer by nature – always have been. I used to lose myself in these fantasy worlds when I was a teenager, often for weeks at a time, turning them into ridiculous works of fiction which I’d spend hours writing down simply for the pleasure of reading them afterwards and having them feel just a little bit more tangible. I once wrote an entire novel-length dream in which I was a budding young actress travelling to America in search of my big break – which of course I found instantly, and ended up not only starring in a movie alongside David Duchovny, but also becoming friends with him, moving in as his lodger, and finally bringing him and Gillian Anderson together. I had a Californian surfer-dude boyfriend and everything. I wrote about it all – the good times, the bad times, the memorable moments and the humdrum. I actually lost sight of reality for a few weeks, only really coming alive when I was able to go up to my room to reengage with my fantasy life and write, write, write.

Nowadays, I spend more time in reality, but I have not lost the love of dreaming. I don’t write them down any more, because I don’t have the time. Which, although probably a healthy thing, makes me a little bit sad…

3. Dad

My dad is loved by just about everyone, and that makes me proud. He’s the most easy-going person you’ll meet, and although he’s as awkward as me about phone calls and random visits to people’s houses, I can’t imagine anyone who couldn’t sit down and have a laugh with him over a pint or two. He’s quiet (like me!) and happy to sit with his nose in a book (like me!) and doesn’t really go into much detail about his thoughts and feelings and so on (like… oh. Erm, never mind.). He’s very funny. For some reason one silly little moment has always stayed in my head, from when I was very small. We were on one of our family “mystery trips” one bank holiday, and Mum went to get ice cream from the van while we stayed in the car with Dad. She passed the cones in to us, and Dad, unseen by us, broke off the small tip of his cone and scooped up a little bit of ice cream in it. Then he turned around to us, holding up the tiny miniature cone between his finger and thumb, and said with an annoyed expression on his face, “I know I asked for a small cone, but this is ridiculous!”. We thought it was hilarious, and giggled for ages. It still makes me smile, trivial as it was. Love you, Dad!

4. Darkness

I have never been a great fan of daylight. Yes, a sunny day makes me feel happy, but I am the ultimate night person. I come alive when it gets dark. Much of that writing when I was a teenager was continued into the wee small hours, hurriedly leaping up to switch out the light if I heard a noise that sounded like it might be Mum coming to catch me still awake so late on a school night. I love walking at night, when it’s dark and the world has become a different, more interesting, mysterious place, shadows and stillness mingling with streetlights and the sound of distant voices. You aren’t on show in the darkness – you’re hidden. I like that.

5. Driving

I really miss driving, but I will never do it here. I would have a nervous breakdown, seriously. No, I don’t miss fighting my way through busy town centres, inch by inch, bumper to bumper. What I miss is driving along a long stretch of open road with my music blasting, or taking in the scenic routes along the coast or through the countryside. I would drive when I got angry, and it helped calm me down. I would drive when I felt sad, and it would help lift my spirits. I don’t know when I’ll drive again, since I always seem to end up living in busy cities where a car would be an unnecessary expense.

6. David Hyde Pierce

Ahhh. Niles. He’s old enough to be my father, he’s gay, he’s married, and he’s not actually my type at all, but still I have a thing for this man. Frasier is one of my favourite TV shows of all time, and it’s David Hyde Pierce who never fails to have me laughing hysterically, even when I’ve seen the episode dozens of times before. I want to see him perform on stage, and will definitely be making it a priority next time I’m in the US.

7. Danger

I like risk. There was always something that appealed to me about going right to the top of the climbing frame and feeling momentarily uncertain as to how I was going to get down. Swimming out too far in the sea and having a moment of panic as I felt wave after wave try to pull me out into the depths of the ocean. Balancing on a high branch of a tree and experiencing that dizzying nervous flip of my stomach when I swayed and almost fell. Nowadays, it’s less about physical risk and more about doing things that scare me in other ways: moving to foreign lands, taking jobs I’ve never done before, travelling solo through dodgy cities, riding semi-wild horses, joining strangers for weekends away, having dinner alone with a group of people who don’t speak any English… maybe not physically “dangerous” any more, but definitely pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. The danger is that I’m going to embarrass myself, or fail miserably, or be lonely, or get lost, but it’s danger all the same. And yes, I would leap out of a plane for fun, given the chance. ;)

8. Drinks

I don’t necessarily mean alcohol, here, but beverages in general. I am almost always thirsty – and yes, I’ve been tested (a couple of times) for diabetes, but apparently there’s nothing wrong with me. I just like to drink. It took a while for the staff at school to get used to the sight of me carrying around a 2-litre bottle of water and refilling it at intervals throughout the day, but they accept it now. The little cups at the water coolers are just too pointlessly small for me. I used to hate drinking water, but now I get through several litres a day. In addition, there’s nothing like my quiet time in the morning with my fresh hot coffee… my iced coffee as an occasional (OK, regular) treat… the delicious Korean blue grape juice that I drink at home… soju at dinner with friends… a gin and tonic on a hot summer’s day… cocktails (mojitos and tequila sunrises, dahling)…

9. Dawdling

Why rush when you can dawdle and see all sorts of interesting things along the way? Well, unless you’re actually in a hurry to get somewhere, but I rarely walk anywhere in this weather because of the fact that I’d look like a drowned and boiled rat by the time I arrived. Instead, I find a taxi as quickly as possible, arrive vaguely cool and non-frizzy, and then walk home at a leisurely pace, taking in my surroundings. Dawdling along the streets of a foreign country is great entertainment!

10. Daisy

Not a flower, in fact, but possibly my favourite student ever out of all the hundreds I have taught. Daisy is a joy to know. I actually wrote that on her last report. She was a quiet little mouse when I first saw her – it was my first day of teaching, and she was about 8 or 9 years old. She was timid, easily brought to tears, unenthusiastic about learning English, but very cute and polite. Now she’s 10 or 11 (I have difficulty with their actual ages because of the whole fake age thing), and I feel like I’ve had the wonderful experience of watching this sweet little girl grow up, gain confidence, and become a beautiful person. Her English has improved dramatically, and she is now able to chat to me when she arrives at the school each afternoon. She is always smiling, and always positive about whatever’s going on in her life. She has developed a real love for learning and studying, and blushes with delight when I give her a sincere “Well done!” for her hard work. I often think that her English name suits her very well, because when I hear “Daisy”, I think of sunshine and childhood and happiness. No longer a tiny little girl, she’s at the gangly, stretched-out pre-teen stage – and it’s a privilege to watch her blossom like her namesake.

En français.

Les cours de français vont assez bien, donc j’ai décidé de faire en français le numéro 52 sur ma liste de 101 choses. Malheureusement je ne pense pas qu’il sera possible de faire le numéro 51… j’ai en effet quitté mes efforts pour apprendre coréen, parce que je ne pouvais pas trouver un bon cours. La langue est trop difficile pour moi de continuer à l’étudier seule. Et en tout cas, j’ai déjà décidé de partir pour aller en France!

Alors, j’ai commencé à écrire un blog en français… mais ça m’a fait très frustrée! Je pense plus vite que je peux taper (et parler!) en français. Mais j’ai eu une idée après nous avons fait une exercise qui s’appelle «un portait chinois». On dit «si j’étais une fleur, je serais…», par exemple, ou «si j’étais un animal, je serais…». C’est le genre de chose que j’aime faire, et quand je suis rentrée chez moi, j’ai écrit un poème avec les lignes que j’ai fait en classe. Je ne sais pas si les français ont un autre mot pour “nerd”. :)

Heureusement, la professeur du cours est très sympa, et elle a lu mon poème* pour corriger les erreurs avant que je l’ai mis sur mon blog. Elle a dit en souriant que c’était «très mignon»; je pense que c’est-à-dire que je ne vais pas être une poète célèbre en France, mais pas mal pour une débutante! Un peu comme les enfants qui écrivent avec grand soin les petites lettres pour moi: «Teacher, I love you, thank for you teach me!» Ah, l’inversion des rôles…! Plus mignon si j’avais 6 ans, pas 29, peut-être.

Et maintenant, voilà: mon poème. Le titre devrait être «Si j’étais française, je pourrais écrire un meilleur poème».

Avec des si…

Si j’étais une fleur, je serais une fleur sauvage;
J’errerais, et profiterais du paysage.
Sans domicile fixe, je serais contente
De prendre la vie à un rythme lent.
 
Si j’étais un animal, je serais un chat –
Ça serait une vie agréable, je crois!
Je dormirais et mangerais autant que je le désirais.
Mes jours seraient remplis de choses qui me plairaient.
 
Si j’étais une couleur, je serais rouge:
Passioné; les émotions me submergeraient comme un déluge.
Je ne t’aime pas – je t’adore!
Je ne demande pas – je t’implore!
 
Si j’étais une forme géométrique, je serais un cercle.
Autour et autour et autour… je recercle:
Je ne sais pas si je l’ai déjà vu,
Donc autour et autour… je continue.
 
Si j’étais un mot, je serais «libre».
Je n’aurais pas besoin que de mes pensées et mes livres.
Je voyagerais quand ma cœur le désirait,
Et je ferais seulement les choses que je choisirais.
 
Si j’était un fruit, je serais une orange,
Parce que quand vous me connaissez trop, ça me dérange.
Donc je me câcherais sous la peau épaisse
Qui me protégerait contre le monde – c’est mon souhait.
 
Si j’étais une saison, je serais l’hiver.
Je ne serais pas froid, mais je te captiverais
Parce que je serais silencieuse, calme, et câchée
Sous la neige- je resterais, mais détachée.
 

(*In case it isn’t obvious, I didn’t get her to check the non-poem part of this post. For the handful of French-speaking readers I have, my deepest apologies. It’s been a very long time. But hey, I tried!)