Intrepid Girl Reporter

Sunday, 12/16: I’ll be that girl

Can we start with a few lists, please?


  • “Jingle Bells”: domestic violence
  • “Summer Nights”: dying soldier


  • “No speak” 
  • “Father, he is fat”
  • “Snowman. I don’t like face”
  • “I hate cat”
  • “Santa, Santa isn’t fun”

My students mostly earn brownie points for liking “The Snowman,” however – regardless of some of their opinions of it, they all – and I mean all – watched it quietly, which is not something I thought I could achieve with an elephant tranquilizer gun. SDY wrote that it reminded her of the days “when I was young.” The fact that SDY looks like a third grader notwithstanding. She’s an old soul, I guess you could say.

The students who have the most brownie points in my book, however, are my PopSong kids, with whom I am celebrating Christmas right now in the most Korean way possible – at a nasty smoky PC방. Today is the boys’ party. Yesterday was the girls’ party, and with the three girls who showed up, I went to Baskin Robbins and the aforementioned Nix&Nox (for Jeju residents, I cannot recommend this karaoke venue highly enough). One of my students, it turns out, is a fan of both Eric Clapton and Jack Johnson, which means that someday she will be able to successfully rush a fraternity at My College. The boys, however, wanted to party by staring at a computer screen and killing things, so here we are. One of them tried to show me how to play StarCraft and, in perhaps my most badass moment ever, I got nauseous from the screen, so I had to quit. My handle was T3ACH3R.

Sitting at someone else’s computer gives me as much time to think as anywhere else, and I think a lot about transience now that I’m so close to coming home, even for a little bit. Oregon said that at the Christmas party last night she was about to say something about the party we could have next year, before she realized that next year we will be in an Ivy law school (Arkansas) or an Ivy med school (The Singer) or bumming around on people’s couches (yours truly). 

It’s all going to end. Just like the time when I listened to Barenaked Ladies ended around the time I started tenth grade. Someday I’ll hear the song again, just like I did yesterday at Hollys (in the first recorded instance of good music being played at Hollys ever), and remember that part of me, but I won’t be there anymore, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

At least these kids playing StarCraft are so much more adorable than I ever thought nerds could be.

October 15, 2007, 1:24 pm
Filed under: ACT, life on Jeju, life progress, music, pipe dreams, Pop-Song, skool, students, volunteering, yoga

My PopSong boys – the boys who had left because they were embarrassed that they were the only boys, the boys who skipped out for two weeks – came back today! I LOVE THEM. I was so happy. They still can’t hear pitch, but their presence, you know, it just adds so much.

Today I wore a plaid flannel skirt and met Scooter for coffee, which is almost usual now, and then Soccer and I went to see this art thing at the Art and Culture Center, and then I went to yoga and had dinner with ACT and her daughter so that we could talk about the winter camp I’ll be teaching. I am exhausted exhausted exhausted – and tomorrow will be the same; I’m going to school, then to pottery, then to Korean class, and THEN I will go home. That will be around 9. Today ACT asked me if I wanted to do any more volunteering, and I felt bad, but I was like, NO. Now I am going to take a shower and watch “The Office” and dream about my students singing sweetly. Or showing up, whatever.

in which: my students break out the blazers, I can’t do anything right
October 10, 2007, 12:20 am
Filed under: Jeju crew, life on Jeju, miscommunication, music, PCT, Pop-Song, skool

The day is not mine, Trebek.

I hate to be off to such a bad start so early in the morning, but here’s the thing: I lost my classroom keys. Except they weren’t my classroom keys, they were PCT’s classroom keys that she had lent me so that I could in fact get into my classroom, which puts me in PCT’s bad graces, not that I wasn’t already there. I can’t find them anywhere, which means that a) I cannot lock my classroom, b) I look (am) extremely irresponsible, and c) PCT hates me. But I don’t blame her, because I kind of hate myself, too.

I think the PCT problem started when she told me that I had to cut the numbers for PopSong and that she would help me, and then told me the next day that she couldn’t help me because I didn’t understand how busy she was, without giving me any guidance as far as how to make the group smaller without a working knowledge of the Korean words for “If you’re slacking, you can’t stay here.” I was frustrated. It probably showed. But I felt like I was being given an impossible task, and I wanted them to know that it wasn’t going to be done well, because I didn’t know what to do. Now I have tried to make it up to her – even though I don’t feel like I should have to – by going out of my way to talk to her, to ask about her, to bring her pastries from Paris Baguette, but this is not the woman who grabbed me in the airport and told me that we were now sisters. Somehow, somewhere, I botched it. At least ACT still loves me – and that is a relationship I work hard to cultivate.

Speaking of PopSong: vacations have meant that we haven’t been able to meet regularly, and numbers have dropped for serious. I need to make a schoolwide announcement. I also need to get “All You Need is Love” into a key my kids can actually sing. I also need to stop feeling like all of this is futile.

This is, at heart, my fault, and I know it. I’ve been in a funk ever since the weekend, and I know what I’m afraid of: that what has been good can’t stay. We’ve got a rhythm here on the island, we’ve all gotten comfortable with one another, and I guess the return of the other Program kids reminded me how easily it can be disrupted, that maybe our little group is good enough for me but not good enough for everybody. And bending over backwards to keep it all together isn’t intuitive for me. I don’t know if I’m cut out for this friend captain thing, after all.

The fall uniforms are out in full force though. I kind of want one. And by kind of I mean a lot, specifically the jacket.

psycho student, qu’est-ce que ce?

Probably the highlight of my friend C’s visit to my school today was not the fact that she got to watch my classes, not the fact that we ate fried chicken and gossip for lunch, and not eating weird cake in my principal’s office as he sat staring at us, mute. The highlight was probably my students saying things like “Teacher’s friend, are you from Africa?” and “He is handicapped. He is handicapped in head. Many handicap.” C is from the Philippines. Not from Africa. Not from anywhere NEAR Africa, actually. However, in Korea, it appears that all dark-skinned people look alike. (Although this still doesn’t explain why one of my students once asked me if I was Uzbek.) I’m also not sure where to go with the “don’t say handicapped, ‘handicapped’ is not a bad thing” lecture except to say that, you know, they shouldn’t say handicapped, because a) that’s not a term in common usage in America as much anymore and it is my duty as a teacher to inform them of that, and b) their statements are ril insensitive, especially with the implication that being handicapped is, in fact, an unequivocally bad thing. I’m not exactly politically correct myself, so I’m loath to teach a “these words will get you beat in America” lesson, but really. For a country whose cell phones are capable of cooking dinner, one would think that such outmoded ideas would be…well, outmoded. If I can keep them to the more common epithet of “Psycho! He famous Korean psycho boy!” I’ll be happy. Psychos, after all, do have a commonly accepted negative connotation.

I did play alphabet games with some truly adorable elementary school students over by City Hall today, though. Like, actually the cutest students alive. The girls were, anyway – which is a change from my school, where the boys are far more endearing. We played this game where we tossed a ball and each student had to say the next letter of the alphabet when they caught it, and when the ball got to a given letter, that kid had to come dance with me to “Come On Eileen.” (I got tired of Prince.) Then we played another game where they had to make the letters with their bodies. That wasn’t actually a game. It was more for my own personal entertainment. There were a few older girls who helped the tiny ones with their letters, and some boys who mostly pushed each other and occasionally the girls. Jerkfaces. Most of the little girls were really shy, but there was this one who was really funny – she wasn’t quite as quote-unquote cute, she wore these pink glasses and a ratty turquoise polo and her hair was messy and her teeth were kind of funny, but she totally marched up to me and was like, “What’s your name? My name is Jie-Min.” (All names changed, of course.) The nice thing about these kids, also, was that they all liked me. Then I had coffee with my friend D (really, I’m going to have to start making up names, the letters will begin to overlap soon) at two different shops in City Hall, which gave us the opportunity to compare and contrast the ambiances of both, and I mailed some letters. And tomorrow is the weekend, and Pop-Song.

(Note: I was talking to one of my students today, and I told her I would see her tomorrow in choir, and she gasped, “You remember me?” and threw her arms around my neck.)

OH! And I got a box today from America, box 1 of 2, containing, among other things, maple syrup, cumin, vanilla, and a copy of Ender’s Game for my host brother. If you’ve ever read Orson Scott Card, raise your hand. If you can name the song that references EG in the title, bonus points.

one of those people
September 17, 2007, 7:03 am
Filed under: how we roll, music, old stuff, pipe dreams, Pop-Song

My new MacBook will be on its way to Jeju-do very, very soon. I’ve come to peace with it. My father, he has deep-rooted, principled objections to Apple Computers Inc., and I understand them; anyone can make a PC or a PC part or a PC program, but if you want something for an Apple, well, you have to go through Apple. But I’m really, really excited. It’s like a toy. Have you seen iLife ‘08?

Today I taught my kids the word for “flood” (hmm), ate a yogurt popsicle, and had one new boy show up to choir and two girls quit. Cool, whatever, we didn’t want you anyway. I also saw the student body president being a jackass in the special ed classroom – it appears that all student body presidents everywhere are alike – and told ACT that I’m down for yoga and pottery classes. I really want to take up cello again too, but they’re telling me that a used one costs around $400, so I have to think about it. I think I need some extracurriculars, though. I’m ready to do more on my own, to get more involved in this city, to be less reliant on others. And in that spirit, even though I don’t really feel like it, I’m going to go walk around Hwabuk and see what I can see.