Terrible, Terrible Children: Teaching in South Korea
I have been teaching English in South Korea for the last five years. The following is a recollection of my first year on the peninsula.
Didn’t Bill Cosby once have a show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things?” If I recall, he’d interview kids about world issues or broad-reaching subjects, and we’d all chuckle ourselves silly until we wet ourselves. Their answers were invariably candid, precocious, and utterly lacking in tact or self-editing.
Cosby was right. Kids do say the darndest things. They also say the cruelest and most twisted-est things. And they draw them.
The picture at top is a portrait of me – “Chris,” or “grosoper” (sic). This is one of a series done by Marie, that gifted and malignant student, and also the inventor a game called called “Let’s Kill Chris Teacher.” These depictions mostly feature me as a bloated, hairy pig-man. I’m always wearing some sort of lingerie, usually heart-embroidered panties as displayed above. The artist neglected to include the bra in the portrait above, opting to instead accentuate what she perceived as my copious chest hair.
This is the student in question – the creative force behind the masterpiece. Note the look of absolute sadism in her eyes, as well as how she cleverly re-enacts the “Lindy” pose from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
Some of the kids began calling me “grasshopper.” This is just a variation of “Christopher,” my real, full first name. They are syllabically similar, so I guess the leap wasn’t so hard to make.
Officially, I was known as “Chris Teacher.” Some of the more respectful students even addressed me as “Mr. Chris.” This led to another nickname:
Miss ‘teol’ Christin
“Miss ‘teol'” is a play on the word “Mister.” The clever little demon who invented this one succeeded in both calling me a girl (“Miss”) and ridiculing my arm hair (teol, which is Korean for “body hair.”) Korean children are obsessed with my arm hair, which is light to moderate at best. They constantly stare at it, pull at it, stroke it, and uncontrollably laugh at it.
“Christin,” of course, is a play on “Chris,” and turns me into a girl TWICE. This was an endless well of glee for the little hellspawn.
The children in one class began calling me “Cow.” This was only after I forbade the use of the word “pig.” “Pig” is a very mean word to use in English, though the children fling it around like a fifty cent Frisbee, both in English and Korean (the Korean word is dwaeji). They even used it to describe a teacher named Brian, who was 6’3″ and nothing but bone and sinew. One time a nefarious little snipe told him that he was “100% fat.” I pity the truly fat in this country. The abuse must be an endless torrent.
Super Dung Man
The same group of children mentioned above used to call me “Super Dung Man,” but only on Fridays. This originated from a white board drawing one of them did of me in which I was composed entirely of feces, complete with ravenous flies circling my poo-ey form. Korean children are entirely obsessed by poo — boys and girls alike — and often kill the time by doodling endless piles of it, always in a neatly-coiled form.
I invented this one on my own. Babo basically means “dummy” or “fool” in Korean. The kids used it all the time. I think babo is a hilarious word. It just sounds like what it is: dumb.
Most of the kids already knew me as “Gorilla Teacher,” because, from time to time I would act like a gorilla. “Super Gorilla” grew out of this. I used to sometimes play a card game with the kids called “Crazy Eights.” This game consists of a deck of cards split into categories. One of the categories is “animals,” and one of the cards is “gorilla,” featuring a huge silverback ape. One student began referring to the card as “Super Gorilla.”
The idea of a “Super Gorilla” intrigued me, a gorilla even more savage and stupid than a regular gorilla. This eventually led to me channeling the “Super Gorilla,” which was just a more extreme version of my regular gorilla. From time to time I would burst into a class room shrieking and grunting, pounding my chest and attacking the furniture. It was cathartic, and the kids would totally freak out. It was like giving all of them a giant whap of pure sugar in the jugular.
You know how you can rev up a puppy — how you can just bombard it with frenetic energy until it starts running aimlessly, back and forth through the room, biting at the air and growling at the carpet? Well, you can do the same thing with children. They’re basically just like puppies, only a lot meaner.
KILLING MY DRAGONFLY
About nine months into my first year, I helped some of the kids put up a “spring mural” in their classroom. We made construction paper flowers and grass. One of the kids made a sun and clouds. Another made a bee.
I made a dragonfly.
The next time I came into class, I discovered the following:
The kids had attacked my dragonfly with pins, impaling its head and totally destroying one of its eyes. They said that it was “very bad” and that they were “happy it is die.”
THE BABY GAME
The reason I know children are truly terrible beings is from my experience playing the “Baby Game” with them. It started off in one kindergarten class, where a particularly spunky and malicious little girl would point to any given object and shout, “Teacher – baby!” I’d then take whatever it was she pointed to — be it a book, an eraser, a pencil case, or even the clock on the wall — and stuff it under my shirt, as if pregnant. I’d then make a popping sound with my mouth, and the baby would then be born.
And what would happen next? The WHOLE CLASS would ATTACK THE BABY. They would all try to KILL THE BABY.
This game became so popular that I came up with two variations:
In the first, I’d stuff some tissue paper in my shirt and then pop it out. The class would then grab my “baby” out of my hands. They then would all look at me, giggle like evil leprechauns, and proceed to RIP MY BABY APART. I’d scream “Oh, my baby! My baby!” This only served to accelerate the pace and intensity of the laughter, as well as the ripping apart of my progeny.
The second variation was the most simple and most popular among the kindergartners. I’d stuff a ball under my shirt and say, “Look at my baby.” The youngest and cutest girl in the class would then step forward and pound on my stomach with her fists, screaming in ecstasy like some sort of half-formed harpy. This would continue until the baby was aborted or miscarried, and the fetus/ball would then invariably be thrown and kicked around the room.
I loved that first year of teaching in Korea. The students were beings of pure chaos, the very opposite of the obedient Asian student that I had expected to encounter before I came over. It was an open field for imagination, even if I was the butt of most the jokes. Anything could happen, as long as the kids weren’t harmed and their moms didn’t complain. In fact, all of these sick games just made me more popular among the kids and the parents. I had a hard time really believing it, because if it had been America, I would have been fired after two hours.