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Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #8: Coming up for air by Georgina Selander
Coming up for air by Georgina Selander
At first I don’t notice the sound because I
have my earphones in. But there’s a lull in the music and I realise that the thud thud yelp that follow aren’t meant
to be backing up Kurt Cobain.
I turn in my swivel chair and, unexpectedly,
there’s a student being beaten.
One of the teachers, armed with a wooden
rod, is hitting the calves of a third-grade boy.
Another teacher is filming the scene and stifling
a giggle. I cast the student a sympathetic glance and
wait until, head bowed, he leaves the teacher’s room.
Then I turn to the teacher wielding the
weapon and say, in my best attempt to be assertive, “I find that upsetting. Do
you realise that this is illegal in my country?” “It’s illegal here too,” the teacher responds with a slight chuckle. Unimpressed by the remark I wait for some
further explanation. “This student ran away from home and so his
father requested that we beat him. It’s to teach him a lesson.”
I turn my grimace back to my desk. I’m not
a parent – nor am I in any position to question the authority of a senior
teacher; I am both younger and, shockingly, a woman.
It wasn’t until my baby cousin was born
that I began to develop maternal feelings. I always swore that I’d remain unwed
and childless – revenge against divorced parents who had me questioning whether
love really existed.
But in Korea, more than ever, the maternal
instinct grows stronger. My students are like my babies – and when I see them
choking back tears from the stress of a 12-hour school day, I feel for them.
And when one runs away from home because he’d rather play video games than do
his homework, I tend to side with the student.
Cheonan streets at night
There are times like these when I question
my role – and limits – as a teacher. In need of a break from these kinds of
ruminations, I boarded an early-morning train to Cheonan last Saturday.
(Cheonan is a neighbouring city and, as the second-largest in Chugnam province,
promises the kinds of luxuries – MacDonalds, Emart, manicurists – that lowly
Yesan does not).
I’d decided on the solo adventure a few
days before – and in my excitement I made myself a colour-coded itinerary (I’m
no ditzy Clueless character, but I
find anticipation brings 60% of the enjoyment in most cases).
On arrival at Cheonan station, I heaved my
heavy backpack and took the East exit. I needed to find a nearby place – the
Landmark Tower. After walking up and down the main street several times, I realized,
given my garb and pack, that I looked homeless. So I asked one of the safari
shirt-donning attendants for help.
After some broken Korean and rudimentary
sign language, I located the building and took the elevator up to the 9th
floor. After a moment’s hesitation, I found the room I was looking for: Thai
Healing House. The heady smell of incense and dimmed lights set the scene: this
massage was going to be legit.
And it was. For just 50000Won, I was rubbed,
oiled, twisted and clicked for close on two hours. With a new lease on life, I left in search
of a second-hand English bookshop I’d seen online. Conveniently it was just
across the road and manned by two chatty, but friendly, Canadians who’d just
sat down to lunch. Given my insatiable reading habits, the place was a gem, and
I left with my pack significantly heavier.
Next stop: Shinsegae Department Store. The
place where shopping dreams are made of. After an unsuccessful stint at
H&M, I reasoned that the ultra-small sizes were only going to depress me,
and so did what any reasonable girl would do: eat.
On the fourth floor, I stumbled upon a
wine-serving Italian restaurant. What a treat! That first sip of Chardonnay was
life-changing. And the steak and mushroom pasta that followed even more so.
An enormous Korean flag near the entrace of the Independence Hall
Skip a few hours and it was time for
something cultural. So I took a taxi to the outskirts of town to visit the Independence
Hall – an architectural marvel beautifully showcasing Korean culture from the country’s
early origins, (Korean civilization is 5000 years old) to the torturous decades
spent under Japanese imperialism, to the incredible advancement in the last 50
years (just a few decades ago, Korea was one of the world’s poorest countries.
Today, the country’s economy ranks number 10 in the world).
Alone and comforted by the fact that I’d
didn’t have to make small talk, or worry about a two-day hangover, I roamed the
halls for over three hours. And afterwards, I walked into the sunlight, and
stood watching the tourists.
That evening, returning to my hotel room, I
took a long and leisurely bath and reflected on just how lucky I am to be here.
To be young and free and possessed by a heart yearning for adventure.