Friday, June 5, 2015

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 teacherIn 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

1 comment:

  1. i hope i think i know... who that baby cousin might be xxxxx