Saturday, July 30, 2011

Melancholy and Sitting on Strangers

Feeling more than melancholy today.

Yesterday (Friday) was the last day of my week 2 summer camp group - a collection of 16 students that really did their best each day and were respectful and willing to have fun. I was sorry that I was unable to be more energetic on our last day due to the flu, but we managed to get through the day. I was seriously tempted to use a sick day, but this is the problem with running a camp by myself - nobody there to cover in times of illness.

I was happy to see that the team 1 girls loved their prizes so much. They told me that they were "moved" by the vases, and as they were all of an English level where they were able to complete their novel reading, the celedon vases seemed to hold extra meaning for them. It was refreshing to have a table full of female middle school girls who never once took out a comb or mirror in class, and who participated in all of the activities with a smile.

Yesterday was also sad in that I had to say goodbye to my friend, Lex, about whom I could probably write a book now - well maybe not a book, but a very long poem, perhaps an epic one. She is one of the most unique and inspiring people I've encountered in my life, and it makes me sad to know that I won't be seeing her for some time. She is currently on her East Coast Korean vacation with her mom, then she'll be heading back to Australia to continue her graduate studies. Though she doesn't leave the country until the 13th of August, our vacations overlap, which means that yesterday was goodbye for now.

Like the true cheese ball that Lex is, she invited friends to her favourite place in Seoul (The National Museum of Korea) for some afternoon Catan in the cafeteria - why not, right? The rabbit surprised me by meeting me at the subway station and accompanying me to the museum. We looked quite the pair with both of us in masks - me, from my flu, and rabbit, from the surgical removal of the metal plates she's had in her face since her original dental surgery a year and a half ago.

We stopped-by the group for a quick hello and goodbye - we delivered rabbit's giant jar of nuts to Lex to share with her mom on her trip, and then Lex escorted us out of the museum. Lex has left Seoul 3 times now, but I think it will be a while before her next visit. It was really hard to say goodbye this time. Perhaps a visit to Australia will be in the cards for rabbit and I. I'm happy to report that Lex won her very first game of Catan in her favourite place in Korea. She reportedly did a victory lap around the cafeteria.

Anyway, my flu has been overwhelming. I'm thankful that it hasn't caused any vomiting, but I still feel feverish and hit-by-a-truck-ish. I've also been sweating up a storm. I wake-up with my pillow soaked through, and it seems as though I sweat it out from the shoulders - up. It's like I had my hair washed in the sink and the damp towels have soaked through to my upper-arms.

I woke up this morning and dragged myself onto the train to go to my last Saturday class. I felt like garbage - stairs were difficult and I was dizzy enough to miss the handrail when the train lurched to a start and I almost fell. The best part was that after I had finally found a place to sit (the much sought-after end of the bench seat), I had to stand to put on a shirt to avoid the air-conditioner chill and the dude who had been sitting beside me just slid right into my spot.

This isn't an unusual phenomenon - people really want that end of the bench seat, presumably because it's the only time in their daily trek when they don't have to be surrounded at close proximity by strangers on both sides. If an end of the bench seat opens up, there is often a mad scramble to occupy it. If the person next to the end doesn't slide in right away, I've seen people from nearly a full car-length away come rushing toward the empty end seat to score their prize. It's really weird. There could be someone standing directly in front of the end seat when a person leaves it, but the person sitting next to the end seat will slide into place before the standing person can sit down. It's kind of embarrassing to watch sometimes. I usually just go with it except for one time when a girl one door down from me pushed her way through the exiting crowd and ran about 20 feet to sit in the empty seat just to the right of the door I was standing at - patiently waiting for patrons to leave before I boarded. As I had my bike with me, an end seat was what I needed. The girl nearly had to run at a sprint to leap into the seat before I could sit down. I stood in front of her and stared her down until she slid over one spot.

Anyway, today, as I stood to put on my extra shirt, my feet were still in the same position that they were when I had been sitting. That was enough of a sign apparently for the guy beside me to slide into my seat. Being that I was rather sick, dizzy, and delirious from the flu, I didn't even notice anything wrong until I had sat down in my seat, but this time on the dude's lap. I'm guessing he was surprised, but I was just sad. Because of the lack of energy I was suffering from, I just sat on this dude's lap for what seemed like at least three or four seconds. After a time, he patted me on the back, I stood-up, and he moved back to his seat. I think I could have sat there on his lap for the rest of the journey, and just slept. I didn't have the fight in me at that point. It must have been an entertaining sight.

Anyway, today was my last Saturday class. I regret that I was feeling so low energy for them, but it was fun to watch the very creative video presentations that they had made as an end-of-term project. We then finished our class with a "rolling papers" activity where each teacher and students passes around a paper with his or her name on it for others to sign. It's a chance for people to say goodbye, and for my students, a chance to express themselves personally and openly - something that they were reluctant to do at times in class.

I stayed the extra hour to complete this activity with the students, and then it was time to say goodbye. I held the emotions in-check, but it was easy to blame any shakiness in my voice on the flu. I'll miss this class a lot. It really made me feel like a teacher, and it made me challenge myself to become a better teacher and person. I really connected with these students and I'll miss reading and responding to their essays. They don't know how much teaching them has meant to me, but I tried my best to tell them.

I stumbled out of class, wishing I could have been more coherent for my last hours with them. I'll treasure the "rolling paper" I was given today. Reading it, I learned that Yin-na really liked my duck shirt, and that many of these students have really appreciated this class and are genuinely sad that it's over - that's the ultimate compliment, really. For Korean students to devote four more hours of study to an English class on Saturdays, and then to miss the obligation, well, that's something.

There were lots of nice things written on my paper, but I'll share this one with you:

"When I came here first, I was strange and embarrassed. That's why I acted timid. But your bright class makes me brave. I'm afraid you would forget me because you have many students, but I meet only a few native English teachers. So, I will always remember you and remain you with respect. I was happy in this class because of you and your passion. Keep in touch!"

Means the world to me.


Andy Irwin said...

A lovely post Dave, both sad and sweet. I particularly like the part where you sat on someone, though it did make me feel sad too. We teach for the children and letters like that are why. You're grand.

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Thanks, Andy :)

Douglas said...

That incident with sitting on the old man made me laugh out loud. I mean, i'm as greedy as the next korean when it comes to getting end seats, but when it's clear that you're simply standing to put on a shirt, that's just "un"genteel. Though maybe to his credit, he didn't bother looking up to see what you were doing. I'm sure some people around you were chuckling though at the whole scene. How I long to be back using the subway!