Tag Archives: teaching English South Korea

Korea First Days, Bread

March 23, 2000

The student who got his head shaved over the weekend tracks me down after my conversation class.

“Professor, do you have class, Professor?”

“No, I just finished.”

“Oh Professor, thank you, Professor.  Later I will bring you bread.  Last night I baked bread.  By the way, Professor, I am hotel baker at my college.  Hotel baker.”  He beams.

“Right, I remember that.”

“Professor, let’s meet at twelve o’clock.  I will give you bread.”

I say okay, but I don’t know if I will eat the bread.  Yesterday when he showed up in my class with his head shaved,  I went to lunch with him because I had promised–even though I was feeling a little sick.  As we left my building to walk to the junior college cafeteria, he obliged me with an explanation of his shaved head:  “Dandruff, Professor.  Berry, berry bad dandruff.”

I ate cautiously, trying not to look at his head and what might be flying off it, into the air, across the table, into my soup.

The cafeteria, almost empty, was clean, each table decorated with an artificial rosebud drenched in dew.  At a nearby table, a sophisticated woman with a cap of dark hair, the signature dark lipstick, wearing a long, straight suit, sat eating alone.  She gave me a quiet smile.

The student did as other students do, served me the food.  Then he dug in himself.  He slurped his soup, and I was glad that I knew, from reading, that this was a common Korean habit.  So it didn’t gross me out as much as it could have.

We ate curried vegetables and rice, zucchini with sort of rubber chicken chunks, and piles of kimchi.  I said it was “delicious,” because it seems like Asians say that rather than just “good.”

“Oh, Professor, I am glad to hear you say ‘delicious.'”

I finally got away and began walking toward my apartment at the bottom of the hill, where I could take cold medicine and a nap, before it was time to return for evening classes.

He came up next to me in his strange, Chinese Communist-style uniform of black cotton shirt and pants.  “Professor, are you going to your home?  How can you get there?  I crave to help you, Professor.”

“Oh no,” I assured him.  “It’s very close, very easy.”

“Oh, Professor.  Well–”  He paused.  “Well, Professor, I would like to attend your class.  I really appreciate your lecture and dialog.”

I wouldn’t call it that, I thought.

“But Professor, tonight I have to bake bread.  I am hotel baker at my college.”

“Okay, well, I’ll see you tomorrow, maybe.”

“Professor!  Do you like bread?”

“Yes.”  I was thinking of dandruff, like gentle rain.  Barely perceptible.  White.  White as flour.

“I will bring you bread, Professor!  Tomorrow!  I will come to your office at twelve o’clock, Professor.”

*        *        *

He didn’t show up at noon the next day.  A relief.  I waited ten minutes, and then I left.  I had to eat lunch.

When I returned to my office, there was a big black plastic bag stuck in the transom above the door.  The bread.  I took it down.  I would take it home, and then I would decide what to do with it.

He was at my afternoon class, apologizing.  He had gotten there late, after his lunch.  Did I find the package?  I said I had.  I thanked him.

The class was terrible.  So big–forty-five students.  One boy talked constantly in Korean.  Three girls were gesturing wildly, saying things I couldn’t understand.  When one finally said, “Toilet!” I understood.  Then all three left together.  The class laughed.  I was embarrassed.

After that, two night classes–pronunciation, in which I boringly had them parrot vowel sounds, and another class called Language Practice, the purpose of which I have yet to discover.  I played a game with them and tried to learn their names.

Dear God, just let me get through this night, so I can go home and sleep.

Finally, the class ended.

“Davis, do you want to go eat something with us?” one of the students asked me.

“Oh, I–”  They were so nice, and cute.  But I was exhausted and wanted my bed, more than anything.

Interpreting my hesitation as lack of comprehension, he made the motion of eating rice from a bowl.  But of course I understood.  This was an advanced class; he was speaking English.

I thanked him, explained my tiredness and declined.

At home, I put the plastic bag on the table, opened it.  There was a plump loaf of fresh bread, and a note, written in pencil:  “Professor, please take a bite!  I am sorry to be late!  Professor, I baked this bread.”

I set it on the cutting board.  Suddenly realizing I was famished, I sliced off a hunk with the very good knife the university had provided me.  I ate one piece, then sliced off another.

Fresh bread.  It was, in fact, delicious.

 

 

First Days in Korea–6

February 27, 2000

Yesterday Dan, the other American professor, took me downtown.  We can get the bus right in front of our apartment.  It stops about every ten minutes, and costs 540 won, about 50 cents.  Arriving downtown in about ten minutes, it goes to the station, which is a big parking lot with a tiny little old building for buying tickets.  It is peopled with old women with bent backs, sitting on their heels; students in uniforms; children;  just everybody.  One man seems to direct the buses and tell them where to pull in, but you have to be careful; it’s so crowded and active there; a bus might back into you if you’re not watching.

We went to the Korea Exchange Bank, where Dan has an account, and opened one for me.  He showed me how to work the ATM.  Then we went for train tickets, passing the outdoor market.  Dan bought fresh strawberries.

The train station was upstairs, in a dark old building with a 1940s movie atmosphere.  Dan pulled out his schedule card, wrote dates and times on paper.  When the clerk took a while and got confused, he blew up and started ranting loudly.  Men came and watched.  It was embarrassing.  He got results, though.    A younger woman took over from the muddling older one.

This place–downtown, etc.–seems ramshackle, haphazard, the buildings stacked together without a plan.  Roads and cars come out from nowhere.  Every time I’ve been in a vehicle so far, I’ve thought, we will be in an accident.

We got tickets to Taejon for our trip to the immigration office.  Then Dan took me to a shop for the pictures I will need to give there.  It was a fun experience, a tiny photo studio up the back stairs, with a nice young guy about twenty-two or so.  He told me–in English–to have a “little smile,” “soft smile.”   He brushed my hair back.

While we waited for the pictures, we went to a coffee shop down the street, upstairs.  It had a nice, quiet atmosphere, with spacious upholstered booths by the window.  I had a Coke, and Dan ordered coffee.  But they give us each a free cup of barley tea, and crackers at first.  With our drinks they brought a little pack of pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate, free.  They served us, but there’s no tipping in Korea!  Our server didn’t speak any English.  She was sweet, though.

We went to the grocery store.  It was pretty confusing, but I got rice, cups, soy sauce, Oreos, etc.  Dan blew up again, at the checkout counter. It was because the girl mistakenly rang up our orders together.   A perfectly understandable mistake.  I saw a girl laugh, embarrassed.  I was freaked out.  But they stayed calm and checked us out separately, and we got a taxi outside, 3,000 won (about $3), and went home.

He’s been helpful to me, and I’m grateful.  But he’s really a hothead; you never know when he’s going to erupt.