1997, Seoul, Korea Changdong! I am teaching at a Jehovah’s Witness “Hagwon” (private academy). It is my first job in Korea and while I am amazed at the lack of teaching materials – I am equally amazed at the perfect behavior of the children! The Korean children’s capacity to memorize is beyond belief. I could say memorize the first two books of the Bible and the next day every child would come in “In the beginning….” no really, I am serious! While it would mean nothing to them – it would be lodged in their super computer brains!
I am teaching vocabulary and this special little boy (English name Michael) is brilliant! He is like a product of Hitler Youth Korean style! Both parents are doctors – both parents went to Seoul University – one is a gynecologist and the other an ER Doctor (Seoul University is the Harvard of Korea – they went to Medical School stateside). He is seven years old and in my advanced English conversation class for high school students! The kid is a pain in my butt in a good way! He answers everything and the rest of the class sits back! I would ask a question – “what are some English words for happy” – and follow the question “not Michael!” Anyone Anyone Ferris Ferris…
Writing on the board one afternoon and bam airsoft pellet hits me right in the neck! Ahhhh, that hurt! I spin around and everyone is sitting placidly in their seats – I turn to continue writing and whack in the top of the head airsoft pellet! I am really hot spinning around I see Michael jamming the gun into his bookbag! Now I have a bad temper and shooting me in the head with an airsoft gun hurts so I grab Michael and pull him out of his chair spank him good and set him back down crying in his chair! That will teach him! Bottom line airsoft is a misnomer – there is nothing soft about being shot!
All of a sudden – I am an American teacher and thinking “oh no, I am in prison for child abuse!”
I shake it off and go home and forget about it!
The next day as I enter the school Michael and two Korean people are waiting for me at the entrance! I am thinking “oh great – I am dead eating Kimchi and rice in a Korean Prison for the rest of my life”! Michael’s parents bow low – (the lower the bow the more the respect) they both look up and take my hand while still bowed! (Now I am thinking this is some kind of Korean Karate move) and they both say in perfect English how sorry they are! They want to publicly apologize for the way their son acted. I was blown away! I accepted their profuse apology and offered to return the confiscated airsoft gun. The father smiled and said Michael would have no need for toys for quite some time!
I think I will let all of you reading figure out the moral of the story!
You probably have never had the privilege of teaching on the Navajo Reservation! Fresh out of South Korea, where a teacher could ask his kindergarten class to memorize the first five books of the Bible and 99% of the class would have it rote by morning. (there are two lessons in that – work ethic and religion – teachers were highly respected and highly paid) I digress, I walk into my first day at Pinon High School ! My classroom is sweet. All the latest technology, great white boards, new, clean, perfect! I always start my class greeting kids at the door and funneling them to arbitrarily assigned seats.
The bell rings – round one. “Goodmorning, do you have any questions?” Students are thinking what the heck is this guy talking about? Shane Yazzie, back of the class, raises his hand (I am thinking cool) and he says – ” so, are you just another loser teacher who could not get a job anywhere else?”
So why “For Keelen” because Keelen gave me a journal from her summer that detailed her life as a Navajo young lady. She trusted me to read her private journal and helped me understand a third world country trapped in our “great country. Thank you Keelen – I am forever in your debt!
Emergency room bustle and an American and everyone is tense! The nurse approaches and she is drop dead gorgeous Korean style! She speaks Konglish (Korean bastardized English or vice-versa) which is a plus. I am holding my smashed left arm and hand up on my chest with my right hand tenderly. She approaches with a nice big syringe and I am thinking wow…drift away to lala land with morphine! She indicates that I must drop my pants and turn around. I can not drop my pants and hold my broken arm and hand. She drops to her knees and fumbles with my jeans realizing they are 501 Button Fly Levi’s, she looks up distressed!
I lean way back placing the weight of my broken hand/arm on my chest and reach down to rip open my jeans. That is when I remember my underwear! Mom sent me a “cool” pair of boxers for X-mas with little Ralph Lauren Polo bears waving American flags and marching! Yep, she pulls the Levi’s off and bursts out laughing!
She runs into the hallway and gets the other nurses to come look at the American’s funny boxers! They laugh and laugh and finally she bends me over and administers the shot! I feel nothing – nothing as in no numbing bliss! I look at the nurse and ask ? She smiles and tells me “Bitamin B berry berry good for heeealing” ( Vitamin B very very good for healing). They do not give pain meds until after all bones are set in Korea. YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!
The nurse inspects my torn groin (without the help of the other nurses thankfully). She proceeds to take me to the doctor’s office where he will set my bones. Snap snap snap – push snap – ” oh you berry berry strong American man, you no cry!” No, I did not cry. I was in a place far far away called give me morphine now land! He finally gave me a shot of “painkiller” and I started tripping! I have no idea what “korean medicine” he gave me but instead of “no pain” it gave me Bob Marley singing “No Woman No Cry”. Pain meds in Korea do not work on me they just gave me psychedelic dreams! Within a week, I was back teaching. I could not teach through the pain but my best buddy Petey brought me Stoli Vodka and I taught drunk for the next ten weeks! I have never been more fun or popular! No one missed my class and everyone got an “A+” !
Interestingly enough, I went back to the doctor for x-rays the following week and he took my cast off smiling and smiling. He had the same hot nurse come into the room and talk (distract) me. She smiled and told me how handsome and strong I was! The doctor kneaded my arm near the wrist and I was pretty drunk and happy! SNAP – he re-broke the wrist where it did not set right and re-set it! The nurse smiled and said “see, you berry strong – me like American man – do you need to throw-up?” Yep, all in one sentence!
When the cast came off 10 drunken happy weeks later, I could no longer use my left arm and hand. The doctor smiled and said “no problem, now go Chinese”. Acupuncture, massage, and physical therapy combined with “oh God, I don’t want to be a gimp with a limp arm” ie prayer…brought my arm back to 100%. Well, until I was rappelling down at Glen Canyon Dam but that is another story.
I don’t know if you ever had a thought that later comes true? Like you are seeing something happen before it happens! I was the second person through a GREEN light on my motorcycle on my way up to teach ESL class at Woo Song University in Daejeon South Korea. I stress second person and green light because a week before at this same intersection I had a “look into the future moment” – a prescient warning if you will – of a motorcycle being hit! I was being careful!
The screech of brakes as I look to my right only to see a flat front Mac Semi bearing down on my tiny motorcycle and me! I had about two seconds to realize that I needed to grab the grill or go under with my motorcycle. I looked up and saw two people looking in horror at this “Mee-Gook-Saram” as he goes under their semi! MeeGookSaram – loosely translated “Stupid American”! They thought they could run the red light because the cars were far apart.
I grab with my right hand as my motorcycle goes under and my left hand and arm are sucked under the front passengers side tire – crunch! My bike spits out the back of the semi – mangled. My hand comes out at a right angle to my arm as I drag myself out from under the semi. My ability to speak Korean is knocked out of me and yet a small old Korean lady hobbles out of her home to hand me 2 aspirin and says in broken English ” Bayer Aspirin, berry good” I smile and thank her. I still can not speak Korean! The shock of the accident has left me Korean speechless . The internet shop owner I know grabs me and says in Korean ” 119 (911 Korean style) too slow – I drive. Thankfully, I still understand Korean. We rush off in his van to where the real pain begins!
Nine broken bones, one torn groin, multiple lacerations (yes, I was wearing a helmet) and I seriously want some morphine! I still can not speak Korean but get the most beautiful Korean nurse with a huge syringe! Humor and pain combine because remember your mom always told you to wear clean underwear!