A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

When Origami Kills What Nationalism Can't

I'm quite impressed by some of my students ability to render Star Craft creatures out of folding paper— I don't hasten to apply the term "origami" because I'm sure the Koreans have their own word for paper-folding and would take great offense at my insinuating they do anything like the Japanese.

It's interesting to be an outsider with an inside view of Asian politics. With a long history of being alternatively conquered by the Japanese and Chinese, it no surprise that there is a proud underdog mentality in the Korean consciousness. Being around children all day, it's an interesting perspective on the way they perceive their neighbours. The kids viciously hate Japan, and frequently make disturbing jokes about its destruction.

This morning while looking at a vocabulary page about air travel, we happened upon the phrase "stow carry-on bag." I explained the synonym of stow, and made a drawing of a stick man placing a duffel bag safely into an overhead compartment. I asked the four kids if they'd ever flown in a plane before. Being mostly from well-off families, they told me of their trips to Australia and Europe, and *gasp* yes, JAPAN.

One student piped up:

"Teacher! In the future, I go to Japan and in stow-carry-on-bag I have a boom [sic] and then PWHOOOOOSH!" ending the statement with an explosive leap to his feet, and howls of laughter from the others.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

On a much lighter note, another student in another class drew the Korean and Japanese flags on the white-board with an obligatory "vs." between them.

"Teacher!" she cried, "Japan is very ugly but Korea... ahhh... hot! Handsome! Very handsome."

In the words of Futurama's Dr. Zoidberg, the children were swelling with patriotic mucus.

There's a bittersweet pride beaten into the Korean culture— likely from being beaten down— that is really very insular. I don't want, or intend, to generalize based on 3 months of living in a country. This is just an observation from the unique perspective of dealing with developing minds. At 8 I don't remember having much of an opinion of any geopolitical body outside the Lunenburg county lines, let alone a burgeoning national grudge.

If these kids grow up to be political leaders, and they merge their paper-folding skills of simulacrum with the already existing robot machine-gun technology, an army of actualized Star Craft units might do to Tokyo what Godzilla never managed to finish...

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