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

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Starving for attention; no man is a buffet.

Kimchi can stave off bird-flu (or so says popular opinion) and pretty much any other ailment the unforgiving world pelts you with. But the pandemic threatening Korea's youth is not viral or bacterial— it's one long, aching cry for attention.

Korea is so densely populated, and such a meritocracy that so many young people are left disenfranchised by failing to squeeze through such a narrow examination bracket, at least according to this article at the Korea Herald, examining the many "hells" of Korean life. The battle for recognition, academically, is something that requires diligence and pleasure delay in order to see payoff. In the mean time the struggle is for attention. MY attention. This is a theory, put out by Shane's girlfriend, as to why Korean kids are so damn whiny. Everyday is a fight to be seen (especially among so many faces) and put in a school situation without the threat of being whacked for talking out of turn, add in a funny looking foreigner, and everyone it seems, is whining just to be heard.

Teacher! Look at what I have! Look at what I can do! For christsakes just LOOK AT ME!

If patience is golden, the opposite is blackboard slate with squealing nails.

It's impossible to indulge every question, especially when a few realize they can ward off a few minutes of study time by asking if I like: Korea, Canada, action movies, pop songs, kimchi, Japan (don't say yes!), Maple Story etc. etc. Who's my girlfriend? What's my Social Security Number? Who is faster: Gollum, a frog, or Frankenstein?

Paul is a prime example of the "I will do or say anything to get my teacher's attention more than the rest of the class" ilk. His father is the director of the school and he has an impressive command of English at such a young age, so he's under a lot of pressure, and looking for quick recognition from an adult figure without having to pass a test or something.

"Teacher! I touch my buttock!" he announced today with one hand on the "Earth."

"Teacher! If you love me I will give you many dungs!"

The more audacious the remark and the harder it is to ignore. This is a formula he understands well.

Today with "wish" as a vocabulary word, Paul mimed out a solemn prayer with his palms together, muttering "Jejus, oh yes, Jejus" and then in one deft blow, out shot the praying hands like the Lance of Longinus.

"Paul?" I asked dumbfoundedly "Are you dung-chipping Jesus?"

He was indeed.

It was something no one else would have conceivable done or even thought, and as such (even if it's something I'm unimpressed with) it's something which instantly makes him stand out in the class. I think at his age, it doesn't register if the attention is earned or exasperating, as long as it delivers.

It's something I'm working to ignore, but it's pretty hard when a kid is pantomiming jamming his fingers into the Son of God's arse— so to speak.

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