dal niente

Month: January, 2008

The Yellow Brick Road

P1120549  (picture taken by student. “This ain’t Kansas!”)

I have new students this semester and the world is so different with every generation.

I wondered sometimes what it would be like to run into old friends who you just pass in the hallways of the school. I mean, a teacher– what kind of job is that really, one where you forge such close relations with your students?  I told myself that if I ever got a job, I’d take one where I could constantly be moving forward.  I didn’t like the idea of being an “upkeep” kind of person.  That’s why sales aren’t for me– because I’d be doing the same old thing everyday.  Day 1 and day 100 would be the same routine against a background of perhaps a slightly rearranged store, and with a template of client profiles with problems no so unlike someone else on your list of experiences.

I noticed when I first started working in public services that people are different enough that it’s not a question of position, it’s more a question of the whole field where you could have something different every day.  To be honest– I didn’t like the idea of teaching a few years ago because I thought that’s exactly what I would be.  A cog in the big machine– just another gear to pass on the force, just passing it on from wherever small or big it came from.  I didn’t like the idea of teaching because I wondered if it would bore me eventually to just be teaching the same subjects, the same books, the same ideas. I wondered what it was like for teachers to see their former students walking in the halls– all that they had taught or accomplished, just sort of set free.  How often does a teacher keep in touch with students after the course is over?

And in that way it’s like someone dies when they leave your classroom on the last day of school.

Yet yet the end of a month if Intensives, it’s impossible for me to frown.  It really is.  Over the month of January, I’ve spent 15 hours per week witch each of my 50 or so kids.  I know their favorite hobbies. I know how many people they have in their family. I know where they want to go when they’re old enough to have a transit card of their own, and I know who they want to be when they grow up to be ‘old like teacher.’

It is never boring.  It is, without a doubt, a hint of what parentig may be like.  Like what people tell me about parenting, a lot of it has to do with fear– fear for the worst things that can happen to your kids and fear of the world that can do these things to them.  And so your job exists– to educate, and not just to tie their laces but to strap on their armor and shield.  You tell them things like how to repell the harsh words of people whose opinions they care about.  Some of them already come with the armor.  Some of them are naked.  You put a pen in their hand and tell them that they shouldn’t be afraid of swords.

And sometimes I yell at them, sometimes I take an aside and give them a lesson on life or something which I know, I really do understand now because I was the same, that they won’t understand or they won’t agree with me until they’ve collected as many scars as us old folks.  But education isn’t about stocking up on “I told you so,” and I think that this is the mistake that I used to make when I was younger.  Whenever I had something good, I mean, something that could help someone, it was all about me.  It wasn’t about helping others– it was about my ego.  How many of you people do that? I mean, squander your expertise, and use it as social crutches?

Being in my position makes for an interesting discussion on the subject of pride.  I will let students hit me– I’m strong enough to take it– and I will feign terror when someone raises their hand against me.  But when someone picks up another student’s stuffed toy and throws it across the room, I will march there and lay down the law.  You can playfight in my class and I expect that you’ll get hurt every now and then– but the second I small malice or ill intent, genuinely (and I can) then I will pick you up and throw you out my class.  There are not idle threats, and my students know me for it.

I have a whole new group of students as of yesterday.  It’s the new semester, and I’ll have these students for 6 months for 6 hours per week each.  They came in, and I could see that they’d heard about me– The R4 Teacher, so named because of the Nintendo DS Lite R4 chip, partly because I play (and often beat) any student who challenges me and because it’s Room 4, the unlucky number of death and misfortune in Korean.

I remember going to university and looking up websites and discussing with some of my peers what we knew about a professor beforehand from rumors or testimonials.  “This guy’s a real hardass” or “she’s a real easy grader” or “We’re fucked: I wish there were more other classes open.”

And so I walk into the room, wearing my Merrel semi-casual hiking shoes, my Taiwanese jeans and my Korean glasses, sporting my beige blazer over my Shoryuken shirt.  It’s mismatched, but I carry it with a comfort that nobody questions. 

Every class starts out the same: every time it’s the first time you teach a kid, it takes them a while to trust you.  Your job is that, actually: to earn trust.  Trust makes all the difference.

As I walk through halls, a day after the last day of the last semester, I run into kids and they shout at me.  Some of them punch me in the back as they pass, then they run like animals knowing what I’ll do to them if I catch them.  It’s all in good fun.  Some of them want to take a picture with me.  Some of them come and swear at me in Korean, and I swear back at them– in Korean, filling in the blanks with body language.

Will it get old?  Does it ever?

I don’t know if I will teach for a second year, but no– I don’t think it will ever get old.  Every one of those heads on those small shoulders is a completely different puzzle– some, treasure chests, others, booby trapped with ‘issues’ that they won’t even understand about themselves until they are ten or twenty years older.  You get in there, you dig in.

I have never been more thankful for all the things I’ve experienced in my life.  All the good things and bad things that happened to me, and, lets not forget, all the good things and bad things I got good at– they’ve all helped me to see the world a bit.  And, while I can’t just transfer this to them, it is nice to see the patterns to just point them at sites of interest along the yellow brick road.

I think of all the things that  have happened over the years. All the friendships, all the enemies– all the joy and all the hurt.  It goes a long way.  And what do we learn from it?  Some people gather that we’re bags of meat, specialized in absorbing pain, racing for oblivion.  Some don’t know and don’t care to figure it out.  Some live for someone or something.  Some wander and live in search of something to live for. 

What does it all add up to for me?

Who knows. But part of it is a whole lot of empathy, and at least the realization that nothing is ever simple or to be generalized, least of all the simple things.  Stories abound.  Everyone wants to tell one, but everyone’s afraid the audience will laugh.




Random pictures from last day at school



P1120558 My  MarioKart DS disciples


 P1120541 I told one of my kids that I missed Chinese food, so one day, she came back and brought me some gifts.  They’re erasers shaped like Chinese food!


 P1120540 One of my students tries out my husky hat. 


P1120531   The three kids in the foreground used to get into fights daily, now they’re the best of friends.



Children often think they’re invincible.  And when you think of all the people that they draw to them, and those peoples’ natural need to protect them, maybe they’re right.


What would it be like to be a kid again!  Now we can look back at it with different eyes, because we’re older.  And yet, a lot of the things are still the same.  We still have dreams, we still have wants and needs.  We still seek camraderie.  The only difference is that a child hasn’t yet learned to deny himself.  So when someone offends, the fists fly out– there’s none of the sweettalking.  When someone is happy, they’re not afraid to let it be known.


And what is the price of being young?  Perhaps it’s the pressure of playing the whole ‘game’ of being a child– bullies, parents, teachers, education, being popular, not standing out, standing out…


Tomorrow (or today, considering that it’s a bit past midnight) I’m going to be done with Intensives finally.  So that means I’ve been in Korea, for about 4 months.  I could tell you about everything I’m thinking of right now, but I just got back from 태권도.  (Yes, I’m going to try and type in Korean as much as possible, because I”m trying to get used to using a Korean keyboard). 

There was a new student with us today.  He’s higher ranking than my current 사폰님, so it was really great.  He takes the stuff seriously, and that makes a real difference with the way a class is run.  I know pain isn’t a good indicator of gain, but I can barely feel my upper body. I think I may have trouble erasing my board in school later. 

It feels good to be exhausted.  It makes the day feel like it was productive.

Do you bottle up anger, or do you let it out, and how?

I don’t think I’m boasting when I say that I have a pretty high tolerance for things.  Yet, I wouldn’t say that I bottle it up.  There’s scientific explanation for why– something about how allowing yourself to get angry releases a chemical in your blood that increases your metabolism and gets you geared for ass kicking (higher pain tolerance, possibly higher muscular functions), but, at the same time, reduces the ability to think rationally.

The first thing I do when something perhaps could make me angry is that I try to reason it out.  If I can find the slightest reason to justify what’s happing that’s making me angry, I can generally let the negative energy pass right through me.  This means that even the most bitchy of lectures by anyone, I can empathize with their point of view, either by agreeing with them on some level or simply writing it off as some flaw of their personality that is simply manifesting.  Many times, when someone gets pissed at me and is in a situation where I would be expected to get angry, it has nothing to do with me at all– it has to do with the initiator’s insecurities.   When I start treating anger as a symptom of other issues rather than the main problem iteslf, it becomes easier to just ignore all the formalities (the swearing, the physical body language, the volume of voices) and just think about how to work on the core of the person’s problem.

Well, maybe I am full of myself.  My basic premise for seldom getting angry is that “usually, they’re wrong so I have nothing to worry about”.

I mean, sure I get frustrated… But I guess this is to say that I don’t get angry on account of someone getting angry at me, because I’m seldom wrong 😛  I mean, I can be, but no reason to get angry, right?

And if all else fails, there’s always blogging or phsyical activities to let off some steam 😉

I just answered this Featured Question, you can answer it too!

The Balboa Program (Part 2)

Randome notes, not really coherently ordered. There are a few virtues to a good teacher, I think.  They’re all related.  For my own benefit, I’m going to try and list them and see if, a few months down the line, I think differently.

  • Endurance.  Above all else, it means the ability to endure all the crazy shit that kids will do to you and their peers.
  • Focus.  It means that you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish when you step in front of the board.  It could be teaching them about adverbs, or it could simply be to get a quiet kid to talk, or to get an overactive kid to calm down.
  • Indulge their curiosity.  This is my method, and a lot of teachers disagree with me.  It’s the difference between being a nazi teacher who keeps all the trains running perfectly on time, and being a liberalist who thinks that everything should go free market so that they can learn on their own.  Do it the magician’s choice way– let them experiment.  I let my kids do whatever they want, and that includes being out of control at times, but I modify the environment so that they get a reaction quicker.  The thing is, kids will always learn, wheter or not a teacher is there.  A teacher’s job is to accelerate the process.  But the quickest way isn’t to just tell them something– it is to let them experience things firsthand.  Curiosity is an energy– if it isn’t allowed to flow, it explodes in other, less productive ways.  So sometimes, maintaining class discipline shouldn’t always be a priority– the priority should be in letting the kids know that their curiosity is encouraged, and that means sometimes that they need to realize that they won’t be in trouble for trying something they’re not good at.

Random correction snippet from a 12 year old girl’s essay:
”  When the forests are distroy (destroyed
and just science is being good(left
, it’s horrible.
They can’t make forests in just one day. Isn’t it(this
? Why?
Because, when the forests are distroy(destroyed), inside the forest
animals are destroyed together with the forests. How
can they make animals in
for one day, too? It’s will
take more than 1 year. The ecosystem is all break(broken). They are not
a God.”

In Memory Of Heath Ledger

… or something.

Before I resume what I was talking about regarding “The Balboa Project,” let’s take a moment for the late Mr. Ledger.

I didn’t see Brokeback Mountain.  I did see a Knights Tale in which he was the leading man (I had to look it up on the IMDB to find that out, because I didn’t even know) but really… who was he?

There was a Xanga featured question a little while back.  I can’t remember the exact question but it had something to do with why people are so obsessed with celebreties.

At work the other day, a co-worker was just sitting across from me in the teachers’ room and then just started talking to me (I had headphone on).  I thought she was talking to someone behind me (I was watching Heroes on my PMP) and then I realized that she was talking to me.  I started nodding instinctively which is what I do to buy time, and as I pulled off my headphones it turned out she was talking about the death of Heath Ledger.

… and this does sound callous, but I really don’t care who Heath Ledger is.  I barely even knew the name. It’s one of those things like the names of American senators who occasionally get mentioned (I’m a Canadian, so it’s not frequently that I hear those sorts of things).  It was just a name to me.  And to most of these people, he was just a cowboy in Brokeback mountain… yet my workplace obsessed over it for every coffee break for the past week.

Perhaps it’s just me because I’ve been low on nutrition and sleep lately, but I was getting annoyed to the point where I was about ready to jump on a table and say “Can you people STOP talking about Heath fucking Ledger?”

… the other day, several Junior and Basic classes put on plays.  I saw one teacher, Randel, who had an amazing play– all of his kids were amazing, they smiled, they were all part of something great and they were all having great fun.  Their teacher was involved in the play as well, and he was the most excited actor out of them.  He stands out because amid a 14 kid class of 12 year olds, he’s a Canadian of Indian descent.

Why don’t we care more about these kinds of stories instead of actors?  Is it just because looking at the limelight is so easy, because all the news and all the tabloids serve it up on a silver platter for us?  Are we so lazy to wonder what’s behind the people right around us that our only sense of ‘interest’ is in gossiping about people who we can never truly know?

“It’s so tragic,” people say of Ledger.

… yeah yeah, sure.  I mean, not to diminish a loss of life… but actually, yeah, that’s just it!  Everyone lives, everyone dies.  But what really makes the death of a celebrity, who people only think they know because of the roles he played, compared to people all around us who live and die all the time?  Or perhaps, despite spending so much time around all this youth, I’m still jaded from working in a hospital.

The Balboa Program

I’ve heard it argued before that the reason why S&M is beneficial to society is because it lets people exercise fantasies that would otherwise manifest in some other way against non-consentual ‘partners’.  Same goes for video games, martial arts, etc– the idea is that if you don’t have the opportunity to express your inner ‘darkside’ in a consent environment (where everyone around you is there for the same reason) then you will end up lashing out in a non-consent environment.

Which is completely different from the idea that videogames make you violent.  This idea is quite the opposite, saying that the exercising of violent fantasies  is a means of theraphy.

I think there’s a cutoff line of course, and there’s a method to every bit of madness.  Not that I’m into S&M.  But I’ve made two observations over the years, which seem to be pretty consistent:  those who don’t play sports, videogames, or other ‘violent’ activities at all tend to have pent up frustrations that manifest in other ways.  Sometimes it’s lack of self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness– sometimes it’s that seething, unidentifiable anger which people start to call depression, even though really it’s actually a sense of disconnectedness between one’s internal subconcious desires and what they’re forced to do in the real world.

On the other hand, people who delve too deep into ‘violent activities’ tend to become so immersed in the medium that they never learn to function in a peaceful way.  These people are agressive, maybe stick their feet in their mouths, or maybe in general just have a hard time appreciating the quieter moments of life.  Even though violent activities give them an output, it becomes more than an output– it becomes a way of life that self perpetuates and fosters an even greater need for more output.  It’s like an addiction.  (And I think this is the group that ‘anti-violent entertainment’ promoters are really targetting).

I’m no psychologist, but that’s what I gathered from all the people around my age and older that I knew.

Now that I’m working with kids, it’s like going back in time to see how things were before they got complicated– and I see it.  I see how the kids go in two different directions— the frustrated silent ones, or the frustrated aggressive ones.  Both camps have their ups and downs.  And ultimately, the ones who have the easiest time are the ones who figure out the golden rule: moderation.

Therin, I think, lies the entire challenge of education.  To impose upon a class of mismatched personalities a system of learning.  If they’re too aggressive, you need to pacify them.  If they’re too quiet, you need to bring them out.  But what’s a method you could use, without seeming hipocritical to your kids?

(….this post will be continued when I have more time.)

(Magician’s choice and environment simulatiors)

The Battle for Middle Earth

I got a group of coworkers to do something last night.  We went to an all you can eat galbi place. I invited people that I pretty much never had gone out with before, including my counselor.  It was fun– nothing like unlimited, delicious meat to eat and a few Chilseung 사이더’s (literally “Cider”, though it’s actually non-alcoholic and pretty much exactly like 7up) to really just socialize.

I think one of the great things about Koren food is that so many of the meals are based on the idea of socializing.  A lot of it is as much ‘beer food’ as it is nourishment, in the sense that it’s meant to be a social food.  It takes time to eat.  It’s bite sized, or meant to be taken in morsels, not like heavier North American food.

Anyway, after that, we headed over to one of my co-workers’ place and broke out Risk: Lord of the Rings Edition.  It was all going so well for me until my luck ran out and in a climactic battle, my army of 14 was decimated by an army of 13.  I managed to kill one enemy– Dan managed to roll over all fourteen of mine without more than one loss.

Which leads me to believe that Risk has nothing to do with strategy, it has to do with how good you can roll the dice.

On another occasion, in my deffense of Helm’s Deep (in the Lord of the Rings version of Risk, a deffending party stationed at Helm’s Deep adds +1 to the highest dice roll of the deffender) I managed to kill 31 troops and lose only 4.  I sucessfully deffended helms deep with 6 soldiers over the course of a 4 turn seige.

Helm’s Deep really is impenetrable.

Fear and Loathing in Korea

Over the last few days I’ve worked on a few things with the inside of myself.  Last week, to my surprise, I cried for the first time in a long long time.  An accumulation of events led to choices that I began to regret only moments later. Some of that regret, I’m not even sure if it’s just reactionary in a “greener on the other side of the fence sort of way.”

I’m being vague, so let me describe a few of the other events that knocked me to one knee over the past few weeks.

First of all, Intensives.  Intensives from hereon refers to the 11 hours I spend at school every day from Monday to Friday.  It not only affects my life, but until the end of this month when Intensives end, it is my life.  I say this without any exaggeration in the slightest.  What follows is my view of the situation according to my particular method of teaching. You’re free to suggest ways that I could have done things better if you want.

When I started intensives, the first three days were hell.  Getting to know kids who have no way of responding to you is always difficult.  You have to build trust, and you have to do it as fast as you can– it will decide which camps you have in your pocket, and which camps go out and build walls to oppose your advances.

There’s this one boy that stood out among the rest.  I mentioned him in a previous blog.  He’s the one who, on the schoolbus, stuck gum in somebody’s hair and then noogied it in.  For that, he got in a great deal of trouble, especially since he ‘kindly’ offered to help her remove it by going at her with a pair of scissors.

Now, the first issue here is that we aren’t a government funded organization– that means that the company I work for has no reason to put up with Billy except because they want his parents’ money.  But of course, they tried to iron things out with the girl’s parents so that they wouldn’t make too  much of a big deal. 

About a half week later (I saw him every day from mondays to fridays) a few cross words between him and another student in class ended with him storming out of his seat during class and kicking a girl’s desk over.

As a teacher, I’m in a complicated situation.  If I’m in a public situation, and my pride is on the line, I’d take the punch if it meant that people around me wouldn’t get hurt.  I can, and have, apologized profusely in public to people to whom I owe no apologies, for the sheer sake of preventing violence from breaking out.   It’s not that I can’t handly myself in violent situations– I can, and I have– but I chose not to because that is what I have learned over the years.  I go in, make a fool of myself, maybe even look like a whimp, but it’s for the sake that everyone ends the night with their teeth still on their gums.

In a classroom, things are different though.  Especially with children, to whome pride is very important. 

So lets put the situation in the front– a boy and girl are arguing in a language you don’t understand. You don’t understand the circumstances.  But he’s gotten up, and he’s kicked her desk over with one solid thrust of his leg.  They’re both about 13 years old.  What do you do?

Well, the easy solution is to throw the kid out of the class. I can, and have done this before when real fights break out and continue– I get in between them, pick up the stronger of the two by the arms and lift him literally out of my room.  But Billy is different– this isn’t a crime of hatred directed at the girl.  It could have been anyone, really– she said the wrong thing to the wrong boy.

I look at Billy and I see a lot of things that I remember about myself.  I remember wanted, perhaps even needing, to be the bad boy in school– the one who would always make the smart comments to put other down, as if somehow me climbing on the shoulders of others made me a better person. It made sense at the time, and it makes sense in a different way now because I realize that all the things I ever did to hurt people was because I  myself was hurting.  When you’ve decided that being good doesn’t work, you do as Stephen Chow in “Kung Fu Hustle” declares– you decide  that good guys don’t win, and you decide you want to be bad.

I say it is a decsision because I don’t think that being bad comes naturally to children.  Not that good or bad is naturally built into us, but rather– I think if you really look at things, it’s normally easier for one to make friends and to live at peace with the group rather than fight against it.  At the very least, it’s easier for someone to just outcast themself and hope to not be noticed. It takes a great deal of work to ‘be bad’.

But Billy was the sort of person who I recognized as ‘wanting’ to be bad.  He had realized that there was power to it.  There was respect to be had through the employment of fear.  The usage of power, which was simply being willing to go where others wouldn’t.

The bad boy is different because compared to many others, a bad boy needs charisma and bravery. 

Can you imagine what would happen if a bad person used his power for good?

And I made it my mission to turn him around.  It’s cocky of me to think I can do something like this– ultimately, the choices were all on his plate and all I could do, all any teacher can do in fact, is to set up an environment that encourages postiive change. 

Day in, day out, i fought his hatred with fairness, I fought his disrespect for me with respect for him, I rolled with his insults and critiqued him objectively and did everything I could to make sure he knew that he was a smart kid.  Smarter than his teachers told him.  Smarter than his parents said he was. 

And most importantly, and I had someone translate this to Korean for me, I made sure that he knew that I beleived in him.

He had a 30 minute session with one of the korean counsellors, who I had given a very specific set of messages I wanted to pass on to Billy.

The thing about Billy is that as smart as he is, he is Korean first and English is a second language.  There are certain things that he doesn’t understand because of the language barrier, so the best I can do is set up a meeting so that I can have everything I want to say translated by a native korean who speaks fluent English.  So that’s what I had done.

Billy came back to class with red eyes, but after understanding things, we started over.  He made a conscious effort to control his wild behavior.  He acted respectfully to me.  And genuinely so– I can tell if a kid really respects me, or if he’s just faking it because he’s been instructed to do so.  Their body language says everything that their words might not.  So for a few days, things were getting better– it was still a constant uphill battle to keep him in his seat, but it’s like parenting I think.  We were getting things done.  His grades were improving.  His friends were starting to react to him as a person rather than him as a class bully.

And then one day, he was called out of my class to the office.  He came back about 20 minutes later, tears in his eyes, grabbed his stuff, and told me that he was told to leave.

The next day he came back for his last class as my student.

I learned later that on the schoolbus, someone had said that Billy had turned into a softie because he was in “Room 4”.  My class is notorious among the school aparently because a lot of bullies are from my classes.  But Billy, like many others, was reforming, and as such, his title as one of the alpha males on that schoolbus (that seat only about 20 people) was being challenged.

Billy beat up a boy to proove that he “still had it”.  And he was expelled from my school.

Billy is only 13 years old.  He has many years to go before he learns that violence isn’t a way to maintain any lasting respect.  It’s a lesson that doesn’t won’t make sense to a kid who by very nature of his age is based on the idea of instant results.  School sociology puts bullies on the same level as the smartest of kids, and all it takes is a bit of guts for the same social ranking as a kid who spends hours on homework.  It’s so easy.  All it takes is guts, and Billy’s got plenty.

How  do you tell a kid that his best talent should be kept in check?

In any case, I think a part of me died the day I found out that he had lashed out. I won’t lie: I am dissapointed.  But I am more sad.

A character like Billy has a lot more potential to be a bad person than a good person in his adult life.  There will be many chances in his life for him to “turn good”.  This one time– when he was challenged by his bussmates to proove that he ‘still had it’– was one of those chances.  It was the best chance I could give him, but it wasn’t a good enough one.

I felt that I really failed him, though I know that it’s not true– I know that I did all I could, or at least, I did what I did and there’s no changing it now.  But in him, I recognize some things, particularly his anger, that I used to have in myself when I was younger.  It’s not hard to get out of it. Yet at the same time, it’s infintely difficult.

It’s now about a week since he was expelled. It doesn’t sound long, but when you spend 11 hours in a school every day, you feel like you’ve been living there for a month when in reality only half a week has passed.  The relationships you build with your kids are so intesnse because they start and progress so quickly. 

And he’s not dead.  But it feels as if Billy had died.  Somehow, expulsion from the school, cutting him off from me, feels like my student has died.

I know this isn’t true, and there are plenty of other people out there in the world who could infulence him to change.  His last minute with me was a solemn “Sorry teacher, I no come back.”

And of course, he could change himself. Right?

… stay safe Billy…

That Damned Japanese Dinosaur

If I give my Korean kids certain essay topics, you get back certain results.  For example– “If you had a mysterious colossus  who would do whatever you want, what would you do with  it?”  or “If you were very rich, what would you do with your money?”

I sometimes get answers like “Destroy Japan.”

It depends on who you ask, really.  But a lot of kids were raised on the stories of the Japanese colonialization of Korea.  A lot of the culture reflects this long standing animosity.  You’ll almost never see a Sony Ericcson phone in Korea for example, even though SE is one of the heavy hitters in pretty much any other Asian country, and even back in North America.  You’ll never see a Japanese car on the streets, and though that’s partly because of the government imposed double-tax on foreign imports.

On one hand, this makes for a lot of national strength– Korea is self-sufficient country in a lot of ways, particularly in technology and entertainment.  But on the other hand, I often feel that the whole country is so sheltered from the rest of the world.  It’s true that my kids are still young and have a lot to learn– but to a certain degree, national pride takes the place of international awareness.  Or perhaps this is my bias, because back in Montreal, the ‘white majority’ is actually the minority among a sea of immigrants.  There is necessarily a difficult sense of national pride in Montreal, a sort of identity crisis that stems from the fact that many people are immigrant or second, perhaps third generations from other countries.

In any case– when a 10 year old kid writes me an essay about wishing that Japan would be nuked, I find it a bit disturbing.  I’m not saying that their hate is unfounded– there are always plenty of reasons to hate.  Give me a noun, and I can make you some hate.  It’s really easy.  But I do hold it against the leaders of Korea for being so slow towards improving their international relationships on a more public scale.  It is true– Korea now has open ports to Japan and they trade many things.  But I’m not talking about industry– I think that governments’ have the responsability of reducing the enemies of their people.  I don’t mean by trucking over a bunch of tanks or flinging over a bunch of nukes– I mean by removing the perception of enmity.  Because it’s just that– perception.

Not that crimes  didn’t happen in the past against Korean people.  But the current Japanese people are not responsible for the actions of their ancestors– the most they can be held responsible for is being too stubborn to just admit that their ancestors did some bad things.

But blame placing doesn’t get us anywhere. Although it is useful to have seen this video, which really clears up a lot of WHY all this started.

Or you could start on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korea#Japanese_occupation to see a bit more.

On the plus side, and I’ve always thought this was true– I do have students who love japan.  And why?  Videogames, anime and manga.  The next generation of Korean youth are caught on the wave and for that, they’ve come to understand a lot of the similarities between Japanese and Korean cultures. Not just cultures actually, but humanity itself.  In the end, they are united by the arts that so many of the technocrats and scientists insist should take a place only on the backburner.

Some idiot conservative  political leaders just don’t realize sometiems that some parts of culture, such as hate, need not be conserved.

Shower Heads and Toilets

At 7:15AM, having a bit of trouble staying asleep, I was in the shower.

It doesn’t sound like anything new to people in Korea or perhaps even Asia in general, but back in North America most bathrooms have an actual bathtub or shower stall.  The water you use doesn’t go anywhere except the walls of the stall or against curtains, and then it drains, probably right under or near your feet.  In Korea, the majority of places have a sort of setup where water drains into room-centered drain.  Sometimes, this is the same drain as your sink. While it is true that things are ‘modernizing’ (if we are to assume that a shower stall is something progressive) a lot of places, including my apartment in Korea, don’t have curtains or a significantly separate showering area.  That means that while I’m showering, it’s really possible to wet my sink or even my toilet, because there isn’t really any design effort put into dividing the ‘wet area’ from a ‘dry area’.  The drain for the shower is actually under the bathroom sink, so, when showering, the water just drains into the middle of the room.


It’s not uncommon for you to be taking a dump and you have to lift up your pant legs so they don’t get wet.

The thing about living in an apartment is that I’m cheap.  While one of the other teachers’ gas bills was about 65000 won (70 dollars Canadian), mine was a mere 15000.  I don’t need the heat.  Maybe it’s because he’s from Florida and I’m from Montreal, so it has something to do with the way we’re trained.  But a few days ago, the pipes to my toilet started to freeze.


This wasn’t a very pleasant experience. I went out to an all you can eat galbi place that night and so when I got home, I really needed to take a real dump. Imagine my surprise when the toilet barely flushed.


As days progressed, it got to the point where the toilet’s drainage pipes were so frozen that a full toilet of water would take about one hour to drain.



This morning, I really really wanted to use that toilet.  I don’t have a plunger though.  Although, a plunger wouldn’t make much difference if it’s really ice.


So what I did is I duct taped my showerhead to the wall and had it spray hot water into the toilet bowl.  After about 10 minutes— shwooooooomp!  It flushed!


And now it’s flushing like brand new!


Yes, I’m such a genius.


I walked into the sunrise to get to my 9:00am class listening to “We are the Champions,” and I was quite happy with myself.