Some things just don’t trigger any emotions from me anymore.
I remember the first weeks owning my scooter. Traffic in Korea is nothing to scoff at– it’s really worse than anything I’ve ever seen in North America, and I’ve been to LA, New York, Toronto, Washinton… whatever the major American city, nothing in urban traffic compares to Asian traffic. Korea’s not as bad as Philipines, but then again, I didn’t drive in Philipines.
I remember the first weeks owning my scooter and how I didn’t even dare using my scooter on anything but the sidewalks. Within a few days, yeah, I moved myself to the shoulder lanes of streets, and now, I’ve even been on highways (by accident, mind you– it’s illegal to ride a 50cc engine on a highway because your top speed is barely over half of the road’s speed). But sometimes, when I leave my house, I kickstart the rig and just ride off and before I’m even aware of it, I’m already half way to my destination, on the road, weaving through traffic. My eyes flick instinctively to the left or right for the glances at the mirrors, I whip my head a bit to the side to check my blindspot before squeezing myself between cars with a few feet to spare. And I just do it naturally now.
It doesn’t scare me anymore, it doesn’t excite me.
And if you asked if in the past if I could go out with someone until sunrise, I’d tell you it’s not something I’d ever done. And yet it happens often enough now.
These “new equations” are no longer new.
I think that’s the thing about having as much freedom as I do– I need to find new things to entertain me. New ways to just feel things.
It’s not commonly known, but ‘romanticism’ actually doesn’t have to do specifically with love, and the word “romantic” originally didn’t deal just with love either. It was a big movement a few hundred years ago in literature and the arts that favored emotions, above everything. It has to do with the pursuit of passions. That’s what gives meaning to our lives.
I was out with 예니 on saturday night. I met up with her after the musical. We went to a park, went to a mountain. At 3:00 AM, I had this crazy idea to just go and shoot some hoops even though I can’t play basketball to save my life. At 3:45AM we had a basketball and were riding out to Central Park, where the courts were all ours.
I actually really, really suck at basketball. You have no idea. When I was in highschool, I was awful at it– and even in my final years of highschool, the only things I could really do in terms of athletics was a bit of kickboxing and hackey sack.
But nonetheless, company is everything. 예니 and I have a lot of differing views on culture, the world, and relationships, but when we had a basketball it was a nice change of pace. It was fun. I have this unique ability to consistently get near goals from the 3-point line– I can hit the rim, I can hit the board with it rolling around the rim, but I can only actually sink 1 out of every 10 shots. It was interesting to be in a situation where for once we weren’t arguing or bitching about anything. It was just fun.
It was interesting to see that a girl perhaps a third less my weight could outshoot me, especially considering that she wasn’t strong enough to throw one handed and had to use two hands.
If there’s anything that has been reiterated to me over the months here, it’s been some sort of lesson about the paramount importance of endurance. I’m not talking about putting up with external shit only– I also mean putting up with those times when you’re on the path you’ve chosen, and there’s just nothing in sight for miles. Those situations where “nothing is wrong” but where “nothing is right” either.
I just realized it now as I was going to write it down, but I have these two students. One is named Zeus, the other is Helen. They’re not in the same classes. For 3 months, I’ve been Zeus’ teacher. I’ve gotten little or nothing as far as reactions go from him. He’s like a stone in my class. I’ve even taught him for supplementary classes, and I get no words out of him unless I directly ask him a question. He’s there in body, but in mind and spirit, he’s gone. He’s not a bad kid– he does average on his tests– but I just couldn’t get any participation out of him.
Helen is much the same. She says nothing in my Senior 3 class. The difference between Helen and Zeus is that Helen’s actively made it her job to hate me, despite me doing my sincere best to get on her good side. I’ve never really done anything to warrant her animosity, except, perhaps, stand in front of the whiteboard and attempt to teach her. When I ask her “How was your day Helen?” I’ll often get exasperated sighs followed by a string of Korean which, from her body language and what little Korean I do know, translates to “Oh my god, like, why doesn’t the fucking teacher leave me alone. He’s such a pain in the ass!”
She’s been my student for 4 months.
In the last two days, I’ve found a kink in their armor. Zeus, contrary to my initial beleifs, is actually paying attention to everything that’s said– he just actively decides not to participate, for whatever reason. But the other day, as we were playing “The Valley” in class for the first time in over a month, we got him.
And I say “we” because it wasn’t me alone– it was his peers. I put him on the same team with Thomas and Mike. They’re two of the most creative guys in the class, but they’ve also got a mean streak of tom foolery and nonsensicalness. They’re smart, but they’re clowns, and sometimes the limits of their English speaking abilities makes for some awesome misunderstandings that really are some of the greatest moments in this line of work.
On their team, Zeus made his first mistake when they had the idea to kill 100 mad cows to make oil to fuel their motorized crane (which they were going to use to throw the other 900 cows at the enemy camp)–
And then, even if it was with restraint, he started working with his team to come up with some ideas. He’s still got a long way to go, but as the game progressed, he was actually laughing. He still wasn’t speaking out, but to see that the boy has some emotions, that’s fucking gold.
And as to Helen, it turns out that she plays a mean game of rock paper scissors. In her class, we were playing “The Islands”, which is similar to the game of “The Valley” except instead of there being two sides separated by water, there’s three islands. Basically, for bigger classes. And instead of airdrops of 6 items at a time (as in the Valley), “The Islands” has 9 items. Each team requests 3 each. You can put anything in an airdrop that’s about the same size as my class. You can ask for cows, wood, metal, motors, gasoline– the only restriction is that you can’t use explosives or non-mechanical projectile weapons. Guns are out, but bows and arrows are in.
What happens is that all 9 items are being air dropped, but the story goes that due to wind and tides, you never know where those items will land.
And I don’t know if it’s just luck or some sort of uncanny ability, but she managed to win her all-girls team 6 out of the 9 items. The other two islands are fighting for table scraps, really.
And with each successive win, her peers cheered her on. She was red in the face, she was covering her mouth to hide her smile of disbeleiving laughter. She would just stick out her fist, her scissors or her open hand and suddenly she’d find herself on a path, in a spotlight not alone, but with the other girls. For a while, she was accepted by everyone, she was needed by everyone, and everyone at once was paying attention to her. For a little while, even if she never really acknowledged her power, she relished in what it felt like and she wasn’t afraid to laugh. She had fun in my class.
In this one class, they gave here the title of 이란드 키라, “Ilandu Kira” (“Island Killer”). Helen of Island 3 laid waste to distant lands by taking everything from them.
I think that as a teacher, my standards have changed. It used to be a big deal to do simple things. Like, get through a class. Get through a text. And I used to feel good about doing things like that. This has led me to where I am now– I don’t care about the teaching of the English so much now, because I’ve got the technical bits of my class down, more or less. This has left me in a position of numbness– where the English portion is just routine.
That leaves me acutuely aware of other issues in the class that I would only rarely be able to focus on in the past. I used to get caught up with the ‘bad kids’, I mean, reforming the ones who were bad. But even that, that’s pretty natural, isn’t it? If you’ve got a problem, you fix it. Or at least, you try.
But now my focus is shifting– even dealing with bad kids, the disruptive ones, has become part of the routine. Even my empathy or sympathy for them is routine. “What’s wrong?” I’ll say, as I kneel next to someone’s desk. And it’s a convincing performance– you’d think I was sincere and that there was only that one child in the whole universe, and that that child was the one I was talking to. But for all the trust they sometimes give me when I ask that sort of simple question, my brain is working it’s way through decision trees in my head, plotting their paths along a set of pervious experiences. I’ve seen most of it before. I may get a problem fixed, or I may not– but it falls somewhere in the system and I know what’s happening– at the end of the day, I know what I have to do to simply fix the problem or wait it out. I guess you can say that to a certain degree, I feel I have all the answers.
Which is to say that on some days I feel that the efficiency with which I deal with situations that were previously emotional to me, well, to be honest, I feel like I’ve died a bit. Because if we’re numb, in what ways really could we differentiate ourselves from corpses?
Don’t get me wrong– I still find myself genuinely enjoying the company of my students. But it was so much easier to be impressed or to be concerned when I was new.
But this is all to set the background for the things that do make make me feel nowadays. And that’s when I can see a change in a student like Zeus or Helen. They don’t stand out because they don’t cause trouble. And in fact, that’s probably their goal– to just blend into the crowd and go unnoticed. I think that for everytime someone points out a ‘strong silent type’ I could show you a person who is ‘insecure and shy’. Is that really strength? Some people really are strong and silent, but I think that there’s a limit to that since I beleive that true strength comes from the sharing of the human experience. And even endurance, though it may be something that one can pride themselves at developing through their own personal suffering, wouldn’t we say that it’s greater of a person to share the burdens with others? Isn’t that teamwork, isn’t that love? What else is there?
Share it all, really. Laughter. Embarassment.
The silent kids are the ones who we should watch out for, because unlike the good kids or the bad kids, they just get no attention. They’re good at their craft– they’re the modern ninjas who can quickly become a problem if they so decide, just because we never see them coming.
I’m glad I’ve made it this far… I keep saying this, that “the past month has been rough,” but then again, I think I said that last month too. And yet, I think perhaps this is a good sign. If it were easy, it probably wouldn’t be worthwhile. There’d be no rarity to it, no value.
It’s taken months, but I can do a handstand for several seconds now, and even walk around a bit. It’s not a big deal to those of you who already know how to do it– but for me, it is.
It’s a lot like being numb. To get better at something is to become familiar to it, to become familiar to it is to appreciate it on some level but on the other hand to be numb to a lot of what used to be glaring emotions associated with it. And I don’t say numbness with any sense of desparity. I say it like how an Cedric, a kickboxing instructor I had about ten years ago, will tell you, as he dunks the 25 pound medicine ball in your stomach for the 25th time, that “once you’re numb to hits like this, you can go after big hits of your own.”
We get caught up in what we’re doing with our hands– do we notice all the callouses on the balls of our feet that brought us here?
No, we probably don’t.
But that’s the way of things.
“Abilities do stack.”
Your feet can keep on going– they’re faithful to your cause. Just tell them what you want, and even if your eyes can’t tell them where you’re going, just keep going and you’ll find the next best thing in your life.
When in doubt, just lean forward until you’re about to fall. If your courage serves you, then you’ll stick out a foot before you land face first.
Even if you do fall flat, when you get up, you’re a few feet further forward.
And at some point, it will be easier.