While walking to work through Sasang’s wet tar slums this morning, the sight of a soggy rat squeezing its way down into the sewer through the gaps in a rusting manhole, its pink rubbery tail wriggling in the air.
Gather round, dears, and listen closely, for I’ve quite a profound story to tell—’tis nothing less than the epic of one man’s continuing conflict with his coworker, a war of no less renown than the Titanomachy itself, when Mount Olympus was piled high with the peak of Pelion, and scaled by hordes of ravening giants, who were only hurled into the abyss by the force of a volley of divinely fulminant fire—
So, then, sing, Muse!, of how Ian bickered with his coworker on whether to waste his time teaching the alphabet to a child who already knew it, and caused her to lose face in front of her superiors and students, and even drew the kindly vice principal herself into the colossal death match, and then bickered again, and again, and again, in the hallways, in the offices, in the classrooms, in the trenches, on the beaches, in the streets and forests and towns and cities—learn of how Ian refused to take any crap from a bootlicker of notorious renown, a woman who happens to have the same name as a James Bond villain, a real no-good-dirty-rotten-doody-head who makes my soul vomit every time she opens her mouth, and causes flowers to wilt, and breaks geiger counters, and overflows toilets with bullshit. Sing, muse, of the background beforehand, provide a brief summary of the background situation, and then, for god’s sake, get to the meat of the thing.
Our baby is coming in two weeks, we are moving to a different apartment in a few days, I am working on acquiring a much more lucrative income, I am desperately perpetually editing and rewriting yet another massive novel, I am traveling back and forth between America because of my sister’s death, I am living in a very foreign country, and studying that impossible country’s language every day, and exercising regularly—in short, there’s a lot on my plate.
On top of that, there is war!
And oh what a war it is! I have difficulty now even explaining it to my wife—what exactly are we fighting about? when did this conflict even begin?—but suffice it to say that the two combatants thoroughly despise each other, and that this is reason enough. Perhaps it began with a severe criticism of my enemy’s teaching style, her perfect inability to manage the classroom and her faulty knowledge of the language she is supposed to teach, the way she relied on me to yell at her students when they grew bored with her very boring lessons, a responsibility that sickened me so much that after a month or two I flat out refused to continue. The classes became far more chaotic as a result. Dr. No has since made some progress in controlling them, but her classes are still little more than hours of repeating sessions—rendered almost totally useless thanks to her very strong accent, which has quite a lot of trouble with every aspect of English that Koreans find troublesome.
Readers of this blog will remember a previous conflict last year with a different teacher, one which somehow miraculously resolved itself after I got a grip on my own classes, where, subsequently, the teacher in question became my very best friend in the world, and now smiles and laughs and thanks me practically whenever I speak to her.
It may also have something to do with marrying a Korean woman; Koreans are generally pretty dysfunctional about their own culture and believe that foreigners don’t give a damn about it, which is correct in most cases and certainly was in mine before I met Kim Eun-ok. Even a security person at the airport was astounded when I told her I was married to a Korean and asked me why I would ever do such a thing. But now there is a certain appreciation for Koreans, particularly the wonderful family I’ve gained from marrying such a spectacular woman, but also this rich country’s mad obsession with learning English, which is going to stuff our pockets with fat wads of cash very soon.
The good Doctor No has accused me of not understanding this culture, on top of being a sexist racist childish bastard. She did not use those specific words but that is damn well what she wanted to say. I think our conflict has turned into an issue of respect and honor. Both of us think we are the better English teacher; the fact that Koreans will pay through the nose for me (an experienced American with a growing knowledge of the local language and culture), and not really at all for her (a Korean with an advanced-intermediate knowledge of English, but no knowledge of how to impart that knowledge), is proof enough of who is considered more valuable here, and I think she knows it, and that it rankles her.
It really gets under that artificially whitened, rubbery-looking skin of hers, that someone so seemingly lazy as me should have it so much better than her. And indeed, my life away from the unfortunate doctor is pretty damn good. Part of my success is certainly just thanks to the color of my skin, and most of my charisma in the classroom is an outgrowth of a culture that has convinced itself that foreigners are a novelty, but still—I stick out here, I am noticeable and expensive here, while she is cheap, replaceable, and (because of her decidedly plain appearance) invisible.
Things came to a head the day I returned to work from America exactly one week ago, when she sent me a rambling, poorly-written two page note of really questionable usefulness. I gave it back to her a few hours later (though I should have kept it and posted it here in its entirety) but it basically said, so far as I could tell, that I haven’t worked hard enough to correct Doctor No’s accent, and that because of this I have a long way to go before I am a good English teacher. I don’t really understand why she wrote it. I suspect that she simply enjoys making me angry. It’s really senseless because I’m leaving this school in five weeks, and beforehand, since my sister’s death, the situation at work had been relatively tolerable, and Doctor No had really backed down with her relentless assaults of illogical nonsense—but here again right on the heels of my return was a fresh unprovoked salvo of the most spectacular stupidity. We began arguing again within minutes of my receiving her note.
Then she went to the vice principal after I asked her to sit out one of my classes, which I did because she is, at best, a useless distraction, and then yesterday morning she and I and two other teachers and the vice principal herself sat in on a meeting where I was allowed and perhaps even encouraged to calmly, rationally, reasonably, castigate Doctor No in front of her peers. When I asked her what specific plans she had for remedying the insane chaos in her classroom, she was totally silent for about two straight minutes, and then began to cry. At this point I let up. I was exhausted. I didn’t want to reduce her to this. I don’t even want to fight with her. I just want to be respected and left alone. I was ready for peace. The vice principal made some reasonable resolutions, notably that she will observe Doctor No’s classes and teach her how to manage them, but then, a few hours later, when I refused Doctor No’s useless worksheets and her equally useless demands to teach the alphabet to a boy who already damn well knew it—she exploded again, renewed her usual vague threats, and acted as if nothing had changed. On top of that, the classes the vice principal observed yesterday behaved pretty well, although if she comes in this morning I think the situation will be a little different.
It is a sad story, and the sadder thing is that the conflict follows me out of work. I was arguing with this creature when I woke up this morning. It was my first thought. Not, my god, look how beautiful my wife is sleeping beside me, how wonderful it is to be alive, I can’t wait to edit my book today, I’m so looking forward to meeting my baby—no, none of those pleasant things, just, Hey, Doctor No, I really want to tell you how much money I’ll be making, and how much less I’ll be working, and all the great places I’ll see, the amazing things I’ll do—god how I want to rub it in, with some great speech she won’t even understand—oh to sing to the sky in my very last minute at this accursed school!—how you’ll be trapped in these dull cobwebs for the rest of your life, sighing that life away as class after class torments you.