We were exhausted yesterday morning, all the ideas drained out of us, and the kids in our English camp—more like “Extensive Expensive Small Group Long Time Private English Tutoring Sessions”—had been babbling with us in English for three hours. This was the tenth, and last, day, and although we had not taught too many new things to these children, their quiet studycat tongues had been so loosened up by our conversation activities that newcomers would surely be fooled into believing that the kids were fluent. Conversationally fluent, yes, but reading is another matter. We know how to get studious kids to talk, but the next challenge is to get studious kids to enjoy reading, something that supposedly befuddles the best of English teachers back on the Continent—the NORTH AMERICAN continent!
Last week two of my students and I began reading The Inspector General, which they definitely enjoyed even if I think all the jokes about government corruption were too subtle for their 70% comprehension rates. Still, with advanced students we won’t be using textbooks; A. has been working on teaching the I Have A Dream speech, which is actually so famous that it has seeped into the Korean consciousness without any of the attendant liberalism of the cause. People say I have a dream, and add that their dream is to become a dentist. I asked one of my students why he wanted to become a dentist, and he said “because I can make many—much—lots of—money!”, and then I asked if dentistry is exciting, and he smiled and shook his head, all the strands of his black bowl cut waving over his forehead like the swishing rubber flaps hanging from the ceiling at the car wash.
So, after three hours of exhaustion, on the last day, we decided to go outside and play soccer. There I realized three things. One. The boy who says that he loves soccer, and wants to be a soccer star, is not really a remarkable soccer player. He need not worry about his future, however, as he is an excellent and dedicated student. His name means “Luminous Star”, 明星, he looks like a smaller version of my brother-in-law, and his mother is a tall skinny trophy wife—unusually tall for any Korean woman, and particularly one of her generation, she is also a natural beauty, and somehow looks like the woman all Korean women want to look like, though she has not, apparently, resorted to the usual plastic surgery to attain this perfection. This woman is beautiful, but, like Kim Kardashian, she packs her face down with more makeup than any person could possibly need, and so she is obviously quite insecure about her own remarkable luminosity.
Her husband is, like all Korean husbands so far as I can tell—where do all the handsome Korean men go after they turn 30?—totally normal looking, and he likes golf. They were both stewardesses when they met, and together they somehow saved up enough money to buy a brand clothing outlet, which has subsequently made them filthy rich. They have the largest apartment we have ever seen, with a commanding view of the river, twenty stories up, perfect catastrophic earthquake height, as well as a large living room furnished in the new traditional way—with a massive flatscreen television as the centerpiece, and even a kitschy little statue of a Saudi Arabian oil baron, in white robes, red-white checkered kaffiyeh, and aviator sunglasses, guarding their carefully-displayed bottles of western alcoholic beverages.
Like the Martin Luther King speech, this western object, or totem, for lack of a better word, has been extracted from its original context, deprived of all but the barest of meanings and definitions, and transformed into a symbol of status. I doubt they have any idea that it is highly amusing to place a statue of a Muslim caricature next to several bottles of alcohol, although I should ask.
Two. Despite having given up on physical fitness for the last two months, after I drove my body over such a steep cliff that I was walking like C-3P0 for five days afterwards, I am still capable of movement—real movement, the thrill of a gazelle bounding over the savannah, and the equal thrill of the lioness chasing it:
No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.
Now I am a bookish sort of fellow, but I tell you that I have a dream—to return to a land where I may sprint and dance over sunny green fields without fear of snide laughter, cell phone cameras, and proffered fingers; that I may leap up the branches of the greatest oaks, pines, and birches, barefoot, without a soul in the world to question my sanity, without the sound of a single engine roaring in the distance; that I may spend my mornings walking through the forests, listening to the quiet, awesome power of the natural world, the irrepressible force of life.
Three. That hauling one’s far-too-skinny wife over one’s shoulders, and then sprinting toward the goal while she laughs there, is pleasant; we will have to join Maine’s Wife Carrying Championship should we make the foolish decision to try our fortunes there.