Posts Tagged Koreans

The art of naming

Some days are more interesting than others; today was neither dull nor particularly colorful; but that doesn’t mean I didn’t come  away with a few indelible sound-bites.

The start of my day was not especially promising. First, I overslept, not by much, but enough to be forced into eating a granola bar on the way out the door in lieu of a proper breakfast. When I arrived at the fitness center I had 50 minutes to workout and shower instead of the usual hour and 20 minutes. Again, not a huge deal. I weighed my two options: 1) alter my regimen, omitting several exercises, or 2) speed things up and squeeze in my normal routine in 30 less minutes. I went with the latter option, jumping from one thing to another without any recovery time. Halfway through  and I was still feeling good, albeit  eventually I had to reduce the weight on some exercises due to a build up of lactic acid.  The gym that I belong (is belong to strong of a word?) to is better than adequate, and even though they lack some exercise machines and free weights that I am accustomed to back home, the spas, saunas, and steam rooms make up for it.  After finishing my last set of dips I rushed to the locker room to shower before heading to work. I don’t always feel comfortable showering, especially when a guy who scrubs people down (apparently he is employed to do this) is lurking, but after 7 months I have gotten used to being a nude foreigner among a sea of Koreans. A coworker told me a story of a former coworker of his that went to the sauna to relax. Apparently, this guy kept his shorts on because he wasn’t keen on the idea of going in naked. When the infamous back scrubber caught sight of this he rushed over, pull down the guys shorts, and waved his finger back and forth while saying, “No, no, no.”  After showering I felt absolutely exhausted from the intense workout and a wave of nasuea and dizziness struck.  To make matters worse (for the people around me) I forgot my deodorant and cologne at home. Leaving, I felt horrible, and instead of taking the fifteen minute stroll to work I took a cab.

It was at lunch with a group of female coworkers that I began to feel better. While eating a bagel and cream cheese the conversation turned to the “c” word. Some people adamantly refuse to even utter the “c” word. Personally, I don’t have any real qualms about saying it.   The “c” word is widely considered  one of the raunchiest, most distasteful words in the English language, and everyone at the table held this opinion … or so I thought.  Out of nowhere, a very nice, sweet young teacher announced that she calls her dad a cunt all the time. Directly to his face? Sure, just joking around. “My dad calls me a cunt too,” she explained nonchalantly. From this moment on my day began shaping up nicely.

During our daily foreign teacher meeting the manager of the hagwon came in to make a few announcements.  He stressed how important listening is to learning a new language and how our students needed more practice doing this. Up to this point, I was nodding my head in agreement. He went on to explain that young children learn language by listening and mimicking what they hear. Still nodding. Then came the curve ball, the Michael Scott moment: “You guys know Helen Keller right? Yeah, that’s how she did it. She listened.” I  didn’t nod, and kept it to myself that Helen Keller was deaf and blind.

When I walked into my first class I realized that I had a new student. Nothing gets me more excited in the classroom than seeing a new student because it means that it’s time to choose an English name. Sometimes, much to my chagrin, a student will come to the academy already with an English name; most of the time though the student picks  a name in the first class. I’ve learned that I have a tremendously powerful influence during the selection process and I’m not ashamed to admit that I utilize this power. I figure I am doing the student a favor, bestowing them with a cool name. Selfishly, this is really great practice for when it’s time to officially name a child.  The little guy immediately took a liking to the name Tupac.

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Old Spice not nice?

It seems like everyday I am here in Daegu, Korea I learn something new about the culture. Yesterday, late afternoon  while teaching  one of my lower level classes I ascertained, quite emphatically, that Koreans do not wear deodorant.  This discovery was not made by detecting a pungent odor, but rather through the unambiguous suffering of my students.

Early in the class, I noticed something very strange. Pizza Pan (this is the English name he chose) a normally outspoken, disruptive student was curiously subdued. Normally, he finds it difficult to resist chatting with others, yelling out random things about killing and death, and staying in his seat. On this day he was in noticeable discomfort. Later on I noticed a few students covering their noses as I walked by. Some appeared  gasping for fresh air. I thought perhaps one of their peers was breaking wind or someone was emitting  unsavory body odor. Then suddenly, as I leaned closer to field a question for a student, Pizza Pan burst out:

“Teacha you not smell good!”

Perplexed, I made a mental checklist in my head:

Showered today – check

Clean clothes – check

brand new deodorant – check

body spray – check

Laughing, I tried to explain that I practiced good hygiene and even attempted to explain the concept of deodorant and that I was in fact wearing Old Spice High Endurance.

“Too much teacha, too much!”

The rest of the class moaned in agony and I stood there hands on hips trying to justify myself.

I smelled myself and assured Pizza Pan and the rest that I smelled fresh. But, the more I wasted my breath explaining the more they objected and the more I laughed. At one point I even tried to convince some students to get a whiff of my pits and they scattered like exposed  frightened sea crabs. Eventually, I conceded and opened  the windows and the door to circulate the room with fresh air. After class I walked to the teacher’s office in defeat and explained to a coworker what happened and he said that he had a similar experience one time from wearing after shave. I still needed further reassurance so I asked a Korean teacher if people here used deodorant. She laughed and said it was very uncommon.

I guess from now on I will put the deodorant and body spray on the shelf and only use it during times I am not teaching. We’ll see if my natural body odor is less offensive to my students than long-lasting odor protection. In American culture, people are so accustomed to smelling body fragrances that when you don’t wear anything at all you run the risk of turning people off. Here, artificial scents are apparently less desirable. Either that or I just need a better smelling deodorant.

If nothing else, this bit of insight will  come in handy for disciplinary purposes  the next time Pizza Pan gets too far out of line – if he thought a few layers spread on my arm pit was too much to handle imagine how he will feel with the entire stick of deodorant pressed close to his nose [evil laugh].

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