The countdown has begun. I now have only five days of teaching left at Yale. The office has gone through a complete remodeling and everything is torn down, including (without my permission) all my students’ drawings (a lot of them “portraits” of their teacher) that I had on the wall. Things are being painted, wires are hanging everywhere, books are thrown about.
But, thank the good lord, the CCTV is up and running. In fact, with the office layout, I can actually watch the security cameras while I plan for my classes (or spoon peanut butter into my mouth for “lunch”). Watching Robyn teacher talk on the phone as she stands in the corner of the third floor office is exactly as entertaining as it sounds.
I saw Men in Black 3 tonight. Normally this wouldn’t be post-worthy but I, it must be said, the movie was great. Paying to see Men in Black was almost as great as not paying to see Wrath of the Titans.
Two of my favorite TV actors play important roles: Michael Stuhlbarg (really really liked him as Arnold Rothstein in “Boardwalk Empire”, almost wrote that as “Billboard Empire”, whatever) and Jemaine Clement (from “Flight of the Conchords”, it’s been a good year for those guys). They both play aliens and it’s good fun.
But most importantly, one of the key locations in the film is Shea Stadium circa 1969, which is really nifty considering A. the film was shot post-demolition of that shithole and B. Shea Stadium’s color scheme and facade had been completely redone since then anyway. So in addition to showcasing some fancy movie magic, this film reminds us that:
1. There was once a time when the NY Mets were good, and it coincided with some other fun happenings, like putting a man on the moon (summer of 69 wooooo).
2. This movie introduces a broader audience to the second NY baseball team in a flattering and historically significant way. METS METS METS METS METS METS METS METS METS METS METS
If that wasn’t esoteric enough, the FIRST Men in Black movie also featured Shea Stadium, when it was still around in 1997. Outfielder Bernard Gilkey drops a fly ball because one of the World’s Fair exhibitions has turned into a flying saucer and hovers above the field. The new movie features an actor playing Cleon Jones.
Enough of that.
I’ve been having, on and off over the past ten months, essentially the same anxiety dream, not scary enough to be a nightmare but altogether unpleasant:
I am still working at a hogwon on Jeju, or plan to, but somehow am stuck back in Albany, New York, or the US. I don’t know how I got there but I can’t figure out a way to get back.
The dream seems to have 2 versions:
In one, I am still supposedly working for a hogwon, but I’ve somehow gone home for the weekend, but now the forces that be-sometimes family, sometimes money, no plane ticket, etc-prevent me from getting back there in time to not be fired.
In the second, I have already either been fired or finished the contract and am back home, but want to return to Jeju, however once again am prevented from getting back there in time.
The dreams are very unpleasant because in addition to the feeling of being trapped (don’t have agency to make a choice about work or going back) I deeply regret (in these dreams) missed opportunities and the fact that I won’t see those friends again. There’s also a sense of failure and loss.
Initially I think that these dreams stemmed from fear of job security, or fear of a return to my jobless summer last year, which was awful, but with the fact that finding a job teaching ESL here is so easy, and unchallenging, I think there is something more at play here.
If I may self-diagnose what ails my subconscious: I’m still feeling torn between my home of the present, and my home of the past, back in Albany. Not that I’m particularly anxious to make a life back there-that’s part of the terror of my dreams-but I still crave a sense of comfort and familiarity that I don’t have here. Also, college excepted, I lived in the same place for 23 years.
Living on Jeju is comfortable in other ways-you can be self-sufficient, you have lots to do, you can make good friends, you can stop feeling the pressure of time or expectations.
Ultimately I think though that most ESL teachers on the island, at least those who haven’t completely self-deluded themselves, feel the same struggle with the fact that although life here is beautiful, ultimately it’s temporary, just a place to catch your breath before you have to figure out what to do with yourself in the real world.
Jeju is many things, but it is not the real world. Jeju is Never-never land. ESL teachers on Jeju are living on a bubble, in a bubble. Westerns isolate themselves, on an island further isolated from anything, within a transient time of abundant hogwon jobs. As it turns out, to have lived during the age of the hogwon bubble is a glorious gift.
But it’s based on some really absurd and flimsy ideas about education, language, and culture (to be very reductive). Perhaps Korea will continue to be an ESL bubble forever, but it’s far more likely that the whole thing turns out to be a stupid fad, which it is, and ESL becomes no more prevalent here than in other Asian countries.
Living here, whatever talents you have are magnified, just like in high school. If you have some physical abilities and coordination, you are an ATHLETE. If you have a pad to doodle on while you sit on the toilet you are a WRITER. If you can desk warm without falling asleep or stabbing yourself with the nearest writing implement, you are a TEACHER. And so on.
Maybe I’m being unfair to people who really do enjoy ESL at a career level. And there are some people here, or anywhere, who have decided that this is their life because they really do enjoy teaching and working with kids that much.
But I think they are greatly in the minority. And for every person who is willing to dedicate themselves to ESL out of passion for the career, there are at least three people who simply refuse to make a decision about their lives.
And although some new teachers discover a previously unknown love for the job, more people I think discover why they never considered teaching until they were forced into it-because it’s ultimately not for them.
I feel more inclined towards that position, although I do think I enjoy teaching, and in particular have great fun sometimes with the younger students.
But honestly, what I’m really looking forward to this summer is trying to start applying myself to some long term projects and hopefully setting myself up for a brighter future for when I return home, although that is a very vague notion, as right now “future home” means somewhere in the US/Canada, or the wider western world (Sydney is nice. So is Barcelona. Except when you get mugged).
Among these projects is to get a more working knowledge of Korean, so that I can write more intelligently about Korean culture and its relationship to ESL teaching/foreign presence, as well as how it compares with western culture.
1200 words about a bad dream and the New York Mets! That’s not bad. This weekend I’m hopefully camping on Udo island, so I’ll bring my (charged) camera, won’t lose my wallet, and will have more Jeju-related material to post on the blog.
Monday is Buddha’s birthday, which provides another day for me to pretend that I’m going to climb the volcano. One of these days….