Mak Jo Dan

Fridays. My schedule is so packed on Fridays, they feel like Mondays. I woke up with my sinuses swollen shut and feeling like my head was injected with Novocaine. I took a Claritin that Christina gave me a while back, and it seemed to work for most of the day.The foreigner meeting with Eric was ugly, but it came out with good results. I was the first to give Eric a list of things I needed: insurance, bank account, a chest of drawers, fix my electric bill. He then announced that we were having a workshop next Saturday. Turns out that next Saturday lands on a three-day weekend. And River had already booked a vacation with her boyfriend, Canada Joe, who was coming to Korea this next week. Brant and Eddie really ripped into Eric. It was surreal because while they were tearing Eric a new one, someone was piping this dark classical music through the school speakers. Our lives have soundtracks. After the meeting, the foreigners went outside to greet the children as they got off the buses, like we’ve been doing every morning the past few weeks. When we saw the last children off the buses, Eric announced that the workshop would be moved to the weekend after that. We went up and told the Korean teachers the news, and they were relieved. “You guys gotta stand up for yourselves sometimes,” Eddie told them.

I was feeling better that day. I really like my haircut, and I have noticed that I AM losing my beer gut. The cleared sinuses from the Claritin also may have influenced my mood. The kids were even good during lunch, clearing their trays faster than usual. Today’s phonics lesson was learning to write the letter G. I give the children papers to practice writing. I then give them a word to write down and ask them to draw a picture of it. Today it was draw something green. Jenny, a very good artist, pointed her drawing out to me.

“Gochu!”

Oh, no…

Barry leaned over to her paper. “Joe Teacher gochu?”

“No, Barry. That’s naughty.”

The kids are getting faster with their writing and coloring assignments, so I had printed some Hello Kitty and Yu-Gi-Oh coloring pages as a back up plan to kill the last ten minutes of class.

So kindergarten went fairly smoothly. Elementary wasn’t too bad. I had one kid in a class who had just learned the F-word and was fascinated by it. He couldn’t comprehend how it was a bad word, so in the middle of phonics drills, I’d hear, “Fuck, fuck, fuck” when the word in question was “bug.” He wasn’t saying it to be bad. He was just clueless.

I wrote a while back that we were coming up with Korean names for ourselves. This subject came up when a sheet was being passed around asking for our names and phone numbers. Oh, a phone list, I thought. I noticed that the Koreans had both their English and Korean names. As a joke, I wrote a shortened three-syllable version of my full name in hangeul under the Korean name column. Brant poked his head in the door of one of my classes and announced that we had our new business cards.

“Business cards? Cool.”

“And whatever you wrote in hangul is on yours.”

“Hangul? Oh no, they didn’t!”

I left class and went to my desk to pick up my stack of business cards. Above the name “Joe” was the hangeul “Mak Jo Dan.” All the Koreans thought it was the most hilarious thing, especially considering that I wrote that down as a joke. It turns out that I have ended up with a Korean name that is equivalent to the student named Dumbo.

After the elementary classes were over, I had that 90-minute conversation class. It’s such a struggle to come up with conversation topics with Korean 12-year-olds. You can’t even discuss TV because these are such hardcore students they don’t watch TV. Eddie stopped by the classroom and asked if my class wanted to join his class on a small field trip to get some street stall food. So we all headed to a favorite street stall and let the kids indulge in chewy rice dumplings, corn dogs, and fish noodles on sticks. Eddie and I paid for them, and it hardly put a dent in our wallets. How do these stands stay in business?

When we returned to class, I used up the last thirty minutes to have a discussion on ethnic foods and trying to outdo each other on the strangest foods we’ve eaten. The kids winced when I mentioned I’d eaten alligator, frogs legs, and snails. I pointed out to them that the fish noodles and stuff they were eating at the food tent would gross out many Americans. It was a good cultural discussion.

After class, Trisha and I were the only people in the school. She asked me for my lesson plan for kindergarten. I looked at my half-filled out sheet and said I hadn’t finished it yet. I needed to do the science part. I had been so busy that week doing report cards, phone tests, and elementary lesson plans that I hadn’t gotten around to finishing the kindergarten lesson plans. She let it slide, and we went together to join the crowd next door for kalbi and samgyapsal (BBQ beef and bacon). As usual, I was placed in very close proximity to Mr. Min, so I was in charge of pouring his drinks. It’s actually considered a sort of honor, I’ve noticed, since the only ones pouring his drinks other than me were my supervisors. The story of Mak Jo Dan set the table in an uproar of laughter. I responded by putting on a voice like Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride,” saying, “Watch out! Mak Jo Dan ieyo (I am Mak Jo Dan)!”

The women at work seemed more flirtatious with me than usual. I’d like to think it was my haircut and the soju. The Claritin wore off, and I was attacked by coughing fits so violent, I was wretching. I was supposed to meet Christina and Glen at my apartment at 9:30 to go clubbing. But with my coughing, I knew there was no way I could go dancing. So I skipped out on that. Instead, I followed the rest of my co-workers to a bar. We all exchanged our new business cards so we’d have each others’ numbers. I also think they were wanting to get an authentic Mak Jo Dan business card. With each business card I received, I put on an exaggerated version of the Korean routine of admiring the print and the paper stock of the cards. Eric sat across from me, and we had a decent time. My attitude towards him shifts from suspicion to pity. He’s in that middle management position that no one really wants. Too many bosses and employees to keep happy.

On Saturday, I was surprised to get a call from Eric. He was at a store buying my new chest of drawers. He wanted to know what style I wanted and what size. It’s another beautiful Spring day. I wish my lungs would clear up. I think I’ll go gift hunting again.

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