It’s the end of flea market day. This week, kids have brought discarded and old toys from their houses and we’ve given them fake money and set up a bit of a market. Right now, just a few tight-fisted stragglers are walking from table to table, inspecting the leftover bits. Bob buys a pink hair tie from the other foreign teacher, A, and I raise my eyebrow. A shrugs. I dunno, she says. Maybe he has a little lady he wants to give it to, right? she muses. Sure, I think. Sure. Some of the Korean teachers are acting the part of hard-salesman, Come on, you know you want this, you NEED this! But the kids aren’t budging, and it kinda breaks my heart that they put all the books on the $5.00 table while pencil cases and other ridiculous knick-knacks are being sold for $20. Soon, laughter erupts from one corner of the room.
Did you see this, Tasha? of the Korean teachers asks.
Yeah, what’s it for? I say. She’s holding up a science bag with five walnuts.
It’s walnuts. Bob’s mom sent walnuts, she says. She also sent this, she says as she holds up a little pouch that says something to the effect of WILD GINSING HEALTH TONIC.
Wait, I say, turning to A. Are they laughing for the reason that I think they’re laughing? I ask, hesitantly.
Why would they be laughing? A asks.
Because of the ginseng drink, because it’s supposed to be good for, you know, boys, I say rather hesitantly. Why would Bob’s mom even send that? I ask.
A shrugs and so I direct a question to one of the Korean teachers.
Are the walnuts for eating? They look old, I say.
No, they’re for luck. Some Koreans believe if you keep two walnuts in your pocket, it’s good luck. You can hear the sound they make… Lots of people do it, she tells me.
Huh, I say.
Do you want them? she asks.
Sure, I say. I can always use some good luck around here, I say, more to myself than anyone else.
Later, Bob sees me with the walnuts his mother had sent for flea market day. Teacher! Those are mine! he says.
No, Bob, I tell him, They’re actually mine…
It took me over two months, but I finally figured out how to tell the identical twins in Peace class apart. I used to make myself dizzy during class time, trying to watch their feet for the names written on their shoes, trying to make sure that I didn’t mess up and call one or the other by the wrong name; they always throw a bit of a fit when I do that. To be fair, I didn’t figure it out on my own. The kids finally told me. Ann has double eyelids, a coveted trait in Korean culture and one of the most common plastic surgeries in the country. Wendy doesn’t have double-eyelids.
Of course, this changes everything; how I see them and understand their behavior. Identical in every other way, one of them is conventionally more beautiful than the other. She knows it, and it shows. She’s the outgoing one, the moody one, the pushy one who always wants her way and pouts when she doesn’t get it. Is it just her temperament, or is it because she knows she has something that many Korean women pay a couple grand to get? I don’t spend too much time with these musings, the tempo we’re dancing to doesn’t allow for that.
But now that the twins know that I know how to tell them apart, it’s become this great game for them to try and trick me into messing up again. They’ll put their hands over their eyes, they’ll change shoes while the other girls from the class put their hands over my eyes, making me wait until the twins are ready to present themselves and try to fool me afresh. It rarely works. Now that I know what to look for, I always know who is who.
When I first brought up the idea of teaching my kindergartners about thankfulness for Thanksgiving, one of the Korean teachers expressed doubt that they would be able to grasp such an abstract concept. I teach two kindergarten classes, one is at a high level, and the other is much lower. So, I started with the higher-level class. We had a thankfulness tree with cut-out leaves in the shape of their hands, on each leaf they wrote down something they were thankful for. It went over all right, but the kids didn’t really run with the idea. Some of them even managed to turn it around so that their leaves ended up being about them and their own future achievements. Narcissism knows no bounds. Even in kindergarten.
But today, I brought up the idea of thankfulness with my lower level class and we made a list of no less than 65 things that they were thankful for. The list included:
ondol (floor heating)
art class teacher
family members great and small
and names. They said they were thankful for their own names. Isn’t that incredible?