English No

I was riding to school (that’s right, on my pink bicycle with a basket) this morning when I heard a frenzy of pedaling and heavy breathing behind me.

“Hello Lo-ren!”

It was Tae-Hun, a second grader who lives in our building. He sped past me on his tinker toy bicycle, waving over his shoulder.

“Goodbye Lo-ren!”

Jared was ahead of us both, and caught the traffic light. Tae-Hun and I both had to wait at the crossing.

“Jared?” he said, cocking his head to one side. It concerns the students when Jared and I do not spend every waking minute together. Once Jared rode his bike to school and I walked, so rumors flew that we were having a fight.

“Jared nomu bali,” I said, Korean for “Jared is too fast.”

“Lo-ren,” Tae-Hun said, forming an ‘X’ with his arms. “English no.”

I opened my mouth, then shut it again. “Ok,” I said. “English no.”

We have since returned to our pattern of saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ with nothing fancy thrown in the mix.

Last week was Chuseok, a major Korean holiday. My co-teacher made the 6th graders write “What I Did For Chuseok” diaries, so I can now tell you what students do:

1) Make and eat songpyeon (a rice cake that comes in pink, green or white)

2) Visit their grandparents in Yeongwol/Macha/Seoul

3) Play computer games with their cousins

The consensus is one of two things:

1) It was funny.

2) It was bored.

*Except for Eon-Hee, who ended her diary with a declaration of “Marriage me never,” because she knows that once she is married her happy days of songpyeon-making/eating are over. Instead, she’ll be relegated to the kitchen, where she will be forced to spend hours making 89 different side dishes out of roadside weeds and chili sauce.

Anyway, the word ‘songpyeon’ came up a lot. I noticed that every time I said ‘songpyeon,’ three of the kids in the back corner convulsed with laughter.

When I walked past them, one of the girls called me over. She is extremely tall for her age and has a habit of staring that freaks the crap out of me. She reminds me of that robot kid from A.I.

“Teacher,” she said. “Teacher, songpyeon.”

“Songpyeon?” I said, foolishly falling into their trap.

You can pretend all you want that someone isn’t laughing at you, but that doesn’t make it true. I had just about given up on ever speaking Korean again when I finally had a success.

The kids in the next class refused to answer my question, “Did you eat breakfast?”, even though I know they understood. They often prefer to fix me with blank stares, so I feel like a total babbling idiot.

I switched to my pidgin Korean to ask again. A buzz erupted across the classroom.

“Oooooh, teacher! Hanguk mal halsuissoyo! (you can speak Korean!)”

Geez. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.

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