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Sunday, April 02, 2017

The Best Birthday Present

My second best birthday present this year was a pocket watch. It's a bit sad that it came in second, especially since I picked it out myself. And paid for it myself. And opened it all by myself. It is mechanical, with crystal front and back so you can see the works, and a wood ring in the cover. I made the mistake of searching for an online photo instead of just taking a picture myself, and found that I could have purchased it for much less than I did. Thanks, China.

It's a wind-up, so no battery to replace. It looks nice, but the face is too busy, and the hands too scrolly, making it a bit hard to read, especially in dim light. It's really more of a show piece than a time piece, so I'm not sure how long I will use it. But it's nice, nonetheless.

The best birthday present this year will stick with me quite a while. Though it is impossible to say whether it will outlive the watch, I suspect that it will still have life long after the watch and I have parted company. My birthday was on Tuesday, and I was teaching a class at Kyungsung right after lunch*. This semester Tuesday is my first day with classes at the university, so it has a Mondayish vibe to it. Not as bad as a real Monday, but I still had that just-woke-up feeling, compounded by making a cross-town trip to drop off library books during my two-hour lunch break. One of my best students in that class, I'll call her Jackie** was sitting in the front row drinking a soda in class. Something about that soda was nagging at my Mondayeque mind as we worked through the vocabulary for the lesson. At one point in my powerpoint, there was an example sentence: "The students cut class to drink beer. Bad students!"

That's when the lightening struck me, right in the figuratively: that soda was not a soda. It was a can, like soda, but much taller. I stopped teaching, and pointed at it, and asked the traditional question for seeking clarification: "Whaaaaaat....?" Quickly followed by, "Is that......?" I picked up the can, observed that it was about 2/3 full, and smelled it, on the off chance that she had rinsed it out and filled it with cold, pure, innocent water. It smelled more like debauchery.† In my classroom. On a desk. In the front row. I then moved in for the verbal kill. "Why do you have beer in my class?"

Jackie informed me that she was thirsty.

This reminded me of a lesson which I constantly drill into my students: you should construct your question based on the answer that you are hoping to hear. Of course, I had had no such answer in mind, and cannot even now imagine an answer that would be satisfactory.††

One key to being a good teacher is having an automatic set of responses to given circumstances. When a student is playing with their phone, I first make eye contact or tap their desk, going for subtle, then mention it in front of the class for the second offense, then take it away if they do so again, forcing them to come talk to me after class.‡

Somehow, in my fifteen years of teaching in Korea, I had never thought of how I would respond to that particular circumstance, so I'm afraid that I may have been a bit incoherent in dealing with it. Eventually it occurred to me to move the offensive can out of site, so I did. Then I continued teaching, with no more than a dozen call-backs to the beer in class during the final twenty minutes of class. When class was finished we had a little talk, which included promises and apologies: she apologized for ruining my birthday, and I promised to show up drunk at her next family reunion by way of returning the favor.‡‡

The gift that keeps on giving is a good story. I love this story because I spent the afternoon of my birthday laughing about it, as well as a hefty portion of that class time. And if you, dear reader, have laughed at any point in reading this story, then it was definitely the best birthday present ever.



* For some reason, the university still refuses to make my birthday an official holiday.
** A bright, bouncy name, which matches her personality, but has no phonetic similarity to her actual name, for reasons which will become clear in the next paragraph.
† Which smells remarkably like beer and lip gloss.
†† "That's not mine!" would likely come the closest, followed closely by, "I thought you were thirsty."
‡ Because who would leave behind that significant portion of their soul?
‡‡ No, I didn't.

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A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.