Japanese pornography | Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely

A version of this short, non-fiction narrative is included in the book, "Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely."


The class topic for the day was Travel. My presentation introduced vocabulary words like sightseeing and backpacking. I showed my students an entertaining Travel Channel video on New Zealand. They learned the phrase, “The food here is exotic.”

It was going as smoothly as it had gone the six times I’d done it earlier that week. They laughed when they were supposed to, and I successfully straddled the line between educator and clown.

In the middle of the lesson, I asked several students to tell me what country they would like to visit and why. After many excellent sentences and one sentence that I treated as if it were excellent, I asked Mr. Baek (백) for his answer.

With both of us smiling pleasantly I said, "Okay Mr. Baek, please tell me what country you would like to go to, and please tell me why. For example, I would like to travel to Australia to go sightseeing. Now you."

I motioned for him to begin.

He said, "I would like to travel to Japan to see the porno."

"Porno?" I said.

I paused. I continued. "You want to go to Japan to see their porno?"

Still smiling innocently, Mr. Baek said, "Yes, teacher."

"... Porno?"

He nodded, the class erupted in laughter, and I leaned/rolled between the door and the blackboard trying to suppress an uncontrollable case of the giggles.

Mr. Baek looked around totally unaware of what was happening. He didn't mean pornography, and we all knew it. But we laughed anyway at the accidental humor we would ultimately have to explain to him later. We continued laughing for a full minute, and for the remaining thirty minutes of class, we only needed to maintain the smiles on our faces.

When the bell rang, the students got up and rushed past me towards the door. Some called Mr. Baek "porno boy," and some explained to me that he was trying to name a special school in Japan. The correction didn’t lessen the humor of it. The room emptied out, and I stood in the same spot for a few moments reflecting on my months of teaching up to that point. Some days seemed longer than others, but there was not a single bad one. I was grateful and lucky for that, and I let the realization of it sink in as I closed the door behind me.

A version of this short, non-fiction narrative is included in the book, "Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely."