There Is Love (Park Min Soo) | Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely
During my first year, while at my first job in Korea, my first students of the day noticed a second-hand Korean language book on my desk. The eight-year-olds looked through it without my permission while I was on my designated five-minute break, relieving myself and cursing at bill collectors in the bathroom.
On the inside cover they saw the Korean name of the person who’d given it to me. He was a Cho (초)-something who was very helpful in getting me a cellphone and that Korean language book, but he could do nothing about getting me out of the matchbox studio that was my apartment. I hated where I slept at night. I hated the people who started calling my parents’ house asking for me, and for money that I didn't have. I hated the stories, characters, and ideas swirling around in my mind that no one would ever read or hear about.
Everyday in my classroom, though, I taught like I loved the world. I smiled and laughed like that love was all I knew. That love was all I knew.
I was wearing that kind of smile when I heard an eight-year-old student named Judy ask me if the language book they’d sneaked looks at was mine.
She had a long ponytail, huge glasses, and the overly round cheeks that only a child could possess. "Alex teacher! Is that your book?"
With a loving smile, I said, "Yes."
The students started buzzing in cheerful tones. "Is that your name in the book?"
"No, Daniel teacher gave it to me."
A boy, whose English name was John or James, asked, "Do you have a Korean name teacher?"
"No. I'm American. I only have my English name."
For about two seconds I thought about the contradiction behind telling a Korean boy named John or James that it was strange for me to have a Korean name.
I asked, "Do you guys want to give me a Korean name?"
Their laughter and yells of "Yeah Teacher" widened my smile.
"Okay, then I wanna hear some names guys!"
Since I couldn't write or speak Korean at this point, I appointed another angel of a little girl named Hildi to write down the names she heard students yell. For five minutes, I heard absurd names that translated to things like cockroach, black, handsome, and, most appropriately, laughing man. A few were actual Korean names that some of the more respectful students told me weren't insulting, just overly complicated – the Korean equivalent to Alowishus. I asked which name on the board was the simplest and didn't mean anything strange. 박민수 stood out.
I asked, "Now guys, is this a strange name? I don't want to be crazy man or beggar."
They shook their heads and said it was a plain, common name.
With a look of disgust, Judy said, "Very boring name, Teacher."
"Good. So from now on my Korean name is박민수. You can call me 박민수 Teacher if you want."
They cheered, and I stood in front of the classroom soaking it all up. Moments like that don't last longer than the seconds between when they begin and end. I was fine with that, and in that moment I was happy. It was enough to keep from crying about everything else in my life.
Problems paled in comparison to love.
*Image Courtesy Raoul Dyssell