Stay Clingy, Stay Spunky
Last week I heard the news that Shinhwa (the oldest idol group in Korea) is coming back with their tenth album after 6 years’ absence. Shinhwa, how can I possibly forget them? It’s impossible to describe my school days without mentioning Shinhwa. My school days were full of joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure because of six men. When I was 15, one of my friends asked me to go to Shinhwa’s autograph signing which was being held on Jeju. I just joined her as I didn’t have any plan after school. The event place was jam-packed with thousands of young girls who were desperate to get their idol’s autograph. We stood in line and waited for a couple of hours. In my gathering boredom, I looked at these girls around me unable to understand them. ‘What the hell are they doing here? Waiting for two or three hours to get only a piece of paper? Come on!’ Anyhow it was our turn to enter the place. As soon as I went inside, I saw six gorgeous guys with their heads surrounded by a halo. I couldn’t but stare in wonder. I couldn’t say a word. I realized instinctively I was meant to come here. Destiny brought us together! Even at that time I had no idea that those six guys would change my life forever. Thanks to Shinhwa, I discovered potential passion, became a straight-A student and fostered independence and adventure which lead to further success in my life.
Shinhwa was the first thing that I have ever been crazy about in my life. Before seeing them, I was just an average sort of student. I got along well with classmates, didn’t make any serious trouble and my grades were about average in my class. When it comes to Shinhwa, however, I couldn’t be normal. I started to collect every material of them such as magazines, CDs, post cards, autographs and so on. I recorded almost every TV and radio program that they were on. I even recorded their TV commercials. I didn’t mind waiting all night long to see their performance. When Shinhwa came to Jeju, I waited through the night to see them from the very first row. It was absolutely worth waiting as nothing was more important than seeing them with my own eyes. I even went to a restaurant that Shin Hyesung’s (one of the members) mother owned. She was running a restaurant in Shinchon, Seoul. I went there and introduced that I was from Jeju, came all the way to Seoul to see her and I’d like to marry Shin Hyesung someday and be a nice daughter-in-law. What a spunky girl! Shin Hyesung’s mother smiled at me and she said she would remember me. I actually talked to her on the phone several times. I became legendary among fans of Shin Hyesung. My parents were a little worried about me as I was getting too clingy. But this childish enthusiasm and passion toward an idol made me a totally different person. I’ve learned how joyful it is to be crazy about something and I’ve become an enthusiastic and vigorous person as a result.
I was surrounded by my friends when I got my final exam report card from my homeroom teacher. They were curious about whether I had achieved my goal. At the moment of checking the rank, I suddenly burst into tears. When my friends were about to console me, I shouted “I made it! I am in the top 5 in the whole school!” We all hugged each other and jumped for joy. It was around July of that year that I had decided to do it. I had joined Shinhwa’s fan club, gathered innumerable materials but I still felt something was missing in my heart. Suddenly, the thought that I should go to Seoul took possession of me. I immediately went to my dad and asked what he thought of me going to Seoul to see Shinhwa’s concert. Without answering my question, he just told me to bring a T square from my brother’s room. (He is an architect.) I couldn’t figure out the reason but I brought it to him anyway. He told me to lie down on the floor, spanked me softly and said “Don’t even think of that. It’s ridiculous of you to go to Seoul alone to see a concert.” I couldn’t make any comment as he was adamant. When I was about to fall into despair, he unexpectedly asked me “How many fans does Shinhwa have?” “About 100,000” “Then how many of those 100,000 fans are going to the concert?” “I’m not sure, I guess around 2000 people…… why are you asking that?” “2000 out of 100,000…… Okay. It’s about 2 %. Not every fan goes to a concert. If you get in the top 2% in your whole school, I will let you go.” I couldn’t figure out how high that rank was; what I heard for sure was that he said he would let me go. I instantly signed up for a reading room (“Dokseosil”) near my home. I studied zealously for the exams. My world was exclusively focused on studying. I put a picture of Shinhwa above my desk and it said “They are watching you.” I couldn’t help studying all the time as I felt like they were really watching me. As I was sufficiently motivated, I actually enjoyed studying. When I dropped by home for dinner, I even sprinted there to save a minute. Eventually my rank reached the top 5 among about 500 students. This experience of improving my grade not only had me go to Seoul but also become more confident about myself. Once I make up my mind to do something, I manage to do it by any means. Due to the self-assurance that I gained from this “miracle”, I passed major tests in my life without a failure such as SAT and the teacher recruitment exam.
Even though my parents allowed me to go to Seoul, I had to save money to buy a plane ticket on my own. The 100,000 won ticket cost was such a big amount of money for a middle school girl. I started to walk to school, even though I received bus fare from my mom. I went to school and back on foot every day. It wasn’t tiring at all as long as I could go to Seoul! I sometimes told white lies that I needed to buy some books or stationary stuff, even though I didn’t need them. Eventually I made it to Shinhwa’s concert in Seoul. Although that was the very first time for me to go to the mainland alone, I wasn’t afraid at all but was thrilled at the prospect of seeing them in a big stadium. A 16-year-old girl from Jeju went all the way to Jamsil stadium by herself. I went to Seoul two more times to see them. As I visited Seoul several times, I came to discover how big the world outside of Jeju was. At that time I decided to live in a big city someday. As a frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean, I didn’t want to spend my whole life only living in a small island. This change in worldview ultimately encouraged me to go to the Philippines to volunteer and to go to Sydney to take part in an Internship program while in college. Even now I am in KNUE to become a better English teacher.
Yesterday I bought Shinhwa’s new album. Even though I could download songs from the Internet easily, somehow I didn’t want to. And I looked back on the days when I waited for hours to be the first person to buy a new album. That spunky little girl grew up to be a teacher. Sometimes my students ask me whether I also had an idol in my school days. I proudly tell them about my heroic story. Then I can feel that they are looking at me with envious eyes and some of them actually respect me more. As a result, my healthy obsession over Shinhwa has brought me fabulous things such as the discovery of latent passion, good grades, adventure and even students’ interest and respect. I want to tell students the key to my successful school days: stay clingy, stay spunky.
“Oh, my gosh~!” she shouted again, but we laughed and ran naked from bedroom to living room. When I was a little girl -perhaps younger than 6- bath was one of the most annoying things in my life, but there was an exciting thing which made me go into the bathroom. We my younger brother and I really liked to play in the bathroom, especially with a bathtub full of bubbles. There are several steps to play with bubbles: making rich bubbles, making bubble house, and making bubble men of each other.
To make rich bubbles, it’s very important to do it quickly and silently. As soon as my mom knows our secret performance, all our plans failed. The first step was pouring water in the bathtub. When we filled the bathtub, we had to care about the temperature of water. If it is too hot, we can’t play in it and some troubles come when we make bubbles. However, if it is not warm enough, we can’t play for a long time because the water becomes chilly. Therefore, warm and a little bit hotter water is the key of successful play. Second, pouring a variety of liquid soaps into the bathtub. Solid soap needs much more time to make bubbles, so we used shampoo, hair treatment and body wash. All kinds of liquid soaps were our materials. At that time we cared about the amount of bubbles and the scent of bubbles. We liked mixing the soaps to make a new scent every time. In addition, we tried to make color bubbles also, so sometimes we poured only pink or only green soap, but we could make only white bubbles. That was a huge mystery to us. Third, stirring it with every part of body. It was the hardest step because it needed lots of power and patience. We usually used our hands and arms. When my shoulders felt pain, it was time to start stirring with a foot and a leg. Sometimes we used our hair and heads. It was the most difficult mission, but it was the most exciting and thrilling step. Finally we made lots of rich bubbles.
With the rich bubbles we could make a small house in the bathroom. We could make a bubble bed and a bubble kitchen too. To make a bubble bed, we needed an air pillow. Only putting the air pillow at the corner of the bathtub, the bathtub became a wonderful bubble bed. Because I was so short, I had to stretch my toes to reach the bottom of the bathtub in order to lay on the bubble-bed. In the bubble kitchen, we could make every food with bubbles and simple tools. To make rice which is the most important and basic food for us, making the smallest bubbles was the key. We used a special dark pink sponge to make tiny bubbles. – That was a magic sponge to us but now I know that it was a very common normal sponge- After that, we spooned up and filled the bowls with the bubbles and tried to pretend eating. But sometimes we failed. We ate bubbles. The taste was…? Try some. One day, I got an idea. “Today, I will give you special drinks.” “What’s that?” My brother asked me with excitement and a curious smile, because we were sick of the same food. “It’s strawberry juice. You can drink it and it tastes like real strawberry!” “Awesome! Please make it!” “Okay.” Fruit juice was one of our favorites. It was made of strawberry or lemon flavored toothpaste. It was pretty nice. Sometimes he drank the juice. But as if the warning, on the toothpaste cover, said a lie, he didn’t have any problem. When mother knew the fact which was the process of making juice, she was shocked again, but we told her like nothing special happened. “We drank strawberry juice! It was yummy!”
When we felt bored in playing like that, there was another step: making bubble men. First, making today’s hair. My younger brother’s hair was not long but not short, so it was the just hair for me. There were 3 most popular types of hair. Those were chicken, Atom, and goblin style. I could make his hair style with quite a few motions. Simply put enough bubbles on his head and pet the hair to make a triangle. One triangle in the middle of his head was rooster hair. Two triangles on both sides of his head meant Atom which was a popular animation character. Three horns meant goblin style. After deciding on the hair style, it was quite simple to make a bubble man. The only thing we had to do was putting bubbles on each other’s bodies. It was not easy because bubbles were disappearing or slipping while we were putting the bubbles on our bodies. However we knew how to make it through lots of failures. The beginning step was to coat our bodies with tiny and rich bubbles with very little water. The next step was to spoon up the bubbles and put those on the body like icing a cake. We made mustaches and beards on our faces and clothes also. Coating bubbles on our bodies became clothes for us.
Every time before bathing we played like this. We always shouted in the bathroom. “Give more time, we didn’t finish!” Still, my mother wondered why we spent such a long time in the bathroom without bathing at all. Those were our secrets that my mother probably still doesn’t know. I still miss those days. Even though I didn’t have a luxurious house or expensive clothes, I was happier than anybody with only bubble clothes.
The True Inside of a Naughty Boy
A pair of black slippers with three white lines is easily found everywhere in Korea. Whenever I see those slippers, they remind me of a student of mine, Jong-chan Yoon. He was in my homeroom back in 2010. I still remember his first impression because it was outstanding in a negative way. He was grinning and his eyes seemed to look for something or someone to make fun of. His clothes indicated that he was a naughty student who breaks the school rules and who misbehaves. His uniform from his middle school was not neat at all; there was no tie and the pants were so tight that they looked like tights. The most distinct feature were the black slippers which he never took off. According to his father, he had worn no other shoes but the slippers since he got into middle school. He was always with the slippers inside and outside the school, which was against the school rules - slippers are not allowed outside the school. Everything - the slippers, his facial expression, his untidy uniform, and his behavior - seemed to keep telling me that he was a bad student. However, there were three things that showed me that he was not that bad a student, but was rather a good person - his overlooked diligence, his hidden sincerity behind grinning, and an undiscovered passion to be changed.
Jong-chan lived at an apartment next to school. It took less than 10 minutes from his house door to school. However, he was the king of the late student group. At that time, students were supposed to be in the classroom and start reading books before 7:30 am, but there were many regular late comers. Their punishment was to have to read books in the hallway, standing still until the reading period finished at 8:10 am. I also had to stay in the hallway to monitor them. As time went by, the number of these latecomers shrank. However, it never touched the zero line because of the king, Jong-chan, who never came on time. That was why every morning he stayed in the hallway with me. To try to make him punctual, I sometimes persuaded him with good words, scolded him harshly, gave him physical punishment, or called his mom to ask her to send Jong-chan to school earlier - none of which worked. He was a lazy student, actually the laziest student in the school. However, I realized that I had overlooked something about him. That was his veiled diligence. Everyday students were supposed to stay at school until 10 pm, studying by themselves. Many students wanted to go home because it was hard for them to study that late at school. It was stressful for me to turn down their requests to go home, to have to force students to go back to the classroom and study hard till 10 o’clock. One night I had to allow some students to go home after persuaded by the students’ lame excuses. There were also a few students who were forced to go back to the classroom and study because of their ridiculous excuses. When I went to the classroom to see off my students at 10 o’clock, I found out that some of them ran away without my permission. I got really mad at them. It was when I was about to leave the classroom, being exhausted and upset, that I saw Jong-chan leaving the classroom and saying “Good bye” to me. At the very moment, I realized that Jong-chan was one of little students who never asked me to let them go home and stayed at school until 10 pm. Moreover, he was the last student who always left the classroom as well. Even though he slept a little during the self-guided studying time, he never skipped it, always kept the time and never left early. His diligence had been hidden under his late coming, which had covered my eyes. I thought of the reason why he was always late. It was because he was such a slow person, not because he was lazy. He moved slowly, talked slowly, and did many things slowly. I regretted thinking of him as a lazy student and, at the same time, was glad to throw away the biased idea on him and grasp his hidden diligence.
Jong-chan grinned a lot, which made him look silly. He joked and often made fun of his friends. This made people think he was not an earnest person. I thought so, too. A day before a school sports day, some male students in my homeroom played soccer against other teams. Jong-chan also played as the captain of the sports department in my homeroom. Led by Jong-chan, his group managed to get into the semifinal, where they met the strongest team. During the tough game against them, one of my students, Seung-yup Oh, rolled on the ground. Even though the referee dissuaded him from playing, Seung-yup refused, kept playing and made a goal which resulted in our winning. After the game, I checked out Seung-yup’s condition and found that he was okay despite slight pain on his foot. It was dinner time when Jong-chan came to me. Grinning as usual, he said he got hurt from today’s soccer games. Jong-chan told me that he could not walk well because of a severe back and knee pain and sore muscles. He wanted to go and see a doctor. However, the grinning eyes were so suspicious that I assumed he was lying. If the pain had been so serious, how could he have smiled. Moreover, nothing happened to him during the game. He had been perfectly okay before dinner time. So I shouted at him, “Don’t you dare to lie!” I thought that he was using his bearable pain as an excuse to go out and grab something to eat instead of the school food which the students hated. That was why I kept turning down his request. Exhausted by his endless nagging, however, I could not help but allow him to go out during dinner time. After Jong-chan left my office, a student reported that Seung-yup was bleeding in the classroom. Being shocked, I ran to my classroom and found out that this poor boy was bleeding from his foot. When Seung-yup fell down during the game, he had stepped on a sharp stone, which went through his old sneakers and cut his skin as well. Being worried about the possibility of tetanus, I quickly drove him to a near hospital, where I bumped into Jong-chan. It was true that his pain was severe enough to see a doctor. He was not smiling any more, but frowning because of the pain. After arranging things for Seung-yup to get medical treatment, I talked to Jong-chan. He said he had a bad back and knee. Even though he had the problem, he had to play soccer for our class as a captain. However, after playing several games, he felt terrible pain. He also added that he did not frown in front of me but rather smiled not to make me worry too much. I was very embarrassed at my words and deeds to him, regretting distrusting him. My biased assumption from his grinning blocked me from seeing his sincerity. I should not have suspected his pain even though he smiled, and taken him to the hospital just like I had done for Seung-yup. I was ashamed. On the way back to school with Jong-chan and Seung-yup, I apologized for distrusting Jong-chan and being indifferent to his pain. This incident allowed me to know Jong-chan was actually a sincere and earnest person and to build up quite a strong trust with him.
Jong-chan was really bad at studying. His attitude during lessons and self-study time – sleeping, talking, playing with others, and so on - showed that he was not interested in studying at all. One and only subject he liked seemed P.E. One morning, I was with him in the hallway because he was late on that day as usual. I allowed him to study instead of reading books because the final exams were around the corner. He hesitated for a while and did not take anything out of his bag. His bag looked very light. A few minutes later, I took his bag and asked him whether I could open his bag. He never answered and I opened it without his approval. Surprisingly, there was nothing but a pencil case which was very old and filthy. I opened the pencil case, being shocked. Everything – the inside of the pencil case, a white rubber, and pencils - was black. I asked him why and he said he had never opened his pencil case since middle school. He would borrow things from his friends when necessary. Till that day some broken pieces of pencil lead had made everything in it black. Everything had to go to the trash can because there was no way to use anything in it. Then I got very curious about why he had not taken care of his school stuff. It was because of the adults’ complete indifference to him. His parents were both working and had no time to take care of him and his school work. Neither did any teachers because they thought Jong-chan was helpless. Naturally, Jong-chan felt studying was of no use. I decided to help him to start to manage his school life well by providing reasonably good school stationery. Fortunately, I had some second-hand used stationery from me and the lost and found box. I picked some good re-conditioned ones and gave them to him. Handing them over, I said to Jong-chan that I did care him and his school life. I added that I would be very happy to see him studying very hard with those pencils and pens. At first, he seemed very embarrassed but soon became comfortable enough to smile again. He gave me a positive answer. I did not expect a sudden change from him because he was a slow student lacking of a strong will. However, he showed a slow and steady change. I could find him concentrating on lessons and keeping notes with the pens and pencils that I gave him. Furthermore, he asked me to recommend a good vocabulary book. I happily gave one to him as a gift. I saw him using it every day. It was a huge change although he still fell asleep a lot during classes. I felt happy to see his slow progress. I finally realized that he had not been interested in studying because he did not have someone to inspire him. I believed that he definitely had a strong passion to be changed and my modest attention toward him just sparked it up for further progress.
After spending his first year at high school with me, Jong-chan met another homeroom teacher and seemed to have a hard time. All the other teachers thought of him as a lazy naughty boy and treated him with a prejudice. It was difficult for them to find his diligence, sincerity, and a passion to be a good student outside him because they had been all hidden inside and were now developing. He turned back to his former lazy school life, wasting his two last years in high school. Last November he took K-SAT exam only to fail. However, this failure led him to think of what he really wanted to be in the future and he began set goals. He decided to study one more year to realize those goals. A day before his graduation, he sent me a text message, which read “I hope to see you at the commencement.” As soon as I arrived at school I headed to the gym where commencement was held. I looked for my thirty three students and I could find a few of them in the midst of four hundred students. However, I could hardly find Jong-chan. To meet him I waited at the entrance after the ceremony, saying good-bye to other students. After some time at the entrance I had to go back to my office for some work. There I sent him a congratulatory message, adding how sorry I feel to have missed him at the graduation. Before long the door of the office opened and there he was. He bowed to me slowly. It was such a respectful bow that it touched me deeply. After bowing, he handed me a paper bag, saying that he thanked me so much for being his homeroom teacher. He wanted to show how he appreciated everything I had done for him. Being deeply moved, I told him that I also thanked him and that he also had done many things for me. After he left, I opened the paper bag and found a hand-written letter on a gift box. One of the lines read that he was not sure what kind of student he had been to me while I had been a good and kind homeroom teacher. He hoped that he had been one of good students to me. Actually, he is a good student whom I will never forget. Now he is working hard to fulfill his dream. I always pray for him to do his best and achieve his goals. I am sure he can do so and become a nice person in the future because I know that he is a diligent and sincere person with a passion for progress.