Work has gotten shittier lately. Every day the kindy kids have a “special class,” which is either Chinese or phys ed or science or music, depending on the day of the week. This gives the teachers one free period in which to relax, do some more planning or stave off the inevitable brain aneurysms.

However, the current South Korean government is apparently trying to crack down on the hagwon industry – CAN’T IMAGINE WHY – and has passed a law saying that anyone employed at an English academy must be a licensed teacher and that all classes must be taught in English. So all the special teachers, who are all either part-time contractors or only speak Korean, are off the payroll. At least that’s the reason the school gave us. Maybe they just fired them to cut costs. Maybe they quit, like the entire Korean staff mere weeks before my arrival! Who knows! In this glorious whirlwind of Confucian deceit and exploitation, anything is possible!

The point is I now have to teach during that particular period, increasing my classes and robbing me of my only morning break in one fell swoop. It’s amazing how such a small change makes such a huge difference – teaching five straight kindergarden classes is utterly exhausting.

At least it was also monthly test day, which meant my afternoon elementary classes involved me napping with my feet up on a chair while the students feverishly scribbled away. I’m not entirely sure why we bother testing them. The tests are deliberately written to be easy so that they score well (I know this because I wrote them myself, under those specific instructions), poor scores result in absolutely no changes to the syllabus, and the only people who see the test scores are their parents when theey receive their report cards – who can then be impressed by how well their child must be doing in English, since they scored extremely high on the test and the class will be moving on to the next textbook in a month!

This is the hagwon industry in a nutshell. They don’t provide education. They provide the illusion of education. Oh, okay, the kids learn English here and there. But there’s so much smoke and so many mirrors. Acquiring and maintaining clients (sorry, students) comes first and foremost, which means that appearances are everything.

I went for a walk this evening, partly because I needed some milk and beer and partly because I felt like taking a walk to the second-closest subway station to my apartment, since the closest one is the same one all my co-workers use, so I might hypothetically stumble into them coming home in the early hours of a Sunday morning, if I was, for no particular reason – just idly speculating here – going the opposite direction wearing my huge backpack. At that particular time of day. With plane tickets. Anyway, while I was walking by the canal I saw a huge video ad for the upcoming Korea vs. Australia soccer match, which faded out to a simple image of the Korean flag opposing the Australian flag. Rarely does real life provide such appropriate cinematic symbolism.

I also stopped by the ATM to start the slow and steady process of withdrawing all my cash. The largest denomination in Korean currency is 10,000 won ($10). I will be leaving the country with approximately 3,000,000 won ($3,000). I wish my jeans had deeper pockets.