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I went to the Korea vs. Australia international friendly match at World Cup Stadium on Saturday. We lost 3 to 1, with an own goal to boot. Translate whatever kind of symbolism for my own personal battle you want out of that.

Went out drinking afterwards, at some expat bar where the music was awful and the women too intimidatingly beautiful. Stumbled home drunk at 3.00 am and woke up at 9.00, like I do every day, whether I want to or not. My window faces directly towards the rising sun and my blinds aren’t worth a damn. I’d cover it with garbage bags and duct tape… if I was here for much longer. I realised today that I’m leaving in a week, and it made me happy. Really happy. I’m still nervous about it, of course. I still feel like I’m doing the wrong thing, I still worry that something will go badly awry, and I know that there’ll be other issues to face when I get home. But all of that is blown away by the merciful thought that I won’t be working at this hagwon anymore. I won’t have to go in every day and spend nine hours at a job I’m clearly unfit for, slaving away for brazen charlatans, trapped in a classroom with the rude, spoilt, taekwondo-trained brats of Korea’s upper tax bracket.

If I make it out.

Korea’s going through something of a swine flu scare at the moment. Take the kind of media hype about swine flu you see in the West, and now imagine it applied to a nation that is already full of kneejerk reaction hypochondriacs. One of my coworkers had a trip to Japan planned this weekend, for quite some time now, and on Friday the director informed her that she could not go – because, obviously, the world beyond Korea is a flu-ravaged wasteland similar to Stephen King’s The Stand, with the few lucky survivors battling it out in corpse-strewn cities for the last remaining fuel and water resources. She flat out refused, because everything was planned, and the director relented and merely imposed a one week quarantine on her. I’d complain about having to pick up some of her shifts thanks to completely baseless Korean paranoia, but since I’m about to inflict the same thing on everyone else for a lot longer, I’ll let it slide.

Anyway I mention all this because I woke up with a terrible hangover/head-cold this morning, which didn’t go away, and by sunset I had acquired – in addition to a runny nose and constant hacking of phlegm – a sore throat, a headache and pervasive chilliness in spite of the heat and humidity. While I was eating dinner I even felt nauseous. It’s gotten better in the last few hours but that might just be because I took some Nurofen. Basically I’m terrified that I have swine flu (or indeed any flu). It wouldn’t normally bother me, because like SARS and bird flu, swine flu is trumped-up media bullshit that’s about as likely to kill you as a lightning strike or a clocktower sniper. But it sure is an issue if I’m getting on a plane in seven days. I’ll be drawing enough attention to myself without sneezing all over the place.

Admittedly, I would personally find it very satisfying for the school to have one teacher go to Japan and come back healthy as a clam, and the other stay in Seoul all weekend and come down with swine flu. But not quite satisfying enough to lie in bed feeling awful all week.

Becky: Mitchy teacher! Charles… star! (points at whiteboard)
Mitch: Charles! Did you wipe out one of Becky’s stars from the whiteboard?
Everyone: Yes! Charles Becky star!
Mitch: Charles! Look at me! Did you wipe out one of Becky’s stars?
Mitch: Your silence convicts you. YOUR SILENCE CONVICTS YOU.

Sunny: Teacher! Break one minute?
Mitch: No! OK, look, kids! This has to stop! You ask me every five minutes if break is in one minute, including when I walk in the door! It is halfway through the period! We have been in class for 20 minutes! That means we have another 20 minutes to go! Okay? You just… you have no concept of time, do you? Break twenty minutes – no, don’t yell out in excitement. Twenty minutes is a long time. Okay? Please, just… learn how to understand the passage of time.
Sunny:…Teacher, break one minute?
Mitch: (slams head repeatedly into table)

Mitch: Danny! I said face the wall and don’t move! DON’T MOVE! Fu… Danny! You are REALLY pushing it!
Danny: (long, drawn-out groan; tries to climb onto adjacent desk)
Mitch: Danny! Get OFF the desk! (physical altercation, shoves Danny against wall) Now stay here and don’t move – DON’T MOVE! Christ. Christ, I wish I could hit you. I can’t wait for your military service, Danny. It’s going to be fantastic. They’re going to dehumanise you, break you down into your component parts, and then reassemble you as a functional human being. Either that or they’ll end up hanging you to set an example to the other men.

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September 2009