clock, originally uploaded by JackieSK.

He leveled his forearm right above his head, waving it back and forth along an imaginary horizontal plane, “Head hit glass.”

A science teacher at my school and I were the only ones eating our lunches in the faculty dining room last Friday. The little English that he knew, along with his hand gestures, were enough for us to engage in a dialogue that carried with me afterwards.

A native Korean science teacher who has been teaching at my school for years now, I asked him that if he had the opportunity, whether he would immigrate to a country like the United States of America, where the Korean American population is building a strong prominence. Shaking his head no, he was not afraid to explain reasons why:

“Here, ttaah [Korean for ‘all’] yellow,” he smiled. Whereas in the United States, a Korean will always encounter a glass ceiling where, “White on top.” He looked down at his metal tray to exemplify, and I imagined a colony of White men in business suits walking on a thin glass floor, where beneath it are a sea of faces looking up.

I had so many questions to ask: Why does the economy play such a strong influence on Koreans? Why, when my parents showed me the few tattered photos of their childhood in the’60s, did they grow up poor, whereas Americana was colored with the comforts of automobiles, homes and radios that rotated Motown and the Beatles? Why were some of my middle and high school classmates Koreans who were left by themselves in the United States?

Japan by Cocorosie

Everyone wants to go to Iraq
But once they go, they don’t come back
Bringing peanut butter jelly and other snacks
We might have our freedom, but we’re still on crack
Everybody wants to go to Japan
Everybody wants to go to Japan
Everybody wants to go to Japan



The teacher shaped his hands as if holding a bottle. They quickly flipped back and forth to show how the Korean economy developed at a record pace in a short time span. South Korea started jumped from being a third world nation to that of a globally competitive and first world nation, all within a span of a few decades. However, the development was so rapid, that South Korea left her nation without a middle class, a problem that is visibly evident. Therefore, South Korea, particularly Seoul, still remains under political, social, and economic reconstruction. Take 1997’s East Asian financial crisis, for example, when the IMF intervened in South Korea’s economic slump that caused her citizens to fall below the poverty line. It was an emotionally unstable period that one of my English co-teachers remembered as a time when suicide rates were high. Currently, Seoul is showing much pride in her participation in the global economy.

Nonetheless, “We have no oil, no…resources.” He quickly pointed to his head and then one of his hands. What the Koreans do have, however, are brain power and manual labor. However, he reminded me that because there are limited resources in South Korea to generate a strong and diverse economy, he showed how competition is extremely high. He pointed to one one part of the lunch table, for example, and quickly made several lines connecting towards that one singular point. Typically, there are many people of the same caliber applying for one job.

That is why teaching in South Korea, for example, is one of the highly competitive markets in South Korea. A teaching career in South Korea offers the stability that citizens here want, that they need.

But, “My son…go to America.” His son, who has never been to the country, told his dad that he wants to study and visit the United States. Having been smiling the whole time that he has been explaining his honesty, he continued to do so when he agreed that it was okay for his son to aim West. As for himself, even though the teacher has a friend in America, he is very comfortable, and more importantly, very proud of where he is.

During a brief reflective moment, the teacher abruptly pointed to the clock, “시간 (Shi-gahn, time).” We picked up our metal plate-trays, even though there was so much more that I wanted to know. I was appreciative of his candidness and most importantly, his courage to communicate with me. An honest and open exchange is what we need to practice as foreigners, as Westerners, as Americans in foreign territory, because after all, “We might have our freedom, but we’re still on crack.”


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