I saw exactly one picture of Marx and one of Lenin in my whole stay, but it's been a long time since ideology had anything to do with it. Not without cunning, Fat Man and Little Boy gradually mutated the whole state belief system into a debased form of Confucianism, in which traditional ancestor worship and respect for order become blended with extreme nationalism and xenophobia. Near the southernmost city of Kaesong, captured by the North in 1951, I was taken to see the beautifully preserved tombs of King and Queen Kongmin. Their significance in F.M.-L.B. cosmology is that they reigned over a then unified Korea in the 14th century, and that they were Confucian and dynastic and left many lavish memorials to themselves. The tombs are built on one hillside, and legend has it that the king sent one of his courtiers to pick the site. Second-guessing his underling, he then climbed the opposite hill. He gave instructions that if the chosen site did not please him he would wave his white handkerchief. On this signal, the courtier was to be slain. The king actually found that the site was ideal. But it was a warm day and he forgetfully mopped his brow with the white handkerchief. On coming downhill he was confronted with the courtier's fresh cadaver and exclaimed, 'Oh dear.' And ever since, my escorts told me, the opposite peak has been known as 'Oh Dear Hill.'I thought this was a perfect illustration of the caprice and cruelty of absolute leadership, and began to phrase a little pun about Kim Jong Il being the 'Oh Dear Leader,' but it died on my lips.
Every day the same things came up; the work was never done, and the tedium of it began to weigh on me. Part of what made English a difficult subject for Korean students was the lack of a more active principle in their learning. They were accustomed to receiving, recording, and memorizing. That's the Confucian mode. As a student, you're not supposed to question a teacher; you should avoid asking for explanations because that might reveal a lack of knowledge, which can be seen as an insult to the teacher's efforts. You don't have an open, free exchange with teachers as we often have here in the West. And further, under this design, a student doesn't do much in the way of improvisation or interpretation.This approach might work well for some pursuits, may even be preferred--indeed, I was often amazed by the way Koreans learned crafts and skills, everything from basketball to calligraphy, for example, by methodically studying and reproducing a defined set of steps (a BBC report explained how the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had his minions rigorously study the pizza-making techniques used by Italian chefs so that he could get a good pie at home, even as thousands of his subjects starved)--but foreign-language learning, the actual speaking component most of all, has to be more spontaneous and less rigid.We all saw this played out before our eyes and quickly discerned the problem. A student cannot hope to sit in a class and have a language handed over to him on sheets of paper.
You know, sometimes I don't understand what's wrong with us. This is just about the most creative and imaginative country on earth—and yet sometimes we just don't seem to have the gumption to exploit our intellectual property. We split the atom, and now we have to get French or Korean scientists to help us build nuclear power stations. We perfected the finest cars on earth—and now Rolls-Royce is in the hands of the Germans. Whatever we invent, from the jet engine to the internet, we find that someone else carts it off and makes a killing from it elsewhere.
This country has not seen and probably will never know the true level of sacrifice of our veterans. As a civilian I owe an unpayable debt to all our military. Going forward let’s not send our servicemen and women off to war or conflict zones unless it is overwhelmingly justifiable and on moral high ground. The men of WWII were the greatest generation, perhaps Korea the forgotten, Vietnam the trampled, Cold War unsung and Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan vets underestimated. Every generation has proved itself to be worthy to stand up to the precedent of the greatest generation. Going back to the Revolution American soldiers have been the best in the world. Let’s all take a remembrance for all veterans who served or are serving, peace time or wartime and gone or still with us. 11/11/16 May God Bless America and All Veterans.
The blazing sun beat down on the concrete of the museum's front yard- Reverend Ryu Yosop felt as if the heat were sucking up all the moisture in his brain and heart. What different colors he and his brother Yohan must have used as each of them painted their own picture of home, of the carnage. These people have constructed yet a different vision of their own, Yosop thought to himself, but it all stems from the same nightmare, the one we created together.
Farid asked, 'Do American teachers care about every student?'I thought about a humanities teacher I’d worked with in Korea and more recently a science teacher I’d worked with in Germany. I said, 'I think most schools have a resident idiot.
My closest friend at this time was my tiny pet dog - it was one of the cute little breeds that people in other countries put frocks on. I wouldn't have been allowed to do that, because putting clothes on dogs was a well-known example of capitalist degeneracy.
Cope? Adapt? Uh, no. These are military kids. They roll with it. I once asked a new student, 'See any familiar faces?' She pointed out various kids and replied, 'Seattle, Tampa, Okinawa, New Jersey.' For military dependents school is literally a non-stop revolving door of old and new friends.
Sami and I had exactly one day together in the old world. On Tuesday the jihadists came to our front door and knocked down our buildings. Our new world was hijacked planes, anthrax, and Afghanistan. Then we had snipers inside the Beltway. Then came Iraq. With every military action we were told reprisals were not just probable, but a foregone conclusion. An intelligence officer with a fancy PowerPoint briefed teachers on ‘our new reality.’ He called us ‘targets.’ He said ‘get used to it.’ He told our Webmaster ‘get off your ass’ and remove bus routes/stops from the school’s website. Johnny Jihad would find that information especially helpful if he decided to plow through our kids one morning as they stood half-asleep waiting for the school bus.
I’m clinging to one last thought: pain is the harbinger of hope. You have to be alive to feel pain. If you are alive, then you have purpose. If you have purpose, then you have hope.
It’d be easy to blame everything on 9/11 or the wars that came after. It’s really about the choices we made. By necessity we adapt to the realities of the world we live in, but if we forget that how we live shapes and influences the world around us, then we’ve already lost.
In total this journey will take five flights and fifty-five hours, but in reality it began four decades and two generations ago when my uncle died in Vietnam.
The last two days I’ve been on long bus rides, driven through the countryside on the back of a motorbike, and crossed rivers on wooden boats, traversing currents into a different century. It’s late and dark, but I’m so close now. My uncle died five kilometers from here.
I felt so much pride, so much love. You get a handful of days like this in a lifetime. Take in every minute. They’ll be over soon enough, and you never know what tomorrow will bring.
All my life my dad felt this need to protect his kids from a war he fought, a war I believed could never reach out and touch us, could never hurt us—and yet he fed us lies with his answers, shielding us from the truth about what he did there, about what he saw, about who he was before the war, and about what he became because of it. He lied to protect us from his memories, from his nightmares. Standing with my dad at The Wall, I knew the truth—no one could know so many names engraved in granite if he 'never was in danger.
I have this thought, it’s horrible, and it makes me sick, but it’s true: one day these students will grow up and have their own kids, and they’re going to name them for men and women who will die in this war.
This is my worst fear. It’s not keeping my students safe from terrorists, it’s knowing what to do when the Chaplain comes to take Johnny out of class because not letting the terrorists win means sometimes the good guys are going to die. And those good guys have kids, and they’re sitting in my classroom.
Teaching isn’t rocket science. It’s about being engaged, listening, paying attention. Despite conventional wisdom, you don’t need to talk a lot to teach well. You do need to care, though. Not so much about what people think of you or whether or not they like you, but about the kids and doing what’s best for them.
The service members who defend our way of life ask very little in return, but they deserve teachers who will be as relentless in teaching their children as the military is in protecting our interests at home and abroad.
I needed to talk to my dad. My dad who had been to war, who had seen its horrors, who suffered from its nightmares, my dad who was a good man, the best man I’d ever known, who, along with my uncle, I wanted to honor by teaching military kids—my dad, the only one who I would believe if he would just tell me I could be good, too, that I could do right by my students, because for sure they were going to suffer. It’s just cause and effect. We’re at war. The military fights wars. I teach military kids. I’d never served, but now I could make a difference. I just needed my dad to tell me what to do, to tell me I was good enough to get it done.
We all lose people. We all have to live in the aftermath. It’s how we move forward that counts, but sometimes we are tethered to something in our past that won’t let us move forward.
I’m in my classroom and I’m looking at this girl, but all I can see is my dad on the ground, in front of The Wall, telling the truth, finally—his knees drawn and his chest heaving—and when people pass by they look the other way, except for this one lady who stops to give my dad a hug. She gets down on her knees to reach him, and now she’s crying with a stranger, and without asking I know it’s because she’s lost something, too, and I wonder if in comforting my dad she thinks she can find it again. Probably not. It doesn’t work that way.
The men and women who made up DoDDS Korea during the time I was there were an eclectic group to say the least, but as a group we were among the most talented, diverse, intelligent, fun, crazy, thoughtful, caring, and dedicated people in the world. We did important work, and we did it well. Better than that, we did it exceptionally well. We were experts in our fields, and we made each other better still because we depended on each other in ways that people who’ve never lived overseas could ever imagine.
Honestly, I had no idea how to respond. My senior year of college I’d taken a seminar titled Public Education: Situations and Strategies. I thought about emailing my professor, maybe suggest some new topics and help him get current. Maybe he’d invite me back as a guest lecturer. He’d probably expect some strategies along with the situations though, so I guess that wouldn’t work, but whatever.
It’s hard to describe being an expatriate of sorts to people who’ve never lived overseas, but when you’re an American living in a geographically separated region within a country like Korea, you form bonds with people who you’d never associate with stateside.
I felt a hand on my back, movement behind me, my guys making room, someone squeezing into our circle, and then one last hand joined the pile: my Korean aide. I guess it made sense. We were her real family. The closest thing she’d ever had to a real family, at least. All year she said maybe five words a day. 'Now kick some ass,' she said.