I think I’ve become institutionalised. Most days I struggle to remember what life is like outside my school buildings. Do the birds still sing? Does the rice still grow in the paddies? Do the bus drivers still play chicken on the bridge near my home? Does the the sun still hide behind a haze of pollution? I wonder if I’ll ever be able to see these wonders again with these old eyes of mine. My trip to China is starting to feel like some vague dream I once had.
Today is the first day of the last week of summer vacation at my school. It is also the eleventh day of summer camp for me, all of which has been spent behind the barbed wire walls of my school. While my co-teachers have been visiting Jeju Island and Canada, I’ve been trying to keep a bunch of teenage girls busy with school work during their summer break. As you can imagine, it has been super-easy.
Actually, it hasn’t been that bad. The only tough part has been keeping up my energy levels and holding the kids’ attention for four hours at a time. This has been incredibly tiring, and I’m almost looking forward to the start of the new school semester next week so that I don’t have to teach for four hours straight anymore.
The reason that I’ve been teaching for four hours a day for most of the summer vacation is a simple one. It’s the result of a razor sharp interpretation of my contract. According to this handy piece of toilet paper…ummm I mean this legal document… during the vacation I “may be asked to participate in special classes or English camps, up to 20 hours per week” (2008 GEPIK contract, Article 12, para 2). The key phrase here is “up to”. What my school interpreted it to mean is the following: “During school vacations , Employee will be ordered to independently plan and organise special classes or English camps, at least 20 hours per week. Mwahahahahaha!” These are subtle differences, I know, but important ones.
This is a razor sharp interpretation because clearly a razor has been used to excise any superflous language from the version read by my principal and co-teachers. This superflous language included words like “may”, “overtime pay”, “leave”, “liberty”, “freedom” and “the pursuit of happiness”. At times like this I wonder if perhaps I live in a parallel universe, one where my contract magically changes between the time I read it and the few seconds it takes to reach my co-teachers’ hands. I’m damn sure of it. Either that or I need to give my co-teachers a thorough and detailed lesson on the differences between “may” and “must”. Modal verbs are a lot more important than people think!
For now I’ll daydream about what life must to be like beyond these dreary walls. Oh how I long for just one more taste of kimchi…