Caveat: A message for the spies

Some months ago, the whiteboard in room 212 had been coming loose. There was worry that it would fall down at an inopportune time, so Curt told Mr Park (the 과장님 – literally "supervisor" or "chief" but really he's a kind of glorified handyman and janitor at Karma) to add some reinforcements to its support. He duly attached some extra screws with fat washers to hold the whiteboard in its place on the wall.

I guess for whatever reason, one of the girls in my HS2-M cohort noticed these rather larger features in strangely placed, apparently random locations on edges of the whiteboard.

"It looks like a CC camera," she observed. It did rather, if you didn't look too closely.

"Someone is spying on you," I observed, perhaps teasing a bit.

Another girl turned and pointed at the "official" CC camera, mounted on the ceiling in the corner of the room. "Of course," she observed.

Such CC cameras are ubiquitious in Korean life, and as far as I can figure out, are actually legally mandated for settings like schools and hagwon. Presumeably, they serve to provide reassurance to parents that nothing bad can happen to their children because there is a record of classroom activity. And I know Curt has spent money to make sure they are all working and well-maintained, which supports the idea that there's a regulation requiring them – but I don't know this for certain.

"That one is unofficial," I clarified, pointing at the screw-with-washer on the whiteboard. This obligated me to spend several minutes explaining the word "unofficial." Which, of course, is exactly the sort of conversation I most like to have with my students: relevant, student-driven, but, hopefully, full of new information and/or vocabulary.

After that, one of the other girls, Gayeong, asked, "Who would want to spy unofficial?"

"Kim Jeong-eun," I joked. One of the other kids laughed.

"Oh no!" Gayeong declared, and mimed an insincere, mocking look of shock and terror. The North Korean leader is mostly an object of derision and gallows-humor for typical South Korean middle-schoolers. He's not taken very seriously.

But then a soft-spoken and shy girl, who happened to be sitting closest to the whiteboard, really shocked me. She leaned forward, toward the "camera," and in an earnest whisper said, simply, "Fuck you."

"Jiwon," I declared, both impressed by this very idiomatic experession and dismayed by its vulgarity. "What's that about?"

Of course, even without teaching them, all the kids know this type of English – it's too ubiquitous in American pop culture (movies and music) for them not to know what it means and how it's best deployed effectively.

Jiwon just shrugged and smiled. "He's a bad person."

[daily log: walking, 7km]

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