A lot of things have been springing up this week that just seem to be reminding me how different of a place I am than last year at this time. Korea is a lot of things: good, random, and negative. Some of them have just been more obvious this week than before.
On Tuesday I watched a teacher (who will remain nameless, not that you know them) kick a student, full force, in the shin. The kid had been acting up in class and was in the middle of his punishment. This particular punishment had been holding his ears with both hands and doing squats in front of the class, facing the board. He was laughing and apparently not taking his punishment seriously enough. So she kicked him with her school sandals, hard enough to make his eyes well up. Craaaaazy. Um, seriously, could you even dream of that happening in the states? The teacher would have a suit filed against them faster than the child could call their parents. So that's the bad.
Then we have the random. There are always little blips of misunderstandings and miscommunications that pepper my days. Yesterday I went down to the English room to teach my first and second grade returners. We usually lock the door, but since I have class in there on Tuesday afternoons we just leave it open. I walked in to find to young girls (about first grade) hanging out. They were playing, coloring on the board, etc. It was clear that they were quite comfortable. After about 5 minutes of talking to them and getting only blank stares and giggles in response to me saying "I don't think you're supposed to be here...." I gave up. I waited about another 5 minutes for my class to arrive, figuring I could have one of them translate for me when they got there. No kids. Finally I go down to my office and get the one teacher I recognize (classroom teachers use our office during their planning time). I say "So, can you think of any reason why my first and second grade returners wouldn't have come to class today?" The response: "Oh, because first grade is not in school because of the flu."
What? Yeah. Apparently the whole first grade was banned from school because there were too many kids with the good old in-ploo-en-suh. My co-worker said she doesn't know when they'll be back, but they definitely weren't there yesterday. My returner class must have been included in that. And everyone forgot to mention that to me. RANDOM. I ended up having her come back to the English class with me and we determined that the two girls were first graders whose parents had sent them for after school. Now there is usually an after school hagwon program run in the English room on afternoons, but they don't start until 1:30pm on Tuesdays because I have class in there. These parents had sent their kids early, to hang out unsupervised, even though they were banned from school because of flu. Awesome. I stand firm in my beliefs that we will never kill this flu (no matter how many weeks we close down schools) as long as kids are still allowed to attend hagwons multiple nights a week where they simply trade around germs with kids from other schools. Oh Korea, you never cease to amaze me.
Then we have the good: TODAY IS PEPERO DAY!
What, you may be asking, is Pepero Day? Just about the greatest fake holiday ever. Basically, people exchange boxes of cookie sticks dipped in chocolate. It is kind of like Valentine's Day, but not just reserved for romantic couples. You give them to friends, teachers, coworkers, etc. They are manufactured by Lotte (surprise surprise) and were basically created to rip off the Japanese Pocky sticks.
There are a couple questionable (and therefore awesome) things about this holiday. It is celebrated on November 11, because it is said that 11/11 resembles (you guessed it) five little Pepero sticks, all lined up. I love the following Wikipedia quote: "Lotte denies starting the holiday and instead states that they noticed a bump in Pepero sales around November 11th and after continued popularity they decided to then encourage the holiday with special gift boxes and other promotions."
Really, Lotte? You're really going to stick with "we just decided to encourage it"? Awesome. Second is their story of how it actually began: "According to one story, Pepero Day was started in 1994 by students at a girls' middle school in Busan, where they exchanged Pepero sticks as gifts to wish one another to grow "as tall and slender as a Pepero"." BAHAHAHAHAHA. Nothing says "I hope you stay skinny" like boxes upon boxes of chocolate covered cookie sticks. Why does this make me think of the "weight loss bars" in Mean Girls? I love it.
I sampled like 5 different flavors thanks to gifts from kids. These are ones I bought yesterday to try. The naked (far right) was decent, the chocolate (middle) was good, and the chocolate almond (left) is to DIE FOR. Nom nom nom like its my job.
But seriously, this is marketing GENIUS. The guy who thought this one up must be rolling in the dough. According to this article, Lotte made FORTY SEVEN MILLION U.S. DOLLARS on Pepero last year. That is an insane amount of money spent on a FAKE holiday.
I invite you to enjoy these two YouTube videos in which the Native English Speaker goes from cynical and jaded (video 1) to excited and crazed (video 2). Thus the magic of Pepero Day.