remember school pictures? “will students with last names starting with a-c please come to the auditorium?” you shuffled to the other side of the school, killed as much time as your could chatting with your friends and finally slumped down in front of a gray backdrop for exactly one droopy-eyed snapshot from the poor schlub from johnson’s photo who spent most of his life taking portraits of high schoolers at prom and for the yearbook and looked like he could think of nothing but getting the hell out of there?
that’s not what it’s like in korea.
my “seven-year-olds” (i.e. western age 5-6) are graduating kindergarten in march, and, as with most things, a big fuss is being made about the whole ceremony. according to my head teacher, i’ll be required to attend the five hour graduation celebration some saturday in february, where literally every kindergarten class in the school (and we’ve got to have twenty or so) will be performing a 12-15 minute musical.
as a preview of things to come, we had graduation photos today for my ten students who will be starting elementary school in march. it took fully 70 minutes of our 80-minute class and included no fewer than five wardrobe changes for the kids. i sincerely wish i had taken some photos, as each outfit they dressed the kids in came nearer to some intersection of renaissance tuscan aristocracy and liberace, but there was one thing that stood in my way: any kid who wasn’t being photographed or waiting her turn was sitting against the wall wearing nothing but skivvies or tights. chalk it up to the sauna culture of public nudity, as my counseling teacher did, or come up with your own reasons, but koreans are extremely comfortable being naked (under certain circumstances) or denuding their kids (under, apparently, a pretty wide array of circumstances). so no photos because i didn’t want to get arrested for inadvertent child porno while trying to document the spectacle that was my most adored charges in medieval gowns and muffin-shaped hats.
it’s unbelievable the contrast to how things are done in western schools. the kids are undressed in front of their teachers whether they’re male or female. i have little boys wander out of the bathroom regularly asking me to button and/or zip their pants for them. i was surprised last week when my boyfriend’s school asked him to attend a seminar on sexual harassment of the students– at my school, not touching them would be considered out of the ordinary. i regularly teach from beside one of my students, who has latched on and begun petting my arm and rubbing my hand against his or her cheek. for the most part, i’ve gotten used to it. but the helping the kids in and out of their clothes and having poor, reed-thin amy, wearing nothing but white hose, sit on my lap to try to keep warm while she waited her turn to be photographed — well, something like that just hasn’t ceased to be pretty discordant with my ideas about where the lines are supposed to be drawn when it comes to other people’s kids.
when we finally got around to the group photo, my co-teacher, cheryl, and i even got to join in the mystifying costumery with bizarre robes and hats. i asked my counseling teacher, kyang mi, if she could help me get my hands on a copy. i really hope she does. i was daydreaming today that i’d get one and hide it in a box in the attic i hope to someday have so that when i die, my hypothetical future children will find it buried among my things and say to themselves, simply, “what the fuck?”
either that or drop it in a box of “found photos” at some junk store and hope that someday a stranger will have the same reaction.