Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I attended a school assembly.

I've already mentioned the unpredictability of my schedule last semester.  Informed you of the days on which I obediently trundled up to my classroom and awaited, in utter solitude and eerie silence, students who came 35 minutes late bearing a sheet of paper with the day's new schedule, leading me to wonder what had caused the delay and why no one ever told me about these things in advance.  I may also have mentioned this happened often enough that I placed a book in my classroom to facilitate productive use of these unexpected segments of quiet time.  I forget.

If during these eerily silent periods I stuck my head into the hall to look for signs of life, I'd hear faint but definitely amplified speechery, as if some unseen somebody somewhere down some corridors on the other side of several concrete walls were delivering a lecture via megaphone.  I also noticed that I routinely heard the ghostly warblings of an anthemy tune shortly before students started filtering in.  I therefore hypothesized these odd, lonely times must involve school assemblies of some sort.  I did ask people what had transpired after the first few such happenings but nobody had enough English to fill me in so I let it go and have since considered the unannounced delays on these special days and the shortening (by 10 whole minutes!) of my subsequent classes on said days as accidental, though blessed, gifts from the pitiless educationing machine that is my school.

Today I learned these events are in fact assemblies, held on what is probably best called the "playground" even though it lacks the most meagre shreds of whimsy necessary for play and is honestly just a big flat square of dirt, to which I have heretofore never been invited.  Blessedly.  Some foreigners would feel slighted by such exclusion from community functions but for my part I greatly prefer sitting alone for 35 minutes to standing in front of the school staring eastward into the sun and exposed to the bitterness of the morning elements while the principal exhorts the student body to learn really hard in math class so the nation can finally overcome the shame of being a Japanese colony 100 years ago.  I mean, take your pick:  attend the local potentate's incomprehensible ceremony or enjoy some surprise you-time. 

This morning's occasion for speechmaking was a ceremony marking the first day of the semester for incoming first grade students.  Chortle told me about the gathering and my compulsory attendance thereof roughly 50 seconds before the show started, so we had to run to our places.  I'm glad she was there to direct me through the motions everyone else has learned by rote.  "The flag," she said, as the teachers flanking the concrete podium in front of the big dirt square turned to face the flag.  A kid climbed onto the podium, stood in front of the lectern and, for the benefit of his 600 assembled peers--none of whom sang along--beat 3/4 through the national anthem in the most textbook style imaginable.  "Turn around," she said, as the teachers turned to present a unified front to the incoming first grade and the student conductor quit his post.

Next came the speechmaking.  There were three microphones:  one in possession of the P.E. teacher acting as drill sergeant, loudly demanding silence from the increasingly restive student body; one malfunctioning at the lectern when the principal began his oration and one hastily-brought replacement for same.  I can't testify to the contents of the speeches, what with the low quality audio, the distracting blasts of static and feedback and it all being in Korean, but I can tell you the high point of my bemusement came when the teachers departing for other schools (e.g. Stealth Korean) were formally introduced to students who will never see them again.  That was a puzzler.

The ceremony ended with the student conductor beating 4/4 through a replaying of the school song from--I'm speculating here--a wax cylinder.  None of new students sang along, perhaps because they'd never heard their new school's theme song before but maybe because they're lazy or weren't in a singing mood after half an hour of standing at attention.

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