I used to be a kindergarten teacher. Not on purpose of course. I graduated university with a degree in community studies. I had no idea what “community studies” meant, but ultimately it meant I would be given the opportunity to study the community through a variety of horrible jobs.
I worked as a roughneck on an oil rig. Worst day of my life. I’ll never do that again. I was a security guard for an abandoned building. An abandoned building. What was I guarding? For my last job before becoming a Kindergarten Teacher, I was an assistant janitor. The assistant, to the janitor. I had to do stuff the janitor refused to do!
“Hey Brian, clean that mess off the wall.” What?!? Who wiped themselves on the wall like a baboon? But I cleaned it. This was not the dream I had for myself as a kid growing up on the east coast of Canada. I was supposed to be a Jedi warrior. This was not right.
A few hours later I was at home thinking about my life. I had a suicide note half written. Then I put down the razor blade and began searching jobs online. I found that there were lots of jobs teaching English as a second language in South Korea. All you needed was a degree, any degree, even my community studies degree. The ability to walk upright and speak English in complete sentences would be an advantage. I can do that most days. So, I applied for some jobs and, somehow, I got a job as a kindergarten teacher in a place called Yang Yang.
Growing up in my hometown of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada, there was one Asian guy. His name was Jim. We called him Chinese Jim. He was Filipino. I had no idea what to expect in Asia. In my ignorance I thought there would be panda bears in the trees, dragons walking down the street, people kung fu fighting all over the pace.
A few weeks later I quit my job and took the 600 hour flight from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Yang Yang, South Korea. When I arrived, I was a little disappointed; No dragons, no pandas, nobody kung fu fighting. Just a well-functioning city pretty much like any other. The school principal met me at the airport. His name was Sang Ku. He didn’t speak to me, he just shook my hand, bowed slightly and grunted. I thought this must be the way men greet each other in South Korea, so I shook his hand, bowed slightly and grunted back. I ended up working at his school for three years. I must have said, “Thank you Sang Ku” hundreds of times, which is not easy to do without laughing when you’re as immature as I am.
On the drive from the airport to the school we got into a car accident. I was shaken up, but Sang Ku still didn’t say a word to me. He just called a taxi and told the driver to take me to the school while he talked to the police. I had to teach immediately, even though I hadn’t slept in two days.
When I walked into the school the kids went wild. “Yeah!! Brian Teacher!! Brian Teacher!!” In South Korea students respectfully call their teachers by their first name followed by the word “teacher.” I start walking a little more upright. This was better than being back home in Canada and being called “Brian Toilet Cleaner.” Ok kids, open up your books, time for some learnin’!
There is a game in South Korea that kids love to play. It’s called ddong chim. It translates roughly into English as “poop needle”. Kids take their hands and put them together in the shape of a finger gun with the index fingers as the barrel. Then they sneak up behind you when you’re bending over and they poke you in the rear. Nobody told me about this game. In an email perhaps? In the interview process? “Hey Brian, by the way, you might get poked in the rear a lot.” Not a word.
So, there I was on my first day, teaching class like a boss and leaning over helping a little boy with his grammar. Of course, I didn’t know this was the perfect position for ddong chim. Why would I? Why would I be worried about anything like that in a kindergarten class?
All of a sudden, wham!! I jumped six feet in the air and then landed to find this little boy laughing and wagging his finger at me. The class went crazy, kids laughing and screaming all round me. The little boy’s name was Kim Chang-wan and apparently he was the ddong chim Champion of Yang Yang. Of course eventually I saw the funny side and I laughed along with everyone else whenever a spontaneous game of ddong chim broke out.
600 hour flight. Car accident. A surprise attack from behind. An emotional time. I taught kindergarten for the next three years standing very upright with my back firmly against the wall.
Brian Aylward is now a professional stand-up comedian living and working in Bangkok. He was voted Canadian Stand-up comedian of the year in 2016. For information on tours and show dates email [email protected].