So for the last week or so I’ve been getting back into teaching mode by showing them a lot of my pictures from Mongolia, having them ask questions about my trip and then flipping things around and asking them about their trips. Pretty easy stuff.
Most of my students are from working-class families and don’t get to travel a whole lot. I had a lot of students who didn’t leave Incheon during their break (I have one student who’s never been to Seoul, only 20KM away). Two students went on a tour to Europe; one student spent ten days in Osaka, Japan for a Taekwondo competition and the rest who left Korea went to what my teachers calls the “Southern Islands.” These islands, which Koreans seem to think they own, are the Philippines. And judging from the stories a lot of people told me about their trips to the Philippines, Koreans are everywhere.The rest of the students who left Incheon went to east coast cities and spent time in the Sea of Japan.
Anyway, having asked the students what kind of activities you can do at these places, I got some surprisingly coherent responses:
Swimming! Hiking! SCUBA diving! Rock climbing! Play at PC-room! Ride a boat! Sleep! Relax! Commit suicide!
The last one got a gale of laughter from all the students (and even my teacher). Then, another student immediately said,
“Suicide, only one time, not like swimming!”
It wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t for the fact that Korea’s suicide rate is the highest in the world, according to the OECD. Even for women, the suicide rate is four-to-five times higher than that of the next country. The worst part is, in 2008, a high-profile suicide was linked to almost 1,000 suicides the following month. Basically, suicides are commonplace.
It’s not uncommon for a kid to come to school having lost sleep the night before because somebody jumped from their apartment building. They didn’t lose sleep because somebody took their life, they told me, it because of all the noise brought on by emergency vehicles. It’s too common, I guess, for them to not think of it anymore than as an annoyance or joke.