Thursday, June 30, 2011

Aisya (아이셔)

Living amongst other adults in a college town for a few years made me forget how kids act. I could walk through my apartment munching on a snack, and usually not be hounded about what I was eating. Sure, sometimes my roommates would ask, but whatever was on TV was typically more interesting than what I was eating. 

Kids are very different from adults (duh). At school, every single kid I run into while I'm snacking in between classes asks me what I'm eating. Even kids who just barely started at our school--that can't even ask the question "How are you?"--find ways to inquire about what I'm eating, which usually involves the child pointing inside his or her mouth and saying "Teacher what?" followed by "Teacher give!" Having been a kid once, I know why they ask that question. I know why even the punk kids, the ones that that only interact with me by punching me as they run down the hall, take the time to ask me what I'm eating. They ask me because, as Jerry Seinfeld observed, their lives revolve around one goal: get candy. Their brains are 70% sugar, their blood tastes like root beer, and they only expand their vocabularies in order to get different types of candy and get it in larger quantities. 

One thing I can say about Korean kids, though, is that they are so much better at sharing than my classmates and I were back at Sage Creek. Sharing is just assumed here. Yeah, they use snacks for leverage with each other, and occasionally to exclude, but they never hoard. 

Their benevolence when sharing is an interesting juxtaposition to their cutthroat and manic attitude when acquiring the candy in the first place. "Oh, it's already in your mouth and it's actually just a Halls (which is considered candy here, by the way) and you have a sore throat and it's your last one? Pleaseteachergiveittome!" But then once they have the candy, they're handing it out to everyone in their class--even the jerk that just broke their favorite Doraemon pencil and dropped their Blastoise card in the urinal. They'll even share with the teacher (read: me) that they spend most of their time shouting over or ignoring while they fiddle with their cell phones. 

(Here's a quick sidebar about cell phones: One time a kid, who was first named Tiger but then changed his name to Dragon in order to have a more fantastic name than his classmate, Unicorn, asked me to help him spell a word. I started spelling it for him, and his phone rang. He held up a finger, said, "Wait teacher," and took the call. It was a wrong number. Of course, I apologized for any inconvenience I may have been during the call. The longer I'm here, the more of a luddite I become.)

So one day a student named Woojin gave me some candy called Aisya (I can't figure out the best way to spell this in English, but I believe it's pronounced like "ah-ee-syah") right as the bell rang. I said thanks, and pocketed the candy. 

When unwrapped, Aisya looks like this.

My next class was Longfellow, which is my most advanced and considerate class. While the students were busy doing a short writing assignment, and as a result of their intelligence and maturity, I figured they wouldn't go haywire if I ate the candy Woojin gave me. They must have heard the corner of the wrapper scratch against the inside of my pocket--a sound quieter than a pin drop--as I pulled the candy out, because they all took their eyes off their work. Then they played it cool, putting pencil back to paper, so I would feel comfortable taking off the wrapper, because once it was exposed their canine noses could determine whether the sugar content was worth hassling me over. At this point, based on their twitching noses, I'm thinking, "I probably over-estimated their maturity level, but I can't exactly put the candy back, because I know they know I have it. And I know they'll ask about it either way." So. I opened the candy and watched their eyes watch it while I put it in my mouth, cradling it in the center of my tongue. 

I pressed the candy to the roof of my mouth like I always do with soft candy to pretend that I'm somehow squeezing the flavor out. While I moved the candy around with my tongue, debating whether or not I should bite it, and thinking how much the texture reminds me of Mambas, and wondering if Mambas even exist in Korea, I felt the energy in the room shift. The kids were once intrigued by the possibility of candy. However, they had now figured that my pocket is not a clown car for candy, and thus couldn't be holding enough for everyone. They stopped sniffing the air and stared at me. I was amused by the absurdity of their reaction to one piece of candy but also worried that this might become a bigger situation than it ought to be. So I met their stares, trying not to look repentant, because I'm an adult that can eat candy whenever I want. I did feel bad in a way, though, because even the kindergartners know they should bring enough to share. 

Then Sue, a very sweet and soft-spoken girl, asked, "What's in your mouth, Chursu?" (which is a name they gave me because they like me). She asked me like a mom might ask: not angrily, but stern with the knowledge that I couldn't hide the answer. She already knew, but she also knew that it was important for me to actually say the answer. 

I picked that moment to bite the candy, which was a mistake. Because I hadn't seen the packaging, I also hadn't seen the drawing of the redheaded cartoon girl with major sour face. I'm not going to say Aisya is unthinkably sour. It's probably, like, in the middle of the Warheads sour power meter. Nevertheless, it was sour enough that my face was screwed up as I told Sue, "I think it's called Aisya or something. I don't know. Woojin just gave it to me." After that, Sue lost her motherly composure and tone, and whined, "Give me, teacher! Please!" which was the signal for everyone else in class to reach out a hand, like so many child beggars, and say the same. 

First, I explained that the correct way to ask is to say please give me SOME or please give me ONE. Next, I told them that I only had the one in my mouth, but I would bring some for everybody next time.

One girl in that class, named Jean, was brand new. She was on a lower level than the other kids, but her mom wanted her in an advanced class to help her prepare to study abroad at an all-English elementary school. If you were wondering, language can be absorbed just by sitting in a room full of people at a higher level than you. It's science--Bing it. Anyway, so Jean's mother put her in a class way above her English level where most of the kids are a couple years her senior. The first few days of class she didn't even say one word. Not even "I'm fine, thanks" when I asked how she was. She wasn't dumb or snobbish. She was just a naturally shy girl, out of her depth in a situation that would make even Kate Gosselin or Sarah Palin shy. (Look at me getting all political. My reference is the best and I definitely know enough about politics to knock Mrs. Palin on my snack blog). 

I think the class where I ate the Aisya was Jean's third time in Longfellow. The next time I taught them, I forgot to bring Aisya for everyone. Amazingly, nobody seemed to remember. During class, my failure to contribute to their daily candy quota wasn't mentioned. After class, however, Jean approached me and opened her mouth to speak. Up until this point, she had only communicated with me via nods and nervous giggles. I had spent 120 minutes in class, sitting right next to her, helping her with her assignments, and had never heard her speak. So, she walks up to me, opens her mouth, and says, " forget Aisya?" Candy is so powerful, you guys!

Ok. The story I just told took way longer than I had planned. I was going to type another Aisya story about Bobby and my co-teacher Kelly in which I gave Bobby a few Aisya and told him to share and a few minutes later he came running to me saying "Teacher! Come! Hurry!" so I hurried and he led me to the room where he'd been eating and said "Kelly Teacher is crying because of Aisya!" and sure enough Kelly's eyes were watering and she was coughing and waving her hand in front of her mouth like she'd confused sour with hot and I tried not to laugh because it's weird to laugh at the head teacher who is older and also way nicer than you. 

I was also going to unfold how weird it is that we eat sour things for fun like it's a mix between a treat and a dare and we do it to be brave and in someways we hate what we're doing but most sour candies have a sweet element too so we're rewarded but how the sweet element usually comes first (with the exception of Lemonheads) so it's a strange example of reward preceding trial. 

But it's getting late, and super long blog entries are even more arduous than super long magazine articles, because with blogs you are mentally expecting brevity. 


  1. Best post to date! Loved the paragraphs about Sue & Jean, and all the labels. Bet you didnt think I would notice the labels. Youre hilarious. Write more.

  2. Hahaha! You tell a good story, Ty. I laughed out loud more than a couple times. Kate can confirm. And yes, candy is very powerful. Use it to your advantage.

    So I'm very curious as to this Chursu name. Does it mean something specific? Is it a nice name they gave you because they like you, or is it a terrible name they gave you because they like you and think they're funny?

  3. @ Chessie: My students said Chursu doesn't mean anything. Kelly said it's kind of an old-fashioned name like George or William, which I guess makes it funny in a way.

  4. you're just an old-fashioned kind of guy! btw, we watched midnight in paris the other night, and alondra was sad she couldn't watch it with you. watch it. also, you could def publish this blob as a book when you get back.

  5. Yeah, Alondra tweeted me about that movie. I'm a fan of Woody Allen, but I'll have to wait until it's out on DVD, because it's not a big enough movie to get a release here.

  6. I can't believe I'm just reading this entry, cause I was rofling all the way to the end. The part about Jean was too much!