My mother used to claim that when I was in grade school, I wanted to become a barber. Not the fancy kind who works in a posh beauty parlour and whose job description includes giving you compliments about your exquisite facial bone structure, but the grubby kind who always, always cracks a lame joke by asking if you want your head shaved.
This is a very curious story. Even at the best of my abilities, I cannot ever recall any childish fascination with scissors, or comb sets, or mirrors, or hair that grew on heads other than mine. “You were such a strange boy,” my mother would always insist, as if she was talking to Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. Sometimes I could not help but wonder if her use of the past tense was a grammar slip.
These days, I think about it a lot: not that bit about the grammar slip, or that bit about my mom calling me a “strange boy,” but that part about what I really want to be. Being born and raised in a lower middle class family, I grew up with both cavities and vague ambitions. Years later, I quit college and promptly signed up for call center thraldom so I could finally afford dental services. Now as for that other thing … Well. I now teach English to East Asian expatriates. I’m just not quite sure yet how that makes any difference.
What is it exactly that I want to do until I’m old enough to wither away in some old-age care facility? Am I cut out for such a pattern in the first place? Do I enjoy teaching Korean adolescents? A week ago, I asked a class to write an essay on whether homework is good or bad for teenagers like them and they all of course wrote that homework is good, homework is effective, homework helps them to devote more time to studying, that sort of rubbish.
When they asked me what I personally think, I told them homework is sometimes unnecessary and that they often get in the way of more productive activities, like sports, or learning the piano, or reading novels, or hanging out with friends. Then this tall guy from the back of the room, Micky Mao, smirked, mumbled something in Korean, the other students nodding their heads at what he said, and I could not help but ask what that was all about.
“Seon saeng nim… We were just saying. In this school, yours is our favorite class, because you’re not like the regular teachers. You’re so strange, we don’t even know why you’re a teacher,” he said fearlessly, without pause, unaware of the potency of his words. For a split second there, I almost realised that, at last, I finally found … my calling, something that I would like to do from now on, for the rest of my life. Genocide.