A fortnight ago one of my afterschoolers approached me at my desk. He was very solemn faced and I thought something was wrong when he requested a private meeting with me. His troubled face played on my mind all morning and at lunch I bolted down my kimchi and hurried back to my office to find him waiting for me, looking even more anxious than before. Bracing myself for the worst I asked him what was wrong. He told me he had something to ask me…”Teacher, will you…sing with me in the talent show?”
Singing?! This was not at all what I had expected to hear. I was so surprised that without considering the implications of my answer (and without registering the appropriate level of dread) I said: “Yes! Of course!!”
To be honest I was very touched to be asked. Even if it was a bit of a strategic move to guarantee him a place in the final, I think there was an emotional factor involved too. Once I’d committed, the boy – lets called him GD Junior (he’s a big fan of G-Dragon) – was all business. I was given a lyric sheet and a file of the music video to study, as well as a ppt presentation depicting ‘Gangster Style’ so that I could put together a suitable ‘costume’. That’s right. GDJ’s music genre of choice was Korean ‘hip-hop’.
Self-promotion is something that the British have always felt to be deeply unsavory. Take our televised talent shows for example; It’s no surprise that the X-factor’s viewing figures begin to plummet after the audition stages because its true purpose isn’t to discover talent, but to provide subjects for mockery. In the live stages the acts and the judges start taking themselves ‘too seriously’, so we switch off in disgust.
Although the attitude in UK schools towards publicly exhibiting yourself has since progressed, when I was in secondary school taking yourself ‘too seriously’ – especially in a public manner – was a crime. Despite attending a secondary school that specialized in the performing arts, it was only acceptable to take part in a production if you made it abundantly clear that it was simply for want of something better to do, and that it was all ‘just a bit of fun’. The productions themselves were suitably low key and were attended by very modest numbers.
In contrast at my Korean school the build up to the talent show was tantamount with the royal wedding. There were posters and flyers plastering every available surface and boys singing and dancing absolutely EVERYWHERE AT ALL TIMES. Basically it was like being on the set of Glee for a solid week. As one teacher told me earnestly, Koreans are passionate about two things: Kimchi and singing.
On the day of my big debut there was drama a-plenty. In true Lauren style I left part of my costume at home (gangster footwear) and GDJ was adamant (understandably I suppose) that our credibility might be undermined if I went on stage wearing my school slippers. Then our place in the running order got changed last minute, and the PE teacher insisted on force-feeding me 20 pounds of cold pizza and a gallon of coke right before the show began. But finally the show did begin, and it was a million miles away from my secondary school productions. There were lights, there were pyrotechnics, a deafening sound-system, a huge audience and the vice-principal wearing a comedy-size sequined bow tie.
Every act – the good and the bad – was met with rapturous applause, and – try as I might – I could detect NO IRONY WHATSOEVER. Well, my British sensibilities bristled at such unapologetic displays of enthusiasm and commendation, and after a particularly exuberant reception to the school heartthrob’s rendition of ‘You raise me up’ ON THE KAZOO I desperately tried to catch the eye of some fellow sane individual. But there were none to be found, every eye was transfixed by the sight of a boy playing his heart out on a kazoo.
And it was at that point that I realised that it was time to stop resisting and to embrace the madness. So when the boy put down his kazoo I whooped along with the rest of them, and when I got on stage I raised my hands in the air like I just didn’t care and willingly high-fived the line of clamouring colleagues as I exited the stage. Yes, I can never un-watch the imported high school girls’ creepily sexy dance recital, and I still smell faintly of smoke, but when I emerged from that gymnasium my cold British heart had grown three sizes.