Surplus Value of Matty

January 19, 2007

I’m not averse to working for free. Volunteerism benefits both those who give and receive. Indeed, just recently I’ve come into contact with Seoulidarity, a group devoted to “Radical Language Xhange.” It seems a good place to put some of the skills I’ve developed to a more socially oriented use.  However, I’m not sure I’m ready for the following to become a regular gig.

So, there I am on the subway platform at City Hall, minding my business, when I happen to look ahead and notice a haleobeoji coming my way. “How are you?” he said in pretty good English. “Fine, thank you, and you?” I answered, following verbatim the way in which every Korean over 15 has memorized this interaction. I then noticed he was fumbling through a large collection of notes, packed full with passionate bilingual scribbling.  As he searched for his particular text, he didn’t answer my polite reply, instead moving quickly ahead, “I’ve taught myself English by myself. These need corrections.” He unfolded his humble folded one page manuscript and shoved it into my hand.

What to do?  My train was coming any moment, I was tired, and I didn’t have much interest in providing some Editing 911. But… earnest Educator that I am, before I had a chance to really stop and think about it,  I was responding as if it were the most normal thing in the world, and got to it (when i used to teach middle/high school, in the effort to show my young charges how important my job was to me, despite the fact that some of them had their own cars that cost more than my yearly salary, i would repeat over and over, “education is my religion, school is my temple, there is nothing outside of learning” – of course, they’d roll their eyes and laugh, but, i guess the mantra took root in one person at least… and… I think it is now part of my nature to resist less and accept more, especially in bizarre circumstances, no matter what the situation… calmly, silently going with the flow ends up being so much more bountiful than, “what? are you crazy? i don’t think so!”)

My train arriving, I gestured that I had to go, before I had a chance to get started. “Me too,” he said. Ok then, there is no escape. I got on the jammed train, no place to sit, no wall even to write against. Seeing my problem, he jammed his little note book under the sheet he’d given. “Now get to work, hurry!” he seemed to be entreating me as he leaned every closer, eyes laser focused on my hand and his clumsy text.

Now it got interesting.

the government protecting common people the bloodsucking of common man

pay attention distributing the wealth, extremes

of the welfare and focus expansion

the speculation of the prices must immediately

have the embargo   sanction

Alrighty then. It’s Karl Marx’s Korean great-grandson, polishing his manifesto with a random white guy on the metro. I won’t tell you what kind of meatball surgery went into crafting coherency out of this piece, scribbling as I did without even a free hand to grab a handle of the horrible jerking subway car. Let’s just say, by the time I was done with it, his recognition of what I had written was probably on par with mine of his, before I’d edited it. That is, we were two linguistic boats passing without notice on a very foggy night, with only vague hints of the other’s tack.

That done, I wasn’t. Two more papers come my way, even less polished.

The statesmen betterment the peoples not the betterment the statesmen.

As poorer the person poor so to richer the person get so rich.

President not businessman, constitution just only.

Is he running for office?  With his last page, he was getting a bit existential:

dissapointment leave beyond go all way total despairing

Sigh. Thanks for sharing, Grandpa. Luckily, his stop came before mine and he stopped giving me crumpled pages to deciper. He did, of course, ask for my cell phone number before he left. “Phone number?” Good educator I am, I know well enough the value of expedient lies, “I don’t have a phone. Sorry. Here’s my email address.”  I did indeed give him a real address.

His stop came, he simply nodded his head up and down a few times, and departed. No thank you, no explanation, no nothing. None was necessary, of course. He had given me a blogpost, something few and far between these days, so it was I who should have been thanking him as he scuttled off.

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