Memories of my schooldays in Korea
By I. S. Choi, December 10, 2000

Grammar school, during the Japanese Occupation
It has been more than 50 years since the day my teacher slapped me on the ear. I can never forget it. Whenever the weather is hot and muggy, my ear begins to act up. Many times I have had to go to the my doctor for treatment of ear infections, discomfort and pain in that ear. As a young man, I failed my physical exam for entrance into the Korean Naval Academy because of my partial deafness in the right ear. Even now, I must protect that ear when I go swimming because it becomes infected easily.

I was nine years old. The bell rang for a change of class, and I ran to my new class to make it on time. One of the teachers, who happened to be in the hall, caught me and slapped me across the face several times for running. One blow landed on my ear. I felt a terrible pain and knew that something bad had happened. When I arrived home, my mother saw something was wrong and asked me about it. I told her what the teacher had done. The following day, my father went with me to the school to protest my treatment to the principal, who was Japanese. He would not listen. He told my father, "Tell your son not to run in the hall." There was nothing else my family could do. The beating of schoolchildren in those days was not a big deal. Teachers could slap you or beat you with a stick over the head. This is what they thought was "discipline" in that generation.

It would be good to forget that episode. But every time my ear bothers me, which is often, that ugly memory of my schooldays returns.

High school, during the Korean War
Military drill was part of all schoolboys' training during the Korean War. At our school, Kyung Dong High School, the drill instructor (who was a graduate of Kyung Dong) had an attitude. He was in his early twenties, and was required to postpone his college studies in order to do military service. It seemed to me that he went out of his way to appear as mean and tough as he could be. Maybe he wanted to hide the fact that he was only about four years senior to us, was very puny looking, and was from the same high school.

One day, in 1953, during drill, we were called to "at ease," and the drill officer was giving us a lecture. My friend and I were in the back row having a conversation. My friend smiled at something I said. At that moment, the drill officer noticed my friend smiling and must have assumed he was being disrespectful of his lecture. He ordered him to the front of the class and told him to get down on the ground and assume a push-up position. The instructor began to furiously and repeatedly pound my friend on his buttocks with a baseball bat. I think he must have struck his tail bone, because my friend suddenly cried out in pain. I was terrified he might get crippled by accident. I could not keep quiet at this. I gathered my courage, put up my hand, and shouted to the instructor to wait a moment and listen to me. I told him that my friend had not been disrespectful, but that he had only smiled at something I was saying. Without hesitating, the drill officer order me to step forward and get into the push-up position. I was not going to submit to a pounding with a baseball bat! I took off into the school building, with the officer chasing. I didn't think he would dare come after me with a baseball bat because, by now, a lot of students and teachers were watching, wondering what is going on. I ran into the general office, with him behind me, and then into the principal's office. The principal was not there, and I exited through a side door, and ran down the hall to the teachers' office. I found my home room teacher and grabbed him around the waist and asked for help. I told him what was happening and begged him to intervene. I couldn't believe the officer would dare barge into the staff office, with all the teachers watching, wielding a baseball bat. He had been a student under some of those teachers only a few years prior. At this point, the military officer probably realized how outrageous his behavior must have appeared to all the onlookers. He turned and walked away. That was the end of the incident.

At one point, near the end of that school year, my friend and I seriously discussed getting even with the drill officer after the commencement ceremony. But we decided not to risk it, but move ahead toward our future.

Years later, I learned that the drill instructor had become a career diplomat. We crossed paths twice after our university years. Until this day, I often wonder if he ever revealed his military-drill-instructor mentality in his foreign diplomatic relations and got away with it. The boy who was pounded remained my close friend for many years. He has passed away.


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