On the first birthday of their child, Korean parents make the baby sit on a table and, together with their relatives, cheer on the child to pick up one or two items lining the space before her/him. Traditionally, these items had consisted of a pencil/notebook, paper money, a piece of thread, and a grain of rice -- each representing wisdom or intelligence, wealth, long life, and health, respectively. Nowadays, however, it has become fashionable for Korean parents to include a toy laptop ( (symbolizing business acumen), a ball (symbolizing sportsmanship), and what not. Whichever item the child chooses, my Korean students/friends assure me, can hint at the child's future career.
My friend Chris Kim tells me that her nine-year old boy Sean chose a pencil that day. It meant, of course, that Sean would be a smart student or, later, a fine scholar. The way things are with this boy's academic performance, I could sense that his first birthday ritual was quite prophetic.
Now in Grade 4 and in his third year of schooling in Baguio City, Sean's ESL competence is better than that of the high school Korean students I currently teach. One of his classmates at Small World Christian School once asked after Sean again posted perfect scores in their English and Math tests, "Don't you ever make mistakes, Sean?"
Having already noted his superior intelligence coupled with his admirable diligence in his studies (not to mention his kind and well-off parents' all-out support), it didn't come as a surprise to me to learn that he has consistently belonged to the best of the best in school.
Teaching a student like Sean surely makes a tutor's job very fulfilling. It adds greater value to one's teaching profession other than earning one's keep. This is especially true to an ESL tutor who has had frustrating experiences with intelligent and rich but lazy Korean kids who'd rather eat Yellow Cab pizza in bed than attend an English class. Or who'd rather steal away for a smoke as to sound off about a lesson in class.
That is why I don't mind taking two jeepney rides each day to Sean's place to tutor him and his dad, James Jang, just after my half-day classes at a regular Korean school.
I have great hopes for this boy -- as great as my wish that all these materially blessed Korean kids across the country will do justice to their parents' sacrifices by conscientiously pursuing what they really came here for.
Or else, their parents should be asked to donate their money to our public schools thereby putting their hard-earned Won to better use. :>