Cool Schools in South Korea

Nope, that title isn’t referring to schools in Korea that are cool but rather schools in Korea that teach kids how to be cool!

Seems like that’s the direction where PhatDog’s latest instalment of Street Novel-ing pages have gone, so check it out here:

His first bunch of stores were distributed around Sadang, one of the main transfer hubs for the massive Seoul subway system, and although abstract it seemed to be about a kind of surreal claustrophobia that comes from the the crammed rush hour commute. I followed along with a complimentary batch of micro-stories, all from the second person point-of-view, that continued his satirical voice and described a kind of alternate Korea from the past. Read it here and here.

Then in the second batch of Street Novel-ing, posted up around Itaewon, the “little America” part of Seoul, PhatDog was describing this alternate Korea from the past following an All-English Changeover, where the Korean language was outlawed and English was the only form of communication allowed. My second set of micro-stories took place in this fictional world. Read both parts here.

And now, following these new Street Novel-ing stories that talk about aspects of the ‘cool schools’ that have replaced the very dominant English language education system in Korea, I’ve got my own take on this concept in the latest part of my Just You micro-story collection.

Just You – Part 3 – Cool Schools

You are the photo of the President of Korea when he was a teenager smoking weed at a hip-hop concert in LA. A couple of decades ago, you made him slightly infamous in South Korea when you surfaced on a TV news magazine program there spotlighting the apparent rising problems with the Korean youth who were being raised in the US. They claimed that you proved the negative changes happening to the younger generation who were so far removed from the morals of Korean society. No one in Korea knew anything specifically about the boy you featured so prominently enjoying that joint, or about the effects of smoking marijuana in the strongly drug free, dictatorship nation at the time. The future President’s parents were furious and, after the media frenzy over you died down, they sent him back to Seoul to go to university and complete his military service. Those rich parents paid off the right people to make you almost completely disappear, but he always held onto a copy of you that he ripped out of a LA-based Korean language newspaper. You reminded him to stay unique and never assimilate back into the system. And after he became President and instituted the nationwide All-English changeover, he then came up with an even more radical innovation: cool schools. In order to guarantee that none of the young people in Korea would become nerdy and generic, he was going to make sure that they were taught how to be different, dominant and special, just like him.


You are a cool school teacher in the South Korean suburbs just outside of Seoul. There were so many cool schools around back then, having taken over the office spaces left empty by the language institutes following the All-English changeover. You came from Australia but the principal at your cool school only hired you with the understanding that you would put on an American accent in your classes. You didn’t mind. The classes were so dumb anyways and you were surprised this stuff was even legal – teaching kids how to smoke in a cool way using candy cigarettes, or how to tell jokes about the weird looking people who walk past them in the hallways at school, just didn’t seem right. Reprehensible or not, you didn’t care because they paid you so damn well. You and everyone else teaching at your cool school was roped into this nonsense for the same reason, because you’d racked up a massive student loan debt that no job back home would help you pay back at the interest rates the banks were asking. You figured that collectively this was the smartest group of people teaching the dumbest material anywhere in the world (and that’s saying a lot!). You spent a lot of time talking about stuff like this while you were drinking away all that money at the bars after class. “Now this is where we should have cool school,” you’d say in your best drunken American voice as all the other teachers cheered.


You are a desk inside a cool school classroom in Seoul. Most of the young kids in the class represented some of the best students in the city and therefore the whole country. They’d had the most exclusive, high-priced English tutors before the All-English changeover and tested in the top 99.9% on all their academic subjects (anything less and they wouldn’t qualify for one of the three most prestigious universities in the nation and thus would have embarrassed their important parents). Like many of the other students in Seoul they studied very hard for more than 12 hours a day, but unlike those others these students had never fallen asleep in class. So when their cool school teacher told them that the lesson for that day’s ‘Taking Breaks’ class was to lay their head in their arms and take a nap on you, the students resisted. The teacher, a foreigner, explained that if they didn’t do this properly they would not be considered cool and would fail the class. You felt the quivering arms of the boy nervously come down and thought this was terrible because you knew that if he even failed one aspect at this after-school tutoring institute he’d be punished severely by his parents. The teacher came over behind you and snapped his fingers, making the boy flinch. “Just sleep, you’re doing it all wrong,” he said and the boy started to cry. “Crying in cool school class, no way buddy, that’s a fail! Loser points for you!”


You are a man in a shiny grey suit rummaging around in your trunk looking for the leg of a gambling table that you like to use to give beatings. You were trying not to let your emotions get to you but this was a very disrespectful situation. You found the wooden leg, closed the trunk, stepped back, took a breath, and then quickly walked about two meters over to a guy standing around with his friends and proceeded to crack him in the back with that makeshift club. Minutes earlier, he had spat on the tinted windshield of your pristine black car. Everyone in Korea knows about the kind of people who are inside these dark, luxury cars and are not to – under any circumstances – acknowledge them. And that goes for little children all the way up to the police. However, something had prompted this goofy university-looking dork to spit on your car in the middle of the day where tons of people were watching. And then he just kept talking to his friends like there would be no repercussions for his actions. You thought this was somehow related to these new “cool schools” that started popping up all over, but you had no idea how this was supposed to be cool. You were the cool ones: clubs, girls, smoking, drinking, sunglasses, tinted windows, shiny suits and cars, each bullet point that you counted off in your head was a crack to the ribs on that fallen loser. Then you looked around and saw that everyone on the street was staring at you. That felt really weird because you expected them to just watch from the corner of their eyes while walking by. You felt too uncomfortable with all those witnesses, so you stopped the beating and went back to the car. As you drove off, everyone started spitting on your car and even you had to respect that a little bit.


You are a Japanese punk band that came to Seoul for one night to play a club gig. All three of your members painted their faces in zombie make-up, teased their purple and blue hair in a multitude of different directions, and put on spandex tops with leather shirts over ripped jeans. Then they adorned full-sized taxidermy eagles, beavers and otters on their shoulders. The club owner met you as you were coming out of the dressing room and looked unmoved by your outfits. He told you dryly to be ready for 500 wild people jammed into the small venue, and that got you excited. When you hit the stage you were surprised to see that the Korean audience looked strangely like the crowd at an American football game. Most were wearing athletic jerseys (except for the shirtless ones) with their beers raised into the air as they raucously hollered, woo-ed, woofed, high-fived, fist-pumped and did the ‘wave.’ Some were even holding up signs with slogans like, “Yeah,” “That’s It!” and “Boo-Yah!” Hesitatingly, you started playing and the crowd switched from cheering to aggressively boo-ing. As the set went on they began chanting, “Ja-pan-Sucks… Ja-pan-Sucks!” After four of the worst songs you’d ever performed, you ended the set and were ushered off the stage by a barrage of empty plastic bottles. Your members cleaned themselves up, got into their civilian clothes, and you were ready to leave the venue but a huge crowd outside the dressing room was waiting for you. Many of those Koreans who had been spitting at the stage and screaming vehemently for your murder, then respectfully wanted to shake your hands and thank you for a great show. You found out later that this was a lesson from a cool school class on how to act at a live event, and all you could do was ask “what the hell is a cool school?”


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