SJ is a character. He was not only the only male student on the team, but also the only male student to apply for the program. That’s not why I chose him, though. I chose him because of his English ability, his interest in diplomacy (he wants to be a diplomat), and for his confidence. It takes guts to apply for something when you don’t know a single other person applying, other than the teacher who’s conducting the application process. In SJ’s case, it’s not just courage – because courage implies that you’re scared. SJ… doesn’t seem to ever get nervous. He’s probably the most self-possessed fifteen year old boy I’ve ever met, which is a great quality in a debate participant.
At our school girls and boys rarely talk, even when given the chance, and there’s a big divide between second years and first years. The first time we met, and we had three girls (two second years, one first year) and one first year boy, I foresaw a whole lot of awkward. I ordered pizza, and worked out our schedule so that the first hour would just be chatting. The girls arrived before SJ did, and from them I found out that SJ is somewhat famous at our school. During Sports Day the name on his jersey was “Prince.” He’s just charismatic, and well-known among the second grade girls for being “cute.” When he arrived, even though he was outnumbered by girls on all sides, that didn’t faze him in the slightest.
He’s also vicious. When I asked them to come up with questions to ask the other teams about their resolutions, he asked if the purpose of these questions be “to destroy” the other teams. I responded that, as this was a diplomacy simulation, probably not. He looked disappointed.
So, charismatic, self-possessed, with a slight competitive streak. However that’s not all – he’s also really really weird.
He’s super strange, in a fully aware-of-it sort of way, and it’s wonderful.
The girls noticed it too. One time when he left the classroom they mentioned that he always likes to talk for a long time about very random topics. Here’s an example of a conversation that mostly SJ and I had, with a few interjections from the girls.
SJ: Ah, I wish I had patbingsu now (patbingsu is a Korean dessert). The convenience store has patbingsu. We eat it a lot.
E: Really? I didn’t know they sold patbingsu.
SJ: Yes. You can also add milk to the patbingju. Either banana or choco is the best. You can use one milk for two patbingsus. But it is very expensive. 1,500 per patbingsu, plus the milk price. Normally I do not pay though. The first grade boys we play rock scissors paper and whoever loses must buy everyone patbingsu. Normally we do this with bread, but now we do this with patbingsu. I am the rock scissors paper champion of first grade, so I never buy patbingsu. This way I can eat many patbingsu for free. I also normally eat many bread for free.
E: How many patbingsu do you normally eat per week?
SJ: About four or five. This is the first week the convenience store has had patbingsu.
E: … then how on earth do you know so much about patbingsu?
SJ: I like patbingsu.
Because we finished working on our posters a little early (11:00 pm, and they didn’t have to be back at the dorm until midnight, and the boys’ convenience store is apparently open until 1 am) I went and bought them all patbingsu and ice cream.
SJ: Teacher! Let me mix your patbingsu and milk for you. I will mix it deliciously.
E: Oh, thanks SJ.
… A few minutes pass…
E: SJ… I can mix the rest – you should eat your ice cream, it’s melting!
SJ: Oh, that’s okay. I like this sound.
As we’re eating our dessert, the conversation continues.
E: Oh wow you’re right, adding banana milk gives it a whole different flavor. Like coffee!
SJ: Yes. It makes it taste like coffee. If you add choco milk it tastes different too. I… cannot describe the flavor well, but more than choco. You know, it is one of my regrets that we do not have time to eat patbingsu slowly like this.
E: Yeah, if you only have 10 minutes in-between classes, when do you eat patbingsu?
SJ: We hide it under our desks during class and every time our teacher writes something on the board we eat a spoonful of patbingsu. However, sometimes we drop our spoons, so we must drink the patbingsu instead.
SJ: It is very difficult.
E: So… what if you get brain freeze?
SJ: Then we grab our friend’s hand and squeeze hard, and pretend like we’re concentrating hard.
SJ: But normally our friend is also eating patbingsu. So we must grab both hands.
We change the subject for a bit, and start talking about YDAC. But before long…
SJ: Teacher! Do you want to hear more about patbingsu?
SJ: Sometimes we like to go patbingsu hunting.
SJ: On any given day there are 20 patbingsus. We once calculated the amount of money that the convenience store makes off of patbingsu, given the price of 1,500 won and that it probably costs 1,000 won to manufacture. But yes, there are 20 patbingsus. So what you do is you find a person eating patbingsu and you stand in front of them and say like this: “Hello. Are you eating patbingsu? Is it delicious? I think it does not look delicious. Here, let me taste it for you. I will tell you if it’s delicious or not.” And then you eat a spoonful. On any given day, I can have maybe twenty spoonfuls of patbingsu.
SJ: This is patbingsu hunting.
E: … SJ, are you popular? Because you steal people’s patbingsu and you keep winning at rock scissors paper. I’m worried that if you’re not popular, you will get beat up.
SJ: Oh. Don’t worry. I’m popular.
E: Okay then. Our school’s only had patbingsu for like, a week, right?
SJ: I like patbingsu.
And that is basically SJ.