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White Monkey – Carlos Hughes
“I drew a breath. ‘J.K. Rowling, I am sure you have heard of her?’ ‘Aaaaaaaaaaah, Hurry Putteur!’ They all started laughing and giggling and giving high fives to each other.”
The latest in a line of books about the hilarity and lifestyle of teaching English in Korea, White Monkey starts with three expletives on the first page. They are far from the only ones, but it powerfully sets the stage for what’s to come. Chapter one continues the setup, which shows our protagonist consoling a new ESL teacher losing control of his class and having second thoughts about teaching in Korea.
While it’s not made perfectly clear in the book, it’s important to mention this book is wholly fiction, but based on personal experiences and real-life tales any teacher in Korea would recognize. (Readers would be wise to look up terms like ‘GCSE’ or ‘A levels’ if they’re unfamiliar with the British terms related to education, as they’re not explained in the book.) While the first few chapters have nothing to do with Korea, they set the scene for the reasons he applies for the job teaching English in Korea.
Some elements of the story play out the same for most any teacher: the pick-up at the airport, the awkward conversations, the culture shock, the first dong chim. While it’s fictional, there are some more out-there characters or the more outrageous demands of the hagwon (cram school) owner. Like a number of stories from the humorist Dave Barry, you need to suspend your disbelief about stories being the absolute truth. I won’t spoil your adventure by telling you all the twists and turns, but it’s a great introduction on life as a teacher in Korea with a surprisingly sweet ending.
Breakfast for Alligators – Darrin DuFord
“To travel is to accept uncertainty.”
I’m rather envious of Darrin here. His book, which contains some previously published stories in slightly different forms and some unpublished ones as well, has already won at least six medals in travel writing contests with the entries in this book.
Darrin’s thoughtful, reflective prose does not attempt to serve as a guidebook or an account of their travels through North, Central, and South America. Instead, each chapter offers a short episodic-type glimpse of the moments in question – competing wine festivals that weren’t all that competitive in Chile, a slice of the drumming life in Montevideo, Uruguay, and so on.
Like other examples of excellent travel writing, it comes off as a bit romantic in nature. At best, this can paint an overly rosy picture of a place; at worst, the essay version ends up sounding completely different from the reality you or I might see. With stories covering over a dozen countries – including places I’ve visited myself – there’s plenty to entertain.
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Also published on Medium.