As I was moving into my new apartment today, I took a look at my copy of Louis Sachar's Holes. Shortly after I arrived in Seoul, Mrs. Kim, the principal of my school, asked me to write an essay on Holes. Kids Times, the newspaper the older classes read, was having a contest.
"Is this contest for Korean students?" I asked.
"No," she said. "It's open to anyone." She said I'd be doing her a favor and that, for this favor, she'd pay me 500,000 won. She'd even already bought me a copy of the book.
Suspecting that my name wouldn't actually appear on the essayof course notbut also not knowing who I was supposed to be writing the damn thing as, I wrote the essay during one of my breaks and turned it in to her the next day. Shortly thereafter, she called me into her office, something she rarely did with any of the Western teachers. She tried her best to tell me politely that the English I'd used was too simple. I wrote another draft that night, throwing in a good deal of college- and perhaps graduate-level usage. This version she loved. She gave me the money, in cash, and said, in a whisper, though we were the only two in her office, "Don't tell anyone."
I never heard anything else about the contest. I assume I didn't win. I'd like to think that the judges realized the supposed author and the words didn't match, not that my English was worse than that of a Korean student in elementary.