For any foreigner who has taught English as a second language in South Korea, the words “Ddong Chim” may strike terror into their soul. For anyone who has never ventured into the schools in South Korea, ddong chim is a foreign concept.
Being a teacher is a strange thing. There are parts of me that connect so easily back to my childhood. When I give my students candy or let them play a game after a test, I remember my old favorite grade school teachers and how well food rewards worked on me and my classmates as motivators. But there is another part of me- the adult part- that looks at my students and wonders what goes on in their brains. Kids find humor in areas that adults just don’t.
A huge joke between my students is being the first inside a door and locking it, or holding it closed so no one else can get inside. The first few times I saw this, I just shook my head, thinking it was stupid humor. After a month of seeing the same kids holding doors shut, I just started wondering WHY they found it amusing. And all this was before I learned about what really cracked up my students: ddong chim.
Ddong chim, literally means ‘shit poke.’ In explanation, there is no logic to it. The person who decides to ddong chim another person (hereby known as the perpetrator) holds their own hands together, fingers crossed, except for the pointers which stick dangerously upward. Think of the old “here is the church, here is the steeple.” The perpetrator sneaks up behind an unsuspecting victim and pokes their pointers up into their victim’s butt crack. The goal, I think, is hitting anus.
Like I said, it’s strange and illogical.
Although girls can ddong chim each other, it seems more like a more common occurrence between boys. I first saw it while teaching a class with all boys. One boy crept up behind his classmate, dropped to his knees and jabbed his fingers into his friend’s ass. The friend, busy writing on the whiteboard, was unfazed. He kind of swished his body and brushed his hand past his butt to knock the kid’s hands out. I was too shocked to lecture the perpetrator, mostly because of the casual way the victim reacted. Don’t you realize you were just violated? I wanted to say.
That weekend I went out with some friends. I quickly made a gay friend, which thrilled the fag hag inside of me. Jason and I began talking about ddong chim. “I had heard about it before, but I just saw it yesterday for the first time,” I told him.
“You JUST saw it? God, my kids do it to me all the time!”
“Wait, they do it to their TEACHERS?” I was further shocked. “Never in my life can I picture myself feeling comfortable enough with a teacher to do that. I wouldn’t even hug a teacher, much less poke my hands into their butt crack.”
“What are you talking about,” Jon asked, walking up.
“Ddong Chim,” I said, miming an attack with my hands.
“Ugh. Don’t even say those words to me. I have little kid’s fingers in my ass every day,” He said. I was laughing too hard to talk.
“Yeah, and it’s like, at least buy me dinner first,” said Jason.
“It’s… it’s funny ‘cuz it’s gross,” I sputtered out.
Jason nodded, laughing with me. “I have another student who stares at my crotch all day. It’s so distracting. And I went into the bathroom once and he was in there. He pointed at my crotch and said, ‘Teacher! Big!’”
“What little wierdos!” I said.
After that, I only used the words ddong chim to make my students laugh. And it was inevitable that a foreign teacher saying ddong chim would cause laughter.
The next time I reminisced about the nastiness that is ddong chim was over dinner with some friends. “Do your student’s do it to you?” I asked Ryan.
“Not anymore,” he said. “Someone did it to me on my second day of teaching.”
Again, my laughter began. What a way to be welcomed to a new job. “What did you do?”
“I kicked him. He started crying and I felt kind of bad, but what do you expect?”
“Ryan! You kicked a little kid!?”
“It was instinct! I was writing on the board and he snuck up behind me. I just flicked my heel right back into him. And he wasn’t a little little kid. He was probably twelve or so.”
“Ah… old enough to know better,” I said. One would think, anyway.
A few months later there was a big arrival of new teachers. Claire and I went out with some of her new coworkers one night, and I took the liberty of explaining to Chrissy and Pearl what ddong chim was. After all, it’s best to have fair warning. They were astounded.
Claire was two months in and already familiar with ddong chim. “Where I’m from we call it a jobbie jabber.” She said.
“You do that in Scotland?” asked Chrissy.
“Well, my brother used to, but it’s just a one-handed poke like this,” she pointed one finger, swung it forward and exclaimed, “Jobbie jabber!” “But here they like, join their hands together and plot it out, like, heh heh heh…”
“I’m confused. Do they just do it for the craic?” Asked Pearl.
“No they do it for the hole,” I said.
“They do it because it’s a whole lotta fun,” said Claire.
(written in 2010)