The Tambourine Story

“Teacher, how do you spell ‘tambourine’?”  AJ asked me.

“What do you think?”


I wrote the letters as he said them.  “Close!”  I said, adding a ‘u’.   “Tambourine is a tricky word.  What are you writing about?”

“I like to play the tambourine in a nori bong.”

I smiled.  Nori bongs are places to karaoke in Korea.  Rather than standing in front of a bar full of strangers like you would in America, you sit in a private room and belt out horrible tunes with only your friends as an audience.  Every foreigner living in Korea has experienced a nori bong night or two.

“The tambourines are fun to play when you’re singing,” I said to AJ.  Then, as this was a class that thrived on conversation, I thought I’d share a story.  “Last fall my friends and I went away for vacation.  We went to a nori bong one night, and the next morning my friend Claire woke me up by putting her hand in front of my face.”  I mimed the event, putting my opened hand inches from a student’s nose.  “Like this.”  My students smiled, watching me with interest.  “I was tired,” I continued, “and just waking up, so it took me a minute to focus on her hand.  But then I noticed a bruise… do you know ‘bruise’?”

“No,” said Nick and AJ together.

“In Korean: mung.”  The kids nodded.  “So this bruise ran from here to here,” I touched the base of my pinky and ran my finger to the edge of my wrist.  “I couldn’t figure out why she had this.  I asked her if she fell.  ‘It’s from the tambourine last night,’ she told me.  She had been so excited while we were singing that she hit the tambourine too hard and for too long.”

Again I mimed.  I slammed my open hand against an invisible tambourine over my head a few times.

All my students understood the story.  They laughed, and I did too.  I was partially amused by the memory, and also by my effortless adjustment in retelling the story in a kid-friendly way.  After all, I should have woken up ‘hung-over’ rather than tired.  And Claire should have been ‘wasted’ instead of excited.

Regardless of the precise details, we all could find humor in my friend’s tambourine injury.

*Written in 2011



Filed under Asia, South Korea

4 responses to “The Tambourine Story

  1. I love that you are being forced to learn to spell because you’re an ESL teacher. Haha to those teachers who taught you with “inventive spelling.” Bah to that!

  2. I dont know if you remember or not (assuming you remember me), but my mom taught esl in mexico and was in romania for awhile with peace corp (or is it core…i’m a bit “excited”). She would tell stories of cultural differences and thinking before you teach a lot. Your story completely 180d my mood this night/morn! I dont go on facebook too often, and i doubt that we will ever meet again but i want to tell you that i think you have one of the kindest souls ive ever met, and i consider myself lucky to have known you for a period in my life… and its awesome that you don’t seem to feel the need to tell everyone you know that your bagel was stale 10 min after you woke up tired.

  3. song a rong a hong

    i couldn’t spell tambourine still after reading this ( i had to scroll up and copy and paste it)

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