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The Art of Procrastination

My husband has had vacation from his hot box of torture (read: hagwon) for the last four days.  The first week of August always seems to be the big holiday bonanza time for Korea.  Half of the Mom ‘n Pop shops have closed up for the weekend with signs on the door stating their intended dates of return.  You know, I remember the same thing in Paris, but they took off the entire month of August.  Lazy socialist bastards… Anyway, as usual, we didn’t do jack because traveling at the same time as every other sad bastard in the country does nothing to make you feel like you’re escaping from the daily grind.  We’re at the stage where near-total isolation is preferable to going out and mingling with the locals, and that is just pathetic.

My husband has been butting heads with his new boss.  His academy is family-owned, and the owner parades his sons through as managers like clowns at the circus.  The younger one was nice and mostly harmless.  He walked around in a T-shirt and basically let the general manager, whom my husband actually likes, run the show.  Everything was great.

Then the oldest son came back from running one of the family’s factories in China, and the younger one was sent over there.  (The youngest is still in high school, apparently.)  This guy is a whole different story.  He struts around with his hands behind his back like your typical ajeosshi, and he seems to delight in setting standard mutually exclusive goals (a Korean favorite) and giving vague, worthless answers.  When pressed for a definitive response, he gets all irritated and acts like you’re the one with the problem.  I’m pretty sure this points to some sort of personality disorder.  It affects most of the Korean population.  The other foreign teacher there thinks that he’s too used to ordering compliant Chinese around.  I maintain he’s your typical hagwon boss.

We’re trying to set a date to leave Korea.  When I stopped working at my last job in the US, setting an end date was no problem.  I gave appropriate notice, we agreed on a final work date, HR told me when I’d get my last pay slip, I said adios to the co-workers, and that was it.  Everyone was happy.  Here, setting an end date that isn’t in your contract (yeah, my husband quit – he hates the boss) is like pulling teeth.

Initially, my husband asked to work until the start of November.  The boss said that he’d “get back to [him].”  That’s Korean for, “I’m not going to give you an answer until I’ve hired your replacement, at which point I’ll tell you that you have a week or two of work left.  If you complain that I’ve violated the notice period, I’ll explain that the notice period started the day you said you’d like to leave in November and asked for a minimum of two months to get your affairs in order.”  The boss initially promised that he’d give my husband two months from the time he knew the exact end date.

Well, much like we both predicted, he’s gone back on that.  Now we’re thinking mid-September will probably be the hubby’s forever quittin’ time.  The boss wants to replace him with a Canadian who has, according to him, already quit her job in Canada and has got her visa number.  He stated that, “Koreans never do this.  Foreigners are silly.  They often do this.”  Yeah, because Koreans never do anything illogical or ill-advised.  Point is, my husband will likely be leaving on the boss’s arbitrary terms and not the ones agreed upon.   Welcome to Korea.  Where neither contracts nor gentlemen’s agreements are worth shit.

The thing that goads me, oddly, isn’t that this happened.  I was positive it would turn out like this because it’s Korea.  Koreans seem to be physically and mentally incapable of planning ahead.  As I’ve said before, everything molders on their desk until it’s either a five-alarm emergency or a moot point.  Once you start viewing them all as moot points, your life gets easier.  What goads me is that he had the brass tacks to act like my husband was being dramatic for wanting an absolute end date for his job.  That’s too much to ask, apparently.  People who make plans are dramatic and demanding.  Fuck planning ahead – let’s all just pretend that nothing is happening and then, when it happens, we’ll run around like chickens with our heads lobbed off by Marge’s great-grandma and wonder why the hell this is happening to us.

Unfortunately, booking plane tickets and stuff, if you want a fair-ish price, depends on some foresight.  Koreans don’t care.  They only ever fly to fucking Jeju Island anyway, and those tickets can be had for the price of a Changwon “hooker alley” prostitute.  Actually, I think they might be cheaper – the tickets, not the hookers.  You get what you pay for.  In any event, the hubby’s boss doesn’t care about such things.  Actually, if he does anything right, he pretends like he’s doing us a big, bloody favor and says it’s “because you have a child.”  Translation: “If you didn’t have a child, I’d bend you over and anally rape you with no lube.  I’m still raping you, but now I’m at least displaying the courtesy of a little reach-around.”

My husband and I are both apprehensive about leaving Korea.  We’ve both been here for a spell – a long spell, in his case.  He’s wary of America, with its crap health insurance, big government, and petting zoo atmosphere.  (As I’ve said before, there are coyotes by the railroad tracks in my hometown, and it’s not uncommon to see deer, hawks, and other miscellaneous wildlife in backyards in the middle of town.)  I think he thinks we’re going to be mauled by a bear, if we aren’t poisoned to death by brown recluse spiders.  That’s ridiculous.  You’d have to go at least as far north as southern Wisconsin to be mauled by a bear.

It’s time, though.  We’re both happier when we aren’t interacting with Koreans.  We’re both sick of dealing with the insanity of the “culture” and the people and institutions that perpetuate it.  Sometimes, you really have to take stock of your situation and ask yourself if it’s worth it.  There was a time when Korea was worth it.  We lived off of half of my salary and saved the rest, plus all of his.  We made bank here.  We had friends, we went out to dinner and drinks, had fun, saw some sights, and traveled around.  Those days are over.  The shine is off the penny.  We’ve milked the cow, and now that the cow is trying to kick us in the face and gives next to no milk, it’s time to sell it to the slaughterhouse for whatever you can in a fire sale.

It might take me a bit to find a job back home, but good God, at least I’ll know that if I want to bloody well quit, I can hand in my notice and say, “This is it.  We’re breaking up,” and I can reasonably expect to get a finish date and a firm pat on the buttocks from HR as I walk out the door.  Even if they’re telling me not to let the door hit me in said buttocks on the way out.


An Open Letter

Dear Korea,

I know that we’ve had good times and bad, and right now, I’m ready to punch you in the face.  Hard.  Repeatedly.  Don’t look at me with that flabbergasted face and say, “Mo?!” like you have no idea what brought this on.  You know exactly what brought this one, so don’t bother pretending that you don’t speak English or have never seen a foreigner before.  Although to be fair, even some of you who have seen foreigners off and on for years still feel the need to point and stare.  I guess if that makes you feel like the bigger person, keep right on doing it.

Korea, you know what you do that really makes me angry?  You are the most disorganized, communicatively-disabled nation in the free world.  I have spoken with people from every walk of life here, from ESL teachers to engineers to Korean business people to Korean lackeys, and everyone is in agreement: Korea can’t find its ass with both hands.  Planning ahead?  Unheard-of.  Making a back-up plan.  It’s a completely unknown concept.

If you expect people to do a job and do a reasonably good job that doesn’t, at some point, culminate with that person throwing up their hands and screaming in frustration at your inability to communicate, you need to tell that person when circumstances change.  This needs to happen more than 10 minutes before the deadline or go-time.  For example, when a change is known more than one week in advance, have the courtesy and respect to pick up the damn phone and call.  Send an email.  Anything.  But don’t expect people who have spent literally hours preparing for their job to respond joyfully to the idea that the entire game plan has changed at the 11th hour and 55th minute.

Also, it might behoove you to stop blaming others for your lack of communication.  If you are the one who has failed to pick up the phone, send an email, or attempt some form of speech or contact, don’t throw the burden on the person attempting to do a good job.  It’s not that person’s fault.  It’s your fault, and you need to accept responsibility for that.

On the upside, Korea, you can be very generous and kind-hearted at times.  You give me gifts and have graciously invited me to come and work in your country, experience your culture, and so on.  For that, I am highly grateful.  That said, there are still some issues of cultural ignorance that I would like to address.

Calling people a pig in public is not acceptable.  Pointing at foreigners and yelling, “Waygook-in!” is not okay.  Pointing out foreigners to your children and then basically encouraging them to stare is not okay.  In fact, in the case of some foreigners, it could cause some serious problems for you.  Don’t act like you haven’t seen foreigners before, because you have.  We all know that you have.  We’re everywhere – on TV, in the movies, on ads at E-Mart, hell, walking around E-Mart.  E-Mart is like foreigner Mecca, so don’t pretend as though there aren’t swarms of us there on Saturday and Sunday.  That’s why the religious nut jobs are always there, looking for foreign recruits to their congregations.

Korea, I love you.  I really do.  Your food is decent, your prices are still reasonably cheap, and your transportation system is good.  You are, however, tragically unable to communicate in any appreciable way.  You use caveman-like grunts as though they are actually words.  They aren’t.  Expecting people to read minds is not a form of communication, unless you believe X-Men are real.  You need to get it together and stop having unrealistic expectations and them playing the blame game whenever everything goes to hell in a hand basket.  Look in the mirror.  Maybe the problem isn’t everyone else but, wonder of wonders, the problem is you.


Korea’s Most Pissed-Off Waygook