The Situation

Where to begin…

I suppose I should begin by stating that, in Korea as well as America, it is inadvisable to publicly grouse and gripe about one’s work life.  It makes one appear petty and disgruntled, and it may invite reprisals and limit future opportunities.  It is always in a person’s best interest to remain civil and circumspect when discussing one’s job (especially when your anonymity is not guaranteed).  Unfortunately, this principle is not always compatible with the natural desire to give voice to one’s true feelings.  It is a challenge to remain professional and still speak the truth.

I like a good challenge.

First, the facts, as may not be disputed.  Our regularly scheduled payday is the 10th of each month.  I feel I should add that February, though short by a few days, is a “month” by universal consensus.  Today, incidentally, is February 26th.  Let the record show that this is more than two weeks removed from the 10th, and further let it show that in that time, Tara and I have not been paid.  Neither has anyone else in the office, nor (to my knowledge) any of the part-time teachers we have worked with in the month of January.  

If I may be permitted to speculate, our company has run into significant difficulties in meeting its payroll obligations.

Now, that’s unfortunate on its own.  Frustrating, even.  We are after all a young couple in a foreign country where our ability to live comfortably depends largely on the timely arrival of our salary.  We’ve only been in South Korea for a little over two months, and our first paycheck (which also arrived five days late, but that’s neither here nor there) was half-size, owing to our starting work halfway through December.  Consequently, we haven’t had a chance to do much saving, and our cash is running low.  So yeah, frustrating.

It would be even more frustrating if we felt that the company lacked compassion for our situation.  In fact, one could conceivably determine that it would be extremely frustrating if we had been repeatedly led to believe, over the course of the last sixteen days, that we would be paid in due course on certain specific dates.

How frustrating would that be?  For the sake of argument, we might try to calculate it.  Noticing that we had not been paid on the 10th, and asking if there was a problem, we might be told that, owing to some accounting process, the money would not be available until the 14th.  As the 14th passed into memory with no payments made, we might be assured that it would certainly be ready on the 15th (a Saturday), or on Monday the 17th at the latest.  Arriving at work on Monday, we might then be assured that our salary would arrive on the 19th.

At this point, our frustration might be compounded if, having planned a two-week vacation to Jeju island a month in advance, we were forced to cancel flight and hotel reservations at the last minute owing to lack of funds.  If that happened, you might suppose we’d be bitter.  But we are not inclined to bitterness, so the question is largely academic.

On the 19th, we might be told that the company’s problems were on the verge of being solved, and that absolutely everybody would receive their money on February 28th (or, to quote the exact phrase, “the end of the month”) and all would certainly be sunshine and rainbows once more.  If we protested that our funds were short and this was far too long to wait, then perhaps we might receive a special promise that our own pay would arrive on the 25th.

How might it feel then, if on the 26th of February the person who made that particular promise denied having done so?  I bet it would feel really bad.  If the sequence of events in the real world bore any resemblance to the hypothetical timeline described here, I’d have to rate the ensuing frustration as a solid seven out of ten.  But we’ve spent enough time speaking hypothetically.

It was not until the 17th that we realized something was deeply wrong, and began looking for solutions beyond “waiting and hoping.”  Maybe we were slow on the uptake.  But we flew into action, asked some hard questions, and started making some tough decisions.

As Tara mentioned the other day, we are somewhat limited in our options.  Even if your employer does casually abdicate on what is probably the defining responsibility of the employer-employee relationship, they still own your visa and can prevent you from seeking a different kind of work (you know, the kind that pays money).  Our requests to be released from our contract were denied.  We’ve been to the labor board and we’ve been to Immigration (twice), and while they could theoretically help us, it would take at least a month.  We are exploring other avenues of recourse, but at this stage it’s still too early to tell what comes next, exactly.  We’ll be sure to share more once all is said and done.

We may yet be paid on the 28th.  Lots of things are possible.  It would be quite audacious of them not to pay us then, I think.  Of course, I thought not paying us on the 10th was audacious too.  Maybe what I think isn’t really important.

In some ways, we are partly to blame for our predicament.  There was information about this company on the internet before we took the job, some of it capable of raising even the most stoic of eyebrows.  We called the company from America to ask about certain incidents, and we were told that all was well, new people were in charge of running the company, and that if we came over and took the job we would most certainly be paid every single month.  Being trusting people (who, as I mentioned earlier, are inclined neither to bitterness nor cynicism), we took them at their word.  I wish we hadn’t.

So that, my friends, is the situation.  It’s not a happy situation, but for the time being we are making do.  We have a little money tucked away that will certainly last us into March, and we remain warm and safe from the elements.  And today is my birthday, so at least we have one thing to celebrate.  Here’s to more celebrations in the near future.

Warning to Potential ESL Teachers in Korea

*David is going to write about what happened to us in more detail later but I just wanted to put my two cents in.

This is a warning to all potential ESL teachers in Korea.  If there are any red flags about your new job, any at all, look for a new one.  If I had read a post like this before coming to Korea, I would have thought that the person was just being dramatic and that it would never happen to me.  However, there are so many jobs here right now and even if you have to wait a month or two for that perfect job to come around, do it.  It will be worth it.  Here is why:

It is EXTREMELY hard to get yourself, as a foreigner with an E-2 visa, out of a bad situation quickly.  As a basic rundown, David and I have not gotten paid in over a month and a half.  We have almost no money (think $100 between the two of us), had to cancel an 8 day vacation last minute, and have lots of bills to pay (phone, electricity, gas, credit card…).  Normally, if a situation like this arose in America, you would just quit your job and find a new one and file a complaint or sue your boss.  In S. Korea, you can file a complaint with the Ministry of Employment, but it takes about a month to investigate, and possibly even longer if your boss ends up never paying you.   The only way you can get a new job in Korea is with a Letter of Release (LOR) from your current school.  This LOR allows you to change your visa to a D-10 (looking for work) or just transfer your E-2 to another school.  Without the LOR, it takes 2-3 months for immigration to do an investigation and allow you to leave the school.  In our situation, this is crazy talk.  We have been denied a LOR by our boss because he says he will, “get the money.”  We have hardly any money and no idea if/when the school will ACTUALLY pay us.  We can not wait 2-3 months for an investigation to take place if we are not getting paid.  Forget about bills, what will we eat?

Luckily for us, it seems as though we might get paid tomorrow (but it could be a lie, who knows), but if we don’t, we are not sure what we will do.  There is legitimately no way for us to get out of this situation unless we have a LOR or leave the country.  Hopefully everything works out tomorrow.

Update: 2/25/14- We did not get paid today as promised and our pay is now over 15 days late.  We have also still not been reimbursed for our airfare.

Valentine’s Weekend

Here in Korea, Valentine’s day is celebrated a little differently than in the United States.  February 14th is still celebrated with love and romance, but with a twist.  On Valentine’s Day in South Korea, the female half of the couple (because in Korea there are only heterosexual couples… jk but that is the image they project) buys the male half of the couple some delicious chocolate (or makes their own chocolate a.k.a. melts it into shapes and decorates it).  This is surprising to me for many reasons because Korea has a very strong culture of men paying for everything, women being helpless, men saving them… with money e.t.c.  Once again, this is not true for every couple or person in South Korea but it is a very common belief and even way of life (as demonstrated in almost any K-drama).

Anyways, it is nice to know that the men get a little appreciation in the form of chocolate at least once a year and to see traditional gender roles reversed.  On March 14th, however, the tables turn and the man should be expected to shell out the big bucks for a romantic gift.

Following in true Korean style, I bought David about $4 worth of chocolate from the local convenience store… with him right beside me… picking out the chocolate.  What can I say?  We are romantic fools!  We also spent Valentine’s evening with our friend Je Jin who invited us over for some traditional cooking at her mom’s house.  Apparently, the 14th is also a holiday in Korea where Koreans eat lots of vegetables to ward off the evil spirits of the upcoming year.  At least, that’s what I understood the holiday to be about.  Regardless, it was delicious and it was nice to spend the evening with a friend, eat yummy home-cooked Korean food, and watch the Curling event for the Sochi Olympics.

Saturday was also very romantic especially since we spent most of the day apart.  I had frisbee practice and went into downtown Cheonan.  I was pretty happy with myself because I already felt in a lot better shape from the last time we practiced and was able to stay for the whole thing.  All 3 and a half hours!!!!  Plus add and hour bus ride there and an hour bus ride back and your pretty much lost the whole day.  But I did get this beautiful picture of our practice field.

Cheonan Football Fields, we practice in what is apparently a dog park...

Cheonan Football Fields, we practice on what is apparently a dog park…

Although it was only about 45 degrees, compared the frigid weather we have been having lately, it felt like a dream!  Many of us were playing in shorts and t-shirts.

When I arrived home, I found this (the most mushy, gushy present ever!):

Yes, that is mold. And yes, that is running up our entire wall.

Yes, that is mold. And yes, that is running up our entire wall.

David and I had been wanting to move our wardrobe to the other side of the room and as a surprise, David had moved the entire thing by himself while I was at practice.  What he found was a wall of mold.  Not only that, we discovered mold was beginning to grow behind pretty much every piece of furniture on that side of the room… which means about 1/3 of the entire wall.  When I returned home, we did what every couple does when they find something wrong with there apartment, we ran away.  We left to eat a delicious Korean BBQ dinner, hoping the mold would get rid of itself.  Unfortunately, that did not happen, so we spent all of Sunday morning spraying the wall with bleach water, wiping away the mold, and then blowdrying it to prevent more from growing.

Sunday evening was a bit more fun.  We got all dressed up and road the bus into Cheonon and celebrated Valentine’s Day with a 57,000 (about $50) won meal at Outback Steakhouse.  While this meal would only cost about $25 or $30 in the U.S. and in hindsight, it would have been smarter for us to save money, we don’t regret it.  The food was delicious and pretty much exactly what you would find in the U.S.  We started out with some bread, followed by two entrees of steak salad and chicken salad.  I had the chicken salad (with RANCH!) and I almost died, it was so good.  Chicken tenders, eggs, bacon, lettuce, cheese, and ranch.  Exactly my kind of salad.  We also ordered an appetizer of cheese fries but it took them so long to make them (we got it after our entrees) that they gave us two free beers as well.

Read the line that says "Lemon Dill Viniagrette" Unfortunately my camera cut of the last part of the sentence but it says "Female customers are attracted by its flavor"

Read the line that says “Lemon Dill Viniagrette” Unfortunately my camera cut of the last part of the sentence but it says “Female customers are attracted by its flavor”

I was super hungry!

I was super hungry!

IMG_0427

David looking studly as usual.

Our beer and cheesy fries!

Our beer and cheesy fries!

I can honestly say that I have not eaten that much food in all my time since I have been to Korea (Except for maybe the time my boss took us out to eat and kept buying more food).  I felt like dying afterwards from being so full but it was sooooo good!  I hope David and I will be able to afford going there again soon.

P.S. For those of you who do not know, David and I are in the process of securing a new job here in Korea.  Look  for more details in our next post.

 

 

 

The Girl From Ipanema Passes

This is originally a post from David’s other blog.  It was so beautiful and sad though I had to share it on this blog.  Hopefully he doesn’t mind.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

I came across an unusual Microsoft Word file today, while transferring a powerpoint document to a computer at work.  Many of the files I find are “unusual”, to me anyway, because they are often in Korean and I have no idea what they mean.  The English they may contain is not always enough to convey the file’s true significance to me.  It may as well be nonsense.

 

And that’s OK.  Having been here only a little more than a month, I don’t expect everything to make sense.  In fact, I kind of enjoy the sensation.  It’s not always convenient or unstressful, but there’s a certain sense of discovery that comes with watching a scenario unfold around me, without the benefit of understanding all the words that float past my brain.  If you’re not a little confused, I say, you’re not really traveling.
This file, however, was unusual in a different sense.  It somehow evoked meaning for me, despite being apparently meaningless.  Perhaps its creator could explain its contents, but I doubt the explanation would be very good.  It could never be as satisfying as the glow it kindled in my mind, though I doubt there was much sense in that either.
The file was named “David”, and that’s my name.  It’s not an especially uncommon name, but I am in South Korea and there’s no other Davids around that I know of.  It was probably created by or for another David who worked here previously, perhaps years ago.  But I was curious and (as always) eager for some distraction.  So I decided to pretend the file was a message intended for me, and I opened it.
Inside I found this text, presented exactly as follows: 
 
Did you sleep well?
English Only
How old are you?
Tomorrow I’ll be 1 year older!
50
Who Can swim well?
Breast stroke
Front crawl = free style
Butterfly Stroke
장재우
Happy Birthday to you. (x3)
Happy Birthday dear 재우Happy Birthday to you.
 
Let’s do some warm up exercise before swimming

 
Tall and tan and young and lovely,
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes,
each one she passes goes – ah
When she walks, she walks like a samba
That swings so cool and sways so gentle
That when she passes,
each one she passes goes – ah
 
(ooh) But I watch he so sadly,
how can I tell her I love her
Yes I would give her heart gladly,
But each day, she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead, not at me
 
If nothing else, this should serve as a warning to the psychologically unbalanced, not to go around pretending that randomly encountered computer data are actually secret messages, improbably placed in your path.  That is crazy thinking.  I should never have entertained the mindset.  But it’s far too late to stop now.
This text document, as a whole, makes absolutely no sense.  It’s not a lesson plan, or even a coherent train of thought.  Whatever purpose it may have had (assuming it is not the musings of a madman) has evaporated into the mists of time.  But it has my name on it, and The Girl From Ipanemais one of my favorite songs.  So I saved it, and I started thinking.
I went about my work for the day, humming and singing the song to myself when I was alone.  I taught a class using the very same computer where I found the mysterious doc.  I even forgot about it for a little while.
And now, at the end of the day, I simply cannot shake the feeling that I have to tell everyone I know about this file.  “Guys, guys, listen!  I found a file with my name and some random nonsense inside!  And The Girl From Ipanema was there!”
How must that sound when spoken aloud?
I thought for a while I might turn it into fiction, the mysterious setup for a bit of strangeness.  But I should have known from the start that this was a bad idea.  You see, I think that about a lot of things.  I can hardly be alone with myself without thinking “this would make a good start for a story”.  A brief glance at my work will bear this out.  I don’t write nearly enough to satisfy my artistic urges, or to really develop the craft.  But I do write enough to develop my own reliable cliches.
So there I was, thinking the same old thoughts about solitary fiction over some empty text.  I got wise soon enough, but the thing is that it never really felt empty.  I don’t know who 재우 is, or whether they’re going swimming or not, but all of a sudden I had a song on my lips.  The girl from Ipanema was there, swaying her hips like a samba, and not looking at me.  It was meaningless, but it was true.
What the hell was she doing there, under my name?  I’ll never know, because the David who wrote this document is long gone.  The only thing I can say for sure about him is that he doesn’t really have a strong sense of what’s worth saving and what isn’t.  Or, maybe he does?
I don’t think I’ll write a story about The Girl From Ipanema.  It’s been done.  It’s not really where my interests lie, narrative wise.  But god, do I love that song.  And here, from the most improbable place, it’s reached out and twisted my thoughts into something I don’t want to forget about.  It was a sudden moment when something passed, and all I could say was – ah.
-David Miller, January 24, 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie

 

I have decided to take part in the “Weekly Photo Challenge” from The Daily Post.  It is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.  Each week they post a photo challenge and bloggers all over wordpress complete the challenge.

One thing I have noticed about Koreans (*not ALL Koreans of course, just some) is that they are not afraid of the selfie.  Everywhere you look, selfies are being taken, especially in coffee shops for some reason.  I tend to think this is a good thing.  In America, the selfie is seen as kind of a joke that can have negative connotations if taken too seriously.  But really, why are we so afraid of our own face?  I’ve seen so many entries for this Weekly Photo Challenge that mostly obscure people’s faces or have hardly any part of themselves in it (i.e. just their toes).  Maybe they are just trying to be artistic or whatever… but come on.  It’s a selfie!  I think in the culture we live in, especially for women, it is considered vain to take a picture of yourself.  That’s why I think that Koreans have got it right when it comes to the selfie.  Why shouldn’t we see ourselves and say, “DAMN, I look GOOOOOOD today!”  Then of course you will want to share that with the world.

Anyways, since I came to Korea, I FINALLY have a smartphone.  And let’s just say, I am a little obsessed.  So for MY selfie, I used a photo app called Perfect 365 to give myself a Valentine’s Day makeover!  Enjoy!

Image

My Valentine’s Day look… I wish!

Couple's Valentine's Day selfie
Couple’s Valentine’s Day selfie

David's "artistic" selfie

David’s “artistic” selfie

 

*One last note about the selfie, Dove recently did a touching video about the topic.  Watch it here!

 

 

Desk Warming and Photo Dump

February has been a nice break from jam packed January. Last week and this week, David and I have been re-writing the entire program (with the help of Je Jin).  We finished all the lessons plans last week, though, and with our boss on vacation for two weeks, it has been a little hard to stay motivated.  Honestly, we do not really have much else to do.  So we have spent a lot of time surfing the net, sending emails, watching Sailor Moon e.t.c.  I believe this is what I have heard referred to a “desk warming“.  Pretty much every Korean ESL blog I have ever read mentions it but up until now it had been a distant dream.  I actually enjoy a little desk warming except for the guilt I feel about getting paid to do nothing.  As I said above, it has mostly been a really nice break from our crazy January work-a-thon.

This brings us to our other exciting news!  We are planning a vacation to Jeju Island next week.  This island is often called “the Hawaii of Korea” but in reality, at least from what I have researched so far, it is not really like Hawaii at all except that it’s an island and it’s a prime honeymoon spot for Koreans.  That being said, David and I are super excited!  We get 9 paid days off because of all the time we worked in December and January.  So for 5ish days we are headed to Jeju.  Then we are planning to fly to Busan (a beach city at the tip of Korea) and explore there for a couple days, before we make our way back up to Cheonan.  So stay tuned for vacation updates!

I also joined an Ultimate Frisbee team!  We are called the Cheonan Cheonwons, which I have been informed by Je Jin that a Cheonwon is a 1000 won ($1) note.  So our jerseys are going to have the Yi Hwang, the guy printed on the 1000 won bill, in anime form, throwing a frisbee.  TBH, they are pretty awesome jerseys.  We had our first practice on Sunday.  To my extreme delight, I found out that 10 members of the team are new to Ultimate Frisbee as well (this made me happy because I am not the only one who sucks!).  Practice was pretty fun but really long.  We started at 1pm and I played until 3:30 when David and I had to leave to eat dinner and catch a movie we had tickets for.  When we left, the team was STILL playing!  All in all, I am pretty sore today from so much running.  I am really glad I joined though because everyone is really nice and I am excited to have extra reasons to travel and see Korea. *Side note: It was really weird seeing so many “foreigners” in one place.  Since David and I live in the middle of nowhere, we don’t see too many foreigners so it was pretty exciting.  It was also weird when I realized that we all had basically the same job (Native English Teachers).

After practice, I was extremely exhausted but David and I had plans so we went and got some pizza, then headed to the movie theater to see Frozen.  Whenever we buy movie tickets, we don’t really know what we are doing.  Apparently we bought “premium” movie tickets which we found out when we went to what we thought was our theater but they told us we were in the wrong place.  I got really confused because the guy told us to go downstairs but I thought he was telling us to wait next to him until we could go into the theater (this happened when we went to see The Hobbit) So you can imagine his confusion when I nodded in “understanding” and then continued to stand in line right next to him.  Then he tried to explain again and luckily David understood this time (I could hear the ushers laughing as we walked away… silly foreigners).  So what does a “premium” theater look like? Well first you walk in and there is a really classy lobby with chairs, tables, and books to read while you are waiting for your movie to start.  Then, you walk in the theater and all the seats look like this:

Couch seats!

Couch seats!

Every single seat was a two person couch.  They were super comfortable and had a ton of leg room.  And the best part was that it only cost 8000 won per person!  I love how cheap everything is in Korea.

Anyways, as we approach the two-month mark here in Korea, we are both enjoying our time here.  I have been getting homesick fairly often, but that is to be expected.  Remembering that I am only contracted for a year helps, a person can do anything for one year!  Well that’s all I have for now.  Enjoy some random photos that I have collected over the past couple weeks.

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