I’d wear a cape, if it was offered

A true story about saving a life

There’s a story behind this award.  

It’s not one of those joke awards for attending the most meetings.  

It’s not an award for being the top performer on my team.  

It’s not an award for never missing a day, or for always being on time. 

No, this award is for saving someone’s life.  

I saved someone’s life.  

I saved someone’s life, in the canteen at work.  

I saved someone’s life, in the canteen at work, on the second week in my new job. 

Starting a new job is incredibly difficult. You have to meet a lot of new people all at once. You have to get used to the new company’s way of doing things, or if you prefer – the corporate culture. (Ugh, I hate that phrase. There’s two words that really don’t fit together, corporate and culture.) New systems and processes have to be learned. It’s exhausting! 

When I started my new role, the company had hired a few people in key positions throughout the organisation to facilitate a period of rapid growth. (Man, that sentence looks like something ripped straight out of a terrible LinkedIn recruitment offer…) 

Anyway, there were a couple of newbies knocking about when I joined, and just like me, they were searching for a friendly face to talk to. I would talk to the devil himself. Who am I kidding? I work in sales, I’d do deals with the devil himself.  

On the day in question, I was sitting at a table on my own in the canteen having my lunch. There were two other people in the lunch-room, each also occupying a table to themselves. The atmosphere wasn’t as cold as the seating arrangement suggests – far from it – we all just happened to be sitting where we were for different reasons I suppose.  

One of the previously mentioned “newbies” entered and sat down beside me. We had sat beside each other in our induction and had chatted now and again when passing each other in the office. I won’t name the man, I don’t want to embarrass him.  

I was eating pasta, he had a sandwich. As far as I recall, we were talking about cars. I was nattering on about some new German beast that was on the market, and he was telling me that the engines were supposed to be terrible, when all of a sudden he stopped talking and went bright red. 

I didn’t react at first. I didn’t know the guy that well, and assumed it could have been some kind of tic he had, and didn’t want to say anything for fear of offending him. When he said “Help me!” in a raspy squeal I knew he was choking. Fuck! 

Readers, at this point I shall inform you that I have absolutely no first aid training whatsoever. I did some lifeguard training in secondary school, but this man was not trapped under some heavy imitation rubber bricks at the bottom of the 1.5 metre “deep” end in Cavan swimming pool. I’ve no first aid training, but thanks to years of being a lazy fucker, I have consumed every kind of cop-show, action film and medical drama you can think of. This situation required the Heimlich manoeuvre. 

I got behind him and began to administer what I assumed was the Heimlich manoeuvre. To the untrained eye it probably looked more like Andre the Giant trying to suffocate a regional jobber with a bear hug. To be honest, it felt like that too. I didn’t think I was having any effect at all.  

I was in a huge state of panic, but at the same time trying to remain calm. I’d screamed at the other two people in the lunch room to get help, call an ambulance or something. My colleague had gone a deep shade of purple at this stage. His eyes were popping out of his head. I was convinced that I was hurting him, so I stopped briefly, and he frantically shook his arms and head, getting me to continue. I just repeated what I had done, trying to give a powerful squeeze at the base of his diaphragm. I was really, really scared at this stage and nobody had come in with help yet. I could feel him beginning to faint, and I thought “No, this is not happening”. I mustered every ounce of strength in my body and gave an almighty final squeeze, lifting him clean off the floor, almost over my head, like a Brock Lesnar suplex. He gave a huge hacking cough and the chunk of sandwich that had caused the blockage went flying across the room. 

I’d done it. He was ok.  

He caught his breath and turned around and offered me his hand. “You saved my life. Thank you. Thank you so much!” 

I reacted in the way I only knew how, “Fuck off, no I didn’t. Sure you’re grand!” I tried laughing it off. 

I laughed it off because thinking of all the different ways that this scenario could have played out are terrifying. For weeks afterwards I had terrible nightmares, nightmares where I had sat frozen in my chair while various people I knew clawed at their throats pleading with me, and I wasn’t able to help. I had nightmares where I was the one choking, and people just sat and watched. I also had a nightmare where I lived in an alternate universe where people were being forced to go vegan by a tyrannical world government led by Roz Purcell, but I don’t think it was related to anything else. Or maybe it was, who am I? Freud? 

He told me the day after that he had lost all feeling in his limbs before he coughed. He told me that he could never thank me enough for what I’d done. He told me that he’d spent that night at home on the couch cradling his four month old child in his arms.  

The last bit buckled me.  

I did a good thing. I know I did. I’m not writing this for praise. I’m not writing this to brag. I’m writing this because it’s a story. It’s a true story. It’s something that actually happened. There aren’t many true stories being written anymore. 

This is one.

I Almost Worked for a Cult 31

Ridiculous Suggestions, an ending

An English language compound.

Run by Russians.

In Korea.

Close to the DMZ.

Nothing dodgy about that, eh?

That was the first solid offer we had received since turning down Cambodia. We almost accepted it too, until I was offered a seemingly more legitimate position. It would be a position that I ended up accepting too, and one where herself would come on board as well after a few weeks.

Ok, I got a bit ahead of myself here. Please allow me to use a flashback, within a flashback. (Jaysus, you’re being spoiled with narrative devices, wha?)

We’d been pretty much drifting around Seoul for the three weeks or so after our horrific experience with Sunshine Academy. It was a combination of PTSD, severe back pain, and chronic procrastination. A deadly combination, in fact. I hate to always go on about money, but believe me, eating out all day and renting rooms in guest houses has a way of eating in to your funds. We were almost in to the “let’s get the fuck out of here” fund, before herself had what seemed like a strange proposition.

Have you heard of couch surfing before? I hadn’t. Apparently (this is how it was pitched to me) it was like Air BnB, but there was no charge. You could stay in someone’s house, free of charge, either on a couch, blow up mattress, or bed if you were lucky. Herself really gave it the soft sell (tainted love!), but all I could think about was being murdered in my sleep and an embarrassing photo of me turning up in the national newspapers. It would be my confirmation photo as well. The one where I have a blonde bowl cut and a beige denim jacket and check shirt. That was the ensemble that earned me my MilkyBar Kid nickname in secondary school. I like that photo, but years of abuse has made me hate it.

I didn’t know at the time, because I’m not a fucking psychic, but this suggestion would end up introducing us to our saviour in Korea, and a friend for life. I won’t use his real name, I wouldn’t want to embarrass the man. He knows who he is.

Let’s just say he was a kindly Brit who took us in to his home, gave us some incredible support and advice, and didn’t make us convert to Protestantism, or steal our land, or make us give him our potatoes. He really looked after us while we lived in his home. In fact, he looked out for us for our entire time in Korea. I’m not a religious guy at all, but this dude was our guardian angel. A Spurs fan, and a grandmother from Monaghan, but sure nobody’s perfect.

We got to know his kids, his circle of friends, and the fun side to Korea. If we hadn’t have met him, we would have returned to Ireland with a very bitter and twisted vision of a country that wasn’t that bad actually. It wasn’t a utopia, but sure, where the fuck is?

We were staying in his house in Illsan when I received my legitimate teaching job. Our British benefactor helped us move to our new town, kit out our apartment, and help us settle in. We finally had a sense of security in our new home. After a few months of weirdness, we were about to embark on a structured, calm, and settled year teaching Korean kids English.

I just read that sentence back, and laughed out loud. The year teaching was more fucking mental than the first few months. I have so many fucked up, crazy and weird tales to tell you about my time there, but it’ll be under a different title, and at a different time.

And now, dear reader, we come to the end of I Almost Worked for a Cult.

Thank you kindly for reading and following these stories for the past few weeks. It’s been incredibly cathartic writing about this experience. Herself could only bring herself (grammar check loved that sequence) to read this a few days ago. She had forgotten about a lot of what happened. She said she had blocked it out, possibly as a coping mechanism. It was mad, wasn’t it? Or are we over-reacting? Nah, we can’t be. The whole thing was fucking insane.

It’s affected me in a few different ways, both positive and negative. It’s really made me question why religious groups have so much power and are allowed to operate with virtually no regulation. That’s a hot take, but just have a think about it. In Ireland their influence is still great, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t be. Telling people how to live their lives based on a racist, homophobic and misogynistic book that was written in the dark ages (allegedly) is fucking bizarre. It’s mass hysteria (pardon the pun). Anyhoo, yeah, it strengthened my mistrust of religious groups.

I never want to have to interact with a religious organization like that ever again. I don’t think they should be outlawed or anything, each to their own and all that, but I just don’t want to have any part in their fantastical nonsense. And I don’t want their fantastical nonsense to have any impact on me or the way I live my life, educate my future children, or how my country’s health service is run.

Also, it really made me more cautious in my decision making and less trusting of people. I suppose the trust thing is sad, but naïveté caused a lot of issues here, we weren’t entirely blameless in this situation! From the outside, a smiling calm Mr Yun would seem like a stand-up guy. But he wasn’t. He was a fucking maniac. A control freak. A bully. All concealed behind a wall of bullshit religious piety, that in a way put us in a false sense of security. I’m sure some other poor fucker was taken in by this act, and I feel terribly sorry for them if they were.

Where are they all now? Who knows. Preaching the good word to gullible poor people, I presume. Business as usual.

Anytime I stay down in Herself’s parent’s house in Tipperary and hear the boy racers doing dough-nuts at the cross in the middle of the night, I always assume for a brief second that it’s Mrs Joy, she drove her Integra all the way to Ireland, and she’s found us.

She’s sitting in that bucket seat, smoking a fag, patting the glock decorated with crucifixes that’s strapped to her leg.

I Almost Worked for a Cult 30

We try Cambodia

Cambodia would be calling soon. I knew a few bits and pieces about Cambodia. Most of it was pieced together from the Killing Fields, Apocalypse Now! and various other movies that made money off the suffering of the region.

Herself had actually spent some time there in 2011. She had said it was a beautiful place, lots of nice bits left over from the French colonial era (café’s, not guillotines) and the people were very friendly. She did say that the society was very un-equal. There was a lot of poverty and the Khmer Rouge had left a very lasting and damaging mark on the population. However, she did say if everything was legit, we’d have a great time.

Open eyes big lad, go in to the call with open eyes!

Our Skype call with the Cambodian school was very brief. The guy was just pure dodge. French dude, wore a pair of Gadhafi shades for the entire call. He spent more time telling us about how low our pay would be, than what would be required from us. Offered us the job before asking us about experience. The guy stank of desperation and there was a brief whiff of corruption. I didn’t like it, neither did herself.

It was a no from us. Fuck it anyway. The annoying thing about it was, they required fuck all paper work. We could literally show up and start work. I suppose the risk there was, if anything went wrong, we could be goosed. If things went to shit in Korea, a month’s wages would pay for our tickets home.

Time to deal with the most untrustworthy people on earth again. No, not Fine Gael (oooh! Political!); the Korean recruiters.

I’ve already gone in to a lot of detail about why I disliked Korean recruiters. I won’t again, let’s just say they’re bastards and leave it at that.

Next time: Ridiculous suggestions

I Almost Worked for a Cult 29

Mao, Mao, don’t commit forgery!

Documents required to work in China that we had:

  • Degree scan
  • Police certs
  • Full medical
  • CV
  • Written references
  • Photos of us together (weird, but ok)

Documents required to work in China that we did not have:

  • AIDS tests
  • Chest x-rays

AIDS tests. Ok, they might be difficult to obtain. Where would you start to even find out how you’d get one done in Korea? It seemed to me like the kind of thing they’d deport you for over there.

“Hello, I, a foreigner, would like to apply for an AIDS test please.” I pictured two strong men injecting me with a heavy sedative and coming to in Heathrow. Why Heathrow? Well, the cunts would more than likely assume I was English, like everyone else in this country did.

The school had supplied a further medical questionnaire to be filled in by our doctor that would answer some fairly specific questions about our medical backgrounds. They were looking for history of debilitating diseases, mental health problems in the family, and counter-revolutionary tendencies. Ok, I made the last bit up.

I was going to have to engage an agent back in the home country to help us with this. Double O Mammy. Well, my mother. She was going to ask the family GP to fill the documents in for us and try get a negative AIDS test while she was at it.

It was a huge disaster. Mam tested positive for AIDS! Ah no, the doctor was terrified of creating an international incident, and would not fill in the forms without speaking to myself and herself first. I suspected there wouldn’t have been an issue if a large sum of cash was involved.

We were at an impasse. If an Irish doctor wouldn’t help, and a Korean doctor was out of the question, well then maybe forgery was the only answer?

I could mimic the signature of the doctor that had signed our original medical documents. However, my colouring skills did not include the ability to mimic a stamp from their surgery. Also, how the fuck can you forge a chest x-ray? Herself was good at art, maybe we could get some black photographic paper and white paint and draw a skeleton.

No, it was a ridiculous idea. The documents had to be brought by a family member to the Chinese embassy in Dublin for approval. We’d be hanging them, it wasn’t worth the risk. I can’t imagine my mam doing well in a Chinese jail. Dad on the other hand, he’d probably end up starting and coaching a GAA club made up of political prisoners.

No, the Chinese dream was over. Cambodia, we’d try Cambodia.

Next time: We try Cambodia

I Almost Worked for a Cult 28

Hey! China thinks you’re cool.

Things were looking up! Job offers were flying in from all corners of the orient.

A school in China had emailed herself during the night. They wanted to speak to us as soon as possible. We were to Skype Francis, the principal, at ten o’clock Korean time on the following Monday morning for a brief chat.

We had also received some mails back from Cambodia and Korea. None from Japan though. That upset me. I always wanted to be big in Japan. Like respected big, not large. I could be large wherever I went…

We spent Sunday chilling locally. No massive expenditures. We’d extended our stay in the guesthouse for a further seven days, giving us the deadline of having a decision made by then.

Deadlines. I hate deadlines. You give me a time and a date to complete a task, I’ll get it done. It’ll ruin my life, but I’ll get it done. Time is something that makes an absolute bollox of me all of the…time. Like if I have an assignment to complete, I might miss work. Or if I’ve a big project due at work, I might miss pints. I’d hoped to meet this particular deadline, but something told me it may not be one that I’d hit.

Francis called us on Skype the next morning at ten. We were using herself’s iPhone 5c to do the call. We’d a pretty good Wi-Fi connection in the guesthouse. For the call we had set up one of the beds like a couch. I shaved again for the interview. Looked like a giant baby with a hormone disorder. For all the previous interviews I’d worn my full suit. Trousers and all. For this one I decided to be a bit more casual. Shirt and tie with boxer shorts. Business casual, or business sexy? I wasn’t sure which category my outfit fit in to. Anyway, the guy would only see my head.

Francis was Dutch. He’d worked in the school for three years and his wife and child lived with him. His office looked like a modern day university lecturer’s office. There were no weird religious iconography, no stains on the wall, just rows and rows of proper looking books! He asked us the regular interview questions, a few personal (but not probing) questions and then asked us what we required from them if we were to take the job. That was the first time anyone had asked us that!

We told him all we required was an apartment, wages (obviously!), help setting up phones and a bank account, and clear instructions regarding our working hours and holidays. Francis laughed at this request. He said of course he’d provide us with all the relevant information. Moving to a foreign country was scary, and he’d make sure we had everything we needed before agreeing to come aboard.

We both let out a collective sigh of relief. This seemed legit! Francis was bemused by our reaction. He asked if something had happened us. Rather than be negative, we just laughed and kept schtum, telling him that info was sometimes hard to get a hold of. He smiled, knowingly, and said he’d email all the required document on to us after the call ended. If we got the job there, got settled and had a few successful weeks under our belts working there I’d gladly fill him in in all that happened to us after a few pints. I just wasn’t prepared to scare him off just yet!

Herself opened the email that Francis had sent. She read the contracts first. Money was decent, holidays were good, and the hours weren’t too bad either. We’d have our own apartment close to the school, and there was no mention of ridiculous extra-curricular requirements. Chinese lessons would also be provided! This looked great!

Now, their requirements for us. Fuck. We needed a full medical with x-rays and blood work from our doctor to be stamped by the Chinese embassy in Dublin. Bollox.

How would we get around this?

Next time: Mao, Mao, don’t commit forgery!

I Almost Worked for a Cult 27

Down and out in South East Asia

Herself was bed ridden for four days in absolute agony. We were treating it with paracetamol and ice. It worked for hangovers; surely it was a cure for severe back pain?

I was going out of my mind with boredom. I had no phone and no books to read. Apart from leaving the house to get us food, I had nothing to do. I’d returned to the 7/11 on our street corner in the hope that Charlie would be there to have a chat with, and maybe ask for advice, but I never saw him again. Maybe I had imagined him? No, that’s doubtful. Can stress make you imagine things? Can it lead to the mind losing grip with reality? Can it, like? I’m genuinely asking here! Maybe let me know next time you see me. Pinch me first though, so I know that you’re real.

On the fifth day of our stay near Ehwa, herself was able to get up and walk around. We decided to go to Itaewon and treat ourselves to some nice food. Unfortunately, this meant cracking in to our emergency flights fund. We’d have to stay in Korea and find work.

I was ok with this. Even though we had had a ridiculous experience, and almost worked for a cult (yay! The title of the story in the story!), I still had faith in Korea.

After having a really nice coffee in some chain café (hey, if they want to sponsor me, I’ll name them) we went up to a PC Bang to check the recruitment pages. There were loads of jobs available. There weren’t too many couples’ jobs, however. We decided to broaden our horizons. Our qualification meant that we could pretty much teach English in any Asian country. Herself applied for jobs for us in Cambodia, China and Japan. We had our paperwork with us; it’d just be a matter of scanning it across to the schools and arranging flights. Flights from South Korea were cheaper than a train ticket from Dublin to Cork, and the flights from South Korea to China were around the same price as that same train journey. You could get a ticket to Cambodia for a couple of hundred euros. We also applied for several jobs in Korea, making sure that none of the schools were affiliated with any religious orders.

After spending a few hours in PC Bang, we went for a stroll around Itaewon.

Itaewon’s a funny place, man. It’s beside a large US army base, so you’ll hear plenty of American accents and see lots of military families out for dinner. I remember one time pissing myself laughing at an American lady ordering an Americano in a café. She pronounced it “Ameri – cane- o” like it rhymed with volcano, and wasn’t being ironic. Myself and herself still say that to each other if we’re ordering coffee, just to see who laughs first. I always do – I’m weak.

The street market sellers in Itaewon really want you to feel body confident. They shout encouraging things at you like, “Hey! I have big sizes for you, make you look good!” Yeah, I always felt great about my appearance after walking down the street in Itaewon. Ironic smiley face.

That particular day, however, we stumbled upon an exciting discovery. We found an English language bookshop! I was so happy. I’d finished all the books that I’d brought with me and was going out of my mind with nothing to read. Also, there was no TV in our current guesthouse. Entertainment was rare! I picked up a couple of used paperbacks for very cheap. Amongst them were a few John Le Carré novels, a couple of Ray Bradbury’s and East of Eden by John Steinbeck. That would keep me going for a while!

That evening we dined in a Mexican restaurant, and had a couple of beers. We didn’t discuss anything stressful at all, just focussed on being in the moment and having a laugh. We bloody needed it after the couple of weeks we’d had.

Next time: Hey! China thinks you’re cool!

I Almost Worked for a Cult 26

Paralysis and analysis

Our accommodation beside Ehwa Women’s University was impossible to find. We took a taxi from the subway station, but the driver couldn’t find the place, and instead of actually looking at the directions we showed him, he told us to get out! He didn’t take payment though, which I suppose was sound enough.

Herself was in agony. She could barely walk. We were tired, hungry and out of our minds with worry. It was late on Saturday night and the streets were filled with weekend partiers. We certainly stuck out like sore, homeless thumbs. A plastered American lady asked us if we were ok. I don’t know if it was dehydration, hunger, tiredness, or what; I started to tearfully tell her what had happened to us. It just came pouring out of me. I left out the bit about leaving the keys in a bag of shit. We had to be seen as purely sympathetic characters here. Ahem…

She listened, wide eyed, and when I had finished she just waved her hand and said “Oh, Korea!” in an ironic fashion, like this sort of shit happened on a daily basis! Maybe I needed that. She offered to help us find our guesthouse. Her phone had data, whereas we only had herself’s phone which still had its Irish SIM card.

She got us to the front door and bid us good luck.

I checked us in and brought our bags up to the room. The room had two beds, a bathroom and a working kitchen. It was big enough and comfortable. I went down to the 7/11 to buy some painkillers and ice for herself. I was having a mini panic attack about doing this. How do you ask for something you need in a language you can’t speak yet? Ugh. Well it turned out to be fine. The dude behind the counter was a big bald Californian called Charlie.

When I walked in he greeted me with “Hey, foreigner!”

It was delivered in a friendly, welcoming way. Not in a hostile, racist, Pegida way. We got chatting, he told me a bit about the area – where to eat, where to drink – all the basics. Nice guy that Charlie.

I brought back the painkillers, ice and some food for herself. Charlie had given me directions to a McDonalds. The first one I’d been to in Korea! It was glorious!

We ate our burgers in silence, and afterwards herself dozed off. I couldn’t sleep for ages. I had to process all the shit that happened in the space of 11 days or so.

Sunshine Academy, the Korean wing of a fundamentalist American “Christian” cult, had taken in what they thought to be two vulnerable Irish people to teach in their school and eventually become fully fledged brainwashed members of their organization. Their tactics to achieve this were based on guilt and shame. These were tactics that had been used by the Catholic Church, and proven to have been successful in Ireland, for hundreds of years. Sunshine Academy obviously weren’t up to date with the current condition of the Irish psyche. We were no longer a nation of people being strangled by the yoke of colonialism or the Catholic Church. No, we were a modern, enlightened and educated people who didn’t take no shit from nobody. We have Twitter. We are “woke”.

The only way you’ll pull the wool over an Irish person’s eyes nowadays is by throwing an IRA themed costume party.

I had this vision of Mr Yun, Mrs Joy and Mr Boyle in their staff room having a good ‘ol chuckle. Mr Yun snapping his fingers, “Gosh darn it, we almost had them!” He then calls the recruiter and tells him to send in the next two suckers for an interview.

I had another one of Mrs Joy turning to Mr Boyle saying, “I think they just didn’t get our sense of humour at all. I mean, was the wedding practical joke just a bit too zany?”

We never saw or heard from those cunts again. Although, I did, and still do, keep an eye out for them. I don’t think they were the forgiving type of Christians.

This part of our stay in Korea is always the bit that we kind of skip over when talking about our time there. It’s not that we’re ashamed by it or anything, nah – we were just too fucking traumatised to discuss it in detail until now. (Herself is actually too traumatised to read this, well that’s what she says…) Plus, it was only like eleven days of a ten month stay, so, you know -focus on the positives and all that.

This series will continue. There are loads more messed up stories to come. This is just the beginning! It’s just the end of our interaction with the seedy fundamentalist Christian underbelly of Korea.

Is this misery porn? It’s not meant to be.

It all works out in the end.

Trust me.

Persevere!

Next time: Down and out in South East Asia