Remove the almost and replace the letter l with the letter n in the title of this series. Now you have the subtext for 90% of inspirational LinkedIn posts from covert recruiters.
Not a great way to start the series, a dig at LinkedIn. Although a recruiter is mostly to blame for this entire saga. Now, I’m not saying recruiters are inherently dishonest or anything like that. I’m sure a few of them have some kind of integrity.
The title of this series is a bold statement, and I know that people who know me personally will assume that I’m being hyperbolic. I assure you that I’m not. If I was, I would have called it, “Nazi’s made me work for an alien death cult!”, or something like that.
In this series, the names of people and institutions have been changed, for obvious reasons! I’ll use “herself” and “she” when referring to my partner, not because I’m a misogynist, but because I don’t feel comfortable making up another name for her. It’d be weird. I’ve also been given permission to do so, so trust me – it’s kosher.
Another reason for changing names is because to this day my partner and I still joke that the cult will track us down and carry out some kind of ritual sacrifice on us. Sure, the odds of this happening are quite high, but I’m not willing to take the chance.
Actually, can you imagine a parish priest explaining that at a funeral? That’d be great wouldn’t it? “And just like the early Christians, he was chopped up to tiny little pieces and fed to a herd of sheep. And he felt no pain, sure wasn’t God with him the entire time.” One thing that the Catholic Church and Marx did agree on – religion is the opium of the masses.
Sorry, I digress, it’s a bad habit.
In April 2015 my partner and I were fed up with the Dublin rat-race. We lived in a two-up two-down in the Liberties in Dublin 8. The rent was colossal. I was under the assumption that the house was sitting on top of a huge natural gas reserve to justify the price we paid each month. It certainly wasn’t for the crappy low-end IKEA furniture, the leaky stained ceilings, the toilet that never fucking flushed right, or the kitchen that was more of a fire hazard than a Californian hillside during a drought.
We were one of thousands of young Irish couples living in that state of social denial that you needed to be in the centre of Dublin to make a life for yourself. You needed to be in Dublin to remain relevant. Did you fuck. We weren’t seeing a penny of our wages and we were bloody miserable.
A change was needed.
A drastic one.
I’m not sure that I was ready at the time for how drastic that change would turn out to be.
Where, why & what
We’d had enough of Dublin. It was time to go.
We were both from opposite ends of the country and couldn’t decide on a new county to move to. We came to an obvious conclusion in our search for middle ground. We’d emigrate. Try living abroad for a while.
I never had a desire to leave Ireland for an extended period of time in my life. I loved home. I’d turned 30 in 2015, and I suppose I reckoned that if I didn’t at least try it now, I never would. Now that I have lived abroad, I think that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. By immersing myself in a culture and environment that was completely alien to my own, I inherited a more open view of the world. I know that sounds like a big pile of wank, but your perspective really changes when you start to be treated as an outsider.
So where would we go? Well, the way we made this decision is bound to enrage the more uptight and meticulous planners who are reading this – we tossed a coin. Cool, right?
No. It wasn’t cool.
We should have been more conscientious with our planning, but fuck it, nobody died.
We had two destinations in mind, South Korea and Canada. Our Canadian visas had been approved in January, the South Korean visa would be approved once we arrived and started our jobs. We tossed the coin down in her parents’ house on the June bank holiday weekend. One toss. No take-backs.
I was secretly hoping for Canada to win. I’d never been to North America. Come to think of it, I hadn’t ever been to Asia either, but I spoke English, so I assumed Canada would be the best place for me, for us, to end up.
Of course, South Korea won the day. I let out a big exasperated sigh of joy. We would be off to the Far East. Honestly, I was excited, but also I was secretly shitting myself. I had absolutely no idea what to expect over there.
My partner sent me links to “wacky” American vloggers who documented their experiences in South Korea on YouTube. It really, really put me off. Their apartments looked tiny. The food looked shit. The American vloggers were loud, whiny and condescending. Like they were explaining everything to a deaf three year old with developmental issues. I didn’t want to have to put up with this nonsense for a full year. Look, if something is really different, or really shit, don’t explain it in a patronising, shocked manner. Make a joke, you cunt! The vloggers were pushed to one side. I’d do some old fashioned research myself. Actually, that’s something that I’ve yet to get around to doing…
So, Korea. What would we do for work? Well, teach English I suppose. My Korean language skills weren’t exactly up to scratch for getting a job in their Tesco equivalent.
Myself and herself completed a TEFL course from one of the more recognised TEFL organizations. I enjoyed the course. It really encouraged you to be as creative as possible in your lesson plans, and from the testimonials of other users, it seemed like a very rewarding and fun job. It was settling the anxiety that I’d brought upon myself by watching a particularly negative series of vlogs.
Teaching English. Couldn’t be too hard says you. Wha?
Promises to Claude
I handed my notice in at work on the first Monday in June. I was actually quite disappointed to be leaving. I really liked that job. I worked with some really cool people in an interesting industry.
The question I kept getting asked in the office was, “Are you mad? Why would you want to teach English in Korea?”
I suppose the most logical answer there would have been was: “Because as a non-Korean speaker, I’d be able to do fuck all else, unless there is a shortage of big hairy men to dance in fetish bars over there. And I know there isn’t. I looked it up. You’ve to go to Japan for that craic!”
We began the horrible process of packing up all our shit for our moving day. One of our friends was getting married in Malta roughly around the same time. We ended up moving out of our house and going to Malta on the same day.
I cannot describe how stressful it was for me to leave my car full of all of our most valuable possessions in a Dublin Airport carpark for seven days. There was a PC, all my books, clothes, our kitchen equipment, lamps, my PS3…the list goes on. We were like the Beverly Hillbillies arriving in to the long-term carpark.
After the wedding, I dropped herself to her parents’ house down the country and stayed a few days.
I was putting off going home for as long as I could. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go home, I just hated the thoughts of living under someone else’s rules for a few days. Sharing with herself is fine, I’m used to the routine, but sharing with people I hadn’t lived with in years was bound to be a challenge.
As it turned out, it was really nice to stay in the house for a few weeks. I’d never actually spent an extended period of time there before. It wasn’t the house that I grew up in. My parents had moved there two years previously. It was never, and never will be, my home I suppose. It’s my parents’ house. Home for me is with herself.
The dog, Claude (he said I could use his real name and promised not to sue) had a few questions about Korea. Apparently he had read somewhere that they, the Koreans, had an appetite for dog-meat. In a frank and honest exchange, I assured him that I wouldn’t eat dog-meat while I was there. This pleased him. He agreed to give me his blessing and wished me the best of luck.
Five minutes later Claude said he’d take it back unless I gave him a piece of the sandwich that I was eating. I did, and the universe was balanced once more. Claude would repeat this series of ultimatums until the morning of my departure. He was a master of manipulation.
My parents dropped us to the airport. I was quite upset saying goodbye. They weren’t the best with technology and I was worried that we wouldn’t get to talk as often as I’d like. They assured me that they’d be better at texting and would figure out Skype. Herself was a great help. She assured me that everything would be fine and invited me to go for a disgusting pint of airport Guinness.
I got one last text on my phone before we left Ireland. It was from Claude.
It read: “Where’d you hide the food you prick?” The blessing was once again revoked.
The flight over was the longest haul flight I’d ever taken. Previous to that, it had been an eight hour trip from Paris to Havana in 2008. This was an eight hour trip to Dubai, a three hour stopover, and then a further ten hours to Seoul.
The stop-over in Dubai was horrific. Let’s just leave it at that.
The first thing that I noticed when we landed in Incheon airport, I hadn’t been paying attention on the plane, was the amount of Irish priests and nuns that were queueing up in front of us to get through immigration. Surely Korea was Buddhist, no? I was confused. I was also uncomfortable. I tried very hard not to make any eye contact with the clergy. I was sure if they saw my big spud head they’d know I was Irish. I didn’t want to get in to any awkward conversations about mass.
We were staying in an apartment near Dongdaemon for our first few weeks. We carried all our impossibly awkward luggage on to the subway and set off on our two hour journey. We both fell asleep immediately on the train. Our stop was the last one, I think, so we were safe enough. The train played a little song when we reached our stop. That woke us up. I love that song. Actually, the train had a few different songs, one for transfers, one for end of the line, one for taking off. All of them were hits.
We met Kang, the apartment owner, in the train station. He very kindly offered to carry one of our bags up and down a series of extremely steep hills to our apartment. The heat was unbearable. It was in the high 30’s, Celsius, and it was close to 1 in the morning.
We thanked Kang for his help and collapsed on the bed in the apartment. There was a large Samsung air-con unit over the bed that herself figured out. We cooled off and begun to think about getting ourselves fed.
I was famished. We hadn’t eaten since the plane, a vile, cold, pasta dish. Herself said that there was a real 24 hour culture in Korea and we shouldn’t have to look too long for somewhere to eat. I had to take her word for it, I hadn’t done my research. We showered and changed and ventured out in to the sticky July Korean night.
Sticky July Korean night would be a great name for an electro band, wouldn’t it?
The biggest challenge we faced initially was not being able to use Google maps on our phones. Apparently it required a Korean ip address to gain access to Google servers in Korea. I tried using Apple maps instead to find a McDonalds, but it being Apple maps, we got lost in five minutes or so.
Herself took charge, and I was damn glad of it. We weren’t going to a McDonalds, we were getting Korean food. She chose a restaurant at random. I wasn’t convinced. It looked like a cross between a taxi office and a soup kitchen, but my God, the food was fucking delicious! I took back, silently, every ignorant assumption I’d made about the food in Korea. It cost the equivalent of four euro and was served with about five different side dishes. I’d never had kimchi before that night. It stank like farts, but tasted amazing.
Night one. Food’s good. Everything was going to be great!
We explored our surroundings over the next couple of days, taking long (and musical) train rides to every corner of Seoul. I was amazed at how many crosses illuminated the sky at night. I also couldn’t figure out their obsession with Dunkin’ Donuts. Although, I did eventually succumb to the temptations of the latter.
The people were quite friendly and welcoming. It seemed like an extremely safe city. We never once experienced any violence or crime, and this was in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Taxi drivers kept their entire float in the open compartment beside their gear sticks. That astounded me. Could you imagine a taxi-driver in Dublin doing that? I’d say not even the Monk himself would chance it.
We witnessed people withdrawing large sums of cash from ATM’s and walking nonchalantly up the street counting their huge, colourful wads of loot. In front of everyone!! Imagine that at home? You’d be dead before you got past the first note.
In train stations people plugged in their phones at communal docking stations and went off to get coffees, leaving the phones behind to charge. Nobody seemed to notice, or care.
We both suffered horrifically from jet-lag in the first couple of days. Our sleep pattern was all over the place. Luckily we didn’t have to stay in looking at the walls while we went through this. There were plenty of 24 hour amenities in the city.
We were walking home from one such amenity, when we witnessed something really strange. A businessman was fast asleep on a bench outside a pub. You could smell the strong soju fumes coming off him from fifty yards away. He was on his back, snoring, and his wallet had fallen out of his pocket, exposing a huge wad of notes and all his cards. He must have just visited the ATM, there was a nice chunk of change in that wallet. His phone, a high-end Samsung, was lying precariously on his chest.
We were both shocked that this man was out in the open in the middle of the night in such a vulnerable state, and debated whether we should help him or not. I thought that if I shook him awake he might get a fright seeing my hairy spud head when he opened his eyes, so we decided to leave him be.
We spoke about it back in the apartment for an hour or so. It was just so strange to us. Later on, at four in the morning, I was still wide awake and decided to go for a stroll to tire myself out, maybe pop in to the 7/11 for a few bits. On my way down to the shop the business man was still on his bench, undisturbed. All his possessions were still there too. It was unbelievable.
I swear, if I ever had any ambitions as a criminal, I would have cleaned up in South Korea. This experience really made me feel very safe. It was a feeling I hadn’t ever experienced while living in Dublin.
John Bull Recruitment
Our “honeymoon period” ended after five weeks. We’d sort of acclimatized to our new surroundings, and it was time to start work. We’d siphoned off enough cash for two plane tickets home, just in case things didn’t work out.
Herself was an excellent money manager. She had worked out that we could spend another month tops, fluting around and seeing the country before admitting defeat and heading home. Although, we decided that defeat was not an option, and began to apply for jobs.
Do you like dealing with recruiters? I don’t. They’re usually full of shit. Recruiters for English language schools in Korea are the worst recruiters that I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with. They operated on a level of bullshit that would fertilize a 100 acre farm. They were also some of the most rude and insulting bastards that I’ve ever had a professional relationship with.
All of the recruitment calls were done through Skype. I had to turn my camera on so they could get a good look at me, and have a good judge of my abilities through my appearance. They never had their camera’s on, the fucks. None of their questions focussed on my previous work experience. All they were interested in were my looks and nationality. It was like a mixture of Your Face or Mine and Immigrants X-Factor.
One recruiter asked that I change my nationality to English so that the schools would look more favourably on me. I pushed him on this, asking why it’d make a difference. His response was that the Irish had a reputation for drinking too much and being unreliable. He obviously had never been on a stag weekend in Bristol, the cunt.
In fact, I really took issue with the alcoholism accusation. This dude must have been a recluse, because I have never in my life experienced the levels of drunkenness that I have on the streets of Seoul. The Koreans love to drink way more than us Irish. This isn’t a sweeping statement, it’s an undisputable fact – they are proper piss-heads. Maybe it was just that summer, but it was as if Seoul was hosting the projectile vomiting Olympics, and events were being held on the corner of every street.
We didn’t deal with that guy again. Nothing like being forced into calling yourself English to end a professional relationship.
Another charming guy informed me that I was too big, fat and hairy, and that I’d scare the children. I laugh about that now, but at the time I was genuinely hurt by it. I was wearing two t-shirts on that call. Ahem…
Both of us soon realized that we were making a silly mistake during this process. We were interviewing separately, when we should have been interviewing as a team. Interviewing for different jobs in different locations was not going to work. We thought it’d be like home and that we could commute from our apartment to wherever we eventually ended up working. It was naiveté on our part.
Herself looked up a solution to this problem and found out that some schools liked to hire couples. It saved the school money on apartment costs (they covered the rent and bills etc.) and probably guaranteed at least one full year of teaching service. As far as the schools were concerned, couples tended not to make any rash decisions. Well, most couples didn’t.
We did an interview on Skype for a couple’s position in an area not too far from the DMZ. The recruiter got back to us twenty minutes after the call ended to say the school would like to meet us.
Shit was about to get weird.
Shit gets weird
Ok, before shit gets weird, officially, I have to explain where we were at in terms of our immigrant status. Because we went out before securing employment, we entered the country on a 90 day tourist visa. We were about 45 -50 days in to this visa at this point. All the schools that we were talking to were going to fly us to Japan for our visa run and were covering our work permits. The school we were now going to visit were no different.
This school, let’s call it Sunshine Academy from here on out, offered to fly us to Japan for a week after term started, once we fulfilled all their requirements.
The morning of the interview was an absolute scorcher. I had brought a suit from home to wear on such an occasion. 100% wool.
I’d taken about six steps outside the apartment before that first cool bead of sweat started its doomed journey from the nape of my neck all the way down to the crack of my arse. By the time I got to the air conditioned train, it was way too late. My shirt was ruined. It was soaked through. I’d have to soldier on and wear my jacket over my soaking wet shirt.
I was incredibly uncomfortable and dehydrated. When I’m dehydrated I completely lose all connections with reality. I stare in to space, I don’t pay attention to people, I just generally disassociate. I think this was why I didn’t have a complete melt down later on in the day.
We were supposed to meet the school secretary, Mrs Joy (fake name, remember?) at the train station. On the way out we were treated to our first views of rural Korea. I say rural – there is something deeply unsettling upon viewing a fifty story apartment block out on its own surrounded by rice fields. It just didn’t seem right.
Our train stopped in a town that looked like a dystopian version of Mullingar. Well, a more dystopian version. There were neon church signs everywhere, lit up in the daytime. I could see the tower of a casino poking up behind a hospital that was so dirty if you looked at it long enough you’d get an eye infection. The pavements were all cracked and overgrown with weeds. Herself assumed that there must have been a refuse collector’s general strike. Rubbish bags were strewn on street corners and outside bars and restaurants. The town stank of rotting meat.
An elderly woman with heavily contoured makeup waved over at us. Herself asked me if it was Mrs Joy. I read a lot of crime fiction, but my skills of deduction are absolutely atrocious. I argued that it couldn’t be her. My reasoning? Well, I deduced that due to the fact that she was sitting on the bonnet of a modified two-door Honda Integra, smoking a fag, she couldn’t be a school secretary.
My poor judgement struck again.
Of course it was her.
Nothing about the next few weeks was going to be normal. Looking back, we should have turned on our heels there and then, but no, we were open to new and strange experiences. Our parochial Irish prejudices had to be left at home, where they belonged.
Shit gets weirder
We walked down to Mrs Joy, who introduced herself and gave us a lift up to the school in her boy racer car. She barely spoke on the way up, but almost wrapped the car around a lamppost while eyeballing me through the rear-view mirror.
We pulled up outside a filthy five story building that had a café on the ground floor. I assumed we were meeting everybody in the café. How metropolitan, I thought.
I had visions of myself discussing progressive pedagogic techniques while sipping espresso. Dehydration delirium I suppose. At this stage my suit was starting to itch really badly. I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of here. Not because of the vibe I was getting, just because I was so physically uncomfortable.
Mrs Joy turned around. “This is the school. We are on the 2nd floor.” It was delivered like a challenge, rather than a statement of fact. So much for my poncey espresso fantasy.
We disembarked from the Integra, entered a stairwell and got in to a tiny, jerky lift.
Mrs Joy put us at ease by turning around to face us.
“This is a religious school. Are you Christian?”
Before I had the chance to profess my allegiance to glorious Satan, herself subtly dug me in the ribs and replied:
“We’re both Christians. We went to Catholic schools for both primary and secondary education”. She had assumed Mrs Joy would have been placated by this. She wasn’t.
“We’re Presbyterian. Have you got a problem with that?” Fucking hell, this was turning in to a Drumcree stand-off.
I wanted to go in to a long winded explanation about how organized religion was essentially this global scam set up to take people’s money by convincing them that they would become members of an exclusive club after they died if they followed certain rules…blah blah blah
To save time I just lied. “Nope, no problem at all”. Then added, “Sure isn’t it all the same craic anyway?” Mrs Joy just glared at me after the last comment. I’m sure she didn’t understand it, but my delivery and the wink after it must have conveyed my flippancy.
Mrs Joy brought us in to a small office where two smiling receptionists shook our hands and gave us warm welcomes. We were invited to sit down at a small round table where Mr Boyle, the head teacher, and Mr Yun, the principal, would come and meet us. (Fake names, remember?)
A generously proportioned American man came in to the room. He introduced himself as Mr Boyle and warmly thanked us for coming. He had a slight southern twang to his accent. Southern America, not Cork, boy. He asked us a few general job interview questions and a few general questions about ourselves. I instantly liked him. He seemed like a really gentle and nice guy.
After a few minutes a man who looked like a Kim Il Sung propaganda poster entered the room. He had the most dazzling and spectacular set of white teeth that I have ever seen. He introduced himself as Mr Yun. His accent was very neutral, and his voice was a smooth baritone. His speech pattern reminded me of Akira from The Simpsons. I think it was the way he paused in his sentence delivery, and his laugh that came out as a series of “Aaah’s”.
He was very heavy on the old religion though. He kept saying, “Praise the lord!” and “God will show me the way!”, and “Jesus has given me a sign!” Mad shit that I’ve only ever witnessed from an eccentric uncle, or being ridiculed in a Bill Hicks special.
We didn’t do all that praise be shit in Ireland. Well, not in any church I’ve ever been in. Phrases like “Please God!” and “God bless you!” after a sneeze are ingrained in the Irish lexicon, but that was about the height of it. I hadn’t believed in God in about 15 years. This guy’s full on spiel was making me very uncomfortable, and I think he knew it too.
Tour of Duty
I was squirming in my seat. I think Mr Boyle could sense my discomfort. He started to lavish us with praise. It was a nice change from praising Jesus.
“You seem like well-educated and wholesome folks. If nobody has any objections, I think you would be a great fit here.”
Both myself and herself let out a sigh of relief, looked at each other and laughed. Nice one. That was the job sorted. We could now focus on settling in and planning our year. Then Mr Yun asked a seemingly innocent question.
“Are you married?”
I blurted out, “No!” followed by, “We are engaged though.”
He contemplated this.
“Have you any plans to get married?”
Herself told him that, yes, we had, probably in a few years when we returned home on a holiday. Fair play to her for not saying, “When we get back to our real lives.”
Mr Yun smiled at this, held his hands out in front of us, and then said that God would help us find a way, whatever the fuck that meant. He then instructed Mr Boyle to take us on a tour of the school.
The school was filthy. The floors were all marked and chipped. Paint was peeling off the walls. It stank of stale kimchi and feet. Mr Boyle brought us in to all the rooms, telling us which room was for which year. It turned out that kids aged from four years old up to eighteen years old attended Sunshine Academy. They had ninety students over all. The school day started at 8:30 and finished at 18:00. Long enough day!
There was quite a lot of religious iconography hanging on the walls. JC himself, and quite a few paintings of saints that I’d never heard of before. I found this only slightly odd.
Well, the school that I went to for my secondary education used to be a priest’s training college. It was also on the grounds of the bishop’s residence (they called this a palace. The Catholic Church sure know how to ingratiate themselves with their congregation!) Our school was full of oil paintings of old priests and bishops. Creepy photographs where teenagers looked like fifty year old men, pictures of Jesus and Mary and all the lads having the craic in a white washed Israel.
There were also a couple of warning signs hung up throughout the older kids classrooms:
Anyone found listening to Christian Rock music will be immediately expelled!
Proper order too, I thought, that stuff was absolute shite.
Mr Boyle finished our tour of the filthy cramped classrooms and led us to the back of the school and a big set of wooden double doors. I assumed that this was a gym, or a canteen. Wrong again, detective dickhead!
He pushed open the doors to reveal a pristine chapel capable of seating a couple of hundred people.
I let out an audible, “What the fuck?”
Mr Boyle shifted on his feet and proclaimed that this was the community church. We would have service here every Sunday and teachers were required to attend. “Praise band” would lead prayers here every morning before class, along with several church services throughout the week.
I decided to re-engage my skills of detection. “So it’s a very religious school then, Mr Boyle?”
He smiled warmly, with a hint of an apology.
“Of course. This is a missionary school for the church of John Roberts (fake name!) All our students will become missionaries and travel the world preaching the good word to the non-believers.”
An explosion went off in my head. I glanced at herself. She was calmly smiling, but her eyes, her eyes said, “LET’S GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”
We both nodded politely and said “Aah, right. Great!”
Jewel of Denial
Mr Boyle ushered us back to the staff room where Mrs Joy was waiting to escort us to the train station. She dropped us off and said the recruiter would call with further instructions.
We navigated to the correct platform and didn’t say a word until the town was well out of sight.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but we were both paranoid that someone from the “school” would be on the train, tailing us, and would report our comments back to Mr Yun.
Hey, stranger things have happened!
We actually left our seats at one point and moved to a different carriage. I don’t think we were followed.
When we took our new seats we both looked at each other and burst out laughing. It was a release of the day’s craziness and tensions. What else could we do?
“What the fuck was that all about?” I said.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s really fucking mad! It’s a job though. Once the contract is legit, I’m sure it’ll be ok. Plus, I think they might be more desperate than us. They were trying very hard to tone down the crazy.”
“I don’t know dude. It could be a giant head fuck.”
“Let’s just wait and see. If the money and terms are good, we can sign up. We can spend our weekends in Seoul. It’s just a job. Don’t worry.”
I wasn’t so sure. I had gotten an awful feeling out there, but maybe it had been due to severe dehydration. I deferred. Money, and more crucially, visas were running out. It would all become clearer later on, I supposed.
The recruiter called us later on that evening. Sunshine Academy loved us. They were prepared to offer us the equivalent of €2000 each per month, plus an apartment, phones, and sponsor our visa. However, an official contract wasn’t offered just yet. We had to go back out the next day to discuss terms.
The recruiter was insistent that it’d be a good idea to accept, as couple’s positions were few and far between. Herself thought it would be a good idea too. I was a bit apprehensive if I’m honest. I got a real ‘brainwash’ vibe in that school. I was conscious though of our situation, and decided that herself is usually more logical than me when it came to these kinds of decisions, so I agreed.
I mean, how bad could it be?
An offer from a gentleman
We went out the following morning on the train to meet with Mr Boyle. When we got to the school it was just himself and the two secretaries present. No sign of Mr Yun or Mrs Joy.
We were offered the job. No contract was issued, but he said Mrs Joy was taking care of that for us and would have it ready soon.
We would be staring on the following Monday and our apartment would be ready on the following Friday. This suited us just fine. We were paid up in our current accommodation until that date.
I was relieved that we got the offer. I didn’t want to have to admit defeat and return home so early in to our trip. It would have been awful trying to explain that to everyone.
It wouldn’t have been a huge failure. It’s not like we sold our house or anything, it’s just that people can be real dicks if they perceive failure in someone that has tried something different. Proper begrudging cunts. It’s one of the worst aspects of Irish people’s personalities – we’re slow to reward success, quick to point out failings.
As a nation, we can be right miserable fucks when we want to be!
On the way out of Mr Boyle’s office we were greeted by a young Korean mother and her two children. They ran to Mr Boyle, and he received them with a big hug, lifting the smaller one up on to his shoulders. It was actually a really nice moment. In Ireland a teacher would never do something like this, they’re not allowed. Why? Well, like everything that’s shit in Ireland, the Catholic Church acted the bollox and ruined platonic relationships between adults and young children for everyone. Cheers lads!
The kids and their mother seemed to really love Mr Boyle. He asked them a few questions and played a little game with the older one. It was like rock, paper, scissors. The kid won and Mr Boyle gave her a sweet that he had in his pocket.
He introduced us to the kid’s mother.
“This is Teacher (Me) and his wife, Teacher (Herself). They will be starting school in two weeks!”
“Aw”, I thought, followed by, “hang on a sec, I don’t have a wife.” I passed it off as a cultural misinterpretation and followed herself in to the lift.
On the train back to Seoul we discussed our plans for the next 12 months. We were both in agreement that the town we’d be living in was a shithole, BUT, we were only a train ride away from Seoul.
One of the best things in Korea was the availability of cheap, basic (but comfortable!) accommodation throughout the city. We could spend an entire weekend in Seoul from less than €20 and visit all the bars and restaurants we wanted to. Monday to Friday would be spent in the boonies, Friday, Saturday and Sunday would be spent in civilization.
We would go to Japan for Christmas and New Year’s, maybe visit China in the spring, and possibly try and get a trip to North Korea at some point.
The job would be treated as that – a job only. There was no need for us to get involved in their church, and we were sure they wouldn’t force us to.
Sure that would have made things awkward.
We spent the weekend before staring our new jobs in Itaewon. Itaewon was kind of the international area in Seoul. Actually, it is the international area in Seoul. If you wanted a taste of home, a big pair of jeans for your giant western arse, or to be attacked by a drunken American soldier, it was the place to be!
On the Saturday morning we visited a café owned by a Canadian couple for brunch. I had the most delicious French toast with bacon. It was so good! While we were digesting and enjoying our coffees, a group of Irish ladies entered, sat a few tables over from us, and started having a really loud conversation. Myself and herself stopped talking to have a nose.
It was fucking hilarious. It turned out that they were involved in the GAA set up over there. One of their team mates had gotten a bit too cocky for their liking, and they were tearing shreds off of her. I burst out laughing when one of them said, “She tells everyone that she’s from Terenure, but she’s Tallaght through and through!” They glared at me, but then started laughing awkwardly. It was a really nice moment; it calmed me and made me feel that I wasn’t actually that far from home after all.
Our current apartment was roughly an hour and a half train ride from the school. On the morning of the first day we got up early and treated ourselves to a cronut and coffees from the train station Dunkin’ Donuts.
We normally ate gimbap for breakfast. Gimbap was kind of the Korean equivalent of an Irish breakfast roll. It was lot healthier than the Irish version too. Basically it was a long, segmented roll of sushi wrapped in tinfoil. It cost roughly 50 cent. It was very filling, very healthy, and very disgusting to eat first thing in the morning.
I could never get used to seaweed, rice and fish first thing in the morning. This bogman liked his porridge! It’d be grand for lunch, or an early evening snack, but my stomach always lurched on those early mornings. I’d have to close off my nostrils before taking my first bite, and keep them closed until the first segment was consumed. I liked the bitterness of the pickled radish, but the seaweed’s texture and taste always made me want to puke. Herself loved it. She vocalised her love of it even more when she used to see me struggling, just to wind me up. It worked.
Herself got us a couple of large bottles of water and a few notebooks and pens from the 7/11. Apparently the school would be providing us with a traditional ‘British’ lunch as a welcome. I was getting pig-sick of people telling us we were British, but a free lunch was a free lunch.
Actually, I have to elaborate on this point. I’m not speaking for everyone on the island of Ireland here, I’m speaking for myself. I’m sure it is an opinion though that a lot of Irish people will share. I fucking hate it when people of another nationality assume I’m British. Ireland is a separate country, with a completely different cultural identity, language and traditions. It’s a level of ignorance that I really have a hard time accepting.
I don’t hate the Brits. I bear them no ill will whatsoever; it’s just that I associate a lot of negative things to the word British. This includes (but is not limited to):
Flat, warm, flavourless beer and conversation
Complaints over trivial matters in holiday resorts
Destroying football stadiums
Look, we have some similarities, but we’re not the same. I’d apologize to my British friends for this hard-line standpoint, but they have yet to apologize to me for:
The X Factor
So they can fuck off!
Let us pray
We arrived to the school at 9am. All the teachers were assembled in the largest of the classrooms. They all seemed to be quite young. They were probably only a couple of years out of university, some maybe just graduated. Mr Boyle and Mr Yun sat at the head of the assembled circle of tables, myself and herself happened to be facing them.
Mr Yun welcomed everyone to the first day of preparation for the new term, introduced both of us to the staff, and then asked that we all bow our heads and close our eyes for the morning prayer. It was unlike any prayer that we’d ever heard.
Mr Yun started off by thanking dear, beautiful Jesus (his exact words) for sending two blessings in the form of myself and herself. He then asked father God to help us find our way and to guide us for the school year. Dear blessed Jesus was also requested to guide us into his arms. Dear blessed Jesus would have some job achieving that. In fact, dear blessed Jesus would have been better served concentrating his efforts on preventing me from laughing.
The prayer continued for another ten excruciating minutes. Subtle digs were thrown at Mr Boyle’s health and weight issues, a lazy Math teacher was taken down, and a teacher who was absent was prayed for in an incredibly insincere fashion. Apparently Jesus was in charge of school discipline, staff welfare and performance reviews. In a nutshell, JC was the head of HR. Maybe I could have a quiet word with him about my employment contract…
The prayer finally finished with a communal amen. I said “Eamonn”, a bad habit I’d picked up from being forced to go to mass in secondary school. Nobody noticed.
Mr Yun then asked us to take out our bibles.
I turned to herself in absolute fucking shock horror. Nobody had asked us to bring a bible! I didn’t own a fucking bible. The only book I had on me at that time was a collection of short stories by Philip K Dick that I’d brought with me from home. I was beginning to think that I was a character in one of them.
This was going to be a tricky situation. I looked around the room. Some of the younger teachers were reading the eBook version on their smartphones. Everyone else was reading out of these magnificent leather bound volumes
Mr Boyle read out the passage in his gentle southern drawl. Myself and herself gave each other nervous glances. How would we approach this? We’d yet to discover an English language bookshop since our arrival. There was probably one in Itaewon, but would they have a bible? I panicked slightly. Maybe the school had a spare one somewhere that we could share. I wasn’t going to fork out cash for two copies of a book that I’d no interest in reading.
The passage ended and Mr Yun asked us all to go in peace and have a blessed and productive day. Myself and herself were asked to stay behind for a brief chat.
And so began the most insane, wacky conversation that I have ever been a party to.
Ah lads, I hate to end on a cliff-hanger, but this conversation requires its own dedicated post.
Get away ta fuck!
Mr Yun sat down and smiled his big ‘I’m going to gently brainwash you’ smile.
“So Jesus came to me last night…”
I had no idea Jesus was in Korea. I thought he was usually in Costa Rica at this time of the year, appearing to somebody in the trunk of a felled tree.
“…and told me that I need to perform a wedding.”
I knew where this was going. My detective skills had been shit up to this point, but this time I was spot on. This crazy cunt was going to try and make us get married in his crack-pot church. Neither of us spoke, giving Mr Yun the space to elaborate.
“You guys will be married in our church before school next Monday. All the students and their parents will attend. Praise Jesus, it will be a blessed day!”
Well that was me done. I was getting up to strangle him when herself put her hand on my leg.
She said, “Why? We don’t need to be married to work here. This is a very strange and unusual request.”
Fair play to her. That was a more level-headed response compared to murder.
Mr Yun explained, “We are a conservative and hardworking people. We are not wicked and dishonest like Westerners. Our congregation will not accept an unmarried couple living together and working in our school.” He said all this with a serene smile on his face. This guy was a fucking maniac! Westerners might be wicked and dishonest, but we didn’t force people in to marriage to get jobs. Sure, we might have forced people to leave jobs for being married in the past, but that’s changed now. I think.
I knew that I would love herself forever when she replied to this statement. This was the woman that I would conquer the world with. Well, she’d conquer the world; I’d drive her from place to place and maybe do the dishes.
“Oh is that what this is about? Well if you’re worried about appearances, just get us two apartments. We don’t mind. The parents don’t need to know we’re a couple.”
A cracking reply!
Mr Yun soon correctly realized that I might be the weak link here. He started to work me over with the ‘ol psychological brass knucks.
“You seem uncomfortable. Do you not love her? Is that why you don’t want to get married?”
Fucking prick. I should have murdered him, or at least given him a Stone Cold Stunner.
“No”, I said through gritted teeth, “that’s not it at all. Our wedding should be at home, with our family and friends, not a thousand miles away in front of strangers.”
Mr Yun digested this for a second.
“But you could get married again when you go home. This will just be for Korea.”
“So it’s not a legal marriage then? It’s not in the eyes of the law? It’s just pretend?”
Mr Yun said, “You will be married in the eyes of the lord!”
I stood up, “Ah right, it’s only a pretend wedding so.”
She continued, “Look, let us think about it. We’re not agreeing to anything yet. It’s a strange request and you have to give us time to think about it.
Mr Yun threw his hands up in the air, looked to the sky and proclaimed, “Oh blessed day!”
What the fuck was going on here?
A British lunch
After that phenomenally fucked-up conversation we were shown to our personal classrooms and given our schedules and subjects.
I was going to be teaching English literature, US history and US civics. I wasn’t going to be teaching English as a foreign language at all! Herself would be teaching art, science and geography. All the subjects our three month TEFL course had prepared us for. For all the shite talk about Jesus showing people things in this school, you’d think he’d tell the cunts that we weren’t qualified to teach the kids these subjects.
I was still reeling from the morning’s indecent proposal. When I started to flick through the course books I was dealt a haymaker that almost had me KO’d.
All the books were from the “church’s” US based university press, and boy were they conservative! On page one of the senior class English literature text book this statement was printed:
Although we include the works of sinful writers such as James Joyce, who are now burning in the eternal fires of hell, their use of language and the stories they have written are important for you to know. Having knowledge of these works will assist you on your future mission.
I burst out laughing, mostly due to the ridiculousness of it, but partly because I was expected to teach this bullshit rhetoric. I grabbed the book and ran across the hall to herself’s class room to show her.
She was sitting on the edge of her desk reading a book, a look of shock on her face. Before I could tell her about my discovery she looked up and said, “I have to teach creationism!”
“For religion, like?”
“No!” she said, “Science!”
Ah yeah, that made perfect sense the way this day was going.
We both then did the most mature and academically correct method of critiquing these publications. We threw them on the floor and made wanker gestures at them. That was them told!
I had thought that this place was weird when they had an issue with sex before marriage, a little old fashioned perhaps. Not believing in evolution? That was just a tad too vintage for this wannabe hipster.
We didn’t have time to discuss it further. We were called in to the canteen for our British lunch. When I saw what was being served, I got past the ‘British’ tag fairly quickly. The kitchen staff had prepared giant, thick beef fillet steaks. It was served with fries and salad. European salad! Not a sign of kimchi anywhere. I hadn’t eaten beef like this since leaving Ireland. It was so tender, so juicy, so fucking good! If this was a brainwashing technique, well, I was absolutely fucked!
After being deprived of beef like this for so long I would happily refute the teachings of Darwin. James Joyce? May he burn in hell!
Fuck it, I’d even have a wedding! No, too far. It wasn’t that good.
Mr Boyle invited us to sit with him, and we were joined shortly by Mr Yun. We had brief small talk about baseball, root-beer and soccer for some reason. I had mentioned that I liked soccer just fine, but I was more of a rugby fan.
Mr Yun was nodding enthusiastically. You could see the wheels turning in the manipulative fuck’s head.
You’ll never Walk Alone
That afternoon was spent cleaning up and organizing our classrooms. There was a lot of work to do, so we didn’t really get to speak to each other until walking to the train that evening.
She asked me how I felt about everything. I decided that I wouldn’t just focus on the negatives.
Here’s a breakdown of my summations:
The whole bible debacle and morning prayer routine were bizarre.
Lunch was great.
The fact that we were teaching creationism was ridiculous.
Lunch was fantastic.
Teaching kids that James Joyce was burning in hell was outrageous.
Lunch was wonderful.
We purposefully avoided talking about our impending (doom) nuptials until disembarking from the train.
“A wedding girl. What the fuck was that all about?”
“I don’t know boy! It isn’t happening though. It’s really fucking mad!”
We were in quite the pickle. If we flat out refused to go through with this crack-pot Jesus freak’s idea of a wedding, he may renege on the job offer, but if we kept schtum and didn’t outwardly commit to anything, maybe we could sign our contract and then have a reasonable conversation regarding our opposition to forced marriages.
Our final decision was to say nothing till you hear more. Bury our heads in the sand. The Irish way of dealing with horrific circumstances. We assumed that honest hard-working church folk would be level-headed, flexible and open to negotiation.
Not a chance.
Day two started as day one had with another passive aggressive prayer session. Mr Boyle asked Father God to help Mr Yun make the right decisions for the school. He asked Jesus to guide Mr Yun’s hand while planning for the year ahead.
These guys were using Jesus as a wall to hide behind while throwing insults at each other. Maybe I could ask Jesus to cancel the wedding. Or perhaps I could tell Mr Yun that Jesus came to me in a dream and said that the wedding was a bad idea, and for Mr Yun to get the fuck out of our personal lives. Perhaps he would respond to a request being made in the language that he was most used to.
Mr Yun asked us to stay behind again after the bible session. The bible session that we still had no bible for. A young Korean male teacher stayed back with us. Mr Yun introduced him as Mr Park (fake name of course). Mr Park was the music teacher. He was wearing a Spurs jersey, they were well supported in Korea because of the success of Son Heung-min.
Mr Park spoke with a perfect American accent. Apparently he had lived there for most of his life, returning to Korea as a teenager with his parents.
“I understand you’re a soccer fan?” he smiled.
I answered that I liked it just fine. Mr Yun’s presence was draining my enthusiasm for the game. The cunt was beaming, he had the satisfied look of a successful matchmaker on his face. A face that I would gladly have punched.
Mr Yun proclaimed “Mr Park is a very talented opera singer. He will be singing a song at your wedding on Monday.”
For fuck sake. The cunt now had the band booked. Jesus Christ. Was he going to surprise us with an organized lock-in for the second day next?
I turned to herself, and for the first time since landing did something that I considered previously to be quite rude; I spoke to her in Irish. I asked her why the fuck was this guy assuming that the wedding was going ahead like we had agreed to it. We hadn’t! She shrugged and said to wait until after to talk to Mr Yun. This really confused the lads. Park was giving Yun a “What’s this shit?” look, whereas Yun had a bemused look on his face.
Mr Park repeated “I understand you like soccer. I will sing the Liverpool song at your wedding, by Gerry and the Pacemakers.”
He then proceeded to blast out a deep, rich, operatic version of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
I was stunned. First of all for being accused of being a Liverpool fan, secondly, the man’s talent just blew me away. Mainly though, and most importantly, Mr Yun had casually mentioned that the wedding was going ahead.
Not a chance.
Something Resembling Normality
Mr Park and Mr Yun walked on with hope in their hearts, while myself and herself walked through a storm in to our shitty classrooms. We had to begin our lesson plans.
I’d pretty much reached my quota of crazy for the year, so rather than doing actual work, I spent the first two hours building forts with the textbooks on my desk.
My desk was a piece of shit rickety table that was scarred with the frustrated carvings of its previous owner. He was either in to heavy metal, or a proponent of population control; Hatebreed was scrawled in a number of places deep in the pine. They weren’t in the Christian rock genre, so I suppose they were ok as far as the school were concerned.
We had lunch with the staff at 1pm. This time it was a traditional Korean dish, bibimbap, I think. ‘Twas grand, but it was no fillet of beef, I tell thee.
Mr Boyle joined myself and herself at our table. He was such a nice man, but an incredibly messy eater. His shirt was covered in most of his meal by the time he had finished. I’m a bit squeamish around messy eaters. I always imagine a bit of their meal falling out of their mouths and landing on my plate, and I’ll accidentally eat it and catch some kind of debilitating disease. This then ruins my appetite, and I love eating. Eating is great craic.
The rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully.
Wednesday and Thursday were spent familiarizing ourselves with planners, work schedules and exam preparation techniques. My general peace was interrupted every now and then with a distant operatic blast of You’ll Never Walk Alone coming from the music room down the hall.
It was the only reminder of the potential wedding. Mr Yun hadn’t been in the school for the past two days, so we assumed that maybe he had forgotten about it – the wedding, not the school.
Mrs Joy hadn’t been knocking about either. I assumed that she and her modified car gang were probably at some drifting event in the mountains. Maybe they’d fallen out with Vin Diesel again over something.
Her absence meant that we still had not been furnished with an official contract of employment. I suppose basic office admin was difficult to carry out when you were doing handbrakes in your Honda Integra.
It was great being able to focus on actual work and not being constantly distracted by Mr Yun’s shotgun wedding. We were both really looking forward to the kids starting on Monday. Our new careers as teachers were about to begin!
Sure, we were only qualified to teach English as a foreign language, and not specific subjects like we were now doing, but that was the most exciting part of it! I’ve always loved history and English. Being able to classify myself as an English and history teacher really instilled a sense of pride in me for some reason. Maybe it was because I had some good teachers for those subjects back in Saint Pat’s, lads that I respected and wanted to emulate. I don’t know. Anyway, I wasn’t qualified, I was probably about to ruin these kid’s lives. Finish off the job the cult had started.
I was really looking forward to getting cracking on Monday, making shite of the children’s futures.
The next two days events would drastically change this outlook.
Better Put A Ring On It
On the Friday morning of our first week, we were greeted by a very hoarse and pale Mr Yun.
He explained his condition before the morning prayer:
“You will have to excuse me this morning. I was partaking in a revival for the past few days. Mr Boyle will lead our morning prayers.”
Mr Boyle nodded graciously and prayed that God would heal Mr Yun’s voice. Yun smiled and took out a lozenge and popped it in his mouth, just to be sure.
How did I see this? Well, I had not been closing my eyes during “prayers” since the first meeting on Monday. Why? Well, I didn’t trust the cunts, that’s why!
I mean, this was a guy that was away for two days at a revival? A revival of what? Fucking Supertramp? This was evangelical shit. Events organized to convert (brainwash) new members of the church (cult) and bring them closer to Jesus (take all their money). No way was I closing my eyes around these lunatics!
After the meeting Mr Yun asked us to stay back. Great, I thought, more fucking wedding shit. He sat down in front of us.
“So guys, I think you should go out today and buy some rings for your wedding.”
Ha? Rings? Did this gowl fall off the stage at his revival and get a concussion?
“Excuse me?” asked herself.
Mr Yun chuckled “We can’t have a wedding without rings!”
I’d had enough of this bullshit. We were almost stone broke, in a strange land on the other side of the world, sitting in front of a smiling maniac who was suggesting that we buy rings for a wedding that we hadn’t fucking agreed to. If I had ever been exposed to a high concentration of gamma radiation as a child, it would be at this point that I’d have turned my purple trousers into rags with my exploding green muscles.
I put a hand up. “Listen Mr Yun, we are not spending money on rings for this so called wedding. We haven’t agreed to this. This entire suggestion is beyond ridiculous.”
Mr Yun inhaled, smiled, and turned around to herself.
“So, Mrs Joy has found a wedding dress for you and some nice shoes. Do you have time today to try it on?”
“A wedding dress? No, I do not have time to try on a dress. Please furnish us with our contracts and stop asking us to get married. It is not going to happen.”
Yun considered this. He took a step back and reloaded his brainwash shotgun with some guilt pellets.
“Bust everyone is invited. All the children are excited. All the teachers have prepared. You will get married before school and then teach your classes for the rest of the day.”
Wow. Way to upsell.
“You should not have invited anyone to a wedding or any event that we haven’t given consent to. You can go back to all these people and tell them it isn’t happening.” I roared.
The prick completely ignored me again and spoke directly to herself. It was an impressive technique to be fair. Don’t even acknowledge something that goes against your views. A proper fundamentalist.
“Your apartment will be ready tomorrow.”
Ah, he was using shock and awe tactics now. Clever.
“Mrs Joy will meet you in the morning and take you there.”
“And what about our contracts?” asked herself.
Yun waved his hand, “Talk to Mrs Joy about that, she looks after contracts.”
He turned to me.
“You look upset. What is wrong?”
Was this guy a fucking idiot, or just acting the bollox? I got up out of my seat to leave.
“I’ve work to do.” I walked out of the room and went straight to my classroom. It probably made me look like a petulant child, but I had to get out of there. I had such a strong urge to punch that man in the face. Give him a proper haymaker.
Herself followed me in to the room, locked the door and drew the blinds.
We had to hash this out immediately. Things had really gotten out of hand.
This edition is going to be a bit dialogue heavy, lads. To make it more legible, I’m going to format it thusly: M – is myself talking, H – is herself talking.
M – Dude. What the hell have we got ourselves into?
She sighed and walked over to the window, debating whether to close the street facing blinds. These guys were freaks, but I don’t think they had a laser listening device pointed at that room at this particular moment in time.
H – Do you think they can hear us?
M – I don’t know, but if Jesus is everywhere, I hope he can keep his mouth shut!
We both laughed. It was badly needed to break the tension. It was either laughter, or a good weep.
M – This wedding dude. It can’t go ahead. It’s like some form of abuse, isn’t it?
H – Yeah, it’s really fucking mad. Look, it’s not happening, ok? We just don’t have to go through with it.
M – I dunno dude. This guy just doesn’t take no for an answer. Did you see the way he just pretended I wasn’t in the room when I openly challenged him? That was fucked up.
H – Well, he’ll have to take no for an answer. Otherwise he’ll have no teachers. We can always leave, you know?
M – Yeah, but what about money? What about a place to live and work? The school year starts next week!
We both let that sink in. We were caught between a rock and a crazy place. The old cliché says that beggars can’t be choosers, and the way our finances were at the time, we definitely were more in the beggar category than the chooser category. We still had our get out of dodge money. We could return to Ireland, take our “I told you so!” lashes, and try and pick up the pieces.
Even though the whole situation had gone well beyond bizarre, I didn’t want to go home. Mostly due to pride.
I’d learned nothing since I started in Sunshine Academy. Not a fucking thing.
H – Ok. Let’s stick to our original plan. We won’t do the wedding. That’s not happening. Let Yun make suggestions and plans all he wants, but we won’t go through with it. We’ll sign our contracts, move in, and we’ll work Monday to Friday. We won’t get involved in any of this church shit.
M – But dude, do you think we’ll be left alone like that? I mean, they don’t seem like the type to respect people’s wishes. They are forcibly arranging our wedding after all. And we only met the cunts last week! They don’t even know us!
H – Yeah, you’re right. They are going to wreck our fucking heads. We just have to resist as much as possible.
M – I’ll break. I’m weak. I just want a hassle free life! You know I’ll fold.
H – No, you’ll be strong. We’re a team. If we let them get inside our heads, we’re done for. I’d say the worst that can happen is a slap on the wrists. We have the advantage here. They just don’t know it yet.
A slap on the wrists? I wasn’t sure about that. They seemed more like the “burned at the stake” kind of people.
I felt awful. I felt afraid. Most of all, I felt homesick.
The Ireland that I left wasn’t perfect. The wages were shite, the rent was high, the weather was damp, but apart from the odd over-zealous aunt – nobody was forcing us to get married against our will at home.
If the wedding went ahead, I’d pull the plug. Fuck it; I’d take the “told-you-so’s!”
We gave it a go.
After work we met Mrs Joy in the corridor.
J – There is a church gathering tonight. We want you to come.
M & H – No! We’re busy.
A united front. That’s how we’d win!