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 25

A dash and an injury

The back-up plan was in place. It was solid. We were in agreement, if they tried any more funny shit we were gone – bye bye Korea!

We stayed in the PC Bang until a little after 2pm. Four hours should have been ample time for Mrs Joy and her henchmen to deliver the furniture to the apartment.

As we got closer to our building a blue half cab truck slowly approached us. It came to an abrupt halt beside us. The driver had a face that was so wrinkled I was convinced that he had been conceived, slept, and spent all of his spare time in an accordion. Either that or he was old as fuck. He rolled his window down and started shouting at us in Korean and pointing at our building. I couldn’t understand a fucking word he was saying. That was my fault, not his. Although, I had an inkling he wasn’t in the best of humours. I wasn’t really in the mood to engage with this accordion man, so I just gave him my biggest fake smile and a double thumbs up. Herself just completely ignored him and walked on.

We entered the building and cautiously made our way up the stairs. Maybe the old guy had been warning us? “Get out while you still can! They’re in the house! They brought anointing oil and a young priest! It’s an exorcism! Run, goddammit!”

Nah, I think he was screaming at us because he’d been the one given the shitty task of dragging the crap that had been left outside our door. It looked like all he had delivered was the outer frames for the beds. Perhaps the rest of the stuff was inside?

It wasn’t. There was no furniture or appliances in the apartment. Mrs Joy had been inside while we were gone. She had left a second bible, the wedding dress and the shoes in the middle of the floor beside the bag of shit. She had also gone to the trouble of leaving a note:

MJ – Your furniture is outside. You can bring it in. Church is at ten o’clock tomorrow morning at the school. I will talk to you then.

I handed the note to herself.

M – Well, that tells me where the priorities are dude.

H – I can’t believe she’s done this.

M – Really?

H – Well, no. I can believe it. What now?

M – Fuck this. Let’s go.

I propped open the door to the apartment with the new bible. Herself helped me attach the two large rucksacks to my person. I looked like an “early-thirties obese ninja turtle” with one rucksack on my front and the other in my back. Gobshite in a full-shell.

M – Can you manage the wheelie suitcase and a small bag?

H – Yeah. I’ll do my best.

M – Oh, shit. Where will we put the keys?

H – I’ve an idea.

She took the keys and dropped them in to the bag of human shit that Mrs Joy had conveniently left behind. A punishment fit for the crime? Sure, why not?

I’m not a big believer in karma. I don’t think that good things come to those who wait. Fate, luck; all that stuff is bullshit. Life is random. Shit happens. That’s what I believe.

Although, when herself badly hurt her back going down the stairs, I began to question my belief system. Perhaps it was wrong. We probably should have returned the keys.

We didn’t really have time to assess the damage properly at the time. I took the suitcase and herself carried the small bag, which still caused her pain. We took the luggage to the train station and waited for our train.

It was a very nervy two hour wait for that train back to civilization. Herself was in agony, and we were terrified that the cult would get us.

We were now officially on the run.

Fugitives.

Next time: Paralysis and analysis

I Almost Worked for a Cult 24

Doing a runner

We went out on to the street and tried to find somewhere for lunch. There was a Paris Baguette café just around the corner from the apartment. It served good coffee and questionable sandwiches. We had a couple of gorgeous caramel macchiato and some disgusting sandwiches.

The staff in the café were staring at us the entire time, texting on their phones. It was unsettling. I was convinced that they were cult members and were informing on us. WhatsApping Mr Yun.

We finished up and set off to find a PC Bang. I had seen one that morning across the road from the train station. We cautiously made our way there, keen to avoid bumping in to Yun or Joy.

Every PC Bang that we had ever been in so far in Seoul had been jam-packed. They were always full of teenagers quaffing energy drinks and furiously playing StarCraft or Fifa. This one was deserted. It was equipped with all the latest and greatest in PC gaming technology. Best of all, it had a functioning air-con system. Oh, the cool air. How I missed thee!

There wasn’t a sinner in the place, though. We approached the counter to see if there was a bell or something that we could ring to get attention, when a door to the rear of the room flew open and a large bald man wearing a Bluetooth headset came in and started screaming at us.

M – Hey, we need to use the internet. How much for one hour?

BM- No! Closed! No internet! Closed! No Internet!

M – Relax, ya big galoot!

He pushed us towards the front door. We obliged. Another cult member, I presumed.

Herself suggested that we climb the hill to find another establishment. The decision was made to walk in the opposite direction of the school and train station. Somewhere that hadn’t been infected by the cult.

We soon came to a kind of square, well an open space, littered with western style pubs and a load of teenagers with skateboards. There was a giant, bustling PC bang on the corner. We went in and paid the money to the friendly staff. Nobody passed any remarks on us. They were too engrossed in their gaming sessions to care that a couple of distressed looking foreigners had entered.

We took our seats at side by side machines.

M – Ok, let’s look at some temporary accommodation first. Something that we can pay for in cash if we need to.

H – Ok. Good idea. No harm having a backup. Let’s price flights as well.

M – Really?

H – No harm. We’ll cover all bases. Just in case.

M – Ok, cool.

We booked accommodation close to Ehwa women’s university in Seoul. It was fairly cheap. €50 for five days. Our flights home would clear us out, but it was a hit that we were prepared to now take. Our minds were made up. Anymore shit from Yun or Joy, and we were out of here.

Back to the Emerald Isle.

Back to the land of living in sin without judgement!

Next time: A dash and an injury