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 8

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.

Next time: Tour of duty

I Almost Worked for a Cult 6

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.

Next time: Shit gets weird.

I Almost Worked for a Cult 5

Safety Dance

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.
Next time: John Bull Recruitment

I Almost Worked for a Cult 2

Where, why & what

We’d had enough of Dublin. It was time to go.

But where?

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?

Next time: Promises to Claude

I Almost Worked for a Cult 1

Farewell Dublin

Remove the almost and replace the letter l with the letter n. 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.

Next time: Where, why & what.

Wheels Coming off the Bandwagon

A poem for the casual sports fan

Throw the match on the telly,

We’re sure to win.

Jaysus, this jersey won’t go over my belly,

It’s only made for a lad that’s thin.

 

Who’s your man up front?

Has he played with us before?

That ref is a …. Clown.

Surely that was a score?

 

He’s a great wee mover,

Knows how to control a ball.

He’s in the box with that manoeuvre.

Jaysus, did he fall?

 

Not a hope that’s a peno!

Ref, you’re having a laugh.

Now that’s a terrible blow

At the end of the first half.

 

The atmosphere look’s great,

We’ll get back in for sure.

We can’t let them dictate,

Our boys will endure.

 

Oh, they’ve scored a second.

How long is left?

We aren’t as good as I reckoned.

The price of this jersey was theft.

If you enjoyed this, then check out some more of my poetry here:

Faster than a speeding couplet

Sean Nós-feratu

Lamb Couplets

Balls of Limerick