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 26

Paralysis and analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all works out in the end.

Trust me.

Persevere!

Next time: Down and out in South East Asia

I Almost Worked for a Cult 19

Crisis Talks

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.

Clear enough?

Great!

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?

She nodded.

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.

A sin.

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!

Next time: Moving on up

I Almost Worked for a Cult 13

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. 

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.

Next time: Get away ta fuck!

I Almost Worked for a Cult 12

Ew, Gimbap!

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
  • ITV

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 Famine
  • Oliver Cromwell
  • The X Factor

So they can fuck off!

Next time: Let us pray

Follow the series from the beginning:

I Almost Worked for a Cult 1

I Almost Worked for a Cult 2

I Almost Worked for a Cult 3

I Almost Worked for a Cult 4

I Almost Worked for a Cult 5

I Almost Worked for a Cult 6

I Almost Worked for a Cult 7

I Almost Worked for a Cult 8

I Almost Worked for a Cult 9

I Almost Worked for a Cult 10

I Almost Worked for a Cult 11

I Almost Worked for a Cult 7

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.
Next time: Shit gets weirder.

Follow the series from the beginning:

I Almost Worked for a Cult 1 

I Almost Worked for a Cult 2

I Almost Worked for a Cult 3

I Almost Worked for a Cult 4

I Almost Worked for a Cult 5

I Almost Worked for a Cult 6

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