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 23

We gotta go now!

( Dialogue key M – myself, H – herself, MJ – Mrs Joy)

I was shaking. I think I was in shock. It must have been shock. I felt freezing cold all of a sudden, and my arms were going numb. Maybe it was a stroke?

I walked around the apartment. No air conditioning unit was installed. The bathroom was fucking rank. Herself opened the fridge and a cock roach scuttled past her feet. The kitchen had no cooker, or any appliances for that matter. All it had was a sink and a few plastic cupboards.

I grabbed herself by the arm, told her to follow me, turned to Mrs Joy and said, “Give us a minute.”

I guided herself up a couple of flights of stairs to get out of Mrs Joy’s earshot.

M – Ok dude, we’re out of here. That’s all I can take.

H – Calm down. It’s bad, but just calm down. We’ll talk to her.

M – I’ll talk to her. We’re not staying here. The fucking state of the place! A bag of shit, like! A fucking bag of shit!!

H – Ok. Just take a breath before you do.

We went back down to the apartment. Mrs Joy wasn’t there. We waited for a few minutes and were about to leave when she arrived in the door with a large garment bag and a pair of hideous, white, women’s shoes.

MJ – This is your wedding dress. You can put it on now and see if it fits.

Herself jumped at Mrs Joy.

H – I will not be putting that dress on! Where the hell did you get that from?

MJ – It is my daughter-in-law’s. She is American. It is an American size.

I think that was supposed to be a reassuring comment, but it was delivered like a put down. I followed herself’s lead and got up in Mrs Joy’s grill.

M – Ok, this has gone too far. First of all, you can put that wedding dress back in your car. There will be no fucking wedding. Not on Monday, not the week after – never!

That’s right, I said fucking. I cursed at an old woman. I didn’t care. At that particular time, she represented every fucking mental thing that this school had done to us in the past week or so. I was letting out a few days of frustration. It felt good, man.

M – Here is what’s going to happen. We are going to leave until 2pm. In the meantime, there will be furniture delivered to this house. That means a bed, chairs, a table, and everything else that we need. You will have our contracts printed out for signature and on the table when we return. If you do not complete this, we will not be working for you. Do you understand?

Mrs Joy shook a cigarette out of her soft pack of Marlboro. She lit it, took a deep pull and said “Mm hmm” through squinted eyes. She turned on her heels and left myself and herself on our own.

H – Is she after leaving?

M – I think so.

I walked over to our balcony (oooh – luxury) and looked out on the road. I could see Mrs Joy’s Integra driving slowly in the direction of the school.

M – Yeah, she’s gone. We’ve a couple of hours. Let’s go find a PC bang.

H – Ok.

PC Bangs were 24 hour internet café’s. There was one in every street corner in Korea. Because we had no computer access (I broke my I-phone on week 2!) we relied heavily on the PC Bang to do our digital business.

We hadn’t openly said to each other that we were doing a runner, but at this stage we had each one foot out the door.

Next time: Doing a runner

I Almost Worked for a Cult 18

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?”

Herself blanched.

“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.

“But 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.

Next time: Crisis Talks

I Almost Worked for a Cult 18

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?”

Herself blanched.

“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.

Next time: Crisis Talks

I Almost Worked for a Cult 17

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.

Next time: Better put a ring on it

I Almost Worked for a Cult 11

An offer from a gentle man

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.

Next time: Ew, Gimbap!