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

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 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 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 4

Seoul Food

The flight over was the longest haul flight I’d ever taken. Previous to that, it had been an eight hour trip from Paris to Havana in 2008. This was an eight hour trip to Dubai, a three hour stopover, and then a further ten hours to Seoul.

The stop-over in Dubai was horrific. Let’s just leave it at that.

The first thing that I noticed when we landed in Incheon airport, I hadn’t been paying attention on the plane, was the amount of Irish priests and nuns that were queueing up in front of us to get through immigration. Surely Korea was Buddhist, no? I was confused. I was also uncomfortable. I tried very hard not to make any eye contact with the clergy. I was sure if they saw my big spud head they’d know I was Irish. I didn’t want to get in to any awkward conversations about mass.

We were staying in an apartment near Dongdaemon for our first few weeks. We carried all our impossibly awkward luggage on to the subway and set off on our two hour journey. We both fell asleep immediately on the train. Our stop was the last one, I think, so we were safe enough. The train played a little song when we reached our stop. That woke us up. I love that song. Actually, the train had a few different songs, one for transfers, one for end of the line, one for taking off. All of them were hits.

We met Kang, the apartment owner, in the train station. He very kindly offered to carry one of our bags up and down a series of extremely steep hills to our apartment. The heat was unbearable. It was in the high 30’s, Celsius, and it was close to 1 in the morning.

We thanked Kang for his help and collapsed on the bed in the apartment. There was a large Samsung air-con unit over the bed that herself figured out. We cooled off and begun to think about getting ourselves fed. 

I was famished. We hadn’t eaten since the plane, a vile, cold, pasta dish. Herself said that there was a real 24 hour culture in Korea and we shouldn’t have to look too long for somewhere to eat. I had to take her word for it, I hadn’t done my research. We showered and changed and ventured out in to the sticky July Korean night.

Sticky July Korean night would be a great name for an electro band, wouldn’t it?

The biggest challenge we faced initially was not being able to use Google maps on our phones. Apparently it required a Korean ip address to gain access to Google servers in Korea. I tried using Apple maps instead to find a McDonalds, but it being Apple maps, we got lost in five minutes or so.

Herself took charge, and I was damn glad of it. We weren’t going to a McDonalds, we were getting Korean food. She chose a restaurant at random. I wasn’t convinced. It looked like a cross between a taxi office and a soup kitchen, but my God, the food was fucking delicious! I took back, silently, every ignorant assumption I’d made about the food in Korea. It cost the equivalent of four euro and was served with about five different side dishes. I’d never had kimchi before that night. It stank like farts, but tasted amazing.

Night one. Food’s good. Everything was going to be great!

Next time: Safety Dance

I Almost Worked for a Cult 3

Promises to Claude

I handed my notice in at work on the first Monday in June. I was actually quite disappointed to be leaving. I really liked that job. I worked with some really cool people in an interesting industry.

The question I kept getting asked in the office was, “Are you mad? Why would you want to teach English in Korea?”

I suppose the most logical answer there would have been was: “Because as a non-Korean speaker, I’d be able to do fuck all else, unless there is a shortage of big hairy men to dance in fetish bars over there. And I know there isn’t. I looked it up. You’ve to go to Japan for that craic!”

We began the horrible process of packing up all our shit for our moving day. One of our friends was getting married in Malta roughly around the same time. We ended up moving out of our house and going to Malta on the same day.

I cannot describe how stressful it was for me to leave my car full of all of our most valuable possessions in a Dublin Airport carpark for seven days. There was a PC, all my books, clothes, our kitchen equipment, lamps, my PS3…the list goes on. We were like the Beverly Hillbillies arriving in to the long-term carpark.

After the wedding, I dropped herself to her parents’ house down the country and stayed a few days.

I was putting off going home for as long as I could. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go home, I just hated the thoughts of living under someone else’s rules for a few days. Sharing with herself is fine, I’m used to the routine, but sharing with people I hadn’t lived with in years was bound to be a challenge.

As it turned out, it was really nice to stay in the house for a few weeks. I’d never actually spent an extended period of time there before. It wasn’t the house that I grew up in. My parents had moved there two years previously. It was never, and never will be, my home I suppose. It’s my parents’ house. Home for me is with herself.

The dog, Claude (he said I could use his real name and promised not to sue) had a few questions about Korea. Apparently he had read somewhere that they, the Koreans, had an appetite for dog-meat. In a frank and honest exchange, I assured him that I wouldn’t eat dog-meat while I was there. This pleased him. He agreed to give me his blessing and wished me the best of luck.

Five minutes later Claude said he’d take it back unless I gave him a piece of the sandwich that I was eating. I did, and the universe was balanced once more. Claude would repeat this series of ultimatums until the morning of my departure. He was a master of manipulation.

My parents dropped us to the airport. I was quite upset saying goodbye. They weren’t the best with technology and I was worried that we wouldn’t get to talk as often as I’d like. They assured me that they’d be better at texting and would figure out Skype. Herself was a great help. She assured me that everything would be fine and invited me to go for a disgusting pint of airport Guinness.

I got one last text on my phone before we left Ireland. It was from Claude.

It read: “Where’d you hide the food you prick?” The blessing was once again revoked.

Next time: Seoul Food

Follow the series from the beginning:

I Almost Worked for a Cult 1

I Almost Worked for a Cult 2