Being Insincere

I’ve been asked to write more about my time spent in South Korea by an old friend, Murrman, who is currently enjoying life, love and liberty in the Kingdom of Dust (Saudi Arabia).

Nah, not really- he’s just scooping up as much cash as he can before scooting to the inevitable exit.

This presents me with something of a quandary, as, while a series of events happened during my time there, I was really quite unhappy throughout most of it. That said, however, I will take up Murrman’s challenge and write about Korea with the benefit of hindsight. For now, I’ll give an overview and not get into specifics.

Korea is generally a shit-hole to work in, at least if one is unlucky enough to be snared into the unscrupulous and shady world of hagwons, a.k.a. private schools. Unlike most countries with plentiful work for English language teachers, you cannot simply up sticks and go work somewhere else if your current employer turns out to be a borderline criminal psychopath with delusions of grandeur and a barely-disguised contempt for foreigners, the students and the English language itself (chances of all of these converging are surprisingly high but, of course, your mileage may vary). They actually own your work visa and, in their heads, you, personally.

You may get lucky and have a kind and understanding boss- I did in Daegu, despite his insistence that I spend each and every long weekend going hiking with him and his family, his refusal to allow me any time off despite my contract and then laughing when I asked him to pay my holiday money at the end of my contract. Instead, he held my hand all the way to the airport check-in desk as his wife followed behind, sobbing. She wasn’t sobbing because he was holding my hand or even that I was leaving so much. One of her sons was dead by then- killed in an avoidable road accident by her husband- and my departure was, to her, a link to her dead son being erased from reality forever.

My first boss in Incheon was much worse and her incompetence led me to being arrested, thrown out of the country and blacklisted by Immigration for six months. I had to send a flowery begging letter to the Korean authorities to be removed from the blacklist, in which I spoke about my deep and sincere respect and love for Korea and its people. I was lying through my teeth.

My job in Seoul led me to penury and homelessness in Shanghai when the owner decided to save money by not paying me. Shockingly, he was hoping I would continue working for free in the hope he could somehow come up with some cash. I was, of course, at the back of a very long line of creditors. He still owes me nearly two months’ wages (including the bonus I was about to receive) and money for an air ticket from Incheon to London.

Here’s his linkedin profile. So far, he hasn’t responded to messages. Cunt:

If one is experienced, qualified or lucky enough to work at a college or university then the country can seem almost like paradise, despite the lack of weed, a xenophobic population, stultifying conformity and casual racism being directed at you every single day.

Koreans are absurdly proud of having four seasons to which one eventually responds, “Really? We have six.”

Many Koreans believe in Fan Death and almost all believe that all Korea’s social problems are caused by ESL teachers and/or Japan. (Increasingly, however, it seems they are now beginning to correctly recognise it’s actually the people in charge of their own society who are to blame, as recent huge protests show).

Through a conveyor belt of endless plastic boy and girl bands and toxic soap operas, South Koreans have successfully brainwashed the whole of East Asia into thinking they are cool and hip and that Seoul is a fascinating place to be. They’re not and it isn’t. Go watch Arirang.

Indeed, the only truly interesting place in Seoul was Itaewan, back in the day when it was a dirty, down-at-heel foreigner ghetto that Koreans didn’t go to because they’re scared of black people. At dawn, the Muslim faithful would climb to the mosque at the top of Hooker Hill past bars full of prostitutes, US soldiers on their first tour of duty, rowdy Maoris, Nigerians and English teachers.

That world is gone now. The soldiers got confined to base after a number of rapes (including a Korean pensioner and an off-duty policewoman). We were glad to see the back of them, to be honest. A good number of them were psychopaths and braggarts, strutting around and threatening to defend our freedom any chance they got.

That was the beginning of the end for the area. Some years back, the Koreans bravely started visiting on organised tours (probably taking their own food as well) much like the straights would plow through Haight Ashbury on 60s hippy gawk coaches.

There followed a successful Korean invasion of its own Foreigner Town, gentrifying it, turning once-thriving bars and brothels into restaurants and plastic surgery clinics, kicking out all the foreigners in the process. My friend at doubtless has the details on this. I was pretty drunk when he slowly and sadly (and slurringly) told me about the loss of the magical land that was Itaewan.

My final year in Busan was a good experience, I will grant you and at least the 3+ years I spent in the Land of Morning Calm ended on a high note, working at Wall Street English. The then-CEO was absurdly generous, throwing his money about in the form of large bonuses, paid excursions and regular piss ups. Then it turned out it wasn’t his money after all and he hanged himself from his office light fitting.

Things I liked about Korea:

• I made some good friends
• Korean cinema (a lot of which is excellent)
• All-night drinking

Things I didn’t like:

• The rudeness of the locals
• The arrogance of the locals
• People spitting everywhere
• The food
• Everything else

I will return to the subject, like a dog eating its partially-digested vomit now Murrman has got me started. But as you can see, these posts will be rather sour and unpleasant.


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  1. I was actually surprised how accurate this story is. I was expecting it to be a lot harsher. It’s admittedly true that South Koreans have an odd combination of overwhelming pride in their heritage and freakish insecurity that borders on paranoia when they’re abroad,out of their predictable nest. The weather is not pleasant in Korea. Koreans do lack imagination, and aside from drinking poor quality beer and gnarl soju there’s not much to do. K-Pop is rather silly, and plastic surgery has led to a nation of literal look-alikes. That being said, the narrator’s personal experiences, are just that; his personal experiences. I prefer personal experience stories to stories dependent on statistics, so i appreciate that. I lived in South Korea from 1997-2005, then again in 2011 and now, in 2016. I was cheated once by a hagwan owner, back in 1998 when the Asian Crisis hit. Otherwise I’ve never been cheated (whereas in Vietnam, every single job i had for three years, the schools cheated me). I had one shite boss in Korea, but he paid me a healthy 3.2 million with four months of paid holiday. Even still, I quit because he worked me like a mule. Most of the teachers here stay because after a year in a hagwan they can move to a 10-hour per week university job, each class on the same syllabus, and then spend their six weeks of holiday in warmer climes. I’ve worked as a teacher in America, China, Turkey, Vietnam and Korea and have come back for the low demands, low hours, big vacations and enough money to save. Sure, I’m cold right now, and plan to hibernate during my down times, the food is not as good as china’s by a long shot, but it beats working with American kids and coworkers, and Vietnam, which, for all its fun, expects high hours and has parents whom believe teachers should be subservient lackeys to be ridiculed regardless of qualifications, experience or effort. Also, Koreans won’t rob you at knife point, as Vietnamese will, including their cops. I miss the food in China, the weather, women and weed in Vietnam, and the Mediterranean in Turkey. But, Korea is low stress for me. The only deaths I’ve experienced here are friends who’ve drunk themselves to death or friends blown up while on holiday in Bali.

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