“The Korean Bank Heist of 2016”

Ah, as I sit here and contemplate what to blog about next, I am pleased to report that Mr. Kay and the VP are having a titillating conversation in Korean and I am banging loudly on my keyboard in hopes they will both stop talking and disappear forever…Nothing’s happening yet, but they are at an awkward silence in their conversation and both staring at my hands typing, so I feel like I can’t stop typing. Oh my god, I can’t stop typing. SO AWKWARD!!! and the VP just got up and scooted along. Anyways, after what has been a hectic day of trying to finalize my summer vacation plans (poor me, I know) and figuring out how to keep myself occupied since my classes are cancelled, I decided to tell the story of the great Korean Bank Heist of 2016. It involves me and my aforementioned co-teacher- the one who is divorced and has the baby. Keep up people.

One thing I should mention about Korea is that no one tells you anything. EVER. You have to know what questions to ask. You have to know the questions that you don’t even know yet. Basically, living here is living in a constant state of, “Why didn’t you tell me?” “You didn’t ask.” “How was I supposed to know to ask?! I’m just supposed to know to ask you every single possible scenario and outcome?” Yes, you have to know to ask the questions that you didn’t even know were questions. Back to the bank heist. In Korea, you can’t get a bank account until you get your Alien Registration Card or ARC. You have to apply for it when you get here and then wait about a week or so before it arrives and then you are good to go. Now, as I mentioned in a different post, my co-teacher is very hands off (except when she needs something or is at risk of getting into trouble) So after my ARC arrived, I had to ask her to take me to the bank. In Korea, the banks operate the very same hours you are at work. They are closed when you get out of work, so basically your only option is to take a half day off of work and handle your business then. Makes no sense, but that’s just Korea for you. I had to wait around until it was convenient for her to take a half day off of work. So we finally get to the bank and set up an account. Now in Korea, you can’t receive a debit card or send money home until you can link your account to a Korean phone number. This is odd because you can’t get a Korean phone number/plan UNTIL you have a bank account, so basically it’s a 3-step process:

  1. Get your bank account opened up
  2. Get a Korean cell phone number/plan
  3. Go back to the bank and get your debit card

Now there are some ways around this, but this was back in my first month here and I had no idea what those ways were. Also, I have T-Mobile and had no need to get a Korean phone or phone number because my plan works out here. I can still text everyone back home normally and here in Korea, I use Kakao , which is a messaging system everyone in Korea uses. You can make phone calls, video chat, and anything else you wanna do using this system. So I had no need for a phone. The bank basically gives you a bank book that looks like a passport and you can only use it to take money out of the ATM. AT THE SAME BANK YOU GOT THE BOOK FROM. You can’t just got to a different branch and use it to get money. Now, my co-teacher never mentioned this. All she told me is, “You need to get a phone number.” That’s it. We left the bank. she never mentioned how to get a phone or that we would come back once I did. Long story short, I got a phone on my own and sent her a message the very same day asking if we could take a half day and go back to the bank. Now, I was pretty frustrated because I still pay bills back home and can’t just wait for weeks on end. As that one commercial says, “It’s my money and I need it now!” I seriously did. I had to have my older sister cover my expenses back home and send money to me in Korea because I had no way to access my account. Luckily, my sister is kind enough and has the means to help me. but what if I had no one? Or as my sister put it, “What if some other person doesn’t have someone to help them out and they need their money?” And that’s why what happens next really upset me. So the day comes when we are supposed to go the bank. I want to mention that in Korea, taking a “half day” from work means leaving at 3:00 instead of 4:30 AND since we are done teaching by 1 or 2 at the latest, we are all just desk warming until it’s time to go home. Seriously, I considered just walking to the bank at 3 and then going home. No one would notice! My co-workers are usually taking naps or watching TV on their computers. I go to her office and she says, “Sobe, I just want you to know that the Vice Principal says this is a personal matter and you should not take time off of work for this.” I just stared at her because I wasn’t sure how to react. I was already upset and then she went and said that. Now in Korea, the VP has power. They are really respected and as my friends here say, “Everyone scuttles around like crabs when they see the Principal and VP.” The thing is , no one cares about the VP back home! I just looked at her like…AND? Like the Vice Principal’s disappointment means NOTHING to me! My thoughts are ONLY tell me if we’re NOT going, ya know? Like I couldn’t give less of a f*** what the VP thinks UNLESS it somehow hinders me from doing what I need to do! So I was already annoyed when we left and by now, it’s 3:30. The bank is about 15 minutes from our school. My co-teacher gets on the phone and calls her daycare to tell them she’ll be picking her daughter up early today…at 4:00  -__-. At that point I was done. The other thing is that Korean banks are like delis. you have to take a number and wait till you’re called. We were going at the end of the day, so there was a bit of a line. While we were waiting, my co-teacher just kept checking her watch and the wall clock and finally looked at me and said, “It’s because I said I would pick my daughter up at 4.” At which point, I just looked at her and thought…AND? I said nothing and just waited. We finally get to see a teller and I get my debit card. My co-teacher was not translating anything and was RUSHING the teller and myself. At one point, the teller was visibly flustered and we both just looked at each other and communicated how annoyed we were at my CT. She wasn’t translating anything the teller was saying. I also asked her to tell the teller how I could go about linking my Korean account with my American account and she just hustled me out and said, “You can do everything online.” Once we get in the car, she books it to the daycare center, but not before nearly getting us killed TWICE. I was fuming and was even annoyed at her daughter once we finally picked up the precious cargo. After that, my  CT knew I was pissed and started driving me home. I was so pissed, I just got out of the car at the light before she turned on my street and told her I would walk.

The worst part about everything is that we didn’t even get a debit card! IT WAS AN ATM CARD! So i still couldn’t do anything online, still couldn’t transfer money. All I could do now was use ATM’s everywhere, instead of at only one branch. Luckily, after doing research, I found out that my bank opens on Sundays for foreigners and was able to go in and fix everything on my own, using Google translate. I owe so much of my success (ha!) here in Korea to Google Translate. I told my co-teacher this after and her response was, “Oh, so is everything okay now?” That was a breaking point for me and I didn’t talk to her for a few weeks. I would just go to her class, do what she told me, and then  I would leave. The whole banking situation, mixed in with the fact that she tried to get me baptized and basically always left me hanging and having to fend for myself, made me really grow disdain for her. But now that I am way more independent out here and have better relationships with my other co-teachers, I know to just ask them. We are okay now, but she was a big reason that I considered leaving Korea in the middle of the night my first two months!

Anyways, I call it the Bank Heist because I was robbed of so much that day. Patience. The respect I had for my co-worker. And so much more that thinking about it irritates me to this day! This story isn’t the most entertaining, I realize BUT I NEVER read anything even close to this when I was researching Korea and this is a very real thing that happened to me, so if it brings someone else some peace from going through the same situation, then I’m happy. This blog is supposed to be an honest account of what I’m experiencing here, so if you’re not entertained, then go watch the new “Game of Thrones.” DON’T SPOIL IT THOUGH! And if you don’t watch “Game of Thrones,” I’m not really sure why you thought it was okay to read my blog…

“That’s Enough Outta You”

Aaaaanddd the countdown to vacation has officially begun! Two months until F-R-E-E-D-O-M!  I seriously understand why teachers get 3 months off for vacation, and although I only get about 8 days off, I am already constantly checking and re-checking my calendar so I know EXACTLY when I can bust out the, “It’s summer and I don’t know you,” to my kids when I see them on the street.

Today’s post is a little more about what my actual work life is like…specifically, my office mate. At my main school, I have an office away from my co-teachers (praise him) and I share it with the gym teacher and another man known as a “career teacher.” Basically what Korean people call a substitute teacher. I will call him Mr. Kay for the purpose of this blog, especially because he will be mentioned a bunch more times. To start off with, Mr. Kay is socially awkward. None of the other teachers speak to him UNLESS they have a question that requires a “yes” or “no” answer because he RAMBLES on like no other. He doesn’t take social (or facial) cues. All the teachers tell me to avoid him and to never ask him anything. Even if you are on fire and Mr. Kay is is the Keeper of all of the water on Earth, you are supposed to just let yourself burn alive.  I had no problem with him…for the first hour of my first day, that is until he asked me to translate a lecture on opera. Yes, opera. Mr. Kay dreams of being an opera singer (even though he will become Vice Principal of an elementary school next semester…Korea) Besides that, he is so curious about the States and until I came along, he had no one to ask his MILLION AND ONE questions to. These questions include, “Do you have a gun?” “Do you feel ‘free’ here in Korea?” (If you don’t know what he means by “free” then you’re too young to be reading this…he means sex  -___-) and to top it all off, he is a huge homophobe. One of those people that ACTUALLY pretended to gag when I told him I had gay friends… If that wasn’t enough, he speaks theeeee sloooooooowest Engliiiiiiiiiiiiiish possssiibleee <<< if that was painful to read, then just imagine listening to it. He’s also an UM-UH guy, meaning every other word he says is “UM” or “UH.” Here’s what a typical conversation between us is like:

*Mr. Kay walks in and sits down at his desk. He then proceeds to bob his head back and forth, peering in and out of my cubicle and trying to get my attention*

*Me without taking my eyes off of my computer* “Hey how’s it going, Mr. Kay?”

“Uuuuuum….I am…uh….fine.”

“That’s great.”

*nods head for about a minute* “Uhhhhhhhh…..today, ummmm…I will….um…play golf. I like ummmmmmm…….golf.”

“I have never heard of golf and have no interest in hearing anymore about it.”

“Oh really?! Umm…me too! I uhhhh love golf…it is ummm…uhhh….”

UGH.

Now, I am not making fun of someone for speaking English slowly. His English is actually really good, but his personality, I believe, affects his speech. He speaks Korean the exact same way  -____-.  Also, he is one of those guys that once he gets comfortable with you, he’s COMFORTABLE. For example, asking me if I felt “free” in Korea. He said he was surprised by what he saw in the English teachers he’s met because he always thought American women were “free.” I told him that we are, just not with gross, Korean guys with tiny wieners. Boy was he shocked to hear that! I didn’t actually say that, but I could feel some resentment from him and I believe it is because in college, he tried to get with foreign women and they just were NOT having it! From my depiction alone, I’m guessing many of you are already bored by him AND don’t want to sleep with him. OH, he is also very into mansplaining. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when a man condescendingly explains something to you. He does this nonstop, even when I am talking about AMERICA- THE COUNTRY I ACTUALLY LIVE IN! I can’t even count the number of times he starts off a conversation with, “In America, you all do blah blah blah..” and then continues to try and explain things to me, even if I’ve corrected him about what he thought.

I do blame myself for ever engaging him in the first place. You try to be nice and not alienate your co-workers on the first day in a new country…but I should have known better when he asked me to play tennis…

giphy

Mr. Kay asked me about playing sports and I BRIEFLY mentioned that I played tennis in high school… 6 years ago! Later that day, he asked me to play tennis. I laughed and said, “Sure, I’d love to play in the summer.” He just laughed, got up and handed me a tennis racket. Then he walked out of the room, holding his own racket and I guess I just had to follow. We headed to the gym and that’s when the longest hour of my life started. He wanted us to have a singles match in the gym. Do you understand how small a tennis ball is and how BIG a gym is? This thing was flying ALL OVER THE PLACE. Mr. Kay conveniently positioned himself against the front of the gym, giving me the side that had the stage, the bleachers, various nooks and crannies, and some type of wormhole that would suck up the tennis ball and only return it once I had jogged all the way over to Mr. Kay’s side to get a new ball and back. MIND YOU when I came to Korea, the schools were still freezing, so my attire consisted of a long peacoat, dressy pants, socks and slippers and NO SPORTS BRA. My forearm was my sports bra that day. I was playing tennis with one hand, drowning in layers of clothes and sweat, meanwhile Mr. Kay was dressed and ready for Wimbledon, and from the way he was playing, he really thought he was there! He was going at the ball like he found it trying to break into his car! AND he stopped our game several times to give me pointers. He had become somewhat of a pro since he started taking lessons a WEEK ago. After an hour of me basically being his tennis ball caddy, I faked a heart attack and played dead. Well, I highly considered it. Instead, he got called to a meeting and it was over.

I really could start a blog just based off of my experiences with this man, but for now, this will have to do. Thanks for reading and if you think I am not giving Mr. Kay enough of a chance and maybe he is just nervous and trying too hard, then I invite you to keep these feelings deep inside of yourself and if you ever meet him, I wish you both the best.

“Someone Here HAS to Speak English”

The second week of Ramadan is chugging right along and is probably the easiest it has ever been for me. It COULD be because I’m at work for most of it and by the time I get home, take my 3 hour nap, and watch TV, it’s over BUT I’d like to think it’s because I am growing older and wiser and more patient and more comfortable with the idea of men wearing flip-flops out in public….actually, scratch that last one.

Anyways, anyone who knows me knows that like an elephant, I am a beautiful, majestic creature and should be admired and feared…also, I have a wonderful memory. When I stepped off of the plane and arrived in Korea, I had to go down a bunch of floors to get my luggage and then carry all 200 pounds of it on a cart that was not equipped…side note, but what is the deal with luggage carts? It’s 2016! Shouldn’t my luggage just BE wherever I need it to be at this point? I will never understand… Anyways, I called my free shuttle to my hotel…and no one spoke English. My first thought was, “How dare you?” A hotel that doesn’t have a soul who speaks English? Anyways, after about 20 minutes we somehow figured it out and my ride came. They picked up my bags and gave me a look of disgust as they heaved them into the back of the van. In my mind, I just thought, “…and so we begin.”

Anyways (I thoroughly enjoy starting paragraphs with “anyways”) I got to my hotel, checked in and slept for awhile. I met up a friend in Seoul and was definitely in the honeymoon phase of living in Korea. Now, some people are still in that phase. Some people are in that phase for their entire year. I was in the honeymoon phase for MAYBE a few hours. Then I headed back to the airport to take a bus for what felt like 9 years to Daegu. It was here that I would be picked up by my co-teachers and meet the South Africans. Oh boy, you will hear about them later because I truly love them so! NOW! This is where everyone’s journey truly begins! This is the point where we all went our own ways and really started to figure out what our lives would be like here in Korea. We could see our co-teachers in the parking lot, lined up, with papers that said our names on them. I remember getting off the bus, seeing three women standing behind a sign with my name, and them looking at me and then saying, “You?” Little did they know they had just received a blessing, but they didn’t think so and later I would find out why… you will also find out why later because I’m NOT wasting all of my good stories on one blog post! FOH!

My co-teachers helped carry my luggage to the car. Two of them left and the third asked if I would be interested in getting dinner. The woman that remained is my main co-teacher. Now remember, I get vibes RIGHT away and I was already weary. She seemed to be somewhere else in her mind and not really there in the car with me. She asked if I would be interested in grabbing dinner and I was so ready. FINALLY I was going to partake in a real Asian meal! Images of steaming bowls of noodles, seafood, vegetables, rice, desserts, pizza dance around in my head..well, pizza is always just kind of lurking around up there, to be honest, but I was READY. We start driving around and I’m just taking everything in. Where are we gonna eat?! So many new possibilities!  But then… it starts pouring rain, at which point my CT looks at me and says, “Um, you like McDonald’s, right?” I just smiled and said “yeah” and that was that. My first meal in my new hometown was a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke. This also happens to be one of my favorite meals and I was excited to try McDonald’s in Korea, so I wasn’t too sad about it! She showed me how to get to one of my schools, which was only a 5-minute walk from my house, and told me to be there on Monday. Meaning I had the whole weekend to explore and freak out.

This takes us to the main event- my apartment! When my CT pulled up to a parking spot next to a building, there was a woman waiting there. I got out of the car, holding the McDonald’s drinks and my backpack and was lead into this room. Again, it was raining, getting pretty dark, and the lights were off in the room. Thinking we were just waiting out the storm in an abandoned building whose main source of income was allowing people to murder each other there for a small fee, my co-teacher instructs me to grab my bags and put them in my apartment. I was like “cool” and went to grab my bags and then I just stood there in the rain. A simple, little fool.  The following conversation is based on real events:

“Go inside.”

“Inside of where?”

“Of your apartment.”

“Okay, can you show me where it is?”

“You were just in it.”

“No, I was just inside a porta potty.”

“Sobe, this is your apartment.”

“Take me back to the airport.”

Like I said, it’s BASED on real-life events, but the author of the story might have taken some liberties with the wording. My apartment was NOT what I expected at all. I had been doing months of research. I’d watched ALL of the apartment tours other EPIK teachers put up on YouTube. There was no way in hell this was my apartment! Where was the hallway that lead to the rest of the apartment? Where was the shoe cabinet that held your shoes and doubled as extra storage? How about the laundry room that could double up as storage for luggage and other garbage that we can’t ever bear to throw away? I could have one foot in my kitchen and one foot in the street at the same time! My toilet was located in a CORNER of the bathroom! The actual toilet sticks out of a corner in the bathroom like an arrowhead. It was dusty, crusty, and to top it all off, there was a HUGE American flag hanging on the wall. The landlord quickly showed me around and gave me the access code to my door (Korea doesn’t do keys, only electronic locks). She pulled a few blankets out of a drawer and a skeleton rolled out of one of them. She kicked it under the bed and proceeded to tell me that everything had been washed by the previous tenant and was good to go. She also had my co-teacher translate to me at LEAST 8 times that the apartment HAD to be kept clean because occasionally the President of Korea likes to visit here when she’s in town…or at least that’s how she made it seem. At this point, dinner takes place. We sit on my floor and she begins to tell me about her life (divorced with a baby) and I start to think that we just might get along. Then she gets up to leave. “Hey you can walk around tomorrow and buy everything you need.” Parting words. Now, again, I had been doing my research and THOUGHT we would at least be going to the grocery store to get food. How did she know if I had sheets and pillows? How did she know I would even know how to get to the grocery store, let alone speak to the people and pay them? She didn’t and this ends up becoming a big strain on our relationship, until it’s not anymore… Again, can’t waste all the good stories on one post.

Jeez, how long was that post? Barf. Anyways, my sister says I haven’t really been “saying anything” on here, so I wanted to give some back story about the first few days here. BELIEVE ME, my first few weeks here were more eventful than the rest of my year will be! Thanks again for reading. I am sure someone is going to say something like, “You’re in a new country, what did you expect?” Please die. Not really, but beat it. Nobody is forcing you to read this and your opinion won’t change what happened so just let the thought float away….There. That’s better.

 

Housekeeping

Ramadan Kareem, everyone! As the holiest month of the year for Muslims starts up and everyone tries to figure out how to go about their day trying to hide bad breath and not accidentally drinking water or chewing gum (I still chew breath mints while fasting!), I thought about how complaining and gossiping are kind of forbidden, but they bring me such joy and delight that I think God will just let this one slide… and the breath mints. I think God’ll let that one slide too…

I wanted to start this post by telling one of SEVERAL stories I have about people TRYING IT here in Korea, but thought I should FIRST give a little more information about what the f*** (I think my dad might be reading…)  I’m doing here/the situation here is:

  1. I moved here because after graduating college, finishing up my classes at Second City, and working as a server for a year, I could not for the life of me, find any job in television, which is the field I want to work in
  2. I still really wanted to travel the world and teach and I knew that if I really started to put in work towards my career, I wouldn’t want to stop for fear of being set back
  3. I’m only 24 and still want to do so many things and this was on the list, which brings me to…

MY LIFE IN KOREA

  1. I live in Daegu, which is one of Korea’s larger cities (although you would never know it living here…)
  2. I teach English to 4th-6th graders at two different elementary schools
  3. I have four co-teachers
  4. I wear slippers and socks to work, use chopsticks, and bow at people to say “Hi”
  5. I live in an apartment that I believe was built around a tiny Asian man and THEN made even smaller, but I don’t pay rent, so I guess that makes up for it?
  6. My washing machine is located in my bathroom, behind a shower curtain, which means…
  7. My shower is actually one of those detachable shower head deals that hangs up above my sink, which is basically how all showers are in Korea. When you shower, the water just goes everywhere
  8. I have no oven, no dryer, and heated floors- also very common in Korea
  9. I found a mysterious WiFi connection when I got here and never bothered getting internet, but it doesn’t always work, but it’s free, but it’s super terrible, but I’m stealing it so I’ll just be quiet now
  10. I work 8:30-4:30, half of the day is teaching and the other half is desk-warming. Desk warming is sitting at your desk, lesson-planning, checking Facebook, catching up on what’s going on back home, trying to avoid “Game of Thrones” spoilers, and trying not to pass out
  11. I know like 5 words in Korean and I think I’ve given up trying. I’ll have to check back in with myself later on to confirm whether or not this is really true
  12. Some days, I can see myself living here for years and just living off of face masks (which are so, so cheap and work so, so well) and street food, and other days, I’m looking up flights to Italy and considering becoming a prostitute with a heart of gold who takes pizza as payment for a hard day’s work….

Since I have so much more to tell and so many little stories about my first few weeks here,  I am just going to post the stories throughout the week! Thanks for reading and seriously, as I said before, if you are having the time of your life here in Korea and don’t understand what I’m talking about, then continue to do so, but hit that “X” symbol you see in the top, right-hand corner and keep it moving. Peace and blessings (not sure how to enter a peace sign here, so just imagine one)