Due to the misunderstanding about my start date and my willingness to meet the Vice Principal on zero notice, the recruiter told me he would pay for my cab fare to the high school. The cab arrives and I had assumed people had told him where to go, but it’s silly to make assumptions. Let’s just say the cabbie was very grumpy very soon, as he got about three different phone calls as the plans got changed in transit. We ended up going to the recruiter’s office about a half hour away where everyone apologized to me and I had to wait for the recruiter to show up. Then, together we travelled in his car to Anyang, about forty minutes away.
We rolled up to the huge high school, which seemed deserted (I think school is out right now) and went to the Vice Principal’s office, where I met my new co-teacher, Pat, and the Vice Principal. (will have to look up his name) The recruiter explained again their mistake and they all reassured me that nobody thought it was my fault, and then immediately went over contract matters. First on order was they want me to teach two or three extra classes for overtime pay each week, as supplements for the poorer students. (overtime pay being a whopping $7.00 US per hour) Oh well – anything to look good at first I guess. I explained how I was willing to do that, but that it would have to work around language classes. What days do the language classes run? I don’t know – I haven’t chosen the classes yet (I’ve only been in Korea for three hours, for christ’s sake!) Can you move into your apartment today? I explain how I have booked up appointments for the next two weeks and how I would like to wait until the previously scheduled date. But they really want me to move in as soon as possible. The following Thursday there will be an orientation I must attend. Why? I thought teacher orientation was in April? (which makes absolutely no sense, since classes start in March…) Oh no – this is a CULTURAL field trip. They want all new teachers to go to the national museum and visit some heritage sites. Well, that sounds cool with me and I’ve got nothing scheduled that day. Oh – and we forgot to mention that there is a teacher orientation next Tuesday. Teacher orientation? Yes. It is for all the high school teachers. We will introduce you and want you to say something to the school. Oh. Great. Yes. We want you to already be moved in so we can have you come to the school to discuss your teaching philosophies with the Vice Principal and the Principal, and talk to the co-teacher about curriculum, etc. Oh. When can you move in? After showing them my packed schedule, I finally agree to moving into my new apartment in two days. Sure. No pressure. Arrangements are made to have my stuff transported. The recruiter leaves, and the Vice Principal and co-teacher whisk me off to the apartment.
The apartment is, as expected, an officetel, which is one of those high-rise apartment blocks consisting primarily of studios that blanket all of Korea. It’s about 20 minutes walk from the school. I am on the 10th floor. Actually, it is the 9th floor, but in Korea the buildings don’t have a 4th floor. Pat tells me that 4 is associated with death and unlucky. (I will video it tomorrow when I move in) Just like all of the officetels for teachers shown on youtube, it is super efficient, very modern, and surprisingly roomy. (of course, I just moved out of a cabin that was under 400 sf) They kept showing me all the things they did in preparation: food in the fridge, all new dishes, new rice cooker, new toaster, a supply of tea, a microwave, bedding on the bed (which is way beyond what I’ve heard/seen other schools doing for their foreign teachers) an extra dishrack, and (drumroll please) a Costco-size supply of toilet paper. All new all for you!
After checking out the apartment, we go down to the manager’s office and I am given paperwork to sign and a 24 hour emergency number. We are all about to go out to eat, but the VP must leave for some meeting, so Pat and I head to the hospital for my required physical exam. I’m about to get hypothermia at this point, because it is still only 20 degrees outside and I didn’t have time to think and dress for the weather, so I’ve got no socks on, my legs are exposed, and my coat isn’t heavy enough. Pat offers me her coat, which I refuse since she’s not dressed much warmer (but very fashionably in black patterned stockings and high heels) and then wants to go purchase stockings for me, which I also think is just taking hospitality too far. At the hospital, in the elevator, I notice there is a 4th floor. I ask about the 4th floor being associated with death. Oh no! that is not in public buildings – only residences. Curious. I would think a hospital would be even MORE worried about associations with death…
So I fill out the paperwork and expect to just get my piss test and blood draw, but no – I am filed through room after room going through the whole battery of a complete physical: xray, hearing test, vision test, the whole nine yards. By this time, I am actually full on feverish, but strangely, a temperature taking is not part of the physical. Finally, by the last consultation I get a doctor who can speak English, and he asks how I’m feeling and I get to tell someone I’m a little under the weather. He nods and takes a note.
Back into the cold and the co-teacher walks me towards food and asks me what I want to eat. Like I even know! I remember the word chiggae (soup) and she takes me to a place and I have some Kimchee chiggae, which warms me up, but I can only eat half of it. Finally – finally I can go home. Only, the VP has told Pat it is her responsibility to get me home. So she accompanies me to the subway and rides with me the entire way back to the district in Seoul where my guesthouse is. Only from the subway, we have to get out and find a bus. I am so cold and feverish at this point I just tell her no, I must take a cab. I feel bad, because I know she will insist on paying, and I fear I’ve already broken her bank account. But I’m too sick to care at this point. It’s about 6 pm. I invite her in, but she lives far away, and of course she wants to go home. I also feel bad because I’ve been complaining about freezing. She explains that the sooner my medical checkup gets approved, the sooner I get my alien registration card, the sooner I can get a bank account and telephone. All for you. We’re sorry we’re making you do this all today, and we hope you don’t get sick (I didn’t tell them I was already sick) but we’re doing this to make things easier for you. Thank you. Please let me die now…
Back at the guest house, I say hello to everyone – there are two male adoptees – one from the U.S. who was part of the “First Trip Home” Reunion Tour a month ago that found his birthmother. He got laid off upon return to the U.S., so turned around and is here trying to find a job. The other male adoptee here is from Denmark, and I don’t know his story yet. There is a Belgian girl living in the basement going to school here in Seoul, and an American girl named Lee who has been living in Korea almost 3 years, but who is staying at the guest house while she saves up key money (the Korean equivalent of a deposit – only it’s a really really huge sum) so she isn’t bound to live in housing furnished by her employers. Because she works in Hagwans (private cram schools) that cater to preschoolers, this is a good plan, since they are unpredictable in many ways. I say hello to them all and then go straight to bed. Get up in the middle of the night, and have a piece of toast. I wake up at breakfast time, have a bowl of cereal, ask the volunteer how I find a notary public, and she assigns a volunteer to come meet me at 2 pm the following day. Go back to bed and wake up at noon. I think I must have slept about 14 hours altogether.