Friday, January 7, 2011

Stig Goes To Korea II

I had my watches repaired the other day. I have two watches. One is a "Batman" watch I got for my birthday in 1989, about the time the 1st Tim Burton movie came out. The other watch is a 'Wonderland" watch I got from my employer 6 months after I started working there. I was amused to read Wonderland's slogan, "Everyone Smiles In Wonderland" on the back.
Amused in a kind of sad way, because the smiles in Wonderland are as false as the promises they give when they're trying to recruit you.
It's been quite a while since I posted the first part of this story, and the watch reminded me I'd better get back to it. I left off being denied by the ticket agent in Vancouver. She wouldn't let me go the rest of the way because I didn't have a work visa (the E-2). I had let this slip because what the fuck did I know about going to work in Korea? I was as naive and dumb as a person could be. Wonderland couldn't believe their luck.
It took about a week before I was on my way again. I was lucky enough to be able to stay at my sister's while making the necessary arrangements. The ticket agent had said that unless I had an "onward ticket," I wouldn't be allowed to go to Korea. Which means they wanted to know that you had the means to get the fuck out if they didn't like you.
So I arranged with my sister's travel agent to have a ticket to Japan, dated a week or so later, making sure that I could turn it in for the refund after I got to Korea.
I never saw that money again. More about that later.
The flight over was about the same as any other long boring trip where you're trapped in the vehicle until the end. It was an Air Canada flight, and the passengers were mostly Korean. I don't remember much about my first impressions of them. I was in the absolute back of the plane, with no-one else in my row, so I did get to stretch out and rest.
One of the food choices was bibimbap, the first time I'd ever had it. Not bad, for airline food. I remember the ajumma across the aisle from me gave me a look when I put all of the red pepper paste in. Maybe she was going to warn me that it was "spicy." She must've been amazed I didn't start screaming in pain after the first bite. I've always liked bibimbap. It's one of my favourite Korean foods.
When we landed in Seoul, it was dark. We were at Gimpo Airport, as the new terminal at Incheon was not open yet. (Gimpo at that time had International and Domestic terminals next to each other.) A cab driver offered to help me out, which I thought was nice, at first. I'll admit I was very nervous, and very unsure of myself in that situation. I've since learned to handle international travel with some aplomb, but at that time it was all very new and strange. The cabbie used his cell phone to get in touch with my contact, who was going to take me from one terminal to the other and put me on a plane to Daegu. My contact advised me to wait, and he would be along soon enough.
After I got off the phone and returned it to the cabbie, he offered to drive me over to the domestic terminal himself, for $20. This was my first introduction to the dreaded Korean cabbie. Beware, my children! They'll cheat you faster than you can say "What the kimchi?!"
Well, I extracted myself from his clutches, and was soon on my way to Daegu. It's only a short hop, about an hour or so. It was much later in the evening (this was a Saturday night), when I met my director, Mr. Kim, and his aide, James. Wherever I've gone in Korea, the second in command at any hagwon has invariably been named "James."
Anyway, they packed my bags into the car, and we drove off to my new apartment. The main thing I remember from that drive was seeing building after building, all with large, orange, neon crosses on top. One after another. I was thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?"

1 comment:

  1. Heh ... The Mr. Kim, second in command at Ivy school, was James Kim too. Strangee.