Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Pill

I only had two room-mates in the ten years I was in Korea (whew!). The second was a pretty good guy, but the first, who worked with me at my first school, was the worst!
Imagine a depressed, angry, paranoid individual and multiply him by ten. That was the man I'll call The Pill.
When I arrived in Korea, my director, Mr. Kim aka The Kimmer, and his assistant James dropped me off at the apartment I was to share with him. We chatted for a few minutes, and then The Kimmer left, and I turned to see if all of my bags were in my room, or something, and when I turned back, HEY PRESTO! There was a Korean girl standing next to The Pill.
It turned out to be his girlfriend, who I will call Two-Na. She had been hiding in The Pill's room while the director was there. I wondered why.
The Pill started to reveal somewhat about their relationship (and his nature) as we walked to the school that first day.

This was the building our school was in. It occupied the fourth and fifth floor. The name of the school was "Wonderland," which is a fairly large franchise in Korea. There motto (prominently displayed everywhere) was "Everyone Smiles In Wonderland." I ended up working at three different Wonderlands. One was good, one was okay, and one was very bad. I suppose I was lucky in that I got the one that was very bad out of the way first.
One of the reasons this school was very bad was because of The Pill. As we walked there on my first day, he began talking about it (and its director) as if it was the bane of his existence. He felt that they were always spying on him, and that they didn't believe foreigners should be "involved" with local girls, and that is why Two-Na was hiding that night. I could see that he was in a very bad place, and it coloured my perception of my new job.
I had expected to receive some kind of training before I would be expected to teach. I think that this belief came from things the recruiter said. I didn't know at the time that recruiters will do and say anything until they drop you off and get their money, and then you are on your own.
My "training" consisted of following one of the other teachers around for a couple of days before being asked to do it on my own. Apparently The Kimmer and his aides felt that a person completely untutored in managing a classroom could absorb enough knowledge to do it alone in that time. Eventually I became comfortable in the classroom, but those first months were filled with terror that began as soon as I walked in and continued until the end of the day.
Besides The Pill, there were only two other foreign teachers at the school, who I will call Dolly and Marty. Both were Americans. The Pill was a Canadian who had moved to Texas at some point, and he constantly talked about how great it was there. I began to consider him as an American as time went by.
Marty's contract was up at the end of December (I started with about a week left in November), and he was counting down the days like he couldn't wait to get out of there. Dolly seemed happy enough to be there, and I believe her contract had until the following summer to run. The Pill's was about the same.
Dolly did a runner within two weeks, however, and after Marty left, The Pill and I were left to handle the workload alone.
The head Korean teacher was a man named Jay, whose job it was to look after the curriculum and any questions a teacher might have about it.
The disorganization of the office became apparent almost immediately. The books were crammed helter-skelter into shelves. Supplies were sometimes available, sometimes not. Teachers were given a basket with which they were to carry their supplies to whatever room they were teaching that day. Each class had its own room, and the teachers were to go to them rather than have them come to the teacher's room. There was only one school I taught in that allowed us teachers to set up in our own room. It was brilliant, and I missed that at every other school, which all asked you to "chase the students."
My poor performance as a teacher eventually revealed Jay's real role, which was to blame the foreigner any time anything went wrong, and heap abuse on them until they felt like shit. If a parent complained, or a student wasn't being coddled, Jay would descend like the wrath of God on all and sundry. It didn't help that I knew my skills were non-existant, and my performance was shite. There was no way I could defend it.
But what did they expect? They knew I was inexperienced, and they hired me anyway. Did they expect me to turn into a good teacher overnight? According to the Korean government's parameters, I was qualified enough to be allowed into the country to teach English. I knew I needed more experience and that I would not be able to be effective in the classroom without more training. I expected to receive this training from the school, but I did not. When my performance suffered as a result, who was to blame?
It didn't help that as time went on, living with The Pill became more and more difficult. His paranoia eventually brought him to include me among his many enemies, and he began to take every opportunity he could to be critical of anything and everything I did. When he saw me reading my Bible, he quoted the verse in Matthew that admonished a person to go into his closet and study privately. When I ate the last portion of rice left in the cooker, he reacted as if I had stolen the last bit of food left on the earth. I liked my toast darker than him, but he expected me to reset the toaster after I had used it to his own preference.
When we returned to the apartment at the end of the day, he and Two-Na usually closeted themselves in his room, and did not interact with me at all. I was left to my own devices, and expected to be out of their way if they wanted the apartment to themselves.
The Pill was very protective of her, and he revealed why about a week after I had arrived.
He told me she was pregnant with his child.
I did the math, and this must have been accomplished about a month after he had arrived in Korea. Fast work!
He was pestering the Kimmer for his own place, and as our relationship deteriorated, I began pestering the Kimmer, as well. It had gotten to the point where we passed each other without speaking, even in the apartment.
When he moved out, I fell to my knees and thanked God in Heaven above. Deliverance!
But the Pill had one last trick to play on me before he left my life for good.
New teachers eventually arrived, including another male who became my room-mate. He was an Australian who I'll call Gargamel. Two British girls named, um, Carol and uh, Di, as well as a Canadian girl called... Barbie rounded out our group. Life actually became bearable after these people arrived. They actually knew how to converse with other human beings. They were willing to explore Korea with me, and they were more than willing to have a good time.
Within a few months I began to enjoy my time in Korea, and my job as well. It helped to have somebody to talk to and lend a helping hand, as well as commiserate regarding the daily helping of bullshit we all had to eat.
At the end of May, all the Wonderlands in southeast Korea were coming together at a conference in a hotel on Haeundae Beach in Busan. Each group of foreign teachers had to make some kind of presentation about lessons/lesson plans. We came up with a skit about making a car and teaching the kids about directions. The Pill didn't contribute too much. He made a dramatic speech at one of our meetings that Two-Na was experiencing complications, and he had to be there with her. Then his mother died, and he had to go back to Canada to be at her funeral.
All lies.
Our presentation actually came in second at the convention and we divided a cash prize amongst ourselves. It was a bittersweet time, because I was about to leave that Wonderland and start work at another in Changwon.
Our school had six teachers and their school had five. The Kimmer explained that we had one too many, and they had one too few. I was elected to make the move.
I don't know why he picked me. Maybe he thought I was the weakest teacher, and the school'd be better off without me. It would have made more sense to oust The Pill, as he was the outsider in our group. We all worked well together and got along, whereas he separated himself from us as much as possible.
Maybe a smarter man could have figured out a way to convince The Kimmer of this, but I was not that man. His mind was made up. He didn't want The Pill to go. He wanted me to.
The weekend after the convention, The Kimmer and Gargamel loaded up my stuff into The Kimmer's car and drove me down to Changwon.
On Monday, The Pill did not show up to work. He had pulled a runner, and now The Kimmer had to find someone to take his place. He didn't ask for the other Wonderland to send me back, but went about recruiting someone else.
The Pill had fucked me over but good. The times he said he was looking after Two-Na he was looking for another job. And the trip home for his mother's funeral was actually a trip to Seoul to interview for that job.
I have never seen The Pill since that time, in spite of my intense desire to meet him in a dark alley and find out how many pieces I can carve him into. I have to content myself with the knowledge that every day of his life he is going to wake up, look in the mirror, and realize he will always be what he is, a complete and utter waste of skin.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad I never had a room mate. That was always a point I wouldn't budge on. It was bad enough when my 1st school moved us all into the same building. The South African hag would try to keep tabs on every ones coming and goings. She was good at making herself look good at the expense of her co-workers.