I had finished up May with a lovely weekend but June began by not feeling so well. Uh oh. By the 2nd I knew I probably had strep. Going to a local clinic, a doc gave me antibiotics and said it was OK to go to work. By that night, I was sick enough to not be able to do much, even when a cockroach flew into my leg twice. Twice. Que flashbacks to all the reading I had done about the inhumane work habits of Korea. And yet I had still signed up like a chump.
Waking up on the 3rd even worse with a black patch on the white in my throat, I was a little scared and tried to take a sick day. Hahahahahaha! I didn’t even have contact info besides Kelly which meant that I had to go back and forth through her as the messenger who I’m sure was being “shot” by her dad. Mr. Kim instructed through her for me to go back to the doc and then come in to meet with him at 2 PM. Back to the doc for the second time, I was told I had acute tonsillitis and prescribed more antibiotics along with being given a note for me to take the rest of the week off. Sending the letter to Kelly, I could tell she was stressed and that I was “fucking up”.
Posting in S Korea expat groups on social media for feedback while walking to work, Mr. Kim immediately called me into his office as I walked through the door and snatched the letter out of my hand with his first words being to say that he was disappointment in me. Then, as I sat there dripping sweat and totally out of it, he started going off in an unrelated direction while Min-jun (my archnemesis) sat in as the interpreter while constantly cutting me off and only relaying a fraction of what I did actually manage to say. Mr. Kim’s tangent about how I was responsible for my actions in S Korea (referring to partying as if I was some 22 year old) included disclosing info from my FBI background check without permission. Even Min-jun was confused as he awkwardly shrugged at me in a wide-eyed response to my asking what it had to do with my being sick. Walking out of his office from that chaos, Mrs. Pong (Mr. Kim’s wife and the head manager) continuing flipping out, albeit in a sweeter yet more panicked way, about how they had to let me take it off if I insisted but how they didn’t have anyone to cover my classes. Still confused but getting more and more pissed about how they were putting it on me, the only thing running through my head was that it was their failure to not have something so basic covered in a kid-based environment where sickness would happen on a normal basis. Even so, I gave up and ended up working. At least being able to go in late and get off early (though how was I supposed to plan my classes then?), it was relayed that no matter how sick one was, you had be there. Even if in class slumped over on a chair and unable to talk. My throat looking like the warning pictures on cigarette boxes in Thailand was no excuse. The most supportive acknowledgment I felt through the whole thing was when one of the little kids surprised me with a comment about how I looked. Even if it was only to point out that I wasn’t wearing makeup (AKA: no eyeliner). At least I had them to get me through every day. Signing up for it be damned, it sure was different to experience the rough business side as opposed to just studying that part of the hagwon life. What a doozy.
I had hoped that I’d be one of the rare few to luck out and get into one of the better hagwons but it was already proving itself not to be. I felt like I had sold myself into being indentured and while I didn’t worry about violence, I did worry about being kicked out of the country without getting paid. It was just the beginning so at least my internal tank for dealing with that particular kind of BS was still full. Even for someone like me who things came a little harder to. I had a few months in me before the BS that sent teachers running for the hills started getting to me too much. It was indeed lame through. Especially with that head teacher, the person I should have been able to go to with questions, already despising me for no solid reason. It would have already sucked but he was a pro at making it unbearable.
I was amazed with the stuff Western teachers dealt with at a typical hagwon. Being expected to figure things out on our own and the Korean teachers so often being wrong themselves when actually trying to communicate something (usually telling us what we did wrong) because of their limited grasp of English. Yeah…English teachers, more like tutors, who struggled to speak English. I may have been on an island in a island where little English was spoken but I still found that ironic.
Besides that lack of any kind of training or communication, there were also constant last minute work-altering details told to Western teachers that the Korean teachers knew well in advance. For example, when I was only told the day before that we would be throwing a big party for most of our classes. Or how I’d be at the event during my “free” time. The time when I would have been struggling to plan classes, forever not knowing what the bosses wanted, for the whole next day and the following week. Then being told during the event that I had to get a second physical for my visa the next morning because of Mr. Kim’s having been too impatient to have waited for all the paperwork before. Keep in mind that I had been sick throughout it all and was struggling like mad to keep up by coming in early every day (except for a couple of those sick days) to try to train myself. Why they didn’t have a general manual for Western teachers coming in green, I’d never knew. Guess it just made too much sense. They obviously weren’t into that.
Spending 2 1/2 hours of my personal time that next morning, I was back at the hospital being told that I may have to take another drug test if the one I was already there taking for the second time came back dirty. Paul (Kelly’s sweet fiance) being there with me, I tried to hide annoyance at his acting as if he didn’t know of the possibility thanks to all the stuff I was taking for being sick when I had just brought it up to him the night before when he had initially told me I had to go again the night before. More than the assortment of all those tonsillitis medications, I was nervous about the sleeping meds in my system. There were always details to find out about in new countries that slipped through the cracks. Everything I took was either over the counter or doc prescribed so I hadn’t thought about it when bringing in basics like melatonin. Turns out that, something I had thought more of as a vitamin, was a no-no. Whoops. So I guess I’m an insomniac drug smuggler now.
Then there was the ITP and blood pressure. Already sick of all the hoops I had jumped through since my arrival, it was frustrating struggling to communicate while being ping-ponged around to different departments of a different hospital a couple weeks later. At least they had an English translator and the hospital was close, though. Two things I did appreciate. Especially since my new reality was having to go there once or twice a month.
The results of the drug test turned out fine as did numbers for ITP. Blood pressure was high again thanks to running out of those meds but that could be corrected pretty quickly. Just about all the boxes were finally checked on my initial “to do” list. Quite a victory.
June was a lot of getting used to a new life and a new kind of work in a new country. Being thrown in to sink or swim while trying to figure out teaching and hanging at cafes to write. Also continuing on with that foodie life by checking out new restaurants and buying random things at the grocery. Bimbap was one of the rice-based Korean dishes new to me. I found it pretty bland but could tolerate it for the darling little tea house I was eating at that second time I gave it a try. The first being back at the Airport when I had first arrived in S Korea. I may have been trying but still wasn’t finding love for the food. Even though I had already known that from the Korean cuisine I’d had back in the states, I was still hoping.
There were still a few growing pain surprises that would pop up over the month. One being when I was basically told by Mrs. Pong (co-owner of the hagwon and manager of the school syllabus) that the cockroaches popping up in the studio they had set up for me were my problem. Another being how little people seemed to care about anything outside of their immediate bubble. Something that was spotlighted when I tried to kick off a Black Lives Matter march. There were also wee communication errors that lead to smaller things that were frustrating but pretty easy to laugh at. Stuff like being given vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate after having been so excited for the treat. What a pout-inducing waste of calories.
The most upsetting discovery was finding out how much the island wasn’t the outdoorsy kind of place I had come for thanks to extreme weather. Like Hawaii my ass. Coming to S Korea very well could have been the only time I was to spend so long in a different country. I had chosen it for saving ability and wouldn’t have gone there at all otherwise. The outdoorsy island option had been how I had sold myself. I suppose that’s what I got for taking the logical route. Also for listening to the voices in my head (like my mom’s) who had always told me to do so. It was once again being proven that I wasn’t a person built for that if it came at the sacrifice of heart and passion.
The biggest event for the month happened on the 14th. There was an irony to how it was two years to the day of when I had arrived in India to lodgings that had made me worried about, it such an incredibly wet and humid environment, myself or the kids I had been mentoring slipping on the marble floors. Ironic because, despite being careful, I ate it on the slippery three stairs coming out of my studio right after a tropical storm. To say I “ate it” when landing on my booty doesn’t express how hard I landed. At least I didn’t crack my laptop, wrist or some other bone. Note that the laptop came first. Going so far as to take off my shoes and stepping sideways before walking down those stairs after that, I’d be spooked for months that I didn’t end up in the hospital. I should have. Vetoed yoga moves, a scary bruise that looked like a sideways map of Florida and a painful knot taking a month and a half to heel would be a constant reminder of that. Thank goodness for having a ghetto-booty. Gave new meaning to the phrase “more cushion for the pushin”.
I’ve always found great amusement in the inconsequential things I saw in a culture new to me. On the island, one of them had been the fad of girls keeping a big curler in their bangs. Also how natives seemed to think an hour to an hour and a half to get to the other side of the island was too long for adventures. Being someone who was used to trekking back and forth across the entire state of California, that one felt like a “know your audience” kind of thing. Then there were the books at school. Some that would have been considered inappropriate at home, it could be entertaining when content was a little sexual (giggle) or stories were about something like “The Sweet Fart Seller”. Sometimes they were a bit offensive when hinting at racism or something else distasteful. One of the ways the island’s culture seemed stuck in the ’90’s.
There were the odd things I was curious about (yet not curious enough to look up) like why the salt grains I bought had been bigger than in the US. Also the forever frustrating observation of how a culture that seemed to revolve around always eating and food based in rice still remained so skinny. Validating for showing how much the difference in genetics really made a difference but also frustrating. There were always going to be more fashion things. The popularity of high water pants drove me crazy as did the socks with sandals. I suppose it was because they were things that had been put into my head as a teenager to be fashion suicide, an observation that in itself had amusement, but it still practically gave me a nervous tick.
Having already been on the island for three months, it was time to give a social life a try. Hoping to start the networking I had planned in order to find good hagwons and tutoring opportunities, I made it to a volleyball game posted in an online woman’s group on Facebook called Jeju Mermaids. It was fun and I was pleasantly surprised with how much I still liked volleyball (not to mention that I didn’t totally suck) but I had an unhappy discovery when realizing that I was still a social mess from all that had happened before I left the US. It worried me. Especially since it felt like I might not get over it any time soon. The only other times I had gone through periods of such big impact in my adult life was when I moved to San Diego out of my parent’s house in 2007, when the economy crashed at the end of 2007 and when I lost my pup, Layla and then found Burning Man in 2015. Seeming symbolically fitting when projectile vomiting (more like spitting up) water after taking an Aleve on an empty stomach followed by a sunburn later thanks to expired sunblock, it was still a lovely afternoon. Even if I was a hot mess.
Saturday the 27th, Brigit’s big 60th birthday, ended up being a surprise of a nice day thanks to the E Mart store I tried to go to being closed. Being located right there along the coast, it gave me the perfect opportunity to take a walk that included running into a spot where the haneyo dove. Accidentally having lunch twice after that thanks to miscommunication about takeout at the second restaurant, I later made it to one of the elusive wine shops of the island. It was my first time finding good wine on the island and I was ecstatic. Something that showed by my willingness to go out again that night with the Californian who had told me about it. Getting him emotionally pumped about Burning Man, always a high for me, and the two of us relating about the things only other Cali expats would, it was refreshing. Also rowdy fun as we ended up clubbing for what would be my only time for the unforeseeable future. Ending the night with a little more one on one connecting, I don’t think either of us were even attracted to each other but it was nice to not feel so alone. Yep. It was a lovely day.