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Published: November 9th 2009
After Chusok weekend ended life switched from a nice even 80km/h pace to 250km/h on an autobahn in a country that didn’t seem like South Korea, it was a chaotic whirlwind but unforgettable none the less.
The remaining four weeks that I had were filled with exam writing stress, mad school stress coupled with the need and desire to attend every Hash and every party that was on the cards. It really is true that it takes a year to settle into a place and from then on things get really awesome, this was most certainly the case for me! Coupled with the fact that I was settled and having a blast my fast approaching departure was stepping up my need to party but at the same time putting me deeper into denial and less in the mood to want to bid my new home and all my wonderful friend’s goodbye. But without the ability to make time stand still before I knew it, it was Thursday night and I was due to have packed up my apartment and be moved out by first thing the next morning.
I enlisted the help of my friend Dave who walked into
my apartment after 10pm and just shrugged his shoulders at me cause it truly looked as though a hurricane had hit. Somehow by 3am I had managed to perform a miracle and restore some order to my apartment and with a whole bunch of tugging and pulling we managed to zip up my bag which was bursting at the seams. I have no idea how it is that I managed to accumulate that much stuff in one year when I’m sure I only went shopping a hand full of times, what a disaster. I suspect the huge deal of procrastination and underestimation of the task at hand prior to moving out also had something to do with the crazy late night packing escapade.
Now it has to be said that aside from the run of the mill annoyances that come with any job I have been very happy at my school until four days before I was due to end my contract my director suddenly went from being super generous to being a typical dodgy Hagwon dealer, pulling a dirty with regards to my final salary. Wow it was such a stressful experience and to say that I have
mastered the art of negotiation and dispute resolution would be an understatement, in fact I’m sure I earned my honorary masters in dispute resolution in my last week in South Korea. While I still got schined out of some money I managed to strike a fairly acceptable deal with my employer by Thursday, well so I thought. However on Friday I got told that they wouldn’t pay me untill they had been to my apartment and I then suddenly had the absolute fear that they would come to my apartment after school on Friday, find something that they deemed wrong and would then refuse to pay me not at all, something I couldn’t risk. As a result I got a little crafty, I patched a call to my good friend Ben who is American but can speak Korean so when the entourage arrived at my house I at least had someone who could pretend he didn’t speak the language but could keep tabs on the conversation in case something was being said and not translated (a very regular occurrence in Hagwon business practice). After the removing of shoes and polite greetings my director sat herself in the centre of my
floor and invited me join her, her husband and Linda in something not dissimilar to an African indaba. There is nothing like conducting your final salary negotiation in a circle on your apartment floor with your salary in an envelope in W50 000 bills waiting to be handed over in exchange for a piece of paper saying that you wouldn’t bad mouth the school (even though they blatantly reneged on your contract and avoided paying tax for the year).
Wow I never thought we would see myself engaging in third world salary negotiations in a first world country. Aside from the exchanging of parting pleasantries from my director, in an attempt to rectify the mess and disillusionment that they had successfully implanted in my head during the course of the week, negotiations went smoothly with only a moment of awkward at which point my trusty helper parted with some Korean words on my behalf, to the shock of my employers and much to my delight. Finally the deal was done and I left with almost all of my money in an envelope, 50kgs of luggage and a pearl/diamante encrusted watch as a parting gift. It’s all fun and games
Mike and Michell Teacher
when you sign on at a hagwon and let me tell you even the best hagwons will, at some point during your contract, find some way to swindle you out of time or money. All this being said though I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world, everything that happened throughout the year down to the final parting indaba was an experience that money couldn’t have bought and I am grateful for it every day!
Exhausted from the stress of the school salary indaba, little sleep after the very late completion of packing, all topped with an entire day of playing party games with 150 elementary school kids at our Halloween day party (on my last day) called for Korean BBQ and Soju, just what the stress doctor ordered! From Friday the weekend got crazy trying to get myself sorted out to leave and see everyone I wanted to see, attend a Halloween party and still get me and my luggage onto an airplane by Tuesday morning. Oh ya and somehow deposit the 100’s of W50 000 bills that I had in cash in my bag.
I spent most of Monday getting everything I needed done
Me and Michelle Teacher
except for sorting out my money. Turns out that HSBC and Citi banks may be very prevalent in South Korea but they somehow remain as domestic banks so by the time I had gone between these banks in an attempt to open an international bank account only to realise this I had missed my banks closing time and I was still sitting with half my money in cash in crisp new W50 000 notes (undepositable in an ATM) and the other half in my bank account, not an ideal situation at 5pm the day before your flight.
When in a money fix there is no other place to turn but the streets of Itaewon where Forex shops abound, I have to say I felt like I was doing some underground shady dealings when I went hopping from seedy forex spot to seedy forex spot along the Itaewon drag getting them to convert my W50 000’s in W10 000’s so that I could at least deposit the cash into my account and then go from there. Thankfully after two or three visits to different spots, interjected with a deposits run at the IBK bank (gotta love the fact that there
are no bank charges in Korea cause in SA this experience would have cost me a fortune) I left Itaewon at 6:30 to complete the last things on my list and then to have a final dinner with some of my mates!
In a blur of sleep deprivation Tuesday morning arrived and that luggage which I hadn’t mailed home still had to be packed and my money was still in my Korean bank account and I had managed to sleep through 5 alarms. Nothing like waking up Bundang side of Seoul, a mere hour and a half’s bus ride away from the airport, after 9am when you need to finish packing and catch a flight by 1:05, suppose a trip would be boring if you just did things in normal time and got to the airport two hours before your flight hey!
My year and a bit in Asia was truly one of the best years of my life and I couldn’t have been sadder to say good. Wow 6 months in and I was vowing that I would never spend any longer than my contracted 365 days in the ROK but by 396 days I was wishing
Packing for Home
Dave in a joking attempt to close my bag
I didn’t have to leave, boy the irony.
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