Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Korean School Owners Are...


There are a handful of you out there who know what a rather restless and depressing last few weeks it's been around these parts. For those who don't, here's the scoop: Korean academy owners (and business owners in general) are greedy, money hungry mongrels who try and get as much work as possible out of their employees for the littlest in return to those employees (teachers). Before we even came over here, our recruiter told us, verbatim, "contracts don't mean much to Korean people". Once we arrived, and over the last two years, we have heard countless stories of friends and friends of friends who have been screwed over in some way by their school owner i.e. not getting paid on time, not getting paid at all, too many hours, weekend working, no holidays, schools closing with no warning, firing at the 11th month of the yearly contracts to avoid paying the large lump sum at the end...the list goes on and on.

Al and I have had zero problems with our school for over two years now. If you might remember, we actually arrived here in December 2011. We've always known that our owner isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but we have never once not gotten paid, not gotten our holidays, never had problems with time off, nothing. We've never had a warning or complaint from either of our schools. I've never been a second late in two years, nor has Al. All in all, it's been a pretty quiet two years when it comes to major things that could disrupt our lives. (me relentlessly complaining about the cooling/heating at my school doesn't count, that's just super annoying.)

Well, well, well, here it was, a few weeks ago, Al and I were happily counting down our days left here and our days left until vacation, when WHAM BAM, we were hit with the news that our owner has decided that we're the worst teachers at the schools and wants us out and gone at 11 months. Oh yeah, could this have something to do with the fact that the month we finish our contracts he owes us nearly TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!? With our last two paychecks, two bonuses (severance), and two flights (a grand each they give us for flights), it tops out at nearly 10 Gs. That's not even counting two years of pension we've had accruing. Needless to say, when teachers leave Korea, they count on a very large sum of money coming to them...hence the reasoning behind the "11th month firing". It's a pretty common thing to happen, so maybe we're idiots in thinking that just because we've had a smooth two years that it wouldn't happen to us.

A little back story on MY school: It's an elementary school. The Korean school year runs March 1-March 1 (year round schooling...yay...), so that's how my semesters fall, but my contract ends askew from my school's semesters. Every March, my school would give the company I work for the run around saying that they didn't want to renew the contract with them and yadda yadda...but they always did renew. This year was no different. About a month ago, I started hearing the usual chirping around the office about them not wanting to renew. Well, if they didn't renew, my last day would be February 28, but my contract doesn't end until March 31...would I work at the main office with Al? Get a temporary job? If they did renew, will I still be able to work that last month? Lots of questions, no answers.

Nobody from the main office tells the Koreans at my school anything, and then they don't tell me anything. For weeks I questioned the situation but to no avail. Finally, a few weeks ago, I went to the main office and got my answer: That they wanted us OUT and weren't going to pay us ANYTHING! As I was "talking" to the owner (through a translator) and waiting for Al to get out of class, he was saying things like...I left class to go make copies once? So apparently..."Samanda! Teacher! Bad!" And using the excuse about my semesters not falling right and that they want a new teacher in there to start with the new school year on March 1 and loads of other nonsense. So it's gonna be like that is it? Our owner would grunt out a bunch of Korean and then translator would say, "He's just making excuses, but he said..." and then list a bunch of asinine things that Al and I supposedly did (I guess Al drank too much water or something?) which was his reasoning for ending us early. Mmmhmmmmm. How stupid do you think we are, pal? So when Al got out of class, he flipped his lid, as I knew he would, and I was on the verge of a full on panic attack. I mean, we have an entire month in Europe already booked, most nonrefundable, and here we are on the cusp of possibly getting no money to pay for it, so we may have to cancel. Great.

I also learned (from the translator guy, who is our age and Korean-American) that my Korean teachers have come to the main office on multiple occasions and verbally bashed me to a pulp. I am honestly not sure I want to know the details or exactly what they said, but he mentioned something about them telling the owner I'm "late all the time" and a myriad of other things that can't possibly be true because, well, I've never stepped a toe out of line.

We immediately employed my Korean bff Sophie to go with us to the labor board...with little result. They looked over our contracts and she told them the situation but apparently there was nothing in our contracts protecting us if something like this happened. I read it thoroughly and it seemed pretty solid, but the labor board said otherwise. Soph said that the best thing to do now was to just try and negotiate as much as possible out of him. That was two weeks ago.

We then had a meeting with him, he was trying to do this and pay this much and we wanted this much and back and forth and back and forth. He then said he needed to think things over and pushed us to the following Thursday when we would get our yes or no and get it settled. Thursday came, he went to Seoul. Moved to Friday. Not back from Seoul. Moved to Monday. (I didn't sleep well). Monday came, Al said it was best if he handled it alone because our owner always gets really titchy when I'm around (he is always telling me how beautiful I am, creepola, perhaps I make him uncomfortably horny).

I was on pins and needles and Al walks in the house at about 10:30 with mostly good news. Here's the sitch: We will be getting roughly 90% of our money. My last day of work is NEXT FRIDAY. Al's is March 14th. We will get both our flights and a pro-rated severance, which will cut off only like a hundred bucks for Al and a few hundred for me. Obviously we'll get our last two paychecks, plus Al will get 14 days worth of pay in March.

The Europe trip is saved! Although, we might cut a bit off the end and just not go for as long as we planned. A shame, but something that might have to be done. Also, we have to be out of our apartment three weeks before our flight out of Korea. So we're looking into getting a flight to Thailand or somewhere down there for a few weeks because 1. We'd have to sleep on a friend's couch for three weeks because we're homeless 2. We'd be bored out of our minds 3. We'd be spending money left and right keeping ourselves entertained 4. It's wayyyyyy cheaper to live down there day to day than it is here 5. Our sanity would be tested. We wouldn't be able to stay in the same place with one another; apartments here are the size of your bathroom at home and I don't want to sleep on a couch and impose on people for three weeks. To give you an idea of how cheap Southeast Asia is, it will actually probably be cheaper to buy a flight down to the beaches of Thailand for a few weeks rather than stay around here. Still not sure yet, we're gonna figure it out in the next few days.

Things at my school are tense. Seriously, seriously tense. I know that they bad mouthed and lied about me to the owner, but they don't know that I know. I am very, very cold to them and frankly, I don't care. They're the ones who are late all the time anyway (really, always). Because there's no one there to unlock the door when I arrive, I've had to crawl through the office window more than a few times or sit outside in the frigid hallway until someone finally arrives. It's getting hard to keep my mouth shut, but now is the time to mind my Ps and Qs; I have a lot of money on the line.

The kids have a short week and a half "vacation" from now until the new school year on March 1 which means my hours are back to the morning ones. It's not so bad I guess, just still really cold. I haven't had time at all to mentally prepare myself to leave this job I've had for so long. I mean, this is my work and my home. Since I had the idea that I would be finishing March 31 for so long, the news that I had a very short time left has kinda taken me be surprise. I love those kids (most of them) and I can't believe I'm done next Friday. I'm really gonna need to try and find some subbing work or something until Al is done. Blah.

So...that was pretty long winded! But, now you know!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Happy Lunar New Year...or Chinese New Year...Whatever! Happy 4 Day Weekend!

Because the Asians like to celebrate an additional New Year that the moon dictates instead of the one that the earth and sun dictate, we got a four day weekend. Known as "Sollal" here in K-Land, it's one of the biggest holidays of the year where all the families get together and eat lots of food and do traditional things a.k.a. a living hell for most of them. My lady coworkers are nearly in tears every "family" holiday because there is so much expected of them from their mother-in-laws (cooking, cleaning, getting yelled at...) while the single Korean ladies have to endure endless questioning on just why oh why they aren't married yet. One of my single coworkers actually skips every holiday with her family for the SOLE reason that she doesn't want to be questioned relentlessly about her marriage status despite the fact that she's *gasp* 30. 

We expats, however, get a relaxing holiday, and this one was filled with four days of unusual 60+ degree weather. Thursday and Friday Al and I just chilled and Saturday we all had a BEACH DAY! The last time we were all at the beach was probably October, so this was fantastic. We brought our beach blankets (and extra blankets to stay warm) and the boys played football all day. Fabulous.

Sunday, Al and I decided to head down to the southern part of the city along the coast to Chinatown, because we've never been there. Turns out "Chinatown" is more of a long street that should be more appropriately named "Russiatown". Not only was there very little Chinese anything there, it was basically a big sign that said "Chinatown" and then a bunch of shops and restaurants with Russian names. If someone knows the story behind it, please, let me in, because I don't get it. Mostly everything was closed anyway, so that was unfortunately somewhat uneventful. 

We took the subway two more stops to Nampo, a favorite area of ours. It's a trek and a half to get there from our house, like 40 minutes or more on the subway, but we like to go. There's a very long, wide street with semi-upscale shopping, where at the end you turn right down a dirty alleyway and come out in knock-off central. This tightly packed, mile long extravaganza has anything and everything, but mostly fakes of every shape and size. Now, don't get me wrong, if you know me well you know that I believe that knock-offs should be banned from earth, but that's mostly towards bags, jewelry, shoes...the big items. Do I have a Lacoste hoodie from there because I'd rather pay $50 than $150 for pretty much the same exact quality? Yeah. But if I can't afford $1,300 for a genuine Chanel quilt bag, then I'm not going to spent $150 on one in Nampo to carry around like I'm better than everyone. Gross. 

Once we got to the end of the nice shopping area, we decided to turn left because, well, we've never turned left down that way. We ended up discovering an entirely new area of Nampo that we've never been because, really, we just stick to the same old same old. Al and I...we don't generally go to new places around Busan. I'm not sure why. We've just not gone out and "discovered", so Sunday was a real treat. We found new streets, new restaurants and Lord Almighty, the Jagalchi Fish Market. The Jagalchi Fish Market is a seafood spectacle unlike any other. It's a huge building that looks like this inside... 

...With every type of sea creature imaginable available for purchase. As you can see...

I had no idea what most of it even was, let alone how to eat it. This place is quite a knock on the senses, especially the nose. I saw a woman skinning eels alive in one quick stroke; they were still bloodily slithering around afterward. I immediately wished I hadn't witnessed such a traumatizing event as I very much like eel sushi. It's all I'll be thinking about next time I'm in a sushi joint and order my regular unagi. 

After we finished roaming the smelly building we went outside to a deck, which overlooks the water and what I assumed to be a fishing boat marina. There were lots of people out and about because of the nice weather, kids feeding seagulls, a band was playing...and two homeless men fighting each other. As soon as he spotted it, Al yells, "bum fight!" and then one of them gets knocked out and falls backwards down some steps. Someone was attempting to break it up, but it was clear they were sloshed and were having none of it. Since I brought my camera along with me, I spent a lot of the time still testing out settings and trying to get some good pictures of the marina...and some I did!!


I love love love this picture

We decided to lose ourselves down some more side streets we've never seen as we worked our way back to the Nampo subway station. We found another great shopping/food street that I for sure want to come back to.

Once we were back to the main shopping street and were walking back towards the station, we passed a clothing store that people were running out of and was quickly filling with smoke. A fire! It had apparently just started as the shopkeepers were running in and out with their phones calling the firemen. The whole area was soon filled with black smoke as it was rolling out of the front door. Of course we, along with tons of others, stopped to watch it all unfold. The fire trucks showed up not 5 minutes later (7 of them, by the way) and began to put it out. I never saw any flames, though, just billows of smoke. We happened to be in the right place at the right time for all the action today! First a bum fight, then a fire. 

Instead of going home, we went into the big Lotte department store across the street to look for some food. The way department stores here are set up is that usually on the first floor there are tons of food counters. They cook in the middle and there is counter seating all around it. We found a Japanese ramen one, in my top 5 favorite foods ever, and it hit the spot. 

Says "ramen"

Tonkatsu Gyoza Ramen. Heeeeeaveeeennnn

After a long day adventuring to new places, we headed home and fell asleep at 9:30. The next day, Monday, was the first day for the kids back from vacation, which means my hours changed back to the normal 1-6:30. I hate, hate, hate waking up early in the morning, but getting off work at around 2 every day was great. As much as I detest waking up early, I'm still a person who would rather just get in and get out. I always hated in college when I had evening classes, because I just have to wait around all day knowing I have an obligation later in the day. Sucks. But now, I get to sleep in as late as I want again, but I get off at 6:30...which really isn't bad. It was God awful having to take my morning coffee poo at school instead of home, anyway. Onward to March 31!