August 8, 2008

Getting to South Korea

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 4:08 am by stephshimkooo

I was contacted by a recruiter named “Tino” from South Korea, and we began the process of finding me a job and brining me to Korea. The process started in May 2005, and I was supposed to start at a school in July. In early June he called me and asked me if I could leave “tomorrow.” I said no I could not have all of my affairs in order by then, but I agreed to go within two weeks.

Things didn’t start very rosy, to say the least. My mother drove me to the airport at 5a.m. for my flight. Upon my arrival at the flight desk, the woman told me that she could not issue me a boarding pass because “I didn’t have a ticket.” I asked her how this could be, and she said that my name was in the system and that a seat had been reserved for me, but no booking had been made. After arguing for a while without getting any concrete answers, we went home at 8a.m., baffled as to what had happened.

I spent the next 8 hours trying to figure out what happened and how to fix it. I talked to the recruiter, who said he would call me back but didn’t, I talked to the travel agent once it opened on the west coast, I talked to two different airlines, and finally, I figured out the problem: the recruiter had made a reservation for me with a Los Angeles based travel agent, but the school hadn’t paid the airfare. The recruiter hadn’t figured out the problem, and apparently hadn’t even tried. When I called and told him what had happened regarding payment, he contacted the school telling them to pay for the reservation made for the next morning, and assured me that everything was now going to happen the way it should.

Indeed I was issued a boarding pass the following morning at the airport, but was called over the loudspeaker shortly before my flight by the airline asking me why I had no return ticket. I explained that my employer was paying for it, and after making a brief phone call, told me that I should be able to leave the country, but that I might not be able to go because I had a one-way ticket. I was unsure why that would matter, but was unnerved for the second time in two days. Luckily, that was the last trouble I had getting to the nation of South Korea. It was hardly the last problem I had, though.

I arrived at Incheon airport so excited that I could feel my heart banging against my rib cage. It was late afternoon, not yet dark.  When I got my luggage and made my way to the greeting area of the airport, I looked around until I saw a man in his mid-twenties who I assumed was Tino (since he said he would meet me at the airport) holding my name on a sign. I waved and started to walk over to him. As I approached, I saw a dry, wrinkled hand reach from behind the young man and lift the sign over his head. I walked over to him, said hello, and my heart sank when I realized that he spoke no English.

He took my luggage and led me to a bus booth, where he ordered me a ticket and led me to a bus. He put a post-it with a phone number on the back of the ticket, loaded my luggage, and put me on the bus. I tried to ask him questions or somehow ask him what was going on.  I didn’t recognized “Daejeon” but thought that maybe it was the name of a district in Seoul.  The old man waved and scuttled away.

A young Korean man sat in the seat next to me as the sun began to go down.  The bus pulled away and headed out into open road.  I hadn’t slept much on the plane because I was so excited, but things seemed much less rosy on this bus to a place called “Daejeon” that I’d never heard of. I opened my Lonely Planet Korea guide and looked up the entry for Daejeon.  As I watched the landscape through the window, I could feel my chest getting tight.  Daejeon wasn’t a part of Seoul – it was an entirely different city.  Worst of all, it said there were three different bus station in Daejeon, and I had no idea which one I was supposed to use.  I had a phone number on a post-it, but I had no phone and no idea who would answer if I called.

I began to feel more and more anxious as the bus drove on into the night.  I felt alone and afraid, and I felt angry with Tino for lying to me.  I felt the tears welling up behind my eyes and forced them back.  Exhaustion and stress overtook me and I fell asleep.

I woke up as we approached Daejeon.  I was more and more afraid of getting off at the wrong stop.  I had no idea what to do.  I looked around the bus and noticed the young man beside me writing a text message.  It was in English.  I sheepishly asked him if he spoke English, and he did.  He was a student at UCLA returning home for the summer.  I blurted out my story, and he used his phone to call the number on the post-it.  He told me that I should get off at the third stop, and that he was sorry he couldn’t go with me the whole way because he was getting off at the first stop.

I thanked him profusely and felt better until he got off the bus.  My anxiety returned full force at that point, especially since I had no idea if the people I’d be working for would be as untrustworthy as Tino appeared to be.  I was the last person off of the bus at the bus station, and I was greeted by two Korean women who were to be my boss and then my boss’s boss, the owner of the school.  They took me to get some food, and then to my apartment, which was the best part of my job.  They then apologized, saying that I had to start teaching the next morning.  I said “I didn’t have any other plans anyway.”

I slept deeply that night, waiting for the next phase of my life to start the next morning.


August 7, 2008

Bush Delights in Return to “The Land of Properly English”

Posted in Fake Korean News tagged , , , , at 10:01 pm by stephshimkooo

As President Bush concluded his visit to South Korea, he took a moment to reflect on his landmark 100th

President Lee demonstrates his new spelling system

Presidential journey abroad. “I was very happy to see our friend and ally, Lee Myun-Back, Myoung-Bark, uh, President Lee being so ambitious about the future of his country. And I am also a great supporter of his ‘make English spelling more easier’ campaign.”

“You see, I’ve always thought that English spelling was, awfully tough, for our, for our young people. It’s hard for the young Korean people too, and I’m glad to see some action being taken on that front.”

Korean Support for Israel

President Bush continued with his speech by emphasizing the similarities between the two countries, “I am especially happy to see their support for Israel, which is evidenced on the street and even on store signs.”

Bush followed by expressing his affinity for Korean food, “with a few exceptions that I just can’t seem to get

my head around. I like black beans, and I like foods with beans, like chili. I like chili. But I just don’t know how people can eat doo-doo.”

Bush later lamented that despite all the warm fuzzies he felt on the peninsula, he wasn’t happy with the way all those positive feelings came about. “However, I am disappointed to see that drugs are becoming more and more prevalent in the Korean cultural.” he said. “They even have things on the restaurant menus. I just, well, I don’t agree with that. It’s not something that I, that I can agree with.

Bush worries about drug proliferation

When asked about anti-American sentiment, Bush responded positively, saying “Just when I came in here, my guide pointed out a sign that said ‘No, Americans allowed!’ I mean, they even point out how welcome we are in their homes and businesses, in case people were thinking they might not be welcome around here. This is truly a great country of freedom and democracy.” He concluded, “Sometimes I find the Korean people more understandabler than people in America sometimes,”

July 7, 2008

Why Work Abroad? Why Korea?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:49 pm by stephshimkooo

When I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in August 2004, I had a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology, (notice it’s SCIENCE, not ARTS, which makes a big difference) a minor in International Relations, and a Certificate in Russian and East European Studies.

Needless to say, my job prospects were not rosy. I worked for a while at different jobs. I started out with an insurance company, getting hired on my 22nd birthday, while I waited to see if a job I’d applied for with the government worked out. I studied and passed my license test to sell and advise life, accident, and health insurance for the state of Pennsylvania. I passed on the first try, and was the only one in my class to do so. I was very eager to know as much about these things, as “know they enemy” is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was four years old. While day to day life is normal for me, there have been instances of circumstances resulting in hospitalization, and there is more or less a guarantee of dying a slow painful death later down the line, unless I get hit by a bus. It is not an option for me to be without health insurance. I was under my father’s policy during college, and after graduation, thanks to COBRA(thank you, Bill Clinton), I could continue to be covered for up to 18 months after graduating. I considered going to graduate school, but my health insurance would run out before then, leaving me vulnerable should something happen. I couldn’t take that chance, especially since I wasn’t very focused in what I wanted to study.

Knowing that my COBRA coverage was going to run out in the next year made me terrified of employment without benefits. I had always had at least one (sometimes two or even three) job since I was 15. I was not afraid of work, but I knew that I, unlike other people, couldn’t sit around waiting for a job with benefits. Unfortunately, the job with the insurance company did not work out, and I ended up temping in an office job while waiting to hear from my prospect in DC.

Unfortunately again, in 2005, I was hit head on by a drunk driver who driving on the wrong side of the road in order to flee the scene of their first accident. They’d rear-ended a GARBAGE TRUCK. Those things aren’t exactly easy to miss. My car was totaled, I had bruising on my chest and knees, a broken elbow and and the second joint in my ring finger was shattered, requiring surgery to repair. Fortunately, I was smart and made sure that I paid all the premiums on my health insurance (a murderous $414.01 a month) so I was covered, as the person who hit me did not have any insurance. She also walked away from the accident unscathed.

Rest In Peace, Blue Streak.  I miss you

Rest In Peace, Blue Streak. I miss you

After spending the night in the emergency room, I came home and passed out, exhausted. I left a message for the office I was working in, saying that I wouldn’t be in that day and that I would keep them updated. Later that day, the temp agency called and gave me an earbeating in a surprisingly perky tone for “not following protocol” by calling them first. I had no idea what the protocol was, since I hadn’t plan on being in a car accident the evening before. I was also tired, and a little loopy from the painkillers.

That morning, of all mornings, I got the letter from the job I so wanted, thanking me for my application, but that I had been passed over for the job, after 6 months of interviewing and tests. I knew it was a rejection letter when I saw how thin the envelope was. I opened it, read the first few lines, and cried. I cried and cried. I’d lost my job, my income, my health, and now my future.

Half an hour later, I stopped. I knew it wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and it wasn’t like I lost something. It was something that hadn’t even been yet. My path lay elsewhere.

After the accident, I couldn’t work. With my elbow and hand the way it was, I couldn’t drive to get to work. I couldn’t type except pecking with my right hand. I couldn’t even hold a pencil because I’m left-handed. I took a job working not as a telemarketer but as a “telefundraiser” for a company that worked exclusively for charities and non-profits. Although the nature of the job is terrible, as it involves rejection or at the least, being the cause of annoyance for the entire day, the company I worked for was really nice, and they had quite a supportive environment. They really took care to try to help you do your job better because let’s face it, without funds, places like the Humane Society, the Sierra Club, NPR, and the DNC can’t do much. It was in their own interest, but the company put you on several accounts and left you for the longest time on whichever one you performed the best on. This will not surprise anyone who’s familiar with my interests and leisure reading, but I was left on the DNC’s campaign most of the time. I raised tens of thousands of dollars for the 2006 campaigns. I hate saying that way though because it implies that I actually did or made something instead of just convincing people to part with their money, not matter how worthy the cause.

During this time I was obviously looking for something better. While not physically demanding, it was hard mentally. I trolled, mostly in Pittsburgh but also in Philadelphia looking for jobs. One day there was a post for an English teacher in South Korea that offered what seemed like a good salary, airfare, and, lo and behold, health insurance. The next step of my journey began.

July 2, 2008

American Consulate Offers South Korean Protestors “Some Cheese to go with their Whine”

Posted in Fake Korean News tagged , , , , at 2:36 am by stephshimkooo

Showing Support for US Dairy Products

As Beef Protests in South Korea simmer down, officers from the American Consulate in Seoul are trying to bury the hatchet by offering American dairy products to South Korean protesters.

“Sharing food is an important part of Korean culture,” says Kim Su-jin, “Protesting is hard work, so we were sure they would be hungry. Since we’ve seen protesters in close contact with other dairy products, we thought it would be nice to offer them a little cheese, especially since they need some to counter their disproportionate amount of whining. It’s important to maintain good nutrition.”

No word yet on what kind of cheese would be distributed, but rumor is that much of it would be melted onto bread and tomato sauce in a traditional Korean dish called “Pi-cha.” Officials plan to partake in the meal with protest leaders. They hope that this gesture of goodwill results in further calming of tempers, as well as an increase in trust regarding US agriculture. “It is from cows, but it’s not beef, showing once again that American cows are diverse and have much to offer.”

April 15, 2008

Normal Like You

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:54 pm by stephshimkooo

I had a conversation with one of my eleven year old Korean students the other day. She had lived in America for almost two years, and was very well traveled. I told her that I loved her hair, and that I always wanted hair that was so thick, and shiny and black. She told me that she didn’t like her hair, and that she always wanted to look normal, like me.

The first emotion that I registered upon hearing that was anger because first of all, she shouldn’t be looking at someone like me and thinking that I’m “normal,” and most importantly, the criteria for normalcy, should not be white, blonde, and blue eyed. I find it completely paradoxical that white would mean normal, and at the same time, children and sometimes adults will gasp, point, and stare at me for looking different from anyone else here. What was especially confusing for me was that this girl had lived in America, and in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area. I know that she’s seen for herself that America, and the world, are full of more than just white people. She expressed to me that she knew full well that most people in the world are dark, but she still thinks of caucasian as what it is normal to look like.

I was thinking earlier this week about what it means to be an American. What I mean by that is: what is an American compared to an Englishman, a Korean, or an Ethiopian? In America, nobody seems to be just an American. We’re African American, Mexican American, Italian American, or any other nationality with “American” attached to the end. I always just thought that we were Americans. People are people, you know? Why spend all that time and energy hating or being wary of someone for any reason, let alone for no reason. I have found, from growing up in an immigrant society and spending much of my adult life outside of it, that ethnic identity is one of the defining ideas that separates societies like Canada, America and Australia from people whose country and race are more or less interchangeable terms.

Before I continue, first of all, I am aware that America had an aboriginal population that was essentially destroyed, but that part of my country’s history is a separate matter that isn’t really relevant to the question I want to ask. Yes, in a technical sense, Native Americans can be considered ethnically “American” if you define race solely along geographic/historic lines, but first of all, not all Native Americans are the same, and that’s not the topic that I want to get into. Present day America is not primarily inhabited by Iroquois and Hopi. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about nationalist identity. Yes, there are multiple ethnicities in other places too. There are British Indians and all that, but it’s not quite the same because you can still look at someone and identify them as ethnically German, or Chinese, or Turkish, or whatever. In my mind, at least, you can’t look at the way someone looks and say “Ah! American.”

To take it a step further, in places like South Korea, where I live now, they have a class that’s translated as “Ethics” in middle and high school. In this class, they are taught things like South Korea’s status as a regional “superpower,” and the genius of its language. (I should mention that the Korean writing system is absolutely amazing and logical). The most interesting idea that is taught to every Korean is that Korean blood is pure, and that must be maintained. Also, they are taught that race and nationality are the same thing. There’s even a word in the language for it.

Why did this happen? Well let me copy and paste to explain it:

“Especially in states busily reconstructing their national cultures to serve specific, concrete agendas – such as building a national economy – this conception of national identity becomes extremely useful, as the hard times requiring conformity, obedience, and sweat take their toll on the people. When race, nation, and culture become one and the same, this makes all the more convenient a dangerous ideological sleight of hand.”

That quoted bit was copied from the metropolitician, who is quite brilliant, and a little bit blunt. You can view the full article here (…)

I’m not sure where I’m going with this anymore. I think this will end up being far too long for anyone to care much. I guess what I’m trying to say is that people from immigrant societies view race differently from people who can identify their race with their nationality. I’m also trying to tie it into my student’s comments on what normal is supposed to look like. I’ll work on this more a little later and make it more coherent.
*originally posted 09/25/06 on yahoo360

April 14, 2008

Esse to Introduce New Kimchi Filtered Cigarettes

Posted in Fake Korean News tagged , , , at 2:30 pm by stephshimkooo

For ages it seems, Koreans alone have known about the health benefits of eating kimchi: vitamins, minerals, good for well-being, and cancer prevention. It was only a matter of time before somebody applied these benefits to cigarettes. Song Min-gi, who runs a convenience store near the Kimchi Museum, spent years watching people walk out of the museum, buy cigarettes from him, and talk about the wonders of kimchi. Finally, the idea to combine the two hit him like an angry ajumma.

Executives at Esse quickly ran with the idea after Song presented the idea a few months ago. “They’re great! My wife used to nag me about how I smelled like smoke and soju when I came home.” Notes Song, “Now, she sniffs around and tells me to make sure the door on the kimchi fridge is closed.”

“Our customers don’t have to quit smoking because the kimchi in the filter will prevent all those toxins from getting into their lungs.” Lee Jong-Oh, a representative for Esse, says. “Not only does the kimchi filter block all those cancer-causing toxins, it gives you that kimchi-y, fresh from the sam kyeop sal restaurant feeling.”

Kimchi filtered cigarettes are now the engine of growth for Esse. We’ve seen sales increas at a remarkable rate,” Continues Lee. “It’s up 100% from a year ago before we carried the product. We expect this product to really increase our market share, and we’re very excited about it. Fighting Esse!

First Korean Astronaunt Releases Get-Rich-Quick Book

Posted in Fake Korean News tagged , , at 2:00 pm by stephshimkooo

South Korea’s first astronaut, Yi-So-yeon, released a how-to manual on how to become a wealthy Queen of Commercials this week. “Some people said that I took the easy way out to get lots of commercials,” she says. “Sure, getting one of the world’s most advanced educations was the route everyone would take, but really, I was just too lazy to get up and put on fishnets and high heels.”

In it, she outlines these simple steps that everyone can use to become rich and famous in 29 easy years:

  1. Start majoring in mechanics in your teens
  2. Earn a Doctorate in Biotech Systems
  3. Don’t steal secrets from the Russians
  4. Have a personality
  5. Become a woman

Tentative plans for a So-yeon action figure were called to a halt earlier this week, after manufacturers decided that the accessories, a stack of books, a bill for a Doctoral level education, and a space shuttle, would add too much to the cost. There was also heated debate about her unconventional use of a “thumbs up” instead of the usual two-fingered “V” usually sported by Koreans when having their photo taken. In another setback, her clothing line has recently been nixed since So-yeon expressed concerns about “the practicality of miniskirts in zero gravity.” Despite these setbacks, So-yeon remains optimistic about her future earning potential.