Making the trek out to Seoul National University Station ain’t exactly simple for me if I can’t drive. By car it takes just 20 minutes, but by subway we’re talking at least 50 minutes, sometimes 70. Problem is, American friend Henry and kyopo friend “B” live on the other side of the Han river, and while I don’t normally talk to/associate with people who reside on the north (wrong) side of the river, I make a rare exception for my two oldest friends. We all travel equal distances to arrive at Seoul National University station to get trashed and share expat war stories. That’s right; we’re real men, doing real men things. When the alcohol flows, our chests will begin to puff out as one war story trumps the next. We’re keeping bar stools warm and likely propping up the “Beer Hunter” Hof during times of economic uncertainty. Well, sort of.
I arrive after both Henry and “B” who are already engaged in a heated philosophical conversation.
Henry: “…yeah man, but it’s not who I AM. What I do doesn’t DEFINE me, man. I teach English, but I’m not a teacher, you get it? It’s how I fill the empty hours of my life, keep my kids clothed, and keep my wife from pestering me. I teach, but I’m not a teacher.”
B: (sarcastically) “Uh huh, I totally get it. Every English teacher I meet in Korea isn’t actually a “teacher”. They’re all journalists, future law school students, photographers, professional bloggers, “consultants”. I get it.”
Henry: “I mean, If you were to create several different categories of human being, one of them being “teacher”, I doubt I would lump myself into the “teacher” category, you know what I mean? I instruct, and I play the role of a teacher, and I go through all of the motions that a teacher goes through, but when I die, the word “teacher” won’t be anywhere in my obituary.”
B: “Yeah man, no one wants to be pigeon-holed.”
Jake: “Well H-man, I’m pretty sure you don’t want the words ‘Lehman Brothers’ anywhere in your obituary either.”
(Henry worked as an analyst at Lehman Brothers, and later on at Lehman Brothers Korean branch until 2008, when they went belly-up. When asked why he hasn’t secured another job in the same industry, he cites the “Lehman Curse”. After a long and drawn out battle with his Korean wife about moving back to the USA, Henry started teaching English in 2009 to pay the bills. His wife refused to let the family leave Korea, and both of his kids speak practically no English anyway.)
Henry: “You guys don’t really get it. My character, my persona, is not really that of a teacher. I merely exist in such a situation because I allow myself to do so. I wake up and every day is a repetition of the previous day. Being a ‘teacher’ is the only career in which a person does not advance, but merely completes a year of contractual obligations only to repeat the same exact routine the next year. There is no forward motion. It’s essentially a “Ground Hog Day” career. You know, like that Bill Murray movie where he wakes up and acts out the same day over and over and over….”
B: “What I don’t understand is why a 36 year old man with an F2 visa and an economics degree is teaching English at a public middle school.”
(When the after-school program he worked at went bankrupt at the beginning of this year, Henry didn’t get paid and was left searching for a new job. He settled for a public middle school because it was fairly close to his house in Seoul. They hired him on an EPIK contract, where they basically took a black marker and crossed out the word “EPIK” and penned in the name of the school, since EPIK no longer provided funding for Native teachers at his particular middle school.)
Henry: “My taking a job at a public middle school was decision based entirely on economics and logistics. Let’s say I’m at the bottom of the EPIK pay scale around 2.1million KRW per month. I then get a housing allowance even though I own my apartment and don’t pay rent. This bumps my salary to 2.4 a month. In the summers and winters, I do 1 week of desk warming maximum. With the other month of free time in each season, I work a summer and winter camp which pays 4.5 million per session. This increases my yearly salary by 9 million won before taxes. This doesn’t include the other 20-something days off I get per year when my students take tests, or go on field trips.”
“Let’s say I took a job at a hagwon instead and was offered the average salary of 2.2 million, plus a housing allowance of 400,000krw per month. I wouldn’t be able to work the summer and winter camps, which would put my salary at 2.4million LESS per year, with longer daily work hours at the hagwon. My public school job is lax. I teach a maximum of four classes per day. I arrive at 9am, and leave at 4pm every day. I teach business English both before and after school, and I teach two Saturday intensive classes. Furthermore, I commute less than 15 minutes between each job, and less than 15 minutes to my house at the end of the day.”
B: “And exactly how much crystal meth do you have to smoke to work those suicidal hours?”
B is probably right. Really, no happy, sane human being pushes 80 hours a week and then goes home smiling on Saturday night. It’s only a matter of time before Henry crashes hard. I change the subject:
Jake: “Hey “B”, what’s up with Legs?”
“Legs” is what I call B’s latest blind date turned on-again off-again girlfriend. B’s Korean mom and dad live in Los Angeles, but via the Korean Ajumma Underground Church Network ®, B’s mom has managed to arrange a countless string of blind dates for “B” here in Korea.
B: (He dodges the question entirely) Look, I don’t really like going on these blind dates, but I can’t really turn them down either, you know? And plus, each blind date is like hunting for Easter eggs. Think about it, if I were back in the States, my pool of potentially blind-datable women would be much smaller; basically Christian chicks in K-town who go to my mom’s church. Anything other than that and I’d pretty much be on my own. Here in Korea, when you’re single, other people do all the work for you. They find the women, they screen them, and they give us each other’s contact info. All I have to do is show up.”
Henry: “You don’t even go to Church, how are you going to live with someone who doesn’t even share your religious beliefs? Look at me; I tried going to church but when I finally couldn’t stomach it anymore, my wife blew up on me. Plus she was secretly donating like $350 a month to the church without telling me. Are you really going to live like that?”
B: It’s not really like that. I’m telling you, half the women I meet don’t care about church either. Half of them don’t even want a serious relationship; they’re just going through the motions like I am. It’s the ones who are dead set on finding a man that you have to worry about.
Jake: “So basically you’re using your mom’s church network to hook up with easy women?”
B: Yeah, basically. But it depends on how you look at the situation. These women are just as likely to be doing the exact same thing that I’m doing. Once these women see that I’m not all uptight or traditional, they kind of relax a little, you know. Let loose.
Henry: What ever happened to GNN?
GNN (GangNam Nose) was B’s last casual girlfriend, who was basically just a social climbing tart with a fake nose. According to B, she asked him to buy her a new cell phone after their first date. When B didn’t agree, she showed up at the second date with a new cell phone that some other guy had bought for her, and proudly announced this fact to B.
B: I just got tired of her, all she ever talked about was money, and how she needed more of it. The girl didn’t even have a job. I’m guessing she had a different man paying every one of her bills, including the bill for the surgeon who operated on that bitch at least four times a year. She basically saw my money as her money. Remember? She was being sponsored by some 60-something year old ajeossi.
Jake: Yeah that’s right, I remember that! We saw her in the Rouge bar that one night with some greasy old grey-haired dude sticking his hands down her skirt. Classy!
B’s new girlfriend “Legs” basically looks just like GNN. They probably have the same surgeon. She’s a bit taller, employed and slightly less skanky. I don’t mentioned it aloud, but having met “Legs” twice already, I predict that it won’t be long before she’s asking B for a new cell phone, or handbag, or car.
Henry: “Hey, have you guys been watching the coverage from the Nuclear Security Summit?”
Jake: “I tried to watch it, but CNN and BBC had minimal coverage. Arirang TV is covering the event intensively, but the news anchors are so dim-witted and incompetent that I had to watch it on mute to avoid getting a headache.”
B: “Yeah, what the FUCK is up with THAT? There are supposed to be over 10,000 gyopos living in Korea, and they can’t find two who are capable of reading the news in English without fucking it up? Give me a break! That one girl who had all that plastic surgery is the worst, I swear to god she said the word “umm” thirty times in one minute.”
B then stands up with beer in hand, drunkenly flips his neck-tie over his shoulder and goes into his best rendition of Arirang’s faithful English TV news anchors (grown men, doing man things, you see):
“Next up umm we have the umm Prime Minister no umm Prince of Jordan. Umm no wait the King. Umm the Kind of Jordan, King Abdul umm Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein umm who is the umm reigning King of Jordan umm who visited umm is visiting Korea for the second umm time, yes.”
Jake: “That’s the best Arirang TV anchor impersonation I’ve ever seen. No shit, there have to be thousands of Korean-Americans on the peninsula who can sit in front of a camera and read the news without fucking it up consistently. Why in the world don’t they just hire a gyopo, like that guy who reads the sports. At least I can understand what he’s saying.”
Henry: “B, don’t you have some type of gyopo special interest group that meets and discusses all things gyopo-related? Isn’t there like some club that you belong to with a special handshake and secret password or some shit like that? Maybe you can start a petition to have Arirang TV stop embarrassing itself with bumbling announcers and poorly written garbage scripts.”
B: (now more excited) “Last night I’m sitting there right, trying to watch the same coverage and the news anchor breaks off into a mini-speech about how the world’s dignitaries are enjoying Korean cuisine and culture. I couldn’t handle it; I had to turn that shit off. Made me gag. Like some visiting Presidents and Prime Ministers are really thinking about fucking han-shik during their three day visit to Seoul. Didn’t they see that one video of Bush senior puking after eating Sushi in Japan? Are they really trying to push culture and food that hard? It’s so fucking desperate and childish. I wish they’d give the whole culture and food bullshit a break once in a while but then I’m sitting there watching coverage about the Nuclear Security Summit, and the dumb ass news anchor starts talking about Korean food. Fucking totally unprofessional. I can’t imagine any other country in the world so desperate to shove its food down other people’s throats.”
Jake: You guys are missing the point entirely. Neither one of you fit into the target demographic of Arirang TV. Their target viewers are people who are Korea-obsessed, people who are Kpop-obsessed, Koreans in Korea who want to learn English from other Koreans, and Koreans born abroad who want to watch TV shows about Korea, but whom don’t actually live in Korea. All those other programs they air are just filling the gaps between the non-stop cultural, political and gastrological drum beating.
Henry: “Whatever. It’s still the most Mickey-mouse amateurish attempt at a newscast I’ve ever seen. The news anchors couldn’t even pronounce the names of the visiting dignitaries. It’s like they didn’t receive any preparation at all for the event, they just showed up and winged it. No preparation whatsoever. Even the worst news anchors would probably sit down before hand and practice pronouncing the names of Presidents and Prime Ministers who are visiting the country, so as not to offend them.
Instead, these brainless morons sat there chatting about food and could barely list a single fact about any of the visiting dignitaries or their home countries. They’re sitting there covering the event like it’s some Hollywood red carpet show. Seriously; instead of having your normal dumbass reporters and anchors trying to cover a serious event, you might as well just bring in an expert, or at the very least, someone who can read the teleprompter in English without embarrassing themselves. Like the sports guy, they should have just had the sports guy reading the teleprompter; at least he can string together sentences without saying “ummm” every three seconds.”
And so ends another late night drink with other waegs. Henry is going home to pass out for 5 hours before starting his 18 hour daily routine again. “B” is going home to study for some type of test he is taking related to his job. I’m going home to watch Season 5 of the Jersey Shore, which promises to be more mentally stimulating than Arirang TV’s coverage of the Nuclear Security Summit After Party.