The waeguk-in (foreigners) (other than the migrant workers, about whom I’ve written an essay elsewhere in the archives), the human flotsam that wash up on the shores of Korea are a motley lot, and they tend to fall into three or four broad, hairy, buttah-nemseh categories. (Tangentially, I’ve always wondered how flotsam is differentiated from jetsam…)
There are the young ‘uns have just finished university in Canada or the States, with a fresh and sparkly new degree in Interpretive Kinaesthetics or Theatre or Information Technology or some damn newfangled thing, and they can’t find a job to save their souls back home, wherever that may be. It doesn’t take them too long to discover that in Korea you can make pretty good bucks babysitting children or having a chat with university students, and they’ll take anybody. Anybody who managed to drink their way to a whateva cum laude, that is. A prospect that’s a damn sight better than sitting in your parent’s basement trying to roll joints out of old roaches and collecting pogey… getting paid to live abroad – damn, that sounds good! Over they come, in droves. Some last a month or two, or even six, before the psychotic boozer that is their ‘Academic Director’ drives them over the brink, and they bug out. Some make it to the end of their contract, but are emotionally scarred for life. In a weird parallel to hostage syndrome, some come to actually like the abuse, and sign up for another Tour of Duty.
A number of these become the long-termers, mostly men, mostly of a certain age (ahem), many of whom have had the great good fortune (in most cases) to fall in love with a Korean woman. They are the ones who’ve been here for years, or the ones that ricochet all over the damn place, but inevitably seem to boomerang back to Korea, just because once they reach a certain mellow, equitable, detached attitude about how f–ked-up everything tends to be, through sheer weariness if nothing else, well, it becomes clear that Korea can be a remarkable easy and occasionally pleasant place to live. There’s also a subset of these long-termers that I think of as ‘the predators’ – they are single and towards the younger end of the scale, and they are here for the women, who very frequently are very lovely.
There is also a large contingent who simply don’t, or can’t fit in anywhere else. Why these folks would decide that coming to Korea, of all places, where they are virtually certain to be ostracized by the vast majority of the population, overtly or otherwise, is a Great Idea™, after failing completely to make themselves part any tribe back in their homeland, is inexplicable to me. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact, as I mentioned earlier, that the multitudes of bottom-rung private schools will literally take anyone with a heartbeat and a North American accent. It’s an adventure going to a bar here and chatting with whoever ends up on the barstool beside you. A scary adventure, that sometimes ends in violence, as were are led to believe the best adventures do. There are some very odd foreigners floating around this country, and I’m a connoisseur of odd. Which is why I do most of my tippling at home, these days.
The reason I tell you about all of this is to set a bit of background to an anecdote about this certain new arrival I met about 4 years ago, whom I’ll call Chuckles. A Canadian, he showed up to teach at the school where I was Head English Teacher, and it fell to me to orient him (pun intended) a bit. After a week or two, I was pretty sure he’d be a washout – he just didn’t seem to have the slightest ability to build a rapport with anyone, never mind his students. A few months later, I left for Australia, and he was still there.
Well, he’s still here, apparently. Since my return to Korea, I’ve been regaled with a few amusing stories about him from a mutual aquaintance, but the latest one has got to be the topper.
It seems Chuckles recently applied for a teaching job in Japan, and was shortlisted, since he’s been teaching, if not well, at least steadily, for almost 4 years here. The school in Japan said that rather than flying over for an interview, he could send them a video tape.
I know, you can see this coming, can’t you?
It seems Chuckles made the sample lesson tape, but he neglected to erase the part after the lesson was done, encoded on which was a rather long segment of him in Laos, ‘chasing the dragon’.
Yes, as part of the interview process, he sent a video of himself bogarting a massive pipe full of opium, while someone off camera apparently urged him to ‘Be careful – that’s the first time you’ve smoked opium, man!’
I haven’t heard yet whether he got the job or not.