12 July 2008

I am a happy little grumble bee

So I've now been a member of the Korean workforce for over a week. I think I'm settling in fairly well, although I have hit a couple of bureaucratic snags:

It is apparently imperative that anyone coming into the country gets a health check within two weeks of arriving. The 'health check' is basically just a glorified HIV test (with a bit of hearing and sight testing to add a gloss of legitimacy). I called up the hospital and booked the appointment with no problems, and was feeling all proud of myself for finding a map and working out the subway metro route. I couldn't seem to find the hospital when I got out of the station, but hopped in a cab without hassle so was still feeling fine and dandy. However, when I got to the information desk it turned out that I was in the wrong hospital, for some reason there are two hospitals on opposite sides of Seoul with the same name. In fact I think the one that I was it (in Songnae) isn't actually in Seoul proper, but is in the SNCA. I managed to eventually get to correct Soonchunhyang University Hospital, and they were very understanding about my extreme lateness. However, I was rather confused when I was ushered off to the dermatology department. Due to a 'miscommunication' (an oft-used word here) my request from an E2 health check had, through some strange Korean whispers performed by a gaggle of nurses with absolutely flawless English, been turned into a dermatology appointment. They were very apologetic and booked me in for a health check the next day, which was fine with me as I actually had to be getting back to work by this point. The down side was the extreme fasting I was obliged to do (including swearing off water, which was a ridiculous idea especially in the heat).

When I turned up the next day everything went fairly smoothly, and I had my first experience of peeing in a cup. I'm yet to get the results, but I should be able to pick them up soon. I'm glad that I'm picking them up rather than having them sent to work, apparently the reception staff have no concept of privacy and frequently open these things, then come running to tell people that they aren't HIV positive.

The next day I foolishly attempted to go register my legal alien status, and get my ID card. That involved an awful lot of sitting around and eventual failure. I can't get it done until I have my health check results and a certificate of business, which is, I think, just a note from a school's owner. The school (or rather 'clinic' as the company insist on calling it, reinforcing this idea with a uniform of lab coats for us) I'm working at isn't my "proper" one. Right now I'm working in Yeouido, but I finish there on July 16th. I will be working in Jongno in the evenings 21st-24th (and living bloody far away) and then I should finally start working in (and hopefully move to) Sinchon at the end of July or beginning of August. So everything at the moment is kind of a mess, and as far as I can tell I'm working illegally.

This means I can't get a certificate of business until I'm working in Sinchon, which in turn means I can't get my ID card, open a bank account or get a contract phone. On the other hand not being able to get anything sorted now means that I get to spend my break from 11:30am-5:45pm (minus travelling time) sleeping, with a side of pigging out. The Domino's pizza here is insane, the toppings are more fun than Fire & Stone- they practically all seem to have mango and avocado on them. Yum!

I'm feeling pretty sad about the fact that I'll be leaving this job on Wednesday. I guess partly it's because I've just started to feel settled, and it isn't nice to have to suddenly leave. Plus I've already started to develop a rapport with a lot of my students, my favourites have to be one little girl who I get to read kid's stories with, and a really funny businesswoman who I made laugh with the assertion that Kyoto is the anagram lover's Tokyo. The gay couple obsessed with French food are also pretty fun, although they blew off their last lesson because they had important soju drinking to do. I love that that's a reasonable excuse in this country!

Beyond all that though I think I'm really going to miss the other teachers. My Korean partner, A, is really awesome. Most of the other Korean teachers are real hard arses about students coming to lessons (because it affects their pay directly) whereas A is sensibly lazy and can't be bothered. As a result I get a bit more absenteeism to deal with, and therefore more free periods where I can piss about, play cards, abuse youtube and chat nonsense with the others or read if I have half an hour by myself. She also lives so far away from the clinic that she (and therefore I) get to start half an hour later. I'll miss her for reasons that aren't entirely selfish too, she's really fun and easy to get on with, and I think we bored everyone else with our piercing-related babbling.

I get on really well with the other 'native English speakers' too, especially C, R and J. J is the only other girl (apparently there's quite a shortage of us at the moment), not only do we have giggly fun together we get to geek out about Firefly! In fact I was kind of shocked by how well I got on with the other teachers- it was as if someone had drawn up a list of all my favourite things and gathered together everyone who also broke out in a wide grin when they heard words like: Joss Whedon/Buffy/Firefly/Serenity; Aaron Sorkin/West Wing/Studio 60; iRiver; House/Hugh Laurie/Stephen Fry/QI... and so on. I was totally bowled over when R turned out to be a massive Monkey Dust fan though, I thought I knew all 3 of them. They also all turned out to be pretty big X-Files fans, which is kind of fitting as I'd just been forced to watch it all (at least up til the season 7 finale) by Ringo so it's still kind of swirling around in my brain.

Sinchon does sound like a really cool area, and it's the main student district. Everyone has told me that I'm going to enjoy it so much and that I'm probably more suited to it than a business district like Yeouido. I reckon that they're right. I think it's just the fact that this is the first time I've had co-workers who are all roughly the same age as me and have similar interests. I've generally been quite a bit younger than most of my colleagues, and/or been working on reception. I've always had pleasant relationships with the people I worked with, but not really got on with them incredibly well like this.

So I guess I'm mildly complaining about being fairly happy... That does make an awful lot of sense, I'm sure. It just kind of sucks to start getting settled and make good friends, only to have to move off again so soon. Working in Jongo should be quite fun though, since I will only be working in the evenings (I shall take full advantage of the chance to sleep!) and I am really looking forward to (eventually) getting started in Sinchon.

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