Final Quarterly Check and the Future

Regular readers of this pointless screed – all two of you – may have noticed that the due date of the fourth and final quarterly check has come and gone with little from myself by way of the usual commentary, and indeed, you would be quite correct. That, however, is down to my erstwhile employer deciding to let me go when I had expected to re-sign (and even had a two-year apartment contract to prove it). This turned out to be another minor disaster, but we are now close to some kind of resolution, so, blogging time again…

Long-term readers will also recall that when I first set foot on Korean soil, I had signed up for a hagwon job and proceeded to stay in that job for almost six years; it was, in fact, only some shenanigans on the part of my then-boss relating to national pension payments that finally caused me to throw up my arms in despair and transition to my first public school job.

Looking back, that was something of a mistake, and the adventure of transitioning from one employer to another virtually every year since then has been both unwelcome and expensive; before hitting Jinju, I had had the luxury of being able to remain in Daegu for two years, but only because I was fortunate enough to have two successive employers. Hopefully I can put all of that behind me now, but it is curious to observe firstly that Oneself is still somehow considered a desirable foreign employee even when knocking on the doors of 57 (and having had medical treatment for bowel cancer, no less), and secondly that I can return to a previous position with something approaching nonchalance.

As it happened, the last employer had someone else in mind (male, British and younger) who had worked there previously and they therefore had no intention of re-signing me, but had (I heard, don’t ask me how) been given instructions to “go through the motions”. They also had a student feedback system but for some bizarre reason, my co-teacher (who was also the officer in charge) decided not to pass any of it on to me, which would have been quite helpful; in fact, he hardly ever told me anything at all for his remaining time there, leading to a situation (as my Canadian co-worker would probably confirm) in which I was basically flying blind, and spending a lot of my time sitting there with apparently nothing to do. Important information often came to me from his Korean co-worker, something which I gather she also found irritating, to say the least. The final straw for me was when I was handed my annual teacher evaluation (which both of us foreigners actually failed) and one of the students’ comments was: “Please teacher, no more homework!” – which was insane because the speaking classes had no homework. Can you spell “lying, lazy little toerags”?

Thankfully, I received that evaluation the week I left, promptly replaced it in its envelope and forgot about it; after all, my Canadian co-worker, who is a professionally qualified teacher with mucho experience of all kinds of teaching, but ended up sitting next to me having become disenchanted with the outcome of ten years spent teaching at the local university, himself complained about how we were faced with the impossibility of changing our style to be more suitable on account of the fact that at no time had we actually been briefed on the criteria for evaluation. One’s working life in Korea is littered with these scintillating samples of silliness, but looking back, I can vouch for the fact that my experience of similar work in Taiwan was little better.

So… the time came when the final quarterly check was due, and this meant a blood sample (ouch), CT scans and a final poke of the endoscope up one’s nether hole, but alas, it was not all to be: the purgative, this time, was extremely difficult to get down and I ended up with a load of it coming back up from my stomach all over the living room floor of the new apartment, as I made a dizzy dash to the bathroom, early on a Monday morning. That meant that the final endoscopic examination would eventually have to be performed at another hospital where they didn’t use lemon-flavoured (aaarrrghhh) CoolPrep polyethylene glycol plus minerals to push it all out in a matter of hours (it really leaves you drained, in more ways than one, believe me). The following Monday I went to get the results from Professor Kim and he told me that there were no visible signs of the spread of cancer, and I wouldn’t have to go there again for a couple of years, apart from the endoscopy, which would eventually be arranged at another hospital locally. Sounds positive to me!

When we come to the transition back to Daegu from Jinju, alas, it was not so straightforward, although by returning to my usual removal guy, Mr. Cho, I was able to save about ₩500,000 over the previous year’s removal company and, indeed, ₩200,000 from his own quote the previous year! Alas, confusion about where he was supposed to go to and from where meant that I got stung for another ₩100,000 to cover the cost of driving back to Jinju from Daegu before we could finally set off. Then the usual temporary chaos of everything dumped in any open space in the new place (I’m still slowly shoehorning everything into place even now) and the inevitable need to clean up a second time due to the mess this process generates.

Alas again, having already had a prolonged and awkward transition to Jinju from Daegu, I then had the same from Jinju transitioning back to Daegu, but worse – I was not able to get my expensive deposit back immediately because of the particular position of the property – in the north of the town, in a downtown barzydown area full of coffee shops, eateries and noraebangs, away from the “action” which would have been some distance away, around the university – and lost much of my final salary and severance paying the deposit on the new place. Thankfully there has been some minimal cash flow in the interim and at the time of writing, the Jinju landlord has found a new occupant, but I had to take a trip back to the apartment last Monday, as the latter person seemed to think it wasn’t clean enough! I travelled there, spent five or six hours scrubbing the place, then came back to Daegu… to wake up the next morning as stiff as a board, thanks to all that muscular exertion. The good news is that it seems that I may get my deposit (minus costs) back this coming Saturday. So that’s positive, too.

The downside has been that of the two normal sessions which we would have in a week (three weekdays for one course and the weekend days for the other) will not be fully operative until next month (May) as student recruitment is somewhat down again (and hence so is the salary), but the reduced workload has a benefit in the sense that there is an appreciable extent of lesson planning and material preparation and this needs some time to complete. Now, if I can just get enough sleep (yawwwnnn…), I can get it all done.

The other little issue I have been finding is that the combination of downtime and excess effort, on top of being notionally still a cancer patient, has all been very demotivating; everything has seemed to be a drag and this is not “me” at all. When confronted with impending mortality in the shape of a gut tumour, then the operation and sharing a very small cancer ward with others clearly in rather worse shape than myself, and then heartlessly being told that I was being released from my job and everything else that followed on it… you have no idea the levels of stress I have had to cope with at the same time as having to handle all these other things; the FDD had literally only just been removed and I had returned to my old Daegu home on a January afternoon when the phone call came, telling me that I would need to find something new! You have no idea what strength I have had to pull together, and from how deep within myself this has had to come; unbelievable. My mind has been greatly changed by this experience; I have no patience any more – none at all. If anyone gives me any hassle of any description, I will be triggered because I just cannot stand being messed around or held up any more. As Beethoven discovered before he wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, Fate has knocked at the door, and one emerges from the experience transformed, although not in a way that many people would consider positive because one now takes a very negative view of a lot of one’s environment, society, politics etc. Zero tolerance from now on. No more bullshit. Everything I see is stupid, and disgusts me.

To conclude, when we ask the question of what happens next, I will be remaining in this position for some time to come, unless something dire happens. The new apartment is great-ish, being of very stable temperature when the weather is cold (and it was surprisingly cold until the middle of April) and having a small blessing in the form of an actual wardrobe next to the bedroom, something I have not been fortunate to have before. It is easy to keep clean (although I am still trying to rid the place of the odour of the previous occupant’s dog food) and there are marts and convenience stores a-plenty here, although there is not much in the way of entertainments, but I dare say I will find something eventually (as I don’t have a good cash flow right now, maybe staying home and getting the paperwork done is preferable).

Hopefully, as the financial situation improves, I will be able to get about a bit more, especially as one advantage of working weekends is that your own “weekend” is a couple of weekdays, so you can actually get shit done. Likewise, things which have broken down/worn out/disappeared in the last year or so should be replaced fairly swiftly (and I have been rather put out by how things have been suddenly becoming non-functional). The bottom line in my experience, however, remains true: that when the going gets rough, you have to make a decision. When faced with possible premature mortality in the form of cancer, and having never needed major surgery before, I decided that the reward was worth the risk. When ousted from my still-new job because of the need for treatment, I found a new job and relocated; and so it goes on. Life remains a series of decisions, and one surely discovers oneself, in the most literal understanding of the expression, when the decisions you are faced with relate directly to your survival.

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