Bureaucracy ain't pretty. As Dr. McCoy said in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home":
The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.
I waited nearly four hours at Immigration before my number finally came up. A little girl ran around the crowded office, entertainingly cute and tiny. A French guy and girl, both in their twenties, came in and jabbered in French about their documents and the immigration regs. A group of Germans came in and spoke in Teutonic gibberish: I understand French but not German. A South Asian man and his wife waited with serene patience and the occasional wry smile. How else to deal with bureaucracy, and remain sane, except by finding the humor in it? We all sat around, a vast sea of humanity, just... waiting.
Finally: ticket number 109. Me. The staffer I met was friendly, at least at first. He riffled through my paperwork and found nothing missing, but then he asked me when I had moved back to Seoul. I confirmed that I'd moved back around mid-August, and he shook his head mournfully, sucking his breath in through clenched teeth in that classically Korean gesture that signifies an incipient problem. Some of his friendliness drained away, to be replaced by an annoying officiousness.
"You didn't report your move within the appropriate window," he said flatly. "So there's a fine." Now, I've lived in Korea for nearly ten years, and this is the first I've heard about the need for the South Korean government to track my movements that closely. And I sure as hell have never heard anything about being fined for not reporting a move. A fine. A fucking fine. Given how little money I had in the bank, I could feel my heart imploding like the planet Vulcan in JJ Abrams's "Star Trek."
"How much might this fine be?"
"I'd have to check," the staffer responded.
"At a guess—how much?"
"Maybe W100,000...?" he said.
"On top of the W60,000 I'm paying you?" I was incredulous.
"No—total," he said.
I had about W70,000 in my pocket, and pulling out another W30,000 would leave me with practically nothing until my university's payday on the 17th. I was going to have to call in an emergency loan.
"Do I have to pay the fine today?" I asked.
"No, but you need to take your paperwork and this form to the third floor and talk about the fine with those people," said my staffer. "We can't process the rest of your paperwork until you pay the fine. First, pay the W60,000 over at that desk to get the stamps. Come back here, then take all this paperwork upstairs." I went over to the counter where the voucher stamps were sold, paid my W60,000, lumbered back to my staffer, took my paperwork, and went upstairs to the third floor.
The third floor was much, much quieter, and there were no customers there when I went in. The uniformed gentleman behind the desk told me the fine was a full W100,000, and that I had to pay it by September 13 (or else, I suppose, there'd be another fine). I was glad to hear I had a little time to pay. The man took all my paperwork, to be held in trust until I paid the fine at a bank and brought back the bank receipt as proof of payment.
I left Immigration with just one document, having entrusted all of my paperwork to the third-floor office. I presented that lone document—a writ describing my fine—at a Shinhan Bank, grumbling to the nice, young bank teller about my having to pay a damn fine. She smiled, her mouth filled with braces, and expertly completed the transaction.
Oh—how did I pay the fine so quickly? you ask. While I was walking out of Immigration, I texted my buddy Tom and requested an emergency loan: W100,000 to pay the damn fine, plus another W100,000 so I could survive until the 17th. Tom sent the cash immediately, and that's how I was able to hop on a subway, travel sixteen stops, hop out at the Golden Goose, and pay my fine at the Shinhan Bank next to the Golden Goose's location. I got another impromptu loan of W100,000 cash from my supervisor there; he took pity on me and my impoverished state, and chided me for not having made a reservation so that I wouldn't have had to wait four hours to be served.*
Building oneself up from zero is hard work. For every step forward, it seems I take two steps back. Not working for nearly two years during and after Mom's cancer and passing was a big setback; needing to buy a car in order to work at the low-income YB in Centreville, Virginia was another setback, as was taking out a $7,000 loan when it came time to move to Korea (not to mention the steep monthly rent I had to pay for my apartment in Front Royal, Virginia). And now I work at a university that doesn't provide housing, so I have to pay for my little shack of a yeogwan while I try to save money to get into a decent apartment. The debt and the financial crises just never seem to end.
But I'm hoping that, once I start getting paid by my new jobs, things will begin to stabilize. The Golden Goose has said that, after I finish out my contract with Dongguk, it would hire me on full-time for W4 million a month (instead of the initially promised W5 million—long story). The thought is tempting, but I have to balance that temptation with the fact that, at a university, I get paid vacation four months out of the year. My current arrangement may actually prove to be better than going corporate and working 40 hours a week with only two weeks' vacation per year.
Won't be able to breathe until payday.
*The Immigration website is a fucking mess. You apparently need to register before you can make a reservation, but I've been unable to do that: the site keeps running me around in circles every time I try to input my personal information. It could be that the site isn't designed to be viewed on a Mac; I've encountered that particular problem many times before. But I think the problem actually goes deeper, and is largely due to piss-poor Web design.