Friday, December 31, 1999

vendredi: un peu chiant

[Originally published on September 6, 2014, at 3:58AM.]

The Namsan hike I did Friday night was great, but Friday morning and afternoon had their annoyances. After my 10:30AM class (which went well), I hightailed it over to Immigration to give the Shinhan Bank receipt to the officer. The cabbie I took to reach Immigration in a timely manner was a chatty fellow once he discovered I could speak Korean. Most entertainingly, he took me through a neighborhood close to campus that I had never seen before, and which I'll have to go exploring sometime soon. The driver dropped me right at the building I needed to go to, and I headed inside.

The Sejongno branch of the Seoul Immigration Office occupies the second and third floors of a large building that sits next to the well-known Youngpoong Bookstore. If the building's officious concierge is any indication, there is no elevator to either of those floors, so anyone wanting to visit those offices must use the stairs. This is a pain in the ass because the floors are spaced very widely apart (perhaps to provide intimidatingly vaulted ceilings?), which means that going up a single floor involves climbing four flights of stairs.

Reaching the third floor meant lugging my big ass up eight flights of stairs. I was a sweaty mess when I got to the third floor. I stepped into the quiet office, took a number, and noticed that the staffer who had helped me last time was on lunch break. This led me to wonder whether I would end up sitting with a different staffer, thereby forcing me to start from square one in my explanation of my situation. As I waited, I pulled out my ever-present hand fan and fanned myself until my sweat evaporated.

Luckily, my staffer came back while the other staffer was helping out a Russian girl (she sounded Russian, anyway, but I've made the boneheaded mistake of confusing Poles with Russians before). I showed him the Shinhan receipt; he took it and printed a receipt of his own, which I would have to take back down to the second floor, along with my E-1 visa paperwork, to hand over to the second-floor staffer who had helped me two days ago. I asked the third-floor staffer whether I would have to take a number in the second-floor office yet again; he said no. Since my department's office at Dongguk had asked me to get a photocopy of my alien-registration card (ARC), I asked the staffer whether he could make a photocopy. He said my paperwork ought to be processed quickly, so I'd have my card back. It was just a matter of taking everything down to the second floor.

So that's what I did. I thanked the staffer, said goodbye, and went down to the second floor. I found the gentleman who had helped me last time, and cut in line to hand him my paperwork. He looked it over and nodded, then printed out another writ for me—one that said I could pick up my new ARC on September 26, which is a fuck of a long wait (in Daegu, I think the wait had been only a week). The third-floor staffer was wrong: I wouldn't be getting my ARC back the same day. I asked the second-floor staffer whether he could make a photocopy of my ARC; he told me to take the card over to the same desk that sold the voucher stamps and request a photocopy there. I did so; the process cost me W200. I gave my card back to the second-floor staffer, who clipped it back onto my paperwork and told me again to come back on September 26 to pick up my new ARC.

All in all, I can't say I've been impressed with the Sejongno branch of the Immigration Office. Long wait times, marginally friendly staffers, and hidden fines all add up to a poor impression. The last straw is the long wait for my ARC. I just want this saga to be over.

The cab ride back to Dongguk University was a bit surreal, mainly because I had a conversation that normally doesn't occur. Most Kevin/cabbie conversations tend to go something like this:

CABBIE: Where are you from?
ME: America.
CABBIE: You speak Korean very well.
ME: My mother was Korean (my strategic non-explanation for my Korean ability, which is partially a lie)
CABBIE: Are you married?
ME: (joking) No. I'm an old bachelor.
CABBIE: What do you do in Korea?
ME: I'm a university English professor.
etc., etc.

That's how most of my in-cab conversations go. But this ride was weird. The exchange went something like this:

CABBIE: (chewing) I am eating kimbap. (I'm writing "I am" instead of "I'm" to express the fact that the cabbie spoke very formally to me about what he was doing at that moment: "Kimbabeul meokseumnida." Hilarious, and maybe a little frightening. I was reminded of that surreal scene in Mark Leyner's novel Et Tu, Babe, in which a reporter prefaces his question to the president by saying, "Mister President, I have a chunk of pork in my mouth...")
ME: Ah. Bon app├ętit! (Masitgae deusaeyo!)
CABBIE: Do you like kimbap?
ME: Yes.
CABBIE: Another rider had three rolls he'd gotten from the convenience store, so he gave me one.
ME: Oh.
CABBIE: Do you like Korean food?
ME: Yes; actually, I cook. Sometimes I make Korean food at home.
CABBIE: (chewing noisily) Oh, that's great! What do you make?
ME: Street food, mostly, but I also like to make budae-jjigae.
etc., etc.

The arc of this conversation was completely unprecedented for me. It was easily one of the more interesting in-cab conversations I've had.

When I got back to campus, it was nearly 1:30PM, and I had a hankering to visit the campus Burger King. I decided, first, to stop by our department office to drop off the photocopy of my ARC, but got waylaid by one of the office assistants, who asked me to sit down and go through the extremely long, extremely tedious process of signing form after form after form after form after form (yes: five forms, plus four copies of my official employment contract) so that (1) I would be on the tax records; (2) I would be able to get paid; (3) I would get pension; (4) I would get insurance; and (5) I would have a declaration of my academic pedigree. I'd venture that 90% of the paperwork was purely redundant: most of what I filled out today was already available in the packet I had sent the university when applying for a job. Some of the forms were ridiculously formatted, too: on one form, for example, I had to note the exact dates that I went to graduate school, then I had to note those dates again in a different set of blanks on the same page. This felt a bit like a joke or a prank—a deliberate attempt to piss off the faculty member by making him jump through superfluous hoops.

Eventually, I finished filling out the forms, but by then it was too late to hit lunch, which further pissed me off. Instead, I retreated to my office, did a little prep work, then went over to my classroom for my afternoon class. That class also has supposedly advanced students in it, but they're not nearly at the proficiency level of my advanced listening/discussion kids. Still, I was happy to see that this class—almost all girls—was generally a giggly bunch who appreciated my teaching and my jokes, so all was not lost.*

When the day was about to end, I stopped by our main office again to say goodbye and Happy Chuseok to the office assistants, but before I could leave, one of the ladies asked me whether I might be available to teach a set of hagwon-style classes. I was immediately on my guard: one of the major reasons why I switched to university teaching was precisely to avoid any hagwon-like situations—long hours, poor pay, students who are lax in their attendance and low in motivation because the classes are non-credit, etc. I asked when these classes would be happening and was told they were Monday through Friday, but divided up into MWF listening/speaking and TR reading/writing, and that I'd likely be teaching from 7:30AM. I gave a flat no. It simply wouldn't be possible, given my schedule and my current side jobs (I did make one office assistant aware of my side jobs; I'm trying to be as up-front with the university as possible, and I hope the university appreciates this level of candor). Also, it would be crazy to be on campus from 7:30AM to 5PM. That's 9.5 hours! What insane motherfucker would agree to such a schedule? And at W35,000 per hour, the pay simply wouldn't be worth the upheaval in my personal life. As I jokingly said: if the pay were W100,000 an hour, I'd consider it. Otherwise, it's a waste of time.

So my attempt at popping into the office and giving the office ladies a hearty "Goodbye and Happy Chuseok!" was tripped up by this attempt to press me into unpleasant service. For all I know, my rejection of the offer of extra work might end up reflected in my performance evaluation: minus 20 points for uncooperative behavior!

In the larger scheme, the cosmic picture, I suppose Friday's troubles really weren't all that troublesome. Still, the paperwork was a pain in the ass, as was the attempt at roping me in for hagwon-style work. Luckily, thanks to the Namsan walk, the day ended well, and the students that I'd taught earlier in the day had been a saving grace.

*One disappointment: a student told me she was an English literature major, so I asked her who her favorite author was. Her answer was flustered silence, which I found disappointing: it meant she was in that major for reasons other than an actual interest in English-language literature. I expected better.


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