Wednesday, July 07, 2004

posting into the void

With Unipeak unavailable, I find myself posting into the void. My current proxy isn't nearly as quick or reliable as Unipeak has been.

I had a surreal job interview in Kangnam yesterday, with a company I'll call EC.

Kangnam (lit. "river-south," i.e., the region south of the Han River, which bifurcates Seoul, making any map of the city look a bit like the front edge of the shell of a giant clam) generally refers to the main drag defined by the Seolleung, Yeoksam, and Kangnam subway stations. It's more than that, of course, but this short axis is where you find plenty of tall office buildings, restaurants, and the night life featuring all those High-Maintenance Beautiful People.

True to form, the EC office featured plenty of Beautiful People. It's a new and dynamic company (read: in for a major fall in a couple years if their English-learning gimmick doesn't take off) with new and dynamic staffers. My interviewer, Claire, was a cute-as-a-button Korean with gongju-byeong (princess syndrome) written all over her. A few of her standard interview questions included:

"Are you married?"

"No? Do you have a girlfriend?"

The same questions you get from a taxi driver here. Everyone reads from the same script, apparently.

Claire spent only about five minutes taking down my personal information. The rest of her time was spent explaining what EC was all about and what my contract would entail. Not too different from the usual package: around 2 million won per month, free housing (but I'd pay utilities), working split shifts and block shifts two or three months at a time (morning shifts begin at 6:30AM). I'd have my choice of Seoul offices to work in: Kangnam, Youido, and Chongno were all possible.

But EC isn't your typical hagwon. At least, that's their gimmick. They're a language clinic, you see: the teacher's job is to follow a highly specialized program of treatment that remedies the student's linguistic ills. The teacher is no longer merely a teacher; he becomes a clinician, a therapist, to the point that EC asks its teachers to wear-- get this-- lab coats. Yes, if I decide to work at EC, I'll be issued a goddamn lab coat. And I'll be expected to maintain it, too, or I'll lose my damage deposit.

Claire was strange-- flirty one moment, distant the next; freaked out, like many Koreans, by an unmarried 34-year-old who follows his own program. One second she's chirping, "Do you have a girlfriend?" and the next moment she's staring at my sample photo and saying, "You look thinner in the photo!" Yeah, thanks for making me feel welcome. Then again, this is typically Korean-style talk, and may even be a good sign: many Koreans indicate their friendship (or that they're comfortable around you) with personal criticism, a practice I can't stand, but routinely endure. Or, maybe this was Kangnam-style hoity-toity faux-friendliness.

I came away from the interview with a vaguely positive feeling about it, but with strongly negative feelings about the company. One of the first things I noticed was who the office alpha male was: he spoke smooth, unaccented American English and perfect Korean; I assume he was Korean, or was one of the dreaded kyopo* so hated by my buddy Jang-woong. Alpha was surrounded by the female office workers at the reception desk (more accurately, he'd placed himself in their midst), and was giving me the evil eye, which I found hilarious since my fat ass doesn't attract most Korean women. He definitely didn't find my presence welcome.

Claire, who by the end of the interview had stopped trying to maintain eye contact with me, said that EC would call me back soon, very soon. If I take this job, it'll be against my better instincts. But name a Korean workplace that doesn't reek of dysfunctionality. Hell, name an American workplace that doesn't.

A fucking lab coat??

[*The term kyopo technically means "a Korean national abroad" or "an overseas Korean," but the term most generally refers to those who are, racially, full-blooded Koreans but citizens of other countries, like the US. Some might say that I'm a kyopo, though I think my bi-racial status makes that vague. I also tend to think the term doesn't gain full redolence unless you're referring to a kyopo who's currently living in Korea. For example, I don't know whether L.A. kyopos call each other kyopo or simply hanguk-saram-deul (Korean people). More likely, they're using terms like im-ma (dude) and saekki-ya (son of a bitch). Write in if you have a better way of defining kyopo; I'm all ears.]

JOB UPDATE: Apparently, Claire liked me enough to give her boss a thumbs-up. I'm going for a second-round interview tomorrow evening, with The White Guy. God help us all. You have until Thursday evening, 7PM, Seoul time, to dissuade me from this path.


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