Wednesday, May 02, 2007

ZenKimchi under fire

That's what I get for napping. Important events happen while we sleep.

The big Koreablogs are talking about a libel suit being brought against Joe of ZenKimchi, a blog generally devoted to the praising of Korean food and culture. According to the post over at Mike Hurt's blog, Joe was hit with the suit because he named his employer in a blog entry about his current legal hassles. The hassles are familiar to me: crazy boss refuses to pay foreigner whose only sin was to announce that he would not be renewing his contract. I remember my own hassles in the 1990s on this score (my own problems began when I said I wouldn't be re-upping), and am again thankful to work at a place like Smoo, where the bosses are actually human.

I hope things go well for Joe, but the comments appended to Mike's post don't leave me feeling optimistic. As was true with my case in the 90s, Joe was originally able to get a court to rule in his favor regarding the money he was owed, but his boss has refused to pay. This sort of thing happens because the enforcement of court rulings is, to put it politely, lax in Korea. In my case, I had to take my suit up from the labor court to the superior court, where the process took a year to resolve itself.

I feel for Joe, because I remember what it was like to think endlessly about my court case-- and believe me, when you're in a legal fight, it's always on your mind. It's a good thing we can't be thrown in jail for what we're thinking; back when my suit was in progress, I'd have been arrested for murder several times over.

My boss also attempted a libel suit against me; his suit was eventually thrown out once the public prosecutor realized what sort of person he was. I also ended up winning the suit I had brought to superior court, and after paying my no-good lawyer his contingency fee, I walked away with almost $4000. Not much money in the cosmic scheme of things; in fact, I'd say the two court victories were more important for my morale than the money was.

Joe says the moral of the story is "Be careful what you say." True. Another moral might be: Find work at a decent university! It makes all the difference in the world.

UPDATE: If I have any advice for people looking to work at a place that's staffed by decent folks, it's this: do your research. Be sure to grill the current employees of the place you're thinking of working at. Especially important: find out whether these employees like the place enough to think about renewing there. I've renewed twice at Smoo, and that's because, whatever the place's faults might be, I genuinely like working here, and am happy to express this fact to others. Also, don't be satisfied with grilling only one employee; be sure to grill several to get a better general impression of the place. But beware the Smiling Foreign Stooge, i.e., the expat whose job is to put the school in the best light, thereby skewing your impression of the place.

After taking the time to research a school, you should be ready to make an educated decision as to whether to jump in. Results may vary, of course. If you're a foreigner with a chip on his shoulder who hasn't figured out how to roll with the vicissitudes of life in Korea, then you have to factor your own emotional baggage into your assessment of a potential place of employment. Some expats simply don't mix with Korean culture; they're better off realizing this within the first six months of their sojourn here. It's also important to be honest with yourself about how much of a sucker you might be. Most of us come into this racket in a state of wide-eyed innocence; we lose our cherries after a year, but some of us don't learn our lesson even after that first nasty run-in with reality.

So perhaps there's a deeper moral in all this, and it's not merely "be careful what you say" or "find a decent place to work" or "do your research," because as I hope I've made clear, various stratagems can be helpful, but can't guarantee that you'll end up where you want to be. The deepest moral might very well be: Life throws you curve balls, and it's your responsibility as an adult to recognize this and act accordingly.


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