Saturday, January 25, 2014

'Murica

When I initially realised that going home was a possibility at the end of last year, I was surprised, and in a very good position. I'd told everyone not to expect a visit for at least a couple of years and probably more, because the airfare cost is so prohibitive. Hagwons are obliged to reimburse you for your flights to and from Korea, and it just so happened that one-way and round-trip tickets were the same price when it came time for me to buy mine. I got a $1200 plane ticket for free.

At the time I had also been tentatively hired - and by that I mean, interviewed in person, was chosen quickly and signed the contract - at a school in Bucheon, making a high salary (for a hagwon) of 2.8 million/mo., and the rest of the contract details were also very good. 

Unfortunately, the they had the recruiter who advertised the position call me a week before my other job finished to tell me, "Oh sorry, just kidding, you're not really hired". They cited financial problems and unanticipated low enrollment numbers, but they probably found someone better and just lied about it. I flipped out at the recruiter pretty badly, and asked him all of the common sense questions about why the fuck they'd do that that you're probably thinking of now. In the end, he gave me 500 in cash to shut up and go away, because I had threatened to go to the school and make trouble, which would be financially and professionally quite bad for him. That's probably the best that could've turned out: at least I got something out of it.

My other job - my first job in Korea - had turned to shit when it had initially been fantastic, as those types of jobs are wont to do. Something as simple as one person leaving and being replaced can wreck the whole delicate dynamic, as I'm sure is true of most jobs. I was one in the middle of a string of a half dozen people who left there on bad terms, mainly because they'd forced me to move to Gimpo from the southern edge of Seoul for a mere 20 days right at the end of my contract. I'm still not sure if it was the crappy company that refused to renew my lease, the building manager who couldn't do it or both, but it doesn't really matter. I was mightily pissed off: I had to move on Halloween and that whole week had been a horrendous nightmare, I was sick, and I stored half my stuff in Bucheon because I thought it'd save time and money. When that job fell through, it just because a big hassle. THANKS, OBAMA. 





"Geumjeong: It's Not Horrible, But It's Not That Great, Either"
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I went with the mover to Bucheon the night before Halloween, after working a 12-hour day for which they nearly refused to pay us overtime. I had been dressed as a pirate all week, the children had been horrible, and the Korean teachers did nothing with the exception of that overtime event. As I said, I was also sick and quite feverish. The weekend before an idiot I'd tried to date dumped me for no reason, a friend stopped talking to me, and a ceramic inlay I'd had put on a problem tooth got ripped out and crunched (ow), continuing the insanely long string of dental problems I've been having, which still isn't resolved. I still need to have a root canal done on that tooth, and may press charges against the practice in the U.S. that screwed up the initial work.

That's it in a nutshell. So, basically, I had a complete breakdown. When it rains it pours, et cetera et cetera. I was an emotional wreck by the time I went home, as the plan was obviously to waltz in as a financially stable success and spend/give exorbitant amounts of money. 

But, you know what? My oldest class, of 11 - 12 year-olds, threw me a party after I told them I couldn't afford to throw them one. It was the sweetest thing. They built me a cake out of Choco Pies and stuck tall candles in them, brought tons of other snacks and candy, and shoved Pepero sticks into my mouth. One girl knew how to make balloon animals, and the white board was covered in them. I grabbed a teacher walking by to take a few blurry phone pictures, and ran upstairs to get the stash of Pepsi that comes with the pizza teachers order and that no one ever drinks. They all told me they'd miss me, and that they love me, and the one annoying kid (who was not bad at all as far as being the obligatory problem child is concerned) even told me, "Teacher, your beautiful face is fantastic!" D'aww.






They all wrote me lovely goodbye notes and stuck them to a board in the shape of flowers. The would-be leader of the group, the girl with glasses behind another girl with glasses on my immediate right in the first picture (oh man, that was long-winded) told me it was all her idea, and she was especially proud of that part. I wanted to keep it as it was, but knew it'd get wrecked in storage. I just have the pink notes now and am going to save them in the scrapbook I started of my life here.

 I've never had a surprise party before and I'll never forget it. Thanks, Jennifer.








I've also never heard of another teacher at that school being thrown a party.

What's more, I still managed to bring an entire suitcase full of presents for everyone and give my mom a big chunk of money I owed her.

schwag.
I didn't tell anyone in the U.S. that I was coming. At all. I Skyped my mom from the Dallas airport - which, by the way, made me feel like I'd gone back in time. What do you mean you just replaced your USB ports with American electrical outlets and I have to walk 20 gates down to find one? Also, LAN cable ports? Wtf? Why would anyone be carrying a LAN cable in their suitcase? Also, neither Dallas-Ft. Worth or Narita in Tokyo have free wifi, if you'll believe it. At least I finally got something hot to eat in Japan. 

Anyway, needless to say, she was pretty floored. 

After around 24 straight hours of traveling, it was great being back in Sky Harbor, the oh-so-90's airport of my youth, and I felt like I'd never left. My mom got turned around a few times driving home and that was pretty funny, and we stopped for a bunch of Mexican food. Everything about my mom's new apartment felt so luxurious to me, including but not limited to the spaciousness of the kitchen and bathroom and the incredible softness of the sheets and towels. I felt like I'd just come back from North Korea.


I seriously need you to understand how stupidly comfortable I was.
My mom had immediately decided not to tell my family I was home so we could surprise them on Thanksgiving. I walked in a few minutes after her and taped their reactions.


video

It was quite a nice, standard Thanksgiving, though I wish I'd been in better spirits generally. I was more negative than I'd have liked, but I think everyone understood, considering my situation.





From the time I got home, I spent most of the first half of my vacation there sleeping. I was out cold all day and up all night, into the morning. I didn't get much done, and was deeply depressed. My mom was taking an extended sick leave from work to recover from a bout of long-untreated Valley Fever, so we both just kind of chilled in recovery mode.

I managed to catch Ale the one day she was in Phoenix just after I got there. What are the odds? It was great seeing her again; it'd been, like, two years. She had a bunch of her friends get together at The Mellow Mushroom, just down the street from my mom's place:






I met Angelique at Pita Jungle - sort of our old haunt - and then we went to Charlie's, hung out all night, caught up, got drunk and danced, mostly in that order. Jarrod and I went and saw Thor 2 and The Hobbit double feature, all in the same day. Bre showed me her awesome new place in Fountain Hills, her cats, and her Black Milk collection, which is growing to ridiculous proportions. I realised I had more in common with Becca than I thought; we bonded over issues living abroad during a long-delayed trip to the Cherry Blossom Noodle Cafe. I got to see Josh and Emily, and one of my oldest friends, Erin, less than two days before she went in for her C-section. It'd been something like 5 years since I'd seen her; we were best friends ages ago. Unfortunately I accidentally sealed my camera in our storage unit for a while and don't have pictures of any of this. It didn't occur to me to ask other people to take any, for some reason.

Right, so, one of the things to tick off the ol' To-Do List was to go through everything I owned in storage and pull out all the clothes and a few other things I'd been wanting, including papers and books from college so I can get back to studying the languages I'm supposed to know, which I succeeded in doing. 

We even had the super helpful machine of a man who helped me and my mom move a few years ago come over and got the whole storage unit rearranged. It's so neat and tidy now, ermahgerd. Pleased to be sending more stuff now that you can see the labels on the boxes.

I couldn't find my Dremel and one other thing I can't recall just now, but in the end, I managed to fit an obscene amount of stuff into my suitcase, since I got all my Christmas presents while I was home, too.

One of the other things I'd been meaning to do for a long time was to learn how to shoot, and my awesome cousin took me out to where our late gun enthusiast and marksman uncle used to take him. I regret not learning sooner.




Needs more eagles, fire, and French fries.
While home, I didn't cook once. I had planned to, but then that whole ridiculous sleeping thing happened and didn't stop :( Either way, I ate all the things. ALL THE THINGS.


Mexican food, check. Obviously.

Enormous 10,000-calorie all-American IHOP brunch, check.


Took my mom to our favourite (and only) local casual French restaurant,
took full advantage of Happy Hour and ate multiple things I'm allergic to - check.

We also went to French Grocery in midtown, which wasn't that great, and the
people working there may or may not be mentally handicapped. My mom's
soup and sandwich were apparently delicious, though, so that's all that matters.

Favourite Thai place, check.

Damn it, just looking at this one is making me hungry. Thankful as I was for
a mysterious respite from my allergies, this quantity of bread finally did me in.

And the new Belgian chocolate place in Downtown Scottsdale 
before my mom's company Christmas party, of course.

Right, that brings us to the Office Xmas Party. Oh, lol. She'd never been able to talk me into going with her to one before, and I feel kind of bad about that, knowing how bored she'd been. There were unlimited free drinks, because her boss had the kind of tickets you saw in older kids' pockets and coveted at Peter Piper. I can assure you that I lost count of gin tonics, and that the bartender got to the point where he started making them before I'd even reached the counter.

I regaled people with tales of deepest darkest Asia (lol yeah right) and generally did my best to mingle while wearing a ridiculous vintage cocktail dress. It was a good time, and it's too bad the photographer left before I was drunk enough to sing and dance to such classics as Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", and that it didn't occur to us to get any pics of our own. I just had to take them from the company's site, and I've been too lazy to learn to use Photoshop for the last 12 years, so the watermarks are still present and accounted for. Derp.




My mom's energy was back up by the time she returned to work, which was a great relief. I insisted we watch a number of Christmas classics, though I missed A Christmas Story this time around. It was always the best feeling falling asleep with it on in the background and waking up to it, all snuggly warm under thick fleece blankets. Le sigh.

We had a small but wonderful early Christmas, just for me. I got a ridiculous amount of stuff and can only hope I saved my abundantly generous mother some money by taking a lot of it with me >8| 





In addition to the money, I gave my mom a few other small gifts and that big scrapbook I started (and had meant to finish, up to the present) of my life since I moved here. I had hoped that going home would be just what I needed to recuperate, and I believe it was. There are several people I didn't get a chance to see, and I didn't get to the archery range or learn how to play poker, but I did watch a bunch of good movies and read most of the His Dark Materials series. I'm just glad my mom and I are both feeling better now, and that I got to spring such a huge surprise on my family, even if it wasn't under the ideal circumstances I'd planned for. I love you guys.