Monday, May 29, 2006

rockin' in the free world!

"You gotta fight, for your right to paaaaaaaartay"

now that's disgusting

Erin and Laura

the gang
from left, clockwise
(Kara, Mathew (almost hidden), Brian, Todd, Laura (mostly hidden), Barry and Mike)

the exit story



"We've gotta get our of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do... because girl, there's a better life for you and me"
-The Animals


Life is indeed a funny business.
My life has been toppled. Since there’s journalism searing through my veins. I'll ruin the story by telling the punch line first: I'm coming home. Me, Laura and our little dog, too. For who knows how long. At least the entire summer. We're going to bum around Toronto, the cottage and the east coast where Laura's parents live.
So the rest of the story: We got hired for a public school gig in Deagu. Korea’s third largest city. I guess a Korean would think of Deagu the same way we'd think of Detroit. It’s there, has something to offer, culture (If you consider Eminem and the White Stripes culture. I do), blah blah blah, but who would really want to live there? Although, every time I've been to Deagu it's been fun.
We were all set to go! We sent the Deagu office a package including our diplomas, medical checks, etc. These were needed to start processing our employment and our visas. But we hadn't signed a contract yet.
And then they started changing what they promised us. Lowering the pay, changing the kind of apartment we would live in and generally not responding to our e-mails when we had questions. We started looking around at the job market. Suddenly we had five job offers that were better than Deagu. Seoul, Cheju Island and Incheon City offered us public school jobs worth more money. We were thinking to ourselves "why are we locking into a job when we can get a better one?" We informed Deagu we wouldn't take their job. We were apologetic and graceful.
Their response was explosive! They called us liars and said we wasted their time and money. That we were giving Canadians a bad name and how they had lost face because of us. We said, okay, we're sorry but we'll come to Deagu on saturday to pick up our documents. We had planned to meet them anyway on Saturday to sign the contract, now we were just coming to take our documents back. Any sane employer would have listened to our concerns and would figure out a way to win us back. They said NO! They wouldn't meet us on Saturday. We had inconvenienced them so they will inconvenience us. We said, okay, please send us our documents in the mail. They said NO! After talking to them on the phone we were petrified we would never see our university diplomas again. They told us we had to come to their offices during normal business hours to discuss the matter further. This was impossible. We work during normal business hours and Deagu is five hours away.
We sent an e-mail to our embassy saying we were concerned that we were never going to see our university diplomas again and what do we do?
Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. We missed a day of work to deal with the fuckers. We got into the Deagu school office early on monday morning. They yelled at us further. We weren't really listening. They could have called us 'useless slack jawed monkey-shit eating yokels' for all I know. It was a pretty horrible experience. They were angry that we called the embassy. We just wanted to empower ourselves, we don’t have many people in our corner as ex-pats in Korea. The boss never likes being questioned. This is a society where you NEVER question your boss or someone who is older. No matter what. Even if you know your way is better. Even if you know they are criminals and you and the entire organization is going to jail with your boss when the shit hits the fan. You NEVER, EVER questions the boss. That’s what they don’t like. But we got our diplomas. And an excuse to miss a day of work is never a bad thing.
So we're thinking Korean bosses are a bunch of petty baby whiney children. Especially because we had another job interview on Sunday. These guys were crooks. I can sort of understand where Deagu was coming from. We didn't give them much notice. But, yet, we had never signed a contract. This job in Seoul was perfect. The best job in this English as a Second Language racket. The hours were 1-5, monday to friday and we would get paid roughly 2,500 Canadian Dollars a month (or two point three million Korean Won). But their business was illegal. They required us to open two bank accounts. One bank account where our 2.3 million salary would end up and the other bank account that they would have access to. The reason, they explained to us, is because the government of Korea said no private agency can do business with a public school. This was a public school job. Working the after school-program shift. We were indeed being hired by a private company.
Instead of doing it the government way. The schools were just lazy and kept everything exactly as it was. They get around this through the second bank account. All the money they would give to the private middleman, goes into our second account. In effect, they are just paying us.
Our bosses (the private middleman) would take all the money from this account and pay our salary, pay our apartment, pay for airplane tickets, take their cut, etc. etc. Which sounds okay. I don't imagine they would screw us or do anything else illegal. But what if?
This account is in my name. They could be sending funds to their swiss bank-account. Or paying their drug dealer from my bank account. I don't want my name attached to anything illegal (it's only fine if I'm making these illegal transactions, not strangers).
The other concern, since they’re going about business in a way the Korean government said was illegal, what happens if the government of Korea cracks down on the corruption? Laura and I would find ourselves out of a job, possibly deported and possibly arrested. So, we came to the conclusion that this country is filled with crooks. We've just been ignoring it for the past few years. Thinking of it as a cultural experience. Cultural experience is well and good, they have funny dances, wear funny costumes and have funny ways. Which is fine. I’ve learned, so do we. Maybe even funnier. But when it comes down to matters of business and humanity there is really only one way - The way I was brought up with. Canada is just awesome!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Photos from Deajon

Rock Star Laura
Todd and Mike (drunk)

...and a giant penis

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Deajon, Deagu, Seoul, Heanam

Wow, so many places I have trod upon recently...

Deajon: Because they have a Costcos. In Korea going to Costcos IS a big deal. Giving patronage to this a consumerist chapel - what i'd imagine heaven would look like if I died in Korea and hadn't been home in a long, long time. Laura and I rented a car with Erin and Mike. Cool kids from Saskatchewan (Think of Brent Butt and Corner gas and it's them!). Among other things we bought taco kits, coffee, cheese and meat. If this doesn't sound exciting, believe me, this is exciting. We also spent the night in Deajon. Our hotel room looked like Barbies Dream house but we spent most of the night drinking and stumbling around the place. We started the night at a micro-brewery (we didn't believe the place would actually make their own beer. Koreans like saying these sorts of things because it looks good on a sign) even though the beer tasted like piss and the owner said he would give us beer on the house and didn't, we still had a good time. They let Laura play guitar on stage. At the end of the night we ended up at a local ex-pat pub. It could have been someones basement. They served eggs and bacon for breakfast! Paradise! Paradise! Paradise!

It took us several hours to get out of Deajon the next morning. We just couldn't find the highway.




Deagu: For those of you keeping dibs on where I end up in the world, well, soon it'll be Deagu. Laura and I fell in love with this HUGE CITY, our new hometown. It's big and it's metropolitan and they have Outback Steak Houses, T.G.I. Fridays, Subways, Burger Kings, excellent shopping and probably a temple somewhere, I don't know.
We went got interviewed by the Deagu School Board. They threw jobs at our feet- I work at a public school and Laura teaches classes in the government offices that are sort of experimental.

Seoul: Mike and Erin (who have become perfect travel companions because a) they are also a couple with a dog and don't mind smuggling their doggie onto busses/trains/into hotels b) they appreciate culture as much as the next couple but also think that nightlife is an integral part of culture and c) they are just cool people) invited us up to Seoul with them to attend a lantern making course and a lantern festival. It's in honor of Buddhas birthday which happened the week after (May 5th).

Indeed we walked around and saw culture and shit but the highlight was ending up in Iteawon, drunk, dancing on tables in out of the way ex-pat gay clubs. It goes to show that no matter how much a culture tries to pretend homosexuality doesn't exist, it finds a way to flurish. I met my first gay Korean. Wow.

In the span of 24 hours we overdosed on Burger King, KFC and Subway. All of which we cannot get in Mokpo. We found the Canadian Pub in Iteawon, Rocky Mountain, and ate hamburgers while listening to the Tragically Hip looking up at hockey shirts.

The lantern festival was pretty awesome. We learned how to make Lotus Flower Lanterns. They're hanging in our appartment. If any of you come visit us you'll be able to look at them and comment about how I mentioned them on my website once!

Heanam (you're a rock star): My new co-workers, University of Windsor alumni Kara and Mathew joined Mike, Erin, Laura and I on a trek up a mountain to see a temple. We met monks - who gave us each a necklace and a plate of fruit - then we walked around in the dark becoming all englightened. Since it was Buddhas birthday there were lots of lanterns lit up to help us reach Nirvana. Unlike some of the temples I saw in Seoul these lanterns weren't lit up using electricity, just fire.

Then off the mountain, into Heanam and went to a Pizza joint. We drank a few beers and Soju's around town but went to bed pretty early (one o'clock or so) - our doggies were waiting up for us in the hotel. Kara and Mathew went off on their own - they wanted to go to Jindo Island the next morning.

The next morning, the rain came down, our plans to go up a cable car were rained upon. We took a bus to Gwangju instead. We walked amidst consumerism and ate at T.G.I.Fridays (Where it's always friday...)

Which brings you all up to speed!

Laura and I have to go to Deagu next weekend to sign our contracts and find out what sort of hut they'll give us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

An Update









It's been too long since I've blogged the old blog sight. Maybe a month, I dunno, they say that time is an illusion. And it doesn't help when 'the man' has you working in the coal mines all day everyday...
Now when I say 'the man', I mean my delightful boss 'The Director' and his charming wife known to me only as 'Sally'. When I say 'the coal mines' I in fact mean my school Mokpo Wonderland, and I guess 'all day everyday' means 10-8 Monday to Fridays. But, in my defense, I go to the gym during my lunch break. My computer broke down and so I can't access the internet at home. Besides I'd much rather spend time with Laura than with a bunch of ones and zeros any day.
But I don't believe in excuses. A wiser person than myself once said 'if you were really sorry, you wouldn't have done it in the first place' - smart words. So here I am, not apologizing, just picking up where I left off.
Which was, uh, yeah I'm getting married!
I've moved in with Laura (We have Hayley as our room-mate). Into her loft.
We got a dog. A little Min-Pin named Obi.
We had a Halloween party; I was 'the mad hater'. I bought a hat first, the rest of the costume developed from there (It was either that or The Cat in the Hat). There were lots of other funny costumes, too.
I will let the pictures speak their thousand words.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

MY PROPOSAL

Laura and I were sky diving.
Three, Two, One, Jump! Holding hands we fell towards earth at an alarming rate. We knew we had forty-five seconds of free-fall before we had to pull the rip-cord, releasing our safty nets above us, bringing us gently down to the ground.
I brought Laura close to me. I held onto her waist. I maneuvered it so I was falling back-first towards the ground. Our descent is slower this way. I shouted into her ear:

"WILL YOU MARRY ME, BABY?"
She said "Yes!" I took the ring out of my jump-suit pocket but the wind blew it out of my hand. Shit! The three thousand dollar ring is now somewhere in the Yellow Sea! Those lucky fish!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

disco buddha

my fiance


crazy girls (jane, anne, laura, haley)


strange snacks


lovers

Friday, July 22, 2005

DocPimpEelZOk


The weekend started right - eating grubs. A restaurant called Venezia. It does fusion food. Hearing mixed reviews, I was a little apprehensive but the big red neon sign had been calling my name since November. It’s hard to say no to neon. I managed to convince Laura and May Lynn to meet me and try it out. One of my adult students told me the food was delicious. It was the kind of place a Korean can go for a juicy hamburger steak.
The food was plentiful and delicious. The atmosphere was what I expected. It was done up nicely, a real classy joint.
The salad bar went on for ten miles, they brought free wine (well, they called it ‘wine’) and my spaghetti could drown Genghis Kahn’s army with the amount of cheese it had. After the meal our conversation turned to the weekend. There was a vague plan thumb-tacked to our brains to head up to the mud festival at Deacheon Beach. The idea started out as a gigantic rogue traveling community but people were dropping out like flies being smacked with a big yellow fly swatter.
The three of us definitely wanted to go, we wanted to go tonight. We called a few people who might go but the excuses – money – illness – fear of the unknown. Nobody was hardcore enough. We tried to figure out the best way to get there by bus. It would have taken us seven hours. We would have had to take the bus to Gwangju, then to Ulsan, then to Deajon, then to Boreyeong and finally to Deacheon Beach. It was a headache nightmare.
Until some bright, genius, god-inspired individual uttered words along the lines I’d imagine Moses heard on top of Mt. Sinai: “hey! Why don’t we rent a car and drive up there”.
An idea from the heavens! I was skeptical. I only had a Canada license, I’ve heard it was no good. May Lynn said it’s been done before. A drivers license from your home country is okay.
The wheels of the weekend were in motion. We went to our respective houses and bubbled like over joyed washing machines the whole way. There was a Hertz rent-a-car at the bus station. We took taxis and when we finally got there



THE RENT-A-CAR WAS CLOSED!



We couldn’t believe it. You’ve never seen sadder people in all your life. We were ridding a high and beautiful wave that mangled our bodies on some jagged rocks.
We found out that Hertz opened at 8 o’clock in the morning. My two crazy girl friends liked the idea of waking up at seven and being the first people there when the doors opened – I was less than thrilled. I like to sleep-in on Saturday.
We went to Laura and May Lynn's house. We played scrabble. It was a pretty funny game – we allowed the ‘word’ Quiet Reign because we had to open up the board, we would have been stuck otherwise. We bent the rules a little bit but eventually snapped them in half. I was allowed to put down the word ‘Pimp’ next to eel. I’m sure pimpeels drift around the ocean in flamboyant clothes offering up different varieties of sexy angel fish . May Lynn said if I was going to get away with that she would put down Doc Pimp Eel. Apparently the eel pimp community is into hip-hop as well. Then I put a Z between the ‘word’ DocPimpEel and the ‘word’ OK. I won with the word docpimpeelzok – it was on a triple word score and a few double word scores as well. I got something like a million gajillion points.
We went to bed and didn’t get up until the next morning. We were at Hertz rent-a-car for ten.
I knew if I was going to pull this off I would have to be confident. I had to act like I do is all the time - that I walk into foreign country rent-a-cars with no valid drivers license.
I say. “GIMME A CAR!” The girl behind the desk shows me a list of their cars. I say I want the convertible (because when you travel, do it in style!) – but they don’t have one. In fact they only have one car. Which is fine. We just want a car. She calculates up the price. It comes to 100,000 won for the weekend. She asks for my passport and a drivers license.
When I show her my Ontario Drivers license she says “ANNEYO”! We were devastated again. We slink out of the rent-a-car into the bus station. There was only one course of action! We have to go to Naju - a tiny little city about an hour away from Mokpo.
Naju is where they keep the government buildings for our South Jolla Province province. We get the Hertz rent-a-car people to write down the name of the building we need to go to.
The bus to Naju was fine. We get off in Naju, jump in a taxi which takes us to the outskirts of nowhere. There are English signs telling us that we’re near the drivers license agency. We’ll call it the DMV for the sake of clarity.
In the taxi I’m thinking that my license is only a G2, not a full Ontario license. I can drive on my own and everything – I’ve been doing it for five years – I just haven’t taken the final test (ie. the tax grab) yet.
We get into the DMV, there isn’t a line. There is a sign saying “international drivers licenses” – a cheery young lady helps us out. They need to see my passport and my drivers license. She takes one look at it and says “G2? G2 No. G”. Can our hearts take it anymore? I proceed to tell her I can drive and that I’ve been driving for five years. In my mind I tell her that my G2 required more work than getting a Korean drivers license any day. She insists that I leave right now but I’m persistent. Laura and May Lynn are persistent as well.
Finally she goes to her big book of international drivers license information. I look over the desk and read over her shoulder. I can’t read the Korean but she found the section about Ontario.
And when she spoke “okay, you can have Korean license” – if only we had a bottle of champagne!
The process got easier. I had to fill out confusing Korean forms in triplicate, get some pictures taken and have an eye exam. We were sent back on forth continually for the better part of twenty minutes.
The physical exam was the most ridiculous part. After the eye exam the ‘nurse’ told me to sit down. Where I was standing there wasn’t a chair. I looked over at the chairs thinking she wanted me to bring one over and get comfy. I was worried she was going to poke me and prod me and do all sorts of groovy things that would make me feel taken advantage of. All she wanted me to do was squat and stand up, she just wanted to make sure I had use of my legs.
We went back to the cheery young lady who said “come back in thirty minutes” – it was only 16,000 won from my pocket!.
The three of us went in search of a celebration beer. My cell phone went off. It was probably Ben calling from Seoul. It was the cheery young lady. She told me that Todd Douglas Hurst won’t fit on the drivers license. She wanted to know if just Todd Hurst was okay. I said it was.
Our celebration beer wasn’t champagne but it was sweet ambrosia anyway.
I have never seen anything so pretty as my Korean drivers license. It might be even prettier than my passport – a passport is a common thing. A Korean drivers license isn’t. How many of you out there in readerland have a Korean drivers license? I didn’t think so.
It’s a great souvenir. Something I never expected to own.
We left the DMV and this time went to the train station. A KTX (the fast, fast Korean rocket train) would get us from Naju to Mokpo in a little under ten minutes. We were itching to get back to the rent-a-car.
There wasn’t a KTX until five. We got on the super slow, took us an hour to get to Mokpo, train. But not to worry – we got to the rent-a-car.
I barged through their doors, threw my drivers license on the counter and said in my biggest, loudest, boldest voice “GIMME A CAR!”
And the lady said “no!” She smiled. We thought she had a sense of humor. This was the same girl who we saw a few hours earlier. Laura and May Lynn started laughing. After all we’ve been through it would be a pretty funny joke to say ‘anneyo’ and then say ‘just kidding’.
She was serious. She showed me a pamphlet in English that says I have to be 21 to drive and have one year experience. Remember I’ve only had my Korean license for just over an hour. I showed my Canada drivers license. It was issued in 2003. I had been driving since the year 2000. Even if I started driving in 2003 that gives me two years experience. They told me one more time “Canada license no good!”
Why the fuck would the DMV issue me a Korean license if it was no good? It was a simple matter of transferring my Canada qualifications into Hangeul. I showed her the back of my Canada license which said 2003.
We were livid. May Lynne and Laura were right behind me. They got my back. We would bust some heads if need be –
She looked in her little book, made some phone calls, talked to her boss. In the end we had a car. A nice red ferrari convertible which we will call ‘the shark’ –
It’s obvious that we didn’t have a Ferrari but it makes a much better story - just humor me, okay.
We took the Shark down the Korean highway at top speeds. We had a trunk full of dangerous drugs. A couple of bags of Marijuana, a salt shaker and a half of cocaine, some high powered blotter acid and then there was the ether – but it was only the ether that truly scared me. There is nothing so helpless and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge –
Sorry, My body was just taken over by the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson. None of it was true. We drove our crappy brown compact down the highway. We were high, though. High on a sense of adventure. It was the road trip we’ve been jonesing for.
We were on our way to the Mud Festival and Deacheon Beach!
We sped, naturally. Even though there were cameras everywhere on the highway. The great thing about Korea is they warn you first. You’ll see a sign for a camera, but you don’t have to slow down yet, there will be a few more before they tell you ‘in 500 meters’ – we would speed, jump through their hoops, then speed again. Everybody’s doing it.
Korea is like that. Just jump through the hoops, act like a good citizen when ‘the man’ tells you they’re watching. There is no excuse to mis-behave because you get fair warning.
Even with the fair warning signs I’m sure we missed a few. I hope I get a Korean speeding ticket. I’ll frame it. Apparently the fines are no more than spare pocket change.
Deacheon Beach is the nicest beach in Korea. There are signs off the highway taking us straight there. We stopped for a bathroom break and took a poster off the front of a convenience store. We asked the owner if we could. It was Che Guevera selling Hite beer – what the socialist revolutionary thinks of the commercialization of his name we will never know (because dead men tell no tales)
The hotel room at Deacheon Beach cost a ridiculous 90,000 won – 30,000 won each! It’s a ridiculous price! How dare they capitalize on a crowded weekend like that! But the room was clean. It didn’t smell too bad.
We spent the night swimming in the warm embrace of the Yellow Sea. If we didn’t stop swimming we would get to China. May Lynn and I decided to see how far out we could swim. We got pretty far. The Chinese coast guard told us to turn around. We touched some buoys and swam back. Laura was on the beach worried about us. Thinking a shark swallowed me whole.
Instead of a shark swallowing me whole, we swallowed some shellfish whole. We went to a restaurant where our table is a barbecue. They throw a pound of shells on. When they pop open they’re good to eat.
Laura, being the social queen of the world, picked up two men. They joined us for dinner and our after dinner festivities. There was a cool guy from Vancouver, Sean and his buddy from Las Vegas, Tom. According to Sean, Tom needed to have some fun that weekend. We think he was trying to pimp his friend to May Lynne. Good thing he wasn’t a pimp eel.
When we went skinny dipping Tom kept saying he wanted to see May Lynn’s breasts. I saw Laura’s breasts!
We put our swimming costumes back on and swam to the buoys and back. Tom was a slow swimmer. We were worried he might drown or something. Being a studly lifeguard I kept his pace ready to drag his drowning ass back to shore. It would have made me a hero. Medals and flowers and the respect of men and women.
We lost Sean and Tom when we decided to go to a Nori Bang. They wanted to come but when we got up to move they didn’t follow.
We didn’t go to a Nori Bang, just to bed. All in all it had been and exhausting day.
The next morning we didn’t have much time. The car had to be back at the rent-a-car by four. We had to leave Deacheon Beach by one.
We did some more swimming out to the buoys, May Lynn and I jumped on a banana boat dragged behind a jet-ski, the driver tried to knock us off the whole time. We held on. We’re pro stars!
Laura read her book on the beach soaking up the suns juicy embrace. We found a stall of ‘David and Goliath’ paraphernalia. I had never heard of it before but its apparently a famous clothing company in Canada.
The guy at the booth gave us free stickers and free CD’s. The clothing has characters like ‘Smelly Todd’ and ‘Goodbye Kitty’ – it’s funny, a little bit rude and a whole lot expensive. We promised to go on their website and buy stuff but we mostly took the free stuff and ran.
The drive to Mokpo was equally as thrilling as the drive away from Mokpo. It’s really nice to be behind the wheel of a car again. I love the freedom it brings. When I buy a car in Korea we’ll see every roadside attraction, temple and dead guy remains.
Our final adventure in Mokpo was trying to find gas. We drove into three gas stations that were all dried up. We finally found gas and pulled into the rent-a-car thirty minutes late. They called my cell phone asking where the hell we were.
Apparently it’s common, gas stations being all dried up. You just kind of have to know which gas station has gas today. Its bizarre, I don’t understand it but that’s why I still love Korea. My sense of wonderment hasn’t left.