Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Annual Korean Contract Shuffle

Happy pig year everybody. Yeah it's Loony New Year here in Asia once again. And things have been loony around here. It's that time of year when after a long weekend of binging on food and alcohol, Koreans start doing all the work they've been postponing until after "Seollal". It's impossible to spell but that's what they call the Lunar New Year here. For any of you who think that Koreans are hard workers, or who think that you might want to do some business with them, let me tell you what has been going on for the past month.

Jan. 16th Interview with Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (Seoul Campus)

I went to the interview and was impressed by a professor Shaun Manning who was forthcoming with any info. I needed. He also told me that the contracts were being changed and had been in the process of change for a couple of months already. He gave me the new salary figures and I was happy with them. I told Shaun that the only problem with me might be getting a letter of release from my present, (up until Feb. 28th), employer. I gave him a number of the Dean of Academic Affairs and informed him that he was an asshole. He had refused to give me the letter of release and told me I had to get my new employer to call for it. I warned Shaun that he would be obnoxious but he might give it to the school.

Jan. 22nd Interview and job at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (Yong In Campus)

I had answered a job ad for HUFS Yong In which included the salary figures from the NEW contract. I had been contacted by "Minnie" in late December and offered an interview. She told me I had to wait for her professor to return from holidays. I went to the interview Jan. 22 and was impressed by "her professor" a Professor Kim Gang Cheol who was totally fluent, a literature major and golfer like myself. The campus was beautiful and the schedule, money and classes sounded better than HUFS in Seoul. I was offered the job later that night during the bus ride back to Seoul. I accepted.

Jan. 23rd Job offer from HUFS Seoul

I politely thanked Shaun Manning and refused.

Jan 25th Refused job offer from Yong In and accepted job from Seoul HUFS.

I looked around Yong In and the area surrounding the HUFS Yong In campus and was daunted at the prospect of finding housing. It's in a pretty remote area and remote areas are few and far between in Korea. So I called Minnie to ask for a teacher assistant for translation. Maybe even SHE could come with me to some real estate offices. She hummed and hawed and told me she'd look for somebody and call me later in the day. She didn't get back to me. I had stayed overnight in Seoul at a hotel so that I could go to the Seoul HUFS campus and sign my new contracts that Minnie promised would be there. I went in and, surprise, no contracts! So she told me to come in to the Yong In campus on the 25th with all my documentation like original diploma, passport etc. and told me I could sign the contract at the same time. I suggested that since the campus was so far out of the way I would go looking for a house that day too. So I wouldn't have to make two trips. While trying to suggest this she was saying, "Yeah yeah. Yeah yeah. Okay okay. MMM HMM. MM HMM." I think she was probably doing the old hand mouth yammering sign into her non-telephone ear too. I had already been thoroughly frustrated by having to tell her everything at least 3 times. For example she told me when she offered me the job that they would need a letter of release from my employer. I had already explained to her and Professor Kim that she had to call my employer and get it. I gave her the phone number for crying out loud! She didn't get back to me about the housing help but sent me a text message that she needed original diploma, passport, letter of relese... Now I absolutely knew she wasn't listening. So I contacted Shaun Manning and re-offered my services to HUFS Seoul. He said the job was still mine for the taking. Shortly after sending Minnie an email politely turning down the Yong In job, I received a text message from her saying nothing about the housing help but reminding me to bring my documents. I sent her a text message refusing the job. She sent back another text saying to bring my original diploma, sealed transcripts, (which I had told her 3 times I had to get mailed to the University and asked 3 times for a mailing address and was ignored), and my letter of fucking release! I sent her ANOTHER refusal text message. She texted "Okay. I understand."

Jan. 29th Request for documentation from HUFS Seoul

Shaun Manning sent the 5 new teachers at HUFS Seoul an email requesting our passports, original diplomas, you get the idea. He also, (halleluiah), gave me an address to have my sealed transcripts mailed to. And he introduced us to Mee Sook who would be taking over all dealings with the new foreign professors. She needed our documents to make an "invitation to enter". I assumed this would include signing our new contracts.

Jan. 31st Met Mee Sook. Gave her all documents. Got no contract.

I talked to Mee Sook via internet and asked if the contracts could be signed at the same time I gave all my documents to her. I'm pretty sure she said it would be possible. I had to fax my request for sealed transcripts from her office. She helped me do that. I also informed her that if she needed a letter of release that I couldn't get it and she would have to call my employer. I gave her the number of my supervisor there. When I gave her all the stuff she had asked for, she was talking to me about the schedule. All new teachers will be working the 12 hours plus 6 hours of overtime. She had asked if I wanted a further 4 hours and I had said I'd do it if nobody else wanted them. I had a choice between a writing class on Wednesday or a presentation class on Friday. All teachers who don't teach the extra classes get both Wed. and Fri. off. So, of course, I told her I'd prefer to have long weekends every week so the writing would be better. So now she was talking to me about my 22 hour schedule. I pointedly told her, "No. I prefer 18. I only want 22 if nobody else wants the extra class." And... no contract.

Feb. 4th Apology from Mee Sook and promise to make "invitation letter" for contracts with our documents.

Aparently every teacher was expecting to sign the contract while handing in the documents. Mee Sook apologized and promised to talk to those in charge of the contracts the next day. She also mentioned that I had "volunteered" to teach one of the extra classes and asked who wanted the other one.

Feb. 5th Email from me saying no to the writing class.

I had bumped into one of the other teachers at the pub the night before and he told me he WANTED the writing class but Mee Sook told him I had already expressed a burning desire to teach it. Plus one OTHER teacher told me SHE wanted it too! So I pointedly explained to Mee Sook that she should give it to one of them. I also said we really should talk about scheduling AFTER signing the contracts. She promised they would be ready "soon".

Feb. 8th "Good news" about the contracts! They will be ready 5 DAYS FROM NOW!

Signing date was set for Feb. 13th. Alas, not a Friday. Remember my interview on the 16th of Jan. Shaun Manning had said that the contracts had been in the works for a couple of months before that. So it took them a brisk three months to add a 3% raise and calculate vacation pay based on the regular 18 - hour week rather than a 12 - hour week. Those were the only two new things on the new contracts. Now THAT'S Korean efficiency!

Feb. 12th Told to bring in documents AGAIN for visa including sealed transcripts and letter of release. I gave my wrath a day to disappear and waited for the contract signing meeting to talk with Minnie, I mean Mee Sook about my transcripts and letter of release.

Feb. 13th Wrong contracts. Mee Sook promises to get new contracts made a.s.a.p. I explain for the 7th time about my transcripts and letter of release.

We all go in and are given the OLD contracts with the OLD salary and vacation pay figured on a 12-hour week instead of 18. We're none too impressed so we spend a couple hours explaining to Mee Sook how we need a contract that reflects our actual situation. We all needed the correct contract for negotiating our visas and I needed it, (before Feb. 19th), to make a new housing contract or I'd be living on the street. She ran up and down the stairs, talked to people, but the end result was they couldn't do it on that day. She promised they would be ready "soon". I remind Mee Sook that I had faxed my transcript request from her office and I wrote down my supervisor's number one MORE time on a post-it note and gave it to her and told her she had to get my letter of release from my school. Mee Sook takes our documents and says she is going in to immigration to try to negotiate our visas. Without a contract. Oh and by the way, another teacher told me that Mee Sook told HER that I had changed my mind and VOLUNTEERED for the composition class.

Feb 15th Mee Sook "fails completely" at immigration, tells us we have no choice but to sign the OLD contracts, and asks for my sealed transcripts and letter of release.

Those are her own words: "I went to immigration office and failed completely because I lack of contract." Not surprising. She goes on in the email to all the new teachers to explain that we can't work at HUFS Seoul unless we sign the old contracts and trust them to pay us what would be in the new contracts. Well, why wouldn't we trust them? They have proven trustworthy so far don't you think? We're all upset because everyone, including myself, has turned down other jobs to work for HUFS and we're pretty sure they have been stringing us along with offers of new contracts for that very purpose. They knew from the beginning we wouldn't be able to sign the new contracts, but to keep us committed they gave us schedules, textbooks, false promises about contracts... This is a new one for me. I've never waited so long for a contract. But I have no problem signing the old and getting paid the new. I've actually done that before. I just wish they had told us instead of lie their way into bigger problems. What I am most upset about is the fact that because of Lunar New Year, we won't be able to sign the OLD contracts until Feb. 20th. That's a day after my housing contract runs out. I don't know what's gonna happen with that yet. AND she asks me again for my FUCKING sealed FUCKING transcripts and letter of FUCKING release!!!

Today is Feb. 18th. I am only allowed to stay in my house until midnight tomorrow. I have told my landlord I want to stay and I think he has been given the message. But for all I know he's found a new tennat and they will be moving in soon.

I don't know how things will go with immigration yet because as yet Mee Sook has not received my transcripts and for all I know she still doesn't understand that SHE has to get my letter of release. But I am only employed at the old place until Feb. 28th so I don't think we'll need the letter of release if we do our dealings then.

In a probable attempt to placate the new teachers, who she knew would be very upset at her last email, Mee Sook also included at the end of it that we wouldn't have to go to Japan on our visa runs. If you remember the beginning of my last contract, I was conned into signing with this same promise. I still expect to have to go to Japan and I expect to pay for the trip.

As you might imagine, I am looking for work again. I wrote Mee Sook an email that might be worded strongly enough to induce her to abandon plans of having me as a teacher there. She is probably drinking soju and eating traditional dumpling soup right now and won't read it till the 20th. By which time I may be living on the street. BUT, God help me, I will STILL work there, and sign the bogus contract and trust them to pay me more than the contract stipulates, if they still want me.

When you've been dealing with Koreans as long as I have, you almost get used to this kind of shit. The worst part about all of this is I couldn't go on vacation. That's how I DEAL with all this. Oh well, wish me luck. Further entries as events warrant.

Oh and by the way, as far as anyone knows, I am still the teacher of record for the presentation classes on Friday morning, although I'm sure other teachers have volunteered and been turned down for them. There go 16 long weekends in a row.

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