This is an excerpt from the follow up to my Culturebook Book Two: My Youth in Asia.
The following is an unedited excerpt from a piece entitled: Book Three: Culturebook Unity.
May 15, 2009
It’d been 2 years to the day since I first began working and living on Cheju Island, located less than 50 miles south of the South Korean mainland. Before moving to Cheju Island I’d already spent a decade living and working on the South Korean mainland. Here on the island, I taught English in Public Schools, side by side with a Korean English teacher, working for EPIK: the government agency in charge of placing foreign language teachers in Public Schools. EPIK: English Program in Korea.
Two years of my life I spent working for EPIK on Cheju Island, sometimes spelt Jeju Island. It was the end of my second one year contract. I worked at one elementary school exclusively for the first 9 months, then, two high schools for a semester and summer; then 2 different high schools for the last 9 months. EPIK was a pretty good job, but it was finished and I had to go. EPIK was NOT going to renew my contract.
It didn’t matter much that I WASN’T being offered a contract to re-sign, that some of my higher ups were glad to see me go, that cordiality didn’t exist between myself and certain Province of Education staff named Memberia Kim. I didn’t like her either. I didn’t like any of them. I was ready to resign. Still, if they’d offered me a 3rd contract, I would have re-signed.
EPIK didn’t offer to re-sign me cuz of what happened the last time, the first time, I was in Nepal.
I’d gone trekking in Nepal for the first time in January, 4 months prior, for vacation. There, I met some Korean trekkers from the mainland, up on the lower Annapurna circuit; and one night while sharing the same mountain guesthouse, they broke out some soju in juice boxes; so we got beers and drank together and spoke a bunch in English and Korean. There were a dozen of us from all over the world, some heading up the mountain, some down, all staying at the same guesthouse the same night in the small mountain hamlet called Ghorepani. I introduced myself to the two 30ish male Koreans and I told them I live in Cheju and work at a high school there.
Apparently, not only did the two men allege that they witnessed me sharing a doobie with a Singapore man and a Dutch couple as the evening wore on, but they decided to notify the school board in Cheju and rat me out. They had taken a picture of me and emailed it to my higher ups. Upon returning from my vacation, Memberia Kim was trying desperately to track me down. Or so I heard. It was a good thing, coincidentally, I’d lost my phone at the Electric Pagoda in Kathmandu.
Just to add some trauma to the drama, I knew nothing of this ‘investigation’ until long after I’d been back in Cheju. I’d muled back a little taste from Nepal and had been high, not only everyday in Nepal, but upon returning from Nepal, I went to work and was told I had two weeks more vacation! I didn’t have to show my face around the high school for two whole weeks, so I went on line, bought a round trip plane ticket and flew to Clark Airfield, presently known as Diasdado Macapagal International Airport.
There, I did the Sagada run, not the Kessel run in 12 par secs in the Millennium Falcon, but the 6 hour bus ride from Olongapo to Baguio City, followed by another 7 hour bus ride to Sagada Mountain Province, where I procured more Jackie Brown. I made a proper vacation trip out of the drug run by taking along my good friend Mary K, who had never visited to the Philippine Cordillera. We visited Baguio, we visited Sagada, we visited Angeles City, and then we return to Subic Bay. After that, I returned to SKorea with enough to keep me happy for a short time. It was still chilly winter in the ROK. I needed my medicine.
-- One day, pot’s gonna be legal and future people are gonna look back and say, What the Deuce, Lois?
-- Pot’s never gonna be legal. It’s too anti-authority. And some ONE is always going to be in charge.
It was only then AFTER my return from the Philippines did Memberia finally track me down. Boy was she pissed! I told her it was a hand-rolled cigarette and that those Korean men in Nepal were out of their minds. They were from Seoul.
Memberia ordered me to take a piss test at the local hospital. I had no problem with that. Not only is Korea totally lax enough to scam off easily, but as luck would have it, I also have a surrogate younger brother in Cheju named Zander, whom I’d first met back in 2003 at the Korean National University of Education or KNUE – more specifically, I had someone I could trust. Zander had just moved to the island from the cty of Cheonan, one hour south of South. Just a few years ago, when Zander first moved to Cheonan, it was called Fastest Growing City in South Korea.
The morning of my test, after a couple puffs from the meagerness that still remained, I rode my 125 to Jeju city and I met my long-time, anonymous pal Zander in a coffee shop and bought him a cup of coffee. The night before, I’d bought myself a small thin plastic 200 ml bottle of soju and drank it. I then washed the bottle, dried it and saved it. This morning at the coffee shop, I gave the plastic flask to Zander and after his coffee, some water and a trip to the toilet; he returned the bottle to me wrapped snugly in a small black plastic bag. I took the bottle with me to the hospital, hiding it down my pants. At the hospital a sexy young Korean nurse handed me a cup and told me in Hangul to pee in it. I said. “OKAY!” That was it. In the bathroom I poured the pee into the cup. I politely returned the cup to the Korean nurse full of clean, still plenty warm, urine of the Zander variety. Korean nurse told me in Korean language that they would forward the results to EPIK after 5 days. I never heard from either Memberia or any of my higher ups ever again, except a final word BEFORE I took the test, telling me that IF I passed, I could finish out my contract, but I WOULDN’T be asked to stay on for another year. IF I failed, they failed to tell me WHAT would happen. But it wouldn’t be good.
I didn’t care. By May, I hadn’t had a vacation since January, I was going nuts. Life in SKorea can be hella frustrating sometimes. I’d already worked for 10 years on the MAINLAND before ever moving to the ISLAND. I’d had just about enough of SKorea.
Why, you might ask, did I live in SKorea for 12 years…if it’s so frustrating? One answer: South Korea is a great place to BEGIN AGAIN, if you’re a North American college graduate without a dime to his name and if you like Asian women, spicy food and rice and stuff.