"The expatriate has been served, waited on, pandered to, pimped for and overpaid; he has fed the image of his uniqueness and his arrogance has reached its full vigor."- Paul Theroux
"Tarzan is an Expatriate"
Korea, while being one of the world's richest and most modernized countries, is still in some respects very naive, namely in the trust and authority given to teachers. Not working in the overcrowded morass that is the public school system (try forty kids to one class), I can't really speak to the government's hiring procedures. I have, however, worked at two different private institutes in Korea where I regularly come into contact with hundreds of kids every day. Yet, when applying for these jobs, no mention was ever made of a criminal background check, first-aid certification or even teaching credentials.
Got a Bachelor's degree...in any discipline?
Got a passport?
Are you a native English speaker?
Got a pulse?
The process might have been a bit more strenuous at my current job, but not by much. Where this inevitably leads is to a glut of teachers who, at best, lack professionalism and who, at worst, might be sexual offenders getting away from a spotty past in their home country (hey, it's happened). Coming from the United States, forerunner of all litigation, I'm always amazed that there aren't more lawsuits by outraged parents against private institutes for some of the obscene negligence toward their children. That, however, seems not to be the "Korean way."
Institute managers in Korea are slowly becoming more selective in who they hire and, frankly, it can't happen fast enough. I'm usually the last person to worry about professionalism, but as a teacher I recognize that I'm charged with not only the education but also the safety and wellbeing of every child who walks into my classroom. If I'm upholding this standard, it seems fair that everyone else in this racket ought to do the same.
All that aside, while a great many teachers here may be entirely unqualified in their jobs (as I surely was when I started), these same jackasses can't help but add to the tapestry of expat life in Korea, for foreigners and Koreans alike. As an illustration, I've pulled some anecdotes from a discussion on this subject over at Dave's ESL Cafe. Sit around with any group of teachers who've been in Korea long enough and these stories will start flying.
First, there was "Kiwi Bill" who preceded me by a few years at my present workplace and whom I've only come to know via the stories of a current colleague who had the dubious pleasure of working with Bill. While eating lunch with co-workers at the local KFC, he would point to the discarded chicken bones on their plates and ask,
"You finished with that?"
If they said yes, he'd take the bones and proceed to lick and/or chew them clean.
Bill ran tabs all over town, vomited on a prostitute in the Itaewon district of Seoul (but, c'mon, who hasn't?), and felt that the 'Korean Experience' could only be truly felt by urinating in public, which from my observation of drunken Korean businessmen may in fact be true.
And there's the story of how he came to work at ENI (where I now work): Evidently, he finished a contract at another school, got his severance pay, then passed out in a subway station after a night (or three) of drinking. When he woke up, all the money - about $1,500 - was gone, thus sending him on a job hunt as he now had no money with which to get back home to New Zealand.
But despite his many eccentricities, Bill may well have fit somewhere on the 'normal' end of the spectrum when compared to some of the other characters who've graced this peninsula. The following are a few examples. Yes, they're based on other people's accounts, so take them as you will, but personally, having lived and worked here for two and half years, I don't discount them. And I'm not even going to attempt to comment on these stories, as they speak for themselves.
A poster named J.B. Clemence gave this account:
I once lived with an old English guy who claimed to be the Duke of Cornwall, but didn't seem to have a penny to his name. He would go on about how he used to host dinner parties for the Queen and the ladies of the realm, and how he had a seat in the House of Lords with properties all over the world, but he lived in squalor (even though he was making the same salary as I was) and was constantly asking everyone for loans because he had promised himself not to touch his savings while he was working broad. The dude would disappear into his room for days at a time with a month's supply of booze, and bring home young male prostitutes who sometimes made off with some things around the house. I was so relieved when they finally fired him. Ever since, I've considered him the posterboy for single housing.
Another poster, named 'Scott,' tells of this guy:
I knew a guy that lived next door to me and I could hear him through the thin walls. He was middle aged. Most mornings I could hear him crying, swearing,throwing stuff around his room, swaying back and forth between the emotions of defeat and hatred. He couldn't find his keys. "Why me! Why does this always happen to me! Where are you, keys!? Why can't I find you?!"
Sometimes walking back to my building after the bars closed I would see him sweeping the street our building was on. Not just in front of our building, mind you, but the entire street all the way down to the corner. One time, I was drunk, I walked up to him and asked "Why are you sweeping the street? It's 3 o'clock in the morning."He responded, "because it's dirty."
And there's the story of 'Old Joe,' as told by Grim Ja:
At the university I worked at there was an older fella (about 55 years old) from the States who several times walked naked to the girls dorm and tried to shower with the students. He would always be scolded but never fired.
Later he was convinced that members of the FBI Most-Wanted team were in Korea and out to get him. He had warned the school and they believed him and called the embassy. Any time he would see a new foreigner he thought they must be FBI secret agents or whatnot. He then started to hide out from everyone that was out to get him. He hadn't shown up for class in weeks and nobody had seen him. The university sent word to the police that he was missing. They found out he was in Tongyoung City at the extreme southern end of Korea. The director and head teacher went down to pick him up and bring him back to work. I guess they needed someone to teach a class.
When they got to Tongyoung he was eating peacefully in a Lotteria fast food restaurant. But the director and the police thought the best way to catch him was to surround Lotteria with police cars. The jig was up. But Old Joe wasn't going down that easily. He saw the cops and knew he had to escape. A mad scramble in the market ensued. Nearly an hour went by before he was finally caught. The school then sent him to a hospital and told him that he was fired. But not to worry he got a job a few days later at an institute. On his visa run over to Japan he got lost and never was heard from again.
Finally, TS Garp tells of 'Mad Mike Brady,' a teacher in Busan:
For a while he was traveling around with a live duck and chicken in his backpacks. He was wearing the one with the chicken and had draped the duck bag over the sissy bar on his motorcycle when, at 85 klicks, the duck bag got caught in his rear tire. One rip and the duck was no more.
He had a Korean girlfriend for a short time. She broke up with him over an incident in a subway station. Mikey had stopped to get some pictures taken at one of those quick-photo booths. All of a sudden the whole damn thing came crashing down. There was Mike in the midst of it all, pants and drawers around his ankles. Seems he had been trying to get a shot of his asshole and had been leaning on one of the walls for support.
Like I said: no comment needed. No, wait, I would like to say - though it might be obvious - that the aforementioned loons don't exactly help the reputation of foreigners, especially westerners, in Korea. No wonder Koreans are generally friendly to foreigners...until we want to date their daughters.