Someone call Wes Craven and tell him I've found the ogress for his next horror film. She's my landlady, she's altogether unhinged and she's become my arch nemesis. I've recently had visions of her being carried off to parts unknown by a troupe of dwarves, which I realize is overly optimistic on my part, but hey, everyone has dreams. I only hope she forks over my damn money before the wee devils cart her away.
[enter EXPLANATION, stage right]
The Korean real estate system is a serpentine system of trap doors for your money. And behind each door is a person waiting to separate you from that money. When renting a house or apartment, you'll usually have two choices on the money front. First, there's weolsae ('monthly payment'), wherein the renter pays a large deposit and thereafter coughs up monthly rent. When you move out at the end of the lease, you get the original deposit back, or at least that's the way it works in theory. Alternately, you could opt for cheonsae, in which you pay a huge initial deposit ('key money'), thereby avoiding monthly rent. The latter system basically amounts to a loan to the landlord, which they can then invest for a set period, at the end of which they return the original amount to the tenant.
Last June, I put down a US$5,000 deposit (practically nothing by Korean standards) on a fetching little pigsty here in Seoul and have been paying monthly rent ever since. With a wedding on the horizon, the time has come for me to move, which according to the contract, means my landlady will soon owe me about five grand. My rental contract states as much and you'd be forgiven for thinking that's all I need.
Problem is, old Koreans like my landlady (and small number of young ones) view contracts as an inconvenience when it comes time to actually honor them. Agreements are often made based on what's convenient at the moment, without consideration of what it will take to deliver on one's promises.
As such, the She-Devil upstairs has been trying to weasel out of paying by saying she ain't got no money. I don't particularly care what she did with the money (though I suspect she blew it on the latest Thunder Down Under show in Seoul), nor whether she has to beg, borrow or steal to repay my key money, just as long as she gets it. She's tried to goad me into a few confrontations over the money, but I just smiled and pointed to the calendar and the day I'll be moving (when I expect the money), all the while making veiled references to cement shoes and my previous convictions for rackateering.
Yesterday had the woman stating that she'd be paying up this week, her voice laden with self-pity as she told of how she'd have to take a loan to repay me. In my corner, the small violins began to play. Now I'm the heartless foreigner, accused of playing dirty and not 'understanding' (a favorite phrase in Korea) her situation. Apparently, expecting someone to honor a contract makes me a cruel fiend in my own right. Well, Mr. Craven, you can have me for your next movie, too.
image by Richard Lindner