Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Korean bureaucracy invades my nightmares.

Applying for this job has been a protracted and uncertain process.  I sent my application to a recruiting agency, KorVia, in early April; I interviewed with EPIK, which now handles applications for SMOE, on April 12.  I got EPIK's seal of approval on April 22.

Then I had to send my documents to Korea for scrutiny with magnifying glasses, gas spectrometers, etc.  Here I ran afoul of bureaucratic inefficiency and/or incompetence and suffered a substantial delay.  I busted my hump to get my documents in order and they arrived in Korea on May 17.  Next came total radio silence until July 1, when I received a form e-mail from EPIK declaring me a successful applicant without any further elaboration or detail.  The next update came in the form of a contract and Notice of Appointment on July 23.

So it took an entire quarter of the year to arrive at tentative certainty re what I'm doing next year.  Emphasis on "tentative"--EPIK hasn't finalized the date for orientation, though it's tentatively scheduled to begin on August 17,  2.5 weeks from now, and no one has been assigned a school or even grade level yet.  That's right, nobody knows who's teaching elementary and who's teaching high school.  Some people also don't know where in Korea they'll be teaching.  Others have been told they have been accepted and will start a job on the other side of the world in 2.5 weeks but have not yet received contracts, much less visas.

What I'm trying to communicate here is that Korean bureaucracy moves at a glacial pace, is opaque, and announces its decisions and the attendant burdens on you suddenly, in brief flurries of activity.  Last night I had an amusing nightmare featuring these themes.  None of you are in it, and reading about the dreams of others is boring, so it's all after the jump:

Right.  So first I was living in an apartment in the US and received a notice from KorVia, mere hours before getting on the plane to meet my destiny, informing me they'd arranged to provide me with a pickup truck in Korea.  This was totally unexpected, and I didn't want the cursed thing, but what could I do so late in the game?

After my exceedingly long flight, I deplaned at Incheon and joined the customs queue, carrying one piece of luggage and my backpack.  A Korean brigand snatched my luggage and attempted to make good his escape.  He made it like half a step before I sacked him.  I called for some assistance in restraining the villain and thereby attracted the attention of a customs official.

The official, dressed in a natty blue navy uniform complete with important-looking hat, instructed me to collect my luggage and follow him, leaving my backpack behind in the queue because it was not involved in the alleged crime.  A second official led the alleged criminal away and we never see him again.

I was taken to a special customs line where four agents began rooting through my luggage, thoroughly inspecting and cataloging every item within.  My description of the luggage's contents was disregarded, because I might lie, and my attempt at helping with the rifling was forbidden, because I might tamper with the evidence of the alleged crime.

As I waited to provide whatever was next required of me, I worried about the fate of my unguarded backpack and its several valuable contents.  I knew luggage thieves were about.  I was not allowed to return to it, fetch it, or move it to a safer location, and none of the customs people would do any of these things for me, because my case had not yet been processed completely.  Shortly, a supervisor arrived to guide me to the next step.  He led me through the sort of empty behind-the-scenes labyrinth all airports conceal from travelers.

Eventually we arrived at an obscure fire exit door four or five stories above the tarmac.  Beyond the door was the only way down, a sort of spiral staircase without stairs.  Call it a spiral ramp.  It was perhaps two feet in diameter, with 6 inches or so between the guard rails, and a vertical distance between the coils of perhaps 4 feet.  The Korean fellow leading me had no trouble whatever navigating this Lilliputian construction and quickly reached the bottom, wherefrom he impatiently urged me to hurry up already.

Standing with my feet rotated ninety degrees out and shuffling sideways, inch by inch, I painstakingly made my way through one revolution of the ramp.  At this point, as the ramp coiled beneath the revolution I'd traversed, I would have to double over at the waist, twist my upper body to the right, and hug the ramp's central pillar to continue.  I stood a moment, pondering the logistics of all this.  Could I possibly continue to shuffle rightwards, inch by painful inch, bent over at the waist in an awkward bow, scraping my back against the ramp above me, wrapping my torso around the central pillar, with the supervisor heckling me from below, for the remaining 10 revolutions?

No, I could not.  So I improvised:  I grabbed the railing above me, pulled my legs free, and climbed down the outside of the ramp using each level's rails as rungs.  I felt like King Kong.  When I met the supervisor at the bottom he was furious.  I had done an insane, dangerous, and totally inappropriate thing!  As he led me across the tarmac to a building that looked like a walk-in clinic, he castigated me for my disregard of rules, propriety, and social order.  I apologized effusively for my barbaric disregard of Korean culture, blaming my shameful ignorance of its ways for my effrontery and begging to be granted more time to adjust.

When we arrived at the clinic-like building, the supervisor departed, leaving me at a reception desk.  A receptionist explained that I was here to complete the next step in the processing of my case:  an exhaustive account of the physical and emotional sensations I experienced during and after the alleged crime.  

The clinic had two wings, each containing simulation rooms designed to provoke specific reactions from the human body.  The receptionist led me through the halls, pausing at each door and explaining the room's purpose.  The doors had slit windows so I could peek inside.  If I claimed to have experienced nausea during or after the alleged crime, for example, I would have to do a stint in the nausea room, whose floor shook and rolled violently like an earthquake on a stormy sea.  Such ordeals would somehow verify the veracity of my story regarding the alleged crime and perhaps simultaneously prove I am not a witch.  The final room was for sexual arousal.  Looking through its window, I couldn't see how it worked but I heard a saucy giggle from within.  This last room was optional; no one was required to complete a tour of duty in the erotic feelings room.  It was only to be approached with reluctance, shame, and averted eyes.

This was the end of the dream.  I think you see the hidden message, as did I.  No points for subtlety are awarded.

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