Monday, February 6, 2017

America Should Call No Trump

Okay, I'm still not working, but have taken an extra week off, unpaid. So I think I will tackle a blogpost that I just haven't had the time to get into: the reason I think Donald Trump is in power and apart from his buddies, the FTW rich who made bazillions plunging the U.S. and the world into financial crisis, why I think it will be bad for everybody.

First of all, Bernie Sanders should be president of the U.S. Despite the fact that everything Sanders says is exactly what every poll, study and bit of common sense shows the American people are overwhelmingly in favour of, people continue to satisfy themselves into a flimsy, "it'll-be-okay," assumption that Trump won because people were tired of career politicians in the Whitehouse. They wanted a man of the people. Or some other silliness. Has anything like the inauguration "crowds" that were greatly outnumbered by the impressive worldwide women's marches; the endless internet trolling; the opposition to everything Trump says, does or tweets; made it seem like this bozo has EVER had enough support to win an election? And, not for the first time, the fact that the serving president didn't even really win the election is inexplicably being ignored, AGAIN, should give you some idea that things are not fully above board in the politics of the United States. Almost as though it were being run like, oh I don't know, a turn of the millennium investment bank or something.

Check this out. This is an article in which Bernie Sanders calls that right honourable hairpiece havin' cheese doodle a fraud. And he is. Undoubtedly. But he's a businessman. That isn't even an insult to him. He just said he'd protect the middle and lower classes as their president because he needed their votes. Trump's obvious response to Bernie's statement would almost certainly be the widely acceptable shrug and, "It's just business," that is ruining the world. The legislation Donald the Duke is moving to undo was enacted in response to the financial crisis of 2007/2008. The Act's intentions are to provide rigorous standards and supervision to protect the economy and American consumers, investors and businesses; end taxpayer-funded bailouts of financial institutions; provide for an advanced warning system on the stability of the economy; create new rules on executive compensation and corporate governance; and eliminate certain loopholes that led to the 2008 economic recession. So why is El Trumperino trying to get rid of it? Because his fellow businessmen, flunkies and friends, "just can't borrow money!" If you've ever seen, (and truly understood), the documentary, "Inside Job," you will know that the unavailability of funds for these criminal recidivists is a very, very, VERY good thing. If you haven't seen this MUST WATCH movie, here's a not-so-brief summary of the blatant, sociopathic disregard for the public out of uncontrollable lust for personal wealth that created the '07/'08 financial meltdown:

American laws being changed by highly lobbied and funded politicians to help the financial sector is not a new thing. Back in 1998 Citicorp and Travelers merged illegally to become "Citigroup." They broke the Glass-Stiegel Act, which was passed after ANOTHER recession in 1933, in order to prevent banks from engaging in risky investments with their customers' money. For a year, while legislation was being drafted, the federal reserve gave Citigroup and exemption until in 1999 the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act was passed overturning Glass-Stiegel, re-establishing Citigroup's legitimacy and opening the door for ANY bank to invest consumers' money frivolously again, like they had in the good old days of the depression. It also cleared the way for some true creative genius in the financial sector. One example was the derivative. Derivatives were complicated and unregulated and by the late 1990's they had become a 50 trillion dollar market. And as soon as anything was done by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to regulate derivatives, they were quickly overruled by government and congress. Then, ANOTHER act was passed by highly lobbied and funded government. The Commodities Future Modernization Act of 2000 was passed to keep derivatives unregulated. You may wonder how they were able to sell this crap to the American public but your answer is in the name of this disastrous piece of legislation. You just weren't hip or modern if you believed in the old ways of business regulation. Ask a person from Iceland how hip THEY are. Or, a person, (evidently in the minority), from the U.S. who knows what actually happened to their country at this time. Unless it's hip to be an absolute sucker, the whole country was walking around naked thinking they were wearing the fashionable new clothes sold to them by a hellishly corrupt group of financial institutions in cahoots with the government of the time. In the best line from ANOTHER movie that should piss you off, "The Big Short," Steve Carrel's character remarks, "You have no idea the kind of crap people are pulling, and everyone's walking around like they're in a damn Enya video. They're all getting screwed, you know?"

So what exactly is a derivative. Well, like art or fashion, sometimes it needs to be complicated in order for supposed experts to be able to maintain the legitimacy of their narratives simply by saying, "Oh well, don't feel too badly if you don't understand. It's complicated. Just TRUST me." A derivative is something made by banks when they combine home loans and other debts like student loans, mortgages, car loans, investment debts, corporate loans, credit card debts, etc. and sell them to investment banks as collateralized debt obligations. You've heard of CDO's. You may have bought one of these harmless, little bonds trying to stretch the 1% interest your savings account offered to something a little more. Maybe even a little more than a government bond, which, as you were told by an investment banker's narrative, held about the same amount of risk. CDO's were popular derivatives sold to investors worldwide. They often contained sub-prime, or very high risk loans, but were always given a triple A rating. Why? Because, in this unregulated field, investment banks PAID the rating firms to GIVE the CDO's triple A ratings. But this is all too complicated to explain. Just trust me... Pretty nice little scam, eh?

With this money-making machine established, banks made more and more, and riskier and riskier loans. In fact, the sub-prime loans were preferred by banks because they had higher interest rates. Got a pulse? You got a loan! During this time derivatives went from a 60 to a 300 billion dollar a year industry and bankers got rich while investors and borrowers lost money and defaulted. There were a few agencies that could have regulated this disaster. The federal reserve, basically Allan Greenspan, could have, but he is ideologically opposed to regulation. The Security Exchange Commission, SEC, was systematically pared down to a staff of ONE by the well funded and lobbied government of the time. At its weakest point, (one worker), the SEC was easily convinced to relax the limits of leverage laws on banks so that they could borrow more and loan more. Leverage just means the amount of actual money compared to the amount of borrowed, or invisible, fantasy money a bank has to work with. Some banks leveraged up to 33 times their actual assets. In a situation like this, the bank only needs a small, (3%), cash payout to render it insolvent. The trend toward bigger and bigger banks being created, like Citigroup, through merger, meant that a lot of these banks were too big to become insolvent. Too big to fail. So insolvency meant bail-out.

But that just wasn't greedy enough. Before we get to the bail out, first, another advent to an already ticking time bomb, securitization. AIG was almost single-handedly the culprit here. A credit default swap is basically insurance on an investment like a CDO. But unlike regular insurance, investors can also take out insurance on YOUR CDO. These too were kept unregulated by highly funded and lobbied government, so 50 people could have credit default swaps on YOUR CDO. If your CDO goes bad or defaults, you get some money from AIG, and 49 strangers, who were cheering for hardships to befall all the borrowers that made up your CDO, collect money from AIG as well. This just made every CDO 50 times worse for the financial market because, again unregulated due to government owned by the financial sector, the CDS providers were not forced to put away enough money to offset the obvious future disaster. Instead, workers at AIG bought private jets, coke, hookers and beach houses while money rolled in from people buying credit default swaps. So did CDO salesmen. No doubt they put lots away for themselves in tax shelters too so we still don't know how rich they got during the CDO/CDS heyday. It got so bad, and this is where I almost punched my TV screen watching the despicable greed on the faces of the lying perpetrators, that financial institutions were buying CDS's against their OWN CDO's, telling the CDO buyers about how safe their investments were, paying Moody's to give them triple A ratings to support this crap, while trying to make them Unsafe and DEPENDING on them defaulting so they could collect on the CDS's against them. Think of all the people who lost savings and retirement funds. These were mostly low or middle class people. The ones who ALWAYS pay for the greed of the rich.

Think I'm wrong? What happened? You know what happened. Loans got foreclosed on by the thousands, CDO's failed, and SOME of the CDS buyers, (in all likelihood the bank owned CDS paid out first), made money until there was no money left. Banks and investment banks were all leveraged to the hilt so CDO and CDS buyers just lost all the money invested in them. They would have been better off at the 1% interest in their savings accounts. This was a massive national Ponzi scheme. The money the CDO and CDS buyers invested against, succeed or fail, just wasn't there! NObody had planned for this!

So, the American tax payers, and I don't think I need to point out that, as near as makes no difference, this doesn't include the rich, OR Trumplestiltsken.

They get hit up by congress for a 700 billion dollar loan. And then congress bought credit default swaps on that loan. Probably. That's what happened in 2008. The architects of the whole financial crash, the CEO's, board members, executives of the banks and investment companies, ALL got nice raises and/or severance packages FROM the 700 billion! There was a time when the banks were all declaring bankruptcy and the entire financial sector was feeling vulnerable when some of them spoke out and said, fucking unbelievably, "We should have been better regulated. We're sorry, and it won't happen again, but, geez it's not all our fault." But then they got the 700 billion and the heyday staggered on.

Since then there was Obama, a guy who said he was going to bring regulation back, but couldn't because Wall Street was already running the country. You probably remember as well as I do how fast his "Yes we can" face became "Shit! I guess we can't." Larry Summers was his chief economic advisor for crying out loud! This is a guy in the middle of EVERY big bank and bad investment firm that purposely caused the crash for their own Wolf of Wall Street lifestyles. How often do you think THEY agreed?

The idea of regulation has been demonized in educational institutions and private firms all over America. And probably elsewhere. Guys LIKE Larry Summers are going into major educational institutions and giving "Wolf of Wall Street," and "Wall Street" speeches talking about how greed is good and if we don't make these obscene amounts of money, someone else will, and my favourite, "Hey, it's just business!" Conflict of interest has been eliminated. The lobbying, funding and campaign contributions continue, and Trump's appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, will see that it continues since he's well known for encouraging money in politics. Just about every appointee to every post is a gozillionaire fox in the henhouse so the world control budget money has been well spent on the deregulation of the country, or really the corporation, of the United States. And their best purchase so far has been the fake election of Donald Trump. After all the crap we KNOW these monsters did, and plenty we can be sure we still don't know, you are a moron to believe the financial appointment of Trump into the Whitehouse is just conspiracy theory. This could very well have happened, folks. I, for one, believe it did.

The last crisis affected a lot of countries. Not just America. If history repeats itself, with a tighter global economy, the next purposely created recession could be a veritable global depression. But the guys at the top, including Donald Scumbag Trump, don't give a crap. They just want lots and lots of money. He doesn't look like a great reformer, does he?

There have been bright spots. The E.U. has really shifted back toward regulation. Some signs have been shown that emerging global economies are trying to use their own currencies instead of American dollars to limit the influence of America on the global economy. And in education, which is sadly already WELL on its way toward privatization around this messed up world, THIS is happening in the U.S. Say no to Betsy! But this is what worries me about this guy. Yes, he hates women and Muslims, and there are other big issues that are disracting from what I believe to be the truly scary thing about Trump: what he's going to do to the world financially. Will he and the considerable forces of evil behind him succeed? We shall see...

Friday, February 3, 2017

Negative positivity

Just an update: The C1K1 virus has mutated into something different. I went through a stage of sniffling, sneezing and such, but that was followed by a solid three days of non-stop coughing. My coughing muscles still hadn't completely recovered from the C1K0 strain I had in Korea. You know how it feels when you go back to the gym two or three days after a workout and your muscles are still sore but you know you just have to get through the first few sets and you'll be okay? Well, the old man's equivalent to that is getting through the first few coughing spells to warm up the ab and chest and back muscles I use to cough. Yeah! I was surprised too! BACK muscles! I shit thee not! Now the snot and the phlegm, (a word I like almost as much as lozenge, probably because of its spelling), are WAAAAY the crap back in the head and down in the chest so it takes a(n) Herculean effort to blow or snort it out and/or cough it up respectively. I'm taking that as a good sign. A sign of recovery. So let's see... my vacation started on the 4th of January. It's almost the 4th of February. I've had TWO - count 'em - TWO days of good health during this period. And I'm going to say 6 days of good health in 2017 so far. So here we are again. Glass half empty or half full? I had a whole month off! Half full! And I went ice fishing, tubing, skiing, saw some great friends, and did not work! Half full, half full, half full! I went to Korea and experienced stress-free internet, breathable air, orderly traffic, good, hot food! This is all good. But Life just never rolls me ANYthing without some little, niggling element of it to criticize. Again, glass half full, considering the fun stories I get to record here. But, dog gone it, I'd sure like to have been healthy during my vacation!

Sorry for the graphic health details. You are probably feeling like I was earlier today. I got an update and wish now I hadn't. I feel like that often when it comes to technology. Updates are downdates and upgrades are downgrades. For the past, oh I'd say 5 years, exactly NOTHING I've updated or upgraded on my computer, phone, Kindle or any electronic device has made it better with the one exception of the Simpsons Tapped Out. Updates lead to fun, new games within the game to play. Updates to my computer invariably make it slower and harder to use. Updates to any program on my computer seem to be the same. They often come with increased "protection," which means more dreaded passwords to remember. And because the password additions are new, they don't work. And security doesn't keep malicious hackers out of my computer, it keeps ME out. Oh maybe there are good things that I don't see, (glass half full), but the visible things to me are nothing but pains in my arse!

Here's what I'm talking about: I got back to China wondering if my VPN would still be working. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was. Both schools I had been in contact with were using my gmail account to communicate with me and, of course, the G in Gmail is for Google. All things Google are blocked by the Great Firewall of China. But I managed to find a country that worked on my VPN and access my Google mail for 30 seconds at a time to do the business I needed to do. Then two days ago that came to an end. The internet here at my 1200 dollar a month hostel room was pretty good when I first started living here but it has deteriorated regularly until now, when I have it, it's like 1970's internet speed. And most of the time I don't have it. For example when I write these blog entries, I have a pink error banner across the top of my screen telling me an error occurred while trying to save my post. I KNOW that. It's because the frigging VPN won't keep me on the REAL internet for more than a minute at a time. I don't want to spend my time bouncing from country to country getting foreign IP addresses for a minute each while typing this thing, so I just type and type and type without saving and hope I can find a country on my VPN when I'm finished that will hook me up and save the whole thing. I'm in danger of losing the whole post, I know, but it beats messing with the VPN every 30 seconds.

Now, to be fair, it's not the VPN's fault. It's the weak trickle of wifi I have at this expensive hostel. Most of the time it's too crappy a stream to even register on the VPN. I've seen it many times where the VPN says it was unable to establish an internet connection and meanwhile the wifi says I'm connected. Then sometimes, (rarely), I'll be torqueing away with a beautiful stream and a good VPN IP address and suddenly, BLAM, no internet at all! So I have to re-establish my wifi connection, then find a VPN connection... you can see how this would eat up the time.

So anyway, the VPN was shut down because I was overdue paying my bill. I hadn't read my notice because it was in my Hotmail, (outlook), account, which I don't use so long as my gmail account is working. Gmail goes down and I look at outlook and lo and behold, "You haven't paid your bill." So I try. I can't access any of the pages to pay without proper internet. That is, all of the payment pages and help pages at my VPN provider are blocked by the Chinese internet police. So I can't pay for my VPN without my VPN. I do, however, know a pretty good help email I used before so I try to go into my outlook email and send my VPN provider a message letting them know I want to pay but can't. Of course Windows won't allow THAT to happen. They automatically log me into Outlook or Hotmail using my Windows email and password, which is the gmail email. THIS was undoubtedly an attribute obtained on some previous "upgrade" or "update." So I have to log out. This, I know for a FACT, is a feature that was efficiently hidden and forced onto all outlook users via a downdate. They hid the log out feature in the last place you'd look. But I found it and logged out. Then logged in manually to my Outlook account using my Outlook email. I checked the box that says, "remember me" and hoped that next log in I wouldn't have to go through this, but, OF COURSE, it doesn't remember me and I have to log out and log back in every single time I use it on my computer. I can't log into my Outlook account using my Outlook email! THESE are the kinds of "improvements" you get through keeping your system "up to date."

Anyway, I email the VPN help people explaining that I'd very much like to pay my 10 bucks and get the service, (for half a minute at a time), for another month. Then I go about my other business, which was coughing, sneezing, suffering, and maybe doing laundry. I check my email again by logging out, then logging back in and there's a reply. They tell me they will give me two days of service in which to pay. I reply with a thank you. I go into the VPN and try to pay. STILL I can't pay because, can you guess? can you guess?, the fucking username and password doesn't work. I remember NOW that THIS is the reason why I have this help email. Because the username and password didn't work for any of the three months I've had this VPN even though I've never changed it. So I log in, log out, log back in again and send another email telling them my passwords don't work. Then wait. I go about some other business. I think it was taking a nap. I wake up and log in, log out, log back in again and there's a reply. "What email and password are you using?" So I reply and tell them. Then wait and go about some other business. Lunch. Maybe watch a movie or something. Then I log in, log out, log back in and they have reset my password, (without telling me why it had changed without my permission, and does so EVERY month), to what it was before and always has been, and I finally am able to access their pay site. I pay and am sent to a screen that doesn't verify in any way that they have received payment, it just forces me to "upgrade" my service so that I won't "miss out" on the valuable new features of the new and improved blah blah fucking blah. I don't know what I was thinking. I should have just escaped or shut down my computer or whatever and tried to get onto my VPN without "upgrading," but heaved a large sigh, accepted what I knew would be the ruination of the already mediocre service I pay 10 bucks a month for.

So, NOW I have this new feature called "Stealth" mode in which I am the administrator of my own IP address. It requires a lot of extra clicking and organization, and extra permission to be more intrusive on my computer, but with the crap stream I have it does no better than before. In fact worse. I get on and it lasts 15 seconds and then I get the message, "You are no longer connected." The feature of graphing the signal strength second by second is now gone. That was a good feature. It's gone. I want to know the average signal strengths of the countries I choose with my VPN! Now all I know is if I'm connected or if I'm not. Oh, I guess I can tell by the pixel by pixel building of the pages. I was on I think France or something and I tried to access Facebook. I can't use Facebook in China without a VPN. The page took over 5 minutes to build enough so that I could comment on a friend's post. And when I finally gave up it STILL hadn't fully finished. It was like this EVERYWHERE for most of the day here. Again, it's not the fault of the VPN. It's the crappy internet stream. HOWEVER, with the new and improved "UPGRADED" and "UPDATED" VPN, and the exact same wifi stream, there is no doubt at all, my internet is worse.

SO, the friend of mine, Allen, who just got back to China yesterday and messaged me on Facebook wanting to go for a beer tonight, said he'd message me, (on Facebook), in late afternoon. He did and I was still battling the internet here until almost 9 PM. I messaged him and it was too late. So we will go out tomorrow. This is the kind of stuff that happens all the time here. It's not that big a deal but like I said before, so far China, or at least Beijing, has been for me a great big compromise. It's the land of lowered expectations. I HAVE TO expect stuff like this to happen because it ALWAYS does. So you CAN'T be a positive person or you will get you ass handed to you! You need to be a glass half empty kind of person. I'm not too upset at missing my drinking session with Allen. I know that this sort of thing is to be expected here. If we HAD hooked up, it would have been a nice surprise. That we haven't is no great disappointment. That's only because I expect the worst here and I get it.

I have only scratched the surface of the hardships China has presented me with, but already you might be saying to yourselves, "Why don't you get out of there?" or "WHY are you going to sign up for another year?" So, my sagacious readers, judge for me whether this is glass half full or glass half empty: I do not hate living here because it suits my negativity. I expect the worst and I am almost never disappointed. When I don't get what I expect, it's always a nice surprise. When I DO get what I expect, it is never a bad blog post. When I am able to access that is...

Is it any coincidence whatsoever that Buddhism and, my favourite, Taoism are associated with China? I think not. When it was said that life is suffering and enlightenment is to discover tactics to derive joy from the suffering, is there any doubt that the mindset I have described was used? Granted, Sidhartha Gautayama or whatever, never had to suffer the slings and arrows of the internet, wifi, or the Great Firewall of China, but I'd bet he was a glass half empty sort of dude who everybody mistook for a glass half full dude. I'm probably the opposite. I am constantly catching myself being far too trusting and insanely naïvely positive about people and yet the negativity is what people see. A lot of people who just meet me, don't like me because they don't want that kind of negativity harshing their mellow. Their "mellow" being the head-in-the-sand escapism employed by many as a defence mechanism against this squalid world. But those who give me a chance will see. I guess I have become a grumpy old man who is an acquired taste. I can't say that has hurt my profession any. In fact it may have made it easier. My students probably don't like me as quickly as they used to, but I win them over.

I am almost over my flu/cold and am enjoying my 4th tallboy here, banging away at another blog post. I can't say there are a million things I'd rather be doing right now. I have to cautiously say that I am happy from time to time here. I will probably go out with Allen tomorrow night and we'll exchange stories about our holidays over a meal and some beers. It'll be a fun night I'm certain. Allen is also a guy who I can engage with fairly safely on a level of erudite philosophy and unchecked speculation without fear of requisite knee-jerk conversation checks that society has poisoned our brains with. So long as we don't get TOO drunk. lol

So here's the sitch: Monday is supposed to be the first day back for us. Allen is going back. We've all been given the option of taking another week off, (without pay), because there won't be much work done, (we've been told), during this week. Allen's working but I am going to take the week off as I'm sure others will. I need it off to go to the sample lesson and possibly, (hopefully), the contract signing at the other school. The thing is, with the holiday STILL lingering on, (I'm talking fireworks EVERY night for hours and hours and hours!), it's going to be tough to find a train, bus or whatever back from where I'm going. Anything out of Beijing will be fine but coming back is going to be tough. So my hope is to get a contract after a massively successful sample class, sign the thing, start the visa process, find a suitable apartment, pay for it and return to Beijing only to move the next week. Not to go back to work at the present workplace. Oh they'll wonder where I am and they'll probably have to do some improvising and some emergency interviewing and hiring, but that's what I'm hoping for. They've done worse than that to every one of the teachers working for them. Including me.

But this will require some confluence of events the positivity of which I just would be an absolute blockhead to hope for! I will need to be able to negotiate a proper Z work visa with a passport with less than a year remaining on it. A rep from my future school tells me that's possible. Or at least it was three years ago. Mmmmmmmm.... Then I'll need to be able to negotiate said Z visa in Hong Kong, not in my native country of Canada. Again, the rep assures me that this is possible although I've heard from other sources that it's mandatory to return to your home country to get a proper work visa here. Well, maybe all of the sources have been from less reputable schools than this one... but... and I have also heard that almost anything can still be expedited with a little monetary grease in the gears of business. Also, I will need to renew my passport, which, as stated, has less than a year remaining on it. Why would I be able to sign a year long contract without a year on my passport? And, as yet, I still have not established all the details of the work situation I'll be getting myself into if I DO manage to slide through all of these pitfalls. So I'm still going to have to keep a Taoist negativity about me and maintain a silent hope for this new job to turn into an unexpectedly positive surprise, but if that happens, I'll be sure to blog about it. With any luck I'll do so from my OWN apartment, with my OWN fridge, my OWN stove, my OWN internet connection and the VPN's in this country will still work even though there's news that they'll be cracked down upon. And maybe even more importantly, I'll be LEGALLY employed once again! Right now THAT seems a relief too much to hope for.

So as you can see, I'm up against it. It's pretty unlikely that ALL of these things are going to work out for the best for me. But I'll remain in my defensive stance knowing that if they do, that's wonderful! If they don't, I'll have some really juicy blogging to do, but I will have expected it.

I think I've figured life out!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Kampf cont'd

So I'm back in China again. Got here just before the Lunar New Year festivities got really rolling. I was in the final stages of the three-week bout with the flu I picked up in China and brought to Korea. I'll call it the C1K0 flu because that's what the score was at that time. Well, guess what! The score is even. I think I brought a cold back from Korea. This I will call the C1K1 strain of holiday thwarting influenza. I'm just a germ packing mule between China and Korea. This C1K1 isn't as bad though. It's so far just extreme stuffiness. C1K0 might have been the worst cold or flu I've ever had.

But I'm gonna try not to let this new ailment spoil my plans. I got back to this:

That's Jishuitan, the subway station I have to fight my way through twice a day. The place is normally packed! Now it's like a ghost town.

Here's a street in Dongjimen that is usually jam packed with cars, buses, bikes, and all sorts of vehicles. Empty! It's like Seoul during Chuseok here! And that was the plan. I kinda want to see some of the sites in Beijing, but don't want the annoyance of sharing them with five billion other people. It wouldn't seem like a holiday that way. So now I have a chance to go to the wall, the secret palace, the zoo and maybe a temple or two IN PEACE. The only noise will be my sneezing and nose blowing. But I'll take it. It's better than the crowds.

And there you have it. China: the land of lowered expectations. When I can see to the end of the block, have a warm meal that isn't toast, when I get wifi for more than 30 seconds at a time, I don't hate living here so much. When I'm not fighting a cold, my room doesn't smell like sewage, when I'm able to have a glass of cold water - pure luxury. Some days I'd just settle for meeting someone who doesn't just see me as an easy mark. But I've only been in Beijing. It's a business and government city. Two hideous things that could ruin ANY city. I'm hopeful that a change of workplace will eventuate in a change of heart for me. But that's me: always the hopester. I'm writing this all offline because NONE of the countries on the old VPN are working. I am hoping that a bit later in the day after typing some more I will be able to find one country on the VPN that works so I can get a few seconds of internet and update this blog post. Otherwise, it's all going to be wasted effort. A bit of a microcosm I got goin' here...

I keep thinking someday I will find a school somewhere that will benefit from my years and years of experience and hard work and won't be run by a pack of leeching, soulless vipers to whom I am nothing more than a commodity. If I ever actually DO discover that Snuffleupagus, it'll be a Pyrrhic victory at best. You've heard the saying, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach." This no longer applies to our brave, new world. The more accurate axiom would be, "Those who can, have to teach and those who can't, buy schools." I've been looking at jobs in Korea. The pattern for them continues as it has since I started there: it just gets harder and harder to apply. I spend a long time putting together application packages for every job, but the good ones, you can spend a day or two. Maybe even longer. I applied for a job at a university there that would have been comparable to several of the jobs I had in the past in Korea. Here's what they wanted: ALL the usual stuff including resume, cover letter, (which includes date of birth), and a full body picture taken within the last six months, because, hey, it's Korea! You can't possibly do a job unless you look like you can do the job. And teachers need to be young and attractive or students won't respect them. This is why K-pop stars and actors have vastly more influence than anyone else. One of the knocks on the recently impeached president of Korea was that she was either getting plastic surgery or getting her hair done when the Seweol ferry tragically sunk. This, you can be sure, lead to loads of disapproval from the Korean electorate, but you can be double sure that if her hair wasn't so sensational, it would have lead to more.

Of course after you have submitted all the information that is relevant to the position applied for, they make you go to their website and download a VERY detailed application upon which you repeat the relevant information and also have to submit a lot of irrelevant material as well. Your entire work history, sometimes your resident history, your teaching philosophy, your Christian testimony, (oh yes, and this is MORE, not less common!), a self-introduction and, believe it or not, a sample curriculum. An entire curriculum! You may not get the job, but, hey, at least a couple of your better lesson plans and teaching ideas will be part of the curriculum. So you can find some solace in that...

Then there are still the standard time wasters like medical checks, criminal record checks, possible interviews and sample lessons you have to travel to the school, (usually at your expense), to deliver... I know you might think medical checks and criminal record checks are more than just time wasters but we have to get them every year even when we have spent the previous year in Korea so could not possibly have committed a crime in our own country, and even when we have worked an entire year with no sick days taken since the last medical check-up. They are just Trumpy protection against the STD spreading criminals a lot of Koreans, (this too is on the rise not the decline), think foreigners are.

Another popular time, and money, waster is the old stamped degree. If, like most teachers in Korea, you've had your degree verified once, it doesn't ever need to be verified again. I got this straight from Immigration. Why do they make us do it again and again? I just told you! Time wasting. And the sealed transcripts from the teachers' university. This, thankfully is on the decline, but still requested sometimes.

There are other old standby's like the letter of referral and the names, numbers and emails of three people who you have known for x number of years. And of course the necessary documentation like passport, degrees and certificates, visa status, alien card etc. But even with all this crap, that could easily keep you busy for days trying to get a job at a place you KNOW will rip you off, take advantage of you, treat you with disrespect and maybe even ask you to participate in the academic fraud they are undoubtedly purveying, the Korean ESL industry put their heads together and asked, "What NEW and even more diabolical ploy can we add to the application process to thin the herd here?" And somebody came up with the certificate of employment. These are now required by most employers as proof that you did indeed work at the schools you have listed on your resume. And, of course, there are no schools in Korea who gave these out until this new fad started, so if, like me, you worked in Korea more than a few years ago, you have to go to the school you left, probably on bad terms because they ripped you off or demanded you commit academic fraud or broke the contract in many ways, and ask them nicely if they could give you one of these certificates of employment. And they probably won't because they are petty like that. I worked at a couple of places that promised at contract time to allow me to teach kid's camps during semester breaks. When I refused to sign fraudulent grades that gave, (actual example), 70% to students who never attended a single class, they said to me, "Well then we won't allow you to teach at the children's camps."

Basically none of this matters anyway because if you go all the way back to the top and look at the picture and the date of birth, those two things are most important. There is a persistent belief in Korea that a person can be read by their appearance, particularly their face. Which is why EH-VEH-REH body gets plastic surgery in Korea. You know that saying about poor people doing crazy things and rich people doing the same things but then they are eccentric? Well since Korea has become a very rich country, all the crazy shit they do is now covered by the blanket term, "enduring traditional practice." At any rate, I can't pass the most important age and appearance tests any more in Korea.

So I'm in China. Where I'm seeing almost all of the old tactics Korean ESL businesses employed before they got REALLY good at scamming their teachers. I was stopped on the streets of Itaewon during my vacation by a guy doing an internet broadcast about ESL. He was interested that I had taught in Korea and China. He asked me what the basic differences were. I have seen things like this in which people are asked what they think about Korea and they always cave and do the well-behaved visitor thing and try their best to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. I hate that kind of head-in-the-sand self-delusion! And I have often exclaimed while watching one of these weaklings, "Come on! Be honest! Say something like, 'I am surprised to see how well Koreans can use forks!' Or, 'Just greet the person in Korean and laugh hysterically at any Korean response.'" But there I was, admittedly worn right out with the flu, but I was just too tired to get into the realities of the ESL industry so I just said something like China is about 10 years behind Korea. I even said it in a nicer way like, "I am seeing a lot of the things in the Chinese ESL industry that I witnessed 10 years ago in Korea. But China's demand for ESL is huge and they will quickly develop." ... into the highly efficient scam artists that control the industry here in Korea... is what I should have said. Oh well, off camera he asked about the pollution and I was honest about THAT.

The job I have now, we were brought over on business visas for full time jobs. Passe in Korea but still a good scam in Indonesia. It allows the employer to take full advantage of the employee's vulnerable legal status and pile on the work, rules and micromanagement. What can the worker do? He or she broke the law just by coming over. If the employer breaks the contract, or the law, it's just, "Hello, Kettle? This is Pot. Come in, Kettle!" Then there's the old testing scam. You test the students at the beginning of the term and give a brutally hard test. Then at the end of the term you give a ridiculously easy test and at least SOME of the credit for the apparent improvement is enjoyed by the school. They share the remarkable results with prospective saps, uh - I mean customers and the scam goes on. The school where I work now just created the bell curve of all bell curves so that if you get half the questions right, in some cases fewer than half, well that's just 100%. We were giving out 100% scores to kids who had trouble writing their names on their tests.

I recently applied for a job up in Harbin. It was an ad online that didn't include much information. Usually they tell you things like vacation time, class size, schedule, but these things were conspicuously absent. This is a sure sign that the worker is not going to like the information when, or if, he/she gets it. But I sent an application anyway just to see. It took quite a long time before I got a reply. It was, "We are interested in your application. When do you finish your current job?" The one good thing about being hired illegally is you don't need to worry about giving notice or breaking the contract. The contract is toilet paper. I told the guy, nicknamed Steven, that I am available for their February start date. I told him I'd get in touch when I got back to China. Which I did. I sent him a message telling him I was available the next day. He said, "Okay let's WeChat tonight at 10 PM." Another aged tactic. Don't let the worker think he/she is calling the shots. Make things inconvenient for him/her to show them who's boss. I agreed to the WeChat phone call. Well, of course we didn't have a good wifi connection so we struggled with that, but it was nothing compared to my struggle trying to get simple information out of this artful dodger. He got all the info he wanted from me and I managed to get some from him but he eventually just passed the buck to another worker and told me I could get all the information I needed from her. What I DID find out from Steven was that the salary would be about 1300 bucks a month. The lowest I have ever worked for has been 1700 and that was for 12 hour weeks and 5 months vacation. I asked about vacation and even though this was a university and I would be teaching full credit courses, (or at least that's what Steven told me), I would only get "about 3 weeks" vacation. He also said that it changes all the time. How, when the semester breaks are in excess of two months, pray tell, Steven, will I be teaching full credit courses the whole time? No, they have summer and winter camps. I wouldn't doubt they are KID'S camps either. Then he reluctantly answered another important question: class size. He said it would be about 70 but then quickly added that with my experience, teaching would be easy. I said, "Sure, but marking tests, homework and assignments certainly won't be easy with 70 students. Hell, remembering their names won't even be easy." And I didn't say that most of my preferred lessons are group interaction lessons and those are much harder to do in large classes. Even though Harbin is nice and cold, has a big yearly ice festival and is better than Beijing, I was all but ready to give up on this job. But I agreed to talk to another person about things like schedule, visa, accommodation, texts and other things Steven hadn't told me.

Almost immediately I get a WeChat friend request. It's in Chinese so I don't know who it is. She sends me a few messages saying that she would like to set up a Skype interview for the next day. I told her I just want answers to a few questions about missing details in the offer and ask if she could please email me. "When will you be available for a Skype interview. I prefer this because it is more direct." Here's what I did: NOTHING. I just put the phone down and didn't answer. She didn't send me any follow-up messages either. I guess they got the message. But even in China, the employer holds all the cards. They'll find some other schmuck, no doubt, who isn't quite as familiar with the tricks of the trade and who will sign up for the worst year of his/her teaching career.

HOWEVER... That's a big however. I have an offer from what all preliminary indications have shown to be a decent place of employment with some decent people working there. I have kind of been on hold here with the cold and the Spring Festival national shut down here, but I'm going to get busy looking into this opportunity as soon as I can. I don't want to jinx it so I'll wait till it's more solid to blog about it. But it might not be too long before I have an actual apartment, an actual work visa and an actual contract again. I have to renew my actual passport first. I have less than 10 months left on the one I have. But the embassy has been closed. And here's one for ya: You can't pay for a passport in cash any more. The government of Canada, no doubt under Harp-ass, has made it MANDATORY for every citizen who wants to be a proper citizen and/or maybe travel to another country, to have a credit card. SO I'm not Canadian if I don't sell my soul to the evil money changers at Visa or MasterCard. These are people even Jesus couldn't stand! They have to be our friends or we don't get a passport.

Okay, there are ways around this, but I am outraged. What possible reason could there be for not accepting cash for a passport? I don't know yet, but I may have to go back to Canada to get my proper work visa for this job. A Z visa it's called. And I have a few things I could do more conveniently in Canada like get some new cards to replace worn out ones. But smooth talking, easy on the eyes prime minister notwithstanding, I don't know if I want to go back to Canada. Anyways, I will have to send money home to Canada, and the banks are all closed, so that I will have enough in my account to cover the new passport purchase. Then I will have to hope that my debit card, that can sometimes act as a credit card, will be good enough for Passport Canada. Otherwise this'll be just another in a long list of fucking asinine manoeuvres necessary for me to continue my highly rewarding and lucrative career as an ESL teacher.

To be fair, I chose this career because teaching, planning lessons, even correcting writing and marking tests, involves little to no stress for me. I have always said it's the management and the political bullshit that are the cause of all my stress in this gig. It has gotten to the point where I'm at my stress threshold. If this job doesn't work out, I could see myself throwing up my hands and saying, "Fuck it," for like the fifth time, and giving up once again on ESL. Unfortunately, none of the alternatives have been better. So I guess it's crossroads time for me. I'm sure you are as anxious to read how it turns out as I am to type how it turns out.

Keep your blog dial tuned right here to find out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Vacation 2017

The year has hardly begun and already I'm on vacation. Lucky me! hah! Nearly broke a finger typing THAT!

I don't have it that bad in comparison to a lot of other people, I admit, but I DO have some pretty crappy luck sometimes! Like this vacation for instance. I'm with some dear friends who are always great fun to visit. They let me stay at their place in Seoul for nothing and are constantly feeding me better food than I can find ANYwhere in China. So, yeah, it's been awesome in that way. But there are always a few things to complain about for me. Blog fodder I call those things.

I refer you to the previous post. It was typed a week into this visit to Korea and I had, to that point, done absolutely nothing but suffer, and when I say suffer, I mean worse than anything I can remember in adulthood. I am talking flashbacks to childhood when I was a sickly, but cute, little boy. I used to get the flu if someone just looked at me the wrong way. I missed more school than I went to. I threw up more than I kept down. I think I might have been allergic to life. Then, somewhere around middle school I'd say, I just stopped getting sick. I was healthy as a horse. I grew, played sports, ate, did healthy stuff and before long I was one of those guys who NEVER missed school or work. At least not due to sickness. (and hangovers are not included)

I get a cold now and then but they last a few days before the worst is over. I typically catch them on weekends or just before, so I usually only have one bad day at work with a cold. I've done that for years. Sick days are really not a thing in Korea, but now that I'm working in China at a place where some of my co-workers have taken sick days, I almost WANTED to get sick and stay home for a day or two. Had I been working while I caught this Chinese plague I am STILL trying to shake, I would have been off for a week or maybe two! But of course not! I time it to fit just perfectly into my vacation and have the courtesy to share it with some of my favourite folks in the whole wide world. Thank God none of them caught this ague from me! Which makes me doubly sure it is the flu because they all had their flu shots. Say what you will about flu shots, but I was sure glad of them THIS year! So to those who might mistakenly think I'm an antivaxxer because I have, on this blog, spoken out against shitstains and sheep who use that wildly inaccurate term, cash me outside, how bout dat?

Whatever the case may be, I am still coughing up a lung every time I go outside or do anything strenuous. I still blow my nose more than usual too. But roughly 20 days after catching whatever this sickness has been, I just had a full weekend of outdoor activity and am living life almost normally again. The weekend was a blast actually. Though still a little under it, I braved the cold weather and went for a ski/ice fishing weekend to Choonchun and Hwacheon with the Peet/Spiwaks. It was, as always with this bunch, reality TV gold unrecorded.

Mike supplied me with some extra gear for the ski hill and ice fishing because I hadn't brought boots, ski pants, gloves or even my trusty earflap hat. So I got some of Mike's hunting gear. It did the trick nicely and I must say, I enjoyed wearing the orange toque. I was easy to spot, it was really warm, and, dog-gone-it, I liked orange until the mere mention of it made me think of that racist, sexist, sunburnt, hairpiece, blowhard in the Whitehouse. That said, I looked pretty stylish, no?

The other members of our fateful party got all their gear organized, with no shortage of lost items, found items, re-lost items, arguing, bickering, backbiting, name calling, swearing, Shakespearian insulting, crying, complaining, pouting, sighing, clothes rending in twain and the like. And that was before the fighting. Heather was determined not to come up until moments before setting off. I thought she was going to miss out on the festivities for real! But, gluttonously craving the punishment of family outings as she does, she gave in despite being a first ballot shoe in for canonization already. All this time I was fiendishly, and silently, relishing my life choices. Or, to be a bit more honest, my lot in life. Because there was a time I was more than willing to subject myself to years and years of the sleep deprivation, fun spurning and stress eating that the child-rearing package includes. I was just lucky to be born handsome, not rich.

So because there were nine of us, (Mike, Heather, Gramma Kathy, Grampa Ken, Reilly, Roman, Iryna, Kelly and me), Mike rented a bigger van than they already have and did some careful Tetris loading of ski equipment and cold weather gear before the family methodically breakfasted, showered and readied for the adventure. We actually got on the road earlier than I had predicted. 10:45! I predicted noon. So it was a successful beginning notwithstanding the absurdly overoptimistic target time of 9 AM I had heard bandied about willy nilly.

The weather couldn't have been better! We drove in the slightly below zero sunshiny clear air of Seoul until we got on the highway northeast toward Choonchun, a city famous for its Dalk Kalbi. On a previous adventure with the same folks, (minus Oma and Pap), we went to the Choonchun Dalk Kalbi festival during the summer. It was another dramatic day of scarred feelings and family squabbling, but we ate Dalk Kalbi when we arrived, wandered around for a few hours, ate dalk kalbi again, then left. Stomachs full of dalk kalbi turned family squabbles into love again. A successful day in MY book. Dalk kalbi is my second favourite Korean food. And love is always good. Here's a pic... of the dalk kalbi anyway:

We got to the Elysian Ski Hill in Gangchon at around 1. Not bad. We had been told about foreigner discounts, but when we checked at the ticket office, they didn't know what we were talking about. So for 4 hours of skiing and rentals of skis, boots and poles, I paid about 80 bucks. Not cheap, but I hadn't been skiing in years, so I was stoked. And after being on my arse with the China Pox for two weeks, I was up for some exercise. The organization of equipment and lockers involved some logistic gymnastics by Heather and Mike but we got that done. Then we stood in line for rentals for about an hour. By 2:30 or 3 I reckon, we were finally on the hill. I went up a ski lift with Reilly and Roman. None of us knew where we were going, we were just excited to get skiing. At the top we decided to turn left and ended up on the intermediate hill called the Dragon. I think that was a bit too much for us. And given the weekend crowd and the fact that downhill skiing turned into slaloming between our fellow skiers, we had a bit of a hard time getting our ski legs under us. None of us more than Roman. He got almost to the second curve in the run and wiped out. I actually wiped out right in front of him when my ski popped off during a quick turn. My only fall of the day I'll have you know... So as I was trying to retrieve my ski with one of my poles so I didn't have to get up and walk to it, I saw Roman lying in the middle of the run. And not getting up. Then I saw a bit of a crowd gather around him. I said, "Roman! Roman! You okay?" Roman said, "NO!" So I made my way over to him and the ski hill workers told us to move to the side of the run. Reilly joined us. Roman's wrist was sore. He figured it was broken. He couldn't grip his pole or move his fingers without pain. So we slowly skied, stopped, skied, stopped, snowplowed, stopped, skied, stopped, all the way down. Here's Pap and Iryna skiing the Dragon.

Where we ended up was NOT where we had started from. Luckily Roman had his phone. Reilly, after the initial run, was thoroughly tired of the whole skiing in crowded Asia thing too. So Roman called Mike and he met them on the road somewhere. I took a lift back up the hill and skied down to the bottom to where the others were. Or I thought they were. I waited there looking for them for half an hour but saw none of them. What I DID see was about 10 other people being carried, sledded or accompanied off the hill by ski patrol because they too were injured. So I went up to the big restaurant where Kathy, Mike and Kelly were going to wait while we all skied. They were there. And Roman and Reilly were too. Roman had his arm wrapped up. He told me that it was probably broken. The consensus was to meet with Iryna, Ken and Heather, who were at that time over on the dragon run that had slain Roman. Then we'd drive to our hotel in Choonchun, drop off most of us and our stuff, take Roman to the hospital for a check-up and play it by ear from there. While Heather, Mike and Roman were gone, I looked for two things nearby our hotel: Beer and Dalk Kalbi. BOTH were within a two minute walk from us! Hooray for Choonchun!

It turned out Roman's wrist wasn't broken after all and we all went out for a late dalk kalbi dinner. It was awesome! The dalk kalbi place around the corner from us refused us service for some reason. Perhaps the late hour. But dinner for 9 would be a fantastic way to end the day for a restauranteur, wouldn't it? Whatever, we found plenty more dalk kalbi. We were in Choonchun! The place we went featured a very nice ajjuma who gave us something I'd never tried before: a little bowl of seaweed, sesame seeds and sesame oil to mix into the plain rice we were eating with the dalk kalbi. It made a great thing even greater. Can you believe I'd never tried that before? Or maybe I have, I just can't remember. As I get older, and as I spend more time with Heather, whose brain is like a friggin' ledger, I realize that I forget an awful lot of stuff. Just another good reason to keep on bloggin'.

So we all went to bed full of dalk kalbi and love. The nice ajjuma even packed up some leftovers for us to cook up for breakfast. Mike did an admirable job of that. I have to say that with only one bathroom between the 9 of us, we loaded up and hit the road with a minimum of problems. It had to have been the dalk kalbi! It's magic, folks! So on we rolled, like the Griswalds in the Family Truckster, toward Hwacheon and the winter festival. Ice fishing or bust! We had another absolutely gorgeous day for it too!

I think we got onto the ice and over our holes by noonish. A few nice pan fried trout would make for a mighty tasty lunch, we thought. And before too long Mike hauled one in. I'd say every 10 minutes or so, one of our party pulled up a fish. Pap caught 5, Heather 2 including the big one, (which I think was a coho salmon and probably the only fish that wasn't artificially grown, then poured into this lake), Reilly got 2, Kathy got two including a pretty big trout, and Mike got one, the first one. There was one more fish caught on the day. Was it caught by Iryna, Roman, Kelly or me? Given the facts that Iryna fished half the day with a hook that had hook protectors on it, Roman was fishing with one arm, and not all that into it, and Kelly was monitoring the entire party going hole to hole to see if we were having any luck, the odds were in my favour. I, unlike Kelly, was deep in concentration, trying to make sure I wasn't skunked. After catching one, I'd be more of a team player, but I had to get at least ONE. I wasn't really socializing with others, and it was a foreigner fishing area so I'm sure there were people from many countries and it would have been very interesting to do a little hobnobbing. I was single-minded of purpose. Can you tell from that pic?

Then, FINALLY, at around the two hour mark, I snagged one by the lip. It got off the hook just as it exited the hole but, SHIMBATDAH, I got me one!

We caught, I think, 13 fish altogether. Poor Roman was disabled and Iryna's tackle was disabled. Kelly had a blast without catching one. So now it was time to eat these babies! They have a really interesting way of cooking them too. I blogged years ago about my dream job in Korea being a goguma man. That is a guy who cooks goguma, sweet potatoes, in a barrel oven, wears an earflap hat and listens to bong jjak music all day long. It's seasonal so I'd have summers off and bong jjak, sometimes called trot, music just makes me happy. It's impossible to get depressed with that music playing. Well, now I'm reconsidering. I might enjoy cooking the fish at the Hwacheon Winter Festival too. And that's only two weeks a year so I'd like that work schedule! It's a similar kind of drawer in a big metal barrel over a fire kind of cooking. I can't explain it as well as a pic.

That's the fish covered in butter and wrapped in tinfoil. It is goooo - ooood! Everybody liked it. And there was sushi, fish rolls, baddered, and a few other styles as well. We all ate our fills then set out to do some of the other activities at the festival. There was ice soccer, curling, hockey, skating, tubing, ziplining, ice sledding, ice car racing, ice tops, and the one I wanted to try most, but didn't, ice tubing in a tube. You tube down a long, slippery tube from the top of the hill and come shooting out at great speed onto the ice where you smash into inflated air bags to stop you. Next year me and Mike are going double and we'll see if we can't puncture those airbags. Heh heh heh. Here are some more pics.

And as the sun set on a full day of fun, I decided my new second favourite thing to do in Korea is going to the Hwacheon Winter Festival. Number one is Korean baseball, of course, but this was almost as much fun. I have to thank Mike and Heather for giving me a good winter vacation. I faced a little adversity at the beginning, but we were all working toward the same goal. We pulled together as a team and got it done. Roman's unsportsmanlike conduct at the ski hill landed him on the 15-day disabled list with an upper body injury. That might have demoralized a lesser team but we powered through that like champions. There was some taunting, excessive celebration and quite a bit of delay of game, but our execution remained solid and our conditioning helped us pull out the victory. No question our backs were against the wall but, you know, I'd like to thank God for the win and for keeping us safe out there. Even with the remnants of a bout of food poisoning from two days before, Pap played like the seasoned veteran he is and pulled 5 fish out of that lake. Couldn't have done it without him. And Reilly's performance on the tubing hill was an inspiration to the whole team. Heather was a game time decision but she proved an invaluable part of this victory. And our captain, Mike, showed the leadership he's known for. We all played our roles and got the job done. And we're not done yet. As long as nobody is traded in the off season, there's no reason to think we won't be back here again next year with another year of experience under our belts. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mein Chinese Kampf

Well, well, well!

Well? What word did you expect I'd start my first bloggage in half a year with? In fact I reckoned I'd throw a trifecta of wells at you. A veritable bouquet of wells for my dear readers, both as a "what is going on in this crazy world here?!" as well as Joe Walsh "Hi there how are ya? It's been a long time..."

Since going to the fourth world, I've just been unable to blog. I call China the fourth world because it has the second largest economy in the world, so it's not third world, but so much of what I see there, even in the capital, is stuff that makes me feel like Dr. David Livingstone discovering an unknown, prehistoric tribe that has remained hitherto untouched by civilization! The internet, for example, is a constant challenge in China. Now, I went over there knowing it would be, but China, at every turn, has proven to be about three times as complicated as expected. So I go over there expecting a lot of blocked sites, like anything to do with Google. I got a new Outlook email because my Gmail account doesn't work in China. I KNEW that was going to happen. I expected that. What you don't expect is the general wifi drought that has left every internet stream as no more than a trickle at the best of times. Combine that with cafes, hostels, restaurants and places people go to use internet assuring you that they have internet. Then when you try it you find out, yes, there IS internet, only it doesn't work. Ubiquitous throughout Beijing, these places!

So even if I were to get a VPN to give myself a false IP address to enable sites blocked by the Great Firewall of China to work again, I have to try to download it and navigate it using the pitifully slow internet in China, when I can GET internet at all. I managed to hook up to a VPN with the help of a guy who is a bit more tech savvy than myself. He tried several times to download the VPN but the internet cut out after 45 minutes or so and he had to restart the download. This took the better part of a day. A whole day to download something that should take minutes!!! But he got it and then gave it to me. I paid and now use it every time I log onto the internet. So why no bloggage? Because even WITH the VPN, I get an internet stream that is too anemic to do anything and even at that it cuts out on average every minute or two. What I've typed here so far, for example, would have taken me about a day and a half realistically speaking, had I the patience to try for that long from my hostel room in Beijing. I would have flashed up the VPN, then chosen a country. Korea is usually my first choice. The IP address would have been established and I would have gone to Blogger and probably written the three wells before Korea gave up on my weak wifi signaling ass. So back to the VPN. Let's see, how about Azerbaijan? They're usually good. Again, thirty seconds or so till critical mass. Next we'll try Saudi. Okay seems like a decent strength. Now to Blogger. "This page unavailable."

With the amount of work I have to do, I just didn't have time for that nonsense. So, this blog has missed out! No Christmas or New Year's stuff. No updates on the tremendously eventful five months in China, and the insanity at the place where I have been working, nothing about the Korean Queen getting ousted, and, holy moly, nothing about the self-aggrandizing man child who's going to be like Jack lusting after the blood of Ralph and Piggy. Every POTUS has his signature quote and I'm predicting Trump's to be, "I know you are, but what am I?"

So what brings me to the computer today? I have a steady internet stream and some free time. I am off for a month and visiting Heather, Mike and the whole Peet/Spiwak family right now. I got to Korea on the 4th of January. So I've been here for a week. What have I done so far? Nothing! There's a reason for that but I can't tell it to you without recording for posterity another of my infamous tragic travel tales. Are you ready for another tragic travel tale, kiddies? Okay then, just sit back and we'll continue VPN free and wifi uninterrupted! God I love Korea! After I've been in China for five months...

So it all started back on the 2nd of January. I was taking a plane to Taeyuan in China to meet some people at an international school there. I've got to continually look for other employment options given the temporary and tenuous nature of the work I am doing right now. So I booked a flight for the evening of the 2nd. I had spent most of the day packing up all of my belongings so I could store them. The hostel where I live, in a tiny shoebox of a room with no fridge, no stove, no cooking allowed, and the woeful wifi, (for $1200/month), had agreed to store my stuff below the stairs for 60 RMB a day. That's about 12 bucks Canadian. Not terrible I guess... Better than paying for the room.

I hadn't been able to book a hotel in advance for my overnight stay but didn't think it would be tough to find one. My liaison there would be a girl named Faith. She had sent me a map of the area where the school is and I figured I'd just look around for a hotel nearby once I arrived. Show a taxi driver the map, tell him to take me to whatever hotel, badabing, badaboom. But that wouldn't make for any kind of tragic travel tale now would it?

I got to the Beijing airport a few hours before my plane left. It was actually way too early for me to arrive since I wasn't going to need to go through immigration. I bummed around, had a meal, wasted time and then got on the plane. It was less than an hour in the air. Simple flight. So I got to the Taeyuan airport and immediately wanted to find a place to use the internet so I could find a hotel. I found a coffee shop. It didn't look like anything fancy. Kind of a bit downscale for an airport if you ask me. I went to the counter and asked the girl if they had wifi. She showed me a strong signal on her phone so I asked for a coffee. She showed me a menu. Oh great! Designer coffees. I just wanted something from a pot. Oh well, I chose the Americano without paying much attention to the price. What I got was a small cup of burnt liquid. It was harsh, thick and nasty. And as I got to my seat and organized my thoughts, I realized I had paid 78 quai for this cup of coffee. "quai" is a word used in China for Yuen or Renminbee that is like the word "buck" for dollars. 78 RMB is about 15 bucks Canadian! For a shitty cup of coffee! I've been shocked to see this sort of blatant rip off pricing here in China. I thought it was going to be cheap but since they have thrown common decency to the wind, Beijing has become an expensive city. Maybe the most expensive in the world. In a country that is supposed to be cheap! And the internet? They did indeed have internet! It was a strong signal too! Didn't work, but it was a stellar signal! So I went to the help desk near the coffee shop and this very nice girl named Catherine, whose English was pretty solid, helped me out. "Catherine," and "Faith" are not REAL names, just English nicknames, of course.

I approached the counter and said to Catherine, whose name I didn't know quite yet, "I am trying to find a hotel but the airport wifi doesn't work on my phone." She replied, "Yeah, I know. It doesn't work." Then she got out her phone and decided to use her own personal data minutes to help me. I thought this was a very nice gesture and wished there were some way I could help her in return. Ask and ye shall receive. Just then a cockroach scuttled across the marble counter in front of Catherine. She shied, so I swept it off the counter and onto the airport floor. I then stepped on it. I lifted my food and the cockroach casually walked away. Not fast. Just at a casual pace. I figured I should let that badass bug live. So I did. Anyway, back to Catherine. She found a hotel near the school using the map that Faith had given me. Then she wrote some directions in Chinese for the taxi driver. It was absolutely perfect! The hotel was a 5 minute walk from the school and the driver got me there in about 35 minutes. It cost 53 quai. CHEAPER THAN A COFFEE!!!

So I get the room paid for and get up to it. I was on the 6th floor. I open the door and I am not sure which sense kicked in first but the first sight was a big no smoking sign and the first smell was smoke. Not like someone was sitting in my room roasting weenies and marshmallows, I like that kind of smoke smell. No, it was like the smell of an airport smoking room, only stronger. Someone had obviously disregarded the sign. For a LOOONG time. The walls were sticky with it. I felt like I should put on my pollution mask.

Anyway, time to eat. I was hungry and I was pretty sure I had seen a brightly lit building up the street a block that might be a mall or department store or something like that. So I went out looking for some food. I got to the intersection just a block up the road from my hotel and sure enough there was a brightly lit mall called Sky Store or something to that effect. There was the matter of crossing about eight lanes to get to it, but not so bad a deal. I should be able to find some food in a mall.

Now, crossing eight lanes in China. Different than any other country. Oh you can make comparisons but I've lived in Jakarta and that's the worst traffic in the world. STILL not as bad as China when it comes to one simple little thing: when your pedestrian walk light turns green, you have to be on the balls of your feet and have all your wits about you. It's not possible or probable that someone will illegally turn and barge through pedestrians, it is GOING TO happen. And the walkers of China just let it. These jerk-offs who refuse to wait for their turn arrows or at least for the human beings to finish crossing the street, are the tribe untouched by civilization I referred to earlier. And I've had lots of Chinese students. At one point or another every one of them has bragged to me about their 5000-year-old culture. I can't tell you how often I think, as I live amongst them, "In 5000 years, nobody has figured THIS out?" Because it seems to me that if you are a culture that obviously can't control its sexual urges, has spent who knows how long trying to reduce its population to manageable levels, maybe somewhere along the line someone might have thought to teach the younger generation that selfishness is easy and using overpopulation as an excuse for being an asshole is easy. When you have so many people, it is all the more essential to think of your fellow man and at least act in a polite manner. Nobody? 5000 years? Nobody?

I was doing a class one day on people you admire. I extended it to creating your own superhero. I gave them a superhero example from my own fertile imagination named Tiananman. Tiananmen Square, where that unknown hero stood in front of the tank. You all remember the Tiananmen tank man, don't you? He's a hero in China even though nobody knows who he was. I contend that maybe he's not even Chinese. The way these people all get the hell out of the way of any jagoff in a motor vehicle, (or even a bicycle), who selfishly abuses the pedestrians' right of way is shameful. Just shameful! So a hero is needed. Someone who will stand in front of the cars, motorbikes, or even the worst offenders, the buses of China and force those jerks to obey the laws and honour the pedestrians' rights. Tiananman. I drew a quick cartoon of him on the board.

Now, here is exactly what I'm talking about. I have this cartoon on my Chinese phone. So I go downstairs, get my phone, plug it into this computer and, no surprise at all, "This device has malfunctioned and is not recognized by this computer." So I have to go back downstairs and get my Kindle. The Kindle camera is an absolute piece of shit that randomly focuses whenever it wants. So I spend about half an hour getting the best pic I can of it. This is what I got.


Nice eh? A picture of a picture that's out of focus. The best I can do. Why? I don't know exactly. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the phone that wasn't recognized has once been rescued from a squat toilet full of shit. Yes, this is my "Poo Phone." THAT'S another good China story! Or maybe it's just the settings and tweaks that China puts on everything that makes everything there unique, or in global terms, incompatible with everything everywhere else. It reminds me of a few things I remember when I first came to Korea. Like baseball. Koreans decided to make the game more "theirs" by saying the strikes before the balls. So you would hear counts of "two and three." They've since stopped because it only adds confusion, not personalization. China may eventually change a few things too. Like most light switches in the country. Up is off and down is on. Like bank machines. Only country I've ever been in where the machine requires you to press another button to get your card back. Causes all kinds of problems and I'd guess thousands of eaten cards a day, but, it's the Chinese way. So it's better. I'd go into education here but it would take too long.

Back to the story. I took a deep breath, got my game face on and started across the road. The light gave me well over a minute to cross the 6 lanes. Should be enough. As I walked across I looked at the sparkling lights of Skymall or whatever it was. Then I saw a KFC out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head for a fraction of a fraction of a second to ascertain if it actually was a KFC. It was. What? Why am I feeling something in front of me? I quickly brought my eyes back to the street in front of me and there was a woman on a moped falling to the road and looking out her helmet at me in a sort of "I'm helplessly falling but still not going to blame myself for this problem I've gotten myself into," face. I reached out and grabbed her, then steadied myself. It was actually miraculous than I didn't get a foot run over and she didn't hit the pavement. I then turned into Dustin Hoffman and, I am not kidding, I said, "I'm walkin' here!" Then I continued across to the KFC.

I KNEW it would happen and had said to my co-worker, Allen, who lives just across the hall from me, that it was going to happen before I left China. Sure enough it did. I thought I was going to push someone off their moped, but instead stopped this selfish mopedist from falling. Will she give the pedestrian the right of way next time? Nope. But with more Tiananmen like me, someday China too might have some semblance of order in the streets. If police actually enforced traffic laws, and didn't break them themselves, maybe China wouldn't be such a chaotic and dangerous place to walk and drive. Common courtesy would fix it in a jiff. But it's easier to be selfish. Fuck everybody else. That's one of the upshots of the 5000 years evidently.

So anyhoo, got some KFC, got safely back across the street and back to the hotel. I watched some TV, Chinese league basketball, and ate some chicken. By golly it was time for a beverage. I went across the street to a 24 hours convenience store to get some water and a beer or two. Now, to be quite honest, I have found the taste of Chinese beer to be okay, but it's so weak it's frustrating sometimes. I've spent afternoons with Allen in the hotel bar having one after another and feeling nothing but the urge to take leaks. Many and frequent leaks. It's as if some sort of diuretic has been substituted for the alcohol in some Chinese beers. And even the best ones, you're gonna have just over 3% alcohol anyway. Some, I don't think even have 2%.

But I went to get one or two anyway. So I go to the beer fridge. It's not turned on. This is quite common. I don't know what the warm beverage attraction is in China, but sometimes a(n) Herculean effort is required to get a cold glass of water. I, being a resident of a fridgeless room, like a nice, cold beverage when I go out to get one. Even Pepsi! Warm cola! WTF? So I look in the ice-cream freezer and I find one frozen bottle of water. So, here again, China, I buy the frozen bottle of water, a warm bottle of water, two warm bottles of the strongest, (3.6%) beer they had, which was Budweiser, and go back to the hotel. I open the ice and chew as much off the top as I can. I start pouring tiny little bits of warm water into the ice to make a bigger and bigger reservoir in the ice. After only about an hour and a half, I am able to drink cold, though watered down, beer. But it's the struggle I face daily in the Middle Kingdom. Mein Chinese Kampf.

So I finally finish my beer, such as it was, and decide it's time to hit the hay. Got to meet up with Faith at 9 AM. It's almost midnight. So I turn out the lights and go to bed. NOW that 15-dollar coffee starts going to work. Between that and the smell of nicotine in the room I'm basically up all night. I was studying for an exam during university one time and a friend, who was also studying, gave me some caffeine pills. He also happened to be my roommate, Peter. We were awake all night long. We trashed about 30 records, I mean scratch shit outta them on the turntable, then threw them at the wall and broke them into thousands of little pieces! Then we had a pillow fight and left foam and feathers everywhere. I forget what else but we thoroughly trashed our apartment. Then we went to bed and spent the night telling each other how exhausted we were and how much we wished we could just fall asleep. It was one of the longest nights of my life. Hellish! Well, this night in China? Same deal. Only nobody to pillow fight with, listen to music with, or complain to. It was terrible!

Then, next day, I didn't have to write an exam, I had to meet with prospective employers and try to remain engaged, engaging and awake. I actually did okay. But then we got to the end of the technical stuff and it was time for a bit of a tour. Faith knew I wasn't scheduled to leave until 8 PM so I had the entire day. I told her I was interested in seeing some of the town. Tourist attractions, housing, restaurants, malls, shopping areas, supermarkets, you know, the places I'd go if I took the job and lived there. So she offered to do that. I thought that was awfully nice of her! Even though it was an especially high pollution day. I have pics on my phone of the streets we walked down where the houses at the end of the streets look as though I took a Kindle picture of a picture of them. It was nasty! First we went out for some of the local specialty noodles. There are so very few tastes that I just can't stand but cilantro is one of those tastes. These noodles were covered in cilantro. But I eventually ate some noodles that were made from beans. Never tried anything like that before but they were good. Then she showed me the campus. Most things were either locked or in use so I didn't really see much. Then she decided to take me to an amusement park in town. When we got there, it was closed. This is holiday time in China and they pick that time to repair the rides at the amusement park. Oh well, let's go to a temple. I always enjoy temples and this one was pretty good. I have pics of it, but again, my camera is not recognized by this computer.

Faith explained that we had been in the old part of town this while time and I have to tell you, it wasn't knocking me out. It was dirty, dinghy and not looking like a place I'd want to live for a year. I'd read a bit about Taeyuan and have a friend who has lived there so I knew it was responsible for about half the coal in China. I was expecting dirty, but this went a bit beyond my expectations. However, we went to another park and walked along a river for a while. It was nice. I confided in Faith about my job and how it wasn't really a job and she admitted that the school really wanted me to work there. So it was a successful meeting. But it was only 2ish so Faith got us another cab and we went to an extraordinarily gigantic area of town where there were massive parking lots, fair grounds, just spots for shows and exhibitions. Then nearby there was a library and several kinds of museum. It was a LOT of walking getting from one place to another but I was impressed by the modern architecture and the stark modernity of the area in comparison to the old part of town. There was an art museum, a museum and a science museum. We decided on the museum museum. We walked there only to find it closed. But right next to it, that is, about a 20-minute walk away, was the science museum. We tried that too. Closed. I showed up in Taeyuan on a day when it was closed! Crazy!

Faith and I were actually having good conversation and getting a kick out of the bad luck we were having. I told her that this was par for my Chinese course. I told her a few of my banking stories and the poop phone story and she laughed. She was a really great gal! I'd show you a pic, but...

We ended up getting a coffee, (for 15 RMB or 3 bucks), that was WAAAY better than that 15-dollar shyte and then I just gave up and said I should go to the airport. So I did. I got to the airport in plenty of time to eat a Subway steak and cheese and catch my plane.

The flight back to Beijing was uneventful but as soon as I got back I had to pack everything down from my room and put if under the stairs. Since it was a late flight, this was all being done at around midnight. Then I paid for storage and rent upon my return late in January. That settled I went to bed. The next morning I got up early, went to the wrong terminal, almost didn't make my flight because of it, but caught the flight to Seoul. Only I couldn't take out cash from the Chinese bank machines before leaving. That was the plan because I don't trust Chinese banks at all. They suck. Nuff said. I just didn't have the time to stop at one and take out a pile of cash from it. I already had quite a pile of cash with me but I needed more. Anyway, no worries, I was told by a few people at work that our Union Pay ICBC bank cards would work at machines that accept Union Pay cards. I had looked it up online and read several things about that on several sites. It sounded safe. Korea has a huge number of Chinese tourists coming and going so they want to make sure they leave as much of their money here as they can. I thought it would be no problem. But, China.

I tried several bank machines here, was guaranteed by two people that my card would work, even went on base to use an American bank machine and none worked. If you read the literature on bank websites, a card like mine starting with a 6 will work. I doesn't. And I have to say, I'm not that surprised. My struggle.

My final bellyache, literally, is that the very day I got here, perhaps because of the sleepless night in Taeyuan, low immunity and walking around all day getting a little start on a case of black lung, I got some sort of wicked Chinese flu! I haven't been this sick for this long since I was a kid. I went more than two days without eating. Never before have I done that! I have lost about 20 pounds. I haven't had a beer in over a week. I was a mess! And me without a job to take sick days from! DAMMIT!

So I'm just now starting to be a partially functional human being again after a week of this flu. The job search goes on. The vacation goes on. I haven't, (thank God), passed my ague on to any of my hosts. I will be returning to my struggle on the 25th but just might blog again before then. Maybe the legend of the Poo Phone. It's a good one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Orient Express

Well, (as I am wont to start a post with), it's been some kind of day, lemme tell you hwat!

I got up this morning with the Peet/Spiwak household. I felt a bit under the weather, though, being better than it has been in months, the weather took some getting under. But under it I went. Unexplained headache, ague, stomach uneasiness and general lethargy. I felt as though I'd drunk the night before. Exactly as though! But I'd had not a single drop. So, I have to blame the blahs on the fantastical new developments in my life the past few weeks have fashioned for me. And the stress-induced symptoms that may or may not have been caused by them.

New paragraph for this: I AM GOING TO CHINA. Five words I had no intention of ever uttering. But here we are. Not maybe any more. For SURE I'm going to China. Life never misses a chance to say, "Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!" to me!

Because of that I had shit to do! I had no time for physical mutiny! I had to get rolling! So I went out to the streets of Itaewon where there are a half dozen travel agencies at least, and I determined in my mind to buy a ticket to Hong Kong no matter what! The previous day I had visited Ettehad Travel, among others, but all they could find me was a 200,000 won, (200 bucks), ticket with only one bag allowed. I talked with the guy there though and he was very nice. Wahed might have been his name. He said, "Do you mind if I ask your profession and why you are leaving Korea for China?" To which I replied, "ESL teacher," and he gave a knowing nod or two. He said, "Do you know how many times I've heard that lately?" It's not just me, folks! So that sort of makes me happy. Incidentally, he also gave me a tip on moving my stuff to China. A logistics company called C.I.L., Corean International Logistics. I went on their website and booked an appointment for them to come to my house and estimate how much it will cost to move me to China. That's tomorrow, Tuesday, September 6. We shall see... I did this when I moved home last time. There are companies for foreigners who are very professional and give you folders and free pens and stuff like that and charge thousands of dollars more than the Korean companies. I'll see if this is a foreigner company, or if they are a Korean company. What I mean by that, to be clear, is not that they are owned by foreigners, they aren't, none but the huge UPS or FedEx sort of logistics companies are, there are just some who specialize in dealing with foreigners, and charge WAAAAY more, and some who give their fellow Koreans a fair deal. I sure hope it's the latter otherwise I'll just rent my apartment for another month and leave my stuff here.

So anyway, I didn't buy that ticket because I need more than one bag. Today I figured I'd go to the travel agents at 8:30 and see if they had any better deals for me. The one I knew, which I had used several times back, WAAAAAY back in the day, Unique Travel, was closed. The sidewalk in front of it was being bulldozed. I didn't hold out any hope that it would be opening today at all. The next nearest was ABC travel and they were closed. I went to Ettehad prepared to take his ticket from yesterday and hope for the logistics company to be good, but THEY weren't even open. In fact, none of the six places I tried were open. But I called one and he said to come back at 10:30 or so. It was 9. So I went back up the hill to relate my fine morning stroll to the Peet/Spiwaks, who were earnestly attempting to get to Everland by 10. That, in Peet/Spiwak language means, "LEAVE" by 10 and at 9:30, they were still about half an hour from departure. Not bad though, 10 AM. Not bad.

They DID manage to get on the road by 10 and I packed all my crap up that I had taken to their house, like, a month ago, to do the camps, and FINALLY I was going back to my home in Gangneung. But I had to buy the ticket first because you need a ticket to show that you are leaving Korea before the pension office will release your pension money. They want to be SURE they're getting rid of you. THAT is what I had to do once I got back to Gangneung. I'd read that the pension offices pay on the 10th and it was the 5th so I figured time was of the essence. And it was. So I packed up all of my things except a few shirts that I will bring as luggage to China. I left a big hockey bag and a backpack by the Peet/Spiwak door and at 10:30, the time the one travel agent told me he'd be opening up, (and he promised to call me back), I was out the door.

It was significantly hotter than it had been on my morning stroll and I started sweating like Brock Turner's female swim teammates. I started with Unique travel only because it was the easiest place to start. I didn't expect it to be open. But it was! JUST. I mean the girl hadn't even turned on her computer or finished her morning coffee. She found me a ticket that was 173,000 won and allowed for 15 kilos of luggage. So I took it. Then I caught a taxi.

This requires a new paragraph too because although I have been in a thousand taxis in Korea if I've been in one, I've had bad drivers, roundabout routes, people who fake like they don't know where to go, the whole works. But this guy took the cake. I get in and he asks where I'm going. Nobody knows Samho Villa so I just told him, in Korean, when to go straight, turn left etc. Criticize me if you will about not learning the language after the eternity I've been here, but my taxi Korean is impeccable. EVERY THING I told him he questioned, repeated back, hesitated, hesitated, hesitated until finally at the last second, after repeating the direction a dozen times in Korean, English and Swahili, he did what he was told. We reached Samho Villa and I told him to wait for me while I retrieved by big hockey bag and backpack. He faked like he didn't understand what I was saying. I seriously thought about just getting another taxi but it's hard to find one on the hill and with my heavy load...

I get out of the house and find this dude scouring the neighbourhood for me. I guess he thought I'd stiffed him. And I suppose he didn't read the big, GIANT sign on the side of the building he was facing, the one I was exiting, that read, "Samho Villa." So I got back into the taxi and said, in polite, well enunciated Korean, for him to take me to the Gangnam Express Bus Terminal. Somewhere EVERY taxi driver ought to know. Possibly Seoul's most common taxi destination. He's blathering on about Samho Villa and Samho Garden. I thought he was saying that the place I went to was Samho Garden, not Samho Villa. As he's blathering, he's missing the more convenient turns to get to the bus station. He takes me out to the street that goes the completely wrong direction. So I start in with the repetition again. In every language I could I told him to take me to the bus station. He keeps going straight but hesitantly likes he's even putting an ounce of effort into following my directions. So I tell him, again, in Korean, to forget about Samho Villa or Garden, I want to go to the Gangnam Terminal. Body language. I start doing the bus driver dance saying the Korean for bus, which is understandably difficult for this moron to understand because it IS, "BUS-eu." So I go HEAVY on the EU to make him comfortable. Then I change my tack and start saying U-turn in Korean. Again, I have to give the guy a break because he has to make the very complicated mental transition from U-turn to "U-ton," with the "on" pronounced like the word "on." It's actually slightly different but I was saying it in proper Korean pronunciation and he continued the charade. We passed by two places he could have made a U-turn. With clearly marked U-turn road markings. I am SCREAMING at this motherless fuck to U-turn and he's getting closer and closer to the u-turn area with no oncoming traffic and then hesitating like he's going to turn then missing it and acting like there was nothing he could have done. He was also getting closer and closer to the tunnel. After the tunnel, we'll have to go through HEAVY traffic just to get back on a road to get to the bus terminal. It will add half an hour and 10 bucks to the trip. Finally, while mumbling "Gangnam," and "Samho Garden," he does a U-turn in the absolute last chance U-turn spot directly in front of the tunnel. THEN he starts explaining to me in Korean that I didn't understand how it was impossible to U-turn until that time and so on and so forth. I told him I wasn't listening, but that didn't shut him up. Then I get the, "Chhh!" and "Aisssshh!" because he has been wronged by me.

But finally he's on the right track. Or so I thought. There is an over/underpass you need to go UNDER to get to the terminal. I've been there a bazillion times and never has a taxi driver even faked like you can take the overpass. This jackwagon, hesitantly, at the last second, pulls into the overpass lane like there was nothing else he could have done. Immediately I start complaining and he's all, "Tuh mee nul! Tuh mee nul!" Saying you can get to the terminal this way. I know you can, but you need to go all the way around it, which is a waste of money. much like going all the way to the tunnel had been. But I don't argue because, geez, why wouldn't I trust this guy? There is really bad traffic as soon as we get over the overpass and it takes forever to get to the first of what should have been three consecutive left hand turns. Yeah, that's right, a circle. At least he managed to do that right. Then we come to the second intersection and at the last second he asks me what to do. He's all the way over in the right hand lane so we can't turn left. We have to turn right or go straight. I just told the stupid dingaling to let me out. So he stops, fake hesitates again, gets horns blown at us, then finally makes a right hand turn taking us farther away from the terminal. I keep repeating, IN KOREAN, for him to let me out. He keeps faking like he's going to pull over then continues driving farther and farther away. I ask him in Korean, "Can you speak Korean?" He gets as far as he can down the street without getting rear naked choked from the back seat and lets me out. "Thank you," he says in English as I give him the money he doesn't deserve. I REALLY wanted to drive this guy in the temple and throw his unconscious body off the overpass.

But I didn't. I'm leaving Korea and these frustrations. For China, and new and different frustrations. So I grab my heavy baggage and start my 20 minute walk in the hot sun cursing this asshole the entire way and thinking that this is a great send-off from Korea to me.

And if you think Koreans are getting BETTER, here are a couple more interesting things to watch.

It's not just the vastly improved job offers in China and the vastly worse job offers here in Korea that are causing this mass exodus. At least I don't think so. Don't you just love that girl? And people wonder why I am the exact opposite of what she describes white dudes in Korea as. I tried my hand at dating Korean women, but that wasn't what I came over for. And after a few short, hilariously crash-and-burn relationships, gave up on them so that wasn't why I stayed. What she doesn't take into account, is that some of us can't find JOBS in our "developed," countries. I have found that a LOT of people in under and undeveloped countries over here think money just falls from the skies in the developed countries. I hate those words too, developed and undeveloped. There are many ways the undeveloped countries have outdeveloped the developed ones.

I'm not going to generalize, like she did, and say that they are ALL like her, but I've seen way too many Korean women like this. I could talk about her below average looks by Korean standards and how she probably shouldn't be as big a princess as she seems; or how somebody should pop her dislocated shoulder back in, (seriously! anyone else notice that?); or how devoid of personality she sounds; or mention that she posted about her US military boyfriend who dumped her and that this is probably a sweeping damnation of all white men based on one bad experience; but I'll draw your attention to what I see as the most telling part of the video that reveals, really, all you need to know about this crazy little bitch: when she's talking about winners, she uses Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as her examples of perfect white men. Immediately you know it's not for looks or personality. Neither are winners in the social sense of the word. They're standard nerds. A lot of people say Zuckerberg is an asshole. But that's not what qualifies as a loser to this girl. Hmmmm... what could it be she is looking for in a man? What is it that ties these two guys together? Why does she use these two as her models for the perfect white man?

The other vid reminds me a lot of the taxi driver. He's trying to act as though, "Sorry, I don't serve foreigners is something beyond his control." Like my taxi driver, "Sorry, I can't drive you directly where you're going without pissing you off. You're a foreigner. It's against the rules." Same at immigration, as you, no doubt read a few posts ago, "Sorry, no matter how organized you are and how perfectly you've prepared for this visit, we can't give you what you want without finding some superfluous thing to make you go fetch and come back tomorrow."

Every time I come back to Korea I remember the good times for a while and hope it's going to be a new me here, but little by little the bad stuff starts piling up. And a little bad thing to me gets multiplied in a hurry if it's something like the customary hagwon boss screwjobs. I wasn't just mad at the Shims for all the stupid crap they pulled while I worked at their hagwon. I was mad at them and all the other people who did the same crap to me. And in that way I am feeling the equivalent to a generalizing, group anger against all Korean hagwon bosses, perhaps even, to my embarrassment, to all bosses or even all Koreans. I don't think it's gone that far, but I worry that it might someday if I don't get out of here. I think the headaches I was suffering were from years and years of getting frustrated with Korean bosses, administrators, and fake educators who were turning schools into businesses. It came to a head when I got it all over again here.

Do I think China won't have schools being run as businesses and administration members who will cheat me? No. But the thing China has going for it, and for me, is that I haven't been cheated by Chinese people. At least not in China. Yet. It's going to happen. When it does, I don't think I'll hold Korea, Japan, Indonesia or Canada against them. I sure hope not. And, hey here's a thought, maybe I will be at an actual school and they'll keep the cheating to a minimum. Then I'll actually be happy and stick around for a while! There I go being all positive again.

So I got back to Gangneung and immediately went home, dropped off my stuff and went out to find the pension office. I got fluky and told the taxi driver the Korean word for pension, yeon geum, and if you know my blog, you'll know why I know that word. From Gwangju. So the driver just took me to a place I never would have found from the directions I had. I walked in and there was no line-up. I showed them all my stuff including my ticket out of the country and in no time flat I had applied for my lump sum pension refund. They told me it would be 1.6 million. Woohoo! They told me it would be deposited into my account sometime at the end of the month. NOT woohoo.

I guess what I had read about the pensions being deposited on the 10 of the month must have referred only to the Seoul office. Yet another example of the newest of Korean fads. I don't know if it's just for the foreigners or if they do this to each other too, but nobody just pays me when it's time to pay. There is always a mandatory, unexplained waiting period. My job, the camps and now pension. Every single Korean won I have made since getting here has been paid to me late. Coincidence? I think not!

I was counting on that dough. Dang it! Now I will only have a little bit to spend in Hong Kong on my layover there. And I'll have the plane ticket refund money I get when I arrive in Beijing. That's gotta get me through to the end of the month. And it probably will, but I'll have a week in a brand new city before I have to work. I might just want to do some things. Won't get that chance by the looks of it.

In brighter news, the head teacher from my school in Beijing, which, if I haven't mentioned before, is Renmin University, is coming to Itaewon on Friday. I'm going to meet him there for a beer. At a place called the Wolfhound Pub. It's a place I've said many times I need to go to more often, but it's off the main Itaewon drag so I never think to go there. So should be fun. Then one last night with the Peet/Spiwak clan and it's an early morning flight to HK.

And on to a whole new adventure.

I was hoping to buy myself a VPN before going. With the pension money. But I can't. So I will likely be postless for a while. But I've heard good things about the VPN effectiveness in China. So I may be able to keep on bloggin' and share my Chinese travels with you all. Facebook - not so sure.

Only one way to find out!