guesthouse, or Yogwan, was called The Inn Sung Do and it
had an open air kitchen which resembled a back alley, a bathroom
that stunk like
shit, a shower that I would only use while
wearing plastic sandals and a horseshoe of small rooms, the smallest
which was nicknamed the coffin and the largest which was a few times
the size and nicknamed the Gas Chamber on account of a gas leak
that often filled the room with propane. The Yogwan
home for illegal English teachers and jewellery sellers who sold
bags of junk jewellery from India and Thailand at a thousand percent
mark up in the streets and subways of Seoul. Most of the English
teachers were backpackers looking to make enough money to keep themselves
in Asia. The jewellery sellers were mostly Peruvian and the occasional
westerner who got tired of teaching English.
In my first week I landed a university teaching job through
an American who also lived in the Yogwan. He claimed to
have bad luck and was paranoid that he would be arrested and deported
for teaching English without a work visa so he always carried
an umbrella and swore that if he was ever confronted by an immigration
officer he'd poke him in the face and make a break for it. Random
deportations were a genuine concern. It meant that if you felt
like you were being followed you would duck down back alleys until
the coast was clear. It meant on teacher’s day you had to graciously
accept bundles of roses from your students and then throw them
in the garbage as soon as you got around the corner. It meant
you wore running shoes to work. It meant you never used your real
My name was Brad Krahn. The American called himself Curtis Mayfield.
Bobby Ore and Gord Downie also taught out of the Yogwan
and I heard stories about a Terry Fox who had been deported a
few months before I arrived. I started dating a girl named Emily
whose last name was Smith which she changed to Smithe because
that was her ex-boyfriend's last name and she hadn't gotten over
Illegally teaching in Seoul felt more akin to dealing hard drugs
than being part of the education system. Most of the job interviews
I had took place in subway stations or the street. Once I was
hired in the elevator on the way up to a giant multinational investment
company. I thought I was there for an interview but when I got
in the elevator my agent asked me to take out my earring and he
handed me the day’s lesson plan and a fake resume which he told
me to memorize by the time the elevator doors opened. I had been
educated at Yale.
On paydays I met my agents in the street and received a bundle
of cash. Korea’s largest piece of currency was the ten thousand
won note which at the time equalled about $10 US dollars. So on
Paydays I’d have as much as two thousand dollars in $10 notes
that I then took to an illegal currency exchange that was disguised
as a lingerie shop. Once I had American currency it was okay to
take it to the bank and have it changed into travelers cheques
without the teller stamping the transaction in my passport which
would surely result in heavy interrogation when I was trying to
leave the country with my illegally earned savings.
The teaching itself I hated. I was a bad teacher at first and
for perhaps a week or so I taught a few good classes but once
I learned how to teach I lost interest and was again a bad teacher.
The formula for renegade English teaching in Korea was this. The
first day of class is always a freebie. You introduce yourself
and have the students do the same. Correct them any time they
say anything wrong. After that you can use the local English newspaper
to prepare your classes on the subway while traveling to class.
If you are ever ill-prepared discuss Japanese-Korean relations.
Koreans both hate and love the Japanese. In many ways they idolize
Japan but they hate the Japanese for being economically superior,
invading their country and afterwards taking a large number of
Korean women back to Japan to be comfort women.
I was arrested once while in Korea. I had just got home from
teaching and my girl friend Emily Smithe was all shook up. Apparently
a group of Peruvians had robbed a bank and the police had raided
the Yogwan. Emily had been interrogated by a policeman
who insisted she was an illegal English teacher and further insisted
that she would not be deported if she gave him “suckee, suckee.”
And then she described how he stuck his tongue out at her and
had pasty saliva in the corners of his mouth.
She was shook up so I made fun of her and did my suckee suckee
policeman imitation. A few minutes later there was a knock on
the door and when I answered there he was wanting Emily Smithe.
He was pissed drunk and told me to leave. When I wouldn’t he pulled
out his little inspectors pad and asked for my name. I spelled
it for him. K-R-A-H-N. Then he told me Emily was under arrest
and that she was going with him. I told him she wasn’t going anywhere
and that we were going to phone our embassy. He said I was under
arrest too and that we were to both follow him. Again we refused
and he pulled out his badge and insisted that we follow him. So
We walked out of the Yogwan and down the alley. When
I asked him where we were going he said the Hoff, which is a sort
of plastic starter kit version of a German Hoff, and also one
of the most common styles of drinking establishments in Seoul.
He ordered a jug of beer and I ordered a bottle of soju which
is the Korean national drink, and tastes like weak vodka. A Korean
man’s manhood is often judged by the amount of soju he can drink.
Passing out is not only publicly acceptable, but also a sign of
manhood. So I poured us a couple stiff ones and shot mine back.
He was already pissed and refused to drink it so I told him we
were leaving. He said I could leave but Emily was staying, then
he wiggled his tongue at her.
I went to the pay phone and called the Canadian Embassy. When
no one answered I returned to the table. The cop was talking about
soccer. Korea had just beaten Japan. The highlights were on TV
and he shouted a few things in Korean to which the other people
in the bar lifted their glasses. I leaned over and told him that
it was too bad that Korea couldn’t have beaten Japan when they
were over here invading his country. He jumped up and said he
was going to shoot me and his arms flailed across his body as
if he was looking for a gun. He shouted at me in Korean then he
walked out of the Hoff. We ran back to the Yogwan, packed
everything we could carry and moved to the other side of Seoul.
Emily and I kept working for another two months until we had
enough money to travel through Southeast Asia for a few months.
We bought a couple tickets to Bangkok, worked right up to the
last day then changed our money and rushed to the airport. Everything
seemed fine when we cleared immigration. We went through separately
just in case there was a problem. We both made it through okay.
We waited at the gate and I got up to go to the washroom. When
I got back three men in suits surrounded Emily. She said to me
“here’s your luggage, sir.” I thanked her for watching my bag,
sat down and pretended to read a magazine. I could feel the immigration
officers scrutinizing me but I just looked up and smiled. Then
they took her away. I boarded the plane hoping she’d be able to
talk her way on to the flight but she didn’t and as the plane
took off the only empty seat was beside me. So I pulled up the
armrest and sprawled across both seats.
Brad Cran is not too
late. At all.