Monthly Archives: May 2008

Payment unpleasantness

In March my school asked me to teach some afterschool lessons, at the attractive overtime rate of 30,000 won per hour. At the time I was super pleased, since the classes are during times when I have to be at school anyway, and this rate was 50% higher than the standard GEPIK pay rate of 20,000 won per hour. But it didn’t start out well. I found out when my lessons started only a few hours before they did. And then they changed venues without telling me. It can be rather embarrassing when the students have known about the venue change for days, and the teacher is wandering around somewhat clueless.

But even though there were some hiccups, and one or two classes that bombed badly, the afternoon classes were a good experience. I got a lot of confidence working with some students on a more intensive basis, and I tried out quite a few lesson ideas, some that worked and some that didn’t. Generally it was a good, if difficult and challenging, experience.

My school runs afterschool lessons in cycles, with one cycle every term. I’ve been looking forward to getting my pay for the last cycle, which I was meant to get at the end of April. When April payday came and went, I started to get worried and asked what was going on. The eventual answer was that the school was struggling to get the money from the parents, and I’d get paid when this happened. I wasn’t that happy with this, especially as my new afterschool class cycle started at the beginning of May. But I heard that this payment problem is common, so I figured I’d wait it out.

When May payday came around, I did indeed get an extra payment. But it was exactly HALF of what I had expected to be paid. So I thought the school had just made a mistake. Apparently not. Now, if you’ll recall, I was told that I’d be paid 30,000 won per hour. I found out yesterday that no, actually, I had been misinformed. The pay rate was in fact 30,000 won PER STUDENT. This is a significant semantic difference. So instead of being paid say 600,000 won for a hypothetical 20 lessons, I now get 300,000 won for a hypothetical 10 students who attended those same 20 lessons.

Let’s just say that this news was not received well by me. Especially in light of what I’d been promised, AND the fact that my GEPIK contract clearly states that for extra lessons over my 22 standard lessons a week, I’ll be paid 20,000 won an hour. So at the minimum, I should get 400,000 won for the 20 lessons. The school is trying to underpay me.

Which brings me to my point. This saga is still underway, so I’m not sure what the outcome will be. However, I have learnt a valuable lesson here. Don’t take things like payment for afterschool classes for granted. Get EVERYTHING in writing, including how much you’ll be paid and when it will be paid to you. So if I carry on with afterschool classes I’m definitely going to make sure that my hourly rate is clearly stated and that I will be paid on the first payday after the afterschool cycle ends.

I’m chalking this up to a learning experience. I’ve made my standpoint very clear to my department head: I’m not going to carry on with classes until I’m paid at least my basic rate for the previous cycle, and that the same applies to any new classes that I teach. Let’s hope this doesn’t mean that things turn unpleasant, though so far my experience in Korea has been that the firmer you are (without being nasty and demanding) the more respect you get. Definitely one to remember.


No more suits!

I don’t like wearing suits. Not at all. Even wearing a collared shirt and tie makes me feel as if I’m being slowly strangled. Some men wear suits to make them feel more professional. When I wear suits I feel like a monkey that is getting dressed to perform. This could be the result of working in offices for too many years.

Before I came to Korea I was not sure what would be appropriate to wear while teaching. The first week I opted for a suit, since I figured it was more “professional”. I hated it. As a result I didn’t relax and enjoy the teaching experience. Since then I’ve been gradually getting rid of the suity stuff. First to go was the jacket. That was in the first month. No-one noticed. Then a couple of weeks later, the tie. Again, no-one noticed. For the past few weeks I’ve been debating dumping the suit pants and collared shirts as well. I’ve been edging that way by first just wearing my shirt sleeves rolled up. This also has a very practical reason – it’s starting to get a wee bit warm here.

This week I decided to take the plunge and just wear jeans and a button-up shirt. Did anyone notice? Nope. Not at all. Not even a smidgen. And boy was it a great feeling to dump all vestiges of the suit! Even though I probably look less professional, I definitely feel more comfortable. That makes my classes immeasurably more enjoyable.

The only problem with this is that I need to find more shirts to wear, since I’m not a fan of the shirts-tucked-into-jeans look. I like shirts that you don’t have to tuck in, but that still look a bit more formal. This is more problematic than you would think. Mens clothing in Korea tends towards purples and pinks, with frills and shiny materials. For me, a manly-man from Africa, this just doesn’t do. That is, it wouldn’t do. Yesterday I succumbed. I just couldn’t find anything I liked, and if I did it didn’t fit. So I ended up buying two shirts from Hang Ten. Nope, it isn’t like Hang Ten in SA, to my disappointment. Not much of the beachy-wear stuff, and much harder to decide what is men’s clothing, and what’s women’s clothing. But at least they had some shirts that fit me. In SA I’m a medium. In Korea I’m a XL. Ha.

Other than the satin-lining on the sleeves, they are ok. Yes, that’s right – they have satin-lining on the sleeves. You just can’t get away from this stuff. If I wasn’t in Korea, there is no way I’d be caught dead in these. But at least I’ll finally fit in with all the other men here.

I’m willing to accept satin-lining. But I draw the line at pink jerseys. No ways am I wearing one of those. Not even that cute one that I saw in a store window yesterday. But, you know, maybe I’ll just take a quick look tomorrow to see if it’s still there…

Hunting down a handphone

I’m not a fan of cellphones by any means. In SA I had one out of sheer necessity, and I was more than happy to leave my cellphone behind when I came to Korea.

As I mentioned on a previous post SA cellphones don’t work in Korea (to my chagrin), so I’ve been without a cellphone (or handphone/handpone, as they call them here) for almost three months. After years of having it surgically attached to me, it has been pretty liberating not having to lug the damn thing around all over the place.

But this state of bliss could not last forever. Everyone here has a cellphone, and I mean EVERYONE. The kids in my classes have these superdooper souped up cellphones that can do your laundry and wash dishes. And since everyone wants my cellphone number, I finally succumbed to the need to have one, and took a stroll down to one of the gazillion cellphone stores down the road.

Luckily another native teacher had directed me to a store that sells “cardphones”. The Korean cellphone industry is not geared toward catering for foreigners, so generally we can only get prepaid, secondhand phones – here known as “cardphones”. Only some stores sell them, but there is one nearby so I popped in.

Normally I’d try and have a Korean friend with me to help with translation, but I figured I’d try it on my own first. So I walked in, said “Cardphones?”, and the assistant took out a selection. I saw one I liked, asked how much, and tried not to flinch when the assistant typed “150,000 won” on a calculator. That’s more than R1,000 for a secondhand phone that I’ll not be able to take home with me. So I said “50,000 won?”, and the assistant took out a small selection of battered and bruised phones. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I’m glad I found one that I at least liked. It looks like an old dictaphone, the camera doesn’t work, and the battery lasts less than a day. But I can phone without any problems, and sending an sms is pretty straightforward. That’s all I’m looking for, being the luddite that I am.

I was worried about the paperwork, but the assistant seemed to know what he was doing. All I needed to give him was my ARC (Alien Registration Card) and sign a couple of papers. There was some setup to do, since I went in on a public holiday, but I collected the phone two days later with no hassles. Mind you, this whole transaction was conducted in grunts and gestures, so I’m pretty chuffed that at the end I got a phone I liked for the price I was willing to pay. Not bad.

All that’s left is to work out how to find out how much my phonecalls and sms’s cost, and how to check my account balance. But in the meantime I’ll just use the phone until it stops working.

As an aside, my wife had a totally different experience. One of her co-workers arranged a contract phone for her, so she has a brand new cellphone and much cheaper call and sms rates. Foreigners usually can’t get a contract without paying a hefty deposit, or using a Korean credit card (which we generally can’t get either), so most foreigners end up with cardphones.

(Finally) sending some money home

I have several financial commitments in SA, and the banks back home have been bugging me to send some cash to fatten their already bulging pocket linings. So this month I decided to humour them and transfer some money into my SA accounts. I got my hands on all my account details, including my bank’s SWIFT code, and headed to my local Nonghyup bank branch. (The following conversation has been translated and edited for convenience. The real conversation took a lot longer, with much gesturing and miscommunication. Think of an episode of Mr Bean.)

“Sorry, you can’t send money overseas,” said the friendly, but ultimately unhelpful, teller.

“What?!!” blurted I.

“Your account isn’t authorised to transfer money overseas.”

“(Censored). So what the do I do now?”

“You’ll have to go to a different branch and open an account that is authorised to do this. We can’t do any foreign exchange transactions from this branch.”

Oops. I felt a little bad about my outburst. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to send money home, but it was just a problem with the type of account I had. So I headed to another branch. After a couple of minutes of paperwork to open a new account, get a new bankbook and a new ATM card, I had an account capable of sending money overseas.

From then it was a simple process. I indicated that I wanted to send money to South Africa, passed my account details to the teller (both for my Korean account and my SA account), and they typed away and sent the money to SA. Fantastic! Though this would have been a lot easier if I’d had the correct account to begin with.

And the transfer was very quick. The money landed up in my SA account the SAME day! I couldn’t believe it. And the SA bank emailed me to check that these funds were expected and kosher. I was very impressed. Although the exchange rate losses were pretty significant. It came out at close to R1000 on the amount I transferred. Expensive, but not much to be done about that.

At least next time things will be a lot easier. Now I’ll just take my receipt from my last transfer and the bank will know exactly what to do. It’s always the first time that’s the hardest.