Thursday, June 14, 2012

Under Siege: Come On! Come On!

I’m alone in the apartment and receive a call from an unknown number on my mobile. I don’t answer it because my son has only slept 30 minutes all morning, he’s just woken up, and I’m desperate to get him back to sleep again so I can do something productive in the little time this will afford me. To this end, I’m walking circles around our lounge with him in a sling on my back, which is the only way of getting him to sleep, at all, ever.

The same number phones again exactly one minute later. This time I answer it, because it's entirely possible that it might be important.

Allegedly it’s Kookmin Bank - KB - and I say allegedly because of the number of phishing frauds which are perpetrated on Koreans from both within Korean and beyond, by which I mean China. The woman launches into a long sentence about something or other but it doesn’t sound like a sales call because it doesn’t sound like she’s just ingested helium, and she doesn’t make the well-practised corporate giggle like the kind of 18 year-old girl normally given that kind of job. I know what you’re thinking - is there such a thing as a corporate giggle in Korea? Yes, there is.

She tells me my name - badly - but it’s vaguely recognisable as my name, and I say yes, hoping she might switch from the Korean she’s been using so far, to English. But she launches off into a long Korean sentence so I stop her. “Jam shi man yo”... please wait a moment. And I tell her, “I’m a foreigner, I don’t speak Korean, so I don’t understand what you are saying.” So she starts again, probably from the beginning, in Korean. I try again, in Korean, slowly “I. Don’t. Speak. Korean. Therefore. I. Don’t. Understand. What. You. Are. Saying.” This at least solicits some kind of “Oh, you don’t understand?” “No”. So she explains again. In Korean. Over my “I don’t understands”.

But then she changes strategy. She tells me the branch of KB she’s from, and it is a branch I’ve dealt with, which makes it feel like it’s not a phishing call, although nothing short of being in the bank talking to them is likely to convince me because I’m naturally suspicious. If I don’t trust myself why should I trust anyone else? Then she says “ID cardeu, passport”, but while she might be requesting details I’m never going to give her, there’s no context, so I simply tell her I don’t understand again, but she says “ID cardeu, passport” a couple more times with increasing urgency and frustration.

I am also long beyond frustration, and I change strategy. In Korean I tell her, “I don’t understand. Therefore my wife will phone your branch later.” I thought this would provide her with the resolution she so badly needed, but it didn’t. Off she launches again into another round of indecipherable Korean. So I tell her again “I don’t understand. Therefore my wife will phone your branch later.” This is exasperating.

Then the surprise. In evidently frustrated English and a rather aggressive tone universally recognised the world over as listen-you-stupid-foreigner, she suddenly says “Come on! Come on!” My mouth and fingers know me well enough not to wait for orders in such circumstances. It took my finger about a tenth of a second to hit the “End Call” button at and I simultaneously heard my mouth say “Frak you” or words to that effect. I support their actions.

Later it transpired that I had a million won in a savings account that had matured. In case that sounds impressive let me put it into context – at the rate the power in our apartment mysteriously bleeds away into the surrounding atmosphere it will soon be about the cost of one month’s electricity bill. The money was put into the savings account to act as a guarantee for my credit card with the bank (making actually not a credit card with the tiny limit I’m given) because I’m a foreign criminal who otherwise might run away with their precious frakking card and go crazy with it in China with a couple of $3 hookers or something. And that is the reason by the way (not the hookers – the fact that KB don’t really trust foreigners with their credit cards).

So the million had matured from the ultra-low interest guarantee account which had earned me as much as an entire hooker worth of interest in a year, and apparently the staff member who phoned me had noticed this - three months later - and decided that I very urgently and immediately needed to find a new home for it, and certainly after her phone call I had a pretty good idea where I wanted the bank to shove it.

When my wife came home I related the story and she immediately phoned the caller at the bank. At first she denied it, so my wife asked “Are you calling my husband a liar?”, after which she finally admitted it and apologised for losing her temper and the whole “Come on! Come on!” business. One small step for a foreigner, one giant leap for Korean banking - I still need to provide cash deposits to guarantee my credit card though.


Anonymous said...

Hello Mike,

I'm sorry to bother you with my comment, but I've been reading your blog for a few weeks and I must say that although you are a very talented writer, I truly feel saddened by the fact that the only thing you manage to write on your blog is concerning negative experiences in Korea (and England to a lesser extent).

By your own admission you are a depressed person; I would suggest trying to focus a bit more on the positive side of life, whether in Korea or in any other country. There is no country in the world where one will feel everything is perfect. I enjoy traveling a lot, as well as living in different places. I could easily focus on all the negative things or experiences that I have seen/undergone in all the places I've been. But I choose to focus on all the good things that I've experienced. This makes for better memories, and it makes me happier and makes life all around more enjoyable.

I'm sorry but I simply find it pathetic that you, just as apparently so many Westerners in Korea or in many other countries, focus strictly on negative experiences and even take the time to share these with everyone. I first started to read your blog because of your writing skills and peculiar humor, but you so pathetically insist on writing about shit that happens to you that I feel like I don't have anything more to read from your blog.

My advice is as follow: start to learn Korean seriously (to be honest, after living in Korea for so long it is sad to see you can barely say a few sentences in the language, and even sadder you justify yourself by saying some Westerners fluent in the language told you it was a waste of time to learn it), get out of your little box and start meeting some nice people (this includes Koreans), stop bragging about the fact that you've never taught English in Korea (seriously, what's the big deal, and who cares?), stop focusing on all your negative experiences--perhaps there lay the cure to your depression, and start doing something interesting out of your life so that perhaps you have something better to write about.

If we turn the tables around, and we look at a hypothetical Korean who's been living in the UK for 5 years and can barely speak English, and he constantly complain about how the UK sucks, how his life is miserable, and how shit happens to him all the time, but anyway he's never at fault because learning English is kind of a waste of time and he has better things to do anyway (such as writing a blog about shit that happens to him), what would you think about that person?

Mike said...

Hello Anonymous,

My blog has always been about my experiences, good and bad. In the last year I’ve had some negative experiences including a little racism, and recently I have written about these. I believe a reasonable person reading these entries would be clear that aside from the one you’ve chosen to post about, none were related to my Korean language ability.

Occasionally with this blog someone will come along with abusive language dressed up as advice and no matter how eloquently or otherwise they write these can always be summarised as ‘shut up and stop complaining’. I believe it isn’t ‘pathetic’ as you put it to write about negative experiences as well as positive ones. It’s honest.

I don’t know why some people are so hell-bent on curtailing the free speech of others in this world. Is it just a simple need for self-validation or something more complex? They always write anonymously – perhaps if they didn’t we’d read their blogs and find out if they are really as superficially positive as they would apparently have others be, or whether they are real people too.

The paradox is of course, you claim to be a positive person, and you’re posting negative things on my blog – so apparently you’d defend your right to be critical – just not mine.

It’s true I suffer from depression sometimes, which is in large part due to suffering from Meniere’s Disease – something I have written about on this blog a number of times. I think you should try living this way before telling me and others with this condition what our mental state should be – I know you don’t have it because you say you enjoy travelling a lot. Some people with the severity of my condition end up on disability and this was an option offered to me once but I refused it because I'm a fighter. So before you suggest ‘trying to focus a bit more on the positive side of life’, I’d ask you to consider the possibility that you really don’t understand how I got to this place or what on Earth you are talking about.

Meniere's Disease

Now apart from being insulting and insensitive your comments were also ultimately dishonest, wilfully or through ignorance. You said ‘the only thing you manage to write on your blog is concerning negative experiences’. This is verifiably untrue, and in fact you mention my humour which I think demonstrates that when negative things happen I generally tend to get funny rather than angry. I’m not even angry at you, although I think I should be. I view your words with a kind of detached bemusement and a great example of kind of sheer nastiness directed at foreign bloggers in Korea by other foreigners sometimes.

Mike said...

You said ‘it is sad to see you can barely say a few sentences in the language’ and that my tables-turned Korean equivalent in the UK ‘can barely speak any English’. My Korean vocabulary is about 900 words. You added that it is ‘even sadder that you justify yourself by saying some Westerners fluent in the language told you it was a waste of time to learn it’. Everyone who knows me knows that I am trying to learn even though progress – as seen with the meter at the bottom of all my posts – is slow. I am aware that some fluent in Korean feel that the investment isn't worth the return, and I have mentioned this fact, but I clearly choose to continue anyway. What choice is there?

I don’t care about your hypothetical Korean in the UK anyway. He can write what he likes for me – it’s a free country and he should be free to write about his experiences. Is it OK for 'shit' happen to him because he isn't fluent in English? That's a pretty unpleasant view to hold as it seems to condone racism. I think your criticisms of my criticism would be more justified if I wrote a critical meta-commentary blog like Gusts of Popular Feeling or The Grand Narrative – but I’m not interested in turning my personal blog into criticisms of things which don’t directly affect me. When I have negative personal experiences in Korea in a blog about personal experiences which do affect me, it’s not balanced not to write about them.

What I’ve written here is the truth of who I am and I accept that for all the flaws that it portrays, and I have flaws there’s no doubt. Come back and read what you’ve written here from time to time if you dare – that’s the truth of who you are. Are you really a better man than me as you would have me believe?

Have a nice life, and I hope you don’t develop Meniere’s Disease or anything else that fundamentally changes your enjoyment of it.


Simon Davey said...

Hi Mike! Good to see you posting again..... I've been busy with my 4 month old son so am just catching up on them all .... and you were right don't have time but mostly no energy to study Korean (sorry anonymous) now that my little boy is here.
Also I would like to meet you one day... though these days are a blur of work/baby/broken sleep.

Simon Davey said...

웥아두쉬백 :p

Mike said...

Hi Simon,

Congratulations on the birth of your son! It would certainly be great to meet up with you sometime - but don't worry; I understand the time issue. My son got sick for a while after Christmas and I think it was about two months before I spoke to any of my friends again.

I don't get much time to read blogs but I still read yours even though it's a kind of torture - which I mean in a nice way as I'm sure you understand ;-)

'두쉬백' is now my 'Korean word' of the day - thanks for that :-)

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