December 11, 2009

Unfortunately, this blog didn’t stay as steady as I’d hoped.  So much has happened since my last post, and I always figured that I would have time at some point to catch up.  Now, it is highly possible that I will be leaving South Korea in January, and I need to give a general summary of what’s going on.

My apartment has been an issue ever since I arrived in Pyeongchang.  Aside from being old and in bad repair – and a boiler that was installed in 1991 – there is a severe black mold infestation in the walls, and the Pyeongchang Office of Education has fought tooth and nail to keep me there despite the health risks.  Back in April, the pipes in the apartment above burst and soaked down into mine.  The teacher I replaced did not even live in the apartment during the last two months of her contract because the air gave her headaches and made her eyes burn.  My initial complaints got me as far as a promise to get a new apartment in February when the lease runs out.  Later, they agreed to put the lease on the market.  Obviously, no one is buying.

On Monday, November 30, I moved into a motel room that costs 30,000 Won a night.  It’s been nice living in a place without mold where the hot water doesn’t run out after three minutes, but it’s becoming a financial burden and the Gangwon-do Office of Education recently informed me that I will not be compensated.  I’ve asked them to give the apartment a professional cleaning, and the main office agreed, but the Pyeongchang office is stalling.  Yesterday, I told the main office that my cut-off point is the end of this month.  At that time, if the situation has not improved, I will submit a letter of resignation and look for greener pastures in the Spanish-speaking world.

I have to admit that my situation is pretty rare, and most people I know were given decent apartments.  What I’ve been told is that it is impossible to get me a new apartment before February due to government policy, budget issues, and paperwork.  Suffice to say, they cannot get authorization to pay for a second apartment when they are bound by a contract on the initial apartment.  If anyone out there knows a solution for this in South Korean law, then please tell me.

It’s been a good run in South Korea thus far.  I ate some pretty amazing food, hiked through beautiful mountains, visited many different cities around Gangwon-do, made about five trips to Seoul, and I went snowboarding at Yongpyong last Saturday after a year-and-a-half hiatus from the slopes.  My school was great, and no one there ever gave me much grief beyond communication difficulties.  I’m still going on vacation to Cambodia and Thailand in January and February, and I saw three seasons of Lost back-to-back.

Is my situation horrendously unethical?  Well, yes.  There’s nothing I can do about it, but I was flown half-way around the planet with the promise of an apartment provided by the school, and what I got was a place that is simply unfit for human habitation.  If you’ve never read anything about mycotoxicosis (mold poisoning), then look up an article online.  I guarantee it will make your stomach turn.  I got off pretty easy considering I lived in that place for three months.  The worst it got to was headaches and waking up in the middle of the night with my sinuses clamped shut.  Regarding the whole situation, I have to warn people to be wary of teaching at public schools in rural South Korea.  However, the truth is that ESL teachers have had problems everywhere in this country.  There is no shortage of both horror and success stories.

I’m going to attempt to retrace my steps a bit and post about all the good times and the fun things I did while I’ve been over here.  There actually were quite a few laughs.

Till then, hang in there.