Tuesday, November 9, 2010

G-20 and it's getting chilly

Every year, as a foreign teacher in Korea, one needs to get a couple of things done to renew a contract. I won't get into the nitty-gritty, but I will say that it can be a minor or major pain-in-the-ass, depending of course on a multitude of factors - such as where you live, your work hours, etc.

Less than a month ago, panic hit the ex-pat portions of the peninsula when we were notified that Korean immigration had upped the requirements for foreign workers. We were told that in addition to the regular who-ha one goes through for a working visa, we also needed to have two fancy news things:

1) Our university degrees apostilled (spelling check tells me this is wrong, but I don't care enough to look it up). Basically, it means a long process of sending my degree home so that people back at U of C can look at it and make sure it's real, then make a copy, and do something funky to that copy, then send it back here, and blah, blah, blah. I guess this comes as a result of too many people here creating fake degrees of the same quality as the fake handbags everyone carries around. For us, this new measure means a couple of trips to the embassy and immigration, and a fair amount of cost to organize the process at home and send things where they need to go.

2) Have a FEDERAL security check done from our home country (FBI for Americans, RCMP for Canadians, and Judi Dench for Brits). This is of course standard practice for anyone going into a position working with anyone in the "vulnerable sector": mainly children, the elderly, and the in-firmed. I don't disagree with any of this, though it again will be a pain, it will be costly, and it will be both of these things because it's unavoidable when you're trying to get it done from across the ocean.

Then, after panic was deeply setting in (upon further inspection, the RCMP check would take "up to 4 months" and the check was required by immigration before renewing one's visa, which for me would have been March 1st of next year - cutting it very close), it was announced that the new measures wouldn't actually come into affect until 2012.

A relief. All that would be required for this coming year is to have a Korean security check (local police dept search to make sure that you haven't beaten-up any elderly Korean men in Itaewon), and a "routine health check" - something I will have done for the 4th time now since being in Korea.

As a foreign teacher, we are required to get an annual health check which will allow us to get a working visa. The health check includes the usual suspects: height, weight, sight, blood pressure, and hearing - as well as a chest X-ray, and blood and urine tests.

To be honest - I'm kind of getting tired of it. I have to say, the people at the Seoul Medical Center (not far from COEX) are great and they make the process very fast and smooth. But, I'm starting to really question the logic in a lot of it. I've had enough chest X-rays in the past 3 years, that the next x-ray is likely to turn-up a dark spot on my lung from being x-rayed as often as I have been.

The medical tests we teachers have are looking for two things: marijuana use, and HIV. I've already written a huge bitchy post about my issues with this test, so I don't want to re-tread too much familiar ground, but as I have to race around town to get zapped by gamma rays, have some nurse stick a needle in my arm and then pay around $60 for it, it's hard not to be a little resentful.

I understand - they don't want pot-heads teaching their kids - and there are plenty enough foreign teacher clowns here that I can see where the want for such a test might come from. I get it - though those kids would be missing out on some good stories. What I don't get is how public institutions in this country still get to discriminate against HIV-positive people. Though Korean Immigration recently passed a bill saying that foreigners could not be denied entry into the country for being HIV positive, my public school board employer can apparently ask their foreign teachers to be tested, while NOT requiring the same tests for their own Korean teachers.

I would really like to know the thought behind such a completely xenophobic (there's that word again, haters) practice. Do people really think they need to safe-guard their country against "the foreign scourge"? Consider this recent case, where a 35 year-old female Korean teacher had sex with one of her 15 year-old male students. She is losing her job, though not getting arrested, because the age of consent here is... wait for it... THIRTEEN! It's a veritable Polanski paradise!

Just imagine for a second if the teacher in question were a foreigner. I can't give you stats, but I'm guessing that a foreign teacher having sex with a 15 year-old student would have probably ended-up in a new health-check involving being surrounded by a team of frightened Koreans in E.T. scientist suits, while they hose a foreigner down and scrub him clean with steel wool, Rambo-style.

Anyway - argue with me, please. You'd be wrong. This is clearly an alarmist and prejudice human-rights violation. This isn't Reagan-era gay-phobia US, for eff's sake. Or maybe here, that's exactly what it is. Tomorrow, I'm going to ask all of my Korean co-teachers if they have AIDS. That would be about as appropriate and fair. Actually, I'm not going to do that, but I will bring the testing up for discussion and see what people have to say - if anything.

So, anyway, I went to prove that I'm not a disease-spreading whore in the eyes of the Koreans today. On the way to meet-up with friends, I rode-past the COEX convention center - the site of the G-20 meeting which starts this Thursday (also Pepero Day, AND Remembrance Day). The place is awash with police in bright-yellow jackets - some zipping about on Segways, and some in full-black with berets carrying assault rifles. I watched as three turban-clad men stopped to have their photos taken with two clearly uncomfortable-looking policemen. Fingers-crossed for safety over the next week as the last things this country needs is another excuse to clamp-down on foreigners.

Day ended well though - decided to bike-home in the cold (2 degrees Celsius) and listening to Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas on the ride. Great for a cold-weather city ride when the streets are quiet and there are decorations going up, and Christmas oranges and roasted chestnuts on sale from street-vendors every few blocks. JUST warm enough.


Andy Irwin said...

The process really is a load of shit. I've already exchanged a couple of emails with Jon Pak about how to go about getting a contract for a second year after taking a year off. I figured the logical thing would be for me to submit a new police check to prove i hadn't spent the year raping children and pillaging rural villages and then SMOE would check their files, see I was qualified and I'd be on my way.

Apparently, or I should say 'of course', its not that simple. The problem is apparently the Korean VISA department, they still need to see my degree apostilled, my sealed transcripts and bla bla bla. I asked, and emailed the consulate (didn't get a response) asking if they could simply look at my old E-2 VISA and say 'yes, obviously we checked his qualifications last year, here's your new VISA.' The hassle and cost (about $250 Australian) is enough to make me reconsider whether I should bother at all.

I agree with your comments regarding HIV. I had a bad experience in Los Angeles and was living in fear for two months until I could be accurately tested. (clean) If you test positive its more than a death sentence, it seems in a lot of countries, you also lose all of your rights and your humanity.

Got to question your accuracy on the marijuana though. The marijuana test was dropped midway through 2008, before I left to come to Korea. The government says that not all clinics could do the testing but apparently its because they didn't have enough teachers. Story runs that all the Canadians were either being sent home or refused entry. Has it been reinstated?

Also, a final thought. I'm accessing your blog through a proxy server as it's hidden behind the Great Firewall of China. Thought you'd be interested to know that whatever your opinions are, China wants you to keep them to yourself!

Tuttle said...

Whew! Someone was needing to unload, eh?
1) "too many people here creating fake diplomas"? Maybe, but mostly Korean idols.
2) You are correct it's standard practice to have an FBI/RCMP background check in this field. But as one who has done plenty of hiring in my previous jobs, this task is done by the hirer, not the hiree.
3) The correct checking procedure for the 15-year-old phenomenon would be a (hang on, I have to look this up, and it may take a while considering the search terms I want to be kind of delicate about) plethysmograph.
4) It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown!
5) There is no Number 5.
6) Remind me to tell you the parrot joke.