Friday, November 17, 2006

83. Happy Thanksgiving? Oh... and girls have cooties.

This post is pretty much not relevant to my normal topic. It's another update on the other events in my life.

So, for some inexplicable reason, we celebrated Thanksgiving at school today. Not only is it not a Korean holiday, but... well, Canadian Thanksgiving was over a month ago (and all of the English teachers here are Canadian) and American Thanksgiving is next week. Anyway, it didn't go as badly as we had feared (fear based on experience... usually these sorts of special event days are torture), it was much better than the fiasco I heard happened last year which involved such traditional Thanksgiving fare as quail's eggs (??!?!... someone screwed up their research).

This week has been rather... well, incredible. And I mean that in the literal sense… as in, were I not a witness to the events of this week, I would be incredulous as to the veracity of this blog entry.

Mr. Lee, my boss(normally I would give him some kind of psuedonym, but you can't actually get a more generic name in Korea than Mr. Lee, so I feel no need to hide his identity any further), has been attempting to woo those of us whose contracts end in March (ie: all the female English teachers) to sign on for an extra year. I was the first one to go in for a meeting... and I'm not sure if Mr. Lee understands the principle of 'wooing'. The meeting consisted of him talking to me for an hour, I said about 14 words during the entire meeting. And what did he talk about? Well... He spent about 20 minutes trash-talking the one member of the Korean staff that all of us foreign teachers like and respect... seriously, he blamed all of the problems on her, which is blatantly false, and weird because he knows I like her and consider her a friend. It was bizarre. And... and this was where I got really confused. He spent a significant portion of time telling me that I am good teacher, and he knows that what a school needs is good teachers to build their reputation so he wants me to stay. But then there were these C-3P0 like hand movements and an explanation that went like this: "I like men because we are the same. Sex. You know sex? Sex? We are the same sex. Sex. You know sex?"

I was already a little stunned when he went on to wave his arms rather helplessly and say, "Women... I don't know women. I don't understand women. Women... I don't know... Men I know. Women... no. Women are different. Men are the same. I don’t know women. I like men."

That portion of the conversation actually went on a lot longer than that… but it was a lot of repetition. I left the meeting feeling like that was a bit offensive, and I thought he'd caught on to the fact that I had no intention of signing on for another year because at the end he started throwing out numbers to me as he suddenly realized I hadn't even asked for a raise or anything. But he has no idea. In his subsequent meetings with my other female coworkers he has told them that I will be staying, so I need to clear that up I think.

But it goes on. His next meeting was with A. In A's meeting he expanded on his 'women' issue. Quite a lot. He told her quite clearly that he doesn't like women and that he will never hire another woman. He explained that like his wife, we talk too much and need to be quiet. We need to do what we're told and not complain (I should be clear that we are not the only ones who are unhappy with the situation here, the many unpleasant changes don’t please D. any more than they please “the women”... but I think Mr. Lee just hears actual words when D. speaks, and not the 'mindless ramblings of a woman' that he hears when we speak.) Anyway, after going on about the problems with women for about 30 minutes, he actually expected her to agree to sign on! He was shocked today when she informed him that she wasn't going to.

Oh, but it gets worse. Then he had a meeting with S. in which he was even more direct. He told her that he hates women, and he hates his wife (which sounds shocking, but weirdly enough, he’s said this to us before, so we are all aware of it). He hates the member of the staff that we all like, all of the problems we have with work can be laid at her feet (SO not true), and we (yet again) need to stop talking and just do what we are told. He also reiterated with her that he would never, ever hire a woman again, and that he in fact, only hired me and A. to be friends for her. He also told her that she should have faith in him like people have faith in God. (I think she should have responded that God never promised her extra breaks to get her to sign a contract, and then went did the exact opposite of what he promised by taking most of her breaks away!) He also gave her a 15 minute lecture on how she needs to say "Good morning" very loudly to him in the morning... telling her over and over again, in a stern tone that she was 'very rude'.

Again, I feel the need to say that all of these things were actually said during meetings he held to try and get us to extend our contracts! The funny thing is that D actually went and told him in between his meeting with S. and A. that he needs to stop telling the women how much he hates women... and somehow Mr. Lee interpreted that to mean the he needs to be more clear in telling us about his hatred of women. I’ve lived a lot of places, and I’ve never lived anywhere where I would say that men and women are truly equal… but this sort of thing is just baffling! This is at work! From our boss! While he’s trying to get us to want to stay! It’s like he thinks we need a stern hand and we will be so grateful for his input on how we “need to be quiet” and “not say anything”, just “do what we’re told”. And the thing is, he truly and sincerely does want us to stay. The Hagwan (private academy) business is a very competitive business, and we are all very well liked by the parents, who are the source of the school’s income. The schools that do well are the ones that can maintain a good staff, and Mr. Lee has told me that this year’s staff is pretty much the best he’s ever had as far as quality of work goes, so I don’t really know what his problem is, other than that he doesn’t see us women as real ‘people’.

When I first got here, I went with Mr. Lee and A. to get some documents sorted out, and in the car on the way A. and I got into a rather heavy discussion about Canadian politics. It was a rather academic discussion... not something girly and frivolous... and I remember Mr. Lee making some comment about hens and maids... basically saying that 'women talk a lot about nothing'. I dismissed it then as being a byproduct of him not understanding us. But it has become quite clear that he sees us as 'less than', inferior. Even if he had understood every word we had said, it wouldn’t have mattered. It was only the mindless babblings of silly women. No matter that all of us are well liked by our students and the parents of our students. No matter that we all work hard and our students do well. We are nothing more than annoying chatterboxes to him and we will never be. I find it all so bizarre, not to mention frustrating! I know part of this is cultural... while Korea is very technologically advanced, socially they are about 50 years behind North America. But I really want to believe that Mr. Lee is not representative of all Koreans, I want to think that not all Korean men hate women and think that we have no real worth.

Now, I feel I should say that this doesn't mean I hate it here or anything. I'm just tired of being treated like a lesser person, but I do love my kids and want to see them learn and improve... and I will stay to see them graduate. They are all really precious. And if it wasn't for them, I have to say that I would probably leave. I'm not an aggressive person at all, really, I'm ridiculously laid back. My mother would probably say I'm too laid back. I really have no problem doing what I'm told... but I've discovered that I have a real problem not being respected. I'm good at what I do, and I think I have ideas that are worth listening to.

Oh well. It's Mr. Lee's loss I suppose. Or rather, it will be when I, along with S. and A., go... all at the same time.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you all that... It's been such a weird week. Happy… um… not Thanksgiving!


mandy said...

hi JJ,

Your boss sounds like quite a piece of work. It's sometimes hard to believe some of the people who get away with being called "adults"!

I feel a little silly posting a topical link in response to a deliberately off-topic post, but I thought you might find this column interesting food for thought:

happy almost-American-Thanksgiving!


Willie Hewes said...

O.o Buh?

Yes, that is... incredible. I guess in his head it goes like this: I tell them they should stay, and then I tell them they should do as they're told. I've just told them to stay, so that's what they'll do. No problem!

That is pretty special.

Noa Resare said...

An amazing story. I'm curious about one thing however, who does Mr. Lee answer to? His beviour is (apart from being offensive to you and your co-workers) obviously hurting the business, and a responsible board of directors would do something about that.