The 2010-2011 Transition
Year of the (Pink) Rabbit

Table of Contents

The Korean Immigration Service

At this time last year I was drinking coffee and studying Korean grammar at Angel-in-us Coffee, my most frequented coffee shop in Daejeon, South Korea. My situation was pretty much the same as it had been the year before; only my address had changed. Once again, I was unemployed, watching my savings erode, and faced with the thought of still another relocation.

My victory at the Daejeon Labor Commission in November had had little effect on the Korean Immigration Service (KIS) in Seoul, as this latter continued to view me as the culprit of wrong-doing rather than its victim. That doing my unscrupulous employer’s bidding caused me to break the law, that I was new to Korea and had been in residence for only one month when the law was broken, and that I had readily paid the required fine and found a new employer who was willing to help me make the transition until the beginning of the new school term made no difference to the Seoul office of KIS. Whereas everyone else had only to jump on a ferry to Fukuoka, Japan to obtain a new work visa, I was being told to return to the United States to obtain mine.

For three months KIS had treated me like dirt while I worked things out with the Daejeon Labor Commission, and they were not about to admit that they were wrong. They had cancelled my national health insurance without informing me, revoked my national I.D. card, and downgraded my visa status to that of a tourist. Sponsorship does not come easy in Korea when you are new and unemployed, and securing my then current residence as my own was sheer madness.

Neither my newly found employer, nor I, was in a position to pay the cost of my journey to the United States and back. We had only signed a two-month contract, and meeting the contractual deadline would have cost me over half of my intended earnings -- immediately booked air fares do not come with discounts!

My Previous-Previous Landlord

A few days before Christmas of 2009 I received a letter in the mail from the Daejeon Court inviting me to appear and defend myself. Apparently my previous, and soon to become previous-previous landlord was trying to recover three months worth of unpaid rent money, utility bills, and management fees, as well as apartment furnishings that had been left in my apartment when I took possession. All of these expenses and outstanding items for which I was being charged were surely the responsibility of my former employer with whom both my previous landlord and I had woefully entered into contract -- not mine!

Perhaps my previous landlord thought that I would be easy prey, because I was a foreigner. Perhaps he was afraid of my previous employer, the Korea Herald (aka Times Media, Inc.), and believed that he had no chance against such a formidable adversary. Perhaps he believed that he deserved a cut of the KRW3 million that I had wrestled from my previous employer at the Daejeon Labor Commission. Perhaps he could not quell his greed and was losing face among his staff for having been made the fool. Perhaps it was just one more tactic in a long series of harassment activities that I had already endured. Surely, I will never know.

In any case, I dutifully prepared my one-line defense and delivered it to the court on the same day: “There exists no legally binding relationship between the claimant and me.”

In late January 2010 I attempted to settle outside of court, but Mr. Seong Jong Gu could not be persuaded. The court would have to intervene.

Digging In

I really dislike looking for employment, because it is time and money spent when I could be working, earning, and saving money. This said, economic survival is a necessity of life, and there is no one around whom I would want to pay my way -- unless, of course, it were for the advancement of The GENA Project. This was unlikely, however. My failure to have found a sponsor for The HKLNA Project was not a coincidence, and I have yet to seek funding actively for The GENA Project , as a result.

This said, in December of 2009 I became 60 years of age and was still on the Korean Immigration Service’s discouraged list. As I could not expect to find new employment that would not be illegal any time soon, I set in for the long haul and established a healthy, daily routine. In addition to looking for new employment, I taught myself PHP with the help of W3Schools, studied Korean grammar, worked out at the local gym, bathed Korean style, and restrained my consumptive intake in an effort to stretch my meagre savings as far as possible.

An Unexpected Journey

My first court appearance in defense against Seong Jong Gu, my still previous landlord, took place in early April 2010. My several months of job-hunting in the Korean labor market had proven largely unsuccessful, and it was still too early to assess the results of my online effort to find employment outside of Korea. My savings were nearly exhausted.

So, I decided to take advantage of both my proximity to Japan and the Korean Immigration Service's requirement that I leave the country every 90 days to renew my reluctantly acquired tourist visa. I planned a trip to the Japanese archipelago. It was the beginning of Japan’s cherry blossom season, and I thought well to take advantage of the cheerful mood of the Japanese nation that would inevitably ensue.

I checked the internet for a schedule of bloom times across the Western half of the archipelago, purchased round-trip ferry tickets that coincided with the end of the festivities, and hopped on a high-speed train to Busan. The idea was to catch a glimmer of the blossoms and find everyone in a good mood at his or her place of employment.

I had three goals in mind: one, secure immediate employment in a Japanese language school; two, establish contact with people who might support the goals of The GENA Project; three, explore the possibility of returning to graduate school. Visits to large universities in Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kyōtō, and Ōsaka, although mostly pleasant, bore little fruit. Indeed, I returned home feeling, as though I had been pumped for information with little useful information given in return. I did receive an invitation to apply for graduate school at the Fukuoka University of Education, but would surely have trouble meeting their first year’s financial requirement.

Short term employment without a Japanese work visa already in hand proved impossible. Many employers would not even talk to me upon discovering that I was not already a resident of Japan.

Thailand Bound and Korea Anchored

Upon my return to Daejeon I received news from my former Saudi colleague and friend, Bernard Yourrel, that a Thai university in Udon Thani might be looking for an English language instructor beginning in June. I also received an invitation from King Abdul-Azziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to submit application materials for work in the fall. I went into action and was soon planning my departure from Korea.

Burning bridges is generally a bad idea, and the last one that I burned was of utter necessity -- my forced departure from Hong Kong in 2007. As I still have not entirely recovered from that unfortunate episode in my life, I was intent on not leaving any lose ends when leaving Korea. Indeed, my defense against my former landlord was still pending, and my one-year contract with my current landlord was only six-months old.

So, I reported my departure to the Daejeon Court and promised a forwarding address. In addition, I contacted my landlord and made my apartment available to his real-estate agent for showing. There was one catch. The court had still not made it clear whether the furnishings in my apartment belonged to me or to my previous landlord, and by May 31st, the day of my scheduled departure for Thailand, my current landlord had not found a new tenant to replace me. This meant that I would be unable to recover my deposit money worth KRW3,000,000 before my departure.

As a decision from the court was expected very soon, and I had already paid my rent for most of the month of June, I decided to leave my belongings in the apartment until I had heard from the court. My landlord was incensed that I would not clear my things before my departure, however, and demanded that I return two electronic keys that I was never given. Surely, not all Koreans can be this cantankerous. Or, maybe I was still just very new to Korean culture.

After three long weeks the Daejeon Court had still not handed down its decision, and I was no longer in Korea to discover why. Daily emails from my incensed Korean landlord informed me that he had found a new tenant and wanted my belongings removed. He could not understand that my rent had been paid until nearly the end of June, and he did not wish to have anything to do with my court proceedings. Finally on June 25th I decided to abandon my belongings, and told my landlord that I would pay for their disposal. Better yet, I suggested that he contact my former landlord, who was his former tenant, and have him take what he believed to be his, anyway. My landlord did neither. Instead he broke off all communication, and went his own way.

So, I contacted my good friend at the Labor Commission, Lee Hyeon Kweon, and asked, if he could not recommend a bilingual Korean attorney to help me out. He did. Through my newly paid intermediary and attorney I learned that the court delay had been brought about by my case having been transferred to another judge and that my landlord had no intention to refund my deposit money until I paid the cost of removal and storage of my belongings. Storage?

Rather than disposing of my belongings, as I had requested, my landlord placed them in storage and was now deducting the cost of their storage from my deposit fee. If he were so concerned about the safety of “my belongings”, why had he not simply contacted his previous tenant and told him to retrieve “his belongings”, as I suggested?

With reassurance from my attorney that my defense against my previous, previous landlord was winnable I authorized him to pick up where I had left off. Actually, his task was pretty easy as I had performed all of the heavy lifting during the first hearing. He knew this and did not charge me an arm and a leg for my defense.

My victory at the Daejeon Court was announced on September 27th. Not only was my previous, previous landlord told that he was responsible for the rent, utilities, and management fee, but also that “his belongings” did, indeed, belong to me. I could now focus my attention on my previous landlord, and asked my attorney to initiate a lawsuit in order to recover my deposit money. The case is still pending.

Udon Thani Rajabhat University (UDRU)

On June 1, 2010 I began work at the Udon Thani Rajabhat University (UDRU), Udon Thani, Thailand. It was my first visit to Southeast Asia and an important opportunity for me to experience still another aspect of our world’s profit driven, quality impoverished, ever langusihing, English language industry. I was not disappointed, as I found still another reason to devote time and effort to the development of The GENA Project.

Perhaps I learned all I really needed to know about UDRU on the evening of my arrival, when I was escorted to dinner by two of my English-speaking colleagues: Thai food is for Thais, non-Thais beware. From that point on it was a three-month upward battle until everything came crashing down in the last few days of August. I will not go into the detail here, because you can find it in the attached 61-page report with an executive summary.

Simply put, things did not end as I had expected, and I can heartily recommend that one steers clear of the UDRU Language Center and probably UDRU in general unless you are Thai, desperate for employment, or thrive in mediocrity. The nonsense is simply not worth what you get paid, and there are a lot nicer places in the world to live with more to do, a better internet connection, and a stable power supply.

Failed Departure

My probationary period at UDRU ended on September 30. Although it had been my intention to leave the university somewhat before, I still had not secured a Saudi work visa. So, I held on at UDRU as long as I could.

I was scheduled to begin work at King Abul Azziz University (KAU) on September 18th, but my inability to establish contact with the Royal Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. to where my employment acceptance had been mistakenly sent caused considerable delay. Even a referral from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok was not enough to help me penetrate the Washington, D.C fortress. So, I was very happy when KAU extended my start date until October 15th. I took full advantage of the extension.

On September 25th my Thai visa stamp would expire, and on September 30th my contract with UDRU would end. So, I went with an UDRU official to the Thai Immigration Office at the Udon Thani International Airport and requested an extension of my current visa until October 15th. They refused. Not a pleasant lot I can tell you.

A quick calculation was made, and on the following day I boarded a bus to the Thai-Laos border and obtained a new visa stamp that would last until October 9th. A six-day extension to which I was entitled under Thai immigration law would be available for me at the Udon Thani International Airport on October 9th. The timing was perfect.

That evening I boarded another bus to Bangkok and on the following morning submitted my request for a security clearance to be sent to Washington, D.C. When I arrived at the Royal Thai Police national headquarters I was told that it would take several weeks for processing -- a very different story from the one that I was told by the Royal Thai Police in Udon Thani before I made my decision to travel to Bangkok. Indeed, obtaining a security clearance on the spot was simply not possible. In the end, I was able to obtain my clearance in three days with the help of Lt. Col. Rachata, a former Immigration Officer and very understanding Thai officer with good fluency in English.

On the same day -- after a 60-minute boat ride as the sole passenger in a motorized long-boat, a tourist stop at the Wat Arun Buddhist temple, and a very costly, surely unforgettable, lobster dinner with my taxi driver, I boarded my already scheduled plane flight back to Udon Thani. On the following morning FedEx was at my doorstep and my passport and visa application materials -- less the security clearance that would be sent directly from Bangkok -- was on its way. It was September 28th, and the countdown began.

Even if my passport were not returned by October 9th, the most I would have had to pay in overstay penalties would be 6 days -- exactly BHT3,000 (ca. USD100). With full knowledge of my expected October 15th start-date at King Abdul-Azziz University in Jeddah, surely the Saudi Embassy would process my visa in a timely fashion.

Well, it worked. The Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. responded as soon as they had received both my US passport and the Thai police clearance. The draw bridge was lowered, I crossed the moat, and entered the fortress.

Unfortunately, the police clearance spent five days at US customs in New York before it was delivered. In addition, the message that I was receiving from the Saudi Embassy was very disturbing. According to the embassy the security clearance must come from the same country in which the visa is issued. Clearly, I was not a resident of the United States despite my possession of a US passport. No visa would be forthcoming. “Well, Mr. Vice Consul, if only you had answered one of my several telephone calls, just one of my email messages, or any of my several voice messages that I left on your answering machine, I would never have sent you my application -- let alone my passport!” Never mind, I kept my thought to myself and requested that my application materials and passport be sent to the Royal Embassy in Bangkok. It was agreed.

When my passport and visa application packet arrived in Bangkok many days later, I called the Vice Consul and asked him to begin processing. He responded that he would not, as he could not find my employment acceptance number in his electronic data system. According to the well-mannered gentleman, the entire procedure would have to be reinitiated by KAU. My fate was sealed.

The Saudi fortress had finally been penetrated, but my employment acceptance number was not transferrable across embassies. I would not be able to begin work in Saudi Arabia on October 15th.

Plan B - Udonpittayanukoon Secondary School

Already suspicious that my goal of reaching Saudi Arabia in October would not be achieved, and in anticipation of my early departure from Rajabhat University at the end of September, I had found alternative employment.

Udonpittayanukoon Secondary School is hardly a very attractive school from the outside, but on the inside people say that it boasts the best student body in all of Udon Thani. An exciting upgrade over UDRU. Moreover, I had been asked to teach mathematics -- the first such offer since I had begun toying with the idea in 2004 while still resident in Hong Kong. Truly, I was pleased with the idea of breaking away from the role of English language teacher -- a professional title that had plagued my career aspirations since I left the University of Maryland in search of work in Tōkyō’s financial market in 1991. This would also be an opportunity to view the English language industry from still another perspective, one that I actually considered a valuable use of mine and the majority of my students’ time. Moreover, the contract was for only one term, and when it ended I would have the choice of continuing at Udonpitt or moving on to Saudi Arabia, where I expected another invitation from KAU would be forthcoming. I was very happy.

On the day before I was scheduled to begin work, however, I was told to prepare an explanation as to why I was no longer employed at UDRU. Something had gone wrong! Having already provided what I though was sufficient reason several weeks before I prepared a more thorough case. On the following morning I was greeted by a committee of five people and by midday I was told that the contract that I had signed the day before would not be honored. This was difficult to take.

During the first week of October I had presented, in English, a 50-minute lesson on the difference between fractions and decimals to a group of eager 7th graders and was very well received. On the day before I was suppose to begin teaching, I was introduced to the school’s director, the vice-director, and the heads of the math and English departments. Moreover, I had prepared a class schedule for the entire term and teaching material for the first week of class.

Indeed, a Thai talking to another Thai about a non-Thai will apparently believe just about anything they are told and then some. I sought to hide nothing in my explanation, but the committee appeared more interested in the written report issued by my former supervisor to UDRU’s Personnel Office. Was it not evidence to show Pittayanaukoon’s School Director, whom I had met the day before? It were as if someone had suddenly changed the direction of the faucet from warm to cold and I was asked to shower in it. What an institution will not do to an individual's livelihood just to polish its image.

Now imagine. It was the beginning of November, and the new school term had just begun throughout all of Thailand. The chance of my finding new employment at this time was next to zero, and I had near zero contacts who had not already helped me find work at UDRU. If only the school had not waited until the last minute to do its research, I would have at least had a chance to find work somewhere else.

Was it that I still did not have a letter of recommendation from the President of UDRU, or was it that my passport was still in transit somewhere between Washington, D.C. and Bangkok? I was devastated, and the email from the English Language Program Director at Pittayanukoon that feigned proper notification of cancellation did not help.

I went into action and produced a 61-page report with 25 exhibits and an executive summary explaining how I had been slandered by my former supervisor and ignored by the UDRU administration. This report was hand delivered to the university president, the vice president in charge of international affairs, the university’s personnel director, the head of the international office, the former director of the language center, and the English program director at Udonpittayanukoon Secondary School.

My pride, name, and confidence were restored; the still existent opening at Pittayanukoon remained closed.

The Good, the Bad, and the Unbelievable

Late September was a busy time of the year, for while preparing my assault on the Saudi fortress in Washington, D.C. and planning my early departure from UDRU, I was greeted with some very pleasant news from Daejeon. My defense against my previous, previous landlord had been won and the decision was handed down. Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

So, I asked my attorney how much we had been able to recover in legal fees. My attorney’s response was reluctant, but eventually straight forward. It would cost more to retrieve what little I would be able to obtain than the amount obtainable (the 8 percent maximum of the damage claimed against me). In short, there would be nothing forthcoming, and I would have to bear the entire brunt of his fees on my own. In Korea, being good is a luxury affordable only to the wealthy.

Now, the Unbelievable

On Monday, October 11th, two days after my Thai visa stamp had expired I dutifully reported to the Thai Immigration Office at the Udon Thani Airport that I was no longer in possession of my passport, was awaiting its return from Washington, D.C., and would very much appreciate a letter that would bear witness of my appearance. They told me that I should not have sent my passport out of the country, refused to document in anyway that I had reported to their office, and instructed me to declare my passport as missing at the Udon Thani Police Department. This I did. What I did not do was apply for another passport at the American Embassy, as it seemed unlikely that the Embassy would allow me to possess two passports simultaneously. I was still hopeful that my current passport would be returned to me with a Saudi visa pasted inside.

Many weeks later on Monday, November 1st, very late in the day, my passport arrived in Udon Thani. On the following morning I returned to the Thai Immigration Office at the airport, showed them my police report, and asked for the a new visa stamp. When they started counting the days since October 9th, I realized that they were going to charge me overstay penalties for the entire time that my passport was in the hands of the Saudi government. I simply did not have the money, and wondered still again, why they had rejected my original request for an extension until October 15th.

That afternoon I decided to try a different border control and climbed into a bus to the Friendship Bridge on the Thai-Laos border. The result was the same; they listened politely and counted. When they were finished I asked them for proof of my visit, and they refused. At least the behavior was consistent. So, I asked them, if I could appeal my case, and was told that I could do so, but not until I tried to leave the country without payment. For then, I would be sent to court and later to prison, if I did not pay -- one day for each BHT200 (five days in prison for every two days of overstay). I thanked them politely for the information, returned to Udon Thani, and reported to the police that my passport had been returned.

Though I had yet to be thrown into prison, I was already a prisoner of Thailand. With no employment and insufficient money to pay the border guards it was just a matter of time before I would be compelled to appeal to the US Embassy for financial refugee status. Were I to do this, however, I would also be compelled to return to the United States and forego my new bid for employment at King Abdul-Azziz University in the spring. Government bureaucracy does not turn on a dime, and this time my employment acceptance number was being sent to Bangkok!

Too much, Not enough, and Then some

I was not about to experience 2007 again, when I was forsaken by my friends and family and brutally uprooted from Hong Kong in the middle of a winnable court battle that could have salvaged my company EARTH and The HKLNA Project. Moreover, this time there would be no parental inheritance that could spare me the anguish of having to live on US welfare payments.

In October my 2009 proposal for presentation at the 16th World Congress of Applied LInguistics in Beijing in August 2011 had been rejected, and the subsequent invitation to participate in a colloquium on language policy appeared just as bleak. I was 60 years old, my life was going no where, and I had done my very best.

The little financial help that I obtained from my newly acquainted UDRU friends Bernd Becker and Hito Kenji would simply not be enough to carry me through until the spring. Asking my former Japanese friends to help me was simply untenable. Although I had paid them back everything that I once borrowed, it was much later than they deemed reasonable, and they dumped on me in 2007.

For two and one half days I ate and drank nothing. I stopped going to the gym and did not leave my apartment. I was simply waiting for the decision to continue without food and drink or climb back on my horse and ride. It came. I called my friend Sadykh Sadykhof in Seattle, the guy who helped me recover from my 2007 Hong Kong fiasco. He told me that he would help. I was elated. It was not going to be easy, but in the end he came through.

With renewed hope, I resaddled and produced still another report -- this time destined for Thai Immigration. Several calls to the US Embassy in Bangkok and the Consulate General in Chiang Mai resulted in an invitation for further consultation when I go to Bangkok to process my Saudi visa. Notification of the issue of a new employment acceptance number is expected any day now. I just need to hold on a little longer, and hopefully I will be free to live again.

Looking Ahead

What has made 2010 so very different from 2007 is the absence of confusion and bewilderment. For this time I knew that either my friends would be there, or I would not. In 2007 the US government could offer me a means of escape, but not a solution to my dilemma. Moreover, the solution that came about in 2007 was not possible in 2010, and my one alternative in 2011 is much clearer.

My knowledge of PHP has progressed daily since I left Korea, and although I have surely not learned the over 600 built-in functions outlined in the online PHP manual, I have made significant headway in a large number of areas -- especially in the use of string, array, and file functions, the muscle mechanics of PHP and other data manipulative software. In this light I would like to extend my many thanks to the W3Schools forum and its contributors who are always there when you need them and well acquainted with just about everything you need to know about building dynamic webpages. Hopefully by the end of the coming year I will have something to show for the hundreds of hours of self-study that I invested in this past year.

In the end The HKLNA Project was built without the help of the AILA, and I very well believe that the The GENA Project will move ahead well without them. For, in the end, the AILA, TESOL, and many similar academic organizations are part of the problem -- not the solution. To be sure, not everyone in these organizations is the same, and it would have been nice to be able to share my knowledge with some of them. Then too, I still have an outstanding invitation to make a presentation at the Thai TESOL conference in Chiang Mai in late January. Simply I do not know, if I will still be present in Thailand. My top priority for the moment is to return to Saudi Arabia.

More than any country in which I have taught, Saudi Arabia is the most needy of the English language, for 60 percent of its work force is non-Saudi, and the Saudis depend on the English language to communicate with them. Moreover, King Abdul-Azziz University is a well recognized university in the Middle East, and I am likely to find students who are both able and willing to make the effort necessary to acquire the language with good proficiency.

In the meantime, it is likely to be both a lonely and dismal New Year’s celebration, as nearly every shop in my neighborhood will be closed, as well as UDRU’s gym, where I still work out.