Like in India, in Korea, the presence of a foreigner automatically adds legitimacy to an endeavor you are about to undertake. The difference being that in India, the Foreigner Presence can be applied to any number of things and still work, where as in Korea, it is mainly applied to all undertakings involving the speaking of English. On Saturday, I had a chance to experience this, once again, first hand. For the day, I was a Rent-a-foreigner.
I got the call early in the morning. I had been scheduled to go skiing that day but had stayed up too late celebrating with Egypt about Mubarak stepping down and didn't get the information until it was too late. Basically, I woke up at 8:24am and looked at my email which said they were all meeting in Seohyeon at 8:30am. I called my friends and told them there was no way I was going to make it and I was sitting there bummed out about it when my co-worker, Will, called with an alternative idea.
I had to make it to Namseong by 10:30am, but then all I had to do was give a 10 minute speech and I would be paid. Since I had planned to go into Seoul as a plan B anyway, I figured I might as well do it. So I made a mad dash for Namseong and was about 20 minutes late because of traffic and because it was just so far away.
They met me right out of the taxi and we all jumped into someone's car for a quick drive to the hogwon. They told me in the car that all they wanted me to do was talk about how important an English education was at a young age. The speech should last about five minutes and then I was free to go.
Except that there was another one at 2pm. This is typical Korean M.O. They don't tell anyone anything they don't immediately need to know unless it affects them. For instance, were I making this deal in America, the woman I talked to over the phone would have explained there was two jobs. Instead she just told me about the one and told me to come. When I got there, she said, "Can you come back at 2pm also?"
As annoyed as I should have been, I was kind of used to this behavior at this point and since I had nothing else to do, I said 'sure'.
When the teacher I was with and I went in together, I got the kind of treatment that is pretty typical of Korean Foreigner relations. Which is that I was treated like a particularly gifted but socially backwards circus animal. The teacher introduced me, and then guided me to sit somewhere out of the way while she gave her presentation.
When she was done, she gestured dramatically for me to give my speech which was met with titters from the mothers in the crowd. It was as though they hadn't expected me to really start speaking. Most of them just stared at me looking blankly impressed - I'm almost certain that they didn't understand a word I was saying though I made sure to speak slowly and clearly. One mother in the back looked like she understood because she was nodding vigorously to everything I said and whispering rapidly to those around her.
I finished my speech when the 'Boss' that I was working with for the day gave me a gesture, causing more titters from the Mothers. I smiled and said 'thank you', gave a little bow that caused more giggles and we left.
I was told I was going to have to meet them back at 2pm and there would be a new teacher for me to work with but the same Boss. I left for Itaewon, thinking I had enough time to sit down at a restaurant there and eat some good foreign food but by the time I got there I had about half an hour and then I would have to start heading back. Seoul's subway system may be good, but sometimes it takes a long time to get from one place to another.
I ended up eating at Taco Bell, which I had only ever had while intoxicated. Let me tell you, the food doesn't improve with sobriety. I started heading back.
I waited nearly an hour to do my second speech which was really starting to annoy me. The Boss, too, was anxious on my behalf. He kept on saying things like 'do they have to ask so many questions?' and 'look at the mothers! They are all bored, she should stop talking!'
Finally, I made my speech to a lot less giggles with time because I was more confident, I think. And left a hundred bucks richer. I don't know if I'd do it again, but it did pay for my back pack I had to buy for my upcoming trip and a Batman belt buckle that I will probably never wear but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have.
Afterwards, I went back to Itaewon and bought some hummus at the foreign food store and some bread at a halal bakery because I was still feeling the buzz from Freedom Friday. And it was really good hummus.