Thursday, April 5, 2012

You Encounter: Older Men Before Work

It's getting to be warmer—a bit. Some mornings I tutor North Korean defectors (more on that in another post), and then afterwards I head to the gym, and after that I sit outside and read or study Korean. Often times, before or after the gym, I run into Korean grandfathers (or I suspect it's been the same grandfather), and he says hello and smiles. The last time I saw him, he asked about what I was reading. I happened to be reading a book called  How to Read a Book, which he thought was very funny.  Which, you know, I think it is, too.

I look forward to running into him (or them, if it's been more than one) in my mornings, it's a pleasant little exchange that brightens my day a little bit.

But yesterday, instead of a grandfather, it was an ajosshi who stopped to talk to me.

"Hello! How are you?"

"I'm doing well, thanks!"

And then instead of going on his way, he continued to talk to me. At first it was just awkward small talk, and he tried to insist that he was American, that Philadelphia was in Virginia, and that he had an uncle who lived there.

Red flags went up left and right, especially when he tried to pry into my quasi-private life: what did I do, where did I teach, did I work full-time, etc.

"I teach English home school. I am always looking for native teachers to come on Saturdays."

Oh, so that's where this was going.

"I'm very busy, sorry."

"I can pay you. Only one or two times a month."

"Maybe, but I'm very busy, I'm sorry."

"Ah." He would not be so easily defeated, though. "Are you a Christian?"

"Uhh. Yes?"

"Do you go to church?"

"No, I like to rest on the weekend. I don't think God minds."

He made a disappointed face. "My church is very close to here. You should come. This Sunday, it'"

"Easter," I suggested.

"Yes! Easter Sunday. You can come!"

"I'm going to my friend's church (Ed. note: blatant lie), and then we're going on a picnic (Ed. note: the truth). I'm sorry."

"Oh." Crestfallen. "Where is it?"

"In Seoul."

"Oh. Well, this is my church, and maybe someday you can visit." He gave me a flyer for some church or other, which I graciously accepted with two hands. I then spied that the crosswalk signal was green and tore the hell out of there. Fortunately, my interlocutor was going in the other direction. I did some shopping and, as soon as I got to work, threw the flyer in the trash.

It's funny now, but at the time I was fuming. If you want to hire someone, you don't ask people off the street (who tell you they already work full-time). You advertise in appropriate venues. You put up posters. You hire a recruiter. You don't assume that you can just strike up a conversation with Jane "Whitey" Doe on the street, immediately ask her to work for you, and have her be okay with that.

Fortunately, that was my first experience with being approached with the motivation to be used as cheap English labor, instead of normal human interaction. I can't imagine how bitter I'd be if this happened all the time.

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