Sunday, February 25, 2007

Stranded in Japan, but trying to appreciate it

maybe a little unsuccessfully...

I know. It could be worse. I could be stranded in Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or some other war torn god forsaken place, but instead, I am in the most expensive country on the planet with almost no money. No credit cards. No ATM cards... That's right folks, I've got nothing but my wits and we all know that can only go so far in a place where you can't speak their language and they can't speak yours. For real though, Japan is like the least English-speaking country I have ever visited (and I didn't count on being here for more than 24 hours so have no phrase book or anything). I have never had to point. nod. smile. so many times in my life. I am frustrated. This is getting old.

But let's keep it real here. The reality? Well, it's actually a sweet one. I'm here on a free trip. One that was supposed to last 2 days (one overnight) so that I could get my work visa for Korea, but due to dense fog in the Incheon Airport area, my flight was delayed by 6 hours, thus making it impossible for me to get the embassy on the same day that I arrived in Japan. So here I am, spending a wonderful, long weekend in a lovely city that is experiencing an early spring. All at the expense of my employer. The only problem is that I don't know when it is going to end and I'm starting to feel a little stressed out about the fact that I don't have a plane ticket home yet and I'm not sure that my money will last if I have to stay past Monday.

I have to admit that coming out of the airport, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when I saw the ground and trees bursting forth with color. Plum trees are in their peak, cherries are starting, the grass is green, bulbs are poking out of the ground and they've already put many of their SUMMER plants outside... Fukuoka would be heaven if I didn't feel so nervous about running out of money and landing myself a nice card board box on the street Monday night.

To give you some examples of the outrageous cost of Japan:
2 pairs of *cheap on sale* underwear-$30
one pair of socks, not on sale- $10
one subway ride, 2 stops- $2.50
lunch- average $9
one *happy hour* beer- $5.25
admission to a very bad art museum (as in almost no permanent collection and a super badly curated temporary collection)- $9
international phone call (to nearby Korea)- $1 per minute
internet- $1 for 10 minutes

And oh I wish, I wish, I wish I had some extra cash on hand because I LOVE japanese fashion. I could spend a million dollars on clothes here, but instead I have to wear the same exact thing for 5 days because well, I thought I was only going to be here for 2....

I'm torn between complaining about how I don't like to travel alone anymore, feeling lonely and moneyless, and basking in the glory of a beautiful foreign city, japanese food, sake and plum blossoms...

Life is hard, I know.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Justified Weekend Ranting

Over the weekend, there was a fire at the immigration detention center in Yeosu (way south of here) and 9 migrant workers died, while about 24 more have been hospitalized and are not expected to survive. The workers who died were Chinese and Sri Lankans who were slated for deportation. It seems a cruel fate to die in a detention center after they've spent their youths indentured to ruthless bosses. Is there NO justice in this world? I mean, at least if they actually got deported, they would've been able to see friends and family.

You know what I say? Borders + Visas= Bullshit. Those guys should have never been in a detention center in the first place. Why is that corporations, and the people who run them, can run rampant across the globe with virtual impunity, while the people who are actually doing the work that makes the world go (like make food, clothes, buildings, etc) are being criminalized for trying to eke out a meager living? It just doesn't make a damn bit of sense, people. I mean, if a CEO can move his factory to another country to make more money, why can't a worker move his/her body and family to another country to make more money... Doesn't that just seem hypocritical?

Furthermore, it's the corporations who are the real law breakers in this new globe trotting economy. Take environmental laws for example . Or how about labor laws. Tax laws. I mean, if the government wants to crackdown on some international wrong-doers, maybe they should start with GE or LG or any of the hundreds of apparel companies that operate here. I guess it's just that the workers are easier to catch and harder to piss off so it's easier to show you have rule and order.

And anyway, when was the last time that a CEO got a debilitating workplace injury? Died in a factory fire? Got beheaded on the job? (That actually happened about a year ago in a factory not far from Seoul). When's the last time a CEO was forced to leave his family for decades so that they could survive? We all know that these things don't happen to CEOs. And I'm not saying that they should. But in a time of enormous wealth and incredible technology, why should they happen to anybody?

Hey you guys up there! Stop being so goddamn selfish and share with the rest of the world. Or else we're gonna get you and you're not going to like it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

And Life Goes On

Well, I guess it's a good thing that I don't have high expectations for much of anything anymore because if I did, I reckon I might've been disappointed by today. You see, today I went to my unpaid training at the new school where I'll be teaching in March. But it wasn't so much a training as a really long meeting to inform us that we are going to be so busy that we won't have time to pee, breath or finish all of our mandatory lesson planning due to the incredibly heavy teaching load we'll have. I mean, in a school where you will be teaching 33 of the available 40 hours in a work week, you would think that they would want to cut down on the extra paperwork crap so you would have time to prepare your brain and materials for your classes. But then, you remember that this is Korea and what usually makes sense in the work place is ignored, as is conventional wisdom about efficiency, productivity and workplace happiness.

But you see, I was expecting all of this, so no, I am not disappointed. But I am wondering, should I just drop it? I haven't not signed a contract, gotten my visa or made any deals that I can't break, so would it be so terrible to just not do it? Of course, I do live in Korea and if I live here, I'm gonna hafta work here... So then, is it just pointless to quit this job before it starts and find another, equally shitty job? I mean, let's face it, I haven't liked any job I've had in this country, so should I even try? If I know the reality, can I live with it?

Okay, these are all redundant questions. I'm not going to run. I'm not going to quit. AND I'M NOT LEAVING KOREA YET, so don't even throw that one up in the comments field... On the up side, my new coworkers seem decent. I think I might even like them, but it's not official so no press conferences, okay?

And the rest of my life? Well, you could say that it goes on. My Korean is improving despite the fact that I never study. The GS has been re-elected, and the GS, as usual, is not home even though it's my bedtime. Rani the cat is bigly huge now, but still pees in my room when she is angry at the GS. And my roommates, no, they aren't home either.

Like I said. Life. It goes on.

Thursday, February 1, 2007


This is a repost from the MTU website. Yesterday everyone was so surprised, excited... and happy, finally feeling like all these years they've spent struggling have been worth it. Morale has been low in MTU lately, so this news has really renewed everyone's spirit, commitment and energy. The GS's face has been plastered all over the TV for the past 24 hours and last night he came home with a grin that I haven't seen for months. This can only mean good things for undocumented workers in Korea, though unfortunately there is still a chance that the Ministry of Labor can appeal the decision to Korea's Supreme Court. Despite this, MTU officials are going to officially register the union today! Hooray!

Statement Welcoming the Seoul High Court’s Decision Overturning the Rejection of MTU’s Application for Union Registration

- The Korean government must now grant official union recognition to MTU immediately!
- We welcome the decision of Seoul High Court to overturn the rejection of MTU’s application for union registration!

Today, 1 February the 11th Special Division of Seoul High Court (Justice Su-hyung Kim presiding), issued a judgment calling for the cancellation of the rejection of MTU’s application of union registration. This judgment overturned the previous ruling (Feb. 2006) which had upheld the original rejection of MTU’s application. MTU presented application for union registration to the Seoul Regional Labor Office on 3 May 2005. However, the Labor Office rejected our application on 3 June 2005 on the basis that undocumented migrant workers do not qualify as workers, and based on unjust requirements such submission of the name of each workplace represented, the names of union representatives and a complete list of union members. Following this, MTU filed a suit with the Administrative Court protesting the Labor Office’s unjust decision and asking that the rejection of our application be cancelled. However on 7 February 2006 the Administrative Court turned down our request, claiming again that undocumented migrant workers do not have the same status as other workers. We against protested this clearly unjust decision and filed an appeal to the High Court. Now, after waiting no less than one and a half years, the justness of our claim has finally been proven.
We welcome today’s decision with great joy!We believe that the high court’s ruling is the outcome of our long and difficult struggle for the human rights and labor rights of migrant workers. We also believe that it is the result of the warm solidarity of our Korean comrades who have defended and supported us this whole time. We hope that today’s decision will give new hope and spirit to the 400,000 migrant workers who have been suffering under the relentless crackdown and deportations. We believe this judgment provides a new opportunity for us to deepen our organizing and strengthen our struggle for migrant workers’ rights. The road before us is still long. Right now, many migrant workers who have been caught in crackdowns are suffering from shock and the horrible treatment inside foreigner dentition centers, which are worse than prisons. They are unable to receive the severance pay and back wages justly due to them. Those who are sick are unable to get medical treatment. Instead they are being forcibly deported. We must struggle with even more determination to end this oppression and win the rights of migrant workers so that we may life freely and safely with the dignity of human beings. Now, the Labor Office must accept the Court’s ruling and recognize MTU as an official union. If it does not accept the decision and instead appeals to the Supreme Court, we will condemn this ant-labor attitude of the Ministry of Labor and continue to struggle with even more conviction.

1 February 2007
Seoul-Gyunggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions Seoul Regional Council