Under Siege: Come On! Come On!

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I’m alone in the apartment and receive a call from an unknown number on my mobile. I don’t answer it because my son has only slept 30 minutes all morning, he’s just woken up, and I’m desperate to get him back to sleep again so I can do something productive in the little time this will afford me. To this end, I’m walking circles around our lounge with him in a sling on my back, which is the only way of getting him to sleep, at all, ever.

The same number phones again exactly one minute later. This time I answer it, because it's entirely possible that it might be important.

Allegedly it’s Kookmin Bank - KB - and I say allegedly because of the number of phishing frauds which are perpetrated on Koreans from both within Korean and beyond, by which I mean China. The woman launches into a long sentence about something or other but it doesn’t sound like a sales call because it doesn’t sound like she’s just ingested helium, and she doesn’t make the well-practised corporate giggle like the kind of 18 year-old girl normally given that kind of job. I know what you’re thinking - is there such a thing as a corporate giggle in Korea? Yes, there is.

She tells me my name - badly - but it’s vaguely recognisable as my name, and I say yes, hoping she might switch from the Korean she’s been using so far, to English. But she launches off into a long Korean sentence so I stop her. “Jam shi man yo”... please wait a moment. And I tell her, “I’m a foreigner, I don’t speak Korean, so I don’t understand what you are saying.” So she starts again, probably from the beginning, in Korean. I try again, in Korean, slowly “I. Don’t. Speak. Korean. Therefore. I. Don’t. Understand. What. You. Are. Saying.” This at least solicits some kind of “Oh, you don’t understand?” “No”. So she explains again. In Korean. Over my “I don’t understands”.

But then she changes strategy. She tells me the branch of KB she’s from, and it is a branch I’ve dealt with, which makes it feel like it’s not a phishing call, although nothing short of being in the bank talking to them is likely to convince me because I’m naturally suspicious. If I don’t trust myself why should I trust anyone else? Then she says “ID cardeu, passport”, but while she might be requesting details I’m never going to give her, there’s no context, so I simply tell her I don’t understand again, but she says “ID cardeu, passport” a couple more times with increasing urgency and frustration.

I am also long beyond frustration, and I change strategy. In Korean I tell her, “I don’t understand. Therefore my wife will phone your branch later.” I thought this would provide her with the resolution she so badly needed, but it didn’t. Off she launches again into another round of indecipherable Korean. So I tell her again “I don’t understand. Therefore my wife will phone your branch later.” This is exasperating.

Then the surprise. In evidently frustrated English and a rather aggressive tone universally recognised the world over as listen-you-stupid-foreigner, she suddenly says “Come on! Come on!” My mouth and fingers know me well enough not to wait for orders in such circumstances. It took my finger about a tenth of a second to hit the “End Call” button at and I simultaneously heard my mouth say “Frak you” or words to that effect. I support their actions.

Later it transpired that I had a million won in a savings account that had matured. In case that sounds impressive let me put it into context – at the rate the power in our apartment mysteriously bleeds away into the surrounding atmosphere it will soon be about the cost of one month’s electricity bill. The money was put into the savings account to act as a guarantee for my credit card with the bank (making actually not a credit card with the tiny limit I’m given) because I’m a foreign criminal who otherwise might run away with their precious frakking card and go crazy with it in China with a couple of $3 hookers or something. And that is the reason by the way (not the hookers – the fact that KB don’t really trust foreigners with their credit cards).

So the million had matured from the ultra-low interest guarantee account which had earned me as much as an entire hooker worth of interest in a year, and apparently the staff member who phoned me had noticed this - three months later - and decided that I very urgently and immediately needed to find a new home for it, and certainly after her phone call I had a pretty good idea where I wanted the bank to shove it.

When my wife came home I related the story and she immediately phoned the caller at the bank. At first she denied it, so my wife asked “Are you calling my husband a liar?”, after which she finally admitted it and apologised for losing her temper and the whole “Come on! Come on!” business. One small step for a foreigner, one giant leap for Korean banking - I still need to provide cash deposits to guarantee my credit card though.

Re: Under Siege: Come On! Come On!

Hello Mike,

I'm sorry to bother you with my comment, but I've been reading your blog for a few weeks and I must say that although you are a very talented writer, I truly feel saddened by the fact that the only thing you manage to write on your blog is about negative experiences in Korea (and England to a lesser extent).

By your own admission you are a depressed person; I would suggest trying to focus a bit more on the positive side of life, whether in Korea or in any other country. There is no country in the world where one will feel everything is perfect. I enjoy traveling a lot, as well as living in different places. I could easily focus on all the negative things or experiences that I have seen/undergone in all the places I've been. But I choose to focus on all the good things that I've experienced. This makes for better memories, and it makes me happier and makes life all around more enjoyable.

I'm sorry but I simply find it pathetic that you, just as apparently so many Westerners in Korea or in many other countries, focus strictly on negative experiences and even take the time to share these with everyone. I first started to read your blog because of your writing skills and peculiar humor, but you so pathetically insist on writing about shit that happens to you that I feel like I don't have anything more to read from your blog.

My advice is as follow: start to learn Korean seriously (to be honest, after living in Korea for so long and having a Korean wife, it is sad to see you can barely say a few sentences in the language, and even sadder you justify yourself by saying some Westerners fluent in the language told you it was a waste of time to learn it), get out of your little box and start meeting some nice people (this includes Koreans), stop bragging about the fact that you've never taught English in Korea (seriously, what's the big deal, and who cares?), and stop focusing on all your negative experiences--perhaps there lay the cure to your depression.

If we turn the tables around, and we look at a hypothetical Korean who's been living in the UK for 5 years and can barely speak English (too busy doing other stuff anyway, and it's a waste of time, his Korean buddies tell him), and he constantly complains about how the UK sucks, how his life is miserable, and how shit happens to him all the time, but anyway he's never at fault because learning English is kind of a waste of time and he has better things to do anyway (such as writing a blog about shit that happens to him), what would you think about that person?

Just food for thought.

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