Most of the time things are just peachy here in Korea. The people are incredibly kind and genuinely mean well even when trying to force something spicy down your gullet. But sometimes, you just have to shake your head and mumble between gritted teeth the age old saying here 'Only in Korea'.
About a month ago (right before we left for Malaysia) Farmboy and I booked flights to Mongolia (I know!). Our plan was to spend our next holiday (well, 3 days of public holidays coming up next week here in Korea and to take 2 days of unpaid leave) with two special friends who will be leaving Korea soon. We were a little hesitant to book flights without confirming unpaid leave with our schools, but we have done it before and there had been no problems then. We went ahead with paying for our non-refundable tickets and rushed up to Seoul to get our visas sorted out. Then when school opened again a few days later I met with my co-teacher to chat about getting my unpaid leave authorized.
Problem number 1.
"There has been new document that say Foreign Teacher cannot take unpaid leave these days", was the response I got. Our contracts are a little grey in the leave area, but as we had done it before, and I offered to make up any classes I might miss I really didn't expect to encounter any issues. Well that was a good start to my week. I even got to the point where I told her about non-refundable flights, but was met with a blank stare (language barrier? Cultural barrier? I couldn't care less barrier? Who knows). And that's how that conversation ended.
Farmboy, armed with his most expensive looking suit and tie (appearances are oh so very important here in Korea) arranged a meeting with the education supervisor in our province to chat about our dilemma. The suit may have helped a little, but the answer he got was very vague. Not quite a 'no' but in no clear means a 'yes'. So we waited for the next 2 weeks to get a straight answer.
Problem number 2.
Meanwhile I had been frantically researching and calling the airlines and booking websites I had gone through, cancelling flights for non emergency reasons usually results in the ticket bearer being issued with a voucher for future travel only valid on the booked airline for the cancelled flight. Ah man. I'm not sure we can head anywhere else but Mongolia on Mongolian air. And our visas were only valid for the stipulated number of days applied for.
What a flop!
Problem number 3.
We finally heard back from our supervisor (by a random text message).
"Foreign teacher in Jeonbuk Province may not go abroad during semester time". Really? Then how is it that every other teacher we know in our province is leaving Korean soil for the Thanksgiving holiday? That message should have read "Dale and Roxy Teacher may not go abroad during semester time". Our main reason for coming to Korea was the opportunity we have to travel here. Well I guess we will just have to spend the holiday here exploring more of Korea.
Luckily I have the most persuasive husband in the whole world, who managed to charm the socks off the American call center and got us a 95% cash refund on our credit card. Other teachers in Korea suggested we take forced sick leave, others said we should just go and not say anything until we got back and then feign ignorance, but none of that quite sat right with me. I had wanted to be honest about our trip from the beginning, little lies (no matter how white) have a habit of spiraling out of control and biting you in the bum sooner or later.
And to be completely honest, we shouldn't have actually booked flights without getting our leave sorted out first. But you know how easy it is to get carried away with excitement, and that sneaky piece of plastic called a credit card makes online shopping far to easy.
And so my dear friend Mongolia, it just wasn't meant to me this time.
The lesson I have learned from all of this. Never assume anything. Especially here in Korea. Clarify everything (in writing is possible) before making and permanent decisions/bookings/commitments. Take deep breaths when you feel frustration building, and try to smile through it all even if you feel like punching someone in the face.
So next week, instead of images of vast open plains and shaggy weather beaten men wrapped in wool blankets, you will be getting something a little more Asian or should I say South Korean.
Some bright lights perhaps, cat cafes and coffee shops, high end street fashion and one or lovey dovey photographs of us as we celebrate our one year wedding anniversary in Seoul. It's not Mongolia, but it will do.