In the Old World, people went to the New World to start anew. Once America became settled, folks would head out West to shake away their demons, with destinations such as California and Alaska luring folks with promises of riches and rebirth. These were places where no one cared about your history or imperfect past. You were given a clean slate, and only as good as your current effort.
These days, such second chances are harder to come by. Technology and computer data bases have made it much more difficult to shake the specter of previous fuckups. I am told that back home, many shitty, wage-slave jobs now require credit checks, for God’s sake. Big Brother has indeed taken over, which leaves only one choice for the Spectacular Failures of the Western World: Asia.
I was a big fat loser in America. I admit it. There’s really no other way to spin the story. I aimed high and fell lower. Mea culpa.
I came to Korea because pretty much no one else would have me. I was bruised and bleedingâthe textbook portrait of a failureâbut Korea didn’t seem to care. Her permed hair’d visage looked upon me with kind brown eyes and during my darkest hour, picked me up with her calloused, ajumma hands, and embraced me.
Since arriving on her rocky shores those many years back, I’ve flourished, and despite her many, prickly imperfections, I’m happy to call Asia home. I am grateful every day for the second chance afforded me here, and despite a few major hiccups along the way, I try my best not to screw it up.
Howeverâ¦ some of my fellow expats have it the other way around. They come to Asia, and THEN implode. Whether they blow all their cash, burn their bridges, or just piss the wrong people off, I’ve seen more than my share of expats unravel here. With their tail quivering between their legs they grab what they can, stuff it into their bags, and crawl onto that first plane home. The rest of us shake our heads and wonder how can this happen in Asia, whereâat least for us pampered, spoon-fed Westernersâthings are just so damned easy. How is it possible to ASS OUT in a land where Westerners are generally given a berth fit for a cruise ship?
This phenomenon has come to be known as The Asia Fail. Here’s a list of the main types, in no particular order:
1. THE ALCOHOL FAIL
East Asiaâwith Korea stumbling along at the head of the drunken packâ is a boozehound’s paradise. You can get hammered around the clock for pennies on the dollar. Many countries have NO LAST CALL at the bars. You can booze all night, show up to work bleary-eyed and reeking of drink, and your boss will congratulate you.
If your friend is already an alcoholic and says he’s moving to Asia, don’t let him. There’s simply just too much product on hand. After all, would you let your cokehead buddy go work in the rebel-held jungles of Colombia?
A friend of mine was such an alkie that he couldn’t even hold down a job in Korea, where a huge drinking habit is almost a hiring requirement. It is so ingrained in the culture that companies often make pissup sessions mandatory for employees. He carried around soju in a water bottle and would puke every time he went up stairs. For the greater part of a year he lived in a bar. Yes, such a thing is possible in Asia.
When things got bad enough we finally passed the hat, contacted his family, bought his ticket and practically pushed him onto the plane. He’s lucky, because I’ve known of a couple other guys who have died from liver failure here. And they were both kindergarten teachers.
Before attempting a move home from here, writer Ross Gardiner summed it perfectly: I’m the only person in history who is moving back to Scotland to AVOID being an alcoholic.
2. THE IRATE WOMAN FAIL
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned is a pretty good maxim to live by. Add Asian to the equation and this fury has the potential to morph into a Category 5 Typhoon.
The warning signs are usually there: Ripped up photos of ex-girlfiends, rivers of threatening text messages, smashed furniture, slaughtered petsâ¦
One friend of mine was smart enough to take his Korean wifeâwho had serious anger management issuesâback to Canada before things got bad here. How do I know? One day I saw him at work, with a seven inch scabby gash on his face.
What happened? I asked.
My wife scratched me, he replied, as if it was an everyday occurrence, like walking the dog or laundry.
Yeahâ¦. she got drunk and scratched me. He continued drinking his coffee and making fantasy football trades on his computer.
Any particular reason?
Nah, not really.
Another guy I know was deported after his notoriously unbalanced ex-girlfriend ratted him out to immigration for some illegal tutoring he was doing. That’s right, she called the teaching cops on him. And sure enough, when he showed up to the lesson, two immigration officials were there, lying in wait. They grabbed him and that was that. He’s since moved on to greener pastures, but let the lesson be learned.
3. THE DRUG BUST FAIL
No country in Asia takes either possession of distribution of any substance deemed illegal lightly. Your arguments for decriminalization may hold sway ears in Canada, America, or Europe, but Asians generally have no time for such things. All drugs are thought bad and that’s that. Get caught and pay the price. Like the strength of currencies in this region, this price varies greatly from country to country. Get busted smuggling hash in Japan or Korea and you WILL do time in a spartan prison, but you’ll likely count the years on one hand and you’re unlikely to be brutalized or raped. Do the same in Thailand or the Philippines and you may just spend a decade or two living in your own shit and fending off knife attacks from transvestites in prisons not fit for animals. Try it in Malaysia or Singapore and you may not even spend too long in prison before you find a rope around your neck.
Every year or so there’s a drug bust among the expats in Korea, which I don’t understand. I mean, do you guys really need your weed THAT much? Go home and move to Seattle or Denver and smoke away, though you may have to go back to work at Walmart or the valet parking lot you toiled away at before moving here.
There are so many books written about Thai prisons that they practically have their own aisle at the few remaining books stores left on earth. Warren Fellow’s The Damage Done is particularly horrifying.
For a clear and sympathetic account of serving time in a Korea prison for drugs, try Brother One Cell. He’s proven that the Asia Fail can go the other way around: It can sometimes actually provide opportunities for you back at home. I’ve often thought of purposely getting arrested for drugs in Asia, and serving my time solely in hopes of landing a big book deal. Expat prison memoirs are hot hot hot.
4. THE HATER FAIL
This one usually manifests itself as the midnight runner (suddenly leaving without notice). Many would argue that this doesn’t qualify as an Asia Fail because by leaving the country with no notice, you are taking matters into your own hands. Fair enough, but to get to the point where you are willing to grab your shit and ditch out on your job without so much a phone call implies a basic lack of preparation for the bumps and knocks of life in Asia.
But even more fail-ific are the people who move to Asia, hate it with their very skin, yet insist on sticking around, grinding it out, and making it awful for the rest of us. There’s currently one sad sack on Facebook who teaches up in Seoul and shrieks about it every day. His entire posting catalog is a road map of ESL misery. He moans and whines and talks about how is life here is a living hell; he talks of how the school he works at could be destroyed by a bomb with everyoneâstaff and children includeâkilled and how he wouldn’t. even. care. (sic) In desperation for a online hug, he splays his painful, bleeding vagina for all to see; he longs to return to the loving womb of America, but refuses to take that one clear step to accomplish the goal: Actually leaving.
Isn’t such perpetuation of easily-cured pain a kind of fail in itself?
Things are different here. There are cultural barriers that sometimes suck, yes, and in an effort to maintain social harmony, many bosses do have aâhow do you sayâelastic relationship with the truth. And the men spit in elevators and the old ladies elbow you in the subway and just maybe they all do hate us.
And did I mention how expensive cheese is here? Can you believe it? Oh noes. The horror.
5. THE TRYING TO BE FUNNY BUT ONLY ENRAGING THE LOCALS FAIL
This one occurs when cultural insensitivity meets misinterpretation, and one that I was guilty of in 2006. I was arrested and questioned over my role in Babopalooza, an expat sketch-comedy show I helped write and produce. The show made fun of both Westerners and Koreans and nearly got everyone involved deported.
One of the sketches lampooned the Korean Immigration Service, which was an idiotic thing to do, since 1: The ridiculing of authorities is frowned-upon in Confucian Korea, and 2. The people we were skewering were also the people who have all the power over our lives: They interpret and enforce the rules that let us stay in the country. Don’t bite the hand that issues the visa.
We eventually got off with a firm talking to by the actual police, but Wonderful Busan, Beautiful Immigration continued to make our lives hell for years later, every time any of us switched jobs.
There are other examples aside from Babopalooza, most notably Michael Breen’s Samsung Christmas satire, and the forever-instructive Fancy a bum? incident, which whipped up the Korean netizens into such an angry, pitchfork and torch mob, that the offending dude (a Busan resident) was literally run out of the country.
6. THE PARANOIA FAIL
No, this isn’t the west, and some of the governments in Asia are downright nasty. This is especially true for the communist ones, who don’t really bother with such pesky things as free speech, habeus corpus, and a right to a fair trial. They’ve also been known to harass and spy on undesirable foreign elements from time to time.
However, most expatsâespecially lowly English teachersâare barely on their radar and to think otherwise is to only flatter yourself. That doesn’t stop some folks from convincing themselves that the Secret Police are out to get âem, however. A friend of mine was recently living in a Southeast Asian country and posted a sort of real time Facebook meltdown. He claimed he was being watched and followed every step of the way; he told of having his apartment broken into and his computer hacked and tracked. He ended up bolting the country with no cash and barely getting out, subsequently relying on friends chipping in on PayPal to buy his ticket back home.
Who knows? Maybe he was being followed. Though, having been a dabbler myself years back, I suspect overindulgence in certain substances played a much greater role in pushing him over the precipice than any spooks or security apparatchiks. And is it any coincidence that that this sort of neurosis usually occurs in countries where such substances are widespread and easily obtained? After all, nothing makes gangs of government agents put cameras in your refrigerator like a three-week yabba binge.
7. THE SHITTY TEACHER FAIL
Let’s face it: Teaching English in Asia is a piece of piss. Could there be anything easier than just talking to people in your native tongue and getting paid for it? Sure, you need a four-year degree, and that does succeed in weeding out some of the mouthbreathers, but knuckleheads still abound. Anyone who thinks that a college education alone somehow equals intelligence hasn’t surveyed the Asian ESL crowd.
But, and this is a big ‘but’, Teaching English isn’t for everyone. To do it well in Asia requires a modicum of charm and basic social skills, or at least the ability to shuck and jive and entertain the troops. And if the troops aren’t entertained, they’ll complain, and your ass will be shown the door.
Some folks just aren’t cut out for this gig, yet bounce around from job to job to job, never quite taking the hint that, somewhere along the way, they’ve made a serious vocational error. But the truth is, if you are over thirty and teaching in Asia, you’ve ALREADY made a serious vocational error.
8. THE TEACHING IN KOREA AND THEN GETTING CAUGHT HAVING SEX WITH CHILDREN IN THAILAND FAIL
This is the worst one, because not only is it morally reprehensible: It just makes living and working here all the more difficult for the rest of us.
Thanks, Swirly Faced man.
Tharp’s Blog: Homely Planet
You can read Mike Breen’s interview with Haps detailing Samusung’s $1 million suit against him.