You’re not as well liked as you think, Tim

Thursday, 12 September 2002

In Korea after nearly a year of teaching English and many months of close calls with Tim it finally got ugly. The foreign country work experience is fantastic for learning about people quickly b/c it so closely emulates a life raft. You’ll think I’m wrong again, and you’ll regret it in a couple years, but the only way to truly know someone is to see them in an emergency. That’s the classical naked portrait.

I’m not talking about Europe as a foreign country [sic, sick, sieg!]. No European has ever done anything that I was unable to understand. Europeans and their bastard step-children, the Canadians, love to think they are unlike United Statesians. Many love self-delusion. Who am I to wake anyone up?

Many times my Korean friends, employers and co-workers did things which I still can’t understand. Bizarrely delivered hard-core racism, taking things personally that have nothing whatsoever to do with the person in question, lying about things neither worth lying about nor possible to lie about in any permanent way, naïveté in full blown 40 year-olds to the Nth. Now that’s the foreign sea I’m talking about that threw all us North Americans together in a little satellite city of Seoul, ROK on a life raft called the Kuk Je Language Institute.

I never took the time to find out what exactly made him Tim. He was a native Californian. That’s usually a pretty bad start. I think he was also an only child. Another hand on the forehead of sidereal motion. He lived with his mother till he was well into his 30s. He probably only went to Korea b/c he couldn’t get work in the US and perhaps b/c of having been burned on catalog orders as a teen he wanted to collect a shiny new mail order bride in person to make sure the picture and the pieces-count were exactly as advertised.

Tim is a social retard. I don’t say, “was.” It’s unfathomable that he will ever not be. Conversations with him could be good and even enjoyable. They could be uncomfortable or pointless. Watching him speak with others tended to be uncomfortable.

One afternoon gathered around a sik-sa break for kim-bop, and probably duhk, we tangled. For some reason, he thought that making a joke at my expense in front of a crowd would work out for him. Unfortunately he couldn’t tell the difference b/t fun and a real barb. Or maybe he meant it as a barb, but he really is a nice guy so I have to assume it was an accident. But after 11 months on a life raft I wasn’t having it.

I replied — upped the ante considerably and made sure there was no room for reply other than to throw down, as the kids say. The English fluent portion of the room laughed and shifted from foot to foot uneasily. Tim was unable to throw down, while I was able and heading into Willing Country. The Koreans so wanted to stay out of Western business that I knew there would be the most cursory of police intervention afterwards and no consequences but bruised knuckles whatsoever.

Tim paused, looked down at the table, and reflected on his wounds for awhile. A few minutes later he asked me if I would step into the hall. At last!

In the hall he only wanted to talk. To set me straight. He insisted that I not speak to him that way, and so on. I told him that not only was he not going to tell me what to do ever again but he needed to not start things he wasn’t there to finish. He was shaking and fixing to cry but didn’t. I had the best adrenaline rush since the last time someone swung a 2x4 at my head (oh, that one’s for a book or after more time has passed).

During the next week Tim went to everyone at the school from the Korean manager to the newest Canadian teacher and asked in essence, “Do you like me or Ashley better? Do you have any problems with me?” Everyone said, “Uh, no.”

I didn’t know about this till later. No one told me though 10 of them could have. More life raft behavior.

Tim was a pretty good teacher. He worked hard and was conscientious. And his awareness of it was the root of his next play. He went to the Headmaster and said, “It’s Ashley or me. Fire him or I am quitting and going back to the US.”

The problem with the play was two-fold.

A) No one is comfortable giving honest feedback to someone they are uncomfortable with, obviously. Most teachers at the school had complained about Tim. No one was about to tell him that. No one was going to say, “I like Ashley pretty well, man. You actually creep me out sometimes.”

B) He was a good teacher and I was mean to him so he assumed that made him a better teacher than I am. Every teacher at the school was using curricula and lessons I wrote. When I left, the school bought it all for several hundred dollars. I was the most requested kids’ teacher b/c I was the closest to Korean, a hard-ass who loves kids. The kids loved me, and my classes learned faster than most of the others. I was teaching up to 52 hours of classes a week (and doing 10 more hours of lesson preparation) and Tim was doing 20-ish of classes so that he had time to be thorough and do a good job. I taught all the Korean public school teachers in a town of 100,000 by an invitation only appointment. I was invited back the next year b/c I was able to be thorough and do a good job on a ridiculously hectic schedule.

The short of that is, I was not only a better teacher, I was at least twice as valuable to the school as a revenue generator. Plus, I didn’t creep people out. I never insulted chopsticks or made fun of han-boks. I fit in.

So when Tim sat at the Headmaster’s desk and gave his ultimatum, the response was, “Well, if it’s Ashley or you that’s leaving, Tim… It’s you.”

True to his word. He was gone in two weeks. I respect that part. I wasn’t planning on ever telling this story as non-fiction.

I work at the most successful Internet retail company in the world now. Multi-billion dollar successful. I don’t know what it is about my situation that makes me still not want to type the name but I don’t want to. Maybe after Christmas, NASDAQ willing.

Anyway, there are a lot of Tims at my workplace and a lot more around the world. Like the Tim in this story, some of you are basically nice guys who just don’t understand that no one particularly likes you. You creep people out and they’re not about to tell you. They do talk about it when you’re not there. Just b/c your mother and your once-upon-a-time-girl said you were funny doesn’t make you so. And the guy in the office that you think is mean, or not as valuable as you are to the company, is busting his ass to make the place work while you’re coasting on some meager talent and the goodwill of the management.

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