I stepped from the Abbotsford airport onto the streets of Canada.
‘To the migrant hostel’, I said to the taxi-driver. I offered him a cigarette of South Korean brand; I needed to smoke one as well.
‘Which country are you from?’ he asked.
‘South Korea’, I answered.
‘Do you mind if I tell my South Korean friend about you? May I ask your name? Will you be in the migrant hostel?’
I told him my name, thinking it was just a courtesy from the taxi-driver. Who cares for a stranger from South Korea?
Next Tuesday I went to the library to search the ‘Situation Vacant’ columns. When I returned to my room, a South Korean gentleman was waiting there.
‘I’m Dong-gun. Yesterday evening my taxi-driver friend told me about you. I couldn’t but come here’, he said.
The South Korean offered himself as a friend in this new country, so soon after my arrival. After only 40 hours I heard South Korean words again; I discovered South Korean Oneness in Canada.
After a welcome session from the deputy minister of immigration, all new immigrants were asked to introduce themselves. I went to the dais when my turn came and spoke without fumbling. Although I was happy with the delivery of my speech, it fell flat on all deaf ears. None asked me any question; none asked me how I could help the IT industry here. I was frustrated that no-one had yet approached me and offered me a role.
I received letters from Jong-soo and Sung-ki from Ottawa. Both encouraged me to keep an eye open for opportunities in Vancouver and Ottawa because more jobs were available there. I remembered that I was originally supposed to migrate to Vancouver, but I’d not been because I wouldn’t be entitled to unemployment allowances there.
Jong-soo, who was from Sang-chui’s city of Janggok, reported that Min-soo from Janggok had recently migrated to Abbotsford. He provided Min-soo’s contact phone number and address at Cape Street Apartments. I considered I would visit Min-soo to get clues on IT jobs and to get acquainted with Cape Street Apartments where I’d move to next.
The taxi stopped in the driveway of the apartment block and I ushered Hye-jin and Joo-won to the rented apartment. Seven-year-old Joo-won was very happy to find this beautiful apartment; even before he stepped inside, he gleefully remarked, ‘Daddy, you’ve got such a beautiful apartment already’. As he entered the lounge he was even more impressed and told Hye-jin, ‘Look Mummy, this is a big hall’. He was even happier to find that he had a room for himself. He wanted to get straight into his bed in his new room; however Hye-jin stopped him and helped him brush his teeth. I had a quick shave, prepared tea in the kitchen and got a glass of juice for Joo-won. While taking tea, I showed Hye-jin how to make a call to South Korea and give GemDaddy the news of their safe arrival.
After this, we all took a shower. When we were ready to warm up the rice and curry dishes from the freezer, Dong-gun and his wife Min-ah arrived. They carried with them a packed lunch for us prepared by Min-ah. It was a workday for Dong-gun, yet he managed to pay a surprise visit to Hye-jin on her first day at Abbotsford. I didn’t go out job hunting that day, but enjoyed the hospitality of Dong-gun and Min-ah.
I wasn’t getting any clue on how and when I’d get a job. I was wondering whether I should go back to South Korea, but I had to earn and save enough before I could buy tickets to South Korea. Even after going back I might struggle to get a job. I couldn’t discuss this with Hye-jin because she’d like to discuss this with her parents. I considered the points for staying in Abbotsford: if we could stay in Canada for two years, we would be eligible for citizenship and prospects would improve. I thought I should hold on for a few more months, but if I remained jobless after that, I’d request Jun-seo to buy tickets for our flight back to Seoul. This could be financed by 65,000 won of my provident fund money, held in the joint account I opened with Jun-seo’s nephew at Seoul.
Yi-han and Eun-sook, from Sang-chui’s place Janggok, joined us in the Cape Street Apartments. They had two sons Muk-won and Hyung-tae, nine and eight years old respectively. This family also used to speak the same language that Min-soo, Boo-ja, Hye-jin and I spoke. We all developed a very cordial relationship as if we were living in South Korea. Min-soo and Yi-han were also colleagues in South Korea.
The world soccer final was being played at Abbotsford and the finalist teams were Canada and South Korea. I switched on my TV set to watch the live broadcast of the match. This was the first occasion when Hye-jin and I invited South Korean friends from our apartment block over for high tea, and we watched the live soccer match together. After a gruelling contest, South Korea defeated Canada and won the cup. While we all enjoyed the match and the high tea, we were all exhilarated by the outcome of the match. During the break before the award giving ceremony, Yi-han went out and promptly returned with a bottle of champagne. For one evening, the residents of South Korean origin in that apartment forgot that we were all jobless, we were all living on unemployment allowance from Canada and none of us knew when we would go to South Korea next; we all enjoyed the evening to our heart’s content with the little champagne we could afford.
Just two weeks before Christmas, Min-soo told me that he’d been retrenched and would join Yi-han and me in job hunting. Soon I attended a five-day course on Marketing IT Skills organised by the CES.
Christmas 1984 was the saddest Christmas in my life. This was a four-day long weekend starting on 22 December and even the TV programmes were boring. The South Korean families in the Cape Street Apartments were still having fun, especially the children, unaware of their fathers’ struggle to find jobs. The job-hunting abilities of the ladies had still not been tested. For four days and nights I thought and thought again what I should do next. Should I ask Jun-seo to buy air-tickets to Seoul? Where should we stay after our return there?
I found one ad for an RPG-II programmer in the newspaper. Desperate for a job, I submitted my job application over the phone. I received a call for a job interview.
‘This is from the Canadian Egg Marketing Board’, I heard over phone. ‘This is for the role of RPG-II programmer. Could you come for a job interview now?’
I was stunned. I’d never worked with RPG-II and I wanted to buy a little time for preparation. I asked, ‘Could I be there at two o’clock today?’
The recruiter paused a while then said, ‘It’s okay. Please come at two o’clock’.
Thanks to the CES training I had received in December, I knew where the local IBM office was. I went to their library and in the next couple of hours I picked up a fair knowledge about RPG, SEU (Source Entry Utility) and OCL.
The interviewer asked me a few questions to test my skills, and asked me to come over to his side table and operate the terminal for editing a RPG programme using SEU. I could demonstrate my skill on the terminal and got the job.
‘Join us from tomorrow, your salary will be $23,000 per annum. Working hours are eight to five; morning tea is at nine for 15 minutes; lunch for half an hour during noon to one o’clock; afternoon tea is 15 minutes at four o’clock. See you tomorrow here at eight o’clock.’
Now I’d crossed boundaries again. I entered the domain of RPG programmers and I crossed the boundary between the jobless and the employed.
Everyone was happy at Cape Street Apartments when I broke this news in the evening. I bought a small cake for each of Yi-han, Min-soo and Bo-seok’s family while sharing this news. Each family was even happier when I started bringing cartons of free-range eggs at 40 per cent of the market price.
Two months after this, I submitted my resignation to the same boss. I had a telephone interview with the recruiting manager from Ottawa Bank and was selected straightaway. My interviewer and would-be boss requested me to organise the flight tickets for my family, promising reimbursement of the cost. The salary offered was $30,000 per annum.
When I received the letter of appointment at my address, I discussed this offer with Yi-han and Min-soo. Each said that I’d secured a very good job and shouldn’t miss this opportunity.
We had stayed in Abbotsford not more than six months, yet on the evening of 20 March, when we got into the taxi to travel to the airport, we felt we were leaving behind our age-old friends; as if we’d been living in a mini South Korea and now we would cross another boundary taking off for Ottawa—a real Canadian city.
This was the busiest week since I arrived in Abbotsford. I had to settle all dues for the rent of the Cape Street Apartment—Her Majesty’s Migrant Hostel. I had to get transfer certificates from Joo-won’s school. I remembered that I’d sent boxes by sea-mail from Buyeo to the address of the migrant hostel, and I organised for the redirection of those parcels to Jong-soo’s address at Ottawa, paying the redirection fee of $300 for six packing boxes. It wasn’t easy for me. I remembered how I had to budget my expenses prior to travelling to Canada.
Once again, I needed to take stock of what I had in my wallet and how much I had in my bank account vis-à-vis what I needed to spend to settle all dues in Abbotsford and travelling to Ottawa. I would be later reimbursed by the Ottawa Bank, but for now I was struggling to make ends meet.
Hye-jin, Joo-won and I got off the plane in Ottawa and started walking towards the luggage carousel when we found a person waiting there with a placard bearing the name of ‘Weon Jie-won’. I was approaching that person when he asked, ‘Are you Weon Jie-won?’
‘Yes, I am’, I replied. ‘Thank you for identifying me.’
‘I’m Parker Baalman from Ottawa Bank. Welcome to Ottawa’, said the person while shaking my hand. ‘Please gather your luggage from the carousel, then I’ll take you to your bungalow.’
‘Thank you, Parker’, I said. ‘Please meet my wife, Hye-jin and my son, Joo-won.’
Both Hye-jin and Joo-won raised their right hands to acknowledge Parker’s greeting to Ottawa. Parker didn’t speak a lot, yet from his name and style of talking I recognised the same voice I heard during the telephone interview for this job. I also realised that I would report to the same person in the bank. I was overwhelmed by the courtesy shown by my would-be boss; such courtesy was hardly ever shown in South Korea.
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