Saturday, May 2, 2020

My Most Difficult Experience in Korea

Now that I'm (finally) moved into Traditions of Mill Creek in Brentwood, TN. and have sorted through more than half of the boxes I brought with me (almost all of the big ones), I'm feeling like doing something a little more creative from time to time. I'd like to begin blogging again, this time more regularly, even though I'm not yet "organized." (Will I ever be organized?) As I was putting away some boxes of journals, I happened upon this entry from twenty years ago (dated April 2, 2000), written during the two years I spent teaching on military bases in Korea.*

Tower at the DMZ visitors' center

Although this teaching job in Korea has not been the easiest assignment I've ever had in my life, it is not the hardest, either. I've often chosen “hardship duty” for reasons that have not yet become clear to me despite several rounds of psychotherapy interspersed with other efforts to understand life and my place in it. Maybe it’s the challenge. I want to see what I can actually endure. Maybe I think that difficulty is good for the soul - just as working out is good for the body. “No pain, no gain” and all that sort of stuff. Perhaps I’m at some extreme end of the novelty-seeking character type. I have done things such as taking my comprehensive exams at the University of Michigan six weeks after giving birth, having taught in the medical histology course until the time of delivery. Or, I lived in a ghetto in Philadelphia for two years while doing post-doctoral research with a tyrannical lab chief . I could go on and on about the multiple stresses and strains I've placed upon my life. I don’t complain about things much because I realize that I've been responsible for most of my own difficulties.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty I have experienced here in Korea (NOT my doing, I believe) has been the long-distance effort to straighten out my RV sale and loan pay-off. I drove all the way to Tampa, Florida, to sell the RV to Lazy Days RV Center, one of the largest and most reputable dealers in the country, so that I wouldn’t have to worry about some snafu in the sale of the vehicle. And I also wanted to have credit toward a new RV after my return. I had some last-minute regrets about selling that RV. It had been a practically perfect vehicle for me – and such a source of pleasure and adventure! When I left the dealership in a rental car (just three days before the August 8 departure date for Asia), I was assured that everything was in order, that a check would be cut the next day, the loan from Nations Bank would be paid off, and I didn’t need to worry about it any further.

I was tipped off that there might be a problem when I received a notice last October from Bank One (forwarded from my home address by my daughter) that I could skip a payment in December by sending in the attached card. I almost threw it away, wondering why Bank One would be sending me something. Then I idly conjectured that Bank One might have merged with a bank of one of my credit cards. Bank mergers were in the air around that time. But before I tossed it, I happened to notice a figure of $388.00 in the upper left corner, and that amount looked unnervingly familiar. I decided to keep the notice and follow up on it with a phone call.

Fortunately, phone cards available to the military (and contractors) charge only 10c a minute for calls to the U.S. So I made a phone call a few nights later – after midnight, in order to be calling during U.S. business hours. The eastern U.S. is awake and doing business while I am normally sleeping here in Korea. I wasted a couple of dollars on the audio “service” message - much of it on hold listening to some ghastly, scratchy excuse for music. There are some tunes that I will never again be able to listen to without stomach cramps because I've had to hear them ad nauseum while I was holding for “service” from some company. I eventually spoke with a representative who told me that I owed them more than $15,000.00! I had paid way ahead on the loan, so I was not delinquent, nor was my credit in jeopardy. But I was in shock.

Immediately, I called Lazy Days and talked with the financial officer, Clyde Bailey, who had taken care of the transaction. For some odd reason, I had brought his card with me overseas. He assured me that the loan had been paid off and that the bank had sent title to the behicle, which had been sold ten days after I brought it into the lot. He said he would follow up on it with the bank and he would call me about the same time the next morning (night to me). I felt reasonably assured and went to bed.

The next night, he didn’t call. I waited up until almost 2:00am and then called him. He answered but said he had a customer with him and would call me back in twenty minutes. He didn’t. I didn’t sleep very well that night. The next morning (evening there), I called the salesman I had dealt with, Alex Kozlowski, because I knew he usually worked late in the evening. He was the one who had arranged the “trade-in” for my RV against credit for the new one I will purchase after my return. He was very friendly and said that the financial guy would call me back the next day, and, if necessary, they’d get the lawyers on it! The next day, Bailey did call me and said that the bank had made a mistake and would send me a letter of apology. He said that Nations Bank was bought out by (or merged with) Bank One two weeks after the transaction in question, and somehow the records had gotten mixed up. So, I stopped worrying about it for a while.

About a month or so later (in December), I thought I’d better check with the bank because I had not yet gotten a letter of clarification or apology. The “service representative” said that I owed them more than $15,000, and intertest was accruing. They had no record of my previous contacts or of any communication with Lazy Days. By now, I was becoming alarmed and called Clyde Bailey. He was annoyed that the matter had not been resolved and made scarcely audible, disparaging comments to the effect: “I talked with a supervisor, but of course, a supervisor wouldn’t keep records of anything.” He said he would follow up on it.

For the next two weeks, I was very busy with end-of-term activities – making up and grading exams, compiling and turning in grades, etc. It had been a very busy term, and I was teaching three classes, including a laboratory, which takes a lot of time. I decided to put off further efforts to deal with the matter until I returned to Charleston on December 27. When I got there, my daughter was at home and we spent most of the first four days (jet-lagged as I was) taking care of her wedding preparations. I finally called as soon as possible after January 1, 2000 (the magic date); I believe that January 3 was the first business day after that. Sure enough, the bank still claimed that I owed them money.

So, for the remainder of my week in Charleston, until January 8, I spent about an hour each day calling back and forth between the bank and Lazy Days. I eventually connected with a research person named Vonelle, who admitted that the problem had, indeed, been “researched” once before in October – not by her, just some note in the records. But she claimed that there had been no follow-up from Lazy Days, so it had been dropped. The bank finally acknowledged that they probably wouldn’t have sent the title without receiving a check, but they needed a copy of the cancelled check so they could trace what had happened to the money. Later, I wished I had asked Clyde Bailey to send me a copy of the front and back of the cancelled check as well. As the week drew to a close, both Vonelle and Clyde had each-others’ phone numbers, and I asked them to work it out, since clearly the problem was in their records or transfers. I thought that I shouldn’t have to be shepherding this thing, since I no longer had the RV and would soon leave the country again. By the time I left the U.S., the matter still had not been resolved, but I was assured that it was being tackled from both sides.

In early February, I called the bank, again from Korea in the middle of the night, to verify that, in fact, the loan had been paid off. I first tried calling Vonelle but got a voice message saying, “that number has been changed or is no longer in service.” In retrospect, it might have been an area-code change, but it felt like another gratuitous roadblock. So, I called the regular “service” number and asked about the account. Instead of reassurance, I was treated like a dead-beat by the person who checked my account because, by then, I was truly overdue, and "delinquent" in my payments. The “service person” I talked with had no record of any inquiries or negotiations concerning the account. I bullied my way to a researcher by insisting that the “service person” check to see if the title had been sent out. Finding that it had, he was willing to pass me up the line. I wondered how someone not as persistent or tenacious would be able to handle this sort of debacle. As it was, I was reaching the end of my patience and sanity about the issue. I told the new “research person” (Lolita Smith?) that it was already being researched by Vonelle, and I asked if she knew her. She said she didn’t. I gave her Vonelle’s number. Again, rounds of talks ensued between me and the bank and Lazy Days. This time I said it was time to get the lawyers involved and that if it was not resolved soon, I would get my lawyer in the states to try to track down who had skimmed the money. The researcher, Lolita, apparently dragged her feet and didn’t call Clyde Baily back when he tried to get in touch with her.

Eventually, while trying to call Lolita (not at her desk, “Can I help you?” for the third time by two different people, Lattice and Angela), I did manage to make contact with an assistant, Sabine Alice, who – after I had explained the situation again – declared, “This has been going on too long.” I said, “Yes, indeed.” She promised to get to the bottom of it right then and there. While I was on hold (eek, that awful music!), she contacted Clyde Baily AND a person in records (Karen) at Lazy Days, realized the complexity of the quagmire, and promised to call back in two days.

In fact, I did get calls in Korea from all three within the next few days. From the three stories (the women were most willing to talk), I pieced together a scenario of what may have happened. Apparently, the first check had been sent to a Nations Bank in Florida rather than the bank in North Carolina, which had handled my loan. Somehow, the check simply disappeared – didn’t get cashed and didn’t get credited to my account. Karen, the person in Records at Lazy Days, said that sort of thing happens all the time. I was incredulous. She insisted, “The banks are so big these days, they just can’t keep track of things.” There was a stamp on the check saying, “Void after 90 days,” and by that time, there was no point in trying to retrieve it. So, Clyde Baily had another check cut and sent to Vonelle. Sabine managed to contact Vonelle, who had, indeed, received the second check, She had been slow in submitting it because she wanted to make sure she was sending it to the correct place and didn’t want it to disappear down the same black hole as had the previous one. They reassured me that the matter was practically solved and promised that I would receive a letter of apology, sent to my Osan address, when it was all cleared up.

On February 24, I still had no letter, so I called the bank. The “service person” who answered (after the usual interminable exposure to that grating music) said that the account had been paid off! 

In March, I received a form letter, postmarked March 1 - sent to my home address in Charleston and forwarded by my daughter to Korea - congratulating me on my loan payoff.

No apologies.

*Several experiences from those two years spent in Korea at the turn of the century are chronicled in "Korea, Are You at Peace?" This one was not included in the book.


  1. What a stressful and frustrating experience! I'm happy to hear you'll be blogging more and look forward to your posts.

  2. Thanks, Susan! Look forward to getting back into the writing groove!!

  3. Thanks, Susan! I'm finally moved into my new apartment in a long-term care facility in the outskirts of Nashville, TN. I'm still surrounded by chaos, but I believe that the worst is past! It felt good to do a blog post, however frustrating that experience was!!

  4. So frustrating, but your perseverance paid off in the end!

  5. Yes, I guess it did. A lot of what we do - what we accomplish - results from "pure, dumb stubbornness."