Monday, August 30, 2010

Living to work

IT DIDN'T take me living in Korea long to realise that people work long, long hours here. When I go home from work every evening there will always be people still at their desks, despite the fact that deadline is long over. Ostensibly, none of them have anything to do -- no stories are submitted, not edits are necessary -- but nevertheless they want to be seen to put in long days at the office.

I mentioned my observations on the Korean work ethic to one of my teaching assistants last weekend. She told me about a friend she has whose work schedule would put most slaves to shame. This friend of hers typically works from 7am -10pm -- seven days a week. Yes, you read that right: 15 hours a day, 105 hours a week. Oh, and here's the best part: she doesn't get overtime. She gets one day off to herself each month.

Unsurprisingly, I was stunned. There is hard work and there is burnout. With a schedule like that, having friends or hobbies becomes impossible. Even a good night's sleep is improbable. As for holding down a girl or boy friend? Don't make me laugh.

The girl in question apparently wondered why she didn't have a boyfriend. Well, if you are reading, wherever and whoever you are, here's why:

HIM: "Hey babe, you want to watch a movie or something tonight?"

HER: "No, I have to lift large, irregularly-shaped rocks around the office all night. How about sometime in 2015?"

HIM: beep, beep, beep . . .

Korea's economy is doing fantastically well and the productivity of its workers no doubt has a lot to do with that. Work-shy, socialist basket-cases like Greece could learn a lot from Asia's 4th-largest economy. But there comes a point where no salary, no sense of self-reliance, makes up for having no time or quality of life.

More than once, I have found myself acting as an unqualified therapist to people I hardly know. Here's an actual text I received from someone I met ONCE while they were at work (regular readers -- all three of you -- may be interested to know the person in question is the Elton John-loving, unfaithful young lady from early posts).

"I feel so blue ~ I cried T - cuz Im hard to live."

Look, when your job leads you to say things like (when translated from Konglish) "It's hard to live", it's simply not worth it anymore. How could it be?

Korea has the highest suicide rate in the OECD, having surpassed Japan, a country where suicide is endemic compared to most of the West, a few years ago. I can't help but speculate that Korea's unforgiving work culture may have something to do with this crisis of despair.

Much like their attitude to marriage, many young people I've met are looking to the West and hoping to work for a foreign-owned company or abroad. They aren't prepared to endure the work conditions that were normal for many of their parents.

And, really, who could blame them?

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