Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Working 9 to 5, or 6 or 7 or 8. . .

YOU CAN tell Koreans work too hard because on any given subway ride about ten percent of the the carriage will be fast asleep (you can also tell that Seoul is very safe city by the same observation). You will find Koreans conked out in all sorts of places. Soon after arriving I saw a man laid out on a street bench fast asleep. An upright coke can was his pillow. It was about the most uncomfortable-looking posture I'd ever seen.

Some of the comatose citizens of Seoul, mostly older men, are paralytically drunk. But mainly they are simply exhausted. Korean society is highly competitive. Getting the best grades in school and having the best looks matter a great deal - as evidenced by the existence of box rooms to study in isolation in and the huge market for cosmetic surgery.

In business, things are no different. Until a few years ago, Korea was one of the few places on earth that had a six-day working week. The law may have changed, but the culture of working slavishly hasn't necessarily.

For many businessmen, 'work' commitments extend far outside of office hours. A gradually diminishing, though by no means gone, aspect of the business culture involves drinking with your boss or bosses. In order to progress in your career it can be expected that you stay out late with your superiors and talk business over bottles and bottles of soju.

Not only do they work a lot, but a great number of Koreans take classes in English or a musical instrument. You'll notice with frustration just how busy Koreans tend to be when you try and arrange a date or friendly meet-up. Typically, it will involve a feat of schedule juggling so complex that you forget what it is you were asking in the first place.
"How about Monday?"

"Sorry, I have work."

"OK, then Friday?"

"English lessons."


"K2 summit attempt."

"Right, then. . .and where am I?"

I have had enough cancelled and deferred dates to open an "IOU 1 Date" shop. Luckily, I've found the perfect solution to this minor annoyance. Drinking alone.

Honestly, I don't see why there's a stigma around it. I get the subway and get dressed on my own. What's the difference? Frankly, it is insulting to presume that I can't manage drinking perfectly well without anyone else's help.

Besides, just look at these wholesome soju ads.

Now, just what could be wrong with something advertised with such nice, smiling young ladies?

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