Monday, April 28, 2008


The Dark Spell of the Office Demon

Do you work in an office? Do you ever have problems with co-workers, technology or those who employee you? Are you wondering how those problems began?

Perhaps you’ve blamed these problems on the insensitivity of fellow employees, society’s over-reliance upon gadgetry in today’s business world, and the possibility that your boss no longer understands what it’s like to take orders.

Maybe you’ve even wondered if these problems are due to some interpersonal relationship skills you may lack. Well, I’m here to tell you today that, although many of your coworkers have pointed out a few things you could improve with regard to personal hygiene and grooming, you need not blame yourself for your troubles.

Your workplace-related strife is not caused by you, your coworkers, or even the office printer that jams at inexplicable times.

No, all your troubles can be rested solely at the cloven feet of the Office Demon. Many people are unaware of Its existence, but through my experiences I hope to bring Its dark deeds to light.

You see, it’s been more than a year since I left the fulfilling by but physically and emotionally-taxing job of teaching English at the Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute in Korea. Since then, I have been working in an office editing and writing textbooks for our institute. At first, it seemed an ideal job: the schedule was better, the job description was easier, and I needn’t have felt guilty when those who would’ve been honors students decided, due some change in barometric pressure or something, to stop attending classes altogether.

However, knowing that I was relatively happy with my job was all it took to make the Office Demon spring into action. His weapons include:

1. Managers Who Assume You’ll Sacrifice for Their Success

Is your office job easy for you, or does it at least challenging in a way that feels fulfilling? Well, take my advice: if you feel this way, don’t ever tell anyone. Don’t ever say it out loud, and don’t even let your face betray the lack of laboriousness. The Office Demon sees all such things.

Rather than permit even one person to enjoy their office work, he will begin infiltrating the minds of department heads, filling their heads with grand schemes that will bring him/her glory and prestige, provided his/her staff can accomplish them in a very finite period of time.

Soon, all your other labors will have to be squeezed into the fleeting minutes that you’re not working on the boss’ pet project. Just be glad that most of you live in America, where concepts such as “labor laws” and “overtime” are not alien.

2. Tasks That Accomplish Virtually Nothing Except to Soak Up Time
These days, we have three basic tasks in my workplace. The first is to write new material for our textbook series, which comes naturally to me; I majored in journalism because of a natural affinity for words, and not just because I would have failed in business, math, art, and public relations, not to mention the physical and biological sciences (though this helped me narrow my choices).

The second task is to edit what I and my foreign wordsmith coworkers have already written. If there’s one thing that comes more naturally for liberal arts majors than the creative process, it’s tweaking what a fellow liberal arts major’s process has created (tweaking in such a way that the fellow wordsmith will still want to talk to you afterwards, however, takes practice).

The third is listening to audio files. Voice actors record the things we have written onto a CD so that our students can hear how English is naturally spoken. Unlike writing and editing, which can be done while browsing the Internet and/or listening to MP3s, listening to audio files requires complete attention for approximately eight hours a day.

Therefore, we must keep rapt attention through the hundreds of lines of text, just in case the voice actor has flubbed a verb tense somewhere. I’m not saying, however, that this task is pointless. It is entirely necessary, thanks to the next tool in the Office Demon’s shed, which is:

3. People Who Just Don’t Get It

The Office Demon’s most frustrating trick is to cloud the reasoning of others as they perform their tasks, provided they were displaying much reasoning ability to begin with.

Sometimes, while checking audio files, the text I’m reading will say, “I bought some roses for my girlfriend” and I will hear a woman’s voice those lines. Then, I’ll hear the line “When I was young I wanted to play outside like the boys did” being read by a man.

Passages such as these lead me to believe that the person assigning text for the voice actors to read has been led astray by the Office Demon. Because of Its dark enchantment, students at our institute who listen to these files may question whether the Seventh-day Adventist church condones lifestyles such as these (and if you think I’m devoting column space to answering that question, you’re obviously also under Its spell).

4. Technology that Doesn’t Function

Performing certain tasks all day wouldn’t be fun under ideal circumstances; such as having fully functioning equipment to do it with. Performing it with, say, a computer that slows down every 10 minutes and freezes completely every hour or so is all the worse.

You can call your company’s technical support if you wish, but be warned: the Office Demon has probably supplied him with appointments until sometime in the middle of your next scheduled vacation.

5. Physical Maladies Caused by the Office

Once It has set you against your coworkers, supervisors, and even the office equipment, the Office Demon will go to work breaking you down physically as well. If you don’t lead an active lifestyle, It will ensure that your workload requires you to move as little as possible while on the clock, thus causing your thighs to swell and your blood pressure to rise quicker than the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

If you enjoy physical recreation, the Office Demon will see to it that you get one of those chairs that provides very little back support. This will cause doctors to tell you to abstain from your active lifestyle for awhile until you’ve mastered the art of sitting up straight for 12 consecutive hours.

What doctors such as these didn’t learn in medical school is that slouching is a completely natural response to the crushing weight of pure boredom. Such ignorance is the Office Demon’s final and most terrible trick of all.

And that’s why I’ve risked so much to tell you this. Not all of us can work outside or be self-employed, so we must be on our guard. Once the Office Demon’s deeds are exposed, ways of combating Its tricks can be developed. That is why it is of the utmost importance that we act as soon as I finish writing this arti

(Note: The author of this piece appears to have mysteriously vanished before it could be completed. His disappearance is still under investigation.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

For the first couple years of my professional career, I started my day at 7 a.m.

At the time, starting my day meant that my alarm clock would go off at 7, and after I’d hit the snooze button an average of two-three times, I’d comb my hair into the least embarrassing pattern possible before driving to the office by 8.

Once I reached the office, before any work began I could typically ease into the day by checking emails, then last night’s sports scores, then the New York Times web site, then the National Review (because ideological balance is so important), then email again, then the Rotten Tomatoes web site for aggregate movie reviews, and from there I could link to the sites of the individual film critics’ for more detail on their perspective.

Then, later in the morning, if I felt the need to “get away,” I always had the option of slipping into the men’s room with a copy of one of the newspapers we always had lying around the office.

While I was holding that job, I could more or less accurately pick which films would make the critics’ 10 best list, and I was well-versed on the civic issues facing nearly every city in West Tennessee, including those I did not, literally-speaking, live in.

What I did not know, however, was how much of my eight-hour work day was spent doing actual work.

After enduring this schedule for two years, I moved to Korea in August 2005. Here, working as an English teacher, I would also, in a sense, start my day 7 a.m.

However, teachers at our school tend to define “starting the day” differently, because 7 a.m. is when we generally have to teach our first class. Our classes are arranged in order to meet the needs of Koreans who work, are college students or are currently burning themselves out in the Korean high school system.

This means that, especially in smaller cities where I worked right after I arrived, one may teach their first class at 7 a.m., the next at 10 a.m., and then several more between the hours of 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.

This meant that I would actually start my day at 6 a.m., when the alarm clock would go off. My first act would always be to hit the snooze alarm button, because, whether I’d slept two hours or 12, at 6 a.m. I was always pretty sure that the next eight minutes were a critical rest-getting juncture.

If I did get up eight minutes later, I’d begin eating my bowlful of cereal. Having only a bowl’s worth of cereal doesn’t seem like much, but my energy levels being what they typically are 6 and 7, I might start eating at about 6:12 and, upon finishing, realize that it would already be 6:43, and that my institute a 15-minute walk from my apartment.

So, I would rapidly have to find a clean dress shirt, or least one with the most easily concealed stains of spaghetti sauce, and hurry to work.

Starting one’s day with a class to teach rarely affords one the opportunity to “ease into” the day, because it’s hard to skim Rotten Tomatoes while simultaneously correcting a student’s pronunciation. Also, my employers frowned upon me “getting away” from class to the men’s room with The Korea Herald.

However, while my knowledge of film criticism and the civic issues facing small cities in Tennessee diminished, I was able to meet many people and become an integral part of a their education. Over time, I actually became accustomed to teaching seven classes over the course of 14 hours, and spending the time outside the classroom preparing my lessons. It gets easier once you understand the sacrifices that have to be made in the areas of sleeping, personal fitness, leisure, balanced meals, etc.

Because I had grown accustomed to this kind of life, I wasn’t expecting my employers to give me a job editing their textbooks at our central office in Seoul. It would start later, finish earlier, and offered an apartment closer to my workplace, thus making my search for dress shirt with minimal sauce stain-age less frantic.

However, I wouldn’t get the same interaction with students. Young people wouldn’t call me “teacher” every morning, wouldn’t bring me food occasionally, and no one would consider me vital to the progress of their continuing education. Could I really give all that up just for a more convenient schedule?

Yes, actually, I could. Until the day come when I can have both a meaningful role in the lives of students and an easy schedule, an easy schedule will do.

Now, one might ask: how does office life in Korea compare to similar work in America? Well, since I still work here, it’s probably not in my best interest to answer with complete candor.

However, I will say that Seoul is facing a wide variety of pressing issues these days, and Taxi to the Dark Side is looking like an early Oscar contender.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


In Our Judgment

I wasn't aware that "Life" and "Old days" were rivals.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Isn't It Everyone's?

Monday, April 14, 2008


We're Poud of It

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Taking Another Swing at Korean Weddings

My Wedding Journal

Saturday, Sept. 3 2005

It’s been two days since I started teaching English at the Seventh-day Language Institute in Suncheon. Today, the staff and church members took a trip to the neighboring city of Yeosu, which is a port city about an hour southeast.

They took us new teachers to Yeosu so that we could have a look at the East China Sea, as well as the scenic parks located in the middle of town. However, long after my Hippocampus has banished the sights of the East China Sea and Yeosu’s parks to the outlying regions of my brain, I’ll remember the wedding.

Actually, it was only the ceremony following the nuptials themselves, but apparently it’s a vivid metaphor for the groom’s future. If I do remember the park, it’ll be because that’s where I saw him being led, via a leash-and-collar, by his new bride. Both newly christened spouses were dressed in traditional clothing, although the groom was only allowed the pants.

In place of the shirt, his chest was covered with duct tape and magic marker scribblings, which I suspect did little to provide the comfort of a shirt. I can’t read Korean writing yet, but I’m told that the etchings on his chest meant, “We will be happy forever.”

But the groom’s happiness appears to start a bit later than the bride’s.

I watched as several of the groom’s friends seized him and held him in a position parallel to the ground and proceeded to whack the bottoms of his feet with a baseball bat. No foreigner whom I tell this story to is likely to believe me when I tell them this later, but the pictures I have taken indicated that the men weren’t swinging the bats any harder than, say, Barry Bonds, pre-illegal substances.

The Korean staff of our institute says that this part of a ritual that extends to Korea’s pre-Christian days. At the time, the groom’s feet would be beaten with dead fish, so that the bride would later attribute the smell of his feet to the fish, as opposed to naturally sweaty male self.

Fish are no longer the weapon of choice these days, but the use of the bat on the bottoms of his feet is employed, apparently because they believe it will aid the groom’s performance later that day.

If you know what I mean.

So far, Korea looks like a nice place to live, but I’d definitely rather not get married here.

Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Tonight, I proposed to my Korean girlfriend. She said yes, and we’re planning a wedding for next year at this time. I’ve only just begun to think about it, but I know this: I want a modern ceremony, not with any arcane feet-beating traditions.

I’ll not be dissuaded on this.

Sunday, Sept. 17, 2007

Today I went to Chuncheon, where my fiancée and I attended my first wedding ceremony in Korea. It was a co-worker of hers and a former student of mine, and they had a modern ceremony.

Koreans do, however, make a few alterations. There are no groomsmen or bridesmaids, so the couple stands by themselves at the altar while the minister reads their vows. Upon completion of the vows, the groom barks the Korean word that means “Yes!” to signify his devotion. Then, a song is played, they read a promise to the respective parents of their spouse, and they are proclaimed husband and wife.

Then, the groom must perform a physical test. In some cases he must shout something while doing push-ups while his bride sits on his back. Since my former student’s physique is closer to that of Penguin than Batman, he was instead allowed to do squats while holding her in his arms.

As he completed each repetition, I’m told that he obliged to shout, “I’m going to love you tonight!” to which she would reply, “I like it!”

But I can promise you, I won’t be stripped of my dignity at my wedding.

Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007

Because of Confucian tradition, Koreans are only considered to be “friends” with those who are of the same age as them. As a result, those who were born in the same year tend to be very tight-knit.

This I learned long ago, and recently I have discovered that 28 is considered prime age for marriage in Korea. Also, I am apparently engaged to Korea’s most popular woman in the 28-year-old age bracket. Almost every weekend she gets invited to another ceremony, and she expects to me to go along to each one.

I could not go with her to her friend’s wedding today because it was took place during our day of worship, and as a missionary teacher I have duties in church. When I told her, though, I could tell by the tone of her voice that no excuse short of a religious exemption will ever suffice in the future.

It’s going to be a long year.

Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008

This weekend we observed a Korean traditional wedding in full. My fiancée thinks a traditional wedding would be good for us. I agreed, since she was using that tone of voice again and I couldn’t think of a good enough religious reason not to.

However, having observed the tradition ceremony in person, I was struck by its beauty and tradition. Also, as a bonus, baseball bats seem to be optional, after all.

Maybe I can do this.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

At this point I know the ceremony by heart. I know when the bride and groom’s respective mothers will light the candles, when the groom will give his vow-affirming bark, I even know when they will they will activate the bubble machine to give the ceremony that certain atmospheric touch.

All in all, I can tell that a couple must pour months and months of preparation into a ceremony that lasts less than 30 minutes.

And yet, men as an institution are devoting more time to weddings than any other group on earth, except women.

I guess I can make it five more months, and I don’t think there’s a baseball bat waiting for me at the end.

Unless, of course, my fiancée really wants one.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


The (Hidden) Influence of Ajumas

No understanding of Korean society can ever be truly complete without knowledge of the (creature) figure known as the ajuma. This term is applied primarily to (what were once known as) women who reach a certain age, get married (to a husband they can annoy) and have children (they can dominate). Though Korea is seen as a patriarchal society, I have witnessed (horrifying) evidence first-hand which suggests that the ajumas are the (shrill, nagging voice) engine which drives all of this country’s events.

Actually, it’s because the country’s patriarchal tradition requires the men to work that the woman have been (obsessed) occupied with the affairs of the home and ensuring that their children (have absolutely no free time) learn as much as they can. The ajossi, or Korean husband and father, generally generates the family income, while the ajuma decides how it will be (taken away from him) spent, be it on the home or on (childhood-destroying after-school institutes) education.

Because ajossis generally work very long days and spend many hours (getting rolled) networking after leaving the office, the ajumas have an (inescapable) central role in the child’s development. Fathers are seen primarily as providers since they (would rather spend every night getting plastered, wandering the streets of Seoul, walking up to foreigners and saying “Do you like Korea?” than going home to an ajuma) spend less time with the children.

A true understanding of how a young Korean woman (makes this terrible metamorphosis) becomes an ajuma can only be realized through an understanding of Korean language and Confucian tradition. This tradition demands that your elders most be spoken to respectfully (even if they treat you like a shopping cart), requiring that one use different syllables and sometimes entirely different words when (appeasing) speaking to older people.

At some point, when any person (but usually an ajuma) is constantly deferred to and addressed with elevated speech, it has a (head-swelling) noticeable effect on their (but usually her) behavior. Younger people must give up their seats on subways and hold doors for elders, but older people may (feel okay with shutting a taxi door in your face) not feel the same obligation. Young people are also expected to halt their conversation (sometimes in mid-syllable) if an older person speaks to them.

As a young man who grew up in the American south, I was taught to have a (not unreasonable) amount of respect for my elders as well. However, to witness the linguistic diversity and selflessness that is required of young people in Korea is (sympathy-inducing) fascinating. It makes me (ever-so-thankful for) curious about my own upbringing and wonder how (frustrating) different things would have been had been born to a Korean family.

However, the ajuma was a (safe distance away) mere intellectual concept before I became engaged to a young Korean woman. Since then, the time I’ve spent with her mother has made (my ears ache) me more intimately familiar with the ajuma as a person. Due to the language barrier, I am (mercifully spared the details) left out of much of their conversations, but I can tell you that (ajumas never stop talking) stereotypes surrounding their behavior are only (98 percent) partially true.

I have learned (to just sit quietly in their presence because any conversation you start will be forcefully interrupted within about 25 seconds) that ajumas are as outspoken as they are reputed, but little credit is given for the generosity they (try to compensate with) display.

For example, my mother-in-law-to-be recently (decided that owning three dress suits isn't enough) offered to pay for me to have a new suit tailor-made. She picked out a store (an hour away from my home) where I could go to and be measured, fitted and then supplied with this suit (a process that took three weeks and about six hours of subway travel to complete). After I had (lost all this time) received it, I wore it while I accompanied her and her daughter to a family wedding.

Though my Korean studies are far from complete, I could tell that she was (plotting more wardrobe-fetching expeditions for me) planning to give even more gifts in the future, as well as checking on my progress with the Korean language (which - and this is the wicked irony of it all - I would have a lot more time to devote to if I weren’t going to so many weddings and getting measured for so much formalwear).

The ajuma is truly a (tyrant) complicated and (wearisome) multi-faceted individual. The years in which my mother-in-law (haunts my dreams) is part of my life should provide me with plenty of insight (that she, fortunately, won’t be able to read). My fiancée, though Korean, at this point resembles nothing so much as the other young women of her age bracket, but who knows what the future brings? Maybe one day she’ll resemble an ajuma herself.

(May God help me.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Image Makeover, Pt. 2

At the entrance of my workplace, at the foot of the door, you will find:

And, at the entry way to my apartment, you can see:

Not a group generally associated with opening doors.

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