Saturday, June 02, 2007

Crisis and The Office Part II

While my crisis is ongoing and I’m slowly coming to terms what that it might mean, I suppose this particular story has been left unfinished. So in case you have been waiting, and very patiently since hardly anyone said anything, here is the rest of the story.

The Office Part II

So it was that after the first commute from hell I arrived in Suwon and while a bit cramped none the worse for wear. I went up several floors and found myself at the top of the station where I found an escalator to take me down to the cab stand. There were two lines for cabs, the cheap line and the expensive line. After my commuting catastrophe I went to the expensive line. I just wanted to get to the office and stop commuting. While I had left home around seven it was already ten to nine and I realized I was going to be a little late. I took a deep breath and got in the cab and said the land mark that would get me to the office where I needed to be.

“Odi?” asks the cab driver.

I said it again. It was the front gate near the big market “Suwonshijung, Chungmoon, gashipshayo.”


This did not make me very happy. I remembered that it was the fish market and maybe Suwon market was not correct so I tried that. “Sangshijung, Chungmoon, gashipshayo.”

The cab driver turned around and glared at me. If you have never had the experience of being glared at by a Korean cab driver, let me tell you, it’s a bit unpleasant. There is this look that says “You silly stupid Waygook, I realize you have money, and you live in my country to make money and I hate you. Learn to speak Korean or get out of my cab. I would rather drive someone else for less money then be patient while you try to figure out where you want to go.” I sighed. I went to open the door. I’ve had this happen before, and sometimes you just have to change cabs and hope the next cab driver is some happy go lucky Buddhist who wants to practice his English and will not give you the look.

“No, no, sanshijung, asriso. Ya, ya.” He starts driving. I sigh and hope that we will get there. Especially since I have no idea where I’m going, but after about ten minutes and about seven thousand won later we pull up to a sidewalk and the cabdriver ushers me out. I jump out of the cab and figure this must be the place and head in for a day at the office.

I remember walking into the building, you have that first day of school feeling where you don’t know what to expect and are worried that everyone is judging you. All the Koreans are staring at me. To be fair, all the Koreans are always starting at me. I’m not Korean so I have a giant sign over my head with an arrow that points down saying “Look at me.” I walk into the office find the elevator and figure out which floor to head to and ride on up the stairs.

I get into the sterilized neutral room with smiling waygook faces surrounded by children transposed over pictures of Disney Land and Belgium castles and figure this must be the place. I walk down the hall, stomach all a flutter to go in and figure out what I’m supposed to be doing. Enter, finally into the office.

Cubicles. Everywhere are cubicles and cubicle walls, computers and Koreans at their desks. They don’t look up. In all fairness some of them are asleep which explains why they are not looking up. They rock back in their chairs asleep or hunched over monitors chatting with various people in the office or friends from home on messenger programs. I come in with my bags and walk to the little coffee table and just stand there. And wait.

I see the desk that I’ve been told is mine and I walk up to it and sit down. It’s my first day, I think. But no one has greeted me, or said hello, or asked me if I found the place okay, or even introduced themselves so I might know who someone is. Nothing, there is no interaction and I am completely cut off from the world around me.

I open files, I start trying to figure out where to start. I sit at the computer. I look at the files. I sit at the computer. I download a messenger and get M- on the line and ask her what I should do.

“You’ll be great.” She says.

Okay, I think I can do this.

I sit.

I wait.

I still can’t concentrate. I look at the files some more.

I begin to feel more isolated then I have ever felt in Korea. I look around the office. I’m afraid to leave the desk chair. I cling to the desk chair. I look at the cubicles surrounding me and amid the snores and the clicking there is nothing. It’s lifeless. The walls start to close in and I experience this Kafkaesque sense of being swallowed into some alternate reality that is both exceedingly dull and far stranger then the one in which I currently am. I wait.

I start to cry.

I can’t help it, and it seems foolish, but the sudden overwhelming sense of being completely cut off has just become too much. I’m ignored. Nothing happens. I just keep sitting and try to type. Try to think of what this work will be used for and can’t help but to continue to feel lost in it. This goes on until noon. I try to work, but without much success, my productivity which last week had been about fifty pages a day is suddenly hardly a paragraph in the three hours. I get my phone and go to the bathroom. I call everyone in my phonebook but no one answers. I just want to hear a voice. I want to talk. I want to open my mouth and say something and have someone hear me. I want to scream in the office at the walls and wake up the screaming Koreans. I can’t work until I’ve somehow vented my frustrations.


At noon a woman walks up.

“We go to lunch now.” Okay I think, finally.

“Let’s go.” Okay. I can’t get my emotions back under control. I walk with the crowd down to a pork restaurant. Ah, being a vegetarian in Korea. They try to ask me what I’d like to eat, but I can’t think of anything. Suddenly after three hours of wanting to speak I find that I can’t get there. I can’t get anything to come out, I can’t get to voice so I can make an opinion. Someone says in Korea that I don’t eat meat. They order a spicy bean soup for me. I have a few bits but spend most of the lunch wishing I could disappear, dreaming of being an inconvenience at the Village. We get back from lunch and I head back to the desk. Everyone falls into place, exactly an hour after leaving everyone is back at the desk and back to doing whatever it is they do. I wonder how anyone works in this kind of environment. I have four hours to go, I think, four hours to go.

I keep trying to work. The computer flickers. Around two in the afternoon I break down and head to the bathroom again. I can’t get anyone on the phone. I start to cry some more. I go back to my desk. Back to the bathroom. Back to my desk. Back to the bathroom. I’m in the middle of my nervous breakdown when the phone rings and it is S- calling to see how I’m doing with the first day in the office. It’s the first person to ask me a personal question all day. I crumble into an emotional ball and just spill. I can’t calm myself.

I feel the office outside the door pressing it. It’s coming to get me, to pull me back in. I’m afraid of the time I’m spending away. I want to run out. I can’t do anything. I can’t work. Finally, I go back to my desk and try to keep myself together. I sit. I look at the computer. I can’t work. It’s 4:50 and I have accomplished nothing. I pack my bag and practically run out the door, I don’t care. It isn’t until I’m halfway down the stairs that I realize that I was probably supposed to stay until six in the evening as is customary for most office workers. What I didn’t realize until later is that most of the office workers don’t leave until close to nine or ten, and so I was heading out early indeed. I get in a cab and head back down to the get on the train to go home. The crush doesn’t even bother me, it’s leading me away from the horror that was the crushing dread of the Korean office and I just don’t care.

I get on the trains and ride home listening to music. When I got home I started drinking and kept that up until friends limped me home in a stupor and dumped me in the front door. I called in the next day.


Ipsofacto said...

Not a particularly happy conclusion (although I could see where it was heading in pt I).

Out of curiosity, how long have you been here?

Saradevil said...

Just finished my fifth year...yeah, the office part of it is not nearly as funny as the commute part. The office was sort of the horror part of the story.

Ipsofacto said...

Yikes ! That's long time.

Will you start a 6th?

Saradevil said...

Already have. One month into it as a matter of fact. Might even start a seventh!