Settling In

Tuesday 13 January

Day 2 on the job and already yours truly is beginning to get into the swing of the working life. Catching the subway was almost a breeze and I managed to remember to take Exit 6 and get out at the correct point of the station, stroll to the office and sign in with an 인녕 하세요 to the boss and other workers well before starting time at 9am. Having settled into my chair and booted up the computer (still in Korean), I got down and dirty with my assignment – dredging up news and information about KORES’ Wallarah 2 project like some sort of tattoo-less Lisbeth Salander.

In the office

In the office

A few hours later and I was suffering from my first work-related injury…the dreaded glass-eye. This was a common condition for me back in my late primary school days when I would occasionally get together with some Holy Spirit chingu (mates) for an all night Xbox/Nintendo64 bender. I was under the impression that glass-eye was a combination between late nights, extreme fatigue and long hours of screen-time but it seems the late night is not a pre-requisite.

Around mid-morning, I had word from Rina that Joanna didn’t make it into the office due to a bout of the stomach bug. Poor old Jo had the day off work – an inauspicious start to the 7 weeks but at least the bacteria had the decency to affect a work day and not one of our precious weekends.

After a debilitating case of glass eye (but no way of escaping the desk), I was glad to be approached by my adjacent colleagues, Eui Chang and Su Hee, to proof-read some KORES job applications. The job was interpreting and the application essays (written in English) were very good. Any of the candidates would have been suitable, but a couple stood out from the crowd and I was happy to point these out to Eui Chang. It was nice to do some work where I actually felt I was making a positive difference to the company.

Lunch was taken bang on 12pm once again – by the time we made our way down into the cafeteria, many of the workers had already finished their meals and were heading back up to the office. No messing around at meal-time, it seems. On the menu were the standard side dishes of rice, kimchi and seaweed salad but today they accompanied some sort of spicy deep fried fish. It was a delicious meal but grandpa would be most disproving of the fish, which came intact with bones. It was a test of the chopstick skills to pick the meat out and some of the staff complimented me on my dexterity. I think they were surprised that I knew how to operate the sticks at all and considered the fact that I managed even one morsel into my mouth a huge success.

As the afternoon wore on, I used my work phone for the first time to call my Eoma and let her know that I would be home for dinner. My colleagues were cruel enough to let the office fall silent right on cue and they giggled away as I navigated the conversation with her. Getting my phone sim can’t come quickly enough…

So the afternoon rolled along and turned into evening – long days here at the office in Korea – and despite a few trips to the water cooler for ricey green tea, I was definitely ready for home time by 6:00pm.

When Rina strolled over to give me the big 10:4 to leave, she surprised me by handing me a thick, heavy book and informing me that I have some homework. A quick look at the cover told me that I’m in for an interesting ride: Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Excited, but somewhat daunted, I accepted the challenge of reading nearly 600 pages in 7 weeks with the promise of a test at the end of the internship. (Writing with the advantage of hindsight, I can report that – despite my best efforts – I managed a pitiful 400 odd pages. Rina was kind enough to exempt me from the test).

I was less enthused when she also handed me a glossary of mining terms with such riveting entries as “Anemometer” (instrument for measuring air velocity), “Borehole” (any deep or long drill-hole) and of course “Cleat” (the vertical cleavage of coal seams). I had the feeling that this particular publication would turn out to be one giant borehole, so I was glad that there was no need to learn it from cover to cover, but merely to use it as a reference. (Again, writing in hindsight, this book remained blissfully unopened for the duration of the internship).

Towards the end of the day, I began to really flag and wasn’t feeling 100% at all. I remained hopeful that if I drank enough tea and kept my spirits up I would sail through it, but throughout the train ride and the walk home I became more and more woozy.

Much to my chagrin (and that of Eoma, who had gone out of her way to cook me a delicious American-style pork cutlet) by the time I reached home and sat down for dinner, I could only manage a few mouthfuls. The dreaded lurgy had struck.

I won’t go into too much detail except to say that I was still dislodging bits of rice from my nose well into the next day. Was it the chicken, the weird beef tentacles or perhaps the water? We may never know….


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