There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Monday 12th January

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” A somewhat confusing thing to hear on one’s first day at work after a young colleague (Bom Sik) bought me a coffee. This followed a rather interesting lunch in the company cafeteria – some sort of Korean style stew, rice and kimchi. What made it interesting was that I was labouring under the impression that the stew was beef of some description (갈비galbi)…until I began unearthing bits of tentacle. I wasn’t like any sort of beef that I know… Then again, the deer have tusks here so perhaps octocow isn’t so far from the realms of possibility.

On the hunt for the octocow...

On the hunt for the octocow…

At least I kept up with my impeccable Korean manners by thanking anyone within earshot with the pre and post dinner phrases “잘 먹겠습니다 Jal mokkesseumnida” and “잘 먹었습니다 Jal mogosseumnida” (roughly translates to “I will eat well” and “I ate well” and encapsulates bon appétit, thank you for the meal and all those sorts of sentiments. This was despite my colleagues apologising profusely for the taste of the dishes served up – not a whole lot of love for the cafeteria fare. Most of the employees still eat here, perhaps because it is a really cheap meal – which leads to an enormous line at 11:50pm when lunch is about to start. There’s even a small convenience store in the basement of the building, which is where Bom Sik and I purchased the coffee. A quick word on that – they have warm aluminum cans of sweet milk coffee here…certainly different from back home. Not altogether inviting or fulfilling I’m afraid, but when in Korea…

The morning flew past quite quickly – after Eoma chaperoned my subway journey to Guro Digital Complex (station) and left me with the lovely Rina Ryu, my handler at the company, for the 5 minute walk to KORES. At the entrance, I was glad to have remembered my company ID tag as Rina had forgotten hers. It gave me the appearance of being competent – an appearance I strive to maintain lest people realise the unfortunate truth… Then it was time to set up my computer, telephone and work space – much to the amusement of my colleagues as I blundered my way around a Korean language operating system.

Derry Doyle, salaryman...

Derry Doyle, salaryman…

I discovered that security is a big concern here at the company when an insistent red box continually popped up with a warning of sorts. I ignored it for most of the day until a passing staff member happened to spy the warning over my shoulder and was shocked to find that security levels had slipped to catastrophic levels on my PC. With company secrets no doubt flowing out into the ether like the waters of a collapsed dam, the office IT techspert was dispatched to plug the breach. Although they appeared to do a sterling job, within half an hour, my old friend the security warning was back and would continue to hassle me like a jilted lover for the remainder of the internship – requiring attention every 5 minutes or so. At one point, it even stopped advising me about which securities I was breaching and instead presented the entire note in question marks of differing sizes and shapes. Apparently it’s just as confused as I am and my colleagues stopped worrying about it after a few days.

I was put to work right away summarising a dry coal prices report and researching the issues encountered by KORES at its joint-owned Wallarah 2 mine near Newcastle, NSW. Given that most of what I was asked to find was newspaper articles online, I had the distinct feeling that perhaps my work was a little redundant as the company would be well aware of these issues already. Still, I was able to analyse the articles from an Australian perspective, which I’m sure may have offered some different viewpoints on the matter.

My work today was interrupted by a few comings and goings – most notably meeting the boss of our building, Vice President Mr Lee. My stammering attempts at Korean were sharply thrust aside as Mr Lee announced that we would be sitting for a short introduction and told me straight up (in perfect, measured English) to quit the Hangeul.

“Yes, sir.”

The aforementioned lunch occurred at precisely 12:00pm (grandpa would approve) and the afternoon brought on a typical Doyle 2pm drowsiness, which I tried my best to hide.

After finishing work at around 6:15pm, Rina chaperoned Joanna and I to buy sim cards for our phones. Who knew it would be such an ordeal and after almost 1.5hrs in the shop, we exited with empty hands. Poor old Rina was kept busy trying to understand telecom company protocol and I felt very sorry to make her wait until well after clock off time in an effort to help the hapless Hojus.

It was certainly a long working day and I was surprised to find Eoma full of beans after 8pm dinner and suggesting a walk down to the markets to buy some 과일 gwail (fruit) and have my badly crinkled blue suit steamed.

Sillim-dong markets

Sillim-dong markets

It turns out the working day is even longer for some – most of these types of service industries stay open until 10/10:30pm in Korea. Certainly a far cry from what we’re accustomed to back home (although there’s a trend toward changing that). We had a brief stroll through the market – I’m not sure Eoma realised how exciting a 300m long enclosed market street full of wild and wacky Korean produce would be for a fresh-off-the-boat Hoju – but I made a mental note to explore again at a later date.

And so ended day 1 on the job for your favourite Korean salaryman – more adventures to come.

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