10 things not to tell anyone at work, in Korea

I’m on LinkedIn. LinkedIn will sometimes recommend articles for me to read and since it’s important to know what’s happening in the writing-articles-for-LinkedIn world I sometimes read these articles.

*Wrote girls instead of articles up there. This happens when I listen to rap music*

There are a lot of articles about what to do and what not to do in an office. The last one I read had 10 things not to talk about in the office. But how relevant are these tips to working in a Korean office? Let’s find out!

  1. Salary or money details This is a moot point in a Korean office since everyone has a rank and everyone in theory is paid the same amount as everyone else of the same rank. Also, those directly above you know how much you get paid because they were the same rank you are within the last 4 years. I know there are AT LEAST 4 people in my department of 16 that know my salary and benefits (ie, same as everyone else of my non-existant rank).
  2. Intimate details about your love or sex life – I’m sometimes asked if I go on many dates. The correct answer as the only foreigner in the office is that I never have any dates. I spend my time at home with my cat and I feel lonely, thinking about my family. Or so I’m told.token white
    That said, some people will boast about their sexual exploits. If you’re a foreigner in Korea, NEVER boast about your sexual exploits, especially to Korean men. Even if they initiate the conversation. Besides being very unbecoming of a gentleman, I don’t need to know what you said you did to someone I don’t know and in all probability do not want to meet now that I know what you said you did. More so if I know this person.
  3. Whether and how much alcohol you drink – I’m surprised drinking ability isn’t required on Korean résumés. Every interview I’ve had I’ve been asked me if I like drinking within the first 5 questions; the first is usually if I’m married.  ‘What’s your religion?’ is usually in the top 5, too.
  4. Political views – I’ve been in Korea for two presidential elections. Sometimes my coworkers will ask me who I would vote for if I could vote (not a citizen so not a right I have). I always answer with “Which one has the better foreigner policy?” as I would vote for my interests. This is an acceptable deflection since Korean presidential candidates usually don’t address this kind of issue beyond American forces in Korea or foreigners in foreign countries perceived to be doing anti-Korean things (China & Japan, basically).
  5. Religious views – One of my ex-bosses was pretty religious. One of the first things he asked me was if I am Christian. I’m Greek Orthodox so when I’m asked “Are you Christian?” the person asking really means “Are you my Christian?”, typically some kind of evangelist, rarely Catholic (Catholics tend to say they are Catholic, not Christian).
  6. Non-pc jokes – Basically don’t discriminate against anyone. Unless they are are not like you and your group.
  7. Your Facebook account – The only people talking about Facebook are the ones responsible for our fanpage (me included). The others don’t have Facebook so it may as well not exist. That said, we have an understanding in our office where we are not Facebook friends, even though we all share admin on our fanpage.
  8. Medical details – We have an incompany clinic. There are always two doctors, one for transmittable diseases; he always wears a surgical mask; and one for injuries. They will always ask if you were drinking the night before if you see them on a Wednesday of Friday as Tuesday and Thursday are the usual company drinking days in Ulsan. Because it’s incompany and because the company covers 50% of medical costs (not dental unless it’s for your children), it is difficult to keep health issues private. Some of the older workers prefer to go to non-company clinics because they think their health issues will have an effect on their employment status.
  9. Gossip and negative comments about co-workers – There is always gossip. It’s human nature for people to talk about other people. Why would it be any different in an office? I always hear gossip about other people but I usually don’t know them or if I do know them they are usually not important to my carreer prospects. One of the perks of being a contract worker is that there is no need to shine your superior’s shoes. As a contract worker, there is also NO CHANCE of promotion (ergo no benefit in shining your superior’s shoes). Besides, if the foreign guy knows the gossip then sure as hell everyone else does, too!
  10. That you are looking for a new job – Obviously. Though whenever someone has said they are quitting (that is, the contract workers; permanent workers don’t quit), the permanent workers seem to be unable to understand why someone would quit a job at such a prestigious company. You get lifetime employment. You get education paid for your children, college included (as long as you don’t retire before they enter college), and guaranteed promotions & bonuses every four years up to general manager level. Of course, contract workers don’t get any of these benefits.

So how relevant are these tips? Not very, since what you regard as personal information is usually common knowledge among those that outrank you.

If you’re interested, here is the original article.

Monday is for presentation preparation

I give a presentation to my coworkers every Tuesday. This means that my Monday afternoon is usually spent preparing for it. This morning I interviewed the project manager from the Höegh team for our quarterly magazine. They are building LNG FSRUs here, so he will be here until at least 2015. Watch the video to see what we were talking about. I’ll provide some interviewing tips in a later post.

The rest of the morning was spent moving things into the company gym for the annual Charity Bazaar. The company has a few mothers/wives groups that run these kinds of events; HHI Mothers’ Group, Hyundai Mipo Wives’ Group, etc. Every year my office collects items that expats donate to sell to raise money for Ulsan Orphanage. Half the money goes to the orphanage, the other half toward our annual kimchi making event.


There are usually two presentations. The first is given by one of my coworkers about their team. So the investor relations guy talks about investor relations and the market analysis guy talks about one of the markets we are in. The manager of the foreign school we operate talks about the foreign school, but he is more likely to talk about some random business-related book he is reading. Last month one of the general managers gave a presentation that was essentially his résumé in powerpoint format. We have 6 general managers in a department of 16 people; he is the only one not surnamed Kim. Previously, another coworker talked about her vacation to Taiwan (“the food is bad and the people are smelly”).

Protip 1: Don’t include your hobbies in your résumé, for your future employer will be paying you to work not to daydream about which hobby you will do on the weekend.

Protip 2: Being able to use Word is only one step above putting your pants on the right way. A small step.

My presentation is in two parts. The first is a broad look at economic news; bullet points for the US, Europe, and Asia. The other and bulk of the presentation looks at the articles my coworkers are assigned to read for English practice (talked about previously here). These are drawn from Time, The Economist, Newsweek or whatever that is called now, Bloomberg/Businessweek, and billionaire celebrity magazine Forbes. Nothing too complicated here; I just go through some of the vocabulary and cultural references that might be there (The Economist loves the latter). I especially enjoy explaining the slang that pops up occasionally. The latest one was jerry-built. Time was using it to describe the way Russia’s government handles problems (either by fiat or with jerry-built solutions). It’s used to describe something that’s built poorly or with cheap materials or a project/organisation that was developed in a haphazard or unsubstantial way.

Fiat, by the way, is not the Italian car (that would be Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino which is literally Italian Automobile Factory Turin). It usually means an order or decree, usually by someone with absolute authority. Basically, Time is saying the only way things get done in Russia is if Putin comes down and orders them done. Of course, this is not the way things are done in America, with institutions and government bodies operating without, and sometimes despite, the influence of the president.

But why jerry? Well, jerry used to be slang for a chamber pot. What’s a chamber pot? Well, in the days before toilets and reliable sewage systems, if you needed to go to the toilet at night you could go outside and risk wolves having your privates as a midnight snack OR you could use a pot that you kept under the bed. In the morning you would then throw the contents out the window.

Makes you wish you had an extra hand

As the British do, the word Jerry (capital please, you’re in the presense of a construct) came to mean German person around the time of the Great War. See, it’s easier to bayonet someone and not feel too bad about it if you dehumanise them first.

In the Second World War, you had jerrycans. That is, fuel cans the Germans had. These were pretty high tech at the time since they didn’t need funnels or tools to use and the design allowed for expansion/contraction due to the weather. The different colours also told you what the contents of each can was.

An army is only as successful as it’s logistics team

I don’t get much of a reaction from my coworkers though. Most maintain decorum even though these presentations aren’t relevant to their job; ie, the guys working on exhibition design or the one in charhe of souvenirs. Though the ones that actually want to learn are always taking notes. Sometimes they’ll even ask questions, but usually about something they need clarification for rather than a challenge to the content.

You wanna see happy? This is happy!

Don’t let my finger deter you. This tea was THAT GOOD

There’s an EasyWay in downtown Ulsan. This is the first one I’ve seen in Korea. I have fond memories of EasyWay in Sydney. I’d be that one white kid (‘white’ in Australia varies, depending on who you ask) with all the Asian friends playing Big 2 and drinking bubble milk tea. Almost a full term of my physics class in Year 10 was playing Big 2. One of my lab partners would rarely play with us, reasoning that he wanted to ‘save up his luck’. When he did play he would easily destroy us.

Though I never was stupid enough to play Chinese hacky sack with them. Being teenagers, sanctioned violence was always welcome.

Caffe Bene also sells a few different kinds of bubble tea. This is also the only reason to ever go there, though the one closest to me has nice rooftop seating. (they put sugar in their cheese bread!!). I’ve tried their milk bubble tea and it’s a little sweeter than I would like, but sometimes concessions need to be made. I haven’t tried the taro bubble tea as taro is nearly always sweeter than milk so Cafee Bene’s version would be more so.

An aside: Caffe Bene has a page on Korea Tourism Organization‘s official site. Not quite sure why this chain of cafes is a tourist attraction, but the answer should be obvious.

Doubleplusgood, Comrade Joji

We have two uniforms at work. The first time I wore the summer uniform (jump to details) I also happened to be going to the cafeteria for lunch. Though I’d been before in the winter version, this uniform, the TV screens with the company news, and the clattering of the plastic trays made me feel like I was in a prison mess hall or an extra in 1984. I even said the food was doubleplusgood but the English majors in our group didn’t understand the reference. When I wear the full uniform I feel like I’m an orderly in an asylum.

The office sometimes feels like the scene where Winston suspects his coworker is working on the same material he is. The approval process seems familiar, too.

Winston stroked his nose gently with a paper-clip. In the cubicle
across the way Comrade Tillotson was still crouching secretively over
his speakwrite. He raised his head for a moment: again the hostile
spectacle-flash. Winston wondered whether Comrade Tillotson was engaged
on the same job as himself. It was perfectly possible. So tricky a piece
of work would never be entrusted to a single person: on the other hand,
to turn it over to a committee would be to admit openly that an act of
fabrication was taking place. Very likely as many as a dozen people were
now working away on rival versions of what Big Brother had actually said.
And presently some master brain in the Inner Party would select this
version or that, would re-edit it and set in motion the complex processes
of cross-referencing that would be required, and then the chosen lie
would pass into the permanent records and become truth

Full text online here. For my non-orderly inspired form click here.

This is my final form. Summer edition!
This is my final form. Summer edition!
Bonus points awarded when a guard looks at my crotch for my ID

All workers wear this between April and October; yard workers wear the overalls version, though. It’s hard to tell when exactly this is each year so everyone takes their cue from the security guards. They are always the first to change; the rest of us have about a week before the old uniform is banished to the next year.

The background is from Korea Tourism Organisation, who got the photo from us. If you plan to visit the shipyard, best to contact us directly.

grey jacketChest: The design and colour are the same as they were when the founder was not just honorary chairman. There are photos of him with execs (former ROK president Lee Myungbak being one of them) wearing this same jacket. The name badge has my department name, my Korean name (조지, Joji) and my English name. My name badge has no rank, so people tend to be confused on how to treat me. Being a foreigner in ‘their’ uniform confuses them more; foreign engineers wear the uniform of their employer, never of my employer. The only other name badges without ranks are those of 사원 ‘sawon’. These people are usually contract workers (and if office workers, usually women) who are fired after their 4 years are up; after 4 years the company would have to hire them as permanent workers. I’m listed as 요원 ‘yowon’ which translates to ‘special agent’. No one addresses me as Special Agent Joji; usually just Joji because George is too difficult to pronounce or ‘waegookin’ because reasons.

Reading: Did you spec into it?

Off-hand: I prefer the Economist Style Guide for prose, AP for press releases. I had to order this online since I couldn’t find it in any bookstores. If all else fails, I can use the book as a weapon. Critical strike when the spine comes into contact with the target.

I bought one copy for my boss. I’m glad to see one of my coworkers has it on his desk; my boss never used it, instead preferring a photocopied book written in 1990. Click the Economist Style Guide image to go to Amazon.


Better believe people are jealous when I put these on and steeple my hands

Wrist: I have French cuff shirts so I wear cufflinks. Good cufflinks are hard to come by in Korea and when I do find them they are usually pretty expensive because they are branded with some make-believe Italian or French name. The same goes for tie pins.

I always get a good reaction when I wear these flag cufflinks. It’s super important to make sure the flag is the right way up; the 3 unbroken lines MUST be at the top right (or closest to your sleeve button). I also bought some New South Wales ones with these. Click the image for the cuff links on Amazon.

The tie is a standard Hyundai Power Tie; same as the Red Power Tie but friendlier? We sometimes give this tie as a souvenir to certain guests. It depends on the general manager in charge of souvenirs.

Tiramisu, you betray me!

I saw an imposter today; a doppelganger if you will. Not my doppelganger; if I had then one of us would be dead, and I’d probably end up in a showdown like the end of Jet Li’s The One.

How this wasn’t the entire movie remains a mystery for the ages.

I can usually be found at the Starbucks near my work. Most of the time I get there around 12:25, but today I was there from just after 12:00; I cooked chimichangas this morning so I didn’t have to eat ersatz garden salad or line up at Maccas for a meal of sadness and side of disappointment.

My order is usually a double espresso, which they pronounce ‘expresso’, and a bottle of Perrier. Sometimes I like to be adventurous and I’ll order a cake. This is what I ordered.

Starbucks loves to remind me that I am alone

The coffee: First, I always feel swindled when I get served an espresso in a takeout cup. I know it’s the same amount of coffee as if it were in the espresso cup (Paris Baguette tries to skimp on the coffee; Buddy, a triple espresso shouldn’t be same size as a single especially when you charge triple for it) but it just looks so bad that most of the cup is emptiness. That sentence is full of implications.

The other reason is taste. I don’t like tasting the side of the paper cup. When I used to order lattes; I don’t do that any more since 4% of the tiny amount of milk in the latte is FAT; I’d use a stirrer as a straw. Sure there’s the chance someone has touched the stirrer that I am putting in my mouth, but I’d bet on my cooties any day. As a bonus, the tiny porcelain cup is the opposite of overcompensation.

That said, not as bitter as other coffee peddlers. Very little in the way of grounds at the bottom of the cup.


Overcompensation: when masculinity is threatened, men tend to express views or act in ways they think are more masculine (usually supporting violence, homophobia, and others. PDF here)


The “tiramisu”: Those are are ironic quotations so you should already guess that it really wasn’t tiramisu. Two things you need to know about tiramisu: it’s got coffee flavour in it and ideally mascarpone cheese (think cream cheese/ricotta but a little sour). In a perfect world it would actually have coffee liquor; the one I made in Italian class at school certainly did (Yes, I had the best Italian teacher ever. Of course he was Irish. Gay too, but neither is relevant). This “tiramisu” was simply a brown sponge cake with layers of cream.

Thing is, I knew I was going to be disappointed. I always approach these situations with the lowest possible expectations so I prime myself for being pleasantly surprised if my cake doesn’t look and taste like rubber; some Starbucks cakes may as well be renamed ‘Rubber Eclair’ or ‘Plastique Chocolate Mousse Cake. But sometimes my brain betrays me and I go and order something I’ve had before because I think it will be different this time. Yes, this is insanity: repeating the same mistakes but expecting different results.

Still, a little disappointment is necessary. How else can you appreciate all the good things?

Just another day in Ulsan

Fantastic weather yesterday so I decided to go hunting for Halloween costume supplies. Apparently Hyundai Department Store has gone British.


About a block away there was this bowing robot. It was in front of one of those lenders. There were some kids bowing to it. They looked to be between 12 and 15 yeard old so they were likely making fun of the foreign lady robot.

If I were a World of Warcraft character…

This week is the last for wearing the grey pants. Here is what I look like when I’m don’t have any meetings planned. I always keep the grey jacket at my desk in case of emergency.

character creation
This isn’t even my final form!

No adventurer is complete without his gear. I only recently dinged level 33 so my gear is probably not optimal.

The Gear

sunglassesHead: I ordered these to replace the sunnies I thought I had lost after a trip to Seoul (포장 마차 pojang macha at 3 am does that to man). I ordered them through Amazon because even with delivery from the US it was still cheaper than buying them in Korea. In the photo at the top they are the silver line above my left hand.

Here’s what they look like. To see a better image of me wearing them you can read my post Never eat anything bigger than your head. Click the image to go through to Amazon. Mind you, these aren’t polarised so you shouldn’t be staring at the sun (Why are you doing this anyway?!)

Shirt: white shirtFor some strange reason I can’t seem to find shirts I like in Ulsan. Luckily there’s an outlet in Gimhae that has a Brooks Brothers store. Last time I went they also had shirts with French cuffs. I have yet to find any French cuff shirts in Ulsan or Seoul.

blue blazerChest: Just a regular blue blazer I picked up at New Core Outlet in downtown Ulsan. The brand is Tremolo but I don’t think that really means anything. I like wearing this jacket because it looks like the blue work jacket we all wear. As a bonus, my coworkers think I am meeting someone important when I come to work wearing this.

korea uni tieNeck: A fellow graduate gave me this tie as a gift when I saw him for the first time since we graduated. He basically does my job but at the this university. He said graduates from Korea Univeristy will recognise it. It is red with an intricate hangul design. So far, only one person has recognised the tie; one of our desalination researchers.

red penMain Hand: My main hand weapon is the red pen. Not by choice, but I’ve noticed corrections made with any colour but red tend to be ignored or at best seen as ‘friendly advice (so, ignored). This effect of the red pen is what I call the Aura of the Editor; I’ve seen people lean back, preparing for the worst, when I reach for my red pen.

notebook blue

Offhand: I bought this notebook years ago. My cat got a hold of it once so near the pen holder there are 6 tooth marks. Since I’m still rocking the iPhone 3G i need to write things down (phone numbers, addresses, etc) for when the phone inevitably runs out of power. This usually happens at 2pm. Click the image for the real notebook.

hyundai pantsLegs: Well, these pants are almost universally hated. I think the main reason the men hate them is because water shows up too well, especially since the wash basins in the bathroom are at crotch height. Made in Indonesia because that is how globalisation works.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFeet: Actually just socks because the shoes are pretty standard black leather ones.  I got these from Uniqlo for pretty cheap. It takes a while for some to register why I would wear socks with anchors on them. I have other ones with the same pattern but in charcaol. They don’t look so nice.

As a bonus, every Lunar New Year we get a set of DAKS socks. As American GIs were told to check the boots of soldiers they suspected of being Nazis (the Nazis had better quality boots than their European allies), if a Hyundai man isn’t wearing his jacket you can recognise him by his socks.

The tie clip and the belt are nothing special. The tie clip was a stupidly expensive price for a tie clip. The belt, like all belts that I buy, is too big for me.

 The Buffs

int beard rank 2This is my current buff. After the first two weeks the itchiness subsides and the intimidation begins. Though it does severely limit my Halloween costume choices.

This upgrades at level 45 and level 60 to…..

greater int beardbeard wisdom

The longer the beard the higher the level of the user. Moustaches are a separate buff.

cooked mealMy Well Fed buff depends on what I’ve cooked the previous night. It becomes difficult to not tell people that I cooked the night before. In my office it’s not really a surprise that I cook since the assumption is that I don’t eat Korean food.

The other buffs are the Red Power Tie buff (from the Korea Univerity Tie, Old Timey Journalist buff (from the notebook), and Aura of the Editor (from the red pen).