Quality has no finish line

I started reading Daniel Tudor’s book Korea: The Impossible Country after finishing Julian: A Novel (should write my thoughts on that one since I annotated it heavily). Not very far into it but already got a bone to pick. The author says the Japanese business term kaizen (gaeseon in Korean) shows obvious Buddhist influence. Except that the inventor of this concept of ‘continuous improvement’ was the American W. Edwards Deming. Was he a Buddhist? It is possible, but unlikely as he would have had to have been a Buddhist before he was recommended to work in Japan based on his expertise in statistical control. Perhaps he was aware of Buddhist philosophy? Either way, he is kind-of-sort-of a hero in Japan for his work in quality control and quality management (though mostly unknown outside Japan until the later years of his life). Deming’s idea was that one makes continual improvements in one’s work and work processes. Forever. Ergo….


What sometimes happens is that there are certain ideas associated with The East (you’re in the presence of a construct, show some respect) but what we think of The East is moving ever eastwards. Of course, this is east of Europe since they are the ones that started “discovering” the world and writing about it, as far as they know. The Europeans tended to attribute the behaviour of these non-Europeans doing non-European things to some philosophy or some religious practice that they thought influences every part of their life and society. This has been happening since Herodotus. (I especially like his description of the Scythian practice of using the skin from an enemy’s hand as the cover for their quivers)


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Something happened to my knee last week. I woke up and all was fine but as soon as I tried to run across the street I heard a popping sound and had to stop after a few steps. As you probbaly know, knees shouldn;t ever be making a popping sound, and so I went to the inhouse clinic and they decided to tape my knee for a few days. And drugs. In Korea, drugs are always the answer. The nurse warned me that it would hurt when they take the tape off. I already know this as I’ve had my legs waxed before (favour for a friend).

Insert Skyrim joke here


Donga Ilbo showing a little schadenfreude with The Rise and Fall of Sony Empire (sic). Some interesting quotes from the article

Even as the global markets were undergoing a paradigm shift, the Japanese firm remained complacent and was in full conceit, and adhered to its own standards.

That sounds familiar, as does this,

Bureaucracy prevailed in the organization where no employee could put brakes on the executives` wrong decisions that led to worsening long-term competitiveness.

And how Korea Inc can avoid Sony’s demise

Korea`s flagship companies….should be armed with global mindset, make constant innovations and eradicate bureaucracy, to raise competitiveness.

Of course, those words mean different things to Korean companies. Global mindset is similar to what globalisation means at my company (ie, selling stuff overseas even though the word used to describe that is usually exports). For example, “diversity” tends to mean that the company will be in many industries and markets and attempt to enter unrelated industries and markets (ie, exactly what chaebols have been doing, here’s an example of my company growing soybeans in Russia) rather than the meaning of the word in the USA.

I’m not even going to bother addressing ‘eradicating bureaucracy’.


We received our Chinese New Year Lunar New Year gifts yesterday. Times have changed as I was not the first in the office to receive my gift. Also, the VP was not the one doling out the company’s favours, instead it was the Department Head. It is always the small details that give away the most information.

I didn’t realise this, but twice a year my company becomes Korea’s largest distributor of cooking oil. And so I have far more oil than I will ever need. In more prosperous times we would receive olive oil, but for the last few years it has been grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil is not so bad for cooking or for dressings as it has a somewhat neutral flavour compared to olive oil. Of course, if it is a simple dressing like one you would use on a Greek salad, nothing beats olive oil. Also great for dipping bread into once you’ve eaten all the vegetables.

What will I be doing this Lunar New Year? We have a 4-day weekend so I will probably make pancakes for breakfast. I think I’ll make some lamingtons and maybe a creme caramel, too.


How to Tim Tam Slam

I made a video for a friend on how to do a Tim Tam Slam.

There are subtitles in English. Choose the English (automatic captions) for hilarity. I may put the captions up in Korean as well. I added Korean captions, too.


And it was Australia Day yesterday (January 26). Either the beginning of centuries of genocide or the foundation of the ‘Lucky Country’. Incidentally, the man that coined the term ‘Lucky Country’ to describe Australia did so as an insult, not a compliment. The full quote is

 Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck

Render unto Caesar

HR: Hello Joji! What do you want?

M: I’d like my masters returned since I’m leaving this job next month.

HR: takei


So, my employer allegedly lost my original masters degree. Or misplaced it. Or destroyed because that is apparently standard practice for original documents. Or it was stolen by a contract worker. The last one seems more likely as that is the scenario I am hearing the most often (and also the least surprising scenario offered as an excuse). The less accurate the description of the act is, the more difficult it is to assign blame and responsibility for said act.

I came to Korea to teach back when literally anyone with a degree from the English-speaking countries could come and work here. Then, some prominent Koreans were busted with falsified academic records and so foreigners wanting to work in Korea needed to prove they had actually graduated and then have someone else prove that their proof of graduation was genuine. It makes sense if you don’t think about it. As I was already here I was told to have my degrees apostilled and sent to me when I applied for the job at this company. And now that I am changing my visa status for the new job I once again need to produce these documents.

Obviously there is no one more responsible for my lost degree than me for having the faith that it would not misplaced/stolen/destroyed because as Korean degrees can easily be replaced, the same was assumed to be true for degrees from other countries.


Promotion Time!

We had a post-promotion party last Tuesday (January 14). Skip ahead to read about the evening. Otherwise read on and learn about the wonderful world that is a Korean office,


Typically the first department gathering is the one where we celebrate the promotions doled out every year. This time, the 대리 (dae-ri, assistant manager) and the 과장 (gwa-jang, manager) were promoted to 과장 and 차장 (cha-jang, deputy manager), respectively. The new gwa-jang was only a 4급사원 (office worker: permanent) when I first joined the department in 2009. This is the current department structure;

1 x 부서장 (bu-seo-jang, Department Head)
3 x 부장 (bu-jang, General Manager)
2 x 차장 (cha-jang, Deputy Manager)
2 x 과장 (gwa-jang, Manager)
0 x 대리 (dae-ri, Assistant Manager)
2 x 4급사원 (sa-geup sa-won, Office Worker: permanent)
3 x 사원 (sa-won, Office Worker: contract), 1 of these was “promoted” out of the department

The problem with having no assistant manager is that this person is usually the busiest because they have some modicum of power with which to actually get work done without having to slavishly report to Those Above (instead, they only have to sycophantishly report to Those Above).

The other problem is that one of the contract workers was promoted (she thinks) to the Board of Directors secretary team. In effect, the department has two positions open; three when I leave at the end of February.

Now, in most other contexts a promotion is something that should be celebrated since it usually requires hard work or at least some skill in brown nosing networking. Networking itself can be considered a skill worth being promoted for. But in Korea, by and large one is promoted if the following two requirements are met:

1. Be Korean (If you’re a Korean woman gwa-jang deputy manager is typically as high as you’ll go, because reasons)
2. Be in the same position for 4 years

So after a minimum of 12 years you will have reached the Deputy Manager level. The time taken to go from that to General Manager may vary but it is typically another 4 years. If you are too young (ie, younger than 50 but the Company is grooming you for a command role) you will be promoted to 부대 (bu-dae, I’m gonna label this rank Adjunct). The normal Adjunct is something like the chief administrative assistant in that he calls most of the meetings in the department head’s name (though he delegates the running of the regular meetings to a Manager or Deputy Manager). In my department, the Adjunct was the one that held the keys to the storeroom, dispensed the souvenirs (apparently he took some with him when he moved to a different department), and fed the office fish. He is also the one responsible for booking restaurants and organising department outings (though he usually delegates those roles to the secretary). The secretary, while only being a lowly contract worker, for her part wields a disproportionate amount of power because she regularly has meetings with the other secretaries and with the division Vice President. She also controls the department credit card.

There are of course exceptions to these promotion rules. The current department head is too young to have been promoted directly to that position, so he spent one year as an Adjunct before being raised to the leather throne. The owner’s son was brought into the family business as a General Manager despite being about 30 and having all of zero years of experience. On the flip side, the previous Adjunct was apparently involved in the iPad and shutterman debacle, so his promotion opportunities were capped at his current level. Considering his age, it could have been worse if it were possible to fire him. Younger workers would likely quit if there is no chance of advancement (supporting wife/children and parents notwithstanding, otherwise they will never quit). Sometimes they are even sent to punishment departments. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the purpose my department serves for the older employees.

Replace “expensive” with “an admission of guilt”


The evening started as all others where we will be dining with the Vice President. I wrote about what to do when that happens previously. (don’t worry, it will open in a new window) We went to a Korean Sushi place I hadn’t been to before (there is a difference, usually for the worse) but I was pleasantly surprised because there were very few bones in the raw fish we were served. Thank you, Korean Sushi chef for seemingly trying to do the one job you are being paid to do. Your effort is truly appreciated, even if the end result would probably have you chased out of town by a fish wielding mob if you were anywhere but Ulsan.

One can dream of a just world

Because this was an evening event, there was plenty of drinking involved. I tend to sit near my 삼천 (sam-cheon, uncle. Now you know why that makeolli place has that name) and he only drinks soju at these events. This is a good thing though because most of my coworkers don’t drink straight soju, instead preferring to mix it with beer (소맥, so-maek) or with cider and beer (I call this Korean champagne) so it tends to be just the two of us and the poor bastard assigned to speak to me in English that drink together. There is always someone assigned to speak to me at these events even though I usually prefer to observe the people around me rather than talk to them (you know, Prime Directive and stuff).

I hear David Attenborough’s voice all the time. Purely a coincidence that he’s talking about sloths and their toilet habits

After the obligatory congratulatory speeches (“I remember when Kim first came. He worked hard and got promoted after four years, etc”) and the obligatory acceptance speeches (“I got promoted after four years because Boss Lee helped me, etc”) I had a drink with one of the General Managers. He is the one that made his résumé into a Powerpoint presentation. He was only recently transferred to the department (see Dilbert comic above) so no one was drinking with him or talking to him. I mean, why waste your time building a relationship with someone who won’t be there in a few years. I thought I would highlight his ostracism further. Judging from his résumé, he’s had a fairly interesting work life at the company and I wouldn’t mind reading about his career if he were to write a memoir one day.

Before we left for the next round (이차 ee-cha, second round), the new VP had a drink with me. To be more precise, he handed me his glass and filled it for me to drink. This is a fairly common thing for an older man to do. Some things to remember

Panel 1 Guy is a cad. Safer in Panel 2 to hold the glass with both hands.

1. Always hold your glass with both hands. Sometimes if the person pouring the drink is younger than you they may say that you don’t need to use both hands. This may be a trap so I always use two hands. Sometimes if the person is older than you they will use one hand like the cad in Panel 1. Generally, people use two hands.

2. In Panel 3, before you drink, turn slightly away from the most senior person at the table. Generally this means you will turn away from the centre. This is supposed to show respect to that person, though these days I’m seeing fewer people do this.

3.a. If the boss poured a drink into his glass for you to drink you now need to return the favour. Hand his glass back and pour a drink for him. Make sure you hold the bottle with both hands (as in Panel 2. Panel 1 guy was probably shivved in an alley and his organs sold after that photo was taken). For extra points, moving one hand closer to the lip of the bottle shows more respect. And make sure you only fill it up to as much as he says as by this point in the evening he is probably trying to avoid drinking. If he intends to get his ancestors drunk that evening, he will tell you to fill it to the top and possibly fill your glass for you, too. Rarely you may even do a love shot.

Rare if you’re a foreigner. If you’re Korean, not so much

3.b. If it was your own glass and you want to avoid drinking, do not drain your glass. It is easier to sneak some lemonade or water into your glass so it appears that you are drinking soju. Water works better since it looks identical to soju. The one promoted to Deputy Manager once tried to get people drunk by filling his glass with water but filling their glasses with soju. He wasn’t even being clever about it; he filled both glasses while his intended victim was watching and then drank his “shot” as if it were soju. He even emptied the glass over his head as proof it was empty and slammed it on the table. So yeah, don’t be that guy.

The next round was at a pub. This is one of the classiest pubs I’ve seen since they serve typical pub food on white tablecloths. They also have one of the best views of the beach. Because it was Tuesday the two that were promoted decided a bottle of vodka would be a good idea. They also brought a bottle of Jagermeister but the bar didn’t let us drink it, thankfully. I was sitting next to the secretary and the guy that grew up in China (he’s a top bloke; we sometimes use Chinese as our secret language). Pouring drinks, pouring drinks, forcing people to drink, making slurred conversation with the Norwegian engineers at the next table; just the usual shenanigans. I was sitting next to the secretary and she was sitting next to the contract worker who was promoted (she thinks). This contract worker only joined us at the pub. I took a drink for the secretary but asked for nothing in return. This is called 흑 기사 (haek gisa, black knight) and usually involves a woman asking a man to drink for her. She has to then fulfill one of the man’s wishes. If the man refuses the drink, then the woman has to drink double. When the man is asking the woman it is called 흑 장미 (haek jangmi, black rose). Since I volunteered to drink for her; the new Deputy Manager poured her nearly a fifth of vodka; it would be poor decorum to expect something in return.

We left that pub around 10. I decided to go home to my cats when the contract worker who was promoted (she thinks) started chanting my name when she heard me speak Chinese to the guy who grew up in China. I always feel like a two-year-old being potty trained when my coworkers chant my name. I needed to be up early for the train to Daejeon to sign my contract and find an apartment (successfully) so I wasn’t in the mood for noraebang anyway,

Changing My Visa Status

Part of the process of changing jobs in a foreign country (yes, Korea is the foreign country) is changing visa status. For me, I’m going from an E7 visa to an E2 visa. E7 is the special occupations visa, while E2 is for foreign language instructors. The list of special occupations according the Ministry of Immigration is here.

With a little help from my friends, after the video is a list of requirements for changing visa status.

Change of Status for Registered Foreigners

Location: local Immigration Office (ie, close to where I intend to work)
Process Time: about one month. I can stay in Korea during the process without an E2 visa but I am not allowed to work during that time. I do not need to leave Korea to change my visa (pooh, I really wanted to eat ramen in Fukuoka).

Required Documents
1. Application Form (Template #34, apparently) 체류자격변경허가신청서: You can try to download it from their website if it allows you to register. I entered my details (ID, password, email address, etc) and the dialog box says “Please enter NAME in English”. The problem is that you need to enter an Alien Registration Number on the previous screen so on this screen my name has already been filled and cannot be changed. I’m told I can just fill the form in at the office when I go for my appointment. And….. that’s 10 minutes I’ll never get back.

2. Passport 여권: Obviously

3. One passport-size photograph 여권용 사진 1매: If you go to a Korean photo shop they may even photoshop (heh) your passport photo free of charge. In fact, you may have to insist they leave it untouched.

4. Alien Registration Card 외국인등록증: Yes, it actually says alien on it. Yes, I pretend I’m from Mars, and that means I have the same superpowers as Martian Manhunter.


5. Service Fee 수수료: KRW 130,000. The website says KRW 50,000 but maybe if I pay the premium fee I’ll get the premium service.

6. Employment Contract 고용계약서 원본 1부, 사본 1부: An original and a soft copy. The original is on the university’s stationery and so has the university crest and name printed throughout. Compare the contract from the world’s biggest shipbuilder.

7. Business Registration Certificate 사업자등록증 등 설립증명서 등 사업장 입증 서류 (대학교에 요청. Yes, universities are a business. Anyone telling you otherwise is a liar or a communist. Or both.

8. Teachers’ Schedule 강사별 강의시간표 (대학교에 요청): This is meant to be the schedule of teachers already working at the university but since the semester has not started yet I don’t think I can get this until the orientation day.

9. Proof of Education 공적확인 받은 학력증명서: This can be a copy of a degree, a proof of degree, or a proof of university graduation. I have two of those three on hand but crucially either one of those needs to be confirmed by a public authority (ie, apostille). My current employer has my original masters degree and initially refused to return it to me. I was told that Korean companies always keep originals of degrees forever (perhaps on the assumption that the employee will be working at that company forever). I suppose in some weird way this makes sense as to get a replacement degree from a Korean university it only costs ~KRW 40,000 and can be done as many times as one wishes. From my university, it is much more expensive and can only be done ONCE. Therefore, the university prefers to issue proof of graduation certificates instead (about AUD 11.00, postage extra). If I’m super lucky, I already got a notary to sign as to the authenticity of my degree when my saint of a mother sent it to my employer 5 years ago.

I’m still waiting for the 4급 사원 in the archives department to find my degree.

10. E2 Visa Drug Test E2 Visa 용 채용신체검사서: It’s a medical exam, but really it’s a drug test. This test can only be done at certain hospitals. I have the complete list of hospitals if any reader needs to do this test. Send an email. Importantly, I must not open and read the results of the test.

11. Criminal Background Check 공적확인 받은 범죄경력증명서 (6개월 이내 발급: Confirmed by a public authority, in my case by the Australian Federal Police.

12. House Rent Contract 집 임대차계약서: Done, as mentioned in this post. Ironically, I thought this part would take much longer than it did. We found the apartment after an afternoon of looking (though the roommate had put some deskwork into it before we went to Daejeon that day) and had the papers and deposit paid by the end of the day.

So that’s the document side of it. The other part involves setting an appointment (which will need to be done by phone for reasons mentioned in 1. Application Form) and then physically applying for the visa status change.

And THEN we play the waiting game.


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The New Crib

Didn’t get the chance to post on Wednesday as I was in Daejeon looking for an apartment. We, I have a roommate too, found one in Dunsan that’s 83 m², 2 bedrooms (she’ll take the massive one), and a very large kitchen/dining/living room. Very open plan. Now, I’ve never lived with a roommate and I’m pretty sure I’m not a sociopath. Though really, how would I know if I were, and would I even admit to it?

The apartment is unfurnished so we’ll need to fill it with stuff.


First priority is finding a bed. Then we can move on to fridge and a stove. I have plenty of kitchen equipment so that won’t be a problem. We already have a TV, though I’m afraid it’s gonna look pretty tiny in the massive living room. Couch and table would probably come next, then wardrobes and drawers.

I intend to have found all that stuff before we move in on the weekend of March 1. For moving, most of my stuff can be put into boxes. The hard part will be the cat, but I hope I can enlist a friend that wants to go on a drive. Last time I had to move the cat was when I was moving down to Ulsan. He was not happy to be on the plane.