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,

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