Friday, December 31, 1999

saying no

[Originally posted on February 1, 2023, at 3:15 a.m.]

Our CEO told me before the lunar holiday, "Don't worry about working overtime." I took this to mean that I was now done working 12- and 14-hour days. For the most part, things have been better than I thought they'd be ever since the craziness ended before the lunar new year. But on Tuesday (yesterday), something happened that raised my hackles.

Because I was exhausted from moving boxes on Monday night, I came into work an hour later on Tuesday, arriving in the office a bit after noon. My Korean coworker was off working at another office; he'd have been in our office much earlier than me, but today, I was the first to arrive. The boss, also tired from having worked a late night, arrived a bit after 2 p.m. I had finished all my work on Monday, so to give me something to do, the boss got me working on doing my own version of a vocab-textbook chapter—just something to show the CEO at what I assumed would be a meeting later that evening. Happy to have something to do, I got to work.

Sometime later in the day, the CEO's secretary called my boss to say the meeting would be at 9:30 p.m. Alarms went off in my head. Having gotten to the office a bit after noon, my plan was to leave for the day a bit after 9 p.m. So, I reasoned, there was no way I was going to a 9:30 meeting to listen to a bunch of boring shit for three hours. The boss tried to suggest that I go to the meeting, do my PPT spiel, then leave. No fucking way, I thought, although I admit that part of me felt bad because the boss, per his promise a while back, was going to endure the meeting without me. I walked the boss through my PPT presentation, the lecture notes I'd made for the CEO, and the alternative vocab-textbook chapter. It would be up to the boss to present my stuff and make it shine (or he could sit there with the CEO and pettily tear it all apart). A bit after 9 p.m., I said my goodbyes and left my boss to his fate. I hope he didn't have to stay with the CEO too long, but given that he'd gotten to the office a bit after 2 p.m., he could have stayed until 11 p.m. with the CEO and not worked any extra time.

I think the new normal is going to be harder on my boss than on me. He's got a family, too, and his kids now can't see him in the evening because of the CEO's demands. We also got news about our contract: the boss asked to see the Korean-language draft since that's the version that applies in court. It appears that the language in that contract is entirely against us, the staff: there are provisions about what happens should our work be less than satisfactory, what happens if we get fired 3 months or 6 months into the contract, and a bunch of other sinister sections and sub-paragraphs that are too awful to talk about. Essentially, the boss, who's way more Korean-fluent than I am, is going to have to bargain hard to negotiate new, less-oppressive language before we sign. I'll be morbidly curious to see what passes for "acceptable." And I have my own ideas about what language I want to see in the contract.

Anyway, I remained firm about not going to the late meeting because I don't want to start a precedent. The boss says the CEO never does anything without a reason, so having the late meeting Tuesday night could have been a test of some kind, and maybe I failed. I told the boss that I'm still ready to go out the door at a moment's notice if I sense things are turning shitty; all of this is still probational as far as I'm concerned. And hey, if the CEO thinks I have an attitude problem, and he fires me... well, so what? He can't fire me because I'm a lazy or stupid worker; he can only fire me because I refuse to kiss his ass. For now, this refusal takes the form of a deliberate-but-subtle passive-aggressiveness on my part. Things might get more overt later if the CEO tries any more shenanigans. The way I see it, the CEO is used to not respecting other people's boundaries. Well, he will respect mine, or I'm walking.



bad things

[Originally posted on January 19, 2023, at 7:45 a.m.]

I heard some not-so-nice things about my American coworker from my Korean coworker—things I'd never heard before. I knew my American coworker M was an over-talkative chap, but my Korean coworker, who has a bit of computer savvy, noted that M had done some suspicious things as our resident IT guy. He apparently configured our LAN in such a way that it was easy for him to spy on our computer activity. He also hacked open the closed files of an ex-employee—something he shouldn't have done. This revelation makes it hard for my boss to consider rehiring the guy.

I didn't know about any of this; I learned about it only yesterday. To be fair, I haven't heard M's side of the story, although it'd be awkward to ask him about it at this point. The things my Korean coworker mentioned could possibly have a completely innocent explanation, so I remain open to that possibility. At the same time, I heard this revelation and was left with a queasy feeling that included hints of betrayal. 

I recall two incidents. One happened when I was just a dumb college student traveling around Europe in early 1990. I was sitting on some steps in Rome, my backpack at my side as I flipped through a Frommer's guide when a kid approached. Friendly. Looked to be about ten. Talked to me constantly in Italian. Maintained eye contact. I belatedly noticed that, as he talked to me, his hands were traveling smoothly all over my backpack as he searched for something to steal. I shooed him away; nothing got taken. The other incident happened years later at the first hagweon I ever taught at (the one where I ended up suing my boss). A Korean colleague, an older man who was all cheesy smiles, loved calling me his sabunim (master, as in martial arts). I was creatively on fire back then, generating tons of material for my classes and placing my homemade worksheets into a fat, black binder. The binder would go into a drawer in the teachers' office. One day, it went missing (no locks), and I knew of only one person who was aware of my drawer: Mr. You're My Sabunim! The guy was a damn thief.

The moral of these stories is that underhanded people are pros at being friendly to your face while they do their under-the-table work. It might be wrong to judge M in this way since I haven't heard his side of the story, but after my Korean colleague told me what he'd seen of M's behavior, a lot of odd things about M suddenly clicked into place in my head. He often was a kiss-ass, especially to the boss. While he seemed complimentary about my cooking, the praise sometimes felt exaggerated, over-complimentary. And, boy, did he love to talk. In hindsight, it occurs to me that his gabbiness, his friendly demeanor, and his ass-kissing might have been a smoke screen.

And there's a chance that, if he hacked into all our computers, he might be able to read this post. IT guys can be dangerous in that way. Another thing my Korean coworker mentioned was that M offered to install some sort of Linux software on his computer. My coworker said no, and he asked a computer-nerd friend about why someone might want to install Linux on a computer. The friend said that such an installation would make it easier to spy on his activity. Curiouser and curiouser, right?

So while I'm feeling strange and a bit queasy, I'm wrestling with the idea that M could also be totally innocent. As things stand, though, even the boss is disturbed, and it's very unlikely that M will be rejoining our team. We're one man down.



the moment of truth

[Originally posted on January 17, 2023, at 11:45 p.m.]

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I guess my boss got really desperate.

I worked a 14-hour day yesterday, which pissed me off; the boss worked a 17-hour day because of a computer fuckup that cost him an important PPT file. The file needed to be rebuilt from scratch (he was working with a Korean assistant at the time, and her computer crashed while she was trying to back the file up—not really her fault). Neither of us was happy about the situation: the boss had been given a pile of work by the CEO, much of it for use the very next morning (my stuff, too), and we had little time in which to finish the work after our nighttime meeting. The CEO had decided to give us the day off, so I've had nothing to do today.

The boss has been very disappointed with my decision to leave. He's a good guy, but he's underhanded when he wants to win an argument, always resorting to emotion, so over the phone earlier this afternoon, he started guilt-tripping me about abandoning him. I chuckled in response because I will not be guilted. Plus, the boss is a big boy. Many times, he's said, "I've been through this before," i.e., periods when the CEO gets nutty, and everyone is loaded down with too much work. Which made me wonder why the boss would feel abandoned. As he said, he's been through this before, so he knows it comes to an end. (It also begins again, though, which is the thing that has been worrying me.)

But then, the boss started talking about an eleventh-hour conversation he'd had with the CEO. He apparently laid it all out, telling the CEO: you're losing a valuable worker in Kevin; you now see what he's capable of producing; this has been the caliber of our team all along, and you broke us up at Christmas last year. The CEO apparently listened to this while nodding. The boss then told the CEO that Kevin's the kind of person who works best under certain conditions, i.e., regular/reasonable hours, no killer-length days, no constant meetings, etc. The boss drove his point home: he doesn't want to lose me; he also wants his other team members back, and he wants us to continue working in the Mido building, away from the CEO's direct purview. We'd still be producing materials, but now it'd be directly for the CEO. These materials would be a combination of PPTs for the CEO's lectures (but with advance warning given as to each PPT, and enough time to do each one right without having to rush) and various textbook projects. The books would be revisions of ones the CEO had already had made years ago; my boss has been talking for a while about how those books can be improved, and the CEO is now listening. And the CEO apparently said yes to all the boss's conditions.

So the boss put all of this to me as his final offer. His second-to-final offer, made earlier, had been to entice me back in with extra salary. (He'd gotten the CEO to agree to paying me more.) I was almost insulted: if this were about money, then of course I'd be tempted by a 20% raise. But this has never been about money: it's been about my sanity, and I had laid out, several times, the conditions that would bring me back into the fold: keep things as they'd been before last Christmas. When I heard the second-to-final offer, I rejected it outright. Then the boss came back later describing the conditions noted above, and I was interested. I peppered the boss with questions about how much of this language (re: work conditions) would be in the contract, what this really meant in terms of stupid meetings and time pressure, etc.

After the boss answered my questions, I told him I'd call back in an hour.

The boss had basically managed to finagle all the conditions I'd wanted—all the conditions necessary for me to continue working at the Golden Goose. So I spent an hour thinking. I pondered, cogitated, digested, hemmed, and hawed. When I called the boss back after an hour, I told him I would continue in the company. I mentioned that I wouldn't be exercised if I didn't get a raise, but please don't tell the CEO that. So it could be that good things come of this: if I stay with the company, my current contract (which runs until the end of August) will be nullified, and I'll sign a spanking new contract. I get the feeling that this new contract—which will classify me as a freelance outsider (i.e., the company will no longer pay my insurance), might be a good thing. I have to confirm this, but I think the company will continue to support my housing, which means I'll continue to pay just an admin fee instead of needing to lay down a deposit and pay my own rent (which makes me wonder about the extent to which I'm a freelancer versus being a regular employee—does a company typically pay for a freelancer's housing? I'll find out more tomorrow). If that's all true, then I get to keep 100% of the severance coming my way. But if I now have to pay a rental deposit and monthly rent, then a million-won raise in salary will go mostly to rent. Not much of a raise, then.

Otherwise, though, I'll be back to working quietly in a cubicle, and if the CEO were to call a meeting (as I know he'll do because the man can't help himself), I'd be okay with attending it during my regular work hours. My boss has promised to take the burden of sitting with the CEO for all the meetings that run long. This makes me wonder if he'll burn out in a year.

Speaking of "a year," the boss's plan is to start his own company and have it running by 2024. Once he gets it going, the idea is for us team members to jump over to the boss's company, completely out from under the shadow of the CEO. We would then be free to contract independently out to the Golden Goose and other institutes. The boss warns that, at first, we might have to work from home, but once we got a modest office somewhere, we could transfer ourselves to that spot, and Bob's yer uncle.

For the moment, there are still some immediate questions that need to be answered, but overall, I think the boss pulled an eleventh-hour miracle out of his ass. I continue to have questions, of course, and I made it clear to the boss that if the CEO started trying to monopolize my time again, I'd be out. Always have an escape plan.

The most ideal situation would be for the company to continue paying for my housing while also giving me 100% of my severance, which I'd keep and maybe start investing (I have the Acorns investing app, but I haven't started using it yet). I look forward, in the meantime, to getting back to working quietly in my work station, surrounded by the old team (yes, even the over-talkative member). As for churning out material for the CEO instead of making other material: I'm actually glad that we're remaining his adjunct because that means he will see, directly, the quality of the material we can make. It also means we won't get any more bullshit requests by other departments to make material for them—material that just wastes our time, and which almost never gets used, anyway, because Korean department heads share our CEO's tendency to be wishy-washy and to not know what they want.

Some of my more interested readers might be disappointed to know that I'm sticking with this company after all my resistance. I hope I've made clear that (1) I seem to be getting everything I wanted, and (2) I'm still going to walk at the first sign of grasping tentacularity from the CEO. If he tries even a little to monopolize my time because he thinks he can, I'm out, and I might not even bother with a 30-day warning this time. What I did this time was only partly planned: I was perfectly willing to walk because I've never had any loyalty to the company—only to certain people within it. One of Donald Trump's rules of negotiation is that you have to be prepared to walk out. Negotiation only works from a position of strength. If you're unable to walk away, it's because you're weak and needy. But if you have talent and know you've got other options, then walking is easy. So I credit my willingness to walk with prompting my boss to get desperate and wring concessions from the CEO. The boss did the actual negotiating with the CEO, and he claims to have argued his case with a directness bordering on rudeness, so I'll gladly give my boss credit where credit is due.

I think it also helps that the CEO very suddenly decided to fly to Vietnam tomorrow. (The boss says the Vietnam trip had always been in the works, but I gather that leaving tomorrow, specifically, was more a spur-of-the-moment thing.) The CEO's own decision to leave the country put pressure on him to make crucial hiring decisions before leaving. Easier to wring concessions from someone when they're under pressure because of an imminent departure.

If I didn't make it clear before, a major concession was getting the old team members back. The boss is determined to have the band back together again. (And frankly, the two other team members both deserve raises, too.) So we'll once again be R&D, but working directly for the CEO. And if the CEO wants to come by now and again to look at our progress and inspect our work, I think that's only fair. The understanding is that we're doing all this to make the man look good (so that hasn't changed), but if we enter into an agreement to work for the guy, then making the CEO look good is one of the conditions of employment.

Have I sold my soul? Ask me after I find out (1) my salary and (2) what's happening with housing. And keep in mind that I can still walk if things go tits-up.



up and at 'em

[Originally posted on January 15, 2023, at 6:23 p.m.]

Got the call, just now, saying that I need to be in early tomorrow. When I asked the boss whether my job was to prep another PPT, he said, "Maybe." So, we're not even sure what I have to prepare, but whatever it is, it's going to be an all-day thing. 

In a hilarious twist, I just learned that the CEO will not be heading to the States, so we will not be training on Zoom. Nice: I can devote all of tomorrow to grinding out the CEO's material. Yay! The peasants rejoice! Instead of Zooming, we'll all be meeting on Tuesday. Joy.

The boss also said that he's tried talking with the CEO about arranging things so that (1) I'd have regular, fixed office hours; (2) I'd no longer have to attend long meetings; and (3) I could devote myself purely to making textbook material for the company (although in reality, it'd be a bit more than that*). If the CEO were to say yes to that, I might be persuaded to stay on. Since you never step into a deal without having a way out, though, I'm promising myself that, at the first sign the CEO thinks he can monopolize my time (say, by having four-hour meetings once a week), I'll send in my resignation letter again.

Realistically, if I'm making materials for the CEO, I think he has the right to visit, now and again (not daily!) to check on my progress and discuss the material I'm making. It would be unfair of me to request that I work in an impermeable bubble with no visits and no meetings. And maybe having a long meeting once a month would be okay, too, since the CEO seems to like having his people present for an hour or more. I'd be okay with doing something like that—during regular office hours and not from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.—once a month. Anything beyond that, though, is asking too much. These are the boundaries I'm setting.

I'm still laughing about the CEO's sudden decision not to go to the US. On Friday, when I asked the boss when the CEO was departing, the boss didn't really know. He guessed Monday. Incredulous, I said, "How does a guy not know when he's leaving on his flight?" Well, now we know why: it sounds as though he never bought the ticket.

__________

*I think I'd still have to make PPTs and lecture notes for the CEO's presentations, but it'd be during regular office hours, and the boss has said he'd take my PPTs and run through them with the boss himself. His way of sacrificing himself on my behalf.



the real-estate question: good and bad news

[Originally posted on January 15, 2023, at 12:20 a.m.]

Saturday afternoon, I made it down to Tower Real Estate, one of several real-estate offices located on my building's first floor. Tower Real Estate handles the real-estate contracts for all the foreigners who work at my company and live in my building, Daecheong Tower. I've worked with TRE staffers before, and they've always been pleasant. Today was no exception: I ambled into the office, and only one lady was there. I told her my situation: my last day of work is Friday the 20th, and while the school has been taking care of my rent all this time, I wanted to know what I would need to do to stay where I am. The lady, echoing my boss's warning, said that my company could say that they had specific plans for my residence; in that case, I'd have to vacate. But thus far, the lady had received no call from my institute. She promised to call my place of work on Monday (I think her office works with my company's HR department) to find out what was up. If the Golden Goose says they have no particular plans for my place, then I can stay where I am and continue on a private contract. If the Golden Goose says it needs my place for a new staffer, then I'll have to move.

The lady assured me that, if necessary, I could move to a new apartment inside the building—one being prepared right now, freshly renovated. The bad news is that the rent would be W750,000 a month (not including utilities), which is W50,000/month more than I was hoping it would be. The great news, though, is that the deposit would be only W10 million, not the W20 million I'd feared. I could pay that now, if I wanted to, but I'll likely pay on Friday when my severance comes in. While the gross amount of my severance is over W20 million for 4.5 years' work, I expect to get a lot less in net pay once all the taxes and fees are taken out. In any case, my severance will be over W10 million, so I'll use part of the severance to pay the deposit, then I'll pocket the rest for myself. (I think the above-quoted rates apply whether I stay in my current place or move to a different apartment.)

It occurred to me that something was fishy about my company's not having contacted the real-estate office. My HR department has had my resignation letter for nearly a month. I suppose the explanation for the lack of a call could be perfectly innocent: the company did call, but they talked to a different staffer (there's another lady who works in this real-estate office). But if it turns out that the other staffer has also heard nothing from my company... that would be fishy, indeed. Did the CEO tell HR not to pull the trigger on me just yet? Anything's possible.

The real-estate staffer, Ms. Han, will call my HR department on Monday. After she talks to HR, she will text me what she's found out, so by Monday evening, I ought to know whether I can stay in my current place or have to move to a different apartment. I'm hoping that, if HR hasn't contacted the real-estate office up to now, that means they have no specific plans for my place. If HR does have specific plans, then not only do I have to move out, but I also have to get two things repaired before I leave: (1) the stained wallpaper under my leaky A/C unit, and (2) my gas range, which I haven't used in years. As a result, my monthly messages from the gas company routinely tell me that my bill for the month is zero won. My heated floor runs on electricity, so gas is only used for cooking. My gas range started acting wonky some years back—it has an oversensitive heat sensor that won't allow me even to boil water: the sensor triggers an alarm and turns the gas off. Annoyed by this overreaction, I simply stopped using the gas range, bought myself an electric burner and a portable gas stove of my own, and I cook with that setup. I have to buy butane cans now and then, but I don't mind. Butane is cheap.

If I do have to move out, it's going to be a several-day project; at this point, I've acquired a lot of shit. I'll need to buy a much bigger hand truck than the little, flimsy one I have. Moving is going to be a bitch, but it's doable. I can quietly move my crap at night, allowing for freer use of the elevators without having to pay that special elevator fee that gives you exclusive access to one elevator for several hours while you're moving in or out.

One thing I'm wondering about is whether the real-estate office is going to require proof of employment to let me have my apartment. When I got my place in Front Royal, Virginia, years ago, I was asked by the rental office to provide bank statements proving that I had a steady income, i.e., the capacity to pay rent. I'm curious as to whether Korea is the same. I'm also nervous because, if Korea also requires proof of income, well, I don't have a new job lined up just yet. However, with almost half of my severance coming to me, my bank account will have enough cash for me to be able to survive without a job for a few months if necessary.

All in all, I'm reassured that I can land on my feet after I leave the Golden Goose. I'll have a couple months' breathing room thanks to my improved financial condition—much better than back when I was in debt. Whether I move or not is a minor issue from the cosmic perspective—moving is stressful, but the stress is only temporary. Here's hoping that I won't have to move, though. I'll know more sometime on Monday.



it may all come to a head on Monday (or Tuesday)

[Originally posted on January 14, 2023, at 3:20 a.m.]

If the real-estate office in my building is open Saturday morning, I'll be going down to talk about making a private arrangement to stay in this building. Otherwise, I'm going down there Monday morning. After I leave my company, I want to stay where I am. Frankly, I like my location: I like the close availability of all the walking trails, the fact that I'm sitting on top of the subway's Line 3, and my nearness to the newer parts of Gangnam (I live in the older, more beaten-up part of Gangnam). I also like that I'm exactly halfway between Incheon to the west and Yangpyeong to the east—the midpoint of a 120-kilometer axis. I can literally walk down to Busan from my place. I'm perfectly positioned.

My boss warns that there's a chance I might get booted from my apartment because it's currently sponsored by my company. That's the thing I want to talk about with the real-estate office: if I stay in this building after leaving my company, do I have to change apartments? These apartments are all pretty similar in terms of their internal layout, but as I learned over three miserable years, some of them are unrenovated shitholes (like where I initially lived for three years) while others (like the one I'm in) are renovated and decent. I might also discover—because Murphy's Law is always in operation—that the deposit/rental rate I saw advertised on the real-estate office's front wall might be for one of the smaller apartments in this building, i.e., the rate they'll charge me (assuming I'm allowed to stay where I am) will be decidedly higher. That's a possibility.

So—about leaving my company. As we were walking out of our Friday the 13th session with the CEO (only three hours because the CEO had to do his presentation that night), the boss said that our new contracts will be ready for signing this coming Monday. I asked the boss whether he'd had a chance to plead the case for returning us to regular R&D work; he said no (I don't blame him: the boss is being worked harder than I am, and he's got a family to take care of, so he has his own pile of worries to deal with). "Well," I said, "I'm not signing, then." What the CEO wants is for us to be at his constant beck and call, with daily meetings that double as tutoring sessions. This is not the R&D I signed up for. What I want is to be given a project, then to be left alone to work on it, with the higher-ups checking in only occasionally to see how things are going. That would be an ideal situation. But since we've established that the CEO is not the sort of person to trust his employees enough to leave them alone, I can't see working here any longer. What normal person likes being micromanaged?

The CEO is supposedly leaving for America on Monday, the same day we're going to see (and presumably sign) our new contracts. If the CEO's mind is on his trip to the States, he won't know that I've refused to sign my new contract until either Monday night (Seoul time) or sometime Tuesday. Will he respond by firing me, or will he do the civil thing and let me work my final few days in peace?

It's also possible that my boss and the CEO will talk about my situation over the weekend (I know the CEO likes calling my boss at weird times to talk about this or that). While I don't think that will affect the CEO's trip to the States, I have no idea what the other repercussions might be. I get the impression my boss hasn't told the CEO about my intention to depart. Instead, he's told the CEO that my time is short, so those contracts need to be hammered out. I wish the boss had kept silent on this point and just let the sand run out of the hourglass.

My boss and I are supposed to move offices on Monday—the same day the CEO departs for the US. The CEO once again emphasized that he'll be doing three-hour Zoom calls with us every day. At a guess, that starts on Tuesday, which is when I imagine I'm going to get an earful for deciding not to sign the contract. I expect guilt-tripping, too, from the CEO: I did what I could to keep you two in the company, and you're throwing this opportunity back in my face? Shit like that. I refuse to feel any guilt for my decision to leave.

Of course, we can't Zoom without first downloading the Zoom app onto our respective computers, and we also need proper headphones, microphones, and web cameras (my Mac at home is good to go with all of that, but my office computer, despite still being fairly fast and capacious when it comes to storage, is woefully unprepared for remote chatting of any sort). I assume we're getting all of that on Monday, then we'll Zoom on Tuesday. Seems a waste to buy me new equipment since I'm a short-timer, but the people buying the equipment probably don't know I'm leaving.

What's funny in all of this is that no one (aside from my boss) has even bothered to ask me my intentions. It's just assumed that I'll be signing a contract. And what does the contract mean, exactly? If it's a totally new contract that's supposed to start after January 20, my current departure date, then I ought to get my severance pay. It can't be a continuation of the contract I've been on because that contract doesn't end until my birthday, although that arrangement has arguably been nullified by my resignation letter, which was a formal declaration of departure. Reminder: my "current" contract doesn't exist on paper: I haven't had a paper contract since August 31, 2021. I've worked 1.5 years beyond my paper contract because of a quirk in Korean labor law that says the employer and employee can assume the most recent contract conditions are still in force, despite no official renewal, if both parties remain in the same working arrangement. This is why I've been paid my same salary since 2021: everyone assumes that that contract is still in force.

Not that the above questions matter deeply to me. As far as I'm concerned, I'm out of here on Friday the 20th. I get paid my last regular bit of salary on January 16 (my normal payday) then according to HR, I get paid my severance on the day I leave. If I succeed in getting a private arrangement with my apartment building, all of that severance money will go into my rental deposit (plus a few thousand dollars from what's in my bank account). This is a deposit, so whenever I finally move out of this building, I'll get all that money back (in Korea, you pay a huge rental deposit, from thousands to millions of dollars, and the recipient invests your money and earns interest off it for a few years). Meanwhile, I'll also pay a monthly rent—probably around W700,000, but it could be more.

So, there's a good chance that things will blow up on Monday, or maybe Tuesday. Either way, we're going to have some very unhappy, trans-Pacific back-and-forths early next week. The CEO now knows what I'm capable of producing, and he's not going to want to lose that. At the same time, he's physically incapable of giving me the thing I do want, which is to be left alone to work in peace. A pathological micromanager can't understand why other people don't want him hanging around. All signs point to bye-bye. A tiny part of my brain does still hope for a miracle, but realistically, I don't see that happening.

The boss did float another idea: he could start his own company (with help from a Korean investor/partner), hire our team back (my coworker M plus our Korean coworker), then we could contract independently with the company we're now working in. No maniacal oversight by the meddling CEO; a nice, separate office; the works. I could go for that, but I don't know how long it'd take the boss to drum up the necessary funds, and no clue at all as to if or when such a venture might be profitable. Still, given my current shitty circumstances, I'd probably jump at the chance to work in such a startup. But I don't know how serious the boss is about his proposal. Desperate times generate desperate ideas, only some of which have substance.



typical

Our 1 p.m. meeting time with the CEO got changed to 3:30 p.m. My boss gave me the CEO's phone number because the CEO wanted to talk to me. I tried calling the CEO twice; a computer voice told me he was unable to answer. I guess the CEO saw my number, though, because he called me (and now, he has my number logged on his phone, dammit), and we talked briefly. Turns out he wants me to "think about" the connection between the concepts of smart and power (his seminar will be, in part, about "smart power").  So I need to have some ideas for the 3:30 meeting. My boss thinks the CEO, who is talking to non-Koreans in English tonight, is just nervous about his presentation. I couldn't care less. I went to my personal god, ChatGPT, and asked it to describe the connections it saw between the concepts of smart and power. ChatGPT instantly spat out some curt insights that I will use in a couple hours, along with one or two insights of my own. (I told you ChatGPT would make us lazy.)

After today's meeting is over, the CEO will go run his seminar, and I may end up sitting in on one of those "special" classes for advanced students. Three hours of taking notes. Yay.

UPDATE: meeting time changed again to 4:30.



what if?

[Originally posted on Friday, January 13(!), at 12:10 a.m.]

There are two ways I'd think about staying in my current job: (1) if the CEO were to double my salary, or (2) if the CEO were to restore me and my boss to our original status as textbook-makers and content creators, by which I mean without the current daily meetings and tutoring sessions and sudden, unpredictable demands. Give me steady, consistent work hours, clear work assignments, reasonable deadlines, and no surprises. Keep my pay at its current level and promise me no meddling or micromanaging. Do all of that (and I'd probably need to think up a few more conditions), and I'll consider staying.

When I talked with my boss about these possibilities today, we both agreed that (1) was not an option: it will never happen. Our institute's middle-school program experienced its first-ever loss (in enrollment) this past fiscal year, which was a wake-up call for the CEO, and a probable reason why he's so intensely interested in finding new ways to get butts in seats. He now thinks my boss and I could be the architects of novel pedagogical approaches, but the teaching principles that I cleave to aren't really that new, nor are they really that innovative. (Same goes for my boss's materials: old school, but solid.) It's just that Korean education is way behind the times when it comes to student-centered learning. My point, though, is that the school's loss has caused a large amount of belt-tightening. A few executives I know of have been quietly let go; they'll collect their severance, and I imagine they're all enrolled in some sort of pension plan (as I am, too). And once they're gone, there's no need to pay them anymore. So given all that, there's no way I'm getting my salary doubled.

If (2) were to come to pass, though, I'd be amenable to staying. My boss seems to think he can lean on the CEO and make this happen, but I don't think he can. As I see it, the CEO has his toys (i.e., me and my boss), and he wants to keep those toys for himself. Being the hands-on micromanager that he is, he'll want to keep us coming to his interminable meetings and reviewing his goddamn magazine articles. Letting go to do our own thing is probably not in the cards. The CEO made it clear that he sees us as (1) content creators whose job is to make him look good for the masses, and (2) his personal tutors for things like learning new vocab, practicing pronunciation (+ intonation, rhythm, etc.), etc. Having us quietly creating books, even if we move to the office across the hall from his (which is the plan; we're moving on Monday even though we're still not officially hired), would be a frustrating experience for the CEO. For me, if our meetings were reduced to once a month and happened at a consistent time, I'd be okay with that. But the CEO would never be content with meeting only once a month. Even if I did get my wish, I can see the CEO contriving a way to just walk across the hall to our office so we could have "informal" meetings. The guy calls himself an introvert, but his inability to leave us well enough alone tells me quite clearly that he's more toward the extravert end of the scale—not because he loves people the way normal extraverts do, but because he can't help using them. People, in his mind, are commodities. That's obvious from the way he's been treating me and my boss.

The boss also floated this possibility: I resign as planned, then the company rehires me as an outside contractor. This means work but no severance pay at the end. I told the boss sarcastically that that sounded really attractive. I guess the appeal, here, is that I'd get four years' worth of lump-sum severance now, and I probably wouldn't have to worry about housing: I'd stay right where I am. That part does sound sweet: keeping my severance instead of dumping it into a housing deposit would be close to ideal. But working, from then on, with no severance at the very end... would that be worth it? I don't think so.

The viability of this resign-then-get-rehired path also depends on whether I'd get the working conditions I want. I don't see any guarantee of that, just as I don't see any guarantee that things won't go sour even if they start off ideally. My years at this company have taught me there are never any guarantees, and nothing is stable. This is not like a government sinecure, where you do the same boneheaded job your whole life with near-total job security. Language institutes shift with the winds: they respond, for example, to the demands of mothers who want to see their kids do well on college-admission tests; they strive (well, some strive) to adopt new teaching methods (most of them faddish); they readjust their programs and pricing structures to change with the times.

So while my boss's hypotheticals are somewhat enticing, I'm not convinced he can make anything happen—not over the next few days, and especially not while the CEO is in the States (where he'll be for ten days starting next week... three-hour daily Zoom meetings, here we come!). My ideal would have been for the CEO to recognize our value as content creators and to put us to work making company-brand textbooks. (Side note: another R&D department, run by one of my boss's mortal enemies, insists on not using in-house books. This lady, whom I call the Dragon Lady, prefers using outsourced texts from big publishing companies like Cambridge or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Meanwhile, her R&D department puts out mediocre materials like worksheets that are supposed to go along with the big-name textbooks, a shakily legal move at best. Her stance is completely the opposite of ours; my boss and I both believe strongly in using original material. The boss also suspects that the Dragon Lady insists on outsourcing because she gets a cut of each deal—an arrangement that many publishers participate in, according to the boss.) But I don't see the CEO letting go of us that easily. I suspect he's physically incapable of being hands-off.

That leaves me right where I started. Unless I hear something utterly miraculous in the next few days, I'm outta here.



micromanagement

[Originally posted on January 12, 2023, at 4:15 a.m.]

January 20, my final day at the Golden Goose (which hasn't been very golden over the past few weeks), can't come fast enough. Thursday, though, we might have a reprieve, although I doubt it. More on that in a bit.

The CEO may be a scatterbrained fool, but he's on all the damn time. He told us he has trouble sleeping because his mind is always aswarm with new ideas (that don't seem so innovative to me). What this usually means for me and my boss (and even though he's my boss, we're both basically working in the trenches directly under the CEO) is that we get force-fed magazine article after magazine article that the CEO will insist on reading along with us, line by line, stopping to discuss some issue brought up in the latest paragraph, asking for pronunciation help, etc. Can you think of a more boring way to get through an English lesson? I would never treat a magazine article as an opportunity for scriptural hermeneutics. The CEO says he wants to modernize education, but this magazine-reading nonsense is an antiquated fetish of his, and he won't let it go easily because, I guess, he thinks it's effective.

I'd been told that I would need to make four PPT presentations by this Friday. Then it became one PPT by Thursday, the rest by Friday. I did one of the PPTs, plus lecture notes, earlier in the week... and the CEO liked the lesson but decided he didn't need my work. Instead, I had to work on something else, and now I was supposed to focus only on that one thing, i.e., a PPT for his Thursday-morning lecture to some Korean teachers. Over the course of eight hours on Wednesday, I hammered out the PPT but couldn't finish the lecture notes. (The purpose of the lecture notes is, essentially, to make the CEO look smart by supplying him with extra vocab info and bits of trivia with which to wow his audience.) I promised the CEO that I'd email him the lecture notes a few hours later. My boss somehow convinced the CEO to let me go back to my office in the Mido building (the CEO's office, where he holds his meetings, is in our main branch, in the Cheongshil building) at 10 p.m., 60-90 minutes earlier than normal. I went back and hammered out lecture notes (which are meant to accompany the PPT frame by frame), then left around 1:30 a.m. My boss got saddled with more stuff in my absence, then he showed up at the Mido office and got to work. The CEO then called my boss several times (keep in mind—this is now after midnight) with even more work for the boss to do. When I left Mido, the boss was still plugging away at the material the CEO wanted. This is the same boss who sternly said to me, "Don't kill yourself doing all this work." And yet, there's the boss—killing himself. See why I can't take his advice seriously?

Supposedly, the CEO's got nothing for us to do tomorrow (well, today: Thursday), but I don't believe that. He's doing more presentations on Friday, so we'll doubtless have more material to prep for him. That said, I'm going in to work a bit later than usual tomorrow (today, really) unless I get news that we have another do-this-yesterday assignment. 

Earlier Wednesday evening, while we were in the boss's SUV as we drove from Mido to Cheongshil (just a couple blocks down the street), the boss told me he thought things were going to get better once the CEO finally realized he can't maintain the current pace. I bitterly asked him, "Haven't you been saying that for years?" I'd heard this song and dance myself since at least 2017. Somehow, I think my boss still considers the CEO a friend: the boss tutored the CEO's kids years back, so they have a sort of quasi-familial connection. From my perspective, though, the CEO has dicked my boss over repeatedly, taking him for granted, constantly threatening our R&D department with nonexistence, and generally producing a ton of absolutely unnecessary stress for all parties. What kind of "friend" treats someone that way? But the boss remains, despite it all, hopeful that this is just a passing phase. I'm not waiting around to find out. (In a moment of raw honesty, the boss basically said he has nowhere else to go except this job. He lives in a huge, expensive apartment, so he needs a certain level of cash flow to maintain that lifestyle and support his family. He used to boast about places he's worked and high-level connections he's made over the years, and when I pressed him about those things recently, his response was basically that that was all in the past. He didn't say this, but I got the impression that, given his abrasive personality, he's probably burned a lot of bridges. You can't go home again, as the Thomas Wolfe [not Tom Wolfe] book title goes.)

Meanwhile, the CEO has inserted himself so fully into my life that I literally no longer even have time to go nighttime shopping at my building's grocery. The grocery closes at 11 p.m., and except for this past weekend, I haven't had a chance to visit the grocery in days because our meetings—daily meetings, mind you—run past 11. The CEO is going to America next week, but he's already told us he plans to have Zoom meetings with us every day, three hours per meeting. Which means we're not off the hook. This is not a cat's away, the mice will play situation. If we're Zooming every day for three hours, we're going to have to produce enough material to last through such meetings. God only knows what that material will be, but at a guess—more fucking magazine and website articles.

That's life right now. Get into the office around 12:30 p.m., work on whatever the CEO's assignment is (my boss, who knows the CEO's mind better than I do, usually has to make the assignment clear to me) until our meeting time—usually 7 or 8 p.m.—endure a meeting that lasts until at least 11 p.m., then in most cases, go back to my own office and work on extra stuff that the CEO just thought up for us to do at the last minute. These are 13-14-hour days. In some cases, we then find out that what we've worked on is no longer needed, so we scrap it. I just had eight hours of PPT work go down the toilet. Any apologies? Nope. Any awareness of hard work done in vain? Nope.*

One of the vocab words in the PPT I just did was reversal. I ran this sample sentence by my boss: With a wishy-washy person, you can expect a lot of reversals. The boss chuckled and remarked, "I don't think he'll get it." Sure enough, as we read through my PPT frame by frame (just like with those magazine articles), we got to that sample sentence, and the CEO wasn't introspective enough to ask himself whether the sentiment applied to him. That may be a trait of many leaders: lack of self-awareness. Maybe it's a requirement for the job.

Just eight more days after today. At least my boss isn't saying guilt-trippy stuff like, "You're putting me in an awkward position"—the way he did to my ex-coworker M. Maybe it's because the boss is suffering alongside me, being taken for granted just as I am. I've told some people that I'm enough of a whore that I'd consider staying if the CEO offered to double my current salary. I could suffer a year of bullshit if I knew I was socking away a lot of money for a move to... somewhere. (The Korean riverlands? Wyoming? Dunno.) I'd also consider staying if the CEO suddenly had a flash of satori and realized that my boss and I do, in fact, produce material of value—shit that the other, Korean-run R&D departments in our company can't produce for lack of English fluency and general pedagogical competency. If the CEO were suddenly to say, "You know, you two guys really do produce good material, and I now want you to go back to your regular R&D duties to produce a whole line of company-brand textbooks that emphasize your pedagogical approach," I would be ecstatic and would un-resign myself in an instant—even if that meant no extra pay. (I'm paid at a very comfortable level right now, so I haven't made any noises about a raise.)

I just asked ChatGPT, which has now become my therapist/god, the following:

How do you deal with an overly micromanaging, stress-inducing CEO?

The response:

Dealing with an overly micromanaging, stress-inducing CEO can be challenging, but there are a few strategies you can use to manage the situation.

1. Communicate clearly and regularly: Clearly communicate your progress and accomplishments to your CEO, and ensure they are aware of any challenges or potential roadblocks. Providing regular updates can help alleviate some of the micromanagement and reduce the CEO's stress levels. 

2. Ask for specific feedback: Instead of being told to redo everything, try to understand what the CEO is looking for by specifically asking for feedback. It may help to ask them to be specific about what they want you to change, or to provide examples of what they consider to be good work. 

3. Set boundaries: It is important to set clear boundaries around your responsibilities and the scope of your work, and communicate them to your CEO. This can help to reduce confusion and prevent you from being pulled into tasks that are not your responsibility. 

4. Show initiative: Take the initiative to solve problems, improve processes and come up with new ideas. It might show the CEO that you are more capable than they think, and that their micromanagement is not needed. 

5. Address the issue with your CEO: If the micromanagement and stress are affecting your ability to do your job, it may be necessary to have a direct conversation with your CEO. Explain how their behavior is impacting your work, and offer solutions to address the issue. 

6. Seek support: Sometimes the situation may be difficult to handle alone, and it is essential to reach out to colleagues, a mentor or an employee resource group to discuss the situation and get an objective perspective.

It is important to remember that the situation is not personal. Try to maintain a professional and respectful attitude throughout this. It may take time, but addressing the issue in a constructive manner can help improve the work environment for everyone.

All so commonsensical, yet kind of empty, like eating those corn-based packing peanuts. My new god, ChatGPT, is the god of environmentally friendly packing peanuts. In response to the above advice, I can say this:

1. Oh, we communicate regularly, and the boss is even so bold as to tell the CEO outright that we've been working a series of 14-hour days. The CEO's response: an irritated "Don't count." (i.e., "Don't count the hours. Just work.")

2. Getting specific feedback from a pathological "P" person is a joke. "P" people, especially the extreme ones, don't like settling on anything. It's a wrestling match, at the end of every meeting, to figure out what exactly my action items are. When I just worked with my boss, he at least had a specific vision for every project. I didn't always agree with his vision, but I can respect the fact that he had a specific direction to go in.

3. Set boundaries? Yeah, I'd love to, and the boss is constantly trying to with the CEO. But the boss is also putting more hope in a better future, which I'm not doing, so maybe we're not trying hard enough in this arena. The way I see it, it's better just to hunker down and not get fired since I'm already set to resign.

4. Showing initiative is what got me in trouble. The CEO loves my lesson style, which is very student-centric, with the teacher constantly checking knowledge at every step. Now, the CEO only wants more, more, more, as Billy Idol would say. Or is that too creepy an image?

5. Yes, inevitably, I'm going to have to address the issue with the CEO at some point. He's off to the States next week, and my resignation will happen while he's away, so I foresee a Zoom meeting that's not going to be pleasant.

6. Seeking support might be nice, but I work at a hagweon, which is by nature a toxic environment. Always has been. The people I like and trust are in no position to do anything, and the people in power either don't know me or don't care.

This exposure to the CEO has given me a lot more appreciation for what my boss was shielding his R&D department from all these years. On a distant, intellectual level, I got that the boss was protecting us from the standard Korean-management bullshit, but now that we're both under the CEO's Sauron-like glare, the situation is much more real—painfully so. Somehow, the boss remains hopeful despite the agony. I don't know how he hasn't given up in disgust yet. I guess it comes back to what he confessed about having nowhere else to go.

I checked with my buddy Tom about teaching at his uni, but he's positive that they're not hiring, so the search must go on. With all the money I've saved up, I'm not too worried—yet.

Oh, yeah: if I'm so tired, how did I have the marbles to bang out this blog entry?

Simple. Anger. I need to sleep, but anger keeps a body awake. And focused.

Current goal: make it to January 20 without suffering a second stroke.

__________

*The Korean expression 헛수고 (heot sugo) comes to mind: hard work done in vain. The 헛 is the "in vain" part. 수고 means "hard work."



the saga continues

[Originally posted on January 10, 2023, at 4:25 a.m.]

Consistent meeting times? Actually leaving us alone to work on projects? Of course not! Not when you work for this CEO. We've met at 7 p.m.; we've met at 8 p.m.; on Monday, we met at 2:00 p.m. after being initially told to meet at 1:30 p.m. I didn't even know we were supposed to be meeting at all, but my boss called me around 11:30 Monday morning to say, "You know we have a 1:30 meeting, right? And that we're supposed to prepare something?" No, I didn't know. No one said a thing to me. When I met the boss an hour after his call, he said that the CEO said something about the time last week. I don't recall hearing a thing, and I said so. "Oh," said the boss, "he may have told only me." You know what would eliminate this sort of problem? Consistency in meeting times! But of course, the CEO being the CEO—i.e., a bouncy, zigzaggy "P" person—consistency is not in the offing.

So I got to work and cranked out some vocab notes and discussion questions in the space of 90 minutes. That's vocab, part of speech, etymology, definition, sample phrase, and sample sentence, plus extra language note (e.g., "-ment is a common noun ending"). Times ten for ten vocab words. This information could be used as the building blocks for subsequent PowerPoint presentations, and as it turned out, that's what the CEO wanted me to do. So this week, I have to crank out three PPT presentations, five words each, for three separate articles (that my boss and I both have to read, of course). And like last week, I have to produce several pages of lecture notes to help the CEO when he teaches my material to his audiences (who can be Korean instructors of English, foreign instructors in international schools, mothers of children attending our language school, etc.). It's not easy for the boss, either, as he often has to paraphrase the articles, create vocab lists from them (I pull my vocab words from his lists, so making those lists is a high priority), and even rewrite certain articles that are too poorly written in Konglish-inflected English to be presentable as is. On top of all this, I'm now supposed to create voice recordings of me reading through my PowerPoints as a way for the CEO to walk through the lessons. As he told us, he doesn't drive himself: he has a chauffeur, so he can afford to sit back inside the car and just listen to audio.

I told my boss that I was going to tell the CEO I'm not tutoring his kid. The boss said I should hold off since we're not even sure the thing might happen: private tutoring was one of the avalanche of random ideas to spill out of the CEO's face. As far as we know, the CEO hasn't even talked to his son about tutoring yet, and if the CEO did decide to go through with it, it wouldn't happen until March. My position's not going to change by then.

You might be wondering how the CEO's Saturday seminar went. At that session, he used both my material and my boss's. He said the whole thing went very well, which means he's now officially attached to the product I've made. My fear is that the CEO is missing the point of my PPT: for me, at least, the point is the pedagogical philosophy underlying the PPT, not the PPT itself. The problem, I think, is that the CEO looks at the PPT and sees yet another formula to follow (Koreans love formulas), and he wants to follow it without understanding that the stress needs to be on constantly evoking student responses as opposed to just lecturing. That was the thrust of what I'd written.

The CEO makes no bones about the idea that my boss and I have one main function: to make the CEO look smooth and smart during his lectures (or seminars... the CEO is trying to move away from lectures). This is why it's up to my boss and me to take the CEO's harebrained, scattered ideas and hammer them into coherent lessons. More: we're supposed to organize the guy's life. You kind of have to admire a guy who is so up-front about his inability to put together logical teaching material on his own. I have no clue how such a person can even become a CEO. He has no specific vision for our company, but he has this instinct telling him that things need to improve (an instinct prompted by a drop in our school's middle-school enrollment stats). So he's grasping for new, innovative teaching methods.

I have certain basic principles that I follow when teaching—principles that have evolved over the years through my own trial and error (mostly error). But the CEO is eventually going to catch on that I'm fairly limited when it comes to novel teaching methods. He's apparently never seen student-centered teaching up close, so my PPT will be novel for a while, but he's eventually going to get bored, and that's when Uncle Kevin gets tossed over the side of the ship—assuming I last long enough for that to happen.

The CEO is off to the States next week. We're meeting with him every day this week, and the CEO wants me to watch some of his high-level classes as well. These classes occur at weird evening hours, e.g., 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday evening/night. This reminds me a bit of the hours I kept while working at C2 Education in Centreville, VA—hours I never really got used to. Anyway, my boss and I are meeting with the CEO every single day this week, then next week, the CEO will be meeting with us via Zoom. I've never used Zoom before, so I now have yet another thing I need to get acquainted with. Fuckin' joy, right?

My Korean coworker is suddenly wavering on whether to walk despite having turned in his own resignation. He apparently had a long talk with HR, and it's possible he might be rejoining our team if we end up making textbooks (he's a graphic designer). Meanwhile, my boss keeps trying to reassure me that the current chaotic phase is only temporary: things will acquire a rhythm and smooth out. I'm not so sure. What I see right now isn't likely to change, and what I see is a ship captained by a scatterbrained, distractible man who chases superficially after the newest, shiniest, most cutting-edge things (like the much-ballyhooed ChatGPT). The only way for things to smooth out, as I see it, is for the CEO to undergo a radical change in personality. And how likely is that?

The three PPTs I have to make by Thursday are based on two articles the CEO had given us, plus a third article that we didn't receive until after our Monday meeting was over (it got sent to my boss via email). The CEO had initially said that he wanted my boss to select the third article, then he pivoted and said he had an article, but he wanted my boss's opinion, then he pivoted again and told us to just run with that article.

So, I'll be in the office tomorrow around 11 a.m., which is early for me. That'll give me nine hours to finish work on the first PPT and set of lecture notes, then we're meeting the CEO at 8 p.m., a meeting that's guaranteed to last until at least 11 p.m. (i.e., a 12-hour work day... at least I'm not in the salt mines). We meet again on Wednesday at 5 p.m., at which point I'll show off whatever more I've done, then we meet once more Thursday evening, at which time everything needs to be done (for me, that means three PPTs and three sets of lecture notes and, presumably, three voice files for the CEO to listen to in his limousine. On Friday, I'm slated to observe a class. Yay.

This is basically a succession of more-than-8-hour days, with no end in sight. What's the motivation to stay? Stay and get jerked around even more with promises that this'll all smooth out? The CEO asked me, during the Monday meeting, whether I've ever participated in "such meetings" before, i.e., such meetings as the ones he runs, where everything is messily all over the place. I told him quite frankly that I have not. What I wanted to say was that he's one of the most disorganized leaders I've ever had the misfortune of meeting, and it's a wonder his company is still afloat. But why get summarily fired when you're scheduled to leave in ten days, anyway? That's right: the CEO still hasn't decided whether to hire us officially.

January 20 can't get here fast enough. Mentally, I'm 90% out the door. I might consider staying if the CEO offered to double my salary, but fat chance of that ever happening: he's already thinking of having me tutor his kid during office hours so as not to pay me extra.



오전 4시 퇴근

[Originally posted on January 7, 2023, at 6:05 a.m.]

My boss and I were with the CEO, tediously working on material for the CEO's Saturday seminar. He's using the materials we created: my boss's video transcripts, article paraphrases, comprehension and discussion questions (I also contributed a set of the latter two), plus my PowerPoint presentation. Luckily, we went through my revised PPT and found several errors, almost all of which I corrected on the spot. The CEO likes our material; he's supposedly seeking new ways to teach English, and his exposure to us is apparently teaching him a lot. From my boss's point of view, this direct exposure is a good way for the CEO to learn what's rumor and what's not. Apparently, my boss is the subject of a lot of rumor and backbiting: he's a Korean-fluent guy who is also stubborn, confrontational, and not very submissive, so a lot of the higher-ups in the company hate him and want to get rid of him. I've met with the CEO only twice (in depth, I mean), but he seems to have warmed up to working with us.

That sounds positive, but it's not a good thing in my book. Unfortunately, the CEO, being a "P" person, keeps coming up with new ideas for things we could be doing, both privately and in conjunction with our company work, and I'm beginning to think I may have slipped into a devil's bargain. The CEO floated the idea that I should privately teach one of his five kids. Presumably, this would happen during whatever our office hours are, so there'd be no extra pay. That's a clever way to get cheap tutoring, and probably unethical (having me teach his family during office hours, I mean)—this from a guy who supposedly has an interest in theology. I should also note that, for job-hunting purposes, one of my deal-breakers has long been that I don't teach kids. Kids require a ton of energy—energy that I no longer have. I'm sure the CEO's son is a wonderful person, but still—no kids.

Right now, my view of the CEO is that, on the outside, he exhibits the trappings of Koreanness, but on the inside, there's something smoldering, coiled, and unsettlingly reptilian about him. There's still been no word as to whether we've been officially accepted as a new, personal, two-man R&D for the CEO. Meanwhile, I still haven't rescinded my resignation—a fact that I think is going to become important in the next few days. I don't want to be sucked into this man's family; all I want is a regular job with regular hours doing what I've been doing for most of the past seven years: textbook-content creation. I might even be okay with making a curriculum for the CEO to teach if I could be promised consistent hours. But consistency is most definitely out the window. The CEO has made clear that he has no real plan, and he's somehow relying on us to give his frustratingly vague thoughts clarity.

My boss and I worked on the CEO's presentation materials for most of the day on Friday (yesterday); we met the CEO at his office at 7 p.m. Friday evening. We did our tedious review of materials, and the CEO suddenly decided he needed even more from us. As the meeting ended around midnight, we were given more things to work on (yes: to work on that same night). The CEO is apparently not good at spontaneous public speaking, so he asked me to craft a set of lecture notes based on how I'd taught him the PowerPoint lesson (I'm not a fan of anyone aping someone else's style—develop your own damn style). I guess the idea is that he'll rely on my notes so he can look smart while teaching my PowerPoint class to an audience of Korean teachers of English (most of whom are not that fluent—an ongoing hagweon story and running joke). My boss was tasked with making alterations to the material he'd created, and so, after midnight, the boss and I went back to our office and got to work. The boss finished first and left around 1:30 or 2 a.m. I was in the office until 4, and when I went outside to catch a cab, several cabs just blew by me despite my waving. Finally, one cabbie took pity on me and carted me to my apartment building. It was a shitty end to a miserable Friday (technically, the day ended today, i.e., Saturday morning).

I want to sleep but can't. You probably know the feeling. And I've got some big decisions to make, probably within the next 96 hours. The boss reminded the CEO that my final day, per my resignation letter, is January 20. Personally, I would have preferred that the boss say nothing. Just let the resignation happen thanks to the CEO's indecision. And at this point, I honestly don't think I want to work for someone who has no larger plan and who wants to rope me into teaching his kids. This is getting too personal too fast.



what have I done?

[Originally posted on January 6, 2023, at 4:33 a.m.]

There were no more wishy-washy schedule changes from the CEO's secretary, and our own meeting with the CEO, which I'd expected to run about an hour for my part, went from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.—five hours, not the expected two hours for both me and my boss. My own presentation went pretty well, but we started about a half hour late because my boss and the CEO gabbed like old men for thirty minutes before allowing me to do my thing.

Both the CEO and my boss played the role of students for the purposes of my PowerPoint presentation, which was about teaching five vocabulary words via multiple approaches. I gave the boss and the CEO hard-copy printouts, and the CEO's secretary was gracious enough to provide us with a laptop and a digital projector. There was one embarrassing moment in which we all saw that I had made a typo on one frame of the presentation, and while that might have been forgiven by my "students," I mentally whipped myself bloody for not having caught the typo despite three proofreading sweeps. In the end, the CEO actually applauded my presentation and talked about having me tutor his kids in English, but I've heard such idle talk before, and it never comes to anything. 

My boss's presentation was less rigid and more desultory in nature; he presented paraphrases of the articles on ChatGPT that the CEO had wanted us to read (the vocab words for my lesson were pulled from those articles), and he also found two short videos on ChatGPT and DALL-E (the AI illustrator that uses deep-learning language processing to take your description of a work and generate art based on the description). A typo was found in my boss's presentation as well; the boss joked that we were even. We discussed the implications of AI chatbots in the classroom: they could be used to generate quizzes and tests very quickly; they could also be used by students to cheat: students could, for example, ask ChatGPT to write a five-paragraph essay about the dangers of smoking. More positively, DALL-E could save our publishing department a lot of money: if you pay hundreds of dollars for 30-day access to Shutterstock (a supplier of stock photos that you can use legally without danger of copyright infringement), subscribing to DALL-E instead would mean being able to generate whatever images you wanted, whenever you wanted them, for only a few dollars per month. The boss put forth a lot of nifty ideas, some of which he and I had talked about, some of which he came up with on the spot and in the excitement of the moment. I think the CEO came away from our presentations generally appreciating our efforts.

I came away happy that our presentations had been well received, but I'm still not a fan of our CEO. To put it in Myers-Briggs terms: my boss and I are both "J" types, but the CEO is definitely a "P" type. "J" people are judging; in the context of the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator—a personality test), such people are decisive. They know what they want, and they arrive at decisions and conclusions quickly. Js go to a familiar restaurant, barely look at the menu, and already know what they're ordering. "P" types, who are perceiving, are uncomfortable making decisions, but they love seeing an array of possibilities. Something fills their spirit when they're presented with a panoply of choices. Ps go to a restaurant like The Cheesecake Factory, which famously has a huge menu, and love seeing all the available options. But getting a P to decide on what to order is like pulling teeth: "Don't rush me!" and "Oh, there are so many choices! I don't know what to pick!" are likely responses to prodding from the Js. That, in a nutshell, is our CEO. He comes in with thirty different ideas, but he personally has no clue how he wants to tackle/implement these ideas.

At the same time, the CEO agrees with me on certain things. Fundamentally, he agrees that lecture is the worst way to teach, a gospel that I preach in my book. Alas, I've seen the CEO lecturing, both in English and Korean, and one thing I've learned over the course of working at this company is that the CEO preaches one thing but practices another. He says lecture is a bad way to teach, yet he lectures. Out of one side of his mouth, it's always innovation, innovation, innovation, but out of the other side of his mouth, it's always old school, old school, old school. It's as if the CEO were actually two competing people in a single body. 

I had made my presentation with the CEO in mind as my audience, but he thinks he wants to use my vocabulary lecture for himself (this was expected: he puts his name on all the books we generate), and since his audience will be young students, he wants me to liven the PowerPoint up with things he described as "meaningful" and "fun." I can do that, I think, and he's not asking for a complete overhaul of what I did, so it's not an unreasonable request. He does want this all done by Friday evening, though (i.e., in a few hours), which puts a lot of time pressure on us. My boss and I were also given other articles on trendy topics to read, so we've got reading assignments as well. As the boss and I presented, the CEO would occasionally drop out of his role as student to pepper us with questions and comments. As my boss presented his paraphrases, we went through a painfully slow, line-by-line reading-and-review of the content. My presentation clocked in at almost exactly an hour, as I'd intended, but my boss's presentation went almost two hours. The CEO told his secretary to order us dinner as the time crept toward 9 p.m., and we didn't end up finishing our meeting until a bit after 11 p.m.

We had a peek at what could be our new office—a place we might move into in a week or two. It's an office that's basically across from the CEO's office, which doesn't make me comfortable at all, directly under the baleful Eye of Sauron. When I'd worked in this building, the Cheongshil building, a few years back (I'm currently in the Mido building down the street), we were in a huge, open-plan office with low partitions and glass walls. The place felt like an aquarium in a surveillance state. I was in a far corner, thankfully out of sight of the cameras (and partially behind a column). While my boss and I will have this new office to ourselves (and it's got windows!), we'll be within close proximity to the CEO.

While the CEO said he was "99%" sure that we'd be kept on, he's still not quite ready to pull the trigger and hire us officially. So we're in the weird position of possibly moving to our new office next week (maybe) while still not knowing whether we've been spared the guillotine. And I'm in the awkward position of wondering whether the decision to stay with the company will be worth it. After our Thursday-night session, which lasted way too long, I don't know whether I have the stamina for interminable meetings in which we go line by line through a text, discussing along the way, as if we were studying the Talmud.

As commenter John McCrarey warned, there's a good chance that my boss and I will become slaves to the CEO's capricious whims. You really don't want a "P" person in charge of a large company, but too late—that's the reality we have to deal with. My boss thinks the CEO will eventually fall into a restrained rhythm once he realizes the sheer size of the task before him (i.e., improving his English while also learning how to teach English better, then passing that pedagogical knowledge along to new teachers in our company). He might want to do thirty things right now, but he'll eventually realize he can't, and once he realizes that, our workload will likely decrease. Those are my boss's thoughts. Right now, what I find scary is how forthright the CEO was, during our meeting, about how he lacks a specific vision for the company. The CEO is looking to my boss and me (and keep in mind that this is the first time in over seven years at this company that the CEO has said more than two sentences to me) to provide him with a vision, a way forward, a big picture. That's not an easy burden.

For me, the question is whether I can survive this. I got in the office around lunchtime on Thursday: it's normal for me to start late and to finish late. But I wasn't expecting to be at work until 11 p.m. The CEO saw how tired I was by the end, and he half-joked that people who work with him should be tired. That sounded like the Korean harshness I know and love (cough). I have a nagging feeling that, in working with the CEO, we're going to be at his beck and call, which is harsh when you're an introvert who needs his "me" time. I could, conceivably, manage this for eight months (i.e., until the end of my current contract*), but I wonder whether my sanity will still be intact. I'm a creature of habit and routine: I need consistent hours, and the CEO clearly told us that he'd try to maintain consistent hours, but that there were no guarantees given his obligations. I appreciate the honesty, but it's not comforting. So for the moment, I'm not telling HR that I've un-resigned and decided to stay because, well, I haven't yet decided to stay. As far as HR is concerned, they have my resignation letter, and I'm still on track to receive my severance later this month (on the 20th). Never walk into a deal without being able to walk out, right?  Donald Trump 101.

Another potentially sinister thing the CEO said was that he doesn't want to work with people who have no passion. Did he see passion in me as I taught my vocab lesson? If so, then I must've faked it pretty well. Frankly, I have no passion for this new, weird phase in my life, and there's a good chance that that's eventually going to become obvious to everyone around me because I'm terrible at hiding my true feelings. (Writing this blog post in my "secret space" is an attempt at hiding my opinions, but people who know where to look for my secret posts can find me easily enough, and so can random people.) All this has prompted me to formulate some specific goals related to how I want to live the rest of my life, and one major goal, which I've talked about before, is becoming my own boss. We'll see how that goes. To become my own boss, I have to acquire a wider range of skills and competencies.

Brilliant.org and Skillshare.com, here I come.

__________

*I haven't signed a contract since August 31, 2021 (my contract ends on my birthday). There's a quirk in Korean labor law that says a company that you work for, if it doesn't give you a contract, can consider you to be under the terms of your most recent contract. The practical sign of this is that, even without a contract, you'll be working the same hours, receiving the same pay, enjoying the same benefits, and still accruing severance pay. In a court of law, this is apparently binding, so this is different from "at will" contracts in the States, in which either party may terminate a given agreement whenever he/she/they might want to.



job update

[Originally posted on January 3, 2023 at 2:25 p.m.]

Unless things suddenly and radically change, I don't think my American coworker will be joining us in this bold, new venture, i.e., becoming the private tutors of and content-creators for the CEO. My boss talked with my coworker the other day, describing the "audition" process we're going through, and my coworker M was, according to my boss, having none of it. M essentially said that he was "bowing out" of the process, meaning that he's now done with our company and will seek his own fortune—which he's already been doing by talking to recruiters and looking at job ads. I wish M luck, and I can't say I blame him for feeling jerked around. We're all being jerked around: why is the CEO "auditioning" us when we're all multi-year veterans of the company? Shouldn't we have earned the CEO's trust by now? Anyway, it is what it is, and now, it's down to my boss and me. We both present for one hour on Thursday afternoon, after which the CEO will make his determination as to whether we're up to snuff.

I have to say that, based on what the boss himself said, he wasn't particularly diplomatic with M. He told M that, by bowing out, M was putting the boss "in an awkward position." I half-joked that this sounded like the laying on of Catholic guilt. It's certainly not the psychological tactic to use when trying to persuade someone to your see things your way. Guilt-tripping is an easy tactic to see through, and the usual result is that people who are made to feel guilty merely double down on their position. But my boss is a combative New Yorker type, so a bit like Donald Trump, he's reflexively confrontational in style. The best way to erode a hardened "yang" position is to go in with a softer "yin" approach—hard to do when you're reflexively confrontational. People are more amenable when you approach them humbly and not manipulatively. (That's a lesson I know but often fail to put into practice myself.)

Today, I hope to finish making my PowerPoint presentation. I'm also making a printed version of the lesson since I don't know what facilities I'll have access to at the CEO's office. Right now, I'm imagining his office as a sort of Bond-villain lair with the latest facilities, including 3D holographic-projection capabilities. I'll be happy when the "audition" is over; I'm planning to celebrate with a lasagna that I've been slowly putting together over the past few days: tomato sauce and sausage one day, pasta another day—you know how it goes.



the boss's Thursday meeting

[Originally posted on December 30, 2022, at 2:20 a.m.]

Let's cut to the chase: after the Thursday meeting, nothing was settled. The CEO is auditioning us, it seems, and we now have until Thursday next week to get together as a team (my boss, my American coworker, and me) to produce something he wants—this after having produced something just yesterday, so... how many rounds are there in this audition?

On Thursday (yesterday), the boss told me that he and I needed to produce some materials related to AI in the classroom (my US coworker was absent). Specifically, how might a curriculum change if AI gets integrated into teaching and learning? The boss and I worked separately on the question, occasionally tossing ideas out to each other. The boss hammered out a couple pages' worth of easily digestible, outline-form notes. I took a more Q&A approach, highlighting my questions, which were along the lines of Will AI replace teachers in the classroom? How does one integrate AI into the curriculum? What, specifically, might an AI-integrated class look like?—etc., and writing my answers in regular font. The boss took his and my work to the meeting with the CEO, and several hours later, I got the call saying that we're now in Phase 2 of this audition.

The CEO apparently wants our team to act as his personal resource for when he makes presentations to large audiences. According to my boss, this may mean actually tutoring the CEO a few times a week in various subjects. For example, my American coworker is good with computers, so the CEO wants to learn more about how to use computers in his presentations (beyond the usual PowerPoint nonsense, I guess). I'm apparently supposed to help the CEO improve his English by teaching vocabulary, but I'm also teaching how to teach vocabulary since the CEO already likes teaching new vocab words to audiences (Greek/Latin roots, usage in context, etc.). The boss is going to help the CEO with more general, fluency-related aspects of English-language presentation like rhythm, intonation, better pronunciation, etc.

So we're supposed to put together material for the CEO, and he'll take a look at it this coming Thursday. How the CEO is going to set up his tutoring schedule, I have no idea.

The boss thinks the CEO is in the process of delegating many of his responsibilities to others as he slowly retreats from his leadership role in the company. He's been grooming his daughter to take his place in a shameless act of nepotism (plenty of nepotism in Korean companies, not to say that US companies are immune to the notion: in the States, we do have so-called "family businesses," after all), and essentially, what he's trying to do is free up more time for himself so he can do things like learn more English.

My assessment of the CEO's English is that he's easily functional in the language (he visits America often), and like a certain sector of Koreans, he might not be fluent, but he's learned certain English buzzwords (for him, those buzzwords would be in the fields of business and linguistics) that can make him sound more literate than he actually is. His English is better than my Korean, I think: I've heard him lecture at length in English, something I probably couldn't pull off in Korean. But he's a bit older, now, so I have to wonder how much more he can learn, especially after years of forming certain bad habits when speaking in English. Training people to let go of an accent, for example, is quite hard when they're in their sixties.

So the CEO is supposed to decide our future next week, on Thursday, after he receives our newest batch of material. My American coworker M will, in theory, come back into the office to help generate this material, and then on Thursday, it's in God's hands. M is away from the office right now because he was basically fired, and he's working with various recruiters to find new work. If we're to succeed with this audition, however, M's going to have to return to the office. This was not his plan: M told the boss that he wanted to hear an OK from the CEO before returning to work. Now, M is going to have to audition with us if he wants his job back. I'll be curious to see what he does. I feel that he's still being jerked around: he should be allowed to look for a new job in peace. But the CEO apparently wants to see what all three of us can do, so M either says "Fuck that" or joins us in auditioning.

My boss noted that he has a lot of enemies inside our company, many with administrative authority above his, and these people want my boss gone. Only the CEO is shielding my boss, but the way my boss tells it, the CEO needs a reason to justify keeping us, even if that reason is simply a superficial one. I don't buy the CEO's implication that he has to justify himself to anyone; either he's powerful or he's not. Since the CEO is the one who put us in this mess to begin with, I'd say he has plenty of power to toy with people's lives, and making us jump through these stupid hoops is his way of reminding us who's in power. "It's a test," the boss says, claiming that he knows the CEO's character. But I've heard the "it's a test" line quite a few times during my time at this company, and I have to wonder whether the CEO will ever come to trust his employees instead of constantly "testing" them. (And why do I have the feeling that we're the only team being tested?)

Anyway, I've already got some ideas that I'll be putting to paper, so to speak, once I'm in the office tomorrow. It's just a matter of getting through this nonsense day by day. One thing I'm dreading is the possibility that I might actually like this work if/when we get cleared to do it. I don't want to be sucked further into the maw of the system.



another one bites the dust

[Originally posted on December 26, 2022, at 4:36 p.m.]

Well! Any chance of keeping our team together is now out the window. My American coworker M, extremely stressed about his situation, decided to force the company's hand by refusing to attend substitute-teacher training (I had thought he'd decided to go to training, but I guess not). The company promptly fired him. I was taken aback; hagweons don't usually do that to foreigners unless something truly extreme has occurred (like our department's scandal in 2018). I guess the company saw M as an expendable asset: by losing him, the Golden Goose no longer has to pay his salary, and since the Goose held all the power, this was an easy decision to make. I do wonder what's going to happen with M's severance pay, but my boss somehow thinks M might still receive it. Here's hoping.

It sucks for M that this happened, but before he left today, he jauntily said he'd have no trouble landing on his feet. I hope that goes well for him. He did tell me about one specific job prospect not far from where he lives. May it pan out.

Selfishly, I'd say it's a relief not to have M talking my ear off every damn day, but I do feel bad for him. He's got a wife and daughter to take care of, so he has a stressful few weeks coming up. He also mentioned the possibility of going back to the States; one of his brothers has a potential job waiting for him, a job involving tech, which M is good at. (He's been our resident tech guy since he got here.)

I got word from the leader of the R&D team I'm going to that (1) one of my longtime coworkers there is leaving the company at the end of this week, and (2) the team leader himself is leaving his R&D position to "work more closely with teachers." So when I move, I'll be with a bunch of brand-new faces. As an introvert, I'd normally say that this makes me uncomfortable, but I comfort myself by noting that this will be only for a few weeks. For me, as a "J" person on the Myers-Briggs scale, I hate floating around in a mist of indecision. I feel much better after a decision's been made, and in this case, I made the command decision to leave the company, so whatever happens between now and my departure "don't make no never-mind to me." It's all good. I'm not stressed out.

Still, I am taking a mental break this week. I'll start my job search in earnest after January 1. I've gotten jobs before through Dave's ESL Café (an online forum with job ads), so I'm sure I'll find something. And my boss has a possible job prospect for me.

My Korean coworker's move-out date went from January 2 to today; he's in the process of shuttling his equipment to his new office. My current office is getting emptier. The band is breaking up. Well, I guess nothing is forever, and in Korea, nothing is guaranteed.

ADDENDUM: my Korean coworker says he met M at the first floor of our building, and according to my coworker, M told him he had quit. This could be an attempt at spinning a firing into something else, or maybe M really did quit, and that just wasn't made clear to me. Normally, though, if you quit, you're supposed to give 30 days' notice, as I did. Then again, we've had people quit before with barely any notice—another sign of how worthless our contract is. Whatever the case may be, M is effectively no longer a part of this company.

ADDENDUM 2: my Korean coworker moved out of our office, but he's now just down the hall. Why this move was required, no one knows for sure. My coworker's guess is that the company is emptying out our little, windowless corner office to make room for new staff, so we all need to be out of there—the boss, too. This means my Korean coworker is moving twice because "down the hall" isn't his permanent place. Next week, he moves again, this time to his permanent station.



they went after me

[Originally posted on December 16, 2022, at 10:20 p.m.]

I got the expected email from HR, asking me why I hadn't attended the Wednesday event. (My coworker told me they'd used a name-tag system to check for attendees and absentees. If you didn't come by to pick up your name tag and/or you didn't put back your name tag at the end, you ended up on The List.) I truthfully said in reply that I had been in the office all day; I untruthfully said I was taking advantage of the relative peace and quiet to do some research on phonics for a future project. Now, I did do a bit of research on phonics, but my real reason for being in the office was to stay away from that fucking ceremony—a reason that probably wouldn't fly with HR. So I was taking advantage of the peace and quiet, but not primarily to do research. The HR email said that, if I'd been away from the event, I needed to sacrifice a vacation day by filling out a vacation-request form. So the penalty for absenteeism was a vacation day. In my reply, I said I'd been working, and that I'd rather not lose a vacation day for being in the office. Surprisingly, HR replied by saying that that would be fine, but that I should notify their office next time, before an event, if I planned to do such a thing again. Oh, yes, I do plan to do such a thing again. Without a doubt.

So I guess you could say I got away with it this time, but once HR realizes there's a pattern, I'm probably going to have to explain myself, which I resent. I've been in Korea long enough to have absorbed a bit of the value system here, and it rankles me to have my movements questioned by a bunch of young 20- and 30-somethings who spend their time tracking company employees instead of minding their own fucking business. I hate the Orwellian aspect of this company, and the Korean mindset in general that says, "You are required to have fun." Shove it up your ass.

I will indeed be skipping future events unless they have been labeled as "attendance required." If attendance is required, then of course I'll go: that's essentially a work day. But for pointless celebrations like the one that just happened, no.

Here's something: I had been told that, this past Wednesday, there was supposed to be an event followed by a party with food. The event was to go from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and the party was going to start after that. According to both my American and my Korean coworkers, that's not what happened at all. Instead, the fucking speeches ran until 3:30 p.m., there was no intermission (as there normally would be—usually around noon), and there was no food. Everyone was starving by the end. The teachers who attended the event all left at 1:30 because they had to prep for classes that would be running until late in the evening. Imagine being a teacher who normally teaches evenings and nights, then being told you also have to attend this stupid event that starts in the morning, when you're normally just getting up and puttering around. Essentially, you're on the clock from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. As bad as I might have had it, our school's teachers generally have it worse, which is one reason why burnout is a big thing at many language institutes. And most of those poor slobs attended the event, probably because they'd been told that attendance was required. Jesus Christ.

Learning about the event made me all the happier that I didn't attend it.