[Originally posted on October 20, 2017, at : PM]
Even since our R&D department expanded to its current size of about ten staffers, things have been different. Before the expansion, life was library-quiet, and interpersonal interactions were uncomplicated. Now, we've got complex cross-currents of conversation, coffee cliques (or klatsches), and a hell of a lot more office politics, with all the bullshit that that implies. I suspect the boss enjoys this ambiance, given his grandiose personality, but I'm finding it less and less appealing. More on this later.
One of my new coworkers, whom I'll call Trish, has an interest in hanja, i.e., Sino-Korean characters. She found out that I have a similar interest, and we decided to engage in a silly little project to fortify our knowledge. I suggested that we use the mostly Sino-Korean names of the subway stations of Line 3 (Seoul's orange line) as the content for our study, and Trish agreed. Line 3 has 44 stations; we divided the line in half such that Trish would study the names of 22 stations, and I would study the names of the other 22. For the most part, we would be studying separately (making flash cards and the like), but we would also be writing up one station name per day on the office's white board, listing each Chinese character, its pronunciation, and its meaning in Korean (along with English if necessary).
The project also had an element of competition: after we finished our 22 stations, we would then quiz each other using an agreed-upon quiz format. The winner would receive something from the loser. Trish said she wanted her favorite coffee; I said I wanted a hand drawing from Trish, who is our graphic designer. I said that hand-drawn, hand-crafted items have great meaning for me (they do). We both agreed to the stakes, then we got to studying our hanja.
Some weeks later, we finished our respective halves of Line 3, but as I told Trish, I had also made flash cards for her half of the subway line as well. After all, why not gain as much benefit from the exercise as possible? We agreed to quiz each other after Chuseok break, but just before break (and therefore, just before my four-day walk to incheon and back), Trish made a request of me: could I please give her all the info for the half of Line 3 that she hadn't done so that she could design my quiz? I initially said okay because I always say yes to the ladies, but the more I thought about Trish's request, the more convinced I was that she was asking me to give her information that she could have gotten herself had she not been so lazy as to do only her assigned side of Line 3.
I wrote an Trish email in which I tried to be jokey, but I made it clear that I thought she should have done her own damn work, and that it took some nerve, during a competition, to ask me for the extra information. I gave her the link to a website where she could find, and note for herself, all the info she had requested of me, and I ended my missive by gleefully trash-talking her, e.g., by saying that I looked forward to kicking her ass on the quiz. After a day's pause, Trish wrote me an angry reply in which she called my email "condescending," said she had thought we had been engaged in a "FRIENDLY" competition (her all-caps), and that she wasn't getting a "good vibe" from any part of my email. Finally, she said she was no longer comfortable working on this project with me anymore, but (bizarrely) she hoped this didn't affect "our professional relationship."
My own reaction to Trish's email was that it had been written in the emotional tenor of a five-year-old: "You're mean! I don't wanna play with you anymore!" I also thought she had no idea how to handle trash-talking. Normally, someone with self-confidence would respond to my ass-kicking gibe by saying something like, "Yeah, keep thinking that while you're lying face-down in a puddle of my piss!" That's how trash-talking is supposed to work, and it is an example of "friendly competition." Trish had instead decided to play the wounded victim, which I found unbecoming of her. I also found her accusation of condescension to be hypocritical: she had obviously thought I was just a sap who would do her bidding, giving her information she hadn't earned. That's condescending.
What I did, though, was write Trish a full, gentlemanly apology, to which she hasn't been mature enough to reply. We've spent most of the past couple of weeks ignoring and avoiding each other, like a couple that's broken up but must still work together. (That was, in fact, how I felt about Trish's angry email: it had the traits of a breakup letter, and she and I aren't even going out). Only recently has Trish seen fit to acknowledge my presence with a mumbled "Hey" in the hallway. Personally, I see no reason to speak to her unless spoken to, and while I'll still work with her when needed, that's the only level of interaction I'm interested in.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, things are getting a bit too noisy and chaotic at the office for this old, crotchety introvert. The R&D department is now stocked with plenty of smart, over-achieving, garrulous people who constantly shout across the office and/or visit each other's cubicles. While there are lulls in the general hubbub, most of the day is noisy as hell, and I'm glad I come in as late as I do: when most of the staffers leave at 5PM, things quiet down radically, and I'm finally able to be productive for a few hours.
Honestly, though, I don't know how much longer I can function like this. R&D is under the microscope because we're on the cusp of producing a brace of textbooks with which our company's reputation may stand or fall, so there's a lot of pressure on us. Even more, we're the country's only textbook R&D department composed entirely of native speakers (as the boss never ceases to remind us), so the Korean upper management is scrutinizing us even more closely than they would a Korean team. With the plethora of assignments and the crush of wave after wave of deadlines, life has gone from one of placid tranquility to the sort of high-pressure ambiance endured by short-order cooks. This is, less and less, the Golden Goose with which I had signed on in 2015, and I'm not loving my current situation.
I mentioned cliques. Some of us go walking together twice a day—just little ten-minute strolls in the neighborhood next to our building. Others go en masse for coffee and/or lunch, which is (according to my spies) where these cliques talk shit about other people in the office. While I don't think our office has reached a stage I'd describe as "toxic" or "dysfunctional," I can definitely see that there's a danger of things deteriorating. There are already some fissures forming; I won't elaborate on that until we have a collapse or an explosion.
Anyway, I'm pondering whether I'll be renewing my contract with the Golden Goose in September of 2018. Employment often works in three-year cycles for me; I find it hard to settle into any one job (which, of course, makes it hard to build up any funds for retirement). If I choose not to renew, I'll just go back to university teaching. This would mean a cut in pay and a delay in my being able to pay off the rest of my major debts, but it might be worth it just for the peace of mind: teaching twelve hours a week and receiving four months of vacation a year (with the option of earning big money by teaching during vacation) is nothing to sneeze at. If, however, I can arrange to work more closely with high-paying KMA (whose gigs are currently my side job), I'll likely jump over to them in Yeouido. KMA would be a dream job for me; despite the one unpleasant incident with a lowly staffer, I love the work I do there and get along well with almost everybody.
I can ponder my options in a more leisurely way now that I've got an F-4 visa: the visa allows me to remain in Korea even if I'm jobless. With other visas like the E-1 or E-2, you're tied to your employer, who is basically sponsoring your stay in the country. With the F-4, I have most of the rights and privileges of a Korean citizen, except that I can't vote in elections—which is fine by me, given my general incomprehension of Korean politics.
So that's where things stand: I'm on one twatty coworker's shit list (and she's on mine), and I'm probably going to run out the clock on my current contract.