Thursday, August 20, 2020

in Korea, no good deed goes unpunished

Last year, in July, our building announced there would be temporary outages or blackouts so that crews could dig around and strip out old electrical wiring and equipment. When the blackout/outage announcement first appeared, I saw that it used a ton of Korean vocabulary I didn't know, so I translated it for myself, word for word. I should've kept the damn translation because—guess what—the outages are happening again this month! What fun! I guess the crews didn't strip out everything last year. Is this to be a yearly thing? Who knows?

Anyway, when I saw the same announcement plastered by the elevator doors this month, I decided to go from floor to floor to check whether the announcements had indeed been placed everywhere, on every floor. They had. So I took it upon myself to throw together a so-so English translation of the sign. I printed out a bunch of copies of my translation, then spent twenty or thirty sweaty minutes going from the 26th floor to the 5th floor (the last residential floor before the gym, the building's admin office, some shops and salons, and the lobby area), cellophane-taping up my English translation next to the Korean sign.

Wednesday evening, I noticed that some cunt-faced fuckhead had taken all of my English translations down. I checked on several floors to be sure I wasn't hallucinating, and from the 14th to the 11th floor, all the English signs were gone. At first I was furious, but then, as I cooled down, I came to terms with the brute fact of some people's stupidity. As they say, you can't fix stupid. I can't even begin to imagine what had offended the sign removers: my signs were there to help the Korean-illiterate foreigners in our building, of which there are many since this apartment is one of several dumping-grounds for expats who work at my company. It's constantly annoying to me that Korean signs go up without any English translations. I know I'm usually the hardass telling expats they need to learn Korean instead of blundering about in a fog of linguistic ignorance, but I can't realistically expect all of my fellow employees to snap their fingers and instantly be able to read Korean. I also wanted to save my fellow foreigners the unpleasant surprise of a seemingly sudden, out-of-the-blue power outage. I guess the Korean administration of my building thinks differently: the foreigners shouldn't know what's going on, and besides, it's more fun when they're running around squawking incomprehensibly in their barbarian tongue.

You know what? I bet I know what the real problem is: it's something even stupider than the above imagined scenario. My signs got ripped down because they didn't have the building-admin stamp on them. They hadn't been approved, you see, and non-approved signs enrage the Bureaucracy Beast. Yeah... I bet that's what the real issue is from the admin's point of view. Maybe I'll try again by going directly to the admin office and getting my fucking signs stamped. I have 25 more copies sitting in my apartment.


John Mac said...

"...the unpleasant surprise of a seemingly sudden, out-of-the-blue power outage." Welcome to my world!

When looking for the culprit it's hard to imagine some random resident being motivated enough to remove all those signs. But yeah, a bureaucrat could not tolerate someone showing initiative to help out his neighbors without the proper authorization.

Did you check the small print on the Korean notice? Maybe it included a caveat "don't tell the foreigners!"

Charles said...

I can understand your frustration, but I don't think your building was unjustified in what it did. For starters, I'm guessing that the building maintenance person who discovered and took down the signs may not have been able to read them, or read them well. Beyond that, though, I imagine it would get pretty annoying after a while if just anyone could post whatever they wanted wherever they wanted. The policy is well-intended, even if its application was personally frustrating to you. Bureaucracy is frequently frustrating in practice, but there is at least a foundation of rationality there (even if it does often get buried).

I imagine if you went down to the admin office and explained that you wanted to help out by making sure that the foreign residents of the building were aware of the outages, they would be receptive. If not, well, then I'm with you--they're a bunch of bureaucracy-blinded baboons.

If you don't want to go through all that hassle, though, a lot of buildings have bulletin boards where residents can post whatever they want. If your building has such a board, it might be easier and more efficient to just post your translation there.

Kevin Kim said...


You're saying what I was thinking as I cooled down, and you're doubtless right. I may go visit the admin office, but I risk being a little too honest about my feelings on the matter. Whatever signage policy is in place might be rational, but rational doesn't always mean smart. Taking down those translations was a retarded move that deprives the foreigners in my building of the chance to know what's going on. That's the net effect of "rational" policy.

Kevin Kim said...


We're experiencing the same "don't tell the foreigners" dynamic here at my office. Someone set up a body-temp-check station, with a thermometer, and taped up a set of instructions—all in Korean, of course. The idea is that you now must check your body temp twice a day and record your readings on a clipboard form. According to the instructions, you must first disinfect your hands with antibacterial lotion, then grab the electronic thermometer, check your temperature, and record the result. The whole thing is stupid, and our boss half-jokingly told us to ignore it all since we're dumb foreigners. Treat this as a Korean-only thing, which is probably what it was in the first place! Heh.

John Mac said...

Yeah, every business does that temp check thing before you can enter (they also record your name and phone number). What cracks me up is that the thermometers are wildly inconsistent. I'm 36.1 in one place, and 33.7 next's all for show I think.

Charles said...


Wait... are you suggesting that people engage in rational thought? Dear God, can you imagine what society would be like if everyone thought for themselves instead of relying on the Bureaucracy?! It would be utter chaos!

The Bureaucracy exists to protect us. The Bureaucracy is your friend, and has your best interests at heart. Submit yourself to the Bureaucracy and you will know peace and serenity. Resist the Bureaucracy and feel the rod of its loving discipline.

If you find yourself thinking anti-Bureaucracy thoughts, please report to your nearest Conformity Office for realignment.

Kevin Kim said...

I'll get my baseline checked.