On 야근.

I was at work a little late yesterday, and probably will be again today. My school is giving its first ever English writing exam. Obviously, it's much easier and faster for me to go through them than it is for the Korean teachers. Besides, it's a really rare chance for me to get a look at the boys' thoughts in somewhat more fluent English than I'm used to. During our daily school life, I mostly get to hear them expressing themselves either in the tiniest fragments or in the target grammar pattern of the week. Or else I'm left to suss them out in Korean. It's nice, and some tenderer things are coming to light -- I had no idea so many of my boys want to be fashion designers someday, for example, or that so many had such altruistic aims. The percentage who wish to go to Africa and help "poor peoples" is pretty impressive, no matter how much the subject matter may be influenced by the fact that they're relying, to some extent, on the teacher's kind feelings toward them (I'm a cynic at heart, but what do I know? -- maybe they mean it).

There are also the essays about little sisters and wanting to be a better father someday than theirs have been to them.

A little 야근 never hurt anybody, and I feel especially reluctant to make a move to even frown in its direction at the moment, given the fact that, after having taken a leisurely walk to the local coffee shop, hung about with my shoes off drinking a latte and reading, walked home to cook and eat a nice dinner, cleaned my apartment in no great hurry, watched a couple of TV shows, and made a good deal more of a dent in that massive book, I had crawled into bed and already been asleep for a good hour when I was woken by a text from the mister -- "집에 가고 싶다 ㅠㅠ". At one am? You must be fucking joking.

I'm not adverse to working hard, or long hours. It's been more than once in my life that I've held more than one job, while also taking care of my studies and, basically, myself. I've gone without sleep and showers and meals. But that was when I was poor. And I could see myself through the hours by reminding myself that if I just do this little bit more, there would be that little bit less financial stress at the end of the month. That little bit less of a chance of me having to make that shameful phone call home to my grandmother, asking pitifully if she might drop a twenty or two into my bank account to see me through the last week before payday. It made it feel like a massive success, and much less of a burden.

But I completely lose that motivation once I have plenty of money in my bank account. I won't lie. I don't mind working hard while I'm at work, during ordinary working hours, and I don't mind staying late to pull my weight when my weight is significantly less than those around me. It only makes sense to me to do things that are easier for me than they are for other people, especially people who are already working harder than I do. But one am? When I have no reason to do it for survival?

Fuck that.

But even though he's not struggling to keep a roof over his head or food on his table, this over working of Busan's is not really not an integral part of his survival. It's the way that things are in his field, in Korea, and if he wants to be successful in the long run, this is what he has to do. I wish it weren't that way. God knows he wishes it weren't that way. But it is.

That stupid MBC video has brought out significantly less than the best in some people in response (which I may get to eventually, if I can even be bothered at this point), and one of the main return shots against Korean men (which, by the way boys, immediately pits you against those of us females with Korean S.O.s, and makes us significantly less interested in standing beside you in solidarity -- again, another time) is that they work late hours.

I'm not going to pretend I never get pissy about it. I have, once or twice, although tellingly only when I myself am on vacation and sitting around with fuck all else to keep me occupied. But, in my mind, it's hardly a lack of virtue on a man's part that keeps him in the office until all hours. I'm genuinely confused by this thing being lined up right beside "engaging in prostitution" and "beating women" [I really have got to get around to it... the incredible ability of Western men (and, let's face it, women too) to become so fucking feminist the second they step foot on Korean soil]. Since when is working hard a detriment to one's character? Since when is that not a virtue one would seek out in a man?

You think my boyfriend wouldn't prefer to be lolling around at home watching The Hulk, or whatever it is he does in his free time? But he's a man -- a grownup. And, call me old-fashioned -- and I guess I am, but look at what I came from and blame me -- but I respect the hell out of man who's willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to provide for himself and his family.

You think I could do it? I don't. And when I messaged him this morning to go ahead and cancel tonight's date for him (given that he has to be up at 5 am for a work trip in the morning, and it's looking like even more extreme overtime tonight), that's what I told him. No way in fuck. I'd be done. I'd be flipping desks in the office, calling my boss a fucking cunt, setting my one room on fire and fucking off to a tiny fucking island somewhere with a new identity and no shoes.

So, whatever. Another canceled date. One perhaps less extremely feminist virtue I took away from my upbringing, which I will defend until the day I die, is that it is your job, while your man is doing what he needs to do to earn bread, to support him in any way that you can. And not fucking complain, when you can help it. That's why you're supposed to be with a good one -- so that you know that he'd prefer to be with you, if he could.

One of Busan's favorite pastimes these days is to email me, FB message me, and Kakaotalk me with newspaper headlines about men in his field, or closely related fields, who have either died (literally worked themselves to death) or killed themselves because of the stress of work. I always take these thing with a big dose of rolling eyes -- he's clearly being dramatic and seeking sympathy. But there's a bit of an unspoken tension in these exchanges -- in the back of my mind, it's not just a big joke. And I'm sure it isn't in his, either.

I just got a message from him. Last night, a man in the office next door to his died. The police are there this morning investigating. [Update: It's probably going to be called a suicide. Waited until everyone else left and then fell from the roof. Not Busan's team, but the same job.]

Take a swing at the system. Fuck knows I will if I get the chance. But don't you dare open your mouth in front of me about him. About his choices, and his lack of devotion. About the way that he works being a characteristic downfall. If you don't know the first thing about it, don't say the first thing about it. I'm proud of him for what he endures, and I admire him for being able to do it, and complain so little. Where I come from, that's what makes a man a man. Or a woman a woman.


Skeptigirl said...

I don't even see how this is about feminism. It is sad, to me, that your S.O. is in a field that leads to so much stress and death and the like. I don't know why he chose it, I assume he has good reasons for it. I just don't see what that has to do with your genders. I am sure plenty of women in Korea work rediculously hard and and have horrible stress from it. It is good you are so independent and can get along with out constantly seeing him. I sure am not like that.

I'm no Picasso said...

Maybe you're not privy to the conversations that have made it all about gender, in light of a discriminatory video put out on MBC about Korean women dating foreign men, which has seen more than a few of them retaliating by striking out at the (lack of) virtues of Korean men and Korean manhood. Which is what this is partially in response to. If we are going to discuss manhood, I would say that being hard working would be a decent attribute, rather than something that Korean women are running away from, straight into the arms of Western men.

The hours themselves are another thing, which I agree needs to change. But that's nothing to charge the men themselves with, as they're just doing the best they can to survive.

Busan's field is a rough one, as far as deadlines are concerned, but these kinds of hours are more the rule than the exception here. At least sometimes. If he wants to be a successful, responsible adult male in this society, there are not many other courses open. And he does love his job otherwise.

As far as there not being any ridiculously hard working Korean women, I wouldn't have even suggested that. However, it is an aspect of women being pushed a little bit outside of the office environment that often times they are sent home early. In the moments when Busan has complained about this, I've been quick to point out that it's because the male superiors don't really take them seriously as workers, and expect them to leave as soon as they are married or pregnant anyway.

The irony at the moment being that Busan's boss is female.

Annie Nimity said...

I blogged about the absurd Korean "work ethic" after I returned to the US this past March: http://internationalcatladyofmystery.blogspot.com/2012/03/korean-work-ethic.html There were very few women at my company (I think 12 of us in a company with about 120 employees). I would leave on time (or within 15 minutes thereof) every day. The only people who I *ever* saw leaving at the same time as me were also women. That being said, they all put in a good lot of unpaid overtime for no visible reason, just not as much as their male coworkers. I really don't get it. I would have had no problem staying late if there was something that needed to be done, but when all you're doing is dicking around to show that you're a "hard worker"? Nope, I'd rather go home.

Tófuskott said...

"The irony at the moment being that Busan's boss is female."

Not as ironic as you might think, women often don't help each other out career-wise. Partly due to their male coworkers/bosses pitting them against one another. The glass ceiling is shaped less like a ceiling and more like a tetrahedron. That's why you've got masses of female drudges, the odd woman in middle management and virtually nothing above that.