Sunday, March 09, 2008

Work Ethic

So a new school year is starting at all the public schools in Korea. Teachers are getting shuffled to different grades and different subjects, so the office I dwell in has had quite a shake up. All the Korean teachers I got to know so well last semester have moved on somewhere else, and a bunch of newbies have come in. That means that we had to rearrange the office to make space for more desks and such. That's where the Korean handymen came in. They are the guys who are supposed to take care of things around the school: making copies, doing minor repairs, smoking in front of the school. I've learned to duck and cover when I see these guys coming. They move with a reckless gusto that brings chaos and destruction to any task they set their minds to. A couple of days ago their task was help us rearrange the office.

Wingus and Dingus took full charge of the operation, attempting to move desks that still had computers on them, and rearrange bookcases full of books. At one point one of the handymen asked a Korean teacher to help him move a table, and the teacher had the audacity to start clearing things off the table. Here the handyman informed the teacher that it was not necessary to clear the table or remove the chairs from around it; all one had to do was move the table. The result was a clumsy and awkward dance performed by the teacher, handyman, and table. Chairs went crashing and debris littered the room. Eventually I left. Since I have next-to-no Korean language skills and a broken arm, I couldn't really do much-- plus I had no desire to be part of the three-ring circus that was going on.

I mention that story, only because this type of mentality is quite common over here, especially in the older generation. There's this attitude that if one attacks a task with enough gusto that foresite is not really needed. I don't think the States is exempt from this attitude; it just seems to be more of a way of life over here, from little old ladies trying to muscle their way on to the subway before people exit, to casual conversation--where old guys yell at each other, but that's just the way they speak. I even think the national liquor, soju, embodies this philosophy-- it'll do the job in a hurry, but the effects are devastating.

A few weeks after I first showed up in Korea, I was watching a construction project take place around the school I worked at. There was a guy digging a hole with a backhoe and a couple of guys around the hole making sure all was well. They were trying to excavate a tree when the tree got snagged on the machine. Rather than shutdown the backhoe and try to free the tree manually, the backhoe operator swung the backhoe's boom back and forth in an attempt to dislodge the tree. This sent the tree swinging back a forth in chaotic pendulum-like movements. Now it appeared like the tree was hanging on to the backhoe so it wouldn't be sent flying. It was rather odd to see a tree swinging back and forth like Tarzan. As entertaining as this fiasco was, it was a little dangerous as there were pedestrians around. I just shook my head and walked on, curious about the outcome but eventually too disgusted to watch.

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