One of the things that makes South Korean business different from western business is business outings. I was told it’s called a “hwejik” (희직), but a quick internet search didn’t lead to any results for that word. I did find the term “MT” (엠티), but that appears to refer to a longer outing.
Basically, these business outings are a way to get closer to your colleagues and your employers. What happens is that, after work, the boss takes you out for dinner and drinks. Lots of drinks. An unsustainable amount of drinks. And food. Followed by drinks. This is meant to bring you closer to the group of people with whom you work.
An important reason for this is that, in Korea, if you are not either someone’s friend or family, you are no one. You are of absolutely no importance. This leads to what I feel is an absolute lack of manners on the street. No one holds doors, no one gives way, and there is absolutely no way that you’re going to get a modicum of personal space anywhere public.
But why should you? You aren’t family! You aren’t a friend! You don’t matter in the Korean world-view. Being from the South, this has been rather hard to adjust to, and honestly, it keeps me away from crowded areas a lot of the time. That said, and keeping in mind cultural relativism, it isn’t wrong, it’s just different. Also, people look at me funny when I hold doors, or ask my bartender “May I have a…” My Mom raised me right.
Last Thursday my bosses decided that it was about time for a work outing, so after work we all walked down the street to a nearby BBQ (samgyeopsal, 삼겹살) place. Korea is famous for its BBQ. But I don’t eat meat. I almost didn’t go, but I didn’t want to seem rude.
Oh, I should mention, skipping out on one of these work outings can be construed as an affront to your bosses and co-workers. Remember, this society is very big on the Confucianist respect thing. If someone is older, you respect them, and you sure-as-shit don’t question them. (This can often lead to some interesting confrontations between Western workers and their Korean employers.)
So I go to the BBQ joint, and the bosses, knowing that I don’t eat meat, are kind enough to special-order some squid for me. It was delicious. It was fantastic. I can’t remember having better squid in recent years. I mean, you do have to cook it yourself (that’s the irony of a lot of Korean restaurants), but it was amazing.
All was going well until my boss, Mr. Kim, comes over to my table and starts pouring shots of soju. Soju is the national drink of Korea. (You know a country has a drinking problem when it has a national alcoholic drink.) Soju is basically vodka. Made from rice. And distilled through satan’s asshole. Once you’ve had a bit to drink, though, it goes down a bit too smooth.
Anyway, Mr. Kim poured a round for the table (out of character, since he was the oldest person present, and the youngest is supposed to pour for the elders at the table). We took the shots with him, and he poured another round. And another. And another. And another. At this point I finally notice that my co-workers are sipping their drinks every time a toast is made, and having their ¾ full cups refreshed for every round. I’ve been downing the shots with every round, not wanting to offend the boss.
A little while after this, everything gets a little hazy.
The restaurant closed down pretty soon (we didn’t arrive until around 10), and a majority of the workers went to a norebang (노러방). Norebang means “singing room.” It’s Kareoke for you and your close friends. No judgemental bar patrons. No strangers eager to belittle your efforts. Just you and a few close friends singing in a small room with an absurd amount of reverb on the vocals. I went first and delivered what will probably go down in history as the absolute worst rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” every sung by anyone. After that, the world went black.
Apparently I had a great time. I took a crazy number of pictures, and after everyone left, I walked home with John. I almost made it too. I got all the way within a hundred yards of my building when I attempted to jump over a 6-inch-tall fence. It was there that my inebriation got the best of me, and I tripped. It’s okay, though, because I caught my fall with my face.
I know this blog is supposed to be a travel and photography blog, but let me give you a life tip: when you fall, try to catch yourself with your hands, not with your face.
Then again, it wouldn’t be a misadventure without a few scars… Happy travels, friends!