Welcome to the Grind – Is This Seriously Adulthood?

[Edit: While I haven’t posted in nigh on 4 months, I did begin the first draft of a very long, very intimate post about my work life. I hesitated to write beyond the cliffhanger, since I wasn’t sure if it’d be too sensitive to write about while still employed. Here’s the first part…let me know what you think.]

To all parents, grandparents, grown-ups, and responsible professionals, this post will be a big case of, “Heh, welcome to the real world, kid.” But god damn do I HATE the 40 hour work week!

Back in the day, when I used to work reception and then, when their accountant quit unexpectedly, as a reception-accounts-payable-I-don’t-have-a-finance-degree-and-never-took-math-beyond-trigonometry combo position, I told myself I could never, ever, in a million years work another desk job. I never thought I could fulfill a stereotype so completely: clicking aimlessly, waiting for a call to come in, picking my nails, reading magazines (or, in my case, sci-fi and Gunter Grass novels, which earned me a grunt of begrudging approval from my surly Russian coworker), and then, at the first echo of my boss’s pumps coming down the hallway, jerking up at attention and quickly clicking on the bogus excel sheet I’d been “working on” for days. Accounting was an even greater bore, plugging in numbers and printing and highlighting and filing. My greatest pleasure was when I’d accumulated a huge pile of finished invoices and spent the next ten minutes stamping and initialing all of them, like a churning machine in some administerial factory. Or when I got to type in ridiculously large numbers using the number pad on my keyboard (still love doing that). But these simple enjoyments lasted only minutes, even seconds, and I spent the other 7 hours, 55 minutes, and 30 seconds of my workday doing this:

Maybe it’s time for lunch aaaaaannddddd shit.

Maybe that is part of the reason why I decided to come to Korea. That’s always the first question your coworkers will ask you (the first REAL question, anyway, after asking your age, country of origin and relationship status): Why did you come to Korea? An honest and cynical list would be something like this:

  1. The pay is good and I don’t have to pay rent
  2. I need like, almost no credentials to have a real job. Really??
  3. There are no jobs at home
  4. China’s too dirty, Japan is too hard to get in, and I know literally nothing about Korea, so why not?
  5. I have an English Degree and even though I said I would dedicate myself to the bohemian lifestyle, it turns out I’m still a consumer at heart and want to support that lifestyle

When we first left, though, I had very different intentions in mind:

  1. Exploring a new country and all the exotic places around it…wow~!
  2. I don’t like kids, but I like being a kid. This is going to be fun!
  3. It’s a creative job!
  4. I’ll have free time to pursue my personal projects!
  5. It’ll be so stimulating and challenging!

Coming to Korea wasn’t just about fulfilling a desire to teach English. It was about stepping onto a plane with your whole life packed into a suitcase, and feeling on the precipice of a great adventure, on the edge of the grand and dazzling universe, towel in hand. I was ready to see galactic sprays and illumined waterfalls, to have my pen in my notebook to draw myself a great big net and scoop it all up, splash it on the page in intense and sparkling colours. I was ready for what I’ve always dreamed of: an artistic and adventurous life.

sooo many wonders to see, so many things to do!

The one thing I forgot: a job is still a job.

It took a long while for this to sink in. A simple walk to the corner store was a thrilling quest, the intersection at the far end of my street still uncharted ground, and the bus into distant Wonju city a dragon to be slain. And my co-teacher at the time was a sweet, sweet girl with the same attitudes as me when it came to work: Class is class time…STRICTLY class time. The moment that bell rang, the kids were kicked out of the classroom so that we teachers could luxuriate in our ten minute break, each second of which we sucked up as greedily as a parched man collapsed on the edge of an oasis. Meetings with my co-teacher consisted of urgent summons to her desk (thinking, “Oh shit oh shit did I do something wrong?”), only to find her with 3 tabs of internet shopping laid out for my perusal as she asked me, “The pink jacket or the blue jacket?”

As for me? My work day consisted of internet shopping, redditing, reading, drawing – pretty much anything I damn well pleased. All I needed to do was make a game for each lesson (ooh, the fun part!) and show up in time for class (which I sometimes failed to accomplish because I was too engrossed in whatever article or game I was looking at during my break). And my co-teacher understood me completely. Personal time is sacred, and the stomp of children’s feet into our classroom was like a rolling thundercloud on our sunshiny picnic. If ever there was a mistake in our lesson, we always talked about it afterwards with a smile and easy laugh. Work was just what we did to get paid, and outside of class we were real, every day people. We like to be silly, we like nail polish, we like finding new restaurants and showing each other pictures of what we did last weekend. And at the end of the day, when we all logged off our computers and shut down the office at 10 to 5, we all heaved a communal sigh of relief and joy. Have a good afternoon, enjoy your evening, and come morning time the “Fuck mornings” chorus. Not to say that we didn’t work at all – I worked my ass off to catch up to the other teachers, to learn my way around a lesson plan. But at the end of the day, the job wasn’t something we took too seriously. Outside of work, there was Real Life, and Real Life had different priorities.

And together we made the office mug band

Different priorities such as:

  1. Exploring a new country and all the exotic places around it…wow~!
  2. Being a kid and having fun!
  3. Creativity!
  4. Free time to pursue my personal projects!
  5. Stimulation and challenge!

Then there came…the Great Shift. The One who Arrives Early. The One who Watches. The One who Actually Has Professional Expectations.

I’m talking about a new co-teacher.

And in his domain, all must be Lordly and Good.

4 thoughts on “Welcome to the Grind – Is This Seriously Adulthood?

  1. I hate when those type show up to rain on your parade. It’s all Paradise and Happyland till ONE…count’em …ONE person like that joins the workforce. At almost every place I’ve been there was one that would glance at the wristwatch if you arrived late (though this person was never there to notice when you stayed late!). And that was the least of the problems they created in the ambiance. Good luck with the outcome!!!!!!!!


  2. I KNOW the feeling inside that head of yours. Been there, done that. Its probably why I morphed into graphic arts. I just got SO BORED doing accounting in the office world that I often fell asleep even though it was my best subject in school. Well I do it mostly for myself and only sometimes at work but invariably as little as possible. There are other reasons for me to fall asleep in front of a screen at work. 🙂 & lol. I do sing the song to myself as does the office manager above in “The Office” But alas the days of going to the Tam Tams at the foot of Mount Royal on Sundays are far far behind in my past. My priorities now are similar to yours with several modified exceptions (this from an old man who may some day explore those exceptions).
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts from the Thalamus and beyond.


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