It is no secret that Koreans are known for working hard and having long hectic work hours. I watch both men and women working from 8am to midnight, and children recalling their fathers disappearing to the office for what seemed like days. I couldn’t imagine what working like that would be like, let alone living a life like that. What did they do all day? Was it worth it?
I wasn’t jealous. Or was I? To be fully accepted as a Korean, I felt a responsibility to experience not only the highs, but also the lows. Suffering the hardships of a normal Korean office worker my age would surely expose me to the true experience of being a Korean citizen living in the modern city.
I already work 1:00pm to 10:00pm at a job I am happy with. When I was given the opportunity to work temporarily at another workplace in the morning, I took it. The new job was perfect, so even though it was going to be a challenge, it was going to be a good experience. My new working hours were 9am to 10pm. It was my first time working 13 hours non-stop.
A typical day would start at 6:30am. This would be my only time to do any sort of errand before I left the house at 8:00am. Once leaving the house, I would start my one hour commute on the bus and underground. Work started immediately at 9:00am, then I would leave at 12:30pm. During that time I was busy and the work kept me on my toes and it was different everyday.
I would commute again for one hour to my second work place. From 1:30pm to 10:00pm it would be nonstop work, and in pockets of time I would continue work for my first job as well as squeeze in minutes of blogging. It was the ultimate multi-tasking challenge. I always had a ‘to do’ list in my mind and I felt like I was running on a treadmill. I had emails to answer, things to write, calls to answer, things to read, etc.
I would arrive home and do errands and write until 11:30pm. While the hours were long, the time went by so fast. The days actually felt short and thanks to the cocktail of adrenaline and caffeine in my system, I didn’t feel too tired. However I felt very small changes in my life as I adopted this lifestyle.
By the end of the week I could see the physical toll it was taking on me. Commuting, travelling and the stress/adrenaline was physically draining. I could never understand the people who slept standing up in the underground train on their commute, but by the end I was one of them. Any pocket of time when I wasn’t working, I would go into autopilot. Like a smartphone running on energy saver, my eyes opened half way and I could sleep while being conscious.
In 2 weeks, I lost 3kg. I normally could not eat dinner due to my normal job (1pm~10pm), but with the morning job and hours of commute, I also couldn’t eat lunch. Therefore, I could only eat a few bites while working throughout the day. I certainly could not sit down for a full meal. Sometimes I would be so busy that I would ignore hunger or just forget to eat for the whole day until I felt nauseous.
Juggling different jobs was mentally draining, especially as both of the jobs were fast-paced and required concentration. In that short period, I noticed a drop in conscious consideration. By day 3, I started noticing that I didn’t care about recycling or saving money anymore. I would buy things for my convenience on a whim, then consume and waste without any guilt or thought. My exhaustion became an excuse for materialistic behaviour and I became a mindless consumer.
I love being with the public more than the average person. I like people watching and I enjoy the hustle of city life. After working non-stop, people looked more like obstacles in my life. I became more focused on my work and my own preservation. Although nothing bad happened in my experience, I realised the feeling of urgency and selfishness could easily turn into a car accident or a fight at the workplace if I was an office-worker who had this schedule for years.
I learned so much from my experience. I learned that that it is possible for a human to work like this, and what it would be like to be a common Korean student or office worker. However, I would never say that my experience compares to theirs. I met people who would sleep for 2 to 4 hours a day, and have meetings at 2:00am at dawn.
I am incredibly grateful for my experience, and I know that not many people are as lucky as I am with this opportunity. First of all, I loved my job. The work may have been hectic, but it was always interesting and rewarding, while some people may not be fond of their job. Luckily for me, I was paid for my work, but I know many others are not paid for their overtime. I also worked with amazing people. Some people hate their boss and co-workers, but luckily I met my idols and would do it all over again just to work with them.
This experience had given me a taste of what it’s like working like a Seoulite. It was the ultimate test of dedication and stamina, where I learned what I was capable of. I have unlocked and seen with my eyes how the other side live, and now I am reminded of how precious time is and I have a new found respect for the people who work like this everyday yet still live happily and healthily.
What was your experience working in a Korean office? Leave a Comment • If you like this post, please feel free to share • Content may not be reproduced unless authorized • Make sure you subscribe, new post every Thursday!