Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On being late in Korea

I would say I love Korea around 80% of the time and hate it around 10% of the time (with the remainder being feelings of apathy). One thing that can bother me is the importance of appearance; of course appearance is important pretty much everywhere, but the way it gets into some practical issues annoys me. One way the importance of appearance manifests itself is in timeliness to work. A good quality, right? But sometimes there are good reasons to be late- or even absent.
If you are hungover, which may even be because you were out with your school the other night, and you show up at work on time as an unproductive employee that's ok. However, I have been slightly hungover, again from drinking with the school, and needed an extra ten minutes in the morning so I could be at, well near, the top of my game. When I later asked my co-teacher which was better, bleary eyed punctual teacher or efficient yet slightly late teacher, she answered that the former is preferable.
As a pragmatist, this just doesn't make sense to me.

Another example: I was on my way to work and really, really needed to use the bathroom. Like, oh-my-god-my-body-can't-control-itself-right-now-where-is-the-nearest-toilet bad.
Sorry for this visual...
I knew if I stopped at a public bathroom, I would be scolded at work. Maybe a 'I have 설사' would be a good excuse, but it would also be embarrassing to let them in on my explosive diarrhea.  Five minutes of tardiness shouldn't make you feel like an awful employee, right?

As for absences, the policy here isn't only annoying, it also could be dangerous. I tried calling in sick once in 2009. My co-teacher responded with a cool 'you'd better come in'. So I did, even though I felt like shit.
I taught my classes, exposed them to my viruses, and I guess, in terms of workforce cohesion, things went well. But in terms of my personal health and the health of the students?
Even though I have something like 15 sick days in my contract, I probably won't use any of them; if I miss school, I'm afraid that my co-workers job will be harder. In Korea, there aren't last-minute substitute teachers. They have teachers who come in for long absences or maternity leave, but not for a teacher that calls in at 7:30 because they are vomiting. That means co-workers have to pick up the slack and cover your classes, which isn't the best way to make friends at the office.
So unless I'm vomiting, I'll probably make it to school. As for tardiness, I wish I could say I'll be on time. Unfortunately, I tend to be two or three minutes late regardless of my time of departure. Luckily, my new school hasn't said anything yet...

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