Observations of South Korea #1

Angela and I have been in Korea for over a month now, and will be leaving on or about 20 January 2000.  This issue of our overseas observations will focus on what itís like to work for a Korean company.

We are working with engineers from the Hyundai Corporation; Hyundai bought the Regional Operation Center from Space Imaging.  It is definitely a different work environment than weíre used to.  Itís a little like being in a family with a very strong patriarch in charge.  The company takes care of you (they are giving their employees presents for New Years, they provide a shuttle bus to bring people to work because this site is 30-40 km outside of Seoul, they provide a dormitory so you can sleep here during the week instead of commuting back and forth to Seoul) but the company also controls you (no one is willing to stand up to the boss at all, you donít get paid much, and you can expect constant micro-management).

Let me give you an example.  Shortly after we arrived, the people I was working with asked me to predict what images we could take a few days from now.  I said it canít be done, because we donít know what the weather is a few days from now, and we donít know exactly how much time itíll take for each image, and exactly how the system will value each image on that day, etc.  Basically, you have to wait until you have all this information before you can decide.  The person I told this to passed it on, and his manager came back to ask me if I really couldnít do that.  I gave the same answer, of course.  Eventually, I was taken into the bossís office to give him that news personally, so one of the Koreans didnít have to be the bearer of bad news.  To avoid getting an answer that will make their boss unhappy, they are willing to keep asking different people the same question in hopes of getting an answer they like.

All in all, it can be a little frustrating.

Other fun things about work:  the bathrooms are not heated.  Most of the Koreans wear the same clothes every day for a week.  Everyone gets lunch for free in the cafeteria, and dinner too (if you like) every day but Wednesday; I donít know why Wednesday is special.  Since weíve been here, the boss has taken us all out to lunch at least 5 times (the company takes care of you), he gave going away presents to the folks when they left, but he speaks harshly to anyone who doesnít do things the way he likes (the company controls you).  They work 5.5 days a week (half day on Saturday).  We all have to take off our shoes when we arrive and walk around work in slippers (like being in a Korean house, in that respect).  Everyone smokes, but weíve talked them into not smoking near the equipment (which loosely translates into not near us).  They crank the heat way up, but continue to wear their company-provided coats all day long; we keep turning the heat down so the computers donít malfunction.

For a final example:  The company had a grand opening for this site a few weeks ago.  They made a video of the antenna moving and the operators pretending to contact the satellite to be shown during the grand opening.  They were very concerned that the antenna move exactly the way it is supposed to on the day of the grand opening; I assure you, no one would be able to tell the difference if it moved in some other way, but the Boss was concerned so everyone else got concerned.  I was in the video, sitting with the guys Iím training, and then on the day of the Grand Opening I was dressed differently; this was a problem, because they were trying to pretend the video was ďreal,Ē meaning they told all there guests we really ran a pass that day.  So, they wanted me to leave the site during the afternoon when the guests would be touring the facility, so no one would see me dressed differently and realize the video was a fake.

I ended up just hiding in another room instead.

So, thatís working in Korea for us.  The next issue will talk about living in Korea.