Monday, September 10, 2018

Recommended: "Life at a Korean law firm"

Over at the Korea Times, they've been running a series the whole year so far called "Life at a Korean law firm, or at least my journey to it" (now simplified to "My life at a Korean Law Firm") by longtime expat Jacco Zwetsloot. As of right now there are 32 parts and counting, where he recounts his memories of coming to Korea in the 1990s and how life, both his and the wider society's, has changed in that time.

The Korea Times - Opinion > Blogs > Working at a Korean Law firm

I've enjoyed reading each segment, especially the earlier ones, as I think he does a good job of simply relating minor details of life at that time that are very interesting and encapsulate a bit of what life was like at those times. For example trying to get Korean language learning cassette tapes, and walking around with a paperback Korean dictionary. Might not mean much to you kids today and your newfangled Talk To Me in Korean but boy I can remember that time.

Here's a little slice of life type bit that I liked that isn't all that different from my own first experiences here:
Because I had not received the guidebook for new teachers before departing Australia, and the instructions I did have were very scant, I was looking for a sign in the arrival hall with my name on it. Not seeing one there, and not realizing that KORETTA meant me, I made several laps of the hall, scanning faces for anyone who might be waiting for a lone young foreign newcomer. With each lap I became more and more nervous that nobody had been sent to meet me.

One hour later, I was asking for change from the snack bar. I needed to use the payphone to call the only phone number I knew in Korea, the number of a man around my age who was already teaching English here. His name was John, and he kindly came out from Sinchon to the airport in a taxi and took me to stay with him for the night. 

Here's another highlight that does a good job showing how daily life intersects with some important goings on of the time:
Unaware of all this, and before the real fighting had begun, I made my way on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 11, 1996, from Seoul Foreign School, which lies just over the hill behind Yonsei, to a bus stop across the road from the university's front gate. The day was my 23rd birthday.

The main road to the front gate of the campus was strewn with the sleeping bodies of about 100 students. Most were lying on pieces of cardboard without blankets; the summer evenings were warm enough. A few had already roused and were moving around the closed front gate, wearing bandannas over their mouths and carrying thin metal rods. Clearly something was brewing. However, I was able to walk unmolested through this mass of students and out of a side gate, through a phalanx of riot police.

That evening, I caught a train from Sinchon Station back home to Paju City. The windows were open and overhead fans circulated the air. I sat opposite two young American soldiers from Camp Edwards who had come to Seoul for the weekend. As we rattled slowly away from the station, I began to feel a stinging sensation in my throat. Soon my eyes began to water, and my mucus membranes were on fire. I looked around and saw that others were similarly affected. Some young children had begun to cry. My GI interlocutors told me, "Tear gas. We've been trained for this. Don't touch your face or blink your eyes." That was easy for them to say, when all my instincts told me to rub whatever was on my face to get it off. But they were right, rubbing and blinking only made it worse. I desperately wanted to get out of the train and under a shower, but after about 10 minutes the feeling went away.

It's fun reading. Mr. Zwetsloot has had an interesting life and he documents it humbly and in easy to digest bites. I guess it triggers a bit of my own nostalgia for the way I felt when I first came here. Those were different times for sure.

I'll be honest and say I've lost a bit of interest in the series as he's caught up in time to now. Again for me it was the nostalgia factor, so definitely go back and read his first 10 parts or so. I miss this type of blogging. It was always fun to read K-blogs 5 or 10 years ago when people would write about what was going on and not just their personal opinions about culture. Course I'm guilty of that too but trust me you would not be interested in my personal life.

You can find the whole set here:

Or dive right into his first few posts here:

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