written by gkim
My previous life as a corporate accountant was terminated by yours truly after about 8 years of dealing with unprofessional office environments, indecent work gatherings, shameless leaders, and unreasonably expected long work hours. Every day, I had to deal with receipts and reimbursements for meals and entertainments in the company. One night at a room salon (hostess bar or “refined” brothel) after a dinner meeting could end up in a three thousand dollar bill. What’s worse is that upper management in every single Korean American company I worked for frequented these room salons at least once a week, and always when there were guests from Korea in town. Usually, the women would be pressured to tag along to these room salons after dinner. Then at around midnight, the men would tell us all to leave. If we had stayed, what would we have been witness to? Most likely extremely provocative activity…
Also, sexual harassment was rampant and casual behavior that trickled down the hierarchy of CEO’s to receptionists all the time in every single Korean company I worked for. To me, it seems like it’s a given in Korean corporations as well as Korean American corporations that sexual harassment could happen at any time.
Once we were at a Christmas party, and I was being promoted. The HR manager called me up to the microphone at the cafe we were dining and drinking at. Everyone applauded as I got up out of my seat. A scattered applause that drifted into a single clap, then silence. I didn’t expect to get an applause at a work event a week before Christmas. I especially didn’t expect to get an applause at all from three dozen people I didn’t consider friends. But, as I started walking toward the stage where the microphone was being offered to me by my manager, I realized, most of the applauses I had ever given in my life were for complete strangers. I didn’t know what to say when I got up there.
“Thank you to the big boss, Mr. Kim, for the promotion, and thank you to Mrs. Lee, my wonderful manager,” I stammered quickly, squinting from the disco light that was rotating into my eyes. “I hope everyone has a great Christmas, and cheers to a successful new year for our company.”
I lifted my glass as everyone else did, took a shaky sip, and walked off the stage. I wished that I had said what I had really wanted to say. Christmas is for honoring Jesus, our Savior. It’s not about celebrating the hard work we did all year, it’s not about the success of our company. It’s not about consumerism or materialism. It’s not about getting bonuses to buy gifts for children. It’s a day of celebration for the birth of our Lord Jesus. We should be at home teaching our children about worshipping Christ–those of us who have kids. Yet, here we are, completely ruining this holiday. Why must tonight be a mandatory night of indulging in debauchery together? But I knew I couldn’t say this because if I did, I would be getting massive emails about freedom of religion, discrimination, how I’m no perfect angel, and cries of hysteria about how we are living and working in America in the twenty-first century and not everyone loves Jesus. I cringed at my fear of rejection from these people I hardly knew. I wished that I could be braver.
Then, one of the receptionists took to the microphone and began singing as music wafted out from the karoke machine. I could tell a few of the ahjushies (older Korean men) from the parts and service department were getting pretty drunk. They tried to high-five me as I walked passed them. I slapped their hands. I was almost at my seat when my boss grabbed my arm and pulled me down towards him. “I need to speak to you after this. Meet me back at the office in the parking lot,” he whispered loudly into my ear.
What did the big boss want this time? It was difficult pretending to respect him. He was always trying to get me alone with him. I hoped no one noticed him talking to me. Why did every company dinner have to consist of all the oldies getting inebriated beyond sense and reason? The only sober ones were my manager and me from the accounting department. The loud music drowned my thoughts into oblivion. I just sat there dreading the end of the night.
After the night was over at the café, the men decided we all had to go for round two at a room salon. Of course, the ladies tried their best to decline but it was pointless as usual. We all had to go. I looked at the big boss. He winked at me. I knew I had to meet him in the parking lot. The last time I flaked on him when he asked me to meet him at a bar, he ignored me and treated the entire accounting department like crap for a week. He had already tried to push me up against the walls of the elevator and kiss me the month before, and I had shoved his face away from mine. What did he want this time? He was always exuding such petulant behavior in and out of the office.
Everyone headed to the room salon, and I drove back to the office parking lot. He was already waiting there in his car. I walked over. “When are you going to let me take you out on a date?” he asked in a deeply, drunken voice as he rolled down his window.
“Is this why you asked me to meet you here?” I asked rolling my eyes. He reached out of his window and grabbed my arm. “You’re so beautiful,” he stammered. “I got this for you.” He handed me a box. “Open it now,” he demanded.
I really didn’t want to open anything from him, but I ripped open the Christmas wrapping paper anyway. The box read “Gucci.” I opened the box and inside was a leather wallet.
“Open the wallet,” he said slowly with a devious smile.
When I opened the wallet, there were ten one-hundred dollar bills inside the pocket for the bills. I gasped. I tried to protest and tell him that I couldn’t accept such a gift. But, he proceeded to roll up his window while telling me that he’ll see me at the room salon. Then he drove off first leaving me in the parking lot all alone with the box in my hand and the wrapping paper strewn about on the ground.
This was when I was in my early twenties. I ask myself– Why do we Koreans just deal with harassment or sex trafficking or cheating? If we were in an American company, lawsuits would be filed so quickly, the bosses wouldn’t dare conduct themselves in such an obvious manner out in the open. I wasn’t very surprised to read this article about the president’s aide in the US, whether it be true or not.
This is a problem with Koreans. And I only say this because I love my mother country of Korea so much. I care for its citizens, and I truly hope for the country to be rid of indecencies. We are God’s children. We are better than this. Even with the anti-sex trafficking laws in place in South Korea, they aren’t enforced, and everyone and their parents know where the brothels are because they’re everywhere! Too many people just go about their own lives without really acknowledging the problems in the country including the corruption in the government.
Even when many Korean wives know that their husbands might be cheating, they don’t voice their opinions because all they seem to care about is being taken care of financially. I have met so many women in Korea who say they know their husbands cheat. These men cheat and soothe their wives with money, nice homes, jewels, and fancy cars.
One too many South Korean women who are harassed at work don’t file lawsuits because they need to keep their jobs in such a competitive, misogynistic society where women are underpaid. These same policies and mentalities follow a trail from Korea into America and find their places within Korean American companies. No one cares. I used to be one of those people until one day, I realized I didn’t want my people to live this way. Regardless of having a female in the position of power now, as Park, Geun Hae is the first female president of South Korea, it still doesn’t change the structure of corporate, governmental, and cultural society in South Korea. People need to wake up and smell the sex…and DO something about it!