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The recently concluded TV series Misaeng made a big buzz in the entertainment industry because of its impact to the viewers. It is a Korean drama series top billed by Im Si-Wan as the main character Jang Geu Rae. Misaeng is the story of a guy named Geu Rae (which actually means YES in English) who struggled his way climbing up to the corporate ladder of a famous Korean company One International. His logical knowledge in the game BADUK(a cheese like board game) helped him go through the circumstances and difficult situations in the corporate world despite the fact that he did not even graduate in High School.
People are so talking about this TV series that’s why I decided to watch it too. True enough, I was hook since the first episode because I felt like I was watching my own life story. I can really relate to Geu Rae, I think we have the same struggles and experiences. Judging from the first episode, I knew that it was a heavy and a gloomy drama. You will see how an undergraduate started his career doing some odd and demeaning jobs and how he got himself into a big time corporation even without a college degree. You will sympathize him as much as you will hate the people who humiliate him. I also commend the casts for the excellent acting and for giving justice to their respective characters.
Misaeng reveals the Corporate culture of Korea to the world. Although the story is just a mere fiction based on a webtoon, I can testify that there’s a touch of truth to the story. If you think working with a suit and tie in Korea is glamorous and luxurious, you are wrong. People working in Korean companies have their own fair share of worries and disappointments. In the show Misaeng, we can see the working life of Koreans in different perspective. For this reason, let’s go over the different culture that we can see in a conventional Korean working environment.
1. The drinking culture
If you are in Korea, you will see people in uniform going home drunk. I am not sure how often this is happening and in what day of the week, one thing is for sure, Koreans love alcohol. They have this thing called soju, it’s an alcoholic drink famous in Korea. Others also resort to beer and wine. The reason why drinking is very apparent amongst the Korean is because of stress. When they want to unwind, that translates to drinking soju or beer. One must initiate or invite co workers to drink with him and you can’t just say NO to that invitation, it’s kind of rude for them. If you want to talk to somebody, if you want to thank somebody, or if you want to hang out with somebody, invite the person to have a drink with you, not to mention the spicy Korean food as a side dish.
Koreans are also into coffee. Since soju or beer is not allowed inside the office, people find temporary comfort with coffee. There’s always coffee in their pantry to temporarily relieve stress at work.
2. Discrimination at work
At work, there’s always discrimination and Korea is not exempted with that. Here in Korea, discrimination is very strong especially at work. Usually, women are considered weak and incapable of carrying out tasks, so working women really suffer much from this kind of discrimination. However, in this day and age, women have their own way to prove themselves and sometimes they excel more than the men. This sometimes put them into more trouble because this causes insecurities to some men. Discrimination for women at work is just men’s defense mechanism for their insecurities and pride.
The discrimination at work is not only limited to gender. Sometimes, people are looking into your degree, your school, your scholastic records and to your experience. Korea really value education, if you don’t have any, you might find it hard for people to accept you as their league. That is how Koreans look down to people who don’t have a degree.
3. Pali-pali culture
Every single second for Koreans is very important. You will often hear bosses shouting “Pali-pali” which means “hurry”. You need to work fast and you need to maximize your time in working. The quantity of work is as important as the quality. That is why people are pressured at work because of this hurry culture. However, this makes people more productive at work and it results to better production and somehow helps a company to progress further.
Yes, even in Korea people are willing to lick the boots of their bosses just so they can get favor from him. Whether the motive is for promotion, or salary increase or for commendation, there are always ulterior motives behind bootlicking. I mean who wants to be somebody’s puppet? If they know they can extract some honey juice to a high ranking person in the company, they are willing to do everything just to get the approval. Yes, bootlickers do exist in Korean corporations.
5. Office Politics
Issues and scandals are part of the system. When things like this happen in a Korean corporate settings, they will openly talk about it, and once resolved and the culprit has been punished they will keep mum about it. Life goes on as usual and you just have to be strong enough to go through all these office politics. It will just pass but there is no assurance that it will never happen again. Remember that there are different personalities in an office, people sometimes are willing to give up integrity and dignity for the sake of money or position.
6. Yell it out
Misaeng also shows how it looks like working with Koreans. If you made mistake, or if you are into arguments, they will shout at each other like they will kill each other. If it is your first time, you will be afraid of them, all the more if you are the one being shouted at (which I already experienced). But if you know Koreans, shouting and yelling is just one way to show off their frustrations and disappointments, but after everything is settled, things will go back to normal. No hatred, no grudges, and no big deal, as if nothing happened. At work, shouting is already a common scenario. If you are planning to be a part of a Korean working environment, you must prepare yourself to be shouted at, but always remember that it’s totally normal especially if everybody is under pressure.
It’s not always rainbows and butterflies in Korean corporate world. It’s not even a walk a in the park. Misaeng shows how different personalities deal with different stressful situations at work. At the end of it all, the family is the reason why everybody is holding on to their jobs. As much as they want to be relieved with the burdens of stressing at work, the family is waiting at their respective homes cheering them and giving them inspiration to hold on and continue working despite the difficulties. At home, people show their different side of personality. What’s important is you leave the worries inside the four corners of the office and become they person that you are at home.
I guess why Misaeng became a big hit to the viewers is because it is very relatable to everyone. Everybody is talking about work and career and this show is a perfect representation of the corporate world. Everyone who has a job or had a job can relate to this show. This is one TV drama that doesn’t need a love team or a love story to attract viewers. Korea proves that they can make a good TV show without making romance a major deal.
The 20 episodes are worth watching for, there are a lot of values to learn from it and it will also make you realize how you are as a worker. You’ll get to realize what really matters most in life and make you give importance to people who value you the most. Misaeng is just a metaphor of society. It does not really mean incomplete life but it refers to the society. Our society is not yet complete, despite the evolution of technology and people, we’re still struggling to reach the ultimate status. We still have a lot to do to and to accomplish to really say that we are complete.