The mood is subdued in the company kitchen on the 12th floor as the minions line up at the premium Italian espresso machine to pull shots of their liquid heroin; the brown muck that allows them to stave off sleep for hours on end and work punishing hours of overtime without pay. Big city life in all it’s glory! “What’d you do over the weekend?” asks Gomez Kim from accounting. “Did you watch the National Geographic Channel for two days straight again?” To which I reply “No Gomez, I didn’t. But I did see some of the local four legged wildlife hunched over and puking in a Gangnam gutter on Saturday.” I leave out the part where two university girls puked in my vehicle after six hours in a club, doing unspeakable things to a bottle of Maker’s 36 (I was the designated driver). First, Tall Friend puked, and then Zebra puked after valiantly trying to point her head out the window. I call them Tall Friend and Zebra (she was wearing black and white stripes) because I forgot their names 30 seconds after they told me.
I’d left an American expat friend at the bar, in the care of the gentle bartender while I dropped off Tall Friend and Zebra. He’d pretty much blacked out. When I returned to retrieve him, he was still slumped over in his chair. When I slapped him on the shoulder there was no response, but after a few seconds he suddenly jumped up as if struck by lightning. The realization that he hadn’t settled his lifelong tab over at the Seoul pub had probably instilled in him a sense of social responsibility. Now was not a good time to die.
Back in the office, someone offers gyopo colleague “K.” a shot of freshly pulled espresso. K looks pallid and I can tell that he has been at the office all night. “What gives?” I ask him. K looks around squeamishly before motioning a few of us into a group huddle. “Don’t tell anyone, but the police are here in the Big Boss’s office, and some shit went down at the end of last week. You know that new guy we hired back in March, the accountant?” I vaguely remember. Dweebish, glasses, probably 130 lbs soaking wet. “Yeah, he hasn’t come in at all this week, and there’s a bunch of money missing from the corporate accounts that we use to pay royalties to clients.”
Just then the Big Boss walks out of his office accompanied by two men who are obviously plain clothes police officers or detectives. Nice of them to show up in plain clothes. Very subtle. They round the corner headed towards the HR office. Paradise Choi from HR looks worried as the Big Boss and two detectives close in. The door closes behind them.
“I heard he went to Yonsei University” says K. “What’s that got to do with anything?” I ask. “Jake, you don’t understand Korea at all” replies Gomez Kim. I give Gomez Kim a glance and a slight eyebrow wrinkle that says ‘Fuck Off’. “So who interviewed the guy?” I ask. K replies “It was probably Paradise Choi or Jen in HR.” Jenn is the Korean American HR specialist who is supposed to interview all candidates in English after they’ve been pre-interviewed in Korean. Jenn has a weakness for Oreo cookies, trashy novels and men with the letters “Dr.” before their names. If Jenn hired the new guy, Jenn is probably fucked.
I walk past several cubicles to my humble desk. I hear people whispering in rapid-fire Korean. I hear the word “Yonsei” several times. I turn on my computer and begin to go through emails. Over 80 emails. Daunting. Difficult to focus. I scan the subject lines of all the emails, deciding to answer the ones that look positive now, and save the angry emails for later. One email with the following subject line looks promising, “Dear Blessed friend, REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE-STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL.” The sender is one Dr. Nelson Adwale Okumose of the Nigerian Oil Ministry. Seems legit.
Lunch at the sushi restaurant down the street. Entire department at one table. English chat trying to make it back and forth over the table while being machine-gun riddled with excited Korean gossip from all directions. Verbal crossfire. I switch seats with Gomez Kim so that I can sit at the edge of the table. Gomez Kim eats like a pig and I want to be as far away from him as possible, but so does everyone else. We’ve all seen him eat before. Eating and talking at the same time. Food and specks of food propelled from his gaping trap onto the table and into cups and side dishes. Oblivious to anything and everything happening around him. Genetic traits that Seoul’s taxi drivers have tried to wipe out for years with the most active form of natural selection. And yet he remains. I again hear strings of Korean with the word “Yonsei” sprinkled in. “blah blah blah blah Yonsei blah blah Yonsei”.
I look over at American coworker Dave from Seattle. Dave isn’t touching his sushi. Dave is on a diet. Apparently, Dave was walking with his girlfriend along the Cheongge stream and a group of small Korean children pointed at him and shouted “Sam Hammington!” and after that happened a few more times on a few more occasions, Dave finally googled “Sam Hammington” and promptly went on a diet.
Gomez Kim turns to me and says “Jake, are all the women in Yugoslovakia beautiful?” Huh? “What are you talking about?” I ask. He replies “You know, Trump’s wife Ivanka (it’s Melania) is from Yugoslovakia (she’s from Slovenia).” I chide him, “Yugoslovakia is not even a country, for fucks sake, it’s not even a real place.” He responds “Oh really, are you sure you know geography?” Unreal. We need to fire everyone in the HR department because they obviously don’t screen anyone who applies.
Back to the office for a seminar. Turns out it is a sexual harassment awareness seminar conducted entirely in Korean by some company that does nothing but sexual harassment seminars. I ponder why I am even sitting in on a Korean language sexual harassment seminar. I guess we all have to sign a paper at the end saying that we attended, otherwise I would duck out. A video embedded within a Powerpoint slide starts to play. A Korean man approaches his female coworker and says “너는 섹시해” (you’re sexy). The video pauses, and a big red “X” covers the screen. Gomez Kim nods his head as if this is all new information to him. The scene cuts to a different pair of co-workers. The woman is at the copy machine and a male co-worker comes up behind her. He puts his face over her shoulder and starts whispering in her ear. We don’t hear what he is saying. He gropes her back side. Red “X” again.
40 more minutes of this followed by a QA session where the office’s most likely suspects drill the presenters with hypothetical sexual harassment scenario questions. Back to work. Boss is still with detectives. I hear the boss mutter the word “Yonsei” several times. Jenn from HR is crying at someone’s desk. Paradise Choi from HR walks over to our side of the office. I can tell she wants to smoke, but she recently joined the company’s anti-smoking incentive program. I never really understood the anti-smoking incentive program. They give monetary rewards to staff members who go certain lengths of time without smoking, and they rely on the ‘office snitch’ system to keep everyone honest. Has it occurred to them that some people who never smoked in the first place have joined the incentive program in order to collect the reward money? Probably not.
Paradise Choi confirms it, “67,000,000krw was stolen from the royalties accounts. The new guy we hired is the main suspect. He’s not answering his phone and nobody answers the door at his address.” She adds, “He even went to Yonsei University, I can’t believe it.” Now it is my turn, “Why do people keep mentioning that? Who cares where he went to school.” To which she replies, “Jake, Yonsei is very prestigious, like Harvard (hah!), so only trustworthy and high class people can graduate from there.” I ask Paradise Choi if she knows who Ted Kaczynski , the Unabomber, is and that he attended Harvard. She replies “I think you are being not honest. Only good people can go to Harvard.” Unbelievable.
I continue, “Who did the reference checks on the new guy?” Paradise Choi: “Reference check? We checked his university, it was correct.” I say, “I mean, who called his previous employer to check his work history?” Paradise Choi stares at me blankly like I have just asked her the dumbest question she has ever heard. She finally says “Why we check his work history? He went to Yonsei!” So, nobody called any of this guy’s previous employers, and I am guessing that no one got any sort of criminal background check done, and I’ll take a wild guess, a shot in the dark and assume that nobody looked at anything beyond this guy’s degree and the name of his school. Classic! They essentially hired this guy blind, with no information at all. Someone who would have access to the entire company’s finances.
I’ll bet that Jenn in HR put his resume on the top of the pile after she saw the word “Yonsei” on it. And I’ll bet her beady little eyes lit up when the guy came in for an interview. She must be crying now because she realizes that she made a giant mistake and fucked the company out of $60,000USD by blindly hiring a guy who might have been a career criminal and for all we know could have been released from prison just months ago. Jenn from HR, speak of the devil. She walks in, tissue still in hand, eyes red from crying. She says, “He went to Yonsei, I don’t understand…….and….and……and he promised he was going to take me out to dinner!…” she starts to bawl again. Unbelievable. Half of these people must be blood relatives of the big boss, because there is no other legitimate reason to have them on staff. Note to self; speak to big boss after police leave, or possibly tomorrow. We need to fire Jenn from HR. Gomez Kim also needs to go…or maybe not….need him around for comic relief. Plus, he makes all the other male staff look good. But Jenn from HR absolutely has to go, and the HR people aren’t going to fire themselves, so the big boss will have to do it.
Night time comes. The sun passes behind the perma-layer of toxic air pollutants, turning the sky brownish orange. Kim, the guy we hired, our hero, the main suspect, is probably sitting on a beach in the Philippines with his 14 year old girlfriend trying to explain to her what “Yonsei” is. Jenn from HR, if still employed, is probably replying to Dr. Nelson Adwale Okumose’s email with a job offer.