Korean Lawyers and Cat Cafes

A blog post describing a visit to the Korean Labor Office and a cat cafe. Originally posted at the creator's blog.
24 May 2013
Siobhain Rivera
CC Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA)

So the other day, Matt and I went to a Korean Labor Office to sue his former employer, and it was kinda hilarious, in that slightly frustrating, “This is one of the reasons you need a sense of humor to live in Korea,” ways.

Firstly, we’re pretty sure that our lawyer might be a coke addict. Which would be strange, since Koreans talk about pot in whispers cause it’s a prison sentence here, but his hands were shaking something fierce. It’s probably way more likely that he hasn’t slept/is on massive amounts of caffeine (and possibly this gross “energy drink” they sell here - and give out at companies - that is literally a mixture of caffeine and nicotine). He also appears to be really nervous around foreigners/dismissive of women. Maybe it’s just the foreigners thing - he seems to have a good rapport with his female lawyer partner. He doesn’t speak English, really, but I speak enough Korean for him to talk to me, and he pretty much ignores me. He met us at the Labor Office, and we said Hi, and he looked at Matt, THE WHOLE TIME. He walked up, glanced at me and I greeted him in Korean, at which point he looked at Matt, shook his hand, and then completely ignored my hand, which I held out for about 5 seconds before realizing he wasn’t paying attention. Thankfully, he appears to be a decent lawyer.

We go inside for the meeting, and I’m prepared to wait. Monica, the other lawyer, had already told me that it was ‘impossible’ for me to be present in the meeting, since I wasn’t directly involved in the case. Matt doesn’t speak Korean, so they had sent another lawyer to translate for him, and she was very nice. I’ve never figured out exactly what the Korean relation to the word ‘impossible’ is - is it a gross and widespread mis-translation (like 바보 for “silly”?) or something else? At any rate, my friends and I always joke about how “I don’t think that word means what you think it means,” when a Korean says something is ‘impossible,’ because it usually means something closer to, ‘that’s inconvenient for me,’ or ‘it could happen but I don’t actually want to deal with it.’

I’ve been sitting in the lobby reading for about 10 minutes when the translator-lawyer comes to get me. She starts trying to explain to me something in English, and I finally just say, “Tell me in Korean.” Turns out, her English isn’t good enough for her to translate… and Matt can’t understand what she’s saying. I felt a little bad for her - she was really sweet, and was embarrassed about the situation. So I went into the impossible meeting, and translated what was happening for Matt, in a weird chain conversation. Coke-lawyer would say something in fast, complicated legal jargon Korean, and translator-lawyer would explain it to me in simpler Korean, and then I’d relay it in English to Matt. When all is said and done, we’re not really sure what will happen with the whole thing- the company has no money to pay people, so I’m not sure the government order to pay people with money they don’t have will really be effective. We’ll see.

Afterwards, there was more fun - trying to get a cab. The Labor Office happens to be in a residential area that’s pretty far away from the subway, and there didn’t appear to be any bus stops around either; and there were no cabs, because not many people go there. We waited outside for a few minutes, the two lawyers lamenting the lack of cabs and how hot it was, and then I suggested we walk over to the apartments that Matt and I had passed on our way there - there were sure to be some cabs, or at the very least, a bus stop. The lawyers nodded at me, and then continued to talk about the lack of cabs. I mentioned my idea again, and the translator-lawyer smiled, but coke-lawyer appeared not to hear me again. Finally, when I was losing my patience and considering how rude it would be to just start walking that direction myself, coke-lawyer says, “Well, maybe we should walk over there - there should be cabs there,” and points to the place I suggested twice before. ::facepalm:: Matt was looking at me worriedly, probably thinking I was going to go off on the guy, but I just smiled and went along with it.

Since we were down in that suburb, we decided to go play Taiko no Tatsujin at an arcade we’d found before, and then we hung out in a cat cafe and played with some kitties. There was a really cute little half-Korean girl who was about 4, with her mom and grandmother, and she was _so_ excited to play with the cats. We took pictures of the adorable.