Author Archives: ceberus

About ceberus

Have South Korean passport, looks like South Korean, speaks fluent Korean, working at South Korea yet grew up in Midwestern American and spent one year in Japan. Probably looks like Korean and speaks fluent Korean but thinks like American. Lost in translation. TCK/CCK.

God I hate Korean Companies.

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I got a pretty good job offer from a company which is very well known in local and also in the industry. I did not have specific experience in that industry, but I had enough relative experience which can be applied easily if given appropriate resource and some guidance (which was asked in the interview and I answered accordingly). I also asked some specifics about the daily task, and their answer was like “yeah, don’t worry, most of the tasks can be finished in the same day and we don’t expect more than the job posting.” Let me add that the job posting was pretty simple: it was less than 10 lines. The money was pretty good, so I joined.

I really wasn’t given that much guidance or reference materials. My predecessor was there for a bit less than a month, and whenever I asked for his review, he said I’m doing well. Then, because our office is crowded, I had to move to a different floor in 2 months of my employment there. I was the only person in my team who works at a different floor. Didn’t think it would be a problem because there are messengers and emails. So for more than 1 year, I had to hack the tasks on my own. No one told me anything, so obviously I thought there isn’t a problem (mind you, I frequently asked/emailed ‘please let me know if you have any questions or find something that needs to be re-checked’).

Then, well after 1 year, all of sudden, my boss called me for a meeting. She said there have been complaints about my work. Ok, fine. I’m not a person who automatically gets upset when others point out my mistakes or shortcoming. It’s better to hear what the complaints are because then you get a chance to improve. Right?

Me: Oh, ok. What are the complaints about?
Boss: Oh um I don’t know how to phrase this.
Me: Ok…could you be more specific? Like is it more from task A? B?
Boss: Oh it’s like everywhere.
Me: (even more confused) Well…I don’t understand, what do you suggest me to do in this situation?
Boss: I don’t know.

I was like WTF. I mean…if you have a complaint about someone, and even called up that person for a meeting, shouldn’t you be ready? Say what it’s about, present examples, ask what the person needs, etc? So I scratched my head and just did what I did.

Then my boss called me up again for another meeting. Then she said, if the complaints are not addressed, they will have to let go of me. I was flabbergasted.

Me: Look, boss, I asked you several times what the complaints are, and you didn’t really give me any solid answer.
Boss: True.
Me: I wasn’t given any references from the beginning. I don’t even know what the complaints are about. How do I fix a problem if I don’t know what’s it about? At least I need a chance to think whether it’s something I can fix or not.
Boss: yeah you are right…ok I’ll try to get the complaints, but I don’t know. I don’t know whether it’s something that can be fixed.

Like WHAT THE ACTUAL F*CK.

A few months later, there was news that our office got a ton of new works. Because it was a relatively new type of work and a few employees were on maternity leave, it was crazy. As a result, I was told to do a whole new task which I’ve never done before on the top of my usual work DURING THE BUSIEST SEASON. I was concerned because, in my life, I saw plenty of people ending up doing double works with little or no compensation, then getting all the blames for the mistakes they made. Moreover, it seems like another manager in charge of the new task and my boss aren’t exactly on the same page. So I emailed my boss and addressed my concerns, noting that “as an employee, I know employees are there to do what the employer directs to do and I understand it. I just want to address some concerns…xyz.” Her answer? “Oh but it will be a good learning opportunity. Good luck!”

The added new task obviously did not go well, and my computer kept crashing. Because of the new task, I had to work a lot with another manager who is judgmental, impolite, and totally unorganized: if you ask “what’s in that soup?” this manager answers “Oh, yeah, I think Panera made this first but someone I know made this soup in a similar style. I don’t like this,” instead of “chicken” or “veggie.”

This manager was crazy. It has been only three days since I first got to use a particular program, and I had to fit the work product in a certain format which I’ve never seen before. As I said, it was the busiest time of the year and my computer kept crashing. So I told her multiple times (with an apology and an explanation) I can’t fit my work to her requested format due to my PC crashing, and I have a lot of works coming in. Well, she simply ignored all this and blamed me for being irresponsible, incapable, whatever. I actually counter-argued all of her blames, then she became silent…and unhappy.

What made me even crazier was my boss and this manager was not talking!!! So I often ended up hearing two totally different stories on an issue, or what I said to my boss not conveyed to the manager, or them asking me “so what did the other manager say?”

So, after witnessing what I said in my concern email, things rolled back to normal. Then, a colleague of mine asked me whether I’m ok, out of blue. Turns out, the company uploaded the exact job posting for my position without telling me. Then my boss called me up for another meeting. She finally presented what the complaints were. Guess what. Those were less than a letter-size paper. No examples, just vague things like “I don’t like how kumasim changes my work,” “I want kumasim to make my work more classy and sophisticated,” etc. My boss then said my replacement is coming at the end of January, and I will be given a different assignment with less payment.

As you can guess, by this point, I just don’t care anymore. But for some reason, I thought I at least have to listen to what their new offer is.

A few weeks later, the chief wanted to meet with me. I thought like “What? Why?” but then, he’s the chief (new). So I went in. Not to my surprise, my work evaluation wasn’t great (the evaluation is done by six. Six, in the company consisting of more than 100 employees).

Chief: Well, I don’t know the details, but from what I heard, I suggest you communicate more with your managers and colleagues.
Me: since you brought that up, ever since I was employed and started working here, I wasn’t given any resources or references to start with. Also, I wasn’t told any specifics about my work complaints. I actually asked my boss what the complaints are, her suggestions, but she was like ‘oh I don’t know…’ How the heck I’m gonna do something about it?
Chief: What? That’s…that’s not right. (to his assistant) write that down, we need to tell this to the related departments.
Assistant: I think people were just busy and thought they’d rather keep it themselves, rather than addressing it.

Yeah that’s some good work communication right there. Besides, that was the first time I got to know that my title was a bit higher than the regular staffs and perhaps they expected so so much more than what they put on the job posting. I mean, ok, but shouldn’t you tell these to your employee early on? Oh, and why didn’t my boss tell me that I can find references in a program that I didn’t know what it’s about for more than 1 year?

Then the chief went on so he can appear as a fair boss.

Chief: Oh you know, your work isn’t something that can be taught by someone sitting with you and teach you one by one.
Me: No, I don’t expect that. But at least I should have been told where are the resources and what are they, so I can take a look at them and learn myself.

Chief: …and one of the work complaints was that your final work product looks too easy. Now I understand subjectivity gets in, but blah blah

I mean, really? Generally, if the work product looks easy, that’s good. Besides, if someone didn’t want that style, then they should have told me, “hey I don’t like this, I want the work product to be like this.” Never told such.

So, because the rule is rule, I’m not getting a holiday bonus, and my payment is likely to freeze or cut a bit all because of my low work evaluation. For something, I wasn’t even told about or given a chance to amend. Fuck it, I’m leaving. Also, it’s pretty amazing that a company of this reputation is still managing their business like this.

Oh yeah, it has been three weeks since the new work assignment was mentioned. I haven’t been told what is being discussed, what’s it gonna be like, or my thoughts on it.

Fuck you, I’m leaving.

Ridiculous Meeting

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I decided to write a post about the meeting between me and this senior manager, which I mentioned here because it deserves a posting.

Now, the sr. manager is not an evil, ill-willed person. Thing is, she is narrow-sighted and judgmental. And she talks a lot, without thinking. Not the best combination. Sometimes, it’s almost like her toungue and mind are directly connected and there is no filter between them. She often sucks at explaining. There are several times when I was listening to her Korean explanation because I asked something, and I couldn’t help thinking “wait…why am I not understanding this? This is Korean explanation?”

For instance, I once had a lunch with her and we started to talk about the national health insurance reformation (Korean). She simply said “Doctors, nurses, and hospitals are complaining because they are greedy.” Having several doctor and nurse friends, I almost lost it. Even if I don’t have such friends, you probably shouldn’t form such a judgmental opinion without researching and studying both sides’ argument. Oh, but wait, this is an age of cyberbullying. What am I talking about…

Anyway, after that busy post-chuseok chaos, as I said, she called me to a meeting and said I’m probably not suitable for the communication managemet (hurrah!). Now, the ideal meeting would have discussed just the sr. manager’s impression, a thing or two about the job, how I feel about the new task, and what we are going to do about it. Well of course this meeting would be more than that. So here are some of her comments.

– I don’t think you have what it takes to do the job.
–> In this particular situation, hurrah! But really, I think it’s ridiculous to judge someone’s ability only after two days of doing the job, especially when the job is new to the person and that two days were extra-busy days.

You can’t take the job like a half-way task. It’s going to take one year for me to finishing teaching the skills for the job, and I can’t commit myself unless you really take yourself as a full member of this team.
–> Um, ok, but let’s not forget that (1) I still officially belong to another team and (2) I am still doing that another team’s job, like full time. Why should I expected to be a full member of another team in this situation?

– Everyone in my team reviews like you do, and also manages and tracks the communications.
–> Alright…IMO that’s probably not true, and if that is true, then why did this company hire me? If what she says is true, then they probably didn’t need me. Personally, I frigging hate it when Koreans say “but you are not the only one suffering! Bear it!”

– *She brought up what sort of clarified the complaint about my work. First, I really don’t know why she brought it up. Second, are you trying to intimidate me? For what?

– To be honest, I feel uncomfortable teaching you the new skills because you went to graduate school.
–> ??? Okay…but you knew my specification and if you thought so, you probably had to re-think giving me another task and maybe decline it. And you expect me to be a full member of the team?? Like hello?

– I hope I didn’t make you feel bad.
–> Well that’s something you probably need to worry/think before the meeting…or as you talk. All you did was just pouring out when there is an imbalance of right to speak, to someone who has less power.

 

I totally respect her dedication to work and her skill. But at the same time, I feel like she’s someone who has been in a very small circle and kept running in it, it just became the only world she knows. And she is expecting the same to everyone else, when not everyone is like her. Which is pretty typical of Korean bosses.

If someone is learning a new thing, it has to be done in a baby step, preferably with a guide and enough time. A lot of things in life can be learned by doing this. Of course there are geniuses who just gets it and improves so much faster than all others. But honestly, how many of such people are in this earth? What’s the percentage? We weren’t born with all the high-level skills. However, many – especially Korean organizations – forget it.

Something is wrong in Korean organizations

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Bee awhile. Sorry for not being around. But then, I usually write something when I am unhappy with something and I have no outlet for venting. So me being away was a good thing. Now that I am writing this, you bet there is something bad.

I’ve been pretty happy with my job as a legal editor at a patent firm. Unlike most Korean workplaces, they don’t pick on me for petty things, and as long as you don’t screw up, you are left alone. It’s not a lot of payment, but it pays bills and I have very little overtime works. Then this happened: out of blue, my boss called me for a one-on-one meeting and as you can guess, I almost shit myself, thinking “OMFG did I screw something up?”

It turns out, according to my boss, there has been some complaints about my editing. Ok, acceptable. It’s something that frequently happens when you work.

Me: Oh, ok. Um…could you be more specific? Like is it more of general emails or legal/formal documents?
Boss: Uh, bit of everthing.

That doesn’t help.

Me: Ok…do you suggest anything I can do differently to amend this situation?

She was so ambiguous so I don’t know. I don’t even know why she brought this up if she doesn’t really have any suggestion. So, like a good Korean employee, I simply said “ok, um, I’ll give some thoughts on what I can do differently,” when in fact I was thinking “how the hell I can change the situation if you don’t tell me what you want?” It was sort of hinted that some people are unhappy how they have to re-review my edit, but IMO that’s ridiculous – if you had a third person review your document, of course you have to review it as well.

Then a week later, another senior manager called me up for a meeting. She started to ask about my usual workloads, out of blue. I just answered the best I can. Basically, the company got a load of works and they wanted me to manage the client communciations on the top of doing my usual review work. NO. NO NO NO NO. I’ve been there before, and I know a plenty of nightmare stories. In the end, you have to do what your boss/employer tells you to do. It’s never a winning game for you because of an imbalance of firepowers. Your work increases, but your compensation is little to none. Of course you start to make more mistakes here and there because you just don’t have enough mental space to give sufficient care to differnet balls you are juggling (and some of the balls are alien to you). Then your employer/boss starts complaining about your mistakes, and simply makes you an incapable employee – you get all the faults, and the employer/boss saves his face. How convenient. I wish I can do that to.

Since this is Korea, I mildly protested. To this senior manager, I just said “uh…let me think about it,” but we both knew it means nothing. Then to my boss, I said:

– If it’s me completely changing my duty from one thing to another thing, that’s acceptable.
– If it’s me helping a part of others’ task from time to time (which I have been doing gladly), that’s acceptable.
– But if I am to do my current work at full force and also do another work at full force, it will not go well. I can’t give you my best result and others will be negatively affected. Then usually, the person burdened with two tasks will have more work but underappreciated. I’ve been there (and many others did, too) and I don’t want to go through it again.

My boss’s answer? Well, you know, “oh I understand…but this is a learning opportunity…” NO I DON’T WANT A “LEARNING OPPORTUNITY.” If you really want someone to learn something, you need to cut out some time and space for the training, and pay for the person’s training.

In the end, I had to do the new task, while still doing my review work at 100%. *smh* Making things worse, I had to start the new task right before the Chuseok (lunar thanksgiving). Before and after holiday is the busiest time for all offices. The new task itself wasn’t a difficult job per se, but it had an awful lot of things that I have to keep tracking. Try working with several new tasks you are unfamiliar with, while you are swamped with your original duty and your computer keeps having errors. My soul was slipping away.

At the end of the day, that senior manager called me for a meeting. She said she doesn’t think I am suitable for the new task and she can tell based on her years of experience. Usually, I would say this is bs because it has been only two days and I wasn’t in a situation where I can focus on a new task. I would have tried to prove that they are wrong. But in times like this, that words were Angels singing from the heaven. Consequently, she said she will just assign a part of her job from time to time…which is what I initially suggested and they did not listen for f**ks sake.

In addition, I ended up knowing some backstories and gossips that I really didn’t want/have to do since the senior manager is a judgmental person who talks too much without thinking (I’ll probably write a separate post about it). So I sort of figured out what the work complaint I mentioned earlier was about. It seems like that a certain person high in the command (maybe more than one?) complained about my work, comparing me to someone who was working here years ago, doing something similar with my job. That someone had 10+ years of experience in this field, so he knew how the document should be written and what should be aimed without any explanation.

If I may say in a figurative way: the job posting says, “Wanted: guitarist with some experience.” So I applied and was employed. Then, someone complains, saying “she doesn’t play that well, not as well as Eric Clapton.” Well, then you probably should have figured out what you want and announce it. Or, train your guitarist.

But none of them will happen in a Korean company.

Instead, I was required to play piano as well: “oh hey, I know you are a guitarist, but now we want you to play piano as well. Oh? You’ve never played piano before? Oh well (shrug).”

This is not my first time working in a Korean company. If someone asks, I would say these are the prevalent problems in Korean companies: lack of organization, strict hierarchy, unreasonable expectation, “I don’t know what I want, so you figure out and I’ll blame everything on you.”

Parallel Between ’16 US Election and ’08 & ’12 South Korean Election

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There has been a lot of this-and-that regarding Donald Trump being the new US president. Many, especially Americans, say they didn’t see it coming.  But for me, a South Korean who grew up in rust belt states, I could see it a bit. If I could have voted for the election, I probably would’ve gone for Hillary Clinton. But then, Trump’s victory wasn’t that surprising to me. I understand why people still voted for Trump, even if he made so much homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynist comments and has several sexual assault charges. Simple answer: people were so goddamn sick of the old politics because nothing is being done (or seems like) and they desperately wanted something new.

How do I know this? Because the ’08 and ’12 South Korean election were very similar to ’16 US election. Let me fill you in on that.

As of ’08, we had two consecutive liberal party administrations. By then, people were frustrated. They voted for the liberal party hoping for a good change. But it seems like nothing being done, despite more taxes. No dramatic improvements on whatsoever, being too soft and still paying to North Korea who keeps developing bombs making threats (there has been at least two incidents where the South Korean and North Korean navy actually had battle), so on. People started to feel that “those at the parliament are all same bastards!”

Then comes a candidate from a conservative party – Lee Myoung Bak (MB). He is a self-made man, who started from the bottom and later became a CEO of a big real estate company. He was a mayor and did several things well. Hey, a successful businessman who isn’t really from old boy’s club! He’s gonna run the country like no one else did before! He promised to have 5%-7% annual economic growth, decrease unemployment rate, invest a lot on new development plans and build canals. I guess some really believed his promises, but at least half didn’t  there wasn’t any clear explanation on how he would do it. But he still was elected.

Why? Because (1) he was still a new, fresh face, while the liberal party candidate was “same old,” and (2) liberal party did pretty bad campaign. And old politics have failed people so many times. What’s to lose by voting something completely new? So he was elected.

Was he a great president? Like many things in life, there are goods and bads. Did South Korea really have 5-7% annual economic growth? Not really. Did unemployment rate improve? Not really. He built canals which really no one cared, and now it has more loss than gains in many ways.

During his administration, a lot of his colleagues/family/friends were involved in embezzlement scandals. His son-in-law was accused of embezzlement/paper company and tax evasion/duty of care issues. His wife was suspected of embezzlement. His brother was accused of power abuse. Nothing really ended clearly because he’s the president.

Fast forward, the ’12 election started. The conservative party had a woman candidate – Park Geun Hye. A daughter of ’70’s controversial dictator. The liberal party had same old. Many expected liberal party would win, because people were upset on all that scandals from Lee’s administration. When the results came out, by small margin, Park won. Analyzing why Park won and why the other candidate lost by small margin is not really relevant here, so I’ll skip that. But, just like ’16 US election, that was the worst election ever. It was the most divisive election in the country’s history. God only knows how many people had family fight over the dinner table. The election really built a wall between people in their 40’s or less and over 50. People did not vote because they support a certain candidate: people casted their vote because they hated both, but hated one less than another.

For the past two conservative administrations, the so-called alt-right group started rising (in Japan, too!). You know, bashing women, immigrants, left/progressive parties, etc. When they first appeared, people brushed them off as “idiots” and said “we should not pay attention to them.” Then the conservative party started to feed them. Not as blatantly as Trump did, but they did by giving some subtle signs. Then they came out to the street with pickets. They became visible.

I personally would have supported Clinton, but like I said, as someone who grew up in rust belt and went through two very similar elections, I get the sentiment for voting for Trump. I don’t believe that people voted for Trump just because they wanted to say racist things out loud, grab women by pu**y in open daylight or harass immigrants/foreigners. It was frustration with old politics and people really had enough of that. What shocked me was, I thought there was a solid social agreement in America that sexist/racist/bullying comments in official places are not allowed in any way, but I guess it wasn’t that solid. I don’t know – extreme time needs extreme measures?

I’m no oracle, but for the coming Trump administration, I won’t be surprised if any of the following things happen, which already happened in South Korea:

  • There will be some kind of embezzlement/duty of care/power abuse scandal involving Trump or his family, sooner or later.

His family members played a big role in his campaign. They are likely to be the force behind in many things for his administration. Generally, if a man gets a power and his family are still working with him, corruption/bribery is very likely.

  • Massive construction/development plans

He is real estate developer, and this can be actually good for the USA! I like USA but except some cities, the infrastructure in general is just ugh.

  • Alt-rights will be there for years

The alt-rights are somewhat losing power in Japan and Korea recently, but once they are fed or receives a sign that government kind of agrees with them, they will grow and grow. So even if Trump is gone after serving four years, alt-right will be there. For years.

  • People will learn business ≠ politics.

    It’s very easy to associate running country is like running a business. I guess that can be true if you are running a country like North Korea or Turkmenistan, but in democratic country, that is not true. We learned it in hard way. In business, your goal is to maximize your profit. For that goal, if you are the boss, you can plan in any way you want, and sack anyone you don’t like/agree with. In democratic country, that just can’t be done. The goal is settlement and safety, and you can’t really alienate anyone in the process. Sometimes you are forced to enter a deal that is “loss” but good for the safety of everyone.

Just my 2 cents.

Trip to Cuba (2016) – 2

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We stayed at the Ocean Vista Azul, which is rated 5 stars by the Cuban government, and also the newest resort in the Varadero area. Before going into detail, I want to state that I did not book this hotel just because this is 5 stars and I have so much money.  Many advices noted that you’ll have to subtract a star or two from the Cuban hotel rating because of their economy and infrastructure. Usually, I go for 2.5-3.5 star rating when I’m traveling. The lobby looked fine – actually, more than fine.

The front receptionist gave us a booklet with resort information. I don’t do what or why, but it looked a bit…unorganized or cheap. While waiting for the room to be made, my mom wanted to have a cup of mojito. Yes! Mojito! From Cuba!

Mom: One mojito please.

Bartender: I can’t make mojito now.

Mom: …? What? Why?

Bartender: No mint.

Let’s recap. This is 5 star resort in Cuba, the land of mojito, but the bartender can’t make mojito because there’s no mint today. So she switched to lemonade, and the Bartender just put the lemon juice powder and put it in the blender with ice. Uh…uh…yeah.

The room was made so we went up. The bell boy was kind and friendly, and of course the Gangnam style was mentioned. Yeah, thanks, Psy.

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The room. Yeah, it looks fine, but….

The room wasn’t bad. Actually, it was more neat than we thought. But as time goes, we realized many of the details weren’t so 5 stars. 5 star hotel means that the hotel offers every possible small luxuries to its guests. For instance, instead of clean, simple and nice bedsheets, 5 starts offer clean, simple, nice bedsheets made of superb Egyptian cotton. The toiletries would be of Hermes, Dior, or something in that level. The complementary tea and cups would be something like Wedgewood. That’s not the case in Cuban 5 stars.

From left: 2 pillows in one big pillowcase. Use your imagination to use this.
The fridge case (?) had a huge gap underneath, so unless you open the fridge like you are handling Baccarat crystal, the fridge falls into the gap and you’ll have to struggle to put it back, taking forever.
The tiles started to fall off toward the end of our stay. 

The curtains were made of nylon, with a string to pull the curtain. Yup, string. There was no sheet for blanket. There were cups, but no complementary teas. No Kleenex, notepad, and pen. There was no brand/explanation for the complementary soaps and body toiletries. Only then I started to understand why so many travelers said I have to subtract a star or more from the Cuban hotel rating. Few days later, the glues between the tiles started to fall off.

I wasn’t upset. I somewhat expected this, as my passport country borders with North Korea and I did my research before flying to Cuba. But still, there is a difference between what you know as information and what you actually experience. This was one of that moment. For me, it was just an amazement.

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Printed on a piece of….paper. Literally.

Next day, we met with our tour representative at the lobby. She offered us a booklet for tours and contact information. The booklet was a simple folded paper, printed with a color printer for PC. When I visited other Caribbean countries, their tour info was properly printed on a clean, hard, glossy paper. Anyhow, we decided to go for Havana day trip and Three Cities (Santa Clara, Trinidad and Cienfuegos). We tried to pay with card, almost forgetting that the transaction between Cuba and US does not work, even with the newly revived Cuban-US relation!

Me: Uh…perhaps this one? (Hands my Wells Fargo card).

Rep: Is this US card? This won’t work.

Yup, denied.

Me: How about this one? This isn’t an American card. (Hands my AMEX card, issued by Korean company)

Rep: (looks at the card) Well, it says AMEX here so I don’t know…

Denied, even if it’s issued in Korea.

Me: Alright, let’s try this one (Hands my MasterCard, issued by Korean company and bank).

Worked. Thanks, BC card.

This wasn’t the end. Later in the evening, we went to the a la carte restaurant in the resort. There was no cloth napkin. Each person gets one paper napkin. The flower on the table was made out of paper towel with glitters. The cleaning ladies would not give additional toiletries unless we used up what was given, or call and ask for it.  The towels were way too new, so once you wipe your body, you are covered in white fabrics.

The buffet food wasn’t so bad, but compared to other Caribbean resorts, this was not 5 stars. I saw a bit too much recycling of foods, or same menus repeating for the whole week. The vegetables were cucumber, beet, carrot and cabbage. No leafy veggies. Occasionally, there was cooked zucchini or pumpkin. But, by Cuban standard, this was 5 stars. I realized this after eating at the local restaurant during the tour.

The service was different, too. My guess is that people are not familiar on what to do in service industry, since this is a communist country. However, some were quick and they knew what they need to do to get more tips. For them, we tipped. The bar drinks weren’t that great, so we didn’t go to bar as much as we did in Jamaica or Dominican Republic. Coffee was good, though (obviously).

So, like Cuba, the resort was full of paradox. In the cafeteria, you can find Spanish wine, German yogurt, European cheese. Ice cream and pastries were actually good. But you can’t find enough paper towel and shampoo. For people who grew up in a developed, industrial, capitalist countries, this is something really hard to understand unless you experience it.

The similar things happened in Varadero airport departures. In other countries that heavily depend on tourism, the salesperson will greet you and say “let me know if you need anything.” In Varadero airport, no one really cared even as we looked around. Salespeople were simply reading books, knitting (!) or go way over to another store and chatted with another salesperson with a coffee. Basically, “I don’t care, I still get my paycheck and I don’t get any incentive from selling stuff to you” attitude. I don’t mean they were rude. More on this later.

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The People’s Coke and Fanta. They actually taste very good! 

Trip to Cuba (2016) – 1

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Few years ago, I seriously considered visiting Cuba, even if that means I’ll have to go up north to Canada and then go South again, alone. I read a lot of travel journals and reviews for research, and two things stood out: (1) subtract 1-2 stars from the hotel rating, (2) tip the people with consumer goods, rather than cash.

It was so hard to process that in my mind. Wait, what? Subtract stars from the hotel rating? Why? How? What should I expect? And tip with goods? Not cash? Then how much of what should I give? I don’t want to insult anyone! After my Cuba trip, those tips were all very true. However, little did I know back then.

On top of that, my Cuba trip was hastily decided. So we didn’t take much goods with us. I still remembered that tip about hotel, so we made a reservation at the newest hotel in Varadero, Cuba, which had 5 stars. Like everyone said, it was 3.5 stars by international standard, but more on that later.

So like that, I got on a 3.5 hour flight from Toronto, Canada to Varadero, Cuba.

Day 1 at Varadero. I’ve never seen such a cool dark clouds over the sky.

I wasn’t too worried about not getting in to Cuba. We are coming to spend so the government is unlikely to turn us away. You need to fill out a custom declaration and entry/departure visa form. The English wordings on custom declaration was so strange, so I had to call the flight attendant and ask what that means. Let’s not forget I lived in an English-speaking country for so many years and got a proper education there.

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As of the entry/departure form, you cannot mess that up and cannot lose the half of the form. If you mess up the form, you’ll probably have to pay for another. And if you lose the half of the form, you are in trouble when you are departing Cuba. The border control does not staple/clip that form for you. Thanks…Probably because of lack of consumer goods like paper? I don’t know.

As I landed on Varadero airport, I was standing in line for border control. Strange enough, their border control reminded a lot of Chinese airport border control. The strange thing about Cuban border control booth is that it has an auto-lock door.  So you can’t see what’s going on beyond the booth, unlike many other international airports. You can’t leave until the officer approves your entry and opens the door in her booth. It makes you feel like you are in some kind of interrogation booth.

Passing the border control, I proceeded to the luggage carousel. The luggage carousel looked pretty old, and there were several security guards with pointers…without leash! It looked like they were just hanging out with dogs. The rest of that day was pretty uneventful. You get out, meet your tour representative, get on a bus, watching beautiful Caribbean Sea and bright colored buildings, and get off at your hotel.  Occasional sighting of old cars running by the ocean offered me momentary time travels.

Trip to Cuba (2016) – Intro

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Cuba. One of the last communist dictatorship countries in the world. I guess that is why so many seasoned travelers are attracted to this Caribbean island. Including myself, most people would think of Cuba with several icons: Communism. Dictatorship. Revolucion! Castro. Che Guevara. Havana Club Rum & cigar. Old cars. Buena Vista Social Club.

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I seriously considered traveling Cuba several years ago, but the plan didn’t work out then. But oh, life – I didn’t really plan on going to Cuba this year, but while visiting family friends in Toronto, Canada, my family decided to visit Cuba, somewhat spontaneously.

Usually, traveling tropical region like South Asia or Caribbean means enjoying beach, warm weather and beautiful scenery, eating lots of fruits and delicious food, all with cheaper cost, and coming back with a thought, “man, that was awesome rest.” But Cuba was different. I’ve never come back from a trip with this much of food for thought. I’m not the boldest traveler, so most of the area I saw are pretty touristy. Still, I am sitting on that food for thought. Perhaps this is because I am a South Korean – the country that went through super-fast-track development, dramatic modern history, vicious ideological war and long dictatorship, and bordering another communist country to this date. For me, most of my Cuba trip was like stepping into the recent past of South Korea, and present of North Korea (well, better than North Korea).

Cuba is worth visiting, although a lot is likely to change within 5 years.  Cuba is not for everyone. If you are a seasoned traveler who can laugh at coverless toilet and knows a lot about modern history and politics, it will be nothing like other countries. It will make you think hard and reflect on things you used to take for granted. However, if you want a simple, comfortable, and fun vacation, Cuba isn’t for you. For that, go to Jamaica or some other Caribbean countries.