This page is about me and my experiences in life.
How did I come to Korea?
One day, I was going through my routine life in Hong Kong, going to grad school, and teaching students English part time as an English tutor. I had decided to quit everything and head to Korea in order to pursue my career and childhood dream, animation.
I had a few family members that I could contact in Korea but the one family member that I could really rely on was my grandmother, of my fathers side. I had called her and asked her for her permission if I could stay at her place indefinitely, under the condition that I would find a job and help her out with the house work. She gave me the okay, but it was not a very convincing okay, and I could totally understand that what I was asking for was a very selfish demand.
Once I had reached Korea I thought things would work out for the best, but just like how life likes it, it slapped me in my face and brought me back down to reality. My first month spent in Korea can be considered a waste of time. I didn't do anything useful, and without any strong contacts or network of friends I felt pretty lost, and at times lonely. Me and my grandma were not great in terms either in the sense of coexistence and we both had very different perspectives on life, so at my grandmas house (my home now) I felt more of a burden than anything else. My Korean was not bad, but as a second language it was difficult grasping the technical nuances and popular terms that my peers were using, so I had difficulty communicating with people to a certain degree. This made it pretty difficult making contacts, but to add to add an extra layer of plight I was not a very outgoing person either and spent a lot of time indoors, leaving me vulnerable to my already negative mindset.
I wanted to flip the switch and make some changes in my current life, and I believed the only possible way was to find that animation job. I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for local animation studios that were focused on hand drawn animation. (my specialty was hand drawn animation back in school.) This was not an easy task as the whole industry had been converting into computer animation, and much of the industry wanted someone that was versatile with digital techniques. I had almost none of those and to add insult to injury most of these companies were Korean based and I was lacking the language requirements to work efficiently alongside them. I was calling around various companies and out of pure luck one company was interested in me. They were not looking for much from me and they were just curious to know why I wanted to work for them. I was asked for an interview and soon enough I was heading out to their office.
Strangely enough, the lady that I had spoken to, whom I am going to presume was the president or boss of some kind, had asked me if this was truly what I had been wanting to do, and that she had a position where they could use an English speaker to communicate with their overseas offices. At that point in life I was not looking for money and I only wanted to live out my dreams so my response was, no. I did not want anything else except for this opportunity to be the start of my career and inside my mind I was already feeling very excited and jittery, just like that feeling when you can feel the air warming and the cold weather taking a step back signaling the start of spring. There was a scent in the grayish business room that seemed to lighten things up but interestingly the lady of high position asked me AGAIN if this was really what I had wanted to do, and my response this time was much more immediate and confident. Yes!
In about a weeks time I was commuting to this large commercial building alongside suit garbed people with my head held high in anticipation of the work to come. I had already briefly been orientated to the various work stations but there was only one destination for me and it was the drawing department, where key frames and in-betweens were being churned out at a daily basis. The company's main work involved family guy so I had a sense of pride and vanity, a title that I could drop in between a conversation, to prove myself as someone that was worthy enough to be working for a company with a demeanor as such. I was so hyped up for work that I was willing to do anything for the drawing assistants, key frame animators and director.
About a week later I had quit... Yes, after all that excitement and effort that lasted about a microsecond had ceased to a halt so abruptly, that my brain was unable to organize itself over the outcome of events. During my first day of work I was drilled on how tough the work was and that I would be required to work my ass off before they can start using me properly. I was not phased by the prep talk and I was pretty much expecting the industry to be tough, but once they started talking about the official pay rate and work hours I was starting to falter. Apparently the first month of work was going to go largely unpaid and the only pay that they were going to afford to offer was around 20000KRW (150USD), basically they were going to pay for the first month of commuting costs. After the one month period they were going to start giving the official pay, and their pay rates were given per drawing under the condition that the drawing that you had produced was acceptable. If your drawings were unacceptable then there was a chance that your whole days worth of work could go unpaid. Basically you had to be very precise with your hands and trace each drawing with pin point accuracy, and the quicker you produce quality drawings at a high rate the more you would be paid. (each successful drawing was worth 700KRW = 30~40 cents US) They warned me that the typical rookie went unpaid for two to three month before their drawings start getting accepted for pay, so there was a chance that you would go almost unpaid for a long period of time. (one of the assistants working there had told me some unlucky people went unpaid for longer periods of time which lead to many people quitting the industry.) This was not the end of the dark cloud gradually growing over my head.
The director of the department asked how old I was, which was an odd question. At that point in life I was twenty five and after I had told him he went on to say that I was a bit too old to be entering the industry. He went on to say that most people who start work in around the Korean animation industry were high school graduates and any kind of education or qualification was not required. As long as you were good with your hands, you were good to go. (This had started to feel like I was about to start work at some kind of sweat shop.) He had mentioned that it took about two years before you got to see 1million KRW (=700~800 USD) per month and it took about five years to see 2million KRW (=1400~1600 UD) per month. This was all considering the fact that the work hours were eleven hour work days, no weekends. Knowing the conditions were piss poor I had still kept myself hopeful believing that in the future, when I look back at my life this chapter would have been all worth it. At least thats what I was hoping.
About two days into the training regiment I asked plenty of questions about the industry, and boy was I glad that I asked because the answers did not anchor me down into the industry at all.
1) I asked questions about the Korean animation industry and how it's future is faring.
2) I asked questions about the lack of original animations in Korea.
3) I also asked about what he thought about creating your own animations at home, like the
independent stuff you see online.
His answers to the three questions were as follows:
1) The golden age of animation in Korea has passed and currently the hand drawn industry is in recession. The golden age in Korea was back in the late 70s to mid 90s (approximation) and considering that it was the golden age, the Korean industry made its money from doing key frames and in-betweens, and it was never really responsible for much of the story making or creative side of the market.
2) The Korean animation industry lacks investors so there isn't much original animation being produced. No investments means no experimentations or creativity within the industry, leaving much of the industry to stagnate. Eventually when there were investors willing to cooperate the end results are not viable enough for people to continue putting money into the industry. Basically the animation industry in Korea sucks. (At least for the hand drawn industry. The digital industry seems pretty healthy.)
3) He basically said if your are working here, in this animation industry, there is not going to be time to be making personal work. Either you put all your effort into the work that they have for you, or just quit this business and find something else and produce your own stuff on the side.
These were really eye opening answers and they were extremely important in helping me make the next important decision of this chapter of my life, and it was to just quit this industry.
I have no regrets in quitting this job even now and I am really thankful to the director for being so frank because he helped me realize that whatever I had been fantasizing in my mind was not going to happen here, and he was the one who proposed the idea that making independent work was very possible but only under the correct circumstances, and he hinted that working here will not help me reach my target. I thanked the director for everything and then I told him that I had decided to quit. He was no surprised and seemed to have pretty much expected the outcome. I went down to the office area where the boss lady was and I told her that I was quitting as well. The boss lady was a bit taken back and was wondering that had made me quit so soon. I just told her that this job was not what I had been expecting and decided that the best option was to leave. She seemed to share my disappointment because when I first come into the office I had been telling her how this was my dream job and here I was telling her that I had decided to turn my back on the industry. We said our good byes and I walked out of the large building complex that I was in. I was free and unemployed, and at the same time I was feeling very miserable and sad. It had felt like I had left something behind, something that I had been nurturing for a while only to realize that we had to part ways. All of this happened within a span of one week.
Adjustment Period 2: Losing to Life
I said in the previous chapter that I had no regrets about quitting this job and that still stands true, but back then, I was pretty devastated because I had to drop everything that I had been working for within a span of a week. I was pretty sure this was a healthy decision to make because I was not willing to work in an industry that was not promoting any creativity, even when considering animation being a visual media, the place that I was about to work at was not going to help me with my career.
This was the point in life where I picked up a pretty bad drinking habit. You guys may or may not know, Korea is notorious for it soju, and it's soju is ridiculously cheap. Back when I first came to Korea the asking price for a 350ml bottle of soju was 990 won. Thats about a dollar for a bottle of alcohol that has an ethanol content of around 17 percent. So basically for a dollar, one could get a bottle of spirit and get drunk off of their asses. I was not an avid drinker before this period but this moment triggered a pretty terrible habit. After one bottle I was feeling pretty jolly and spent most of my time online surfing the internet. This moment would then eventually become a week and then a month, and by the time a month had passed I was blasting through two bottle of hard liqueur at almost a daily basis. I had also conveniently figured out how to use the awesome online food delivery system so my waist line was growing inches by the second and my back account was getting closer to life support. I must admit, I was feeling very desperate but the condition that I was in was so poor that I was finding difficulty adjusting to what one would consider normal life. At this point I just wanted any job and anything art related just seemed like a far fetched dream.
By the time my bank account had really hit rock bottom, I was closing in on my grandma's limits too and she wanted to me out unless I was going to get my act straight. There was no point in me going back to Hong Kong so I really had to buck up and start getting serious. There were no real jobs that I could turn to except for the English teaching industry. This was something that I had really wanted to avoid, but if I wanted to stay in Korea and keep a steady lifestyle I had no choice but to take up a teaching job. I had to bite my pride and soon enough I was editing my resume to suit the teaching industry.
Surprisingly, the teaching industry was far easier to reach out to when compared to the animation industry, and within a few days I was already heading out for interviews. I had visited a few places and some of them were complete letdowns. My only experience as a teacher was a visiting English tutor so without any official prior teaching experience I felt very vulnerable. Every interview that I went to, I felt like a poor lamb about to be sacrificed to the lords of whomever's business infrastructure. But with a fair amount of perseverance I had been able to land a humble teaching job. The only downside was that their offices were located pretty far off and the commute took about an hour and half. I had to keep this up for about half a year until they had opened another branch which was far closer to where I am currently located.
After about two years of working at the English academy I started to feel a sense of stability and happiness that I had been missing out on for a while. This sense of balance made me feel at ease, like when you visit a secluded temple surrounded by a hazy mist, and the pond beside it is untouched, and the the water is ever still. I had a pretty steady schedule, I was saving money, I was traveling every so often and I was bringing back art into my life. At this point in my life I couldn't have asked for more, because things seemed to be looking up. I felt good, except for the fact that I was still a bit uncertain about myself and my paper thin opinion about myself was so easily swayed. I had no filter in my mind and eventually all kinds of noise had started to enter my mind, listening to other peoples lives, affecting my own thoughts and opinions.
As happy as I was, voices of those around me kept prodding me with their sticks, pressing their opinions on me, making me reconsider the then state of my mind. They pestered me by asking me rhetorical questions like "are you really satisfied with this?" or "can this really be considered a career?" They were wondering if I could not find a job that would offer more stability. I mean I can't blame any of them because they really and truly were looking out for me and wanting me to put myself in the best possible situation, and I should frankly be thankful. I have only myself to blame for being so easily pressured by others, but the current me would have politely declined.
I had decided to quit my current job and move to a better paid job. I had decided to risk losing my current lifestyle all for the sake of earning more money. I won't lie I like money, but once you start chasing it, it grabs you by your ankles and it eventually moves all the way up onto your body until it blinds you and makes your forget about your true intents and purposes. By the time all had been said an done I had only myself to blame. I had made a decision and my next possible option was to follow through with my decision.
The new workplace was a big improvement in terms of quality and they were definitely better off financially. The workplace was pretty far off but the pay was good, and very soon I was able to move out of my grandma's place. I found my own place, which was pretty close to work and it was located in a pretty central area of Seoul. I was feeling rather good because now I was completely independent and I could do whatever the hell I wanted without anyone nagging me. There were some adult responsibilities like rent and bills that needed to be paid, but even with all of the expenses I had more money to spare when compared to my previous jobs pay. At this point I felt like things couldn't have been better. I had more money that ever before and I was now as independent as I had ever wished for. I thought I had made a good decision and I felt like I was climbing up the social ladder. Unfortunately this type of self satisfaction was not something that was lasting.
At first work was pretty lax so my guard was down and I continued with my work, travel, art lifestyle, but little by little work started to become more intense and eventually things started to get pretty demanding. I had to spend extra time out of work just to keep up with the demand. For me working hard is not an issue but it starts to affect me when you have to start sacrificing time outside of work. When work was starting to eat away at my private, personal time it started to etch away at my very being. I had not time to be creative and traveling was no longer a luxury that I could afford because I just could not make the time for it. The pay was still great but my level of satisfaction was not at all acceptable and my decision to work for more pay had started to make me question my reasoning behind this situation.
I had started picking up my nasty habit of excessive drinking again and within half a year of my new job I had gained 15 Kilograms of weight. I felt like I was chained down to my job and everything else was secondary. My life was starting to become my work. It wasn't work that I enjoyed and I felt no sense of development or accomplishment. I kept grinding for a year until my boss called me over for a private discussion. By the time the discussion was over I was jobless again. The funny thing was, I had bought a new bike just the day before I was fired. The bike was supposed to symbolize my new years resolution where I was going to bike to work so I could lose weight and keep fit. Unfortunately that plan only lasted for a day. (-_-)
4.Trying New Things
I was actually quite happy with being jobless this time because the year spend working at my second English teaching job had burnt me out, and my only motivation for staying would have been the money. I had thoughts if quitting through and through but I was just so engulfed in the idea of saving up the cash for future plans. Fortunately, my boss made the situation easier by just releasing me. There was a little bit of bitterness though because I did work hard while I was there and I truly dedicated myself towards their biddings.
This time, rather than feeling helpless and confused, I was feeling a sense of freedom and release. I felt tired of working for an institution and I wanted to make something of myself. I may have been feeling less pressured because I had a pretty healthy amount of money saved up, so I wasn't going to struggle with paying off rent and bills. I had about half a year remaining on my housing contract so I wanted to spend that time efficiently. I wanted to start my own art business and I wanted to start investing by using the savings I had gathered.
Oh how senseless I was about this idea. Back then the romantic ideals of throwing everyone out the window and setting sail on the vast and open ocean, unexperienced, was such a foolish Idea. I thought the I might as well go all or nothing because I would rather fail knowing that I had tried rather than never knowing what it could have been. Taking this path felt like I was wielding a double edged light saber (I chose a light saber because it felt more dangerous). Going all out made me feel good about my self, and the sense of accomplishment helped me gain confidence, but my resources were finite and I only had half a year to really put myself on a map. If I had succeeded then bravo for me, but if I had failed thenI would have to go back to my grandma's.
With all that was said and done, I had a vague sense that plan A was going to fail and I pretty much devised a plan knowingly that plan A would fail. Plan B was the safety and it would be the parachute I would need before jumping off of a plane, because I would not like to land on hard ground after a 6000m dive straight down from the heavens. I may have been rash, but I'm not crazy. (At times, it's the crazy ones that succeed...)
At first I had no idea where to start, so the first place that I turned to was the internet. I read a bunch of articles and eventually I was able to get a very basic wireframe of an idea on what I should do. The most important fact was that I had to produce art. I had grand plans about pieces that I was going to produce in the near future which included illustrations, series, paintings, drawings and much, much more. I was certainly eager but ambitions cannot be achieved unless they are actually realized. I was certainly guilty of pouring more than I could handle because I was NOT making good use of my time.
Thinking that art was one of my most favorite things to do, I thought I could do it all day, no problem, but boy was I wrong. Without the correct mindset and willingness to work hard, nothing comes easy. There were days where I spent all day procrastinating, napping, and downright just wasting time. My drinking habit did not ease up and many nights were spent in a drunken stupor, waking up with my body contorted in the most disturbing ways, my chair toppled over, and the afternoon sun glaring through the windows with the morning already passed. I had no strict discipline or a clear cut schedule so many days were spend inefficiently. The fact that I had a bit of money to rest on, it kept me far from being desperate and hungry, and my unplanned days seemed to be taking my art nowhere. That sense of misdirection made it difficult to stay focused.
I had been jobless since February if that year and when it got to about April/May I had realized that my savings was draining faster than I had expected and in order to stop the bleeding I had no choice but to find at least a part time job. I had gotten in contact with my first boss and she was kind enough to grant me a part time position. The part time job kept me afloat and the bleeding at a minimum. I had space to to breath and the job gave me a sense of schedule and responsibility that made my time feel more precious.
I was able to be a bit more productive and eventually I produced a fair amount of work that I could print and sell. I had invested in making a website that was eventually a waste of time, money and effort. Looking back at it now I could have just kept using my blog because it costed so much just to get a website up and running, with the results being barely acceptable. Plus, any extra pages or additions required extra payment and it was not cheap. A venue that did help me out with some sales experience was the Freemarket loacted in Hong Dae, above the Han river on the northwestern area of seoul. It was great meeting fellow artist and slients, and the general experience of displaying, presenting and selling art was an irreplacable experience. The only downside was that almost everyone that was attending were there to sell products, so there aws a strong sense of graphic design and merchandising. I loved what they were doing but it wasn't the best place to display live art. Overall, this kind of experience is something that I would like to recommend to many aspiring amatuer artists.
I kept this part time job/art creating schedule until my housing contract had ended. I wasn't able to start my own as I had been hoping for but I was able to get a start on something that was starting to extend beyond something that was just a hobby. Within a day or so I had finished packing and boxing most my my things and very soon I was heading back to my grandma's place.
In hindsight what I learned from this experience was that it was something that was worth having. I wasted a lot of money and time but all of it was well worth wasting. If I hadn't done any of this I would probably have known nothing and learned nothing. Another lesson that I picked up on was that self discipline is extrememly difficult and unless you're extremely determined it is unbelievably challenging making efficient use of your time when you don't have a steady schedule. This is where I applaud those out there who are completely disciplined because those people are at another level.