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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Black Money

A fact of life well-known to any man that's ever married a Korean woman is that the finances are the wife's responsibility and one she takes very seriously. It is the norm for the entire paycheck to be turned over to the wife, from which she gives her husband a small allowance. (Even Nicholas Cage, when visiting with the VFW here some years back, commented about his then-new wife that Korean women are very different about money.)

So how's a man to fund all-night soju sessions with his colleagues, not to mention visits to room salons (where the female "hostesses" offer a range of services starting at singing with their male guests and going through to "happy endings") or, for the wealthier gents, the upkeep of one's girlfriend (a necessary status symbol for many)?

The solution? Black money.

Every large Korean company I have worked for here, remembering that traditionally men were the sole business class, has a version of black money, outside of the regular salary. At my first newspaper here, I was told to open an account with the company's credit union, despite my salary going directly to my own bank account. I did so and was surprised to find it already had a good sum deposited - my first encounter with black money. From then on, any extra compensation, including overtime, yearly bonuses and recompense for business expenses went into my "secret" account.

Here in my current job, I get paid extra for working weekends or overtime, in addition to extra payments for editing a monthly publication on North Korea (which to me is akin to being paid to study a favorite subject, although it can be difficult to edit). So every few weeks, the office girl comes around distributing envelopes stuffed with man (10,000) won bills (KRW10,000 is usually close to US$10). I do love those yellow envelopes and probably should never have told the boyfriend they existed.

I have no idea if any of this is taxed as my taxation is all Korean to me, I just smile, thank her and for the publication money sign a receipt. It almost makes me feel as I did in my long-ago and much-loved career as a waitress when I'd go home with extra money each day from tips. I love my job because of the talented people I am privileged to work with and the appreciation I receive for my skills, but it certainly doesn't make me love it any less by tossing me cash-filled envelopes on a regular basis.

Dinner and drinks, anyone?

For the record, the wives are aware of the existence of these accounts, just as many are aware of the existence of room salons and girlfriends, but it's a socially agreed upon construct in Korea that so long as something is not acknowledged or discussed, it does not exist. Opseyo.

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