Why I really like my work team

It was a quiet Friday at work when a message popped up in our Kakao team chat.

“How about we switch next week’s team lunch to today?”

Everyone agreed and we were out of the building within five minutes.

I work for a Korean company and each month we receive a “team-building allowance” which can be used for a modest lunch or dinner together.

Our initial plan was sandwiches from Paris Croissant, the fancier cousin of the ubiquitous Paris Baguette (both are owned by the SPC group), which was fine by me. They have a jambon buerre baguette that I’m rather partial to (warning: it’s not available in all Paris Croissant stores).

But at the last minute my manager suggested Brick Oven instead, a wood-fired NY-style pizza place nearby. No objections there. Pizza is a lot more “yay, only five hours left to the weekend” than sandwiches.

After being seated, we deliberated over the menu before finalising our order.

“What about one party-sized pizza and one couple-sized pizza?”

“It’s 5,000 won extra for half-and-half”

“Or one pizza and two pastas? Ooh, fried calamari…”

“We may as well get two party-sized ones, we can always takeaway the leftovers”

“If we get two half-and-halfs, we should get the two red sauce toppings on one pizza and the white sauce toppings on the other pizza”

That’s team-building right there.

Somehow we managed to eat two 18-inch pizzas, smothered in extra Parmesan cheese (the powdery bottled kind) and chilli flakes, between the five of us. No kimchi or pickles on the side—we’re Korean but not that Korean.

Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. I guess it was those Fri-yay feels, with no pending deadlines in sight. Minor personality clashes and work conflicts were swept to the side.

Have I mentioned that I really like my work team?

We are two Korean American gyopos, one biracial Korean American, an American Korean adoptee, and me. A little bubble of “overseas Koreans” within a large Korean company, stretching the definitions of what it means to be Korean. Amongst us, we have various levels of Korean language ability and cultural knowledge (mine being the lowest by far).

On Friday afternoon, in my pizza-induced food coma stupor (two coffees made absolutely no difference), I was thinking about how much I like this team. About how nice it feels to be a part of it.

But Hana, you’re supposed to be a writer, do you think we can unpack “like” and “nice” a little?

I’ve never worked in an ethnic Korean or all-Asian team like this before. In fact, as a Korean adoptee, I’ve spent a lot of time being the only person of colour—or one of a few—in schools, churches, clubs, organisations, workplaces, and communities.

In her book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown writes:

“It’s work to be the only person of colour in an organisation…to do the emotional labour of pointing out problematic racist thinking, policies, actions, and statements while desperately trying to avoid bitterness and cynicism.”*

I don’t have to do that work within this team.

Because they get it. They all understand what it’s like to be othered. They know what it’s like to be hyper-visible as soon as you walk into a room, for people to assume certain things about you because of the colour of your skin.

They know what it means to leave a home. To build a new life in a foreign country. To not really want to go back, even though you have family and friends back there. Because your body feels so good in this country. Even though you hate Koreans and Korean-ness sometimes. Even though, as a foreign Korean woman, you stepped way down on the dating food chain here.

I don’t have to explain anything to them. My white name, Asian face, perfect English. My Australian culture and lack of knowledge about Korean-ness. They never expect me to be an authority on all things Korean. No, I don’t know the best place for Korean fried chicken in Melbourne, sorry. 

Explaining can be tiring. Sometimes it’s easier to lay low, to avoid drawing attention to oneself. Or to simplify the complexity of your experience so you don’t confuse anyone. So you don’t have to explain.

Sometimes explaining seems close to justifying which seems close to apologising.

But as author, poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor teaches us, the body is not an apology. 

My Asian female body is not an apology. What a relief it is to know and feel that. 

I really like my work team.

Me taking photos of food 1/257

*I’m not Black and I don’t claim to have been oppressed in the same way, but I relate to some of the shared POC experience.

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