401 book translation project: No Overtime

  • Written in Korean by Suk Yong Kwak, 1970’s, Korean Journal, Toronto
  • Translated by Ok Ryong Kwak and June Kwak


Up until 2 years ago, it was easy to find a job. You had your pick of high wage jobs with opportunities to work overtime in a 2 shift or 3 shift factory job and many Korean people worked these jobs. There were a handful of companies that each employed 50 to 100 Koreans. At that time, collecting UIC was frowned upon and people helped each other to find jobs, telling job seekers where to go to find work. Some companies like American Motors would hire people on the condition that they would work a certain number of overtime hours each week. Now, during this down turn in the economy, those years are looked upon with nostaglia.

During those good times, there was one person who said he would die before he would ever work overtime. His nickname is “No overtime”, or Mr No. Mr No almost lost his job because he refused to work overtime. Twice in one month, he refused to work a 4 hour shift on a Saturday. Around him, his friends were working overtime and moonlighting, busy working as industriously as ants. Many of his friends bought a corner store or milk store or a house and they are still working a 80mi/h lifestyle.


Of course they purchased a new car or a second car… Around 5 years later, they have saved a lot of money and own a palatial house and they have made big advancements in their lives. But Mr. No, he lives at the same moderate speed, about 50 mi/h. Mr. No’s car is quite old, but his pace of life has never been over 60 mi/h.

Mr. No has worked for two different companies. He has been at his second workplace for 4 years now. He works at a food packaging company. For the first 3 years, he worked the evening shift as a machine operator and since last year, he has a permanent position working the night shift in charge of cleaning the machinery. The wages were not very high and there was high turnover in staff, but Mr No worked those first three years without a day’s absence, so you could say the company recognized and rewarded his diligence and perseverance. Now he leads a 6 person team cleaning 100 packing machines large and small. Three people clean the floor and the other three people and Mr. No clean the machines. Their main job is to clean food remnants from the machines. Before he had started as a cleaner, he had heard of an incident of improper cleaning in which the cleaning agent was left in the machine and half a day’s production of food had to thrown away. It would seem that Mr. No is far from layoff or UIC for next 5 years. This summer he has 3 weeks of vacation.

Here, I want to introduce Mr. No, not as head machine cleaner, but instead focus on his lifestyle. In short he said he wants to live a life of freedom. “It’s not that I want only a hedonistic life. What I despise is carrying debt. I hated the $100 monthly car payments on the second hand Volkswagen I am driving now. It was not the amount of the monthly payment, but the burden of having to pay it every month for a year. Since then, I pay cash for everything. I don’t have to worry about inflation or how much money is worth. If I have money I buy something but for the possibility of buying something, I don’t want to be in debt in the future. For the past 4 years, I have been paying once a year for a whole year of rent for my apartment.”

“A western friend who made money said, ‘I had success in my business by borrowing money’, he was able to borrow money from the bank at the right time that allowed him to start the business at the right time. I appreciate the bank. It could happen, but it doesn’t fit with my character. It’s not because I have no desire for things or money, it’s not that I’m lazy or because I am old. In Korea, I was running a so-called business for a few years and after paying interest I had nothing left in my hands and so I decided to live a family centred life. If you work hard, you will have no worries to live. When I came, I came with empty hands, now I have some furniture and I work in the daytime and I have no troubles, I have enough time of my own and that’s my chosen way of life. My friend has two variety stores and he is very busy. He says he has about $30 000 in cash and if he sells one, then it may be $70 000.

But these days, he may be burnt out. He has kidney stones and this year he went to the hospital twice and now he cannot drink any alcohol. I can understand his position, but we have to take a long view of life. The way Canadian people are living, their tempo of life,  is worth learning.”

“I could afford to buy a small apartment but because of the mortgage payment, I would feel like a snail obliged to carrying its home on its back day and night and I cannot breathe when I think of carrying the debt and my weak stomach cannot handle that and on top of all that, it’s for 25 years. I don’t care. It could be worth, $1 million in 25 years. That is the story of tomorrow. I enjoy my home and family life now. I enjoy the present. That is what I value. Of course, since people need to buy a house, people buy a house, but it cost more than they expected. …don’t need to talk about other peoples’ business. ”

Then for this friend, Mr No, what is the enjoyment in his life? To consider a big question, what is the life plan after immigration? Don’t you think that after immigration you have to do something big? “I just live freely as I please.” That is his answer. For example, the enjoyment of eating, it is an enjoyment you cannot miss. Next is travelling. On weekends or long vacations whenever he has time, he enjoys travelling.

Living here in Canada, on the weekend, people cook a roast beef or roast pork in the oven and those smells and the smell apple pie wafting through the corridor. He broils bulgogi on a tray in the oven.

On the weekend, he adds as much garlic and spicy seasonings to the bulgogi as he likes and the aroma fills the apartment building and people talk about the smell of the bulgogi. Good or bad, on the weekend, his neighbours smell this, so no problem. The neighbours above their apartment are Greek and they said it smelled so good, so on several occasions he let them taste some.

It was three years ago that I first met Mr No. At that time he brought out homemade rice wine from the refrigerator. The wine was tart but it was unforgettable to taste rice wine after such a long time and recently I heard his wine is quite good. To make delicious Korean rice wine, he says it’s better to live in a house. Then he would also make ginseng wine and chrysanthemum wine in addition to rice wine. He always has some brewing, so he said, “Whenever you feel like some rice wine, come by”. He only drinks a little bit before meals. He doesn’t like western liquor because he doesn’t like the smell. If you listen to what he says about food, from small intestine and large intestines of beef to fresh raw fish you will learn where he gets the freshest food. He just cooked pheasant and he said he is planning a trip to go north of Algonquin park to buy deer or moose meat.

Travelling? On the weekend, he regularly works on his 5 year old Volkswagen with nearly 80,000 miles. He has changed the tires twice and does his own maintenance work and repairs to keep the car running. He has never had to use a towing service. He showed me pictures and pamphlets from places where he has been. He has been to more than 40 parks in Ontario and visited some nearby American cities.


This Christmas he will return to New York City to see the some of the latest shows on Broadway. On the other hand, he also enjoys fishing and hunting north of Algonquin Park. He started skiing last year and will continue skiing this winter. He has a friend in the Kitchener area and plans to go there to visit. Wherever he goes, he goes with his whole family, it is one of his values.

His apartment is organized and very well appointed. In the living room, he has two oak desks, for his two daughters and the book shelves are lined with a set of encyclopedias and magazines. There are around 200 record albums because his wife like music, and behind a folding screen, the ski equipment is ready to go when the snow arrives.

Finally, he has the desire to draw or paint pictures, but it is his complaint that he has no talent. He lives freely without being tied by unseen strings. When he worked overtime, he noticed another desire, so no overtime.

June Written by:


  1. Avatar
    December 26, 2017

    Thanks for those insights into Korean life in Canada, June.

    • June
      December 27, 2017

      Thanks for reading, Rita!

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