Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I'm not talking "About your daddy and your mother and your crazy ex-lover"... Toby Keith, 'I Wanna Talk About Me'. (awesome song, if you don't like country... well, you'll probably hate this song even more :) )

But I don't want to talk about me either.

I want to talk about the peninsula I have been living on for the past 11 months.
The peninsula named the 'Republic of Korea' by the Homo Sapiens who were reared to speak English. '한국' by those who have been fighting communism for the past few generations. The peninsula split at the 38th parrallel due to the irrationally deranged rulers in it's northern lands. The peninsula whose southern rulers detest war, being stuck in an armistice for the past 60 years.

Although, war is not an option for the South Koreans. The Koreans will forever be chearing, 'Korea Fighting'.. even though they probably do not quite comprehend the connotation. I arrived at just the right time to witness the 2010 World Cup antics in South Korea. 'Korea Fighting' was plastered everywhere and screamed all of the time.

The whole story about the two Koreas (North & South) is the icing on the cake.. the cherry on the sundae.. for my stories about bipolar/opposites during my stay in Korea.

Though one may think that it would be scary to live in S. Korea, because of the constant threat from the North, I have never felt so safe in a nation in my life. Of couse, I know I still need to be careful... but walking alone on the streets of Jinju at 3AM feels much safer than walking around Roanoke, or Troutville for that matter. You can set your bag down and not worry about someone stealing it. The Korean people do not carry handguns, nor do the police. The craziest thing I have seen here are drunken soju fights, but they're pretty hilarious.

I was pre-warned by websites and books that courtesy and hierarchy are very important in Korea.
a.)when handing someone anything you use your right hand and support your right arm with your left hand, when shaking hands you do the same (especially with someone you are not familiar with), when pouring an alcoholic or expensive drink they always use the left arm to support the right arm that is pouring, you also always take something with both hands
b.)Koreans bow when they greet each other, sometimes bowing and shaking hands at the same time
c.)even if the old lady on the street that is yelling at you like your Grandmother would, even if that old lady seems crazy or looks like she lives under a bridge, even if she is smacking you at the same time.. it is the Korean way to obey, she is older than you therefore wiser

With all of this talk of courtesy, you would assume that day-to-day life of living in Korean society would be nothing but birds and butterflies singing and fluttering around your head.

But..... here is the flip side:
That grandmother that was hitting you and yelling at you in Korean... your arm will probably be sore for the next hour.
--This happened to Dana and I when we were headed to a bus to go to the beach. She was walking towards us when we were on a sidewalk, starts talking in Korean (well it sounded like she was yelling) smacking my arm, hitting Dana's upper chest, and the only thing we could assume that she was going on and on about was our clothing... even though I think that Koreans dress quite skankily, Koreans think that Westerners dress skankily because we will show our shoulders and boobs in tops. Dana and I couldn't yell back at her because.. well.. all we could do was laugh, because... that's Korea!
--Also, if you meet an 'ajumma' (older lady) in an elevator (this happened to a friend).. you're going to the 12th floor.. and she is going to the 11th floor.. if she unclicks your button once she gets to her 11th floor (you can turn floors on and off in Korea) and motions you to walk up the stairs and starts talking in Korean.. you just do it.. you walk up that flight because she doesn't want you to take the elevator. Why? Because she saaaiiiiddd soooo!

Another courtesy subject to talk about. If you walk by two boys on the street, one says 'Hey' in English.. you turn around and say a timid 'Hi'.. AS he is hocking a loogie onto the middle of the sidewalk.. that is not considered rude or indecent. That IS the epitome of Korean culture.. hocking loogies in public.. period.

A) God forbid you wear your shoes in someone's house, school, restaurant, GYM! Of course, not every single place of business will require you to take your shoes off.. you can only wonder about the Business Rooms.. but yes, I was asked to wear a new/unworn-outdoors pair of shoes to the gym I was paying $60 to join.. so I just went barefoot.. but that membership only lasted a month, so no biggie!
B) Almost every restaurant and house owns a sanitary dish dryer, where all of the cups, silverware and most dishes are placed into. I see absolutely no need for them, seeing as they hardly wash their dishes anyways. Most of the time I just see them dip cups and bowls into a larger bowl of soapy water and putting them in the drying cabinet that 'sterilizes' using UV rays. Of all Asian countries, I've heard that the Koreans are the ones that are the most crazy about them!

C) Need to throw away that to-go cup that is in your hand? OK, just toss it into the bush... you aint gonna' find a trash can 'round here! I'm not sure why Koreans don't believe in public trash cans, but they don't, which is fairly obvious when you're at festivals or downtown and you see people just tossing their trash everywhere. However, what you won't see is constant trash everywhere. Make sense? I know! The government hires the ajummas and ajushis (older men and women) to pick up trash, garden, lay bricks.. so there will undoubtedly be a herd of them close behind to clean up your mess! (I think that trashcans would possibly cut down on the amount of old women that constantly live their lives looking down because they have grown to be hunchback.. it is seriously turning into an issue)

Beauty & Fashion
I think the term ‘narcissism’ is too negative to generalize the Korean population as a whole. However, never in my life have I seen an entire culture obsessed with looking at themselves in public.. on any reflective surface available, mainly in pretty hand mirrors and on the reflective film cover they put on their phones. I’ve seen two girls sitting down at a coffee shop, hand mirrors in tow, gazing at themselves as a form of conversation. Often a couple will be seated for dinner, and either the girl of the guy will start taking pictures of themselves with their Smartphone or camera, to get a glimpse of how fly they look… shouldn’t you rely on ‘your other half’ to let you know if you look funky or not?!

Growing up American, we were always groomed to not be too vain in public. Therefore, if you want to check and see if you have something in your teeth post-eating, you would sneak a quick look at your reflection in the hopes that no one noticed. Now this could easily be taken as American’s being too worried about what people think.. why not just do whatever you want to do? I suppose to answer who is correct depends on if the Koreans are looking at their reflection to impress themselves or to impress others. Once you see the culture in action, maybe you would be able to make that opinion for yourself; I’ve already made my personal assessment.

Now for the bipolar view of the narcissistic ways of the Korean people. I have not gone a day in Korea without seeing someone walking around in a hospital gown. These hospital gown clad people include young people, old people, business people, couples, children… I’m sure most every Korean has done this at some point in their lives. I often see people getting out of taxis, eating in restaurants, going to a cell phone store, and getting street food in their hospital pajamas. Most of the time they also have an IV-drip attached to their arm that they wheel around on the bumpy brick sidewalks… although they go really slow, you sure can hear that metal cart bopping and popping around as they walk. There is nothing that screams fashion about that! I wouldn’t even want to be seen in a hospital in a hospital gown myself.

Save Yo' Face!
I was pre-warned about this term before coming to Korea. Koreans believe in 'saving face'. Meaning, you would never confront someone directly, you beat around the bush, suggest things, manipulate, and do whatever you can so as not to let them think you think bad about them, or that you would do something that would hinder their progress to improve yours.

I learned a lot about this while working with the Directors at both of my schools, neither of them would tell the other exactly what they were thinking. However, it was okay if I was the one used to tell the other something negative. Also, if they didn't approve of something an employee was doing, they wouldn't directly tell them, merely beat around the bush.. in the end the problem would normally be spiraling out of control.

On the flip-side, I had figured if you needed to 'save face', then people would stay out of your business and out of your bubble, because that would be the polite 'save face' thing to do.. but that is quite the contrary.

The personal bubble does not exist in Korea. You can be standing all alone at the corner of the sidewalk waiting for the walk sign to come on (imagine a large intersection, and yes this happened to me many times) and rather than someone standing a couple of feet away from you to wait as well.. they stand about 6 inches away from you. Leaving you awkwardly standing there and looking around to see, "Did a crowd of people just walk up here?", "Do I know this person?", then you just think, "This is weird" and take a step to the side away from the creep-o who practically wants to hold hands with you at the stoplight.

When you go shopping at a tiny boutique or a large department store, there will always be someone following you.. I'm not sure what they do, since I can't even talk to them.. but I'm assuming just to help you. This is a no no NO NO for me, I can't handle someone being all up in my business, looking at how I shop, what I'm interested in, what size I am or really anything. I often turn around and 'shew' them away, privacy pleeaaseee!

Along with saving face, there is a sense of trust amongst the Korean people. You never really have to worry about someone taking off with your bags, trying to con you out of your money, or tricking you in any real way.. but for some reason E-Mart.. about the same as Wal-Mart.. doesn't trust you.
They have a greeter at the main doors at all times that say "Annyonghasayo" and a little welcome to E-Mart bow.. and then they will take you to the side and either tape up all of your shopping bags from other stores or make you put them in a locker. This was quite offensive to me at first, I guess it is just stores doing what stores do, but where is the trust people!? This policy seems very opposite of Korean culture!

Also, I adore the sauna's and showering naked with everyone.. however, I see absolutely nothing 'saving face-able' about that!

Korea is definitely an interesting place to visit or live, it never ceases to surprise or throw a curve ball at ya!
Peace out Korea, I've loved every second and miss you already. I've been back in the U.S.A. for one week now, and I'm still trying to hand money to a clerk with my right hand, take my shoes off before I walk in my house and above all, I MISS THE FOOD!!!!!!

~*~* Korea 2010 - a year never to be forgotten~*~*

No comments:

Post a Comment