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This is in response to an ignorant-ass comment thread going on over at ROK Drop, an otherwise respectable blog:
Wow. "Curry munchers." The overt racism of this entire comment stream isn't surprising, nor is the instant dismissal of this man's concerns. Did you people even READ the article? It was highlighting this as a common occurrence, not one man's crusade. And the observation that these incidents usually occur in direct proportion to the victim's unfamiliarity with the culture? Whatever.
People get on me for the same shit -- even when I am standing in a suit facing the subway door engrossed in my iPod, I have some drunken, crazed ajussi I hadn't even noticed screaming and cursing at me at the top of his lungs. Or this past weekend, with two Korean American friends discussing in a normal tone of voice which exit to use when we got off at Coex station.
This shit happens all the time, and it's getting worse. I never take the subway, and each time I violate that rule, I get nearly physically assaulted. Verbal harrassment is par for the course. And to those who continue to dismiss my or others' experiences as invalid simply because you never have anything happen to you (and chances are, you're white or fit into Koreans' sense of acceptability), good for you. That still doesn't change reality for others.
And for those who argue that Korea's situation is in danger of becoming like that of France -- that's beyond idiotic. The particular brand of French racial and religious intolerance, mixed with similarly rigid reactionism on the part of the Islamic minority there -- that isn't at all what's happening here. We're not talking about drawing lines in the sand over social norms and religious edicts -- this is a matter of simple, common courtesy, on a kindergarten level:
-- You should be drunk off your ass in public.
-- You shouldn't yell at or curse people out.
-- You shouldn't hit people.
-- People who violate the law (especially those who assault others) should be punished.
-- And the standard of treatment? Korea OWN laws. No one is asking for special treatment here.
What's this guy, others like him, or people like me really asking for? To stop being harrassed, harangued, or even hit for daring to do things such as be with a Korean woman, use one's own native language, or be a different skin color.
And right now, I've about had it with this bullshit. The stupid commenters' solution? "Go home."
Sorry. I AM home. And I believe Korea to be too full of decent people, to be too good of a culture, to be a far better place than one that deserves to have a few assholes ruin everything.
Because it IS that bad these days. And the problem is that, like always, most decent Koreans don't want to do anything about it, while a few bad apples make life nearly miserable for minorities here.
Publicity like this will hopefully wake up enough decent people to the point where they will stop taking this kind of shit from the usual suspects, the people who cause 99% of these incidents:
DRUNK, MIDDLE-AGED AJUSSIS WITH AN INFLATED SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT.
No one likes these assholes, not even most Koreans in the subway car, office space, or classroom there with you. They are just too used to taking it or looking the other way.
But engaging in conversations about how much certain groups of people do or don't ACTUALLY smell, or making "Clash of Civilizations"-level, hyperbolic predictions of cultural doomsday in Korea is just as stupid as it is non-productive. The problem is actually very simple: stop accepting this bullshit and stigmatize it away.
The one thing that I do believe happens quickly in Korea is change, especially when you deal in the cultural currency Koreans really operate with: chemyeon, or social "face." And you know what? When things get embarrassing enough, Koreans either sweep it under the rug or fix it.
And the ability to sweep this under the rug in Korea is quickly waning. This is the kind of practical positivity I have about Korea. And it's not based in ignorance of the culture, way of life here, language, or any of that. In fact, anyone who knows this place should understand the logic of chemyeon, group shame, and the power that gives the outsider here.
The ones who REALLY display their ignorance are those who engage in the same racism as the dumbass ajussis on the subway, or Chicken Little-esque prognostications about a cultural jihad or snickering about the need for an American-style civil rights movement in Korea, complete with Martin Luther "Kim" and all.
All I'm asking for is the basic civility that is afforded to the average Korean here. Which means not being cursed, spit upon, or hit. It ain't that fucking much to ask for.
A pretty decent article on the subject from the NYT. I was glad to hear people reporting on how other brown people avoid the buses and subways. I also wonder whether certain white folks can stop the implied victim blaming when they puzzledly point out, "Well, I never had a problem."
Well, that's YOU, white man. Good ON ya.
Just this past weekend, when a friend of mine who is the global HR director for an international firm was here visiting the Korea branch, along with her younger sister, a lawyer from LA, in tow, I was joking about how I always avoid the subway, and try not to violate my own rules from "Tips to Avoid Being Assaulted in Korea" post. The two sisters happen to be Korean American, by the way.
Lo and behold, we were sneered at by most of the passengers and yelled at by the bus driver for speaking English in a perfectly normal tone of voice. Such derision isn't given to the irritatingly loud students or irritating ajumma yelling into the phone; basically, English "sounds" louder and more irritating. Sure, I'm no saint -- when people speak Cantonese or Thai in the Midwest, people stare. But we've had enough training in tolerance -- and use a bit more common sense -- to not constantly attack them for it.
Which is what happened when we got on for literally 2 stops, as we traveled from Kangnam to Samsung Station. The Korean American two sisters and their two Korean cousins and I are literally discussing which exit to use and other directions-related stuff when an ajussi yells for us to "shut up!" My older friend looks at him like he's crazy, but I calm her down. From her perspective, she's an American-educated corporate executive, not used to being pushed around or swallowing a public insult, especially for doing something no worse than anyone else in the extremely noisy subway car was doing -- talking in a normal tone of voice.
From the middle-aged man's perspective -- and these incidents are almost always caused by middle-aged men with an overblown sense of entitlement -- she was this overly-proud, expressive Korean woman who didn't know her place. And that place was where most Korean women are expected to be: quiet, submissive to male authority, and definitely covering her mouth when she laughed, which my friend never does.
Well, we simply ignored the ajussi, as we were going to get off in a single stop, anyway. Of course, because such is my luck, as we were getting off, as the car was literally slowing to a halt, the dude comes over, grab and then pushes my friend, admonishing her "When someone tells you to be quiet, BE QUIET!
Of course, having been raised in LA and not being prone to taking shit, my friend went at him, as did her sister. The cousins and I held them back and we got off the train while the old man brigade stood and pointed their fingers at us, cursing the entire way. I wanted to report the guy -- he's guilty of assault -- but that would've ruined the dinner. After all, who has time to spend 12 hours in a Korean police station and probably falsely accused of a crime by the offender himself?
Ahh, welcome to Korea.
And for those folks completely unaware of their white privilege in generally not being as prone to these constant attacks (not that white folks don't get assaulted for this very same shit, too) in saying, "Duh, *I* haven't had any problems," dot dot dot...
...which naturally implies that I am either making this shit up, exude some "come verbally or physically assault me" hormone to ajussis, or that I am going around looking niggerishly angry and trying to start shit all the time.
No, I am just brown in a society that only really barely tolerates even good white folk, has an increasingly racist media environment (something I wish the NYT talked about), and has no formal mental infrastructure for being tolerant.
I'm glad this article came out. Koreans are going to be shocked that "it's so bad." They're going to say it's exaggerated -- just like EVERY SINGLE KOREAN I'VE EVER TALKED TO when I describe why I don't take the subway. EVER. Or speak English in tight spaces.
"Are you sure you didn't do something to cause it? Maybe it was a misunderstanding."
I think the misunderstanding is that I EXIST. Like THAT kind of misunderstanding? The mistake I made MUST have been in my choosing to be standing up in a subway car and being BROWN. Because that obviously is an offense to Korean sensibilities.
That NYT article is ON POINT -- exaggeration? Because it's LIKE that.
And for those who think we were being "culturally insensitive" and brought it on ourselves, or we should have been more accommodating of these abusive, domineering old men -- it is precisely because of overly-forgiving, blame-the-victim kind of attitudes that these men behave like this IN THE FIRST PLACE.
They know they won't be arrested for being publicly drunk, verbally accosting people, physically harassing them, or even for raping them. This society treats men as kings, rewards them for being old, and they learn that they can act a fool and get away with it.
Until someone draws the line and refuses to take it, which really cheeses them off. Well, NO -- I'm not the problem. My friends weren't the problem. THEY are. And since they're usually drunk and belligerent to BEGIN with, the question of fault is moot from jump.
We're not talking venerable old men politely suggesting that we are being too loud, or that perhaps my clothes aren't appropriate, or that I am committing some cultural faux pas and won't I please be more accommodating to my host culture? No -- we're talking angry, drunk, old men who come at you yelling, grabbing, and pushing complete strangers around. Or just hit them outright.
They're criminals. They're public drunks. And the "culture" is just that of being too pussified to do anything about it, too full of 19th-century "jeong" to prosecute these repeat offenders and shut them the fuck up. Well, if no one's gonna do anything about it, I'm gonna take a picture. Fuck the Korean legal concept of "privacy." You already invaded MINE, motherfuckers.
Whoo. Now I feel much better.
You go, girl! And not just for the Mary Jane itself, but peoples in this "democracy" need to understand that speaking one's mind is one's right -- folks here are too used to sanitized discourses controlled by dictators. MBC should issue an apology for airing her opinion? It's called freedom of speech. But I can't blame people too much -- there wasn't REAL democracy in Korea until the 1990's.
Kind of disappointing, the public's reaction being to simply try to muzzle her. And she's right -- WEED has been around and used in Korean culture since forever, and was only illegalized in the 1970's under Pak Chung Hee, who feared it would lower workers' productivity.
Well, if there's one thing that I betcha Chinese medicine might agree with me on, it's that Koreans smoking weed would be MUCH better for the country than Koreans getting blasted on soju to ease the pain of this competitive and stressful society.
Weed for the Korean masses -- a modest proposal!
Seriously, even the language about "illegal drugs" is warped in the Korean language, as the term "mayak" has such bad connotations, in the way one thinks of doing heroin straight to the vein in the US. And with the strict ban on drugs and information on drugs in Korea (note, John Cho, one of the most famous persons of Korean descent in the US, was an unknown until Star Trek, since neither of the Harold and Kumars could be showcased here since they so unabashedly advocated marijuana use), there is a lot of ignorance about what these basic drugs even do.
One commentator in the article said: "If marijuana is an Oriental medicine, is methamphetamine a Western medicine? It is not right to justify narcotics even though it is a minority opinion." Huh? Marijuana is marijuana. Even in the legalization-averse US, some states approve its medical use because the proof of its medical properties is so overwhelming. And the pressure to illegalize marijuana not only came from Pak Chung Hee's idea that it would reduce productivity, but from direct US pressure to illegalize it.
Koreans had been smoking out for generations, people! Or did you think that was just tobacco people were putting in the old long pipes in those old pictures? With as much hemp use as there has been for clothes, observed from my time spent living in the Korean countryside, I know for a FACT that people out there burn hemp, smoke the weed, and secretly plant stashes in rural areas.
Marijuana has only been illegal in Korea for the span of my own lifetime, people. Koreans act like the Devil himself inhabitant that curious weed, but it's been a part of Korean culture for centuries. People who don't think so are simply unaware of historical facts, like them or not.
And back to the quote -- marijuana is marijuana. It calms you, isn't narcotically addictive (like nicotine in cigarettes), and the worst side effects are generally extreme hunger pangs. Meth? It makes you fucking crazy, stop eating, and a sniveling remnant of a human being, akin to Chris Rock's character Pookie in New Jack City. And no one needs a nation of Pookies.
But I'd say that given the average Korean's tendency -- especially in men -- to drink soju and other hard liquor to excess at least 3-4 times a week, all the pissing in the streets, barfing on the sidewalk, cursing in public, fights started between friends, not to mention the fact that many fathers in this country would rather stay out drinking most nights than return home to their families, not to mention the role alcohol plays in other related issues such as the well-known high rate of domestic violence and acquaintance rape in this country --
Why is Korea against marijuana again? Does anyone think that a nation that must be nearly half alcoholic by the puritanical American definition of the term has a reasonable argument against marijuana use?
If marijuana were legalized, and there were bars where you could smoke out in socially-acceptable ways, I think that would be one of the best things to happen to Korea in a long time. People need to CALM THE FUCK DOWN, not get riled up into the violent, drunken idiocy caused by that evil spirit known as soju. Which the old dictators wanted to keep cheap, by the way, to keep the masses usefully soused, to some extent. But Mary Jane would have been too much relaxation. And maybe they were right.
But seriously -- in present-day Korea, who would argue that marijuana wouldn't vastly improve the quality of life here? Whom would I rather meet in a large group in a dark alley -- a group of ajussis ready to fight for their honor, blasted on soju and whiskey, or floating happily home, smoked out on weed?
Ask fucking John Cho, Korea, who has become a new household word. But don't miss out on the fact that his REAL claim to fame is being one of the first Koreans to comedically SMOKE THE FUCK OUT, and help make weed all the more popular and funny to Americans -- who definitely know that marijuana does NOT equal METH.
Brian informs us that this hagwon chain -- Avalon English -- is the worst of the worst in terms of overreacting to the swine flu outbreak, and seems to be under the impression that only foreigners coming into Korea are the main vectors for its spread, and we are somehow a direct threat to the people and their children.
It just adds to my argument that in fact, according to the terms and conditions of most hagwon contracts, you are a 21st-century indentured servant. You have nearly no legal rights in this country in reality, little recourse in case of contractual or work-related disputes, and now, the media is even saying you are a threat to society's well-being, even as they desperately ship in more of you.
I'm NOT being facetious -- that's what you ARE. Check out a standard copy of a term of indenture on the previous link, then compare it to the terms under which you came here.
And now, some hagwons, namely Avalon English, are doing what evil hagwons in the 1990's used to do, which is "require" you to relinquish your passports to them, effectively taking away your right to freedom of movement. Or for daily health checks to make sure you're in prime work condition; and then, they wash down the classroom after you leave it, as if you were ACTUALLY a member of the swine family, as opposed to the human race.
You'd never voluntarily work for a hagwon that turns you effectively into a SLAVE, would you?
If you'd like to tell these Avalon people just what you think, call them at 031-717-0047 and/or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And even AFTER they cave and change their policies, or this blows over -- if you've found this page by Googling 아발론교육 or Avalon Enlglish, along with possible keyword string searches such as "teach English in Korea" or "English language institutes in Korea", you know you'd never want to work for an employer like this, would you? One that actually TREATS you like the foreign animal, the walking dictionary that most other places may assume you to be, but would never dare cross that line of actually treating you as such?
This must be one of the worst places to work as a foreigner in Korea, if their reaction to the slight swine flu problem is the racist scapegoating of foreigners. Whoever made this policy sounds like one of the most ignorant, uneducated, misinformed, incompetent, and racist idiot who ever popped a placenta on the Korean peninsula. I say "one of the most" because there is a sizable contingent of company when it comes to certain stupid ideas or practices on the Korean peninsula, so it's not that tough to join the club. Most of the ninnies and simpletons at Immigration or the Tourism board would also make the list.
But since this is the private sector, hit 'em where it hurts: post about Avalon English, create content for Google to track, and make sure that this bullshit comes up whenever some poor kid looking for a job after college does a search for their company name, or even a general search for English-teaching positions.
Hurt them, take food off their plate, starve out the stupid. Let the market work it out by spreading the news.
At Avalon English, you're not just an indentured servant, but a semi-slave not even possessed of the right to travel as one pleases, as a carrier of dread diseases.
Work there at your peril.
Whew -- some major shit going down over here on the peninsula.
Let me just weigh in on a few of these issues before I go off to my next appointment -- I've been pretty busy these days and not able to write much as of late.
One thing I'm really happy about is the publication of the National Human Rights Commission complaint/report entitled "Discrimination Against Non-Citizens in the Republic of Korea in the Context of the E-2 Foreign Language Teaching Visa" -- it proves, once and for all and in a condensed, official summary, that the media construction of foreign English teachers as drug abusers, sex offenders, or somehow otherwise a threat to Korean youth is total and utter bullshit. And the increased scrutiny of foreign English teachers at immigration through strict and sometimes ridiculous requirements are by definition wrong and discriminatory, because they are based on false and discriminatory media bias.
Using the government's own statistics -- which have always been available to the Korean press, by the way, and have been used by responsible expat bloggers here -- it shows that not only is the average RATE of crimes committed by foreigners in EVERY category far, far lower than in the overall Korean population, the actual raw numbers are so small that the media frenzy we see today is almost shameful.
Out of nearly 20,000 E-2 visa holders last year, guess how many were convicted of ANY drug crime? 13. And 12 were for pot, with the numbers being pretty much split by the US and Canada. THIRTEEN?! The Korean media would have you think -- and they have already made the Korean population thinking this way -- that this is a rampant problem in Korea. There aren't enough E-2 visa holders to fill 4 taxis. Or a subway car. Or my fucking living room.
The same is true of sex offenders -- as I have said before and as the many cases appearing in the newspaper make clear -- if you're worried about having your kid molested or raped by a teacher in Korea, it is almost statistically certain that it will be done by a Korean national. There are NO cases of convictions of foreigners for molestation of a minor, and in the "sex crime" category in GENERAL, only 39 cases at all -- and this category includes everything from sexual harassment to assault to molestation. Not saying that rape or sexual harrassment is alright, but the point here is that foreigners are being made out to be some kind of child molesters, with the funny thing being that there has never been a single conviction. And even in this category, the rate of "sex crime" is 4 times lower per foreign capita than for Korean nationals.
And the same seemed true for the fake degree issue: once the light was taken off the relatively few bozos over here teaching on fake documents and shined in the Korean direction, yep! Of course there were so many cases of major Korean stars, actors, directors, and other intelligentsia with fakes degrees that suddenly, there was no point in looking at foreigners anymore. And it got quite uncomfortable.
I and others have been saying it for YEARS. Armed with more official reports and better PR organization, we're going to have to use the power of public humiliation to bring this issue to light. This is the only way to change things in Korea.
Next is a report on how these media constructions have led to increased harassment of foreigners, and even increased cases of physical violence. Most Koreans have a hard time believing the reality of life for foreigners here in Korea, but then again, most Koreans don't have to live in foreign skin. This is one true shame of Korea these days: in the 90's, seeing drunk ajussis or having an occasional weird incident happened, but nowadays, I think every foreigner has either the experience or knows someone who has been seriously verbally or physically attacked. FOR BEING A FOREIGNER. And I know for a fact that a LOT of those living in Korea these days leave the country cursing its name.
This doesn't bode well for the good "branding" of Korea.
Which is going to go further? Some television commercials or brochures about how "Sparkling" Korea is, or thousands of former English teachers going back to their home countries with nothing other than negative things to say about Korea? Korea's potentially best ambassadors have instead become its worst enemies. And can I say I blame them? And say what one will about being mugged or the victim of a violent attack in other countries -- the point is that this is resulting from a clear pattern of media targeting of foreigners that results in the actual physical targeting of foreigners on the streets.
And this phenomenon is recent, concrete, and has a concrete cause -- and irresponsible media and a populace willing to believe ANYTHING that is said about a non-Korean.
The Korean media's day of reckoning is coming. We're getting organized, collecting data, and filing reports. Just wait until a NYT article comes out on the subject, or CNN does a little story on it. Would be fun to watch that fur fly.
On this Friday, May 22nd at 7pm, watch me roll out our book to the Korean media -- IN KOREAN! I'm planning to talk about not just the Korean fashion scene and photography, but also about Korea's nation branding efforts from the point-of-view of a member sitting on President's Council on Nation Branding. This book is not just the culmination of years of work that represents a whole new look at "Korea," but is an example of literally putting one's money where one's mouth is. This is a representation of a Korea that is fresh, young, and hip -- not the dry, sanitized, and tourism board-approved fare that defines most visual representation of Korea produced IN Korea. In that sense, this is something very, very different. Come see HOW different for yourself.
The talk is going to be a conversation, and a slide presentation showing many images from the book.
Friday's the time to ask questions, make comments, and even buy a copy!
The Platoon Kunsthalle in Cheongdam-dong is hosting the presentation and afterparty, so it will be informative, intellectual, and fun! Come support some of Seoul's hardworking and independent artists!
Gusts of Popular Feeling is doing a great job of researching and pinning down the stories I'd heard of foreigners being murdered by Koreans FOR being a foreigner. Yes, it has happened, on several occasions, but most of us don't do the do-diligence and research. Often, there seems to be a bare minimum of reporting around these incidents because, basically, the Korean news media doesn't like reporting such things.
Another thing to look into -- and there would be more records on the US military side -- is the murder of an African-American Army doctor in Itaewon around the same time; he was a victim of multiple stab wounds by an attacker that the paper said was assumed to have been mentally ill. From what I remember reading, it was broad daylight, he had been with companions, and the Korean man simply jumped him from out of the blue. I never saw a followup to the story, nor any information about the attacker.
Another point to pin down is the Army captain who was assaulted by 3 attackers in 2002 and stabbed, I believe, 17 times by 3 attackers on his way home from night duty. This was reported in both the US Embassy warnings being issued at the time as well as on 60 Minutes. He was clearly attacked, completely unprovoked, and the doctor said it was amazing that he was alive.
And two reports that DID make it into the Korean media but were grossly distorted to the point of near-falsity was the tattoo-covered GI pictured in the "Shinchon Stabbing Incident", in which, as reported to the Korean public, 2 American GI's just went crazy in Shinchon for no apparent reason, trying to stab people. As stories like this go, it's instantly suspicious -- where's the motive? It makes sense to a Korean-media-based logic, that GI's just go on rampages against Koreans for no reason, but that doesn't happen in reality. When you look below the surface in the public stories related to rampaging GI's rampaging without apparent motive, you see a very different picture. Like in this case, the fact that it was 2 GI's and a Korean KATUSA who went to Shinchon, were attacked by 5 drunk Korean males with no words exchanged, and it was when one attacker was atop the knife assailant's buddy with hands around his neck, THAT is when he removed a knife in his pack and stabbed him multiple times in the neck.
None of these facts are in dispute, and are in the official trial transcript. The only question in this case was whether the stabbing was done in self-defense. That they had been jumped, that there had been 5 attackers, that they had been drunk -- none of those facts are in dispute. Regardless of what one thinks of the decision to use a knife, it wasn't rampaging GI's, but 5 against 2 (the KATUSA had run off) and a raving crowd behind them that had obviously joined in. Had it been me, I'd have been scared out of my mind; would a knife have helped? According to the testimony, and the fact that YES, GI's DO know that there have been incidents in which GI have been violently attacked or even murdered in civilian areas for no apparent reason other than the fact that they were a GI, something that seemed to be happening to them at that very instant, I can't say it wasn't a case of self-defense. But you know what? It wasn't a case of the "rampaging GI."
The other major case of the "rampaging GI" comes from 1995, when a GI supposedly came onto a subway in the middle of a weekday, started feeling on a girl's ass, and refused to stop when confronted. Huh? Now, that just didn't make sense to me. I've seen GI's be assholes before, or be drunk, and yes, sometimes on the subway (remember, at that time the number 5 and 6 lines were still under construction and did not exist, so there WAS no Itaewon stop and the nearest was Samgakchi, which was generally NEVER taken by anyone other than the more explorative and curious GI on the weekend for trips around the city, but far, far out of the range of any drunk GI's concentrated in Itaewon; and no matter how much one assumes GI's are crazy drunkards, not generally in the middle of a weekday), but even the biggest of dicks don't generally behave that way.
Turns out, my hunch was right -- the "attacker" was the woman's HUSBAND, and when some drunk ajussis (I've seen far, far more drunk ajussis midday on a workday than any GI's, who generally keep to the base area, anyway -- and how many uniformed GI's do you see in Seoul on a given weekday even TODAY?) started harassing his wife, cursing at her loudly, and getting pretty belligerent, the guy punched one who had come close enough to do so. Well, as they said in the old South, "when the nigger starts to when, then we all jump in" -- when a foreigner is in the midst of a brawl, it's always the foreigners' fault, right? Especially when it's usually 4 or 8 against 1 or 2 dudes?
Yeah, that makes sense, too. Because I always like to start fights in which I'm outnumbered, right?
Even the BLUE HOUSE issued a press release to stop reporting such a blatantly false incident on the news, which apparently was being done just to worsen Korean-American relations, and was being completely distorted beyond anything resembling the truth. Here's a former minister's interview from the Monthly Chosun:
2002년 06월 >> "인물과 인터뷰"
[특별인터뷰] 孔魯明 (前 외무부 장관)의 통렬한 金大中 외교노선 비판
『일부 美軍 범죄가 국민감정에 좋지 않은 영향을 미칠 수 있겠지요. 그러나 3만7000명의 美軍이 주둔하고 있는데 범죄가 없을 수 없다는 것을 생각해야 합니다.
개중에는 과장되는 면도 있는 것 같아요. 제가 정부에 있을 때 지하철에서 美軍이 한국 여성을 性추행한 사건이 TV에 크게 보도된 적이 있습니다. 당시 美軍 측이 우리에게 알려 온 바로는 美軍이 性추행했다는 한국 여성이 바로 자기 부인이었다는 겁니다. 지하철 안에서 엉덩이를 만지고 한 것이 문제가 된 것인데 이것은 문화적인 차이 때문에 생긴 것입니다. 한국적인 문화에서는 자기 부인이라고 해서 남이 보는 데서는 그렇지 않잖아요. 그런 것을 모르고 TV에서 「美軍 性추행사건」이라고 대대적으로 보도한 것입니다. TV뿐 아니라 신문에 그러한 사실을 알려줘도 전혀 訂正 보도를 해 주지 않더군요』
No Korean ever believes me until I send them this overwhelming proof that the story is quite nearly a blatant fabrication.
And that's the point: the majority of "incidents" that your average Korean "knows" about, either through media or associated rumors, are actually NOT. Ask your average Korean over 30 about the subway groping, or most people about the Shinchon stabbing incident, or even about GI's fighting with a taxi driver, or for a time, even getting into a VERBAL ARGUMENT with a taxi driver was grounds for getting into an international newspaper. Add a couple truly tragically true incidents like the decade-old murder of a prostitute, or the more recent rape of grandmother in Hongdae by a GI, and you get a pattern.
Not an inevitable side-effect of the fact that yes, if you have 30-60,000 young soldiers stationed here, there are bound to be incidents, but mostly that fall within the bell curve of most crimes -- lots of petty crimes as in scuffles and assaults, many related to alcohol and being young and stupid, some rapes, and even a few murders. But does it occur at the high rate that the Korean media thinks it does? Or even above the rate of the Korean population?
And given the fact that the majority of incidents constituting what Koreans "know" about GI crime, or foreigners being drug dealers, or child molesters -- are either blatantly false or gross distortions of readily-available facts, or in the case of child molestation, there exist no incidents and are complete creations of the Korean media -- one can't chalk these stereotypes to anything other than the Korean public extreme proneness to believe any wild tales told about foreigners, even as there is criticism and suspicion about the media in other areas, such as politics or Korean domestic issues.
But if there's a foreigner involved, those critical faculties are turned off.
Koreans are not stupid, but there is a tendency to believe, in the absence of a media or often even a physical presence in the average Korean person's world of a foreigner at all, anything. And if it confirms a pre-conceived notion or Hollywood stereotype -- for example, that "foreigners" have no sexual mores or that we are wild bar crawlers or what-have-you -- this "makes sense," since that is all that many Koreans "know" about foreigners.
And if you speak Korean -- thereby having access to Koreans who haven't inevitably spoken, worked, and made both professional and personal ties with actual foreigners -- you'd be surprised at the level of "knowing" that exists about "us." And in a culture in which I can go on a nice first date with a Korean woman, sit down to dinner, and she warns me, "I don't sleep on the first date like American girls do," before the salad comes, I wonder what other Hollywood notions of me she has. And when people say, with a completely straight face and with no intention of causing harm or inkling of why it might be offensive, that we should go to karaoke because "all blacks are good singers" or are surprised to see I can't play basketball for the obvious reason of my skin color, or "foreigners naturally like to have more sex" than Koreans, or any of the ridiculous things that are surprisingly simplisitic and often dehumanizing -- it's no surprise that people buy these newspaper whoppers hook, line, and sinker.
We have a yellow journalistic system reporting only along the lines of what Koreans "know" about foreigners, and upon reading these mostly exaggerated, often false, and very occasionally true tales in the media, these beliefs are confirmed. And the cycle just gets stronger and stronger, to the point of near-ridiculousness: YTN declared Hongdae a Mad Max-style warzone, with foreigners running around assaulting and groping people in the streets, as too dangerous to walk alone, with the police running scared. Now, no matter what you think of the matter of media distortions of GI's in Korea, we all know that Hongdae isn't a post-apocolyptic nightmare. And then, the very next week, YTN does a followup report showing that Hongdae was like a pastoral haven, after the US military declared the area off-limits -- which it has done numerous times before. From Mad Max to Freedomland in an week. Riiight. This is the same YTN that reported Bill Gates had been murdered in his sleep. Oops! Stop reading the Onion, YTN!
And this goes without even talking about the multiple serious assaults and rapes perpetrated on both foreign civilians and American GI's -- yes, there are female GI's, remember? And there seem to be as many cases of American soldiers being raped by Korean civilians as the other way around. Perhaps even more, given how bad things have gotten with violent assaults and rape attempts against women in general these days.
In the case I most recently remember, the taxi driver who took the GI straight from her cab at Incheon and deceived her into a motel and then raped her -- he didn't even get a jail sentence. It's not rape if you don't resist, and if it's not violent enough, right?
All my fellow American lefties and feminists, ya feel me? Where's the outrage?
It's funny, though, how many lefties (I consider myself one) come to Korea and buy the Korean left's obviously biased and often racist bullshit without a critical neuron being fired. From vilifying the US military in the 2002 incident over a traffic accident in which apologies and compensation were offered from the git-go (but the Korean media out-and-out lied and said weren't offered), to the multiple assaults and rapes that go on here (remember how no one believed Winter when she was reporting it through the blogosphere, but it was only when she brought it up on national television that the Korean public very, very reluctantly did?), and the obvious race-baiting that goes on in the media here -- it's disappointing that so many American lefties wanting so hard to be accepted by Korean lefties who generally dislike the USA, give up their own critical thinking skills when it comes to the deep-rooted racists and sexist stereotypes held by so many Koreans.
I guess it's part of their American guilt-complex. Sure, the US has been a neo-colonial force here in Korea, and blah, blah, blah about all the other stuff we surely already agree on -- but turn on your fucking thinking caps when it's the other way around, please.
And all for absolutely free.
For successful "nation branding", I think one has to eliminate the idea that very idea itself, as if it were possible. This can be done to some extent, but the extent to which it was done was blinded by the same thing that blinds most Koreans when it comes to promoting Korea:
-- excess national pride in the form of bragging, ranking, and comparison
-- campaigns and imagery that appear excessively commercial and/or "slick"
-- too much focus on what KOREANS want foreigners to see, instead of thinking about what FOREIGNERS might want to see
In addition, the "Korea, Sparkling" slogan was simply off the mark. It doesn't instinctively feel like it describes Korea, nor could it -- no matter what marketing/PR mumbo-jumbo you can come up with that use the words "repositioning" or "leveraging" or what-have-you. It's a bad slogan, and I don't need market research or encounter sessions or word-association exercises to back up that claim. The slogan fails the "gut check" and foreigners familiar with Korea knew it sucked from the beginning (see my post here, and my podcast at the official launch here), even as Koreans refused to listen. After all, the sticker price for that slogan was expensive -- they just bought the car, so it can be hard to admit it was a mistake.
So, as a member of the Presidential Commission on Nation Branding, long-time producer of content about Korea, and as a person with a pretty good "gut," let me offer a campaign slogan that would have and can still work better than "Korea, Sparkling." Wait for it...wait for it...
"Korea -- Pulse of Asia."
OK, sounds a bit corny, but here's what it does: it sets up Korea (vis a vis Seoul) as a hip place to be in Asia, emphasizing more abstract elements of the culture, rather than traditional places, practices, and events. It will not rely on brochure-style imagery, but be street-slick and fast-edited. There can be different versions, especially with TV spots, but images of a city with a fast-moving working and commercial life will then change into images of street culture, street food, dance clubs, fashion runway shots, people in upscale lounges and looking good in fashionable clothes, eating kalbi outside and clinking soju and beer glasses, etc.
The imagery does not have to include hanboks, hanok houses, palaces, or cheesy attempts at showing culture "fusion", e.g. breakdancers spinning to drum beats laid over a kayageum.
THAT DOESN'T TELL ME ANYTHING ABOUT KOREA, AND MAKES A CONFUSING POINT.
SHOWING ME 'RAIN' IN A COMMERCIAL IS SILLY IF I DON'T ALREADY KNOW WHO HE IS. OR THE KOREAN PRESIDENT HIMSELF.
One has to ask oneself why people with disposable incomes would want to come here. To see palaces or architecture or traditional dances? REALLY? Let's be frank: I think either Japan or China do those better. From my ignorant, uninformed perspective as an outsider, YES, Japanese/Chinese palaces look bigger and are prettier, and I can't tell the difference between a kimono or a hanbok (and even if I can, I don't really care), and Malaysian/Indonesian/Indian dances and rituals are pretty colorful, too.
My point is not to say that Korea's traditional places and dances aren't interesting or valuable -- they ARE. But from an outsider's perspective, they are NOT A UNIQUE ENOUGH DRAW to come to Korea. In that respect, trips to Korea will usually be tacked on as an additional destination on a trip to either Japan or China. That's the way it IS.
But if you show Korea's truly unique and endearing charms -- say, a hustling and bustling city of controlled chaos by day, and a culture of equally controlled-chaotic play at night, I think that is MUCH closer to the mark of WHY many first-timers come to Seoul and love it, often much to our own chagrin. The work hard, play hard lifestyle in all its specific and peculiar manifestations is also why people STAY.
And yeah, it has to do with liquor and attractive women. It also has to do with non-stop nightlife in general, with a food culture that never stops, never surrenders to the logic of culinary restraint; it is singing in public, fast-forged comraderies, the smell of food at 5 in the morning, walking along the Han River -- it's a million specific things that are metonyms for the overall greatness of Korean culture itself.
Maybe it doesn't take a degree in marketing or PR, but someone who actually knows the culture and is a smartypants in another way. Sure, maybe Simon Anholt has done all kinds of nation branding for all sort of clients; but maybe Korea is a tougher nut to crack, a more difficult thing to represent, than other places, too.
Especially with China and Japan looming over it, Korea has its work cut out for it in distinguishing itself from its two much bigger brothers, even as it has to explain its inherent inferiority as a purely tourist destination -- at least in terms of places to go, world-reknowned tourism sites, or a national history with which other people in the world are familar.
Korea has to go a special route, and it ain't "sparkling." Anyone who knows this place KNOWS that in the gut.
Korea may be, if spun right, a fast-running "pulse" or even "Asia on speed." I know the suits would never go for the latter, but something connoting speed, controlled chaos, and basically being a culture in which everything is done BALLS TO THE WALLS or not at all -- that's the way to go.
And you don't have to pay me thousands of dollars for this recommendation.
To the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, as well as the Seoul Metropolitan Government -- you're welcome.
Now, I'll say from the git-go that this isn't a post about "How to Get Korean Women." I'm no expert on such things, and if you're a foreigner in Korea, you should have no trouble becoming the object of interest for somebody here, especially given the universal element of curiosity, bolstered by the powerful narcotic of largely American media that sets up white masculinity (as well as Western modes of desire) as the standard of beauty itself. Hence, Joe Schmoe from back home gets called "Brad Pitt" here. So it goes.
I'll also say that I don't buy into the racist assumptions around the issue of international/interracial dating; by virtue of personal experience, observation, and anecdote, the chimera of "white man hoodwinks hapless Korean woman" or "I'm sick of seeing white losers with Korean women above their station as a reflection of the neo-colonial relationship with the United States and a problematic colonized attitude vis a vis whiteness" are usually just longer and less honest ways of pretty much expressing disgust at interracial couples. It's racism in fancier language. Basically, if you don't like seeing white men with Korean women AS A RULE, you are making big generalizations and are being racist when you speak/act negatively against them.
After all, it's pretty simple: unless you are an omniscient being who can read minds, know the hidden circumstances and motivations of others, and have a clairvoyant grasp of things that take place without you there, you're going on supposition and pre-judging. Prejudice. Pretty simple.
Yeah, one can quote statistics about "outmarriage" rates or the myriad alleged "wrong reasons" people get into relationships; but I know gentlemen who prefer blondes or redheads, girls who wear skimpy clothes, or just judge women by the size of their mammaries, but you'd have to go and ask about those, right? The only difference is that with an interracial couple, one aspect of their relationship veers from the norm and is displayed from the skin. And yeah, on American college campuses, there are a lot of nice, Jewish boys names Seth who seem to tend to date Helen Kim or Susie Lee; my hunch is that in the 2000's, there's at least as much to be said for the facts of demographics and socio-economic similiarities as there is for the "Susie Wong" fantasy; even that chimera is so outdated and 80's. Has anyone even seen that ancient flick?
And in the end, I've never seen the emotion of "disgust" at seeing interracial couples come from anything rational or noble. You can dress it up, but you're still being racist when you voice such bullshit when you see an interracial couple pass by. Basic home training says that you don't know them, and it ain't none of your business. Period.
That being said, I do notice the couple mismatches and weirdos who make your skin crawl with women who seem to not be in the know and aren't picking up the same signals as one's fellow peoples might. But, to each, his own, and I find those people in the vast minority. Most foreign folks I see in Korea are just doing what's pretty natural when people are in their 20's. And white men in particular in Asia enjoy a temporary boost to whatever actual sexual capital they possessed at home. That's life, and to try to act otherwise just makes us the asshole acting on supposition. Yeah, it'd be great if there were more available black men for upwardly mobile black women, but I'm not going to rake some sista over the coals for dating out. And anyway, who would I be to talk?
And we live in Korea – the numbers say that if you're a non-Korean man, the dating pool is incomparably larger than the few random foreigners around here, who are part of the same, largely transitory group. On top of the fact that anyone can see that, whatever one's preference, the Korean female population ain't half bad, why is anyone surprised to see foreign men dating Korean women?
Then we get to the topic of the Korean women themselves. I've rarely seen this much-heralded "white man dupes innocent Korean girl" trope in actual life. In fact, that doesn't give Korean women very much credit, does it? If there are "motives" to be talked of, then I think that yeah, there are people looking for a little fun, a little romance, perhaps some sexual adventure, and most of it with the inherent assumption that it will be somewhat temporary.
Doesn't sound too different from what most people in their 20's are doing in any modern country, or have you been to a Korean dance club lately? I don't see many people in there looking for marriage partners while booking, or even going to the ubiquitous "meeting" amongst college freshmen. I think anyone who says, "I am looking for my life-long mate here," would find themselves wangttaed as fast as people could politely make excuses to not get picked to sit across from that guy.
So, this post will have no truck of the "they're stealing our women" post nor any expletives related to that topic. Keep your comments to real observations or reasoned thoughts, not wild prejudice. Zap, zap, zap will go those comments, because I don't want to let this drag down into that silly conversation that has no end. Since I've laid down the ground rules for this discussion as being "prejudicial attacks that are not real discussion" and that such comments will be zapped as fast as they come in, don't be silly and cry "censorship" because I'm not the state, nor a large corporation who owns a media outlet, nor the school principal stifling criticism of one's alma mater.
Feel free to open your own blog on how much interracial dating is problematic, or the white men are stealing all the women in Korea, or how "problematic" whites dating Asians in the US is. No one's stopping you. Feel free!
Right now, I feel I'm set up to talk about what is actually not much of a thorny issue, but the real meat and potatoes of some of the problems people often have here when dating Korean women. I talk about dating Korean women because I haven't gone the other way around, since I'm a) not a woman, and b) don't date men. I could talk out of my ass and try to include that, but I think it's always better to have people with some experience in certain matters talk about those matters.
And I'm not talking as some "expert" or some post-Chosun-era Casanova, but as a normal man who has had several normal relationships with Korean women. Ooooh. Scandalous! Foreigner has dated Korean women. Serially. Several. Has gone to TGI Fridays and walked along the Han River and fallen in love and often laughed, sometimes argued, often just sat around watching movies and talking with...Korean women!
If the newspapers are looking for a scandalous story about how I've actually behaved as a normal, heterosexual male with women of Korean descent in Korea – start the presses! It's about to get thick with the scent of international intrigue up in here!
Now, to the matter at hand.
In my experience, and in the vicarious experiences I've had through the stories of many others, the main problem with dating Korean women as a non-Korean man is cultural. Ooh. Big revelation, right? But let me tell you what I mean.
I hate the word "culture." It's so vaguely defined, often misused, and done so without any thought to the fact that using the word actually means you're not talking about anything specific. I'm not talking about "culture" in terms of ancient artifacts, or notions that people are essentially apt to behave in any way; I'm talking about patterns: patterns of socialization, patterns of ideological inculcation, patterns of being exposed to certain amounts and kinds of information.
People still talk about "culture" as if it's written in the blood, written on the skin, or written on one's passport. So, obviously, being "non-Korean" in the way that I see it can include many Korean Americans who have been been born, raised, and educated in the US. Because I've seen the same problems crop up with Korean American men dating Korean women as white or black or whatever dudes dating Korean women.
And I've seen personality and happenstance of circumstance mitigate a lot of what I see as real "cultural differences," as well; I know a couple American guys who've married Korean women who are more "traditional" and "family-oriented" in an "old-fashioned" way than many Korean men, who are supposed to be the arbiters of old school thinking. And I've known Korean American men who simply find Korean women endlessly boring – in their estimation – and generally only date other Asian American or other American women. So it goes.
So, the way I see it, the main differences that crop up between American men (and other cultures that happen to be similar to the cultural patterns that are of interest to us here) and Korean women have to do with socialization, i.e. your experience set and what you're used to, which goes into how you define the world, and how you view the exact same set of circumstances, say, in a relationship.
What do I mean? Let's get started breaking this down, and with the knowledge that these are generalizations made for the sake of discussion, as well out of the fact that these issues keep cropping up again and again in the problems I myself have had in my relationships with Korean women, as well as with many, many, myriad, multiple guy stories I've hard from other people in similar relationships.
Korean women, and Korean folks in general, generally have trouble imagining the concept of truly platonic friendships.
And this is largely generational and is changing. Yet, a lot of women – especially at the present age of the early 30's and older – never existed in an environment in which boys and girls, men and women were treated as undifferentiated equals, to the point of practically ignoring gender difference.
As an example, co-education didn't become the rule until the last decade in Korean K-12 (mostly in middle and high schools), and even into college. A lot of women who are now in their 30's attended all-girls middle schools, all-girls high schools, and even in co-ed universities, experienced student life in a very gender-separated and controlled. Things are a lot more relaxed for people in their early 20's these days, and young people freely interact much more now at an earlier age; a mere 15 years ago, the sight of couples in high school uniforms would have caused a minor sensation; now, they're so common, people barely even think twice about it.
But the patterns of socialization are still there. Often, men and women still feel comfortable amongst fellow men and women, respectively, and Koreans still spend a lot of time interacting with the opposite sex as either overt romantic partners (the ubiquitous meeting, sogaeting, and other "tings" are as common as they ever were) or platonic acquaintances, as in schoolmates, fellow employees, or the guy who you often share the elevator with – but not as close friends who can share an intimate emotional world without being intimate romantically.
Concretely? I dated a nurse in the early 2000's who worked in a plastic surgery clinic who had gone to all-girls schools all her life before nursing school and then working in various small clinics and hospitals. The pattern? Female friends all her life and men as romantic partners only. Or authority figures, as in the 5-7 female nurses and a few other female secretaries in her office, and just a few older, male doctors. The other men in her life were teachers, professors, and other authority figures. No equal-equal, non-platonic male-female relations ever. Hers is an unusual case now, but not for similar people in her age-gender-socio-economic-status cohort.
And she was mad jealous when my old friend from the States came to Korea to visit, and since I've spent many a late night on her couch back in Oakland – as a such a completely platonic friend that thoughts otherwise would be like sleeping with a blood sister – that it went without saying that she would be able to stay in the other room in my apartment on a mattress.
This almost caused us to break up.
I tried to explain to her about these differences in background and socialization, that men and women could be platonic friends, and for example, that my university had nearly all-coed dorms and even bathrooms, that it was completely normal for people to have male-female roommates in apartments, and in larger housing situations it was often preferable to having 4 dudes fighting over whether Miller "tastes great" or is actually "less filling" in their pigsty together, or 4 women fighting about who drank her yogurt while their menstrual cycles all started to synchronize.
I also presented the logic that we'd known each other for more than 12 years, and if anything was going to happen, it would have, since we'd had the theoretical "chance" – but not the interest – to do anything we wanted, anytime. I had to personally go up against years of Hollywood movies, along with the dominant stereotype that Americans are easy and put out for a Coke and a smile. Sure, we got folks like that, and people who make mistakes in drunken bouts of bad judgement...and Korea doesn't?
But in the end, it was like my logical Leonidas against the Xerxes's army of years of thinking and being socialized in a certain way: I fought the good fight, she saw a lot of my points and intellectually accepted them, and I was actually able to change her mind about some things, to the point that she was willing to give on them. But even a Spartan argument has to fall in the face of superior numbers of years and being told to think about certain things in certain ways, to categorize the world in the only way she was taught how. I'm no different.
In the end, I had to face the fact that no amount of talking was going to make her feel comfortable that a chick is up in my pad. It was shut up or break up, and I arranged for a friend in the Fulbright building to put up my friend for the several days she would be in Seoul, and we actually stuck to the agreement, even inviting the girlfriend over to morning brunch one time upstairs to show her that she was really staying up there.
In the end, that difference was like poison. It wasn't anyone's fault; I just think that she and I were in such different places, there would have been nothing to reconcile, short of one of us living uncomfortably and miserably. So I put in quite a bit of effort to behave in ways that made her comfortable, being completely open and transparent about my female friendships and even such relationships at work; still, she hated them, and it was an emotion that just kept building, never able to be put down.
On my end, I started resenting her for always being suspicious, always accusing me of doing things I wasn't, and the biggest thing for me – not giving me any credit for trying really, really hard for her sake. She hated the fact that I was having all these "girlfriends" and that she would start making her own in bars and going on blind dates; I told her that context is important, and some guy she met in a bar wasn't the same as someone you'd naturally come to know and knew for years or even decades in a platonic way. I'd never pick up a girl in a bar and call her a "friend," and if she had any real male friends from middle or high school, college, or from life in another city, I'd be 100% cool with it. She just didn't happen to have any, because our backgrounds were different. We came from different places, and I was just trying to mitigate that.
She and I both knew we were stuck, but that didn't help us not resent each other. In the end, we broke up, and I learned something. I hope she got something out of it as well, since there were no hurtful incidents, no cheating, none of the stuff that the Korean media likes to fantasize about. And I've seen a lot of Western-Korean relationships end up the same way.
This doesn't make said relationships "wrong" or inherently bad – we're just talking about a seemingly major, real cultural difference – as found in habits, socialization, and resultant beliefs and ways of looking at the world. As a couple, we occupied the same space, saw the same things, had the same conversation. But we were not on the same wavelength at all about a very fundamental thing. Knowing this will be quite helpful beforehand. At the very least, it's something to look out for; if your particular of personality and experience sets mean you never run into this problem – more power to you and keep on truckin'!
You're CASANOVA FRANKENSTEIN until proven otherwise.
Yeah, you. Before you get all huffy about the fact that she doesn't want to introduce you to her parents or friends, think about the huge strike against you, no matter how many positives you have in your favor.
You're a foreign man. And everyone in Korea "knows" that foreign men are all dogs, have 30 girlfriends, and are "only after one thing" (and Korean men are angels, ahem). You are hairy, have immense penises, and/or don't feel basic human emotions that many Koreans claim to have a monopoly on, e.g. "jeong" or "han."
Unless your girlfriend is very international or is some other situation with friends who've spent a lot of time overseas, her parents are übercool and know from the beginning, or her friends are the ones who introduced you too in the first place, hold your horses before you get all Mr. Self Righteous about meeting the 'rents or her best friend from high school.
Because if she's an average Korean woman, say who lives with her parents, has a curfew, and is concerned about her reputation, the bottom line is that having the "foreign boyfriend" is potentially a huge social cost to her. If she is outed at work, there's a good chance that negative rumors can fly around the office – "Did she meet him in an Itaewon bar?" or "I bet she just secretly wanted to ride the 'white horse'" are nasty words that I've heard spoken about perfectly nice Korean women dating perfectly normal and committed foreign men when they were "outed."
And you have to remember that private and public lives are very compartmentalized in Korea, and in general, people don't "cross streams" in relationship sets here. What I mean by this is that Americans – and again, I'm speaking in generalizations here – are "cocktail party people" in that we like to invite lots of people we know but don't know each other to parties, backyard BBQ's, and movie nights, and have fun from mixing and mingling with new people.
In Korea, this is generally very uncomfortable. Every new social relationship is inevitably burdened with having to place oneself vis a vis age, neighborhood, the school you went to (as a marker of many things) to the point that many Koreans don't introduce and hang out with elementary school, middle school, high school, college, military, and other friends as easily and casually as say Americans do.
Sure, there are always people who don't fit into this pattern, and I think it's much less acute with the younger generation, but as anyone who has tried to mix Korean friends (of either gender) with other people in the American style, it usually ends up with the Korean person or people just generally feeling uncomfortable and leaving early.
More often than not, me inviting the Korean girlfriend to hang out with a large group of people she doesn't know – whether Korean or not – causes her great stress, or at least enough to not make it a relaxing thing to do for her. And this pattern of Korean socializing often causes, in many international relationships I've seen, stress the other way, in that since she doesn't want to introduce her foreign boyfriend to all the friends she talks to on the phone, he feels left out and unappreciated – since the first thing one does with a "serious" significant other in the States, I've seen, is introduce him or her to all of one's friends. In fact, we take this as a sign of the relationship starting to get serious in the first place.
Just remember, Mr. Self Righteous, that it's not normal to cross streams in the first place in Korea, and to do it with the much-stigmatized foreign man is a HUGE step for her, in most cases. And if you're going to actually pressure her into doing those things, just because you think it should be so because of what you're used to, then you better be ready to step up to the plate. I would think about it as akin to going to the 'rents for THanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter all rolled into one – because it is that much of a bigger deal for her; the thing to remember is that even if you were a Korean guy, the point of introducing you to the parents would still only come around the point of being really serious for a long time and/or just before marriage, from what I've seen.
So chill out if you've been dating for several months and you haven't gotten an invitation yet to the Big House out in Ilsan or whatever; also, chill out if you haven't gotten to meet her best college buddies yet, too. For even if you eventually do part ways amicably and go on to live the rest of your lives, she's always gonna have the "she dated a foreigner" stigma attached to her, or at least that bit of information. And in a lot of cases, I'd say, that's not something she'd want to get back to her Korean husband, who probably wouldn't take it very well.
Take my case in point: one very nice woman I was dating, who was a working professional and well-educated and well-spoken and classy and all the things that don't go with the coarse stereotype of "that kind of girl who dates foriegners" told a long-time male friend of hers who'd been living in the US that she was dating me, a foreigner; it never even occurred to her that there might be a problem, and she naively assumed that since he had been living in the US, he'd be more open-minded.
The last words he ever spoke to her were, "I expected better from you," before he broke contact with her completely, refusing to answer her telephone calls and is probably talking no end of smack about her now. I had actually told her to keep things quiet about me to her friends, and that if she wanted to tell o a close friend, to let me introduce myself in person, so as to quell stereotypical notions. See, here's my profile:
I'm black. What is worse, I'm one of those Hines Ward-style mixed black-and-Koreans. I have brown skin and a big stomach, so I look Hawaiian. This guy probably is thinking about some big, hard-looking gangster rapper in oversized clothes and gold-capped teeth, yelling, "Bling bling!" while pimp-slapping my Korean byotch when she doesn't cook me my fried chicken fast enough, responding with a plaintive, "네!"
Whatever. I'm an Ivy-league educated dude who's working on becoming a 박사 and wears suits and ties and gives lectures on haughty topics and knows how to speak Korean, thank you very much. It wouldn't matter if I drove a Mercedes-Benz, went to Harvard, and made $500,000 a year. To certain people, I'm just a dirty nigger (깜둥이, if you please) and nothing will change that. If I worried about people like that, whether in Korean or the US, I'd never have gotten anywhere in life.
For her, though, it's worth keeping things close to the vest, since I have nothing to lose, and she has everything – or at least, a lot. I told her to be more careful next time, and if there was someone to introduce, just say he was a foreigner – you know, telling the truth – and let my first impression, big smile, and charm in fairly fluent Korean do the rest. I've never heard any of her friends be anything other than happy to see me, and even though they were surprised, they always said, "He was so different from what I expected! What a nice guy!"
See, I know what they expected, and it was, unfortunately, the worst. And with you, fellow foreign man, think about that, if only for her sake.
The Flip Side – You're Her Vanilla Fantasy
Or chocolate, almond, or whatever fits the analogy. There's also something to be said for trusting your gut and realizing when you're her one big "adventure" or "foreign experience" before she gets fixed up by her parents and marries a rich lawyer. Contrary to the convenient "innocent Korean girls gets duped" trope you see and hear around in Korea, this doesn't happen too often, because Korean women are just not that stupid.
In fact, such a stereotype is more like a Korean male fantasy, because it doesn't jibe with the reality of Korean women being pretty savvy ladies, who most certainly aren't some delicate flowers from the Chosun Dynasty. And given that many of the women – a somewhat self-selecting group of people who are often just a bit more outgoing or internationally-minded or just plain interested in something different – don't tend to be as conservative as most typical Korean women (by definition, right?), we're not talking about women who are falling for some White Knight in Shining Armor, oh, Daniel-san.
I've known several foreign men in serious relationships with Korean women who got totally burned by the flip-side of being the societal outsider. One guy I met at a party – really nice guy from the Midwest, my kind of people – can tell this tale. He was a good-looking white guy (probably still is), spoke impeccable Korean, and just gave off "niiiiice guy"vibes to no end, chatted me up in a way that really made me think.
In a way that was strange for some dude I didn't know at a party, he started saying something to the effect that he really envied me, since I could really "connect" with and be included with the culture; and he weirdly seemed sad when he added that I could date "real" Korean women and he couldn't.
So I was like, "Dude. What are you talking about? You've surely got women throwing themselves at your feet, what with the Tom Cruise thing and the Korean and the Mr. Nice Guy thing." We were kind of light-heartedly talking, just doing the cocktail chat thing, but he got kind of serious.
And he pointed out, in not so many words, that I was getting the real girls – the "nice" girls, as it were. What with his being white and the Hollywood-movie fantasy of most Korean women raised on a diet of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DeCaprio, you add in the Korean, and he's dating these amazing women whom he knows he'd never get back home, but whom he also treats like princesses walking on air.
Who knows. Maybe that was his problem. Maybe he was choosing the wrong ladies. But in the end, I felt bad for him, since he said he had been dating this one woman, who was smart, funny, and beautiful and whom he had brought home to Thanksgiving and Christmas, introduced to his entire family, and whom he had planned on marrying. And this intention was understood by both of them.
But only a few months earlier, he had gotten the boot. She had just suddenly stopped taking his calls, and when she finally relented and deigned to pick up, she said that she was sorry, but she was getting married the following month. BAM! Just like that.
I have several stories of Korean women who suddenly were getting married the next month and had dated their foreign boyfriend right past the point of meeting their future husband through "seon" (arranged marriage introduction), several more dates, proposal, and even meeting each others' parents – and then giving the foreign guy the boot.
Such stories are common enough to be a mini-trope amongst foreign men who are serious about their romantic relationships and worth warning other men to watch out for; and for those men who are here in Korea to make a fast buck and sow their oats, well, it doesn't matter, since there are more than enough women in the places and circles they frequent to make the commodities exchange they are engaging in (free english and a good time / a guide to the culture and a good time) fair and pretty innocuous.
I'd just say that amongst foreigners dating Koreans in Korea, like in any other place, things work out along a bell curve: there are a few cases of the hapless Korean girl duped by unscrupulous foreign men, and on the opposite side, there are Korean female vixens duping naive-but-nice foreign men who think they've found the perfect woman of the kind they'd never set eyes on (let alone lay hands on) at home in Saskatchewan or Iowa. Then there's everything else in between, which are mostly people who are on the same page, being each other's vanilla, lemon, chocolate, and caramel fantasies while getting some free language and cultural exchange to boot.
In the end, so what? As if there aren't a lot of equally dumb or dumber reasons to date someone, give a booty call, or simply be in a romantic relationship between Korean folks as well (부킹, 헌팅, 야타, 나타, 돈/학벌/집안 따지고 소개팅 or 선). If we want to compare "morality," then the guy dating the hot and exotic Korea girl who seems like a fashion model in his eyes, her wanting him because he looks like a "movie star" and she can learn some English while having a new experience in life, or the 29-year-old woman who marries some guys basically because he's rich and went to the right school – if we're really going to compare such disparate cases, then the Immorality Meter™ is going to need a lot of batteries, baby, depending on who's using it.
But in the end, foreign men, you need to trust your gut on this, too. Don't just jump to this conclusion because she's slow to introduce you to her friends, but if you start getting the feeling that you're not good enough to ever be taken seriously – and that's what you want – then you might want to start thinking with your big head and reconsider your relationship.
Some big warning signs: you never see her outside, or in daytime, or she loves speaking English really loudly around you or even seems to be inordinately proud of being you, as contradictory as that may seem. Or if she's constantly taking phone calls from men and acting all coy or even secretive with them, trust your gut, man. You may not be able to speak the Korean language, but body language is universal. If she has 20 oppas with whom she coos into the phone all the time, or disappears to the bathroom to talk to for 20 minutes at a time, she ain't just with you, dude.
In the end, if you get the feeling that you'll never stop being "a foreigner" in her eyes and she'll never see you as just YOU after the initial novelty wears off, then maybe she isn't dating you, but the idea of you. And if you want to be more than that, then you should hightail it outta there.
WATCH YOUR BACK.
I'm not trying to be alarming, but rather informative. And like wearing seat belts, 999/1000 times nothing will happen. But it's better to be alert and aware and safe than sorry.
What am I talking about? Well, if you follow the Korean media, the conversations and rumors amongst everyday Korean folks that are often fueled by it, and the ever-thickening bed of stereotypes about foreigners in general and men in particular – you'll know that you walking down the street with a Korean woman, especially a woman who might be considered attractive to most Korean men, can get you into trouble.
It's because, to a certain few but extremely vocal and/or extra-stupid people, you symbolize and crystallize something they hate, and they might take it out on you. You don't even have to be with a Korean woman to get yelled at, cursed at, or even assaulted on a subway car – but it you are, your chances of being so go waaaaay up.
Not enough to worry about, but enough to have thought about enough a few times such that you have a clear idea of what to do. Here's why:
If something happens, even if you are obviously physically assaulted by a drunk ajussi, if and when the police come, it will be assumed that you started it, and it's your fault. Your girlfriend or wife can't be a witness for you, since they're part of your "side" to the police, and it's unlikely (though not impossible) that a Korean person will go to bat for you, even if they saw the whole thing. I've seen it myself, and I've seen passersby flat-out lie to the police, saying that it was started by the foreigner.
I myself got into a yelling match with a Korean man who had called my black female friend "nigger" (yes, the word in English), charged her as if to attack her, at which point she slapped him, when he had come to within an inch of her face and was yelling, screaming, and spittling all over her. When the police came, out of the entire crowd that had seen the whole thing happen from jump, not a single person out of say 20 (?) said a word in her defense, and the police were going to arrest her and let the 3 drunk men who had essentially attacked us go.
Sounds fair, right? (Read more about this here.)
To this day, most Koreans still cite the 1995 "incident" in which the dirty GI attacks innocent Korean women by continuing to touch her tushy. Every Korean adult over the age of 30 knows this story. It was reported all over the peninsula, on all media. Too bad it's bogus. The woman in question was his WIFE, she was being berated and cursed at by old, drunk ajussis, and when the GI (in civvies, not a uniform) punched the guy who was getting too close and belligerent with his WIFE, all the Korean men jumped the guy. When the police came, they claimed he was attacking all of THEM, and claimed complete innocence. Guess who got arrested and his face thrown all over Korean TV. Ain't much changed since then. You can also refer to my "Tips to Avoid Being Assaulted in Korea" if you'd like.
Treat her friends like royalty when you first meet them.
They will judge you and have great deciding power over your girlfriend. Even if she doesn't listen to their mostly negative appraisals of you, they will be a point of stress for her. So you goddamn better be on your most princely, polite behavior when you meet them, because it's that frickin' important, alright?! Did I drive that point home enough? Because I'll break it down for ya.
Basically, anything that veers from the norm in Korea is BAD. Unless it's expensive and rare and a bragging point, like a Prada purse no one's gotten yet. You MIGHT be that guy if you are white, handsome, speak Korean, have a degree from a big name school, and have either great earning potential or lots of money, but if you're short on any of those points, you better be on you P's and Q's, because any perceived deficiency, any crack in your armor, and even factors you never even thought of can come out against you.
Yeah, she might think you're the cat's meow, but when her jealous friend who doesn't want anyone to be happier than she is, or who sees you as a threat in terms of stealing her friend away from her starts whispering in her ear, all that salt and vinegar can add up. "He's a playboy" if you're handsome. A positive that comes as a negative? But speaking Korean well can go a loong way -- you're seen as more human by Koreans if you speak it, and they respect you for it. But you can't really manage your profile down to the detail -- just know that you better have your best game face on, you better treat the gf's friends right, you better buy everyone's dinner, and you better not show any of your bad points, especially if any are stereotypically expected from the "bad foreigner" guy. That impression is important, and in general, you're guilty until proven innocent, because you have the power of prejudice and suspicion against you.
You just better be on your best fucking behavior.
YOU ARE FROM MARS, SHE IS FROM ALPHA CENTARI.
And you thought your own country's women were from their own planet, right? Well, forget about mere different styles – often, we're talking about women and men being from two different planets, but in a totally unfamiliar set of cultural codes, most of which are either unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you, if not both. Even between Korean men and women, people have the normal trouble that couples always have when communicating – it just comes with the territory.
But in your case, you're in double or even triple trouble from the start, so thinking about this extra-hard beforehand might be a good idea. One of the biggest problems I have experienced, as well as heard about quite a bit is that many Korean women speak far more indirectly than we're used to back home, and if you were a normal dude and often missing messages back home, you better attune your antennae to super-strength in Korea.
Korean folks are known for being often direct to the point of rudeness, but also maddening roundabout in their way of speaking. In my experience, Korean women are as confusing as women back home can be (to us less evolved men-folk), but you throw in the fact that we foreign-types are working within a somewhat different set of cultural codes, and we're up the creek without a paddle. Add on the fact that the language barrier may be making it tough for her to transmit the signals properly and with the subtle nuance she can in her native language, while you are having trouble, for the same reasons, picking them up even if she succeeds in sending a few awkward ones off – whew! Some serious frustration there.
And if you thought women were from Venus in terms of being "emotional" arguers, while we Martian men are busy being coldly logical and whatnot, get ready for warp factor 9 -- engage! I've had so many completely and utterly illogical arguments with Korean women that I've never had before coming here, and logic only prevails if you are incredibly patient and explain things from the bottom up, i.e. if there's a cultural difference here, explain it, give examples, explain it again, talk about how individual personalities work into the cultural differences, talk about the specific circumstances, recap, summarize, end your argument with easy-to-remember catchphrases that sum it up.
I'm not EVEN being facetious or trying to be condescending. I've had some ongoing arguments about stuff that was very explainable or attributable to personality, but to the GF was due to very big-picture stuff: "All foreigners think..." or "American guys are all the same" or "This is just like what I heard my friends talking about" or anything else that are basically arguments of sweeping generalization, and are landmines you just stepped on.
If she's from Alpha Centauri to you, you're already set up as being from not Mars, but the planet Vulcan, light years across the galaxy. When you have that big relationship argument, it's going to be in terms of you fitting into some larger pattern that she sees, especially when it comes to how she sees foreigner fitting into issues such as sex, friendships with the opposite sex, money, or parents.
So you better be able to calm her down and deal with those arguments logically and convincingly. And even after you do, you're still a David vs. a Goliath of preconceived notions and suspicions. So be prepared.
TALK ABOUT THESE THINGS PRE-EMPTIVELY so that you can refer to your calm, nice conversation from before this came up as a problem. Plant the seed of preparing her for your visit from you platonic female friend from the States, or explaining why you and Susie Q. Platon are not bumping hips in bed by introducing her regularly as your friend and let you gf FEEL the platonic vibe and "get it" well before she sees it as a problem.
That's the #1 best thing you can do about potentially problematic "big issues" -- plan ahead and plant the seed of being reasonable about these things, or keeping an open mind about some actual real differences in "culture", which I chalk up as being actually differences in habit and custom. Because that's all I think "culture" is.
IF YOU BREAK UP AND IT'S ON BAD TERMS, HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A KOREAN WOMAN SCORNED.
Things end. Even good things. And even good relationships can end badly. In the event that one does, cover your vulnerabilities. Hell, yes you should change the code to your door, passwords to your email, scrub your house of any contraband (hat tip to the many dudes who end up in the Korean pokey because a Korean ex snitched), and just be careful. I've never seen stalking like in Korea -- whether Korean or international couples, man or woman, stalking is a science here -- and Klingon warriors know less about revenge being a dish served cold than Korean ex-gf's on a mission to even the scales in the face of perceived slights to one's honor, thanks very much, Mr. Khan.
Batten down the hatches, shields up, perimeter alert. I even got bent over the table to pay an ex 500,000 won for her "mental troubles" -- and after she promised to leave me alone after I paid her, I relented WITH RELIEF. If you had been through the wringer I'd been through, you'd have found half a million won sweet solace, like I did. Trust me. That's when you know you are living in Korea, HARDCORE. When you say goodbye at the 7/11 ATM just so she'll stop harassing you -- hardcore to the max, dude.
I'm just saying. I've never seen jealousy in weaponized form before Korea, and I'd never been stalked before. I chalk it up to experience, and I love dating in Korea, because there are some great people here, but DO NOT THINK FOR AN INSTANT, gentlemen, that you're going to "get the last laugh" or some kind of sweet revenge against your ex. Because it's not even worth the try. So try to end things as amicably and positively as possible. I'm being serious. You ain't gonna get the last laugh. So don't push her to, either.
THE END, FOR NOW
I'm all typed out. And I'm sure this list will cause controversy. It's just drawn from my own experiences, and I think reasonably intelligent people who know how to apply this to their own experience/personality/situation here can get something out of it.
It's not a bible, nor does it encompass all aspects of dating here. Some might ask why I don't put up something for men. Well, because I don't don't date Korean men, and I'm not a foreign woman. Which would leave me pretty unqualified to merely speak from experience in a way others may glean some help from.
But dating here DOES have some common traps and problems, some of which I've outlined. I do hope it helps, and I've just tried to be honest, with the goal of making one's Korean dating life easier, not harder.
Before you say this site is "anti-Korean" or bashing Korea – read this: "Why Be Critical?" Chances are, if you're simply angry because I am a social critic in Korea but not actually Korean, see if your argument isn't just a kneejerk response that follows these patterns.
Session 1: Just the Basics Dealing with the basic operations and functions of your DSLR, explaining each function, button, and doo-hickey. The bulk of the session is likely going to stick around the relationship between aperture and shutter, as well as depth-of-field. Basically everything on your camera has something to do with this relationship.
Session 2: Composition and Shooting (Shooting Session 1) We'll take those examples and look at them on the big screen, while also answering the concrete questions that will pop up about the stuff we learned before. Then we'll talk about composition and other framing issues, including lens lengths and why some lenses are worth $100 bucks and some are worth $10,000.
Session 3: Flashes and Advanced Exposure (Shooting Session 2) Dealing with flash, in terms of compensating above and below exposure levels (bracketing), as well as other bracketing techniques in general.
Session 4: Final Session/Critiques Keeping it open, determined by the class.
Four 3-hour sessions, as well as shooting sessions, photo discussions, and critiques. An individual photo essay will also be done as part of the ongoing class assignments. Inquire at the email address at the top right of this page.
Here are some key posts, for those of you new to the blog, which are a sampling of some of my thoughts about race and ideology in Korea and in general, my view of what it means to be a true American, my answer to the question of "Why don't you talk about more positive things?", my thoughts on why the Korean media is so unprofessional, thoughts on the Korean education system (here and here), my post about and examples of racism in three countries' media and the difference in the way they're handled, my posts (here and here) channeling my anger about Katrina, my post about being black in Korea and the whole Hines Ward thing (here and here and here), a post directed against the fashionable racism of even so-called "progressive" Asian Americans, my first attempt at online activism – a petition against KBS, and even random posts such as why I love Apple and have used an Apple computer, why I think Korea doesn't like Star Trek but should really love Battlestar Galactica, and I am ashamed to say that I have even blogged about my cats (here and here).
As for my photo book (now in limbo due to editorial differences with the publisher), you can see the representative chapters from the "Seoul Essays" posts below. Note that Chapter 3 remains undone and in limbo on my computer:
Chapter I: On the Surface
Chapter II: Pleasures of the Everyday
Chapter IV: To Hell and Back
I have much, much more, but this is a random yet representative sampling of my work to start with.