Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Koreans and foreigners

The wedding castle that is 50ft from my apt. Because what screams "happily ever after" like fake white stone and orange towers

First a quick update on me. I picked up bad case of food poisoning Friday night and didn't leave my bed for the next two days. You can tell how hard it was hitting me when halfway through Saturday the thought hit me "why don't I play video games to distract myself from the pain". This was immediately followed by the thought "No. I don't even have the energy to sit upright." 4 days later i'm almost feeling normal again. Rough weekend. Hopefully I don't have to go through that again anytime soon.

Right now i'm mostly settled into the new semester and waiting for the weather to warm up (its about 1-1.5 months away.) I could tell you about a date or two I went on but frankly that's none of your business ;) So instead I'm going to try to give you a better picture of what it's like to live in Korea as a foreigner. The easiest way to start this is to describe the Korean people and their views of foreigners.

Koreans are extremely friendly. Most of them don't understand a word i'm saying, even when i'm trying to use the little Korean i know (ok, especially when i'm trying to speak Korean). But that doesn't stop them from listening intently, asking questions in Korean and then calling colleagues over to get more help. I've had this cycle repeated to the point i was surrounded by a small army in a store. In fact I had some trouble getting my work done this morning because the Taekwondo teacher kept smiling and attempting to talk to me. The attempts weren't very successful but he's such an affable guy I can't help trying to communicate with him.

One thing that never fails to elicit a chuckle from me is the nearly required comment on your looks that comes with making a new acquaintance. And these comments aren't always what we would consider polite. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to call someone fat here. And my students certainly do, though only to each other. I always get one of two comments from new people. Either "Oh! You very tall." or "Very handsome." One of those is certainly true but i'm not sure i believe the other. After all, these are the same people who once tried to say I look like Tom Cruise (note: hahahahaha)

One other really interesting point about how Koreans deal with foreigners relates to their word for foreigner. You must remember that Korea is populated by 95% ethnic Koreans. There is almost no diversity here, for better or for worse. The word "waygook" is Korean for both a foreigner and a space alien. Think about that. The Korean language makes no distinction if you are from a different country, continent or planet. It's easy to tell that until recently, they have not become adjusted to visitors. This means that people from other countries are treated with the utmost politeness and respect. It also means that expats are forever isolated while in Korea. Unless you look Korean (not Asian, Korean) you can't blend in here.

Personally I don't mind this. It means people are extra nice and helpful and patient with me. It means restaurant owners remember me and it allows me to make massive, unintentional social blunders without consequence. It means I get applauded for getting 1 tiny thing right (and not scolded for the 20 things i got wrong). It also means that I will never consider living here long term. It would feel like going to visit a friend who's happy to see you and then staying forever. No matter how nice your friend is, it still will never be your house and you will never feel like you belong there.

For now though, i'm enjoying being a guest of the Korean people :)

2 random pics. This is the entrance to the underground mall

And this long corridor is a very small part of the inside of it

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