It’s half Korea


Once a long time ago I was reading Dave’s ESL cafe, as all people interested in teaching English in Korea do at first when coming here before they realize what a toxic place it is, and this one guy posted a revelation that Korea has an insecurity/inferiority complex, and that it explains so much about Korean actions.  And I’d only been here a month or two and he’d been here for a couple years and I’m like, “duh!”

Well, today was my revelation.  I’ve always been totally dumb-founded how nobody steps up to take care of the foreigners or show them around.  It seems as if they’re totally self-absorbed and don’t give a crap about people other than Koreans.  And it just hit me today that the reason I always bend over backwards to show new people around my town, my culture, my life, is because I’m EXCITED about it! I LOVE the opportunity to show people what I love!  To share anything I’ve learned, to give them any insight, to not have to reinvent the wheel and help them have the most efficient settlement as possible.

Koreans just aren’t excited about their own culture.  They mostly feel obligated and oppressed and tired and it’s not worthy of sharing.  It’s also all about family.  And family to them, except their little ones = burden.

So maybe you’re saying, “duh…” about me right now.  Or maybe you hate me and think I’m a Korea hater.  But that’s not true.  I want to love Korea.  I’m just having to work a lot harder at it than I ever dreamed…

I’m not drinking makkolli right now so I can remember those English words every Korean who says they can’t speak English to me can say without hesitation, and they are:

  • sorry
  • nag
  • sexy
  • stress

and “Hello how are you I’m fine and you?” and “help yourself.”

Similarly, words all Koreans seem to understand without translation are burden and suffer. Many a time I have had to change my explanations around to include these words to explain some concept and suddenly the lights will go on at their introduction.

I mean, doesn’t that say a world about how Koreans think?  These words are important to them, and the rest are phrases out of a textbook that they use as a catch-all panacea for every encounter with a foreigner.  I also want to add that I’m not belittling their language skills or intelligence here, as my vocabulary in other languages is about the same size.

What I’m saying is, the words we choose to remember, they say something about us.  Like I can’t remember how to say anything in Spanish anymore, but damnit, I will always remember la madrugada, arco iris, and lagrimas.  Those words say a lot about me.  I didn’t bother to learn the words for burden and suffer in Spanish because the Latin people and culture I’d been exposed to didn’t think about life that way:  those are passive words, and Latinos are about action or dreaming about action or romanticizing. In fact, I never used those words before I came to Korea…

I was just so surprised so many people I’ve talked to know the word nag, for example. That’s just barely part of my American vocabulary and I almost forgot it was a word at all, but it’s obviously registered with the Koreans I’ve spoken with.  A Korean mom is very much like (sorry in advance) the caricature of a Jewish mom.  And Korean family gatherings (I’m assuming) are often an ordeal for people to live through.  Because Korean culture is all family based, I’m thinking a lot of people really don’t want to revisit that ordeal so they can share it with foreigners.  It’s all intertwined, and it’s messy, and it’s a personal conflict.

And then there’s the great-places-to-go thing:  I think they don’t take people to great places because then they’ll be obligated to pay for the entire thing, which is, frankly speaking, one of the most annoying things I hate about Korean culture – that one person has to shoulder everything and it is for the glory and it is a curse and that people just hope that the paying-for-everything karma will come back to them and then resent it when it doesn’t…

But I digress.  Somebody needs to teach Koreans that they can welcome foreigners without all this baggage.

But given all the above considerations aside, there’s still missing a lot of compassion for the foreigner’s experience here.  And that, I think, is born out of a)insecurity about communication b)self-absorption and c) envy.

OK.  This sounds like a lesson for my kids.  Welcome to Seattle.

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One thought on “It’s half Korea

  1. I could never know what it means to even pretend to be a part of Korea, but between your perspective of having one foot in each culture and your beautiful writing, I do feel like you bring Korea to me.

    Maybe something you do naturally that you won’t see until later on. But it is appreciated.

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