Sunday, September 7, 2008

korea 101...from the past 2 weeks

So I was talking to my other S.M.O.E. (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) friends about being the "foreigner" in a different country.  It's been rather interesting to be the minority, to not be able to speak the language or order food without points and grunts, to know that every time you step onto a subway or the street people are staring at you or trying to snap a picture of you.  I guess for me it's a little bit of a different story because I am the foreigner that can't be so easily pointed out unless I open my mouth.  So in that sense, it's been interesting to watch the reactions of the people here that happen behind the backs of the Americans.  The whispers, the giggles, the straight up stares.  It's even more interesting because to some extent, I can understand what the whispering means, "why isn't she wearing a jacket with that shirt (from an old woman in disgust at the cleavage), he talks so funny (about an australian), they are so loud (because most American's are)" and so forth.

I know earlier I said that I really didn't feel like there was a huge change, but I suppose I've been realizing it a little bit more.  Back home, I remember I had to act a certain way with the Korean community.  Certain practices of respect I guess you could say.  The thing was, I didn't really have to do it all the time because we were in America and most of that stuff didn't fly.  Here it's a not a pick and choose kind of deal.  There's a lot of emphasis on respect and hierarchy.  One of the first things people will ask you when you go out with friends or something is your age.  

I went to Hongdae the other night.  It's like club central and the music is sooooo good.  Going out to the bars with a lot of foreigners in the area got me a little irritated.  By foreign I am mainly talking about Americans.  These guys were loud and rude and arrogant and messy and really took no notice of all the people they were offending.  Why is it like this?  Because as Americans, we are so privileged, the elites, the world power, and because of that, we can do whatever the heck we want.  We can go to a different country and disregard the culture and not even think twice, but when the immigrants come to America and they so much as look in the wrong direction, the attitude is always f*ck them, let's send them back to where they came from.  I guess it's unfair for me to speak for all the Americans, because I know that our whole country is not like that, and there are definitely a number of good people here who are trying to understand Korea and acclimate, but it's just too hard to disregard the others and I feel disgusted that they are the ones that leave such a bitter taste of America here.  It's always the loud ones that get remembered.  

Anyways, on to the fun stuff.

Thing #1: Traffic laws - there are none.  Yes there are stop lights and stop signs and crosswalks, but people pretty much do whatever they want.  Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way, if you're in the way, a car will not stop for you so you better get your ass running.  The streets here are so narrow, and it's so amazing to be that cars actually drive down them.  You literally have to hug the wall to save yourself from getting hit.  Everyone here also loves to honk their horns, scooters, cars, buses, and bikes.  Also, as far as the hierarchy of who can break the most traffic laws, if you see a bus coming, run, they do whatever the heck they want.  Drive through the crosswalks, drive on the wrong side of the rode to pass traffic, make u-turns in the middle of the street, anything goes.  

Thing #2: Ambulances - I would hate to be hurt in the back of an ambulance because I would probably die before I got to the hospital.  The ambulances here do have lights and sirens, but they don't mean anything.   Remember, the traffic rule.  Everyone here is an aggressive driver, no one will make room for you to switch lanes, and NO ONE will pull over so the ambulance can pass.

Thing #3: Drinking - Never pour your own drinks (because that is a sign that you are an alcoholic), never drink alone, never order drinks without ordering food, never order more than 1 beer or pitcher at a time, always finish your drink before you ask for someone to give you some more, always pour the drink using your left hand to support your right, always turn away from the table when you take a shot, never refuse a shot, if someone pours you one and you don't want it it's more respectful to take it and lift it when everyone takes it but then put it down, that is completely acceptable.  Never order water when you can order beer, most waiters will look at you funny if you ONLY get water.  Got that?  Good, we can move on.

Thing #4: Personal space - It doesn't exist.  The subways are crowded, the streets are crowded, the sidewalks are crowded.  Everyone is walking into each other, everyone is bumping into each other, and no one cares.  I was getting onto the bus and the bus driver slammed on the gas (which always happens so you better grab ahold of something so you don't fall) and I wasn't quite ready so I fell into a girl, I got up and apologized in Korean and she didn't even looked fazed.  It happens all the time here.  You go to the U.S. and you fall into someone, you apologize profusely.

Thing #5: People here love wearing shirts with English on them, even though they have no idea what it says.  For example: "FUCK YOU, have a nice day."  "Don't eat, do cocaine."  "I eat crap."  "Drink piss repeat (it has a different meaning when they're aren't any commas like there should be)."

Thing #6: Couples - you think Korean dramas are bad, Korea is a romantic comedy in the flesh.  Everyone is running their hands through each other's hair, holding hands, kissing, all up on each other.  It's also really popular to wear matching shirts.  I tried to snap pictures, but I thought it would be kind of weird.  I seriously could have made a whole album in one hour of walking down the street.

Thing #7: Walk on the left side, or get run over

Thing #8: I'm tired...I miss the homies.   


Jason Kim said...

addition to thing #3: learn to love soju. haha!

Eric Kim and I'm from said...

Damn I didn't know the traffic was like THAT in Korea.

waitingforthebarbarians said...

hah I LOVES IT! Reading your blog is an escape for me at work :)