Monday, October 27, 2008

In Korea two months and already the Americans suck ass

I don't know what bothers me most about part-time foreigners' persistent whining about Koreans: their whining about Korean intolerance (apologies to EP who has righteous reason to be pissed) or their mass-mind mentality.

A quick search through Google will result in many blog stories, journal rants, and public forum posts about how Korean hate for foreigners erupts in the public sphere. Never mind the countless mentions of intolerance on Facebook and Myspace and the stories I have the misfortune to hear whenever I sit with more than two North Americans at a time.

I am not implying that I agree with some Koreans' intolerant, rude, and sometimes criminal behavior towards foreigners. There are locals who will take advantage of me if I let them. I am explicitly pointing out to many of the thick tourists posing as teachers that this Intolerance is not a Korean trait, it is a Human trait. In other words, the majority of Koreans are quite warm, welcoming, and helpful. Foresaking the many for the few. It is at best careless, at worst willful.

The typical complaint I have read and heard is shared in a shocked tone by a speaker who simply cannot believe that Koreans are so mean, so crooked, so callous, or so racist. I don't mind someone complaining out of frustration. You know: blowing steam. I do mind hypocritical, petty whining based on some incredibly selfish assumptions.

First, I have had to come to terms with the alienation and solitude that everyday life offers in a country where I do not speak the language and most people do not speak mine. Some days are emotional trials, for sure. However, Koreans owe me nothing. I am not owed anything. I repeat this to myself as a daily mantra. I have to remind myself that I have become quite accustomed to a level of everyday, spectacular consumerist culture in North America, so accustomed that I find it almost instinctive to insist that some of my desires and most of my needs are met simply because I walk into public and begin to participate in various exchanges with other folks around me. I cannot get by in Korea by living a lazy life. I must work hard, remain focused, exercise, attend to my health, and aggressively participate in the public sphere. For example, I must work hard everyday to acquire a new language. (Yes, there are Americans here who bitch about having to learn Korean and about Koreans not wanting to learn English.)

***many foreigners roam the streets of Seoul in packs insuring that most Koreans will never attempt to make that social contact we all so desperately crave, Friendship. I can't speak for Canadians, but I know that the manner in which Americans socialize is strange to Koreans. When we roam in groups, we are louder and more boisterous than most Koreans. In addition, we are simply more obscene. Hit the OED. What I mean by obscene is that we tend to share with everybody what is on our mind. We like to be noticed. We stare at people. We overtly flirt. We talk a lot. And when we roam in groups, we tend to ignore the rest of the world and expect that they leave us alone. This is simply not the way things are done here.

I have been lonely here my first seven weeks. My lifestyle has dramatically transformed. But my emotional trauma is not fairly transferred to Koreans. Moreover, the complaints about hatred and discrimination strike me as completely inappropriate. Even on the worst day I have had in Seoul, I have yet had to confront the institutional racism that a Mexican or Central American immigrant laborer faces on his or her best day in North America. I will not equivocate on this point. The cries of bigotry are quite absurd. (Once again, some Koreans are racists. Calling Koreans racist, though, is like an American middle class white dewd bitching about affirmative action and reverse discrimination: it is stupid, self-centered, ill-informed; basically, an attempt to re-establish the comfortable order found in the white power structure.)

Let me make it clear. I have been in Seoul only seven weeks. I already have a home, cable tv, broadband Internet access, a cell-phone, a health plan, a pension plan, my alien registration card, a renewed VISA with multi-use privileges, a bank account, direct deposit, and membership in a soccer club; in addition, the locals have begun calling me by name, students and teachers look out for my health, the school's administration insures I am taken care of, and my landlord is responsive to my complaints. In the United States, no immigrant receives the treatment I have received in Korea with such sincere rapidity. The majority of the immigrant labor force in North America, never mind the US, covertly labors everyday for scraps and is entirely ignored by the majority of native citizens.

I'll recap:

  • I find many North Americans here, especially my fellow U.S. citizens, to be whiners--spoiled, self-centered shits. For as educated as many of my fellow teachers claim to be, they are incredibly naive and, as a result, incredibly insensitive to the very rational, logical dispositions of others. (Of course, many native speaking teachers in Korea are under 25 and have no experience of the world outside of Mom, Dad, High School, and University life. I think they choose to come to Korea because of the pay rather than the culture. Hence, the roaming in packs: intoxicated, loud, immature, clique-ish, imps. They never will care about Korean culture. They are on vacation.)
  • I find much of the whining about Koreans to be based in the social superiority that is quietly cultivated in the white power structure that is still a part of everyday life in North America. I don't think much of this superiority is intended; I think it is learned. On the other hand, the naivete I see in it makes it that much more pitiful and infuriating. I believe it is our duty to make the corrupt power structures visible, to betray the white order at all costs, and bring about some equality by any means necessary. Anyway, no matter what your beliefs are, this is true: Only an individual who willfully ignores the pain and suffering of others... . Oh, wait a minute. I know how to put it: they all have taken the capitalist pill called ATLAS SHRUGGED. If you know what I mean, say amen.

So, I understand why people hate Americans. I don't hate. But I am let down. Sad, for sure. I am certainly embarrassed. For as many whining turds that come to Korea to drink and piss away a couple of years before choosing a career at home, there are many travelers here hanging out like I am taking it all in and happy to have a paycheck while doing it. Kind people who are here to learn and work and grow. I hope to continue to find likeminded folks. I think I will.

Oh, and no. I really could care less about the election.


Nick Piombino said...

Hey Gary,

I was surfing around the blogs tonight- and saw your dagSeoul Just wanted to say hello.

all my best wishes,

Wondosama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juan Bastos said...


Ross Gardiner said...

You couldn't be more correct about the reluctance to mix attitude of the ex-pats here. It transcends across all nationalities, I am British (well Scottish but according to my passport...) and I notice it with us as well, yet admittedly less so than with the North Americans, although this could be down to numbers as opposed to attitudes as there are far more white North Americans than any other race of native teacher here.

But still man, good post, really enjoyed it!

Piece sister