Friday, October 9, 2009

Korea: Things I don't Understand

I don't understand why Korean adults are intimidated by children. I guess a HOW might be better than a WHY. I know why children and young adults scare older adults and parents. But this is a peculiar kind of intimidation. Maybe I'll address it more as I think more about it. (UPDATE:  see the comments.)

From government to parents, every child leads a highly-structured life. After middle school, which ends at what most of my readers know as Freshman Year, students move on to High School and become the scariest thing Korean adults encounter on a daily basis.

High School women might rank as the most intimidating group of youth. In 대학동 (my neighborhood Daehakdong,) the young women from my school congregate mornings and afternoons off campus. They lurk in tiny alleys and in the alcoves of buildings just off the street. In these little spaces, they gossip, sing songs, and smoke cigarettes. They bully each other, make friends, tell horror stories about school, and talk about romances and fantasies.

Any noise in Korea is frowned upon by folks over 30. If you or you and your friends are being loud, you'll hear about it. That groups of school children scream and yell their way to school every morning is proof enough for me that Korean adults don't like to speak to children. But this isn't a simple dislike. These kids can pretty much get away with what they like.

On my walks to and from school, I often catch them smoking. They don't like to be caught. I'll often crush their cigarettes. But my teasing and hassling them is far less punishment than they'll receive if their homeroom teachers smell smoke on them in class.

Imagine waking up to a group of ten, 18-year-old women standing under your window shouting and smoking. They're screeching and screaming and their smoke finds its way into your flat. I can't think of anything more irritating. Especially at 715 in the morning. When I see it, I chase the students away scolding them for being rude and unhealthy. The ajumma and ajossi refuse to speak to the high school students and tolerate the daily annoyances. I asked my colleagues and was told "Koreans are intimidated by school children." I thought it couldn't be that. But after a year, I've realized that the students, especially high school students, have an incredibly bizarre power over adults, even their parents. And some students, those wise to their black magic, really torture the adults.

I've never seen anything like it. And I don't understand it. Because the students' powers vanish as soon as you step into their private space and ask "What's up?" They giggle, give up the power and scatter.

It's one of those things I find both cute and disturbing. What do you think? Have you noticed this? Do you have any similar stories of the young men and women turning the tables on their oppressive authority figures?

Who's Afraid of Korean Students? (Their parents....)


Pree-oz said...

adults totally have a fear of children. it's in the states too- but perhaps in a different way.

being a high school teacher, kids don't scare me. they did though, when i was 22 and they were 17. now, i'm a whopping 29, and they're still 17, which makes me feel like i'm continually getting older and wiser. heh.

i'm not sure about this theory you have going on (although i'll take your word on it), because i don't hang out with kids like you do, but it sounds soooo bizarre that adults are scared of them, especially in a culture where kids always bow and say "neh" to everything an adult says, even when a random adult is jansori-ing to the point of death.

Gary Norris said...

well, it's not a theory. i've been told more than once. ok, in different ways but all reasons having to do with general intimidation. i don't use the word fear because i don't think it's fear. the students are absolutely, ritualistically polite. it's something about having to walk up to somebody younger than you and ask them to mind their manners that intimidates the adults.

it makes sense. adults only develop one means of communicating with the youth of Korea: via jondaemal and jansori. so, having to do something that is like asking a younger person to be polite rather than telling them to do so might be terrifying.

Korean Rum Diary said...

I'd honestly never noticed this before... I live in Daegu, as you know, and here we just don't have that problem. The kids are arbitrarily beaten by the adults and they stay in line. If a kid gets out of line on the street, some random old person will smack them down.

In Scotland we were afraid of school kids because they all had knives. I tried explaining this to my girlfriend the other day when I made her watch 'Peep Show'.

I've honestly never felt intimidated by a Korean person of any age, except when they seriously outnumber me. I'm small and skinny by Scottish standards, but I've never met a guy here whose ass I couldn't kick. (Although I'd never fuck with an adjumma... stay well away)

Gary Norris said...

D, I understand. It's why I have it as a thing I don't understand.

The punishment afforded misbehaving youth is easily observed here, too. So, when I hear people talk about being intimidated, I often consider it a form of not wanting to deal with others' problems, children, events, etc. Koreans seem to me to want to politely leave others alone. To want to should be stressed because we all know they are nosy. On the other hand, Americans are in your face nosy.

The physical discipline practiced here is hard to cope with for me, for several reasons.

James G said...

When in public, people (strangers) are outside of your circle (family, friends, workplace, etc), so you don't fuck with them. I don't know why that's so difficult to understand. It's pretty much how all of asia works.

'I've never met a guy here whose ass I couldn't kick' lol. You should get out more. Korean men are tough motherfuckers you don't want to be upsetting.

Gary Norris said...

James, I agree.

But I have been told on more than two occasions now that adults are afraid of (or fear) children.

I think the use of the "afraid" is similar to how I'm told that the male faculty members don't talk to me because "they are afraid" of me.

Obviously, it is not fear as such. It's more being shy.

But, I've asked about this because I'm curious. And I have been told it's not being shy of the kids, it's being afraid.

I imagine it could be being afraid of others' children, but that would be rather inconsistent. In the sauna both Praise and I have witnessed other adults punishing or threatening to punish children. On the bus. In cafes. In almost every public place, I have seen other adults discipline young kids.

So what I don't understand is the fear of teenagers. Unless, like in the US, many older folks are intimidated by the audaciousness of youth illustrated by younger generations.

It is complex. I don't know if I agree that it's simply not wanting to get involved as a way of being polite.

What do you think?