Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Korea and Koreans

Hi everyone,

I want to talk about Korea and Koreans. Some things I've observed and noticed about this country and its people. Korea is quite a unique country when you compare it to other Asian countries. Some ignorant people may say that it's almost the same as Japan or China. But that's not true at all. Of course they have some things in common. Just like Europeans do.

Let me start about Koreans as a people. In my opinion, most Koreans are very focused on superficial aspects of life. One major and important thing is the way they look and what they wear. I'm now talking mostly about people from around 15 - 40 years old. They have to follow the latest trends from Japan and Europe. They have to have the most stylish and look beautiful when they go outside. Koreans also have their own style of clothes. That's also popular in Korea. Sometimes I look at a person and wonder how much time that person takes just to go outside. 

Korean men
The style of men is quite neat, old-fashioned and retro. But some also look like they just came from a fashion show. Some styles they use over here we could never wear back in the Netherlands. Leggings for men for example. The men are quite tall for Asians. That is one of the first things that surprised me when I first saw Korean men. The men here also look very feminine and that's okay over here. Some also walk around with man bags and even hold the bags of their girlfriend. Women are quite bossy towards men and men have apparently lost their balls somewhere along the way. It's a sad sight. Oh and by the way, make up for men is a monstrous hit in Korea. That's right, I said it!

Korean women
Women also like to look good. But they mostly like to look cute and pretty. And with cute I mean à la  'Hello Kitty' mixed with Hollywood. And they like to talk with a high pitched voice (which is totally fake) to attract guys. They are wearing the latest styles, the highest heels, the hair is curled or permed perfectly, etc.  It's mostly style above comfort. One weird thing over here, in my mind, is that girls and women wear short skirts and this is very normal. I mean very short skirts. You could easily be called a whore if you wore that in Holland and be chased by a group of people. But at the same time wearing something that didn't cover up the shoulders is considered 'naked'. Question mark, question mark? No one could really explain this to me. Plastic surgery is very common in this country. And there is no taboo on that at all. Women that do plastic surgery mostly do eye lid 'correction' and nose jobs.

Something funny. An American trying to act like a Korean girl. This is of course not exactly true. Read the translation at the information section.

Public Transport
The public transport in Korea, but especially in Seoul, is very good. It must be one of the best public transport in all of the world. Most people in Seoul use a T-money card. This is a card you can use for public transport. You simply put money on it with the use of a machine at the subway or you go to a newspaper-kiosk. You can use this card for the subway, bus, some supermarkets like the GS25 and you can also use it in the taxi. It's very easy to use.  You can even have a small electronical key chain hanging on your mobile phone and use it as a T-money card. One ride for the subway is 900 won which is about 57 eurocents. And you can go very far with just one ride. I barely use the bus, since everything is written in Hangul (Korean writing). The subway is easier and more pleasant to take. Most information is written in both Hangul and English. And there are televisions in the subways that tell you what the next station is. It is also called through a speaker in Korean, English and Japanese. About every 10 minutes another subway arrives, which is very convenient. When you wait for the subway you can see that the railway is blocked. There is a glass wall in front of you and the doors only open when a subway arrives. This is done to stop people from committing suicide. This is a huge problem in Korean society. Koreans usually don't talk in public transport. This could lead to them staring at you. But maybe they just stare at me cause I look different. They are very curious people. I haven't had any racist encounter with them. The first question they mostly ask is how old I am. This is very important for Koreans. This is when they know how to talk to me. If I am for instance 1 year older than a person he or she treats me very different than when I am younger or the same age. When they notice I'm older they treat me with great respect and humility. If not, they tend to treat me good and as an equal. They also ask me where I'm from. And when I say I'm from the Netherlands their faces light up and they yell ' Hiddink'! As in Guus Hiddink. He was the coach for the Korean national team for the World Cup in 2001. He managed to get them as far as the semi finals which is a great accomplishment. Some Koreans also want to practice their English with you. And most of the people I've encountered while travelling I could not understand. This only led to awkward silences and miscommunication.  -_-
Things I love about Korea
- The food. Korea has a very diverse food cuisine. You have so many to choose from. From hot to cold, meat to vegetarian, ice to yoghurt. But if you want you can also have foreign food. Indian, Middle Eastern, Turkish, American, Italian and French. These are the ones I've found in the district called Itaewon.
- The public transport. Enough said.
- The nice, humble and curious people.
- The language. 
- The seasons. Korea has four distinctive seasons. And they are very beautiful. It's fall now and the leaves and the color are very nice. The Summer could be very humide. The best times to visit Korea are the Spring and the Fall. But if you don't mind the coldness the Winter in Korea could be very nice.
- Samsung, LG, Kia, Hyundai, Daewoo. ♥
- Cool fashion.
- Their great government, mayor and their incentives to keep foreigners happy. =D I've been to many things for free just because I'm a foreigner. Especially the great initiative 'Visit Korea'  2010 - 2012.
- Koreans are hard working people. They build up this country from scratch after the Korean war ('50 -'53). Did you for instance know that the GDP of Korea in the 60's was lower than the GDP of countries such as Kenya  and Somalia? It's amazing what they've done with their country. It's a true Phoenix State.
- The great respect for elderly.
- The importance of family values and cultural expression.
- The mountains, hills and other nature Korea has to offer.

 Things I hate or dislike in Korea
- As a foreigner being in Korea for the first time you will notice a couple of things as you discover the country and the people. For instance, when you walk around in Korea people bump into you and don't say sorry. At all. And this happens often. This is not to be seen as rude in this country.
- Trash cans. There are barely trash cans in this Korea. It's mostly a corner in the street where everyone piles up their junk. This is just too annoying. This may lead to growse pile ups. Overall Seoul is quite clean, but not finding a trash can or bin can be annoying sometimes.
- Toilets. It's really a sad thing to say that the cleanest toilets are the one at the subway station isn't it? Well, that's my opinion. Most toilets I've see over in Seoul at restaurants, bars and other places where disgusting. Some were even more than that. And because the sewer pipes are narrow and small you sometimes can't put toilet paper in it. That's why you have a bucket next to you to put your used toilet paper in. And sometimes there's just a hole in the ground. Things like that are confusing since Korea is a well-developed country where most of the people aren't poor.
- The fact that most people don't speak English. This can be frustrating sometimes. I'm not just talking about old people. Even the younger generation speaks barely English. You can really see that Koreans barely speak English when you listen to some Kpop music. Some English words or sentences they put in their songs are just too ridiculous. Or some slogans and adds you see. Like today I saw an add that said ' FIND YOUR BLACK'. Or INJOY YOUR FOOD. No this is no wordplay at all. These are used by huge companies. Couldn't they just hire someone who knows English? And not Kongrish or Engrish?
- The way some Koreans drive. Koreans tend to ignore all traffic rules. As a pedestrian you barely have rights. Cards drive all the way to the zebra crossing and wait while passing half of the zebra crossing. I've seen about 6 accidents happen since I'm here. I'm not exaggerating. These people can be insane drivers. That's why it's safer to travel by subway.
- Kpop.
- Kimchi
- Drunk people at 9 p.m. (Drunks in general). People passed out on the streets. Puke on places you don't expect. I live in Sinchon, please keep that in mind.

There are older married Korean women called Ajumma's. They are women everyone's afraid of. They are treated very good in Korean society and can practically do anything they want. And if they don't like anything you've done, they will publicly humiliate you. You should watch out for them. I call them bitter old ladies. I don't dare to look into their eyes. Some are quite scary. But they can be sweet ...sometimes. =)

Korea is filled with coffee shops, coffee shops and coffee shops. And especially the one that I hate with all of my heart. THE STARBUCKS. I can't recall when I started to hate the Starbucks, but I've promised myself never to go there again. There is one next to the Yonsei Funeral Hall. I think it's just disrespectful to have a commercial company like that next to a funeral hall. But then again, those people may need some coffee. I love these coffee shops. Most of them are very nice and it's a great place to to some homework. The prices aren't that different than those of in Holland.

Well this is my view of Korea and Koreans. As to my etnocentrism. Please forgive me.


Anonymous said...

Good one, Abdi. My name is Omo by the way, originally from Nigeria, and now residing in the U.S. I also studied in South Korea for a semester and I can relate to most of what you have shared here. Even better, I now understand such cultural practices as why they ask for your age almost every time you meet some one one. Overall, good observation. I have also grown to like Korea even more and now that I am away from there. Thank you for sharing your insight.

Abdi said...

Hi Omo! Thanks for your comment. Where did you study when you were there?

I had the time of my life. I think about it often :)

Roman93-V2 said...

Hi Abdi i really enjoyed reading your post. You are very articulate. You insights are impressive and so true. Im watching korean drama right now at KBS haha they just bump you and men really look feminine....im planning to go to Korea when Bi-rain finishes his military training i will watch is concert hey your hansome :)

Abdi said...

Hey Roman. Thanks for your comment. I hope you will have a good time in Korea. :)