Some quick thoughts on Korea

Korea is going through some big changes. The women's movement is just getting started and a lot of foreigners are pushing for civil rights. It hasn't totally kicked into high gear yet (not quite the 60's), but it might get there. Some university students are protesting against the Americanization of Korea and some of my female students are bold and speak up in class.

A few while ago some American soldiers raped a Korean girl. There is a place called Itaewon about 20 min on the subway from where I live. It is a little America with lots of wannabe gang bangers and fights every weekend with Russians, Koreans, American soldiers. There is a lot of great international food though.

Everything is Confucian here so it's all about ranking. The first thing a Korean asks is your age so they can know how to speak to you. If you are an older male you are called "Oppa" and they have to pour your drinks and all sorts of things.

The conversation with a stranger normally goes like this:

Korean: "Where you from?"
Wa Gook (foreigner): "I am from . . ."
Korean: "How old are you?"
Wa Gook: "I am . . ."
Korean: "Nice to meet you."

Then maybe a bow and a handshake. A lot of the people have been really nice. I don't care for the business men though. No matter where you are in Korea there are barber shops (spinning barber poles indicates a sex house). It is frequented by a lot of business men. When some women protested against the sex trade, the business men complained they need the sex houses in order to relieve stress after working long hours. So sex houses help make Korea a productive, hard working country. The sex workers also protested against the women's movement saying they needed their jobs in order to eat and feed their families. So it's not a simple matter of getting rid of the sex trade (if such a thing is possible). It is a really complicated situation. If the government overlooks it and gets some taxes from it, then they should provide good compensation for the sex workers (regular health check-ups, safe working conditions, vacation time etc.)

A lot of my students are "waking up." They don't all want to work 12 hour days six days a week and try to climb to the top of Korean society. Everything is based on appearance. Indians and Filipinos are at the bottom because their skin is too dark. Europeans are at the top because their skin is the lightest. There is a lot of plastic surgery. Most women (if they want to marry well etc.) have eye surgery to add an eyelid and look western (rather than too Asian). Plastic surgery of the face is a huge business here. It's really intense.

Some people are quite scared of foreigners. Korea has been a closed society for quite a while. Quite a few Korean men post messages on various Korean websites calling for "the purification of Korean blood" because foreigners are mixing their blood with Korean women. Some websites even show foreigners holding Korean women's hands and post articles about the "shameful" activity of Korean women dating foreign men. So the racism can be intense at times. Everyone is almost always staring at me. I am fully aware I am a foreigner at all times. Now I know A LITTLE about how it might feel to be a minority in America.

However, a lot of young people have a different attitude. I really love my students. They are so kind, respectful, funny. Just amazing!!!

So there are good and bad things just like any country.