I’ve written about my favorite things about Korea and this is part 2 of the things that irk, frustrate and really rub me the wrong way about life in South Korea.
Ka-Ja! (Let’s Go!)
7. THERE ARE SO MANY SMOKERS!! (*waves goodbye to her beautiful lungs*)
Ok, fine, fine! A wee bit of an explanation just in case I want one in 50 years when I read through this again.
This plays into #1 and 6 as well.
This is likely also due to the group-think mentality and peer pressure (see #11) that exists here. I guess they haven’t had the D.A.R.E. program here and “Just Say No!”
Anyway, cigarette butts litter the street (I’m so punny, ha. haha.) and the smell of smoke is in most bars and restaurants. I think they are working on banning it in public places, but uh…good luck with that.
I wonder if it’d be excessive to hang up one of those dirty lungs posters with “Don’t Smoke” written on it in my classroom. They’re a bit young, but it’s never to early to start talking about it. Anyway, that’s enough of an explanation.
Oh, and here. (My teachers and university professors would kill me for using a Wikipedia as a source, but there you have it.)
Smoking in South Korea is similar to other developed countries in the OECD, with a daily smoking rate of 22.90% in 2012 compared to the OECD average of 21.13%. However, male smoking is among the highest at 40.80% while female smoking among the lowest at 5.20%.
This also plays into #1 and #6 a bit.
8. Racism and Sexism
I believe this is mostly due to Korea being taken over by other countries so many times and a lack of exposure to different people and cultures.
If you come over and someone asks you “Ruh-she-an?”–They’re not asking if you’re from the country of Russia. They’re asking if you’re a prostitute. Yes, really. And yes, I’ve been asked. You’ll get it more if you have a lighter hair color and a lighter eye color.
Can I admit this here? But I honestly don’t know what the preferred term is anymore. I don’t want to offend anyone by saying the wrong thing.
Oi. Whew. I hope someone is with me on this because I feel like some stereotypical white girl or some naive person. Anyway, I just don’t normally run around classifying people by their color, so it can get a bit confusing when I actually have to do it. (*runs and hides her head in shame*)
So, anyway, racism is still a really big problem here and is fueled in part by their media/TV shows/K-Pop singers.
I work to correct is when I see/hear about it in my classroom and so far, they seem to be catching on that I have a zero-tolerance “hate” policy.
Anyway, there is a particular TV show here called “Running Man” which is a slapstick humor style show and they’ve been criticized a few times for their usage of “black-face” in some of their sketches. The shows will get a sort of slap on the wrist, but it’ll happen again later and no one seems to make that big of a deal of it except the foreign community. Anyway, we’re getting there.
Also, I can’t speak for anyone besides myself obviously, but I’ve heard of issues with getting jobs (jobs asking for only white people and turning others away if they are darker than what they expected during the original interview, etc), BUT not everyone is like this.
It’s like this anywhere though…it’s NOT everyone. I just want to stress that. It DOES exist, sometimes more blatantly than others, but it’s there.
Just the other day, I was reading a book with my students and one of the characters appeared a bit darker in this particular version (more brown to my eyes) of the book and one of the kids said “Teacher, MONKEY!!”. The whole class started laughing. I let them have a short laugh then reeled it in and we had a liiiiiittle chat about it.
We read the same book the next day and not a word was said and no one laughed at the picture again.
Anyway, I also try and show lots of videos with lots of different sorts of people so they have more exposure, and usually they’re pretty good about it, but it was that particular page that did them in. I dunno…I guess more talking about different people and as much exposure to different people as I can try and give them.
9. Difficulty to get a decent haircut/Lack of English after so many years of learning it in school (hoooowwww?!?!!)
I’m just confused as to how English can be mandatory in schools from elementary school up through high school WITH major exams in high school that test on English, and yet, no one understands anything. My main gripe is trying to get a haircut. Everything else I can be pretty much left alone.
Oh, and I’m trying to get a gym membership and that…just….yeah, doesn’t happen. I’m actually going with a team of friends this weekend and we’re all going to try and push through the language barrier together. haha. It’s one of those things that you laugh about after but is incredibly frustrating while it’s happening.
It just reminds me of that ^^, haha :D
10. ALCOHOLISM/Public drunkenness
Being drunk (or passed out) isn’t illegal here and you can see drunk (and beyond drunk) people (usually old men) stumbling around on most nights of the week. These ajosshis (middle-aged men) go out for drinks with their bosses and co-workers after work and drink as a form of bonding.
The main issue (or one of many issues) I have with this is that people drink way past their limits because it’s part of the work culture. It’s seen as incredibly rude to decline a drink (foreigners can get away with breaking this rule), but if your boss offers you a drink…you take it. The seniors/bosses typically call the shots…and if you have an alcoholic boss…well, I hope you like the taste of your own vomit, or that you learn how to quickly hold your alcohol.
Anyway, again, drinking here is seen as a form of bonding and it’s done like this in social groups as well. Not just with your co-workers. (Yes, co-workers go out and get drunk together. Yes, really.)
This also means that on a Sunday morning (or any morning if you’re up early enough), definitely watch your step. Seeing vomit on the street is not unheard of.
Maybe that’s the *real* reason that people take off their shoes before entering a Korean (or Japanese) home.
I’m not against drinking or having a good time, I just don’t agree with pressuring people into drinking past their limits. I also think that people should know their limits and respect them. Basically, know when to call it a night.
If that makes me a party pooper, then so be it.
Here are a few videos for your viewing pleasure:
Korean Drinking Games:
Blacked Out Dudes and Dudettes:
Black Out Korea
11. Peer Pressure/Group-think/Hierarchies in the Workplace
I honestly don’t feel like going too much into this, sorry. It just seems like something that comes up enough in the news as is, but I just wanted to point out its affects on the public drunkenness, smoking, lack of family time/work stress, etc.
I don’t deal with this personally, I just have seen it in action, so I also don’t feel qualified to talk too much about it. If you’re working for a larger corporation, you’ll get t experience it, but since I don’t, I’m just going to leave it at that.
12. Toilet paper/Soap/Dryers/Paper Towels in the Trashcans in the Restrooms!
This goes along with the “messy/dirty” categories from earlier. Watch the video first and then come back.
Ok, so that’s a pretty standard bathroom in Korea, except the toilet paper in the trashcans can get piled pretty high and sometimes even onto the floor. Not sure who cleans it or WHEN, but it’s definitely one of my least favorite parts of Korea. Leaky toilets plus tissue everywhere is not a pretty picture. And yes, I also put mine in the toilet. 2+ years later and I have yet to have any sort of toilet issues, even in my own apartment.
Toilets in public places are often in the hallways between the different shops, so a floor of businesses can share one set of restrooms. They often have some sort of key or doorcode combination that you’d get from the coffee shop/restaurant/etc that you’re visiting.
Most bigger restaurants will have their own restroom, which is usually cleaner.
ALSO, soap is usually bar soap on a stick or it’s sitting in a little dish…that is if it’s in the bathroom at all. Combined with the fact that the majority of restrooms DO NOT have dryers of any sort nor do they have warm water. Granted, some coffee shops and chain restaurants will have their own bathrooms that are modern, but most other bathrooms do not.
Example: my last school (hagwon) only had a cold water tap, with no soap or paper towels. My current school has a cold water tap (also functions as a tall mop sink–mens bathroom has a regular sink but also only cold water). We sometimes have soap on hand and never have paper towels.
So…picture this, you’re in a building (lacking insulation as well, per the norm) and ready to wash your hands in the frigid water without soap or any sort of warm dryer (or towels). Do you or do you not wash your hands? Not judging, just posing a question.