Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Preach it, sister!

Interesting article in the expat living section of the Korea Herald:

Thanh Cam Nguyen, rightly argues that ugly people can spoil an attractive city, and names a few behaviours that all of us have seen, and suggests ways to improve those weak spots. The article's worth a read, and while she's almost certainly right that Westerners have an easier go facing discrimination, than South-Asians like herself do, I still had a smile at the line, "When Koreans meet us for the first time, they usually ask, "Did you come to Korea to get married?"... I am very sure that the same question would not be asked if we were white and blonde."

Nope. White and blonde females get asked if they're Russian. And all that goes with it.

[Yeah, that was a petty snipe, and yeah, wise-ass cracks like that are the reason Westerners who follow Korea online may well have an inaccurate view of Koreans -- one that's informed more by "wacky Korea" and "sparkling" stories from ESL Cafe and the like (where the weirdest and most extreme incidents run the highest chance of being passsed around, and so, the FrankenKorean mischaracterization perpetuates...) than reality, but still...]

And she was mostly right about the success of Beijing's awareness campaigns for the Olympics: I was there five months after the olympics, and even then, people were still standing aside when subway doors opened to let people off before pushing on. Not that spitting was gone entirely, but it sure wasn't as bad as a walk through Pimatgol toward Jongmyo park.

anyway, the article's worth a read. Git over there.

11 comments:

hwarangi said...

I had always thought it would be easier to be an Asian "foreigner" in Korea, because one's appearance wouldnt elicit the same amount of attention as that of a jolly blonde giant. No stalking, no jeering, no snickering when they speak Korean. Nobody really knows what its like to walk in someone else's shoes.

ZenKimchi said...

I think questions like "Did you come here to get married" and "Are you Russian (implied 'entertainment' worker)" say more about the questioner's view of Korea.

What? Korea is such an awful place that only mail-order brides and prostitutes would want to come here?

Oh, and my Captcha word this time is "pootrons."

AWESOME!

That'll be my new sock name.

Bob said...

[Yeah, that was a petty snipe, and yeah, wise-ass cracks like that are the reason Westerners who follow Korea online may well have an inaccurate view of Koreans -- one that's informed more by "wacky Korea" and "sparkling" stories from ESL Cafe and the like (where the weirdest and most extreme incidents run the highest chance of being passsed around, and so, the FrankenKorean mischaracterization perpetuates...) than reality, but still...]

Sorry, man. Having had Western girlfriends in Korea for 7 years, I can tell you honestly that they do get asked all the time if they are Russian (and sometimes how much and where is their hotel). I think that your assertion that this is a mischaracterization stems from your lack of knowledge of what white women experience in Korea. This isn't the weirdest or most extreme, it's a daily reality. I am not saying this as a Korea-hater, it's true. You have spent so much time on trying to be reasonable that you can't see the forest for the trees. Like my idiom?

Gomushin Girl said...

As a white chick in Korea, I've been asked if I'm Russian . . . but it's not on a daily basis. Maybe monthly, but really, not even that often. Sometimes it's been part of a more lacivious inquiry, but just as often it's been based on some other factors (like most of the foreigners who lived in my neighborhood and shoped at that market were, in point of fact, Russian.) I'm much more likely to be asked if I'm American or Canadian. Which is odd, actually, since unless I'm out with other foreigners and language is there as a marker, I'm usually speaking Korean - and to be perfectly honest, far more of the Russians I know here speak English than Americans or Canadians or other Westerners.

Koreans are actually rather acute at being able to pick out non-Korean Asians based on physical cues, and more importantly on dress cues. After working in Myeongdong for a while, I too have become excellent at sorting the Japanese from the Chinese tourists, and the tourists themselves from Koreans, based on dress, hair, and makeup styles.

Roboseyo said...

The mischaracterization doesn't come from the fact it happens, Bob, or even that it happens regularly. It comes from the fact that, in interacting with 100 Koreans a day, the one who asks "russia?" is remembered rather than the 99 who treat your western girlfriend like a normal human being, in the same way that the one marijuana arrest in Kangnam sticks in some Koreans' minds more than the 100 foreigners they passed on the street that week, busy being law-abiding residents of Korea.

Anonymous said...

i think you have a great and witty blog, but the writer of the article is southeast asian, not south asian.

Roboseyo said...

Southeast Asia is part of South Asia, isn't it? In the same way Northeastern Europe is part of Northern Europe? -- fact is, South Asians -- Indians, Pakistanis and the like (I'm assuming that's what you mean when you differentiate South Asians from Southeast Asians - correct me if I'm wrong) experience the same kinds of "dark-skinned people" (mis)treatment that Southeast Asians (Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, etc.) do in Korea... can we agree on that?

Bob said...

Dude, I never had any trouble getting drugs in Korea. I did them all the time. And I had lots and lots of friends that behaved the same way. Koreans, too.

Maybe the Koreans were right about foreigners and maybe I am right about Koreans and you are wrong. Maybe it is the majority of Koreans that act in that manner toward Western women and you are merely focusing on the minority of Koreans that are polite because it makes you feel better about still being in Korea. Perhaps we are splitting hairs. But I had my worst suspicions about Korea confirmed every time I went outside. And the Koreans felt the same way about me.

Anonymous said...

usually, South Asian would refer to the countries on the Indian plate. Southeast Asia would refer to the Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo, East Timor, Brunei. so calling a Vietnamese person might be a little politically incorrect since Vietnam is considered a Southeast Asian country. but it's the internet and your blog so whatever goes. =]

i agree on the difficulties that they do have to face as well. it's a shame (and slightly ironic since we're all basically asian) that the color of your skin would merit what kind of treatment you would get. i lived in korea for couple of months over the summer for the yonsei program and it's funny how differently koreans treat us depending on our appearance.

Anonymous said...

calling a Vietnamese person South Asian*

sorry typo..it's 3am here..my insomnia is kicking my ass. once again though, good blog. i want to try my hand at teaching English in korea after i graduate this june.

Roboseyo said...

thanks for clarifying, Anon, and good luck with your teaching plan. I've made similar blunders before (did you know the Irish are touchy about being referred to as 'part of the UK'? it's especially confusing because northern ireland IS)... anyway, my own lack of distinctions aside, it's too bad people get judged by where they're from, and have things assumed about them, wherever it happens.

thanks for stopping by.