Thursday, July 24, 2008

Suddenly I Feel Better. . .

Matt from PopularGusts has, in his own inimitable style, offered up the thoroughly researched history of complaining expats in Korea. . . a fascinating way to give context to the complaining expat discussion going around right now.

And it sure helps to know how far we've come, just by a glance at the nature of the gripes: at least these days, we're complaining about labyrinthine banking practices and crooked taxi drivers, rather than Koreans' "need of soap" . . . "and bibles"

Wow. The more I read, the less I can choose a "best quote" -- get over there and read this thing. Let's just say that if blogs existed back then, instead of forming colonial plans, Japan would probably just have said "Meh. Sounds like too much work."

Meanwhile the complaining expats can take pride in taking part in a century old tradition.

Who knew.

(but then as now, long-term expats were. . . oh just read the post.)

At least those guys had flair: this guy chose to do his bitching and moaning in verse.
"The houses they live in are mostly of dirt,
With a tumble-down roof made of thatch;
Where soap is unknown, it's safe to assert,
And where vermin in myriads hatch;
The streets are reeking with odors more rife
Than the smell from a hyena's den;
One visit is surely enough for one's life
To that far-away land of Chosen."

Which might be something I'll try. It's been a while since I've written much poetry.

New blogoseyo rule:

when the same old Korea topics come up again (scapegoats, Liandokashima Rockdo, etc.), I shall henceforward only write about them in verse.

I'd ask Matt if he plans to do a history of Korean complaints about Korea, but that might take a while, and go back a long time: I'm pretty sure that Ungnyeo, the bear who became a woman (by hiding in a cave and eating nothing but mugwort and garlic for a hundred days) and bore Dangun, Korea's founder, scratched "This place sucks" on the cave floor while she waited.


JIW said...

Hey Roboseyo...

You know what I was thinking? It is kind of far fetched but...

I was thinking that us "white" people (okay foreigners from the western lands) coming to Korea and complaining about the culture and life here is almost a reflection of Manifest Destiny.

In some ways it is almost like those who complain and become bitter see Korea and its people as a "savage" land that has not been tamed by the Western way of living.

I am sure there are some flaws in this theory but I think there perhaps is such a thing as modern day Manifest Destiny and this could be an example of it.

Thankfully we aren't handing out blankets laced with small pox though. ;) (like the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese did to the Native Americans).

Anyways...back to wincing the night away.

JIW said...

Historian Beshoy Shaker has noted that three key themes were usually touched upon by advocates of Manifest Destiny:

1. the virtue of the American people and their institutions;
2. the mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the U.S.; and
3. the destiny under God to accomplish this work.[12]

Some Wikipedia babble.

Roboseyo said...

gotcha. i think that sometimes colonial arrogance comes into play, and the high-handed tone of people who feel this way might give them away, but I think at least as often, it's just what The Korean described as people's natural tendency to think THEIR way of doing things is the best, most natural way to do it, more because they haven't tried anything else than because it actually IS.

I think that sometimes people get into that kind of high-handed attitude trap as a way of coping with culture shock, and are accused of (or give the impression of) cultural imperialism, when actually it's just culture-shock disguised as arrogance, but yeah, I think sometimes it IS that kind of arrogance -- it CERTAINLY was in the quotes matt offered up in his post, and I don't think all of us have yet been cured of our western, eurocentric arrogance.

Now if you suggest that finance and capitalism is the new tool of the same old manifest destiny, and use the new buzzword: "cultural imperialism" instead of the old word, "manifest destiny" then you've got your Masters' thesis topic cut out for you.

thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to write about this subject on my own site but never get very far before I stop writing and start thinking about other, related topics.

I agree with a lot of what's already been said, and in particular the point brought up by The Korean and Gord Sellar about the technological and industrial development of Korea happening at a much faster rate than it did in the west, leading to different cultural mores despite all the superficial similarities.

Another thing that strikes me is the 'Culture Shock & Disappointed Orientalist' group. I am sometimes surprised at some of the questions on Korean EFL forums from people who sign contracts first and only then think to ask about a particular city or employer. I've known several people who put a lot of time researching details before moving halfway across (their home) country, but I have the impression that some people moving to Korea throw caution to the wind and don't bother to do any research before arriving. This preserves a notion of 'adventure' and might heighten their excitement, but it doesn't do much to prepare them for the new culture they'll be living in for the next 12 months or more. It seems very strange to me that a few people seem to spend more time planning their 1 week vacation than they invested in reading about Korea before they arrived. (But now I'm just complaining about complainers, aren't I?)

Some of my own thoughts, that I haven't seen brought up in any detail deal with the demographics of those complaining the most while in Korea.

People who come to Korea directly after graduating from university will (typically, at least from a US perspective) have limited experience living on their own. They live at home with their parents, move to a dorm with thousands of people 'just like them' - if not through attitude than through shared circumstances - and then jump into a completely different environment when they arrive here. On top of having to navigate a new culture on their own they may also have an attachment to a particular subculture from university that they want to recreate in Korea - and which may also cause some problems if not expressed properly. (I'm thinking of those Facebook profile pictures and photo albums of folks having a VERY good time at bars.)

Gord also brought up an excellent point about getting involved with others in the community - either through a significant other or through hobbies (and ideally both) - and most of the literature that I've read on immigration studies has suggested that support networks are a key to successful integration and happiness when transplanting from one culture to another.

Another point is moving from a rural area to an urban center or vice versa. I know Dave's ESL Cafe periodically sees posts asking where people are from, and I've always wondered if there might be a relationship between living history and happiness / negativity among the posters there. For example, a guy from the American Midwest or Prairie Provinces who moves to Seoul will need to adjust to living in a large urban area and that may go some way toward influencing their attitude. The same might hold true if they moved to New York, Paris, or London as well. The reverse might be someone from a large city like Miami, Manchester, or Sydney moving to a rural town in Korea and facing a new set of challenges. In either example I wonder if being in Korea alone the main problem, or how much comes from a drastic change in living conditions.

In a related vein, Paul Graham has an essay called "Cities and Ambition" in which he discusses the message or 'vibe' that cities give off. I wonder what the consensus is on places like Seoul, Busan, Incheon, and Daegu. (Or Mokpo, Daejeon, and Gyeongju for that matter!)

In your original post you made the remark:

One of my English Teacher friends has a lot of non-English teaching expat friends -- from other parts of the world than England, USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, with skin-colours other than white, and notes that loudest and bitterest complaints come from white males from English-speaking, first-world countries. She thinks it's because, for first-world WASP males, coming to Korea is the first time white male privilege hasn't managed to open every door to them: only most doors.

I think this definitely has a lot of merit as well. To go from the top of the hierarchy to some place in the middle requires adjustment. However, I do have two anecdotes that you might find interesting.

The first involves a man on the subway from Seoul (City Hall Station) to Dongducheon. He was looking at a mini subway map and I asked if he needed help. It turns out he was an immigrant from Algeria who had arrived earlier that week to work as a DDD worker. I tried to be helpful - asking if he knew how to reach a mosque; if he spoke French and, if so, whether he knew about the French Quarter in Seoul; and if he had heard about the Middle Eastern markets in Itaewon. After chatting for a bit he changed the subject to how horrible he thought Koreans were at speaking English. I suppose language issues might be more of an issue for a non-Korean and non-English speaker here as it impacts their ability to do many things in the Korea. Still, it was interesting to me that he focused on that - as a non-native English speaker himself - and seemed to have no problem with sharing a studio apartment with four strangers. (On the other hand, if all those strangers spoke Maghrebin Arabic I suppose it might be a welcome arrangement)

The second involves a Belgian friend who also has a LiveJournal account. She recently made a comment on my site about how surprised she is that I'm enjoying my time in Korea. It seems one of her friends is a Hungarian woman who worked in the Hungarian embassy in Seoul and this woman complained about Korea or Koreans in each of her entries. Fair-skinned, but neither male nor an English teacher.

While there are occasionally times when I'm less than happy here I think that has less to do with being in Korea and more to do with life in general. I started typing out a few reasons why I think my move here has been so smooth but then realized this comment is probably quite large already and I should really just shut up and hit post.

Sorry that my first few comments on your blog have been so long!

And, err, hello from a fellow PNW native!

JIW said...