Letter from South Korea,
Mike “All the donuts have
names like prostitutes” Long
From Vol. 2, No. 4
What I’m writing for you is an account of my first 90 days living in South Korea, working as an English as a Second Language teacher. I’m teaching Grade 1 to Grade 11, but mostly grades 4 through 6. The job is a lot easier than I thought, and the days are short and the nights are long.
Anyway, so being from North America and never seeing Asia up close before, the first 7 days of my trip were staggering. I’ve never been so amazed in my life. There’s a world outside of North America! Imagine that. Life here is a lot more progressed and commercial than I would have imagined. I knew there was an internet cafe (PC Bang ‘round these parts) at almost every block, but I had no idea that every single person on the subway would be holding 500 dollar cellphones. People are not rich here, at all. They just seem to spend a lot of money on electronics. A ton.
A strange thing is the price differences of certain items. Cheap as shit here: VCD’s/ DVD’s (bootlegs), most food (I’ll get to that later), snacks and drinks (definitely separate from food), clothing, taxis (about 4km for 5 bucks) and souvenirs of all sorts. There’s too much to mention. Expensive, or more pricey than you’d think: clocks, rice (eaten at every meal), cellphones, DVD players/ VCR’s, avocados (3 for $11.50, best deal), cheese (glad I’m vegan), and a bunch of other shit that makes you go, huh?
So the food here is good, quite good. I can go eat at a street vendor for less than 3 bucks and come out very full and satisfied. Kimbap (sushi, vegetable rolls for me) cost about $1.10 for a whole roll. Compare that to at least 3 bucks at home. The sad thing about food here, is that I have to travel very far to get other kinds of meals. Thai food should be better here, in my opinion, as were pretty close to fucking Thailand, but it’s just good. Not great. Red Thai in Montreal, and Friendly Thai in Toronto are far better. This country is not accepting of foreign foods (or 90% of foreigners for that matter), except for Western fast foods. I’m not surprised.
Let me preface this next part by saying, if you’ve not been here, don’t criticize my comments. I’ve read many articles where other ex-pats hold the same feelings as I do, and been around enough whities that teach here to know that I’m correct.
I’m white. Lucky me. Yipdee-fuckin’-do! The Morroccans, Pakistanis, and Indians that live around me (and speak English very well!) do not get treated with half the respect that I do. Koreans are very rude to not-whites that live here. I’ve seen it with my own eyes one too many times. It’s quite disheartening. When we first spoke to other foreigners that aren’t white around here (Incheon, Seoul), we were surprised to find that they don’t really like it here. We wondered why, but people that work in factories, doing double shifts, in another country in order to make
enough money to go home and house and feed their children in Bangladesh aren’t exactly the kind of people that complain. It took a lot of prodding. Koreans don’t dig the Brown. Period. I feel really bad writing this, but it’s true. Now obviously not ALL Koreans are like this. That would be a racist comment my friends! No, just some people. The people they deal with on an almost daily basis— their boss, their cab driver, the cashier at Wal Mart (yeah, there’s Wal Mart here). A lot of people treat these people badly. Luckily they don’t know that I’m a Jew. They don’t like Jews from what I hear.
Again, lucky for me that I’m white and I get free meals, extra helpings, free beer, etc. etc. I’ve drank with my fellow non-white foreigners a bunch of times, and they tell me that their waiters/ waitresses are nicer when I’m around. This place is not multicultural by any means of the word, and that’s my only point. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, maybe that’s only 15% of people, but the feelings are there. I love most Koreans. I don’t like bosses though. They are evil… just like in Canada!
Let’s talk about how these people dress. Why? Because it’s funny. Now, I’m no fashion expert, but if every other person in Toronto was wearing white khakis, I’d think it was 1983 or something. Pastels? Pinks on men? Whoa, this place is fucked up. It’s hilarious. I feel bad. People dress HORRIBLY here. Oh, and English and French are so hip to have on your shirts! Even if you’re a man of 35 or so, with two kids and a wife and you’re walking down the aisles of Home Plus (like Wal Mart), with an “IDIOT” t-shirt on. “I don’t know what it means, but damn, am I cool with my baby blue IDIOT shirt on!” “Fax Evasion,” complete with the A’s circled (anarchy symbol) is another favourite of mine.
When people don’t wear white khakis or old man clothes, they wear the latest in hip hop styles. I have kids in my fourth grade classes that wear “School of Hard Nocks (sic)” shirts. There’s actually a clothing store here called “Majah Flavah.” American culture has really gotten out of hand here. Koreans worship U.S. culture, but they hate Americans. It’s odd. I also see a ton of people wearing Canada shirts here. I get a lot of respect when I tell them where I’m from.
Let me tell you a little bit about the language here. It’s small. It’s not all that hard to learn, I’m coming along rather well with it I must say. The translations of things are very strange. They don’t have double consonants here really, so mister becomes mis-u-to. They also don’t have an “f” sound, a distinct “r” sound, a “th” sound, a “z” sound, and an “sh” sound is always followed by an “ee” sound. Limiting. Movie titles translated are quite amusing. For example: the Warriors becomes “War-i-o,” The Godfather becomes “God-u-fa-do,” Donnie Darko becomes “Dough-knee-Daw-ko.” This makes learning pronunciation for Koreans very, very difficult. Pizza is one of my favourites…”Pee-ja.” Oh, Fanta is great too, that’s “Hwanta” here.
My least favourite thing about Korea, without a doubt, is the music. Sure, most washrooms here are a ceramic hole in the ground (used once by me…not fun for shitting), but still, for unpleasantness the music takes the cake. Almost every single song has “Sarang-Hay” in it, which means…yeah, it’s obvious I think, “I love you.” Sappy, annoying, and boring. Avril Lavigne is also very popular here. Every month they have about 6 songs on rotation here, so you get an enormous helping of shit in your ears. Make it stop, please! We take our own CD’s to bars here, and thankfully, so far, they’ve played them every time. I’m actually on my way to a punk festival today, should be funny. I found one independent record store here, and it was OK. I bought a Don Cab CD which made my day, but it was a limited selection. Amazingly, the prices were probably lower than Canadian record store prices. Think about that for a second. It probably costs a fortune to ship stuff out here, but the prices are lower. Wow, is all I have to say.
So, things on a whole are very good here. I’ll be able to see other parts of Asia (I’ve already been to Japan twice— my favourite place on Earth for sure), I eat well for the most part, beer is cheap and you can get 3 litre pitchers with dry ice in them, AND they have lights that change colour under them! I work 1pm-9pm and bars close at 6am… beer gut… oy vey. Our place is a nice two-bedroom and it’s free. Our electricity bills are 5 bucks a month each (I’m here with my lovely girlfriend Jennifer… or Jenny-per if you’re Korean). I love some of my students… not a lot of them, but some of them are extremely cute, and most of the Korean teachers I work with are very nice to me. I know of many other Aussies, Kiwis, and Limeys that work with other foreign teachers, but I’m alone at my school. It’s a bit frustrating at times, because even though the teachers I work with have been studying English for 8-17 years, they still can’t really converse with me. Frenchies, you’re lucky. You get to be around native Anglos all the time to develop your skills, these people learn from books, and it ain’t workin’.
There’s a lot I’m leaving out, but I’m having too much fun to remember these things.
If you want a place to stay, come visit. There’s a red light district right near my house. Some pictures can be found here: www.geocities.com/koreanescapades .