Monday, August 13, 2007
Koreans and "Han"
Bridge of No Return, aka Freedom Bridge
i admit, i had my qualms about coming to korea. i had a very negative view of current modern korea for a very long time.
i love traditional old korea and confucianist ideals and all that but due to rapid industrialization i had the impression that modern korea (and especially seoul) was just a very superficial and shallow culture that i didn't want any part of. the obessession with status and status markers and appearances and all that cosmetic surgery was not something i approved (and still don't) of. but something happened last week (in addition to my 8 weeks here) that's made me seriously reconsider my view of koreans.
i always thought koreans were rude in a way pushing and shoving on the sidewalks and in the subway and not taking another glance at who they're pushing out of the way. but anyway, that's just one manifestation of the cultural homogeneity and ethnic bond that koreans mentally share.
for example, the murder, rape, and kidnapping rates are much lower here than in the US, and one of my theories is that why would you hurt your own? koreans have a much stronger communal connection to the rest of their "countrymen/women/children" than i've ever experienced in america, even in the wake of tragedies like sept 11 and katrina. there really is an underlying sense that "we" are all related through our korean bloodline. i guess this is why shoving and pushing is acceptable, it's really just your extended family and we're that familiar with each other, no need for pretenses (or maybe koreans really are just pushy and rude whatever)
anyway, last week we went out with our korean language teachers after our final exam on wednesday and the following occurred: our head orientation counselor person is an adopted korean who grew up in the US. for whatever reason, it came up in convo and she said "i am sad because i am adopted" to a group of the langauge teachers who were sitting all at the same table. one of the language teachers was so saddened and touched by this comment that she started crying. one of my unnis and i started tearing and crying also. then my unni said, to me "koreans have this much love for each other, how can ppl say that we are just rude and shallow when we feel this much for each other?"
and that really made me think, she is completely right. (most) koreans seem to have some kind of "jung" with each other even when they don't really "know" each other. after the cho seung hui incident, i cried every time i saw anything on the news with it or thought about it for at least a week thinking of his poor parents and family and everything they were going through. i know lots of innocent students died, and i'm sad to admit but honestly i felt more worried etc. for his parents.
also, when i went to imjingak and the bridge of no return with my family about a month ago, i began tearing up and i don't know why. it was just the thought that there were koreans sharing our blood across the way and that we couldn't be one country and we couldn't be the "one people" we always claim to be/are.
there is a reason why many important nouns in korean are always used with the plural possessive "our".
i noticed this when i spent a week with my family and cousins. even my youngest cousins explained korean to me using "in OUR language" rather than saying "in korean." i'm starting to discover i'm more korean than i thought.