Saturday, April 12, 2008

my big bleeding open korean-american heart

ok. so it's another gut-check time. i know i've been a lot more upbeat about this semester than i was last year. also, i do admit that knowing every day is just one day closer to home does help with letting things roll off your back. but i just was on the phone (skype) with my mom/parents for almost 2 hours and we did a lot of soul searching and she was very helpful in getting me to really just laugh it off and even empathize with korea. and her main point was thus: she just wants me to enjoy my time here. to not be stressed. to not let ignorant koreans (or even educated ones) get to me.

mainly i was kinda complaining about some recent events that were halfway amusing and halfway annoying. and she explained to me many different things. i think being here, sometimes i lose sight of why i came and the bigger picture. it IS really easy to get trapped and notice all the little things and let them get to you. it's easy to hear EVERY SINGLE comment said about/to/near me and get pissed off about how rude this country is.

example situation: me, my internationally adopted korean girl friend, my super tall "white" male friend, and a black male friend are walking and playing along musimcheon (mushim river). this 40+ish ajussi yells something at us and we kindof turn and look at him and he says in korean "[i yelled] because you're all speaking another language" in this super annoyed tone. i laugh it off, but only because he's so stupid and rude and crass and in america i've never been treated like that.

koreans and jung and probing vs americans are standoffish and "cruel"
don't you ever just get tired of being an oddity and curiosity? of always explaining yourself to other koreans? well this is how my mom explained it, koreans have "jung" and that means they are all connected to each other and it's this compassion and one-ness and not really friendship or love (although they can coincide) but the closeness/connection that koreans feel with one another and that grows out of proximal relationships.

so apparently, koreans who exchange into america, complain most about how LONELY and ISOLATED they feel. but in a way that is different from american expats in korea. the koreans take issue with how LITTLE interest their host family/school/business/state/country takes in them. they feel that no one takes care of them and looks after them and seriously just that no one "cares" about them. in america, this is just life. i take care of my business and you take care of yours. i stay out of your space and you stay out of mine. it's what we call manners, etiquette, and just social space.

in korea, this is so not how it works. in korea, everyone's business is my business and your business is my business and my business is everyone else's business. koreans will leave all their own business in the corner, just to come over and tell you how to live your life. or why it's wrong and how to make it better. this is the country of unsolicited advice. that's just how koreans do. that's how they are. that's i guess how they've expressed interest and camaraderie. i tell you that you are fat and need a boyfriend/husband/diet/cosmetic surgical procedure because i care.

the example my mom gave was, someone will come over your house for dinner and say, "what!?!? no bean sprouts? why are there no bean sprouts as a side dish? they are so good for you and the health benefits are as follows....only an idiot wouldn't have bean sprouts on their table." this is not so in america. we are such a diverse group that we understand, some ppl like bean sprouts and others don't, and if you don't have them at your house, i'll just eat them when i get back to mine. like we said when i was little, "you say po-TAH-to, i say po-TAY-to."

so, yes, koreans can get up in your face. but only because they care. because that's how they ARE. and i can say, yea well screw that i'm american. but my mom reminded me (as did my hostmom today after lunch), i came here on this specific program because it includes a huge emphasis on "cultural ambassadorship" (which ok i'll admit i didn't know exactly what it entailed). and so my mom's all like "you said you wanted to do the fulbright and learn about korean culture and see where you came from and all you do is call me to complain about how un-american korea is. OF COURSE IT'S UN-AMERICAN. IT'S NOT AMERICA, IT'S KOREA!!!" which was a little harsh, but once i heard it and let it sink in, it was like, "oh yea, duh." of COURSE korea is not like america ... i can't believe i let myself forget that!!!

me, a korean-faced girl, with non-asian dudes

ok next, i actually googled a perfect picture for what i was going to write about. i hate the negative vibes i get from the ajussis and to a lesser extent the ajummas (maybe bc they're actually jealous) when i am seen with nonkorean and non-asian men. i am NOT another one of those disgusting korean girls who are ga-ga over foreigners/english-speakers and latch onto them and will do anything to date them. i am NOT being paid in any way shape or form to "escort" these foreigners. i'm not a tour guide. i'm just a FELLOW american finding solace and understanding and the ability to laugh away my life here in another american's company.

here is one reason why i find this offensive: "Who are those Western men or Americans chasing after Asian female? Aren't they what the Southern Californians would call, UCLA (Ugly Caucasians Living with Asians)? Aren't they at the bottom of the Darwin's food chain that they couldn't get what they want in their own land because of their low social status and therefore only option left for them is to chase after those Asians? I know, without any empirical data, it'll be difficult to press the argument" Prasso admitted that it is true partially and added, "Just street wisdom will give us a telling insight. In England where I used to live, they say that if you can't make it here, that is, to find your girlfriend, go to Hong Kong." (from ).

granted, the majority of my boyfriends and guys i've dated have been white. granted, most of my friends and even family members have said they just can't see me ending up with a korean boy. but these are cultural choices and personality choices not "selling out" or prostituting myself off to white men. i grew up in an all-white town/area of NJ. guidos were my boys of choice. i grew up under a liberal mother and adoring father and got whatever i wanted. i'm not your (stereo)typical docile, subservient, passive, feminine, and sweet asian girl. i'm loud and i'm crass and i do and get what i want. i also am not much for doting on a male solely because he's male. i grew up in post-feminist america. men can cook and clean and raise children just as well as women. and no korean mother-in-law is gonna make me live my life otherwise. many of the korean american boys i've met grew up with doting traditional korean mothers who think sons are gods and treated them that way. there's no way i can deal with that (baggage).

p.s. i know there are "real" inter-racial relationships and i'm not hating on those. just annoyed at how i'm perceived by sketchy old ajussis who totally have mistresses.

koreans are frogs trapped in wells
there is a korean saying/proverb/idiom "우물 안에 게구리" that is literally "a frog in a well" and that just means someone who is narrow-minded or not well-educated or not well-travelled but pretty much knows nothing outside of their own local experience. and korea is like that. as are many koreans in it and especially most koreans from cheongju. they just do NOT know anything beyond korea, and oftentimes beyond the town that they were born in and have lived in.

coming from my background, growing up in the NY metro area, having traveled extensively with my family, studying abroad in europe, community service in uruguay, attending an internationally recognized university, etc etc etc, i should be the more understanding and open-minded about this whole korean experience. it is my responsibility, coming from the greater country (resources and international power-wise) to be above all this petty nonsense and just take it in stride. as my mom always says, i have to remember how 불쌍해 korea and koreans are and not lose sight of how lucky and blessed i've been and continue to be. america has it's problems too but being an american citizen grants a ton of blessings and i know wherever i am in the world i can find someone who speaks my language, local authorities that will bend to my embassies, and a country with the resources to take care of me wherever i am. regardless of our country's reputation, it's ON the map. ppl will never be bewildered or confused as to my country of origin when i answer "i'm an american".

there's so much more to say, but this is long enough as it is and i'm sleepy.

so i'll leave it as this, i am a korean american at heart. and so i wave both flags and must continue learning what it means to be a little bit of both and not wholly one or the other. (and i just realized why it's "korean american" and not "american korean" "korean" is the adjective and "american" is the noun in that phrasing).

anyway, what's awesomer than a lil kid in a batman suit waving my flags?

and i will start blogging on real issues again soon. i have SUCH a backlog of issues i want to comment on.


grayshifter said...

Awesome post. AWESOME. May I just say I am thoroughly disgusted with the UCLA phenom, esp. as I witness it here in Korea...seriously, Korean girls need to stop ENABLING ugly, sketchy white dudes!

Every time I see some 2.5 white guy with a 9.5 Korean girl I want to issue an apology to Korea on behalf of White People In General, and Americans Specifically. Icky!

But yeah, true love and whatever, not discounting that. Just the UCLA business. Grossssss

Elizabeth said...

i was nodding while reading insightful!