Friday, September 28, 2012

Things that don't make sense in Korea

There are a lot of things I have come across in Korean culture that makes me wonder and leaves me confused when comparing it to my culture in the West (specifically America). I have talk to other foreign exchange students attending my school who are from all over the world and it seems I'm not alone when it comes to these things I will share with you all listed here.

First thing that comes to mind is how it's cheaper to eat out then eating at home. In Korea, it is expensive to buy groceries and prepare the food at home. Fruits and vegetables (which is part of the daily diet of Koreans) are the most expensive, cherries are considered a luxury in Korea where I bought it at over 11,000 won (= $9.81 for I think 1.5 lbs. or 2 lbs.)! It is this way because the produce goes through many buyers and sellers who charge more than the later through trade to bring more value to the product. But I find this unreasonable and unfair to the buyers of the common people who need to buy to survive since everyone needs food to live. So if you love to eat out but want to save money, come to Korea! ;P
 Soju (Rice Vodka)

Another thing that is interesting is how cheap alcohol is here in Korea (Koreans love their alcohol). Where in the West, alcohol is so expensive, either buying it at a bar or at the local store; for Korea, it is expensive at the clubs/bars (depending on where you go), but to buy it at the local store and sometimes even at resturants, it's inexpensive. Soju is one of the most bought Korean alcohol that is favored among many and the cheapest I have come across is at 1000 won (= $0.89)! If it's at a Western themed bar, most of the time it can be expensive, especially western drinks, but I have heard you can buy western drinks for much cheaper than back home if you're lucky. But normally alcohol is significantly cheaper and many Koreans drink socially as part of their cultural norm. To add to this, another strange thing is that at a school event I attended, the school provided alcohol for free on campus. We had Korean barbeque and kegs and kegs of baekchu (beer) provided at the event and everyone went wild on the free beer. Of course at my campus in the United States, nothing like that would ever happen, especially having alcohol on campus provided by the school no less! So of course it was strange for me to see this but still interesting and fun. Since drinking alcohol socially among friends/ students/ colleagues/ etc. is the norm and welcomed, it's considered strange not to. Koreans know how to have a great time, and I am going to take full advantage of this; next week, I have plans to go out for lunch (which I assume alcohol will be involved) with my classmates and teacher (which the teacher invited us to participate). I'm so excited~! XD

33.8 fl. oz bottles of Korean Beer 2,450 won (= $2.20)


Bottle of Heineken Beer 3,300 won (= $2.96)

One thing that I find most odd (and this is based from my western perspective) is seeing men walking around carrying bags that to me, seem like purses and I know many in the West would assume to be a purse. Though in the Korean man's perspective, it's not a purse, it's a "Man's Bag" (oh yeah that totally makes sense)... I feel it's still a purse... especially seeing men carrying name brand bags (Louis Vuitton, Burberry, etc.) which normally you would see women carrying around in the U.S. Now these men are not homosexual, they are very heterosexual, but they carry these men bags like any other woman who carries a purse. And these men bags look so much like women's bags/purses it's quite weird to see so often but that is the cultural norm.

Being here and my interactions with Koreans and foreigners, I have found many Koreans are quite xenophobic: unreasonably fearful of or hating anyone or anything foreign or strange. Yet in many of their advertisements and cultural norms, it is quite western themed which doesn't make sense that they would be xenophobic yet have this. For example, I would see hair salons where the advertisement features caucasian women or in clothing signs you see both caucasian men and women posing in the fashion of Korea which is quite similar to western fashion.

Even their make-up they sale includes whitening in it or are limited to skin-tones where it is of lighter tones and it's hard to find or practically impossible to find make-up (foundation) for darker skin-tones. So I am olive complexion, I'm not too light nor am I too dark but still, here I find it difficult at times to find foundation to fit my skin-tone. Trying to make sense of this, I have learned two explanations on why it is this way: 1. In the Asian culture, a person who is of a darker skin-tone is someone of a lower class because they are outside all day working where one of an upper class are pale because they have the luxury to be indoors and not have to do exerting physical labor to live. 2. This is coming from a Korean male and others opinions I have spoken to about this subject is that Korean men prefer lighter skinned women and are attracted to that particular appearance because that is what the deemed to be beautiful to be of a lighter skin.

Also, on the same subject, there is make-up and skin care for men here. Many male singers for example wear make-up! To the point I have to look closely to figure out if this is a dude or a female and in most cases it's a dude. So if you see a group of singers where most of them seem to be male but there is one you aren't sure is a male or female, I can gaurantee is a male, who looks feminine, but is heterosexual... So seeing advertisements of make-up and skin care directly aimed at men is strange to me in my western perspective but still interesting I find, it just doesn't make sense to me why in Korea, men and women have a cosmetic line where in the U.S. it is specifically aimed at women. To be honest, I find this equality of cosmetics for both genders as to not distinguish what is masculine and feminine but treating both sides to be the same, cause everyone wants to look amazing. I don't know if I'm making sense but I hope I am... Though what is interesting is that they include whitening in mens cosmetics also and not just women.

To continue on the subject of Koreans being xenophobic, and with what I just mentioned above, I find it quite ironic for those who are xenophobic yet so much of the Korean culture and advertisments are western based/themed and seeing many Koreans obsession with Western goods (ie. clothing, make-up, bags, designer items, etc.). Especially seeing so many Koreans owning western name brand bags and those who are fans of American baseball, the importantce (and even obsession) of learning and speaking English and hiring western foreigners to teach English to their students because it's mandetory in their education system because it's viewed that knowing how to speak English helps your chances of being successful in the future in order to become well off. Or the cultural pressure of women to be skinny and it being impossible to find clothes to fit me and I'm considered a size small in the U.S. but in Korea, I'm considered a large size... D: Or the obsession of owning western things as being the luxury and showing ones status of a higher class. It's  just so strange to me that many are this way yet culturally, it is becoming very westernized and they embrace western things, yet there are Koreans who are xenophobic.

One thing that made me laugh was when I watched tv, I realized how Korean's are more conservative than Americans. On tv, Law and Order: Criminal Intent was featured and I watched it out of curiosity to see if there would be a difference and there is. When one of the characters was smoking, they have the act of smoking blurred/censored out so you couldn't see him actually smoking the cigerette, yet in Korea, almost EVERY man in Korea smokes, it's a common practice. So I just find it so ironic to blur out the act of smoking when you see people smoking EVERYDAY! I mean what would the person who watches this think? (Oh yeah I'm not going to smoke it's a bad habit even though I see this everyday in my culture...) I mean, there is hardly any restrictions to where you can smoke in Korea. I'm constantly around cigerette smoke (and I try not to) that sometimes by the end of the day, I smell of cigerettes... And to describe how conservative Koreans are, it is very frowned upon to show your shoulders or wear clothes that are shows skin or wear tight fitting clothing because its considered revealing and sexy. Women are always wearing shawls or something to cover their bare shoulders when they wear clothes that reveal it. With the homestay family I live with, the grandmother views women who wear shorts and skirts to be uneducated. So if I wear something that shows my legs, I always wear tights and try to dress conservatively to please the family and be respectful of their views. Also, getting tattoos in Korea is illegal, yet getting eyeliner, your eyebrows, or lips tattooed is legal and is considered cosmetic surgery which you can only get done by a doctor. It's still tattooing!!! I never understood this concept, and I have found many Korean women has this procedure done, even my cousin Goan has this done... They don't view it as "tattooing" but cosmetic.

NU'EST (second to the left is REN who is a guy I mistaken him for being a girl)

Another very strange and interesting concept that doesn't make sense to me is how actors/actresses and performers dress, which is very western based: such as dying your hair different colors (that is not your natural hair color) and fashion your hair in wacky hair-dos, wearing revealing clothing (women wearing very short skirts, showing their shoulders, (depending on how conservative the Korean is) showing the skin of your legs, etc. and wearing a lot of make up) is condsidered "costume" because they are entertainers. So most of the population like the common people do not dress this way in this particular fashion and find it strange if you dress in this fashion because you're not a entertainer and that's how entertainers dress because it's costume. Many Koreans are conservative in this aspect, I had a Korean friend in the West who knew I was going to Korea and saw that I had my hair dyed pinkish red and told me I should dye it back to my natural hair color. I told him why since the entertainers in Korea have their hair dyed in many colors why can't I. And his reasoning is because they are entertainers it's part of their costume and style, it's not normal for the majority to appear that way in public because we are not entertainers... yeah that makes perfect sense... I just view how people dress and look as their own fashion sense in how they express themselves but I respect the Korean view, so I dress in a way that is appropriate to the Korean culture so that people don't think I'm weird.


One of the most annoying thing that doesn't make sense is how there are no public trash disposals in Korea! You also can't go inside a building to throw away trash because it's considered bad manners (yet Koreans don't hold doors and think its strange if you do)... Since it costs money to remove trash from a location, most places don't have trash cans, dumpsters, etc. provided publicly and so on many occasions you will see trash littered everywhere in public (I HATE LITTERING). To fix this problem, they hire people to clean up and around the area of businesses and so forth to keep the area presentable for businesses. Though I still wonder how businesses, restaurants, etc. do in disposing their garbage and recycling; since Korea is very good about recycling when there is a place to dispose of your waste and are even more particular about what you recycle (i.e. certain plastics, glass, metal, paper, etc.).

I hope what I have mentioned was informative and interesting. If I come acorss more I will surely mention on here how things don't make sense in Korea in a Western perspective~ ;D

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Homestay Family

Since I've been here for over two weeks now and getting to know my homestay family, I thought I should share what they are like and my experiences with them. ^_^ I live in Ilsan Donggu, Kyeonggi City in an apartment complex called Samla Midas. It is an hour away from Seoul by subway and is surrounded by many shops and a large shopping mall known as Lafesta which is very popular in the area.
This is where I live~ Below are shops, doctor office, etc. below the first three levels of the apartment.

I am living with the Nam Family
(Top Left: Mi Soo Kim, Tae Ho Nam, and Pun Hi Chong, Bottom Left: Shin Jong Nam holding Baroon (miniature poodle puppy), and Min Young) Shin Jong looks serious and grumpy in the picture because I woke him up from his nap to take the picture... Sorry Shin Jong~!  >_<;

Note: In Korean years, you are born one years old, so the ages I provided is based on Korean age

Tae Ho Nam (45): Mr. Nam, who I also call Sumcheun (Uncle) doesn't speak much English but he does like to talk to me. He loves to golf with his friends and jogs every morning and enjoys drinking a lot. He treats me as if I'm his own daughter and would tell people that I am. He is very kind, helpful in attending to all of my needs (such as taking me to the doctor, buying my school supplies and books, taking me out to eat and drink, opening a bank account, etc.) and is very generous; he cares about me and worries about my health often, especially in making sure I eat three meals a day when I am normally used to eating one meal a day (Chinese medicine doctor said to eat three small meals everyday, no snacking or junkfood, no chicken, one bowl of rice for each meal, regular exercise, be 50kg which Mr. Nam follows doctor's orders religiously!). He is best friends with my friend Jin Hak Seo in Illinois who helped set up a place for me to stay in Korea. Mr. Nam is a self-made businessman in production engineering and construction machinery located in Seoul.

Mi Soo Kim (45): Mrs. Kim who I also call Sumo (Aunt), in the Korean tradition, the wife does not take her husbands surname but keeps her own so that you know what family she comes from; but her children takes the surname of their father. She is a great cook and I love her food! I eat very well while staying with the family and I never get tired of the food I eat. She treats me as part of the family and even though she does not speak English, we get along well and try to communicate with the help of a translator. She is very kind and is helpful in taking me to places I need to go (such as the bank, shopping, getting my alien registration card, etc.). She is very friendly and is always cooking, she does not work and is a stay-at-home wife that manages the money her husband makes which is the normal tradition of Korean household.

Pun Hi Chong (78): Mrs. Chong which I call Halmony (Grandmother) instead does not speak any English but when she speaks Korean, I can understand her some, especially when she does hand gestures when she talks. She is a nice old lady that cares about me to have me eat often also. She will even wake me up to have me eat... She enjoys watching the news (9 News) and Korean dramas, her favorite kdrama is "Ohjakgyou Hyungjaedul" (Oh the Plot Stirring Brothers). She also exercises on a regular basis walking back and forth in their apartment. Her middle son (Mr. Nam) out of seven of her children takes care of her and lives with us. In Korea, it is tradition for the eldest or next in line obligation to care for their parents when they are old of age since Korea does not have nursing homes.

Shin Jong Nam (20): Shin Jong who treats me as his sister and calls me Nuna (Older Sister) and treats me with a certain respect such as asking for my permission to use his computer in his room since I use his room to live in. Because I am the oldest among the children, in Korean culture, I am given my own room and is also free to use his computer. He sleeps on the floor in the living room and does what I say, same goes for his younger sister. He loves to play computer games, reading manhwa/manga (Korean and Japanese comics), watching American movies and hanging out with his friend and family, specifically his male cousins. His youngest cousin Song Soo Kim comes to visit the house often to play computer games with him. He has a pet miniature poodle name Baroon who he loves and adores (the dog is quite annoying and doesn't listen). He was here at the home for a couple of weeks before he left to live in the dormitory at his college at Duhwan Kongghwa Taeha in Ansong.

Min Young Nam (16): Minyoung who also treats me as her sister, calls me Unni (Older Sister) and does a lot for me in assisting with my needs and translating. She speaks English enough to have a conversation but there are times she needs a translator when communicating. She is a sweet girl and respects me in a certain way because I am her senior, such as getting things for me, asking me for permission to do or use something, carrying my bags, etc. She loves Korean dramas, listening to Korean pop music, and hanging out with her best friend Heun Jin Kim. Her favorite Korean drama called "Gung" (Palace) is a romance themed drama based on a manhwa (comic). She also likes to eat pizza but has never ate American style pizza and Korean pizza is quite different from American pizzas. She goes to 9th grade middle school in which she wears a plain uniform and runs to school everyday to Paelsan Junghakyo. She is there from 8 am to 3 or 4 pm along with after school activities and/or tutoring, in which the math tutor visits her home two times a week. (the picture on the left shows Min Young in her school uniform)

The Nam Family are a close family who love each other and treat me as their own, I am blessed to have met them~ Even though I am a stranger in the beginning, they did not hesitate to help me, feed me, and clothed me as if I was from their family. They are kind and are very generous and good hearted people. I hope that even after my stay with them, that I can return to Korea again to visit them in the future and keep in contact. When I return home in December, Min Young will accompany back to live with the Seo Family that Mr. Nam and I are close friends with. I plan to give her the same courtesy to her as she did for me and to take her out to eat Chicago style pizza at my favorite pizzeria: Aurelio's~! YUM~! :D

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Land of the Morning Calm: The origins of Korea's title

This is my first blog and I created it to share my experience while studying abroad in South Korea at SungKyunKwan University for a semester; but also towards a grade for my independent study in Sociology which I hope turns out to be an A.  ^_^  As my very first post, I thought I would share the origins of Korea's title: Land of the Morning Calm. I know many of you will wonder why I titled my blog this and what does it mean? But first, I should introduce myself and tell you a little about my background.

I'm half Korean-American descent and was brought up in both worlds of Asian and Western. My first language was Korean as English being my second language. But as a child, people and some family members were not very open with the idea of me speaking a different language and I was traumatized for doing it, which made me refuse to speak it when I was younger because I wanted to fit in and people to like me. Now I am re-learning the language and most of all, learning more about my heritage and part of where I come from. I still have the Asian ways in me and the language is still in my psyche but I have a lot to learn about myself and where my ancestors come from. To be honest, I didn't even know why Korea is known as "Land of the Morning Calm" so I asked a close Korean friend, Jin Hak Seo; and did some research about it and this is what I have found based on some well known theories among Koreans today.

Nobody exactly knows why Korea is known as “The Land of the Morning Calm” but there are opinions and theories about the origin of the title that is a common idea in Korea.

One theory is the famous Indian poet named Tagore Rabindranath. 

In 1929 on his third visit to Japan, he was asked to visit Korea by one of the Korean patriotic youths in Tokyo at that time, though he did not have the time to do so and instead, wrote a poem for the Korean people because he could deeply sympathize with them of their foreign rule and oppression.

In the golden age of Asia
Korea was one of its lamb-bearess
and that lamp is waiting to be lighted once again
For the illumination of the East.

Korea at the time was colonized by Japan and India was colonized by England. He strongly criticized Japanese nationalism and their colonial policies. Tagore’s love and support for Korean independence was never in doubt and to some Koreans, Korea is known as the “Land of the Morning Calm” based on Tagore’s ideology/expression of Korea in his poem.

The second theory is before the colonial age of Japan, Korea’s former name is Chosun, translated to mean: “Morning Bright” - Cho (Morning) Sun (Bright) in Chinese.


The last theory about the name is from the expression by the westerner’s exploration in the mid 19th century. A lot of westerners explored eastern Asia towards open market trade. In those days, a lot of westerner’s missionaries (British, German, and American) came to Korea and in their view, thought Korea is the land of the morning calm; viewing the country to be primitive. However, for Koreans, the title of the “Land of the Morning” has a positive meaning. In a Westerners view at that time, Korea may not be well developed yet, but that it will become that way in the future according to Jin Hak Seo; a close friend I met in my college town through a Korean friend who was my conversational partner at my university. Mr. Seo and his family lives there temporarily but with the time I have with them, I am very blessed and humbled to have met him and his family which I help him and his daughter with their English.

As to the title of Korea for which it’s known today, no one really knows the true origin of this, however, the Koreans personal opinions and theories are present on the notion of the title on Korea today. Furthermore, today (in Korean time, August 15th), Korea is celebrating their Liberation Day (Gwangbokjeol) from Japanese occupation in 1945. Though there are those who believe that the true liberation of Korea would happen when the two sides of Korea reunite. Moreover, let us hope for a brighter future for Korea and may it always stand strong and bright in the morning calm. FIGHTING!!! (Korean slang expressions to give one hope and support)

Korea's Liberation Day August 15th, 1945 (uncertain of the location)

Land of the Morning Calm in the countries capitol where "primitive" meets westernization developed (I hope to visit this temple's sacred place)

Bongeunsa Temple (Seoul, South Korea)