Multnomah Falls, Oregon

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

Friday, July 9, 2010

Korean Criticism

I haven't had to deal with this so much lately, but when SJ was young it was TERRIBLE- strangers were always telling me he was cold and wasn't dressed properly, or that I should have a plastic cover for my stroller because the wind was bad for him, etc. I saw a woman in Chicago in Feb. with a plastic cover over her stroller and I was like, I just can't escape (she was obviously Korean....)!

I took SJ on the subway in his stroller today. I parked the stroller in front of the doors that don't open, except at a few RARE stations. I set the brake, and one wheel is parked against the wall- it's a safe place, and I've seen other ppl park their strollers there. I sat next to him. At one of the rare stations where the doors happen to open on SJ's side, a woman came on and started exclaiming that it wasn't safe for him to be parked there. I seriously wanted to smack her, because I NEVER see ppl make comments to Korean women (mothers) admonishing them. I don't know why they think it's ok to criticize me. I've been with other friends and seen the same, so it's not just me, but I don't think it's fair that they think they've got the market covered on good mothering and eveyone else (i.e. foreign) is just wrong- GRRRRRRRRR! It makes me SOOOOOO upset. Granted, unless it's done in an indirect, polite way, I'm not good at handling criticism (along with most others, I'd figure- I can really do without the exclaiming).

Well, I told them that he was fine, and that the doors opened on the other side. I said it in English, because my husband advised me ppl won't continue to argue with me if I speak in English since they will be intimidated (it's been good advice ^~). They were staring, so I said, "What?!" The woman looks at the other woman and says that she can't speak English. Thus, I effectively shut them down. GOD I need to get a car, since I swear most ppl bug me on public transport.

I've never had anyone say anything positive to me, and I'm a good mom, so when ppl are critical, I want to go bat shiz crazy. I feed him soy milk and other healthy snacks. I see Korean moms give their kids packaged crap, but they don't get cricticized. There was a little boy eating french fries at the hospital the other day (SJ was there for a vaccination), and if it was SJ, I'm sure ppl would tell me, "Don't you know it's bad to give your kid french fries?" I really, really want to know why everyone here thinks it's ok to give me their (unsolicated) child care advice. Do they think I'd appreciate it? Do they really think I don't have a clue what I'm doing after 42 months of caring for my son? Arrrgh! I don't know if I can hack it here for the long run. Maybe things will get better if I get a car. I don't know. I just really want people to stay the fuck out of my business and respect that other cultures have a different way of doing things (which is a pipe dream, because Koreans don't mind their own business). Just because it's not the Korean way doesn't mean it's wrong or bad. Fuck-I learned that back in a Women in World Cultures class in uni., but I guess people don't have that kind of education here.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ajumma Yelling Match

Well, I'm not the only one getting into quandries, luckily. A few days ago I was walking through my apt. complex, and I saw a mom walking with her 2 yr.old (who was riding his bike) while pushing her infant in a stroller. An SUV rounded the corner, but the corner was a good 15o meters or so away. Her 2 yr old. crossed the street and she chased after him a second later (she had stopped her stroller for a minute for some reason). Well, he couldn't get up on the sidewalk since the pavement was uneven (big surprise there- I don't know much about civil engineering, but apparently it's very difficult to make even pavements here). So she helped him up, but the stroller was still in the street. The SUV stopped maybe an inch from her stroller. I was pretty shocked, because the driver had to have seen them- I had been watching the whole thing, and I have a feeling the driver deliberately stopped just short of hitting them.

So the mom says something to the driver, and then the driver honks her horn (geez, that poor woman had an infant asleep in the stroller). Then the mom raises her voice, and the driver rolled down her window to argue with the mom. I felt really sorry for the mom cuz she hadn't done anything wrong-she was doing the best she could. Maybe I'm on the mom's side since I can sympathize. But then again, pedestrians do have the right of way (at least on paper...).

Anyway, I couldn't believe that driver. I think she was PMSing or something- anyone else in their right mind would've patiently stopped and waited a second for her to move out of the street. Our apt. complex at 4pm is filled with kids rollerblading and biking at that time of day. Hell, it's a residential area. I nearly told that driver to be careful (I was passing by just as she rolled down the window), but I figured it was best to stay out of it. With my luck, being the foreigner, they would've rounded on meγ…‹γ…‹γ…‹. Oh, well. It might sound bad, but I was relieved to see that I'm not the only one who gets into these kinds of messes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Attitude Adjustment

I write too many status updates on FB about the crazy stuff I encounter here. I'm starting to worry about it, so that's why I came over here to vent. My cousins, friends back home, etc., really don't need to read some of that stuff. I don't want to portray Koreans in a negative light, and my friends have started to make some comments. It's nice to have the support, but I need to chill for a bit. Just today my friend Alex went off on me, which was pretty embarrassing since it was on my status update. He had a point, though. Basically he said, "Put up, or shut-up." He's probably not the only one to have that viewpoint, so maybe on FB I should do what my mother (and everybody else's) always said- if you don't have anything nice to say, (you know the rest)...

He's probably the only one who could say that to me and not get de-friended (he came close, though- I'd prefer a pm in this case. It's not fun to be publicly lambasted). I've tried to explain some of the things I deal with here, but he doesn't sympathize. I don't blame him. He thinks if you are unhappy with your situation, you should change it. Maybe I sound like I'm giving excuses, but it's a little more complicated than that. I made a choice to marry a Korean man, and I don't regret that. I wish we didn't have to live here forever, but that's the choice I made. I accepted that a long time ago (I like my stress-free job and tons of vacation time), but I'm still a foreigner that will never be completely accepted here- I will always be an outsider. Maybe he's placing his American value system on my situation (which you can't do). Meaning that in the US, people (generally speaking) don't have any problems with foreigners- it's a melting pot. Maybe he assumes it's the same way here? I've tried to get him to see my point of view, and he certainly knows some of the crazy stuff I deal with (11 year-old boys have come on to me TWICE in the past month), but I guess some people see things in black-and-white. So he figures, take it or leave it and move on. So I need to figure-out a way to (fully) take it. It's easy to embrace the good stuff- it's the bullshit I have a problem with. And I deal with alot of bullshit.

I felt ashamed after what he posted. I thought, god, am I a complete bitch? But most (western) people would've reacted the same way to a pushy woman. Geez, I go to the doctor feeling horrid and people can't leave me alone and afford me the same amt. of privacy they would another Korean. But I'm not Korean. So I need to be prepared for annoying situations at all times, no matter the situation. And handle them with finesse. This is extremely difficult. I'm having a really, really hard time right now. Fertility treatments are really not fun (sorry to whine- just trying to put things in perspective), and my haywire hormones even put me in rages (luckily this seems to happen at night- I just can't sleep. I did think about taking a baseball bat and smashing bathroom mirrors while at Dongdaemun Stn., but that was just a fantasy). I'm doing the best I can right now. I would like to do better and learn how to handle things with my husband's graciousness and kindness, but I'm a work in progress. I tend to have a lot of off-the-wall encounters (more than the average person here), but that's another post. Sometimes you need sympathy from others who understand what it's like to be a foreigner here, and I'm grateful to everyone for their funny, encouraging, and sympathetic comments. Sometimes I need a kick in the butt (and I know that), but sometimes you need a (virtual) shoulder to cry on.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Silent Clerk

This happened yesterday, and I'm over it now (or maybe not, since I'm blogging about it). The supermarket at my apt. complex has a new clerk. God, I hate dealing with new clerks at my regular haunts (cuz it's my territory). I always get the shocked, deer-in-headlights look when they seem me. They're like, "OMG, it's a foreigner- what do I dooooo?!" This is incredibly alienating. I used to be embarrassed, and sorry that they had to deal with me (even though I, and everyone else I know, can conduct a simple money transaction in Korean... Well, actually, it's not so simple, because they ask 10 million other questions, like, "Do you have a discount card?", "Do you need a bag?", or, "Do you want your iced latte hot or iced?" But, I digress).

Well, I'm not sorry anymore. My general attitude these days is distant- I guess I try to have out-of-body experiences during these awkward encounters. But if I'm not in the mood, which is often these days, it's frustrating and very irritating. Anyway, everyone has encountered the silent clerk, I'm sure. First, you get a shocked, tentative look out of the corner of newbie's eye, and you ignore the look. You ask for a bag (in Korean). Noob hands it over wordlessly. Then they ring up the sale, and gesture to the signature pad (or they hand you the calculator). You ignore the gesture and say, "Ne?" just cuz you're feeling cunty. The clerk laughs (grrrr), and tells you to sign it. Finally, he/she silently hands you the receipt. And they think they're through with you-ugh, what a relief for the xenophobic! Frankly, I don't like to be ignored after I just spent a chunk of change at a store I spend over $500/month in. So I raise my eyebrows and ask in English, "Cat got your tongue?" And then I vow that from here on out, I will deliberately go through her line, because she obviously requires some repeat therapy to help her overcome her phobia.^~

My husband tells me I should use English only because people are insecure about their lack-of English, and it gives me the upper-hand. But I don't want the upper-hand. My (pipe) dream is to be treated with the same amount of respect afforded other Koreans (alas, one can hope...). JS also told me that he has many Korean friends who go to Japan and can speak adequate Japanese. But he says they don't use it. They use English because it gives them authority, whereas if they use Japanese, they will be treated on the same level if not a lower level. I prefer not to use English because it eliminates potential misunderstandings, but I do use it in Itaewon because I have noticed that what my husband says is true. Generally people are more polite if you use English (although there are always exceptions, and I have examples, but that's for another post).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lack of Manners

I'm reading a book titled, "Talk to the Hand". I'll have to post some of the better quotes soon- I've done some pretty heavy underlining. The book really acknowledges a lot of the frustrations I'm feeling in regards to living here. I really can't stand it when people bother people me when I'm out. It's funny, because I thought I'd become more tolerant of it the longer I live here, but the opposite seems true. The author points out that when people bother us (like when people ask me grammar questions while I'm reading a book on the subway), they are invading our personal space. I'd always thought of personal space as being physical, so it's a relief to know that there's a psychological reason for why I get so upset or irritated at these encounters. She points out that reading a book on the train, or listening to one's ipod, etc., are barrier methods that are meant to keep strangers at arm's length. When someone disregards that, they are demonstrating insensitivity and ill-manners.

The thing that drives me crazy, though, is that Koreans think that they don't have to use basic manners with foreigners. This isn't true in all cases, of course, but I've noticed a marked difference in the way people treat me when I'm with my husband and when I'm alone (or with my son). For example, I was walking down the sidewalk today with my son, and some 10 year olds were shouting at us. I ignored it, but the problem with ignoring them is that they progressively get louder because they assume you can't hear them. After the 3 rd shout, I turned around and told them to be quiet. They don't do this to Korean women, and I don't like it that they think basic rules of manners don't apply to me. Furthermore, other Koreans don't correct them when they behave rudely toward me, so it's my responsibilty.

Another problem is that once I correct them, I usually get rude looks from other Koreans in the vicinity. The thing is is that if they were yelling rudely at a Korean woman, you'd be damned sure she'd turn around and tell them what's what. But if I do it, I'm wrong. This happens time and again. There is no solution, since I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't. I could go through a laundry list of examples. I'm sure I'll have more to post in the future, unfortunately.

I have some options, I suppose. The best choice is to take a taxi, since most of this happens on the street or on public transportation. That won't eliminate it altogether, but at some point we'll definitely have to get a car. I don't really want to, but it's for my sanity. Leaving Korea is an option, (well, I wish!), but the harrassment isn't quite bad enough to drive me out. It's enough to make me want to take frequent vacations out-of-country, but where else can I find a job with 5 months paid vacation and a 3 day work week? I have bad days here, and I've had bad days at home, as well. I have to remind myself to keep things in perspective. Once a guy in Chicago nearly hit me with his BMW as I was crossing the street. He was on his cell, so I told him to watch where he was going and hang up his phone. He rolled down his window, called me a cunt, and nudged me with his car. That's another thing my book points out- call people on their bad behavior and you are likely to be told to go fuck yourself. A guy in London called some teenagers on their behavior and they set him on fire.

Well, this was a fairly long post, so I guess I should go water some plants or something. TTYL

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My First Post (on Racism)

Yesterday I was waiting to cross the street near Gireum Stn. A few high school girls were standing on either side of me waiting to cross the street, as well. I wasn't paying any attention to them, until I became aware that I was the butt of a joke. I looked- up just to see a girl nearly popping her eyes out at the girl standing on my left (the opposite of the slanty eyes thing), making a stupid face. It takes me a second to process these things sometimes because it is so beyond me that someone would make a joke of me, a professionally dressed, 36 year old woman. Who does that? It has never occurred to me to make fun of anyone for the way they look, esp. a woman 20 years my senior (admittedly, sometimes I have to ask myself why some people make the fashion choices they do....). To be fair, when I was an elementary school student, I laughed along with the other kids when someone else was an unlucky target (poor Crystal got it quite bit for her awkwardness). But never, ever, ever did I make fun of another person because of their racial features. I don't remember any of my classmates doing anything like that. And my hometown is 98% white.

I wish I had handled it differently. But I did nothing, as usual. If you play with shit, you'll get your hands dirty, right? I worry that if I go off on them, I will attract the (highly unwanted) attention of passerbys, and the girls will gain unwarranted sympathy (they are sweet, innocent 16 year olds, and who is this white ajumma? She must be crazy). But then, because I do nothing, I feel angry and victimized. How can I let someone disrespect me like that? If they do it once, they'll do it to another foreigner, I figure. Unfortunately, I was so upset, I could barely choke down my lunch. I was wishing I had confronted those girls and asked them why they were doing that. I wish I had demanded an apology. I thought of other things I could've done, as well, but I won't write them here. I worry that sometime I will do one of those things because I have been pushed too far. I've been here 9 years now, and 9 years of being the butt a joke takes a toll. I used to be so nice and worried about making a good impression as a foreigner. But now I don't care what people think: I'm indifferent now. This is unfortunate, but inevitable. You get worn down by the unkindness, disrespect, and hatred.

I started this blog because I need a place to vent- it saddens my husband too much to hear these stories; my friends don't want to discuss anything negative; and it's a taboo topic that people choose to avoid, in general. Maybe a blog can help me make sense of things and help deal with the realities of being a (sometimes) unwanted foreigner in a homogenous Asian country.