Multnomah Falls, Oregon

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

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.