Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Un-Korean-ness and White Whine

I originally wanted to call this entry title, "Eat a Dick, Chris."  I panned that for obvious reasons.  The next title was going to be, "Let Me Tell You All What It's Like, Being Male, Middle-Class, and White," but that's kind of long. Fortunately, after my knee jerk reaction of "eat a dick," I have moved on. Now, I  just hope Chris was just having a bad day when he wrote up his bit of white whine about embracing his un-korean-ness, and I hope he feels better now.  Because to that Chris, in that moment of time, I still say, "eat a dick."

Before we go any further, I feel that this is an incredibly appropriate soundtrack.  Facebook won't embed any goddamn videos ever, so just read this on my blog at the link here.  I'm also posting the NSFW version with all of the swear words because I'm ~edgy~ like that.  If ever you listened to a song I've posted here, listen to this one.  Never has a song been more apropos.

Korea is not a perfect place.  I don't need to enumerate the many ways in which it is not perfect because that's not my point.  My point is that when white "waygooks" (good Christ, how much do I hate that word, especially in anglicized form?) suddenly complain about racial and ethnic other-ness, about not being able to integrate, about being judged and presumed about based on their race, I have one and only one response: eat a dick.

Never mind the UNSPEAKABLE FUCKING HILARITY of someone from a pretty privileged class complaining about being treated differently because he's a minority, let's just talk about the big reason all of us teachers are here in the first place, the giant elephant in the room when it comes to our lives as teachers.  Okay, yeah, we all love teaching kids or molding minds or kimchi or whatever, but the biggest, fattest reason of them all is


Of course there are people who are just so unfit to teach that no amount of money would make life worth it for them.  And there are people who are glad to be doing the teaching no matter where they are or what they were being paid, because they're saints.  There are people who came for the money but stay now because they have adapted well to the country, put down roots here and have (gasp!) integrated into society. But if you take a quick survey of foreign teachers here, you'd probably find that the vast majority are relatively fresh out of school and in need of a job and this was easier/more exotic/better-paying than back at home.  At some point, it was indeed about the Benjamins.  (Or the Shin Saim-dongs, rather.)

Because of this, we get paid better than the typical Korean does, too—and they're often on their own about the housing, plus the workload-to-payscale ratio from native speaker teachers to Korean teachers is (usually) ridiculous.  Who among us has the typical Korean work schedule?  Who among us has the typical Korean salary? What Korean enjoys the liberty of being able to quit a too-demanding, too-miserable job because their particular demographic is just SO UTTERLY IN DEMAND?

It's not quite an exploitative system, but it's damned close.  Roboseyo (I think?) mentioned a while ago that the overall attitude of English teachers in Korea is a pretty mercenary one and I'd generally agree with that assessment.  Whether it applies to Chris, I don't know, I haven't met him personally (and however much of a person's blog you read, you can never get the full picture).  But to ask a culture to embrace you with open arms (which seems to mean giving you a magical foreigner bubble through which no ajosshis can shove you or ajummas can elbow you, even like they do to other Koreans; through which no biographical details or "typical" foreigner questions can be put to you; through which only the "acceptable" Koreans can pass) while also (presumably) demanding that they pay you a relatively handsome salary and not work you too hard for it? To also have the luxury of never needing to learn even the most basic bits of the language to survive? Jesus Christ, did you also want the happy ending?  Maybe you work ten hour days, six days a week (and spend your Sundays at the Korean hagwon), Chris, but I'm going to go ahead and doubt that.

And yes, I get that sometimes people have bad days, or that sometimes they need to vent, and that no one is perfect.  I have also been an entitled foreigner in Korea, more often than I'd care to remember or admit: I read back on earlier entries and cringe. It's necessary to recognize your entitlement, though, and to see how it affects your attitude towards Korea and Koreans.  For people like, say, Roboseyo, The Grand Narrative, I'm No Picasso, and so on—the "big names" of the K-blog network, you know who you/they are—there is an especial burden/expectation of you to think twice before you post this kind of white whine.  It reflects poorly on other foreigners and it reflects poorly on you, as well.  (I mean, not to beat a dead horse, but mocking Koreans' crappy English accents?  Really?  Especially as an English teacher, that's poor form.)

Instead of closing with another dick joke, I'm just going to say: I hope you feel better, Chris.  I hope writing and posting that was cathartic.  I also hope that next time you're tempted to vent your frustrations, you either take a critical look at them and realize what kind of impression you're giving, or you find another, much less public (and much more anonymous) space to air them out.   What you choose to do with your blog is your own business, of course—I'm a true 'murican at heart and no one but you should dictate what you say in your own space on the Internet—but I think we all expected a little bit better from you.


  1. An interesting take. It's always about the money, isn't it? Of course - people need jobs, and teaching English in Korea is a good one.

    Integrating into Korean society? I'll take a pass. Ask the average Korean if they want to work so many hours a week, go to hoesik with their co-workers, feel pressured to get married, deal with relatives during Chuseok, or in some cases, even eat kimchi. They're integrated, all right, and there's no easy way out for them.

    Living in a country doesn't mean accepting or embracing everything that the country has to offer. We all make choices of how much of a country we allow into our life / lifestyle, and how much we choose to reject.

    Entitlement: I'd rather not touch this one, even with a 50-foot-long stick. Korea has indeed bent over backward to make this country a great place to live. I'm grateful for the opportunity to live and work in an interesting, entertaining, and increasingly mutlicultural country. 'Nuff said there.

    Open-arms: RTFA. To expect the open arms treatment is not the point of my piece - I didn't, and don't. It was at the end of the piece where I was warning other people to not expect the open-arms treatment. That warning is especially meant for people not in Korea (about half my readership) who may have false expectations coming from recruiters.

    I wouldn't say I fit in particularly well when I lived in the US, for what it's worth. My friends talked about movies I couldn't be bothered to watch; too many elements of American life bored or annoyed me. Looking back at the US, things like 'Jersey Shore' and expensive bank fees make me want to hurl.

    I'm not quitting Korea - it's a great place to live, a good place to work, and a great place to travel. Admittedly, I haven't put forth as much effort in being accepted by locals as I could, and there's always room for improvement in learning Korean.

    Finally, of the nearly 1,200 blog posts I've written, perhaps a few dozen have been editorial / opinion-focused. It's not the focus on the blog, and frankly I'm loath to write the ones that do get published. More than a few never got published, owing to the blogger status.

    I do wish half the folks that criticized me on my outlook about Korea (yourself included) looked at how much I enjoy traveling and life in the country.

  2. I'm off in a rush so I didn't have time to finish this, but I love the title "white whine."

  3. "integrating into Korean society? I'll take a pass" --- if that's your position, Chris, then why didn't you write your original article to make it clear that it was YOUR choice not to seek integration, rather than making it sound like you'd tried, and it was the ajosshi shoves and the ajumma elbows and the inane questions that did it?

    "We all make choices of how much of a country we allow into our life / lifestyle, and how much we choose to reject."

    You're right. And then we live with the consequences of those choices, in terms of how close, distant, familiar, connected, or alienated, we feel toward Korean society. But you knew that.

    "I do wish half the folks that criticized me on my outlook about Korea (yourself included) looked at how much I enjoy traveling and life in the country."

    Actually, I think the sudden incongruity (turns out Korea doesn't have a corner on local incongruities) of tone is part of the reason this post got such a strong backlash: particularly because (as you say) you publish opinion posts so rarely, it might leave readers with the feeling of "so then after all that travel writing, is this how you really feel about Koreans?" -as Gregory expressed in the comments to your original post.

    Finally, as for your RTFA, if you're frustrated that a lot of people are misreading what you said/wanted to say about "open arms" ... there comes a point where enough readers got it wrong, that it's time ask whether the problem isn't the readers, but the writer's failure to be clear.

    When I read the article, it sure sounded to me like you were disappointed that you still get treated as a foreigner in Korea, and when you ended with a warning not to expect "open arms" treatment, it gave me the impression you DID at some point expect the open arms treatment, and that such an expectation might be a normal expectation (or there'd be no reason to warn against it). If you never expected it, why would you feel moved to warn readers not to expect it? If you DID expect it, then we're back to looking at the rest of your article for possible clues as to why you did not get what you expected... of which you provide many, but we've already been over that.

  4. Hummm... do bloggers know that Koreans take the more popular blogs and translate them into Korean? You people are being judged by Korean society, just FYI.

  5. Sweet.

    Got a link for that, Unknown?

    And can I suggest Popular Gusts as the next blog for them to translate?

  6. Oh hey, late comments are better than never. But Roboseyo said pretty much everything I would have said so I didn't see the need for redundancy.

    @ Chris: If you're *choosing* NOT to integrate into Korean society, I don't understand what the point would be to *complain* about being *unable* to integrate. None of the reasons you mentioned in this comment were ones you brought up in your original manifesto.

    @ kushibo: I wish I could take credit for the phrase "white whine," but I'm not that witty.