Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Premarital Cohabitation (and more meaningless shit)

Newly conscripted trainees to Basic are required to fill out a form detailing one's personal life and background. Designed to provide information on the socioeconomic and psychological upbringing of conscripts, the format was similar to Korean resumes, and like Korean resumes, it asked invasive and unnecessary questions regarding what one's parents did and how old they were. It also included a puzzling question: "Have you ever cohabited with a significant other?" Having lived in the States and being relatively unfamiliar with Korea at the time, I checked "yes" and thought nothing of it other than wonder why they would need such useless information. 

You could imagine my surprise when I was called up for questioning by a drill instructor a few days later. He asked me when, why, and with whom I lived with in a very serious tone and with a grave look in his face. I replied with honesty that I lived with my ex-girlfriend in the US, and I didn't hear about the issue after that. Even though it was resolved without incident, this little incident gave me a taste of how insignificant things such as premarital cohabitation are treated as if they were of consequence. I don't know how my having lived with a girlfriend makes any difference in my performance as a soldier, but I was asked the question regardless. 


I later came to find out that premarital cohabitation in Korea is as big of a deal as hand-holding is in elementary school. And is dealt with the same level of maturity. The visceral reaction the topic of cohabitation evokes in Koreans is puzzling and interesting, and the argument against it has the same logical foundation of "Eww, girls have cooties!" Like many supposed "sacred" virtues such as sexual purity, racial pride and patriotism, it's another belief people hold onto intensely, yet have no idea why they do. A lot of people believe in things, and they don't know why. A lot of people have beliefs and values, but very few seem to actually own them. Only a few seem to believe in their own beliefs.


Many of us come to hold beliefs shoveled on top of us by parents, teachers, the state, and society as a whole. We grow up with beliefs without ever honestly examining them and as adults we muster up justifications and arguments to stave off the fear of self-reflection. How many can dig deeper than justifying current beliefs, and examine why they came to believe in something in the first place? How many are willing to pull down the very pillars of their philosophical foundation and start from the very bottom of self-examination? How many smash their precious conceptions with empiricism and self-awareness? Very few from my personal experience. Even those who possess self-awareness are subject to intellectual blind-spots; they have places in their psyche they are too afraid to peer too deeply into. Even otherwise open-minded, logical individuals blindly defend their prejudices with nonsensical arguments. 


My personal endeavor is to try as hard as I can to not fall into these traps. I try to hop with my short stubby legs to peer above the fog of bullshit that shrouds every corner of human society. Some people may think I hold unconventional beliefs, but it isn't a matter of being a hipster; it's a matter of being objective. I want the pure objective truth, or the closest thing to it. I want to be as honest with myself as I can be, and be honest that I am bullshitting myself when it's sometimes too scary to face the truth. Cultivating this desire wasn't hard for me when I realized how much bullshit I was fed as a child. 


I used to be intensely homophobic (along with being religiously zealous, nationalistic, and sometimes racist) in my younger days. Like many people, I would fill with rage at the thought of homosexuals. And like many people, I could offer no logical reason for why homosexuality is wrong. I could merely muster up arguments of it being "gross" and "unnatural." Of course gross is purely subjective and my world shattered when I learned that many species engage in homosexual behavior. After much thought, I've come to realize the only reason I had such hatred was because I was told to, and I've had one less thing to become angry about when I stopped caring. At one point in my life I would have supported a genocide of homosexuals (and non-Christians). It is disturbing to think about how angry I became by these triggers, yet I did not know why.


Unfortunately, most people seem to have no idea why they believe the things they do and why emotions are stirred when their sensibilities are offended. Cohabitation is one of the many examples of this. I've been told premarital cohabitation is something people shouldn't do. Why is it wrong? Apparently it's near impossible to retain one's "purity" (not have sex) and that it is selfish (how so?) and that a woman and a man living together is something that simply shouldn't be done (forget reasons, just don't do it!) before marriage. None of those reasons are based on any sort of empiricism or logic. It's such an ingrained belief people will flail around in an intellectual kiddy pool to find something to support their their emotions. They often fail so they resort to moral judgments (it's wrong). Participants in cohabitation are often met with scorn and judgment, and most of it lands on the woman. I guess it's the woman's job to protect her "purity," which is another concept that is as grounded in reality as a spell from Harry Potter. 


It astounds me and occasionally provides me with comedic relief when I see how people react so viscerally to fairy tales yet willfully ignore the reality that surrounds them. The idea of a couple living together before reporting to the government is indisputably immoral yet the plethora of love motels, DVD rooms, and prostitution services completely eludes the discussion. A young woman shouldn't live with her boyfriend but it's acceptable for a married man to fuck a hooker in a karaoke room. Talk about cognitive dissonance.


Unfortunately, cohabitation is only one example of this. Worse things happen over meaningless shit than scorn and judgment. In some places in the world, a woman would have her head smashed in with a rock for having sex. People are often imprisoned and violated over fairy tales. Words and ideas are enough to provoke people to murder and war with each other. People start fights over perceived slights. Over nothing.

People are not interested in the objective truth. People are too afraid to peer inside themselves and make themselves uncomfortable. They would rather get angry, and even violent, than question what they are accustomed to. Too many of us would prefer to live in a fantasy world than the actual one under our feet. And they don't even know why. It's fine to have opinions, even if they don't vibe with mine. I like people with opinions, but finding people with their own opinions is a difficult task. You should have the right to think cohabitation is wrong, but you are trapping yourself in convention if you can't think of a good reason for yourself. 


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Individuality of Rejection

In the vein of my last post, I am going to check out the topic of rejection through the lenses of individuality. When a man approaches a woman with romantic and sexual advances, more often than not, he gets rejected. The person doing the approaching (usually men) is usually afraid of being rejected and the person doing the rejecting is often afraid of how the other person will react to the rejection.

This article about the "boyfriend excuse" discusses why women often resort to the "I have a boyfriend" excuse to gently turn away men who approach them. I agree with almost everything the writer says. I believe there is a difference between persistence and harassment and many men don't get that. They don't take no for an answer and sometimes turn abusive or aggressive after being rejected. Many men react to "I have a boyfriend" more because they don't respect the woman's autonomy to say no, but rather the other guy's supposed ownership of her. And I wholeheartedly agree that women should be honest and care less about hurting men's feelings. 

I have had too many instances of women rejecting me without really rejecting me. I've heard the boyfriend excuse myself many times along with other tactics such as exchanging numbers without any intent to contact me, making vague appointments of seeing me without ever following through, or making vague excuses for not being able to. Just fucking say, "no." It would save me the time and effort I can make available for a girl who really wants to see me. I do, however, realize that women have learned to do this because a lot of men cannot take rejection. 

The part I don't agree with, or rather would like to add onto, is the last bit about culture. Men aren't afraid of rejection from women because of a patriarchal "culture." Men who are afraid of rejection are afraid because they are insecure individuals. Not everything needs to be painted with a big sweeping brushstroke of "culture" or "sexism." Sometimes the issue is a lot smaller and simpler, and the issue is that many men are just fucking pussies.

Many of these men are not just afraid of rejection, but they are absolutely terrified. They are too scared to look into themselves, gather some fucking balls to talk to a woman directly and be okay with being rejected. Because they are terrified, they make all sorts of excuses of women being "sluts" and whatnot to justify their cowardice. Then when a guy finally musters up enough courage (accompanied with alcohol) to approach a woman to get rejected, he either reacts with disbelief and continues to persist, or with a visceral childishness, "Well, you weren't that hot anyway, bitch!" When I see people like this, I don't see a cultural problem, I see children. I see weak men who can't admit their weakness to themselves. I see insecure boys who have to make excuses to soften the blow of rejection, a rejection they received from someone they didn't even know. How insecure do you have to be to act like that.

The article mentions a student who was murdered by a guy whom she rejected and points the finger at male privilege. The guy killed someone because he's a psycho, not because of the patriarchy. I grew up in a very patriarchal environment with sexist rhetoric endlessly shoved down my throat, and I never thought I should stab a girl for rejecting me. Although to not that extent, I have had taken rejection very harshly when I was less mature and confident, but I was able to grow out of some of my insecurity through my own individual accord. These aren't problems with "men" and "culture," these are problems of individuals and their insecurity.

If there is a cultural problem, the problem is that most human cultures teach us to place our self-worth in things other than ourselves. We judge the worth of people based on their grades, what school they went to, how much money they make, how many girls they've been with, and so on. As a result, we tend to judge ourselves on the same shallow standards. Petty people whose worth comes from money, will judge others based on money. People who judge others on what school they go to, will feel insecure if they graduated from a school that's not up to standard. So when a man's worth as a man hinges on his desperate need for female approval, it's not surprising that his frail ego shatters when he hears, "no." A man who doesn't respect another individual's of not wanting to be harassed, obviously has no respect for himself. If a man was secure in himself, why would a random woman's opinion of him affect him so much?

This goes further than respect for women, but individuals' respect for themselves. If there is a cultural change to be had, it is one towards cultivating confidence, self-honesty, and self-acceptance of said honesty. We should be teaching people that being rejected isn't a reflection on their worth as people rather than making it a men vs women issue.

Rejection happens. Women, jobs, friends, schools, banks and opportunities will sometimes reject you. That's a part of life. Not everything we do will happen the way we want it to happen and that includes our romantic advances. A confident person whose secure in himself knows this. Getting turned away from a job or a girl isn't the end of the world for him. A confident person would take a rejection with grace.

Learning to accept rejection is one of the most important lessons of pick up. I'll reiterate, but pick up for me isn't really about getting girls; it's about myself. Below is an excerpt from a article by Simple Pickup, the guys who inspired me to be more confident:
Before I tell you my thoughts on what Pickup is, let me first talk about what pickup is not.
Pickup is not harassing women in any way.
Pickup is not forcing her into anything.
Pickup is not being physically or emotionally abusive to women.

....
Pickup isn't about teaching you how to have sex with as many girls as possible. It's about this:
  • It teaches you how to be confident in yourself.
  • It teaches you how to get over social anxiety and depression.
  • It teaches you how to make friends and find love, not just with girls but with everybody around you...as well as yourself.
  • It teaches you to believe in yourself and what you have to say.
I'm not trying to plug Simple Pickup on my blog. I'm not trying to get them money. I haven't spent one cent on them, but they have inspired me purely through the material they've made available for free. The point is that if we can teach people to be confident and secure in themselves, they're more likely to treat others with respect, or at least not care so much about rejection that we stab somebody for it. Either through pickup, or some other form of self-improvement, both men and women can benefit from such lessons. If individuals were strong, confident, direct and honest with others and capable of taking honesty from others, discussions of sexism, patriarchy, or male privilege wouldn't even be on the table.

I have gotten and still get rejected more often than not. More than I can count. Sometimes I actually find getting rejected amusing. If a girl says "no," I give her a high-five for being a good sport and tell her to have a nice day before moving on. I don't call her a bitch, I don't take it personally, and I definitely don't stab her, because my ego isn't made out of candy glass.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Race, Sexual Orientation, Borders, Dokdo

Race, Sexual Orientation, Borders, and Dokdo/Takeshima, and why all of those things are meaningless. 

The truth about the Dokdo situation isn't about national sovereignty. It's not about justice for past transgressions. It's not about the rightful owner of a piece of land. Whatever meaning Koreans give Dokdo/Takeshima, at the end of the day it is just a rock in the middle of the ocean. Laincourt Rocks is the most apt name for the island. A fucking rock. Its only value is as a political talking point the media and candidates can use whenever they need to remind us to hate Japan. Koreans gain nothing from securing Dokdo. In fact, Korean politicians and the media stand to gain more by not securing Dokdo and keeping it as a card they can pull out whenever they need. It's an extremely convenient way to stir up nationalistic sentiment. I do not think it's coincidence that the issue is brought up more often during election season when parties are engaged in a contest of who hates Japan more. Japan is doing them a favor by not letting go of its claim of the rock. 


The truth about Dokdo is that the Korean people have been duped into believing and subsequently being emotionally engaged to a rock in the middle of the ocean they otherwise have no reason to care about. The propaganda starts early in elementary school. A piece of rock is turned into an issue of sovereignty and drilled into our little heads before we even understand what national sovereignty is. People then grow into adults who become angry over a rock for reasons they themselves can't explain. 


Who really owns the Laincourt Rocks? Both countries try to use historical evidence to prove who claimed it first and basically employ the elementary school logic of finders keepers. By that logic, it should belong to seagulls because I'm sure they were there before any human set eyes on the rock. 
My answer is, it doesn't fucking matter. This is a rock in the middle of the ocean that was probably formed long before humanity existed, much less the nations of Korea and Japan. It will probably continue to be there long after our civilizations collapse. Its an inanimate piece of sediment with no national ties or loyalty; it doesn't care what it's called. It's a rock, and we decided to give it a name and now we have to decide who owns it. I can pick up a rock on the sidewalk, name it Chuckles, and tell everybody around me that Chuckles is a symbol of peace, freedom and all things good, and declare anybody who disrespects Chuckles as an enemy to said good things. That's basically what we as a species do with so many of our symbols, names, places and things that are "sacred."

At the core, they are nothing more than words. Words that are at best used for convenience in communicating and administering (at the expense of accuracy), and at worst used to justify war and genocide. With lofty words like patriotism, honor, and duty, people are convinced to hand over their freedoms and lives for the whims sociopathic politicians. In truth, those things are all made up.




This isn't just about the Laincourt Rocks, it's everything. Borders dividing land into "nations," race, gay or straight, honor, being a man, marriage, love, money, good and bad, etc. They are all made up things that only exist or have value because people think they do. 


Let's look at money, which is paper with faces of dead people printed on it. People at some point in history decided it has value and can be exchanged for goods and services, so it is perceived to have value. It isn't real, and it is so capricious that its value fluctuates constantly. For whatever reason, paper money can be worth absolutely nothing one day. Yet, people will cheat, kill, and throw away their lives to get more of what is essentially just paper. 

Let's look at another made up thing that stirs up controversy more than Gordon Ramsey stirs his scrambled eggs: race. Race also doesn't exist. There is no such thing. Yet so many of our laws, social institutions, media hubbub, and internet flame wars revolve around it. People take pride in it, or discriminate against others based on it, while some others are crucified for being labeled a racist. Tell me though, who has a concrete definition of what race is? There simply isn't one. There is no scientific consensus on what race is or how to measure it. It's impossible to quantify how "black" or "white" someone is because no objective standard exists. Because of this lack of a standard, debates erupt over how "racist" a particular controversy is or what race someone is. It is also why different societies perceive race different. What is race? Nothing more than just words to label people who look a certain way. In the physical reality, it does not exist; only in the minds of people.

Same goes for sexual orientation. We like to neatly categorize people into gay and straight, but the reality is much more complicated than that. Sexual orientation is more of a spectrum. Gay and straight are ways to make distinctions more convenient, and thus make it easier to create targets. Same goes for love, which also has no clear definition and its meaning depends entirely on the individual. Same goes for morality, which changes depending on where and when you are in human history.

Nations, race, and arbitrary ideals such as morality don't exist. Nature doesn't operate under man-made rules. These are nothing more than ways for people to be convinced or coerced into giving up our resources and lives in service of the people who decided they are better than others. I'm not a racist, not for altruistic reasons, but for reasons of practicality and self-interest. If you are a racist, you are getting duped. You are being tricked into taking it up the ass by the powers-that-be because you can convince yourself that "at least you're not a nigger (or insert other group of people who you regard below yourself)." Racists get conscripted into slave patrol duty against their own will or get convinced to throw their lives away because a tyrant said something about being the master-race. Racists are trapped by their own prejudices. They are slaves and oblivious to their own enslavement. Nationalists, sexists, the homophobic, and the religious are no different. The patriotic and dutiful are the same. 

Examine borders and nations. What is Korea? It is nothing more than a geographical area people some time ago decided to name Korea. What makes me Korean? My passport says Korea on it. Words make me Korean and nothing else. I don't have a special gene that makes me Korean. I don't have cells in me that have the word "Korean" stamped on top. Koreans didn't evolve separately from other humans. Whenever people ask me if I'm proud of being Korean or whatever, I try not to laugh out loud. It's a question I find very difficult to answer. How can I be proud of something I am not in reality? In reality, I am human. I have two eyes and hands with thumbs. I have tangible, physical things that make me a living organism and not an inanimate object like a rock. If I have sex with a non-Korean woman, it can result in babies, which won't happen if I fuck a dog or a chimpanzee. Nature tells me I'm a human, it doesn't distinguish me as Korean. I'm only Korean because other people say that I am. 

The way to peer above this haze of bullshit is to realize these things aren't real. If everybody else realized this, the Dokdo situation could have been solved a long time ago by flipping a coin.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Obligatory Entry about Staring

It's no secret Koreans stare a lot at foreigners. It seems almost every blog about Korea has to touch on the incessant nature of being stared at and the various theories thrown around in a desperate attempt to make sense of it. It might be repetitious but it's my turn to take a stab at it. Many of these blogs mistakenly and understandably come to the easy conclusion that Koreans are staring because they are curious about foreigners. I believe this is a misguided interpretation of this half-witted behavior.

Some people try to explain it away with "curiosity" and that staring isn't considered rude in Korea. Staring at strangers most certainly is considered rude. As I mentioned in my previous entry, Koreans who do this seem completely unaware, or they are hypocritically against being stared at themselves. Go to the subway and stare at a Korean. They will undoubtedly think you are an asshole or some kind of weirdo. If you're a guy and it's a girl you're staring at, she'll probably think you're a perv. Even if it's not considered "rude" as in a collectively agreed upon social faux pas, Koreans sure as hell don't like it being done to them.

But as hypocritical and oblivious as they like to be, they still love staring. Older people love staring the most, and among the middle-aged and elderly, men love to do it even more, especially if the subject is a young attractive woman. Young attractive, white women are even more likely to be subject to this. White person or not, older Koreans love staring. They stare at fellow Koreans who are dressed differently and act differently. They stare at handicapped people. They stare at Koreans who speak a language that's not Korean. They just love fucking staring.

Once I saw a girl taking photos of some flowers with her phone and a lady walking by had to stop to stare at her for a minute. Not a glance because she heard the click of the camera, but a full-on, let's-stand-here-uncomfortably-behind-this-person-and-look-at-her stare. It's to the point I really wonder what the point of this is. Has she never seen a camera? Is this lady really that perplexed at the idea of someone taking pictures of flowers? Examples like these are endless. I stopped to observe the lady because I was truly perplexed. Staring at other people is something I notice so much here that I sometimes like to observe it. You can say I like staring at people who stare. I find it fascinating how little it takes to enthrall these people.

If I'm being honest with myself, I do think curiosity does provide part of an explanation. I was at Costco with my father once and noticed him staring at this woman's cart, which was full of water bottles and packets of coffee. People buying tons of stuff at Costco? Who would've thought. I asked him what he was so curious about and he wondered out loud why this woman was buying so much water and coffee. Maybe she owned a cafe? Maybe her workplace gave her this task? 'Who gives a fuck? Why do you even care?' I wondered. Being inquisitively interested in other people's business is certainly another Korean habit.

Curiosity doesn't provide the full answer though, when you consider that we live in the year 2014 (soon to be 2015) in a country proudly touted as a global economic power. We have internet, and most people should have seen enough TV and movies that seeing white people (and other people) isn't that big of a deal. And all my instances of staring I can recall were in Seoul, the biggest, the most educated, and most multi-cultural place in the country. I wouldn't be surprised to find that it's worse in other parts of the country, but staring in Seoul is common enough that I notice it. A lot.

Whatever the reasons Koreans stare at other Koreans who are even the tiniest bit different, it is definitely exacerbated when it comes to people who are visibly foreign. It may be curiosity exercised in an intrusive manner when it comes to say, a group of big white dudes standing around. If these staring simpletons are harboring hostile racist sentiment, they usually don't show it. When it comes to foreign women, I notice older men tend to stare a lot more than anybody else. I'll notice younger men do it too, but the ajussis seem to lack more social intelligence and grasp of public etiquette. It might be just harmless curiosity, but when considering that men seem to stare more often than women, and I often notice not just staring of the face but an up-and-down eyeing, a lot these looks do come off more "predatory." And taking into account the perception Korean men have of white women and that almost every white female friend I know has had at least one instance of being grabbed or followed by some creep, not to mention the first-hand observations I've made while being out with my white friends, it is hard for me to perceive such stares as mere curiosity. These dudes are staring at these women for the same reason any guy stares at women.

I can't condemn a guy for wanting to get a look at a girl he finds attractive. I do it too as I'm sure almost every straight guy does. But I do it in glances and I try not to look obvious. If the girl notices that I am looking at her, I look away, say hi, or smile as an indication that I am not a creep, because that is the last thing I want a girl to perceive me as, especially if it's someone I might be interested in. But these ajussis don't give a shit. They stare openly and blatantly and apathetic to the obvious discomfort they cause the person they are staring at. Unfortunately, the onus is on the women to brush it off and ignore it because these dudes certainly aren't going to stop.

Unfortunately for me, it is difficult for myself to brush off the creepy stares my girlfriend gets. I notice quite a few when I'm with her so I can imagine how much worse it is when she's by herself. It is one thing to notice it when it happens to some woman you don't know, but when that woman is your girlfriend, it gets a little more uncomfortable. The protective instincts tend to kick in. Sometimes I stare back at these guys to see how they react, but a lot of the times they are so fixated on her that they don't notice me staring. When they do, they usually look away. Not so nice when it happens to them, you see.

On a side note my initial claim that people are utterly unaware of their own actions, may only hold partially true. While Koreans do a lot of things without noticing that they are doing them, I don't think they are always unaware as they seem. I used to date a black girl a while back and when I was out with her, I noticed that people were staring at me more than her (quite a contrast from being with a white girl). When I stared back at the people staring at me, they would quickly look away only to timidly glance back, then looked away again when I made eye contact. Not the behavior of people who are completely unaware or see nothing wrong with staring.

Whether they are staring at me, my girlfriend, or my friends, I am profoundly curious of the reasons. What is the point of all this staring? What do they hope to get out of looking at a random stranger for an uncomfortably long period of time? Do they have questions about foreigners? Have they never seen a white person? Do they want to practice English? Do they know it's rude but are so old that they stopped caring? Are they mustering the courage to talk to the girl? Do they want to ask me where to meet white women (a guy actually did come up to ask me this, by the way)? Are they wondering if white girls are as easy as the TV tells them? Are they rapists? Are they racists? What the fuck do you want?

Some may point out that even in other countries, people would stare at people who stand out. I can't speak for other countries, but I never observed so much staring in the States as I do in Korea, and I lived in goddamn Arkansas. Some of those people probably never saw a slanted eye person outside of a Jackie Chan movie until they saw me, but I have never been blatantly stared at. I've gotten glances and quite a few looks when I dated a white girl there but nobody stopped and gawked at me. Whenever I spoke Korean, people would turn to look, but nobody eyed me up and down like ajussis do when I speak English in Seoul. Overweight rednecks at Walmart in the middle of bumfuck, nowhere treated me with more courtesy than I have ever seen foreigners treated with in metropolitan Seoul from so-called "educated" people.

I don't know why Koreans, in particular the ajussis and ajummas, stare so much but from my observations I can sum up a few assessments:
1. It is not socially acceptable to stare at people. Yes, Koreans do it a lot but just like with shoving and coughing on people, they hate it when it's done to them.
2. Curiosity of foreigners may play a role, but it is hard to believe that is the sole reason behind staring when one remembers that this is a supposed to be a modern, global, and advanced nation.
3. Koreans also tend to be needlessly curious about other people's lives. What someone else is up to is a matter of interest even when it has absolutely no bearing on their lives.
4. Sexual desire plays a role when it comes to ajussis staring at foreign women. Being creeped on by middle-aged men is enough of a problem for many Korean women, hard to believe there isn't a sexual component to foreign women being stared at.
5. Koreans just like to stare at anybody who stands out, whether they be foreign or local. Why? What do they hope to achieve by staring? Who the fuck knows.

Maybe one day I will just straight up ask one these ajussis why they are staring. I'll probably get some dishonest bullshit answer about being curious or that they didn't notice they were staring, but it'll be some kind of data about this perplexing behavior.
In the mean time, I observe staring so frequently that I have half a mind to start taking photos of these people and start a new blog.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Unawake and Korean

I was standing with my friend at a coffee shop while he was in the process of ordering when a Korean guy walks in and asks for an Americano as if my friend wasn't even there. Then when the drinks are served, the guy pushes us aside to grab it as if, once again, we weren't even there.

Being pushed aside like an object is a common occurrence in Korea as is obvious to anybody who lives here. I have discussed before, however, that this widely shared habit of Koreans isn't necessarily done out of malice; I believe most of these people are not even aware of their own actions. It is the only way I can explain many of these nonsensical behaviors that sometimes go against even the basic logic of self-interest. Koreans would seem to the observing eye, completely oblivious to their surroundings and sometimes their own actions.

Korean rudeness is often mistaken as being "cultural," implying the presence of some mutual, unspoken agreement to being shoved and poked and sneezed on. This certainly isn't the case. In my first year back in the motherland I quickly found that shoving back at pushy people usually resulted in some form of protest. I've had a few occasions of people verbally challenging me in these situations and when I tell them that I was pushing back because they pushed me, their reaction was incredulous. Then there are the times when I get stare-downs or muttered curses when I refuse to budge when being pushed. It seems these people aren't even aware. An ajumma may nonchalantly grab a black person's hair or rub their skin, but do the same thing to said-ajumma, and you'll probably get a bewildered look or an angry reaction. Self-awareness isn't the forte of most Koreans.

To be fair, it is difficult to find those with an introspective sense of self in any civilization. Most people are too busy tuning the world out with their smartphones and basking themselves in consumerist gratification to be concerned with self-reflection. But if I were to generalize, Americans and other westerners as a whole seem to be tad bit better at critically observing themselves and their societies. In terms of being introspective and observant of their own actions and words, and being a person of some substance, I have to give Americans the edge. Mindful, present, conscious, awake, aware, or however you'd like to call it, Koreans greatly lack this. Ironically, these overweight consumerist Americans beat Korea in this regard despite the peninsula's long history of Buddhism. It seems Koreans have forsaken their spiritual/contemplative tradition (if they ever had one) for consumer goods and modern infrastructure.

Korea is an overly competitive society obsessed with good looks, shiny new gadgets, and fancy designer purses. The whole point of life here seems to be to obtain as many gratuitous things as possible, or at least provide a veneer of having them. Granted this is a symptom of many civilizations, Koreans seem to take it up a notch. But a life revolving around a single-minded goal of getting stuff is one no different than that of a dog's. Getting the next treat is the paramount purpose of existence just as getting that Gucci bag or BMW is. A dog will not give a care to anything else and will shove, run and jump to its objective of getting that treat. A Korean will do the same to get somewhere one second faster to his cubicle job of wasting his life away. The only difference is that a dog with treats is happy, human beings aren't no matter how much stuff we accumulate.

It may sound harsh to parallel dogs and Koreans. Dogs are cute, but they are also seen as lower life forms lacking in language and a deeper level of cognition. So what's the excuse for people? Our self-awareness and cognition is what makes us human and we so readily forget this. It's something we should work to our benefit because we certainly can't beat dogs in cuteness.

This entry started off with shoving but that is only one symptom of being unawake to life. Other side effects include but are not limited to: being angry about Dokdo and not knowing why, being racist but being completely oblivious to it, buying expensive fashion items only to default and end up selling yourself as a prostitute, endangering others with reckless driving, killing yourself over unsatisfactory grades, and driving your child to suicide by bombarding him/her with pressure. This is why so many I meet here are void of substance and abundant in blandness. Husks of social pressure only interested in material gain, grades, and a job that entitles them to marriage. They have no other interests other than the latest trends dictated by corporate propaganda. No personality to the point I wonder if I'm talking to a person or some humanoid robot. The plastic noses certainly don't help.

Koreans shove because they are obsessively worried about where they're trying to get to, rather than focusing on where they are. They monotonously go through life while hoping to achieve some arbitrary goal, and forgetting to actually, live. I'm starting to think an encouragement of some sort of spiritual, introspective pursuit will alleviate many ills of Korean society.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Foreigner

I hate the word for foreigner in Korean. Waegukin (외국인) is a racist word that attempts to constrain a person's humanity into a single easily identifiable attribute: that he or she isn't Korean.

Some people may object to my objection to the word because, it's just a word, right? Foreigner merely means "a person from a different country" so why's that a bad thing? Well, "faggot" means a bundle of sticks and "chink" means a crack or fissure, but everybody knows why those words are offensive.

I don't have a problem with the word itself, but like most slurs, it's the context in which one uses it that makes it less appealing, and I don't like the way Koreans use the word "외국인." Despite what it means in the dictionary, in Korea "foreigner" has definite racial connotations. Foreigner is almost synonymous with white people. Typing in "외국인" in naver gives me a bunch of pictures of (mostly) white women while in google it gives me pictures of white people (along with the obligatory white person making kimchi or wearing hanbok photo) with a few black people here and there. Even though by definition it should be whose passport doesn't say Korea on it (the rest of the world), Koreans usually use the word to describe white people.

Show Koreans a group of people who are apparently Chinese, Koreans will say they're Chinese. Show them a group of apparently Japanese people, and they will say they're Japanese. Show them white people and Koreans will answer, "foreigners." In the Korean collective, a Korean American who doesn't speak a word of Korean is still Korean while a white person who holds Korean citizenship is still a foreigner. It also explains why Koreans who to overseas call the locals foreigners even though they are the foreigners in the country they are visiting.

I hang out at places largely frequented by English speakers (who generally tend to be white) and I am no longer surprised to run into passing Koreans who like to stand and gawk. It's not uncommon for me to hear comments like, "Look at all these foreigners!" or "There are so many foreigners!" whenever there are large numbers of white people around.

My bigger problem with the word isn't how it's incorrectly used, but how it has to be tacked on as a label to a person's identity. If you're visibly not Korean, the word "외국인" follows you around everywhere and it replaces every other characteristic about you. When Koreans talk about you, they'll refer to you as the "foreign friend" instead of you know, your fucking name. To them you're "the foreigner" no matter how hard you try to assimilate into Korean culture or learn the language.

I rarely had this issue in the United States. People called me by my name instead of "the Asian guy" or "Korean guy." Nobody introduced me by saying, "This is my Korean friend." How irritated would I have been if I was constantly referred to as "Korean" instead of my name? I'm glad my identity didn't revolve around my being Korean. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for many who live in Korea.

For many foreigners, their social identities are tied to that one fact of not being Korean citizens. But to be fair, this isn't something Koreans only limit to foreigners; they do it to themselves as well. It isn't surprising a culture that discourages individuality would find it difficult to acknowledge individuality in others. For many Koreans, their identities as people revolve around them being Korean, so not being Korean is just as important of an attribute of a person's identity.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Multi-cultural Dating

I am currently in what some people may term an AMWF relationship. You might read this entry expecting some insight on how we deal with the cultural challenges. Well, there are none. Sure we have differences since we are two different individuals, but culture never enters the discussion. It's because I have a simple solution for dealing the challenges of cross-cultural dating.

For all those suffering from the headaches that come from dating someone of a different culture, I proffer thinking in a completely new paradigm: there is no such thing as cultural differences when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

I know this goes against conventional thinking. I know most people will think my opinion is nonsense, because of course there are cultural differences! People from different cultures will do things differently. Yes that is true, but people from the same culture will do things differently as well.

By focusing on the "cross-cultural" aspect of a cross-cultural relationship, people lose sight of the bigger picture, the relationship itself and the individuals partaking in it. A person's race or culture doesn't dictate everything about that person but in the discourse of cross-cultural relationships, race and culture seem to overshadow everything else.

The problem with approaching a relationship from a "cultural" framework is that is operates on assumptions.

First is the assumption that a person's identity (habits, beliefs, values, interests) is based on whatever culture you may associate that person with. People tend to project their own expectations and definition of culture to others based on assumptions. Some may look at me, an oriental looking guy in Korea, and assume that I am as typical (whatever "typical" may mean to you) as other Korean men. Some Korean men may look at a western woman and assume she is as easy as the American TV shows have lead him to believe. These preconceived misconceptions are then used to gauge how a relationship would turn out. A good example of this are the people who tell me things wouldn't work out between a foreign girl and I because we would be "too different." How they can predict the future with so little information is beyond me.

The second assumption is that one has to make concessions and compromises for the cultural sensibilities of his/her partner. I personally don't believe in "compromise" in relationships, I prefer "exchange." Whatever you call it, some level of give and take is obviously needed in a relationship. The problem is when people try to force themselves to accept and endure a trait of their partner they obviously don't like instead of knowing where to draw the line for themselves. Fuck cultural understanding and relativism. If you don't like that your husband drinks himself to sleep everyday, make him stop or leave him instead of chalking it up as his culture. I'm not staying with a woman whose daily routine consists of stomping kittens in the head, no matter how culturally ingrained that habit may be.

The third is assuming that if a cross-cultural relationship breaks apart, the blame falls on the cultural differences. This assessment is nothing more than a lazy cop out. Couples break up all the time regardless of perceived cultural identities. Every couple has problems in their relationship, but how much of that is cultural and how much of it is because they're simply two different individuals?

My answer to the above assumptions is this:
1. Know what you want and know that you know what you want (a.k.a. self-reflection)
2. Don't assume shit about other people
3. Communicate honestly

These are obvious guidelines that apply to every relationship, not just cross-cultural ones. You don't need a library of relationship books to know this but it is astounding how many people don't practice any of them.

I am currently in a loving relationship with a white American woman. It is the best relationship I've ever been in. As different as we may seem on paper, we share one vital commonality of honesty (and perhaps language that enables us to be honest). We both make an effort to be honest with ourselves and each other. We explore every corner, nook and cranny our psyches and talk about them. We don't make assumptions; we even discuss how we personally define and use certain everyday words. We verbalize whatever expectation we may have. We communicate.

Are her and I different? Of course. We are two different individuals. In a sense, I believe every person has his/her own unique culture. We all have our own ticks and habits and life experiences. We may share certain cultural traits with other people, but the combination of experiences that make up the person we are, is unique. When I was in my early teens, a comfort food of mine was rice mixed with butter, soy sauce and cheese. I never met anybody else who enjoyed this weird culinary concoction until I became friends with this white kid from Arkansas. I never would've thought I would share this peculiar habit with a white boy from a Southern state.

In a way, we will experience cultural differences similarities with everybody, no matter which culture they come from and no matter how different or similar they may seem on the outside. It is up to each individual to know what he or she wants in a partner. I know what I look for in a woman and I know what I won't tolerate. I'm not going to make concessions for somebody because it's her culture. There's no rule saying I have to force myself to be happy with somebody I am obviously not happy with. I don't have to judge her, but I also don't have to be with her. If I were to be single again and back in the dating pool, and if my peculiarities make it harder for me to find women, so be it. I am not compromising myself. Neither should anybody else. Know what you want and don't settle for less.

Or settle. What do I care. If you want to be miserable because you just have to get married by a certain age because society tells you to, that's your prerogative.