All posts filed under: Korea 101

South Korea and Racism. Again.

Sam Okyere talks about racism in South Korea Just because you don’t know it’s called “being racist” doesn’t mean you’re not being one A couple of years back, I wrote about racism in Korea. Recently, Ghanaian-born South Korean TV star Sam Okyere’s JTBC interview has got South Koreans thinking about the issue of racism once again. Okyere’s experiences of racism, optimistic outlook, and integration in South Korean society echo those voiced earlier by Stanley Hawi in 2015. Racism exists in South Korea. There’s no denying this (There is racism in every society, no matter how”educated” or less “educated” their general population may be on the issue). It manifests itself in different ways: Here in South Korea, white women are labelled whores, because they are sexually liberated, so I, also a man, deserve to have a go at them. Korean women who date white men are seen as sluts, because they remind me of the government-sponsored whores we leased to the GIs. South Asian women are seen as subhuman, because we bought you, and thus you are a living doll, to …

The Korean “3-Times A Day” Ritual

(Picture from Korea Depart) One thing that strikes me is how infrequently people seem to brush their teeth here in Central Europe. My question is: Why don’t people brush their teeth after lunch, if they’re at university or at work all day? (I’ve also met a higher-than-average number of people with bad breath in France and in Belgium which eventually culminated in me developing skills to implicitly and strategically avoid them) In Korea, it is an accepted norm that one brushes their teeth after lunch. High schools dedicate space specifically for brushing your teeth. Everybody keeps toothbrush and toothpaste (and mouthwash) in their locker, and if you don’t brush your teeth, you’ll get called out for being “dirty”(smelly is the exact term if you think about it). Even the smallest convenience stores carry several types of toothbrush kits. At university, students usually eat at restaurants around campus or at the cafeteria. And after eating, they go to one of the bathrooms on campus, take out their toothbrush kit and brushed their teeth before the afternoon …

Where’s All This Racism Coming From?

“These are all ‘flesh’-coloured” (Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation, 2006) At university, a then-friend of mine once said “No, Koreans are one blood, one people. Immigrants and mixed-blood children are not and they’ll never be Korean“. I said: “But, what if these immigrants live here for decades? And mixed-blood children are born here and raised here?“.  After a while, he repeated: “Yes, but we are one people, they’re not our people” The worst part is, I cannot label him as an outlier of public opinion. Koreans generally do treat foreigners very differently from fellow Koreans. But why? And is it really racism, or ignorance? Or something else? In a society where the indigenous people look more or less the same, physical difference marks outsiders out in a strikingly visual way. The first caricatures of Westerners drawn by the Koreans and the Japanese show similarities: “Their eyes were blue like demons, and they had a lot of white hair, making them look even more beastly” is what I remember from a history lecture back in university. Most Koreans don’t see …

Why Confucianism Is Alive And Kicking

   Toegye Yi Hwang and Yukgok Yi-i considered to be the greatest Joseon scholars Neo-Confucianism was adopted by the ruling class as a combination of political doctrine + religion + social norms in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). As opposed to the Buddhism-centered Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the Yi ruling clan of Joseon chose Confucianism, mainly because of its weight on the intelligent and honourable ruler and general focus on the class system. The king was a well-read scholar, and it is documented they spent every day reading Confucianist texts and discussing them with the court officials. They also passed a large part of their youth reading, analysing and discussing Confucianism. Confucianism is known for its strict hierarchy between: ruler-courtiers, husband-wife, father-son, and so on. The society was divided into Yangban (scholars), farmers, artisans, and merchants, in that order. The very bottom class was composed of slaves, shamans, butchers and the children of concubines, who were barred from civil service exams. Buddhism in Goryeo grew more and more corrupt in Goryeo and enabled the elite to amass fortunes. Additionally, Yi …

There’s a hagwon for that, you know

Featured image: Gangnam Daesung, one of the most “prestigious” hagwons in South Korea. Yes, there are hagwons for passing the bar. Korea is the land of hagwons and private tutoring. If you want to learn something, or more specifically, if you want to pass some exam, you name it, we have it. The following few paragraphs are a reconstruction of the “upper-middle class” Korean mom and daughter as they progress through hagwons – much of this from experience I have teaching at hagwons, as well as supplementary stories from my friends as both students and teachers, and to a large extent, by observing my aunt, who is one of those mums. * * * * * * * * * * It all starts in primary school: Ballet & Piano, then English & Maths. You want your kid to get a sense of art, so you send her off to piano lessons. Then, you hear about all those moms sending kids to English lessons and Maths lessons. You get anxious, because they teach stuff public schools …

Patriarchy? Do You Mean, “Respect”?

Lee, Sunja’s house#1-Ancestral rites, Lee Sun-Mi, 2004 My grandmother is by all rights a very progressive lady. All her four children married through love . She’s been to Paris, LA, Norway, the Philippines, and even to Russia. One of her granddaughters is going to marry a Japanese man, and she’s okay with that. She told all her daughters and all her granddaughters “Women need to get jobs now. Otherwise nobody will respect you” instead of “Be a good wife”. But it’s when she says the following things that I realise the power of patriarchy drilled into all of us born and raised in Korea: – “He (my male cousin) wants to learn to make kimchi? Why? He has no need for that” – “She (some random neighbour’s daughter) is getting married for the second time, so you know, she’s not very clean, but she is a lovely person” – “You (me) are like a man! Fixing electricity and the plugs around the house…just like your mother!” My male cousin has been wanting to learn how to …

Update on NK related censorship

I recently visited a professor of history and he had some real copies of North Korean history books circulated inside the country. Thought it might be interesting to share. I am guessing the books are not illegal for possession if it’s for academic and research purposes. Complete History of Kim Il-sung History of Joseon (note: North Korea refers to them as “Joseon” while South Korea uses “Hanguk”) Kim Il-sung In the New Century

What We Call “Tin Attitude” In Korea

A tin pot boils up but also cools down in a second, making it ideal for cooking and eating at a fast pace. It’s also very cheap compared to other metal alloy products. Koreans employ the term “naembi geunseong” (냄비근성) to criticise the hot-headedness and emotionality of their own people. We get emotional and all egged up about something, but as soon as it loses its novelty we forget all about it. We lose our sense of logic and rationality, and resort to ad hominem attacks. When serious crimes are reported, people take the issue (too) personally, and yell “This is wrong! Who is responsible?!” which quickly amounts to “Down with the mayor! / President! / chairperson / head of ministry in charge!” “This country is so backward, my god, we should all be ashamed to call ourselves a developed nation!” and “Korea is a bad country!”. This attitude is displayed by the people, the media, the politicians. We all boil up, and then all cool down. Then we forget. On April 16th, a ferry carrying more …

Why My Friends Are Forced To Study Christianity At University

t Ewha Woman’s University with banners announcing Hilary R. Clinton’s visit Image source: Ewha Media Blog Because Christian missionaries founded the first universities in Korea and somehow private institutions’ right to setting their own curricula is given priority over people’s freedom of religion. The prestigious Yonsei University (1915, founded by Horace Underwood), Ewha Woman’s University (1910, Mary Scranton), and Sogang University (1960, Society of Jesus), among many others, were founded by American missionaries. Chapel is mandatory at Yonsei and Ewha – 2 years at Yonsei and 4 years at Ewha. All Yonsei students must also elect one course on Christian thought in their first year. Which in my view is an infringement on personal freedom of religion, but somehow it isn’t given priority. Most Korean universities that are considered prestigious have a long history originating sometime around the beginning of the 1900s – a time when Korea was forced to start opening up to the outside world and to Christianity, starting with the 1882 US treaty (including the notorious most-favoured nation clause). It was around this time that Koreans started opening …

No You’re Not Allowed To Talk About Colonization

Koreans rejoice on August 15th, 1945. Unless you come from a country that was once colonized. It’s like this: I had Stage 4 cancer, and miraculously came back to life after extensive surgery and chemo that took all my hair, health, and life. My boyfriend of 5 years also left me because he couldn’t handle the pain I was in. And then you say “Hey, you used to be overweight, now you’re all thin! Looking great, mate, you should totally get a better guy now, forget about that loser!”. I now reserve the right to slap you with my hand, which is studded with metal rings. You can’t say “Yes, but Japan did bring modern law and railways, which really helped the Korean economy”. You can’t say “But now that Indians all speak English well and all, isn’t it better? You guys can all go to Silicon Valley and work, as soon as you get a job and a visa!”. You can’t say “You have French nationality even though you’ve never been to France? That is …