Sunday, January 24, 2010

O, Handsome Man!

Just yesterday, a middle-aged man did a double-take as I was standing on the subway platform and said to me: "Oh, very handsome man!" No, he really did. And he's not the first one, either.

Now, the point I wish to make is not about the rates of myopia among the Korean population--though I guess it could be--but rather about how such interactions exemplify the strange duality of the culture: homogeneity of the populace was long sold as a strong point (Hermit Kingdom, after all--what do you expect?!); at the same time, the desire for harmony means being polite to the nationality-afflicted in their midst. And possibly the recognition that their country depends for its economic growth on these fair-skinned interlopers, or at least their relatives overseas.

According to a survey just released by the "Overseas Koreans Foundation", 52.9 percent of Koreans regard foreign workers here as members of Korean society. I think this comes as surprising news to many of the foreigners here.

Don't get me wrong, I almost always feel welcome, certainly more so than I expect some subset of foreigners living in America must feel. I suspect "handsome" is pretty low on the list of adjectives they hear. That being said, I don't necessarily feel like a typical member of "Korean society", whatever that may mean. I think most members of Korean society don't leave small children dumbstruck and swiveling their little necks as they walk by. I often do.

The survey was conducted among 800 Koreans living in seven main population centers, and reported in The Korea Herald. The government plans to extend voting rights to overseas Koreans for the first time, and the survey found that 57.4% are in favor of it. Curiously, though, over 60 percent believe that voting through mail or internet should not be allowed. I guess they'll just have to yell really loud.

Emigration was a key topic of the survey, and one I'm particularly interested in at the moment. I was surprised that 17% admit to having a "close family member" living overseas--I thought it would be higher. After all, when I visited Tanner in Beijing, his Liudaokou neighborhood was a virtual Koreatown with familiar Orion and Lotte snacks in the local shops. During my New Zealand holiday, we frequently encountered Hangeul signage in towns like Rotorua, and Korean-frequented gambling rooms everywhere.

Still, only 18.7 percent have a negative response to the idea of living overseas for a time, down from 38.9 percent only two years ago. That is an enormous statistical shift in a short time, which I think is largely due to recognition that the US is populated with handsome men, like me.


SuperDrew said...

I was at a local market in Siheung-dong Saturday evening and stopped at a butcher's shop to buy some meat. The guy there was (naturally) happy to see me, but even more so because his sister married an American and moved to the US.

This isn't something that I have ever heard anyone talk happily about before. In fact, I always thought that generally when someone married a foreigner it was kept the family secret.

Also somewhat related, I was watching some tv program a couple of weeks ago, and it said that 1% of Korean women travel to the US to have their children. It said that between the advantages of getting into foreign universities more easily and not having to go into the military made it worthwhile.

I want to say that 1% is a really high number, but since there are only roughly 6 births a year in Korea, I guess it isn't so bad.

Anonymous said...

"That is an enormous statistical shift in a short time, which I think is largely due to recognition that the US is populated with handsome men like me."

lol, now now, don't let one comment go to your head too much! :P

Anonymous said...


I am looking for a sublet for 3 months in the SEOULDAE neighborhood within walking distance of the subway station -- but a large one, around 3 bedrooms, 1/2 bathrooms.

Do you know the best way to find something like this?

Thank you!

Tuttle said...

SD: So those kids become automatic US citizens. Do they have to give it up to become Korean citizens?

Mo: But, it was not the first time! I've just sent my glossy to William Morris Korea.

Anon (Gracer, izzat you?): I don't have a clue, and I apologise if my blog did anything to give you the impression I would be helpful in this area. That said, you might want to try Craigslist: is the link for Seoul housing.

The only other thought I have would be to visit a budongsan (부동산) of which there are approximately 72,423,742 in Seoul alone. That's right, there are three realtor's offices for every man, woman and child in the Seoul metropolitan area. I understand they only represent certain properties, but maybe someone can point you in the right direction.

Actually, another thought just occured to me: go to Itaewon, hang out in a better bar, and sooner or later, a guy who does real estate on the side will sit down next to you.

Lastly, and this involves some level of officialdom, which is why I hesitate to mention it, you could try the folks over at Seoul Global Center, web: ph: 82-2-1688-0120

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your help!

I noticed I can't even find a web site for an Officetel in English in the Seouldae neighborhood.

The reason I asked you was because you once mentioned you lived in a Officetel near Seoul National University.

Tuttle said...

Well, I'm no stranger to Seouldae, especially some of the fine drinking and dining establishments located there, but I live in an officetel in Gangseo-gu--west of the river, a few miles north of Yeouido.

You might ask over at Literaryhero and Friends, in my blogroll. He lives in that neck of the woods. Just tell him Tuttle sent you. Good luck!