Monday, April 5, 2010

An Assessment, Part 3

What's the quality of life like in Seoul? Seoul is an internationsl city at this point, having been dragged forward by it's own desire for economic prosperity; the forces working against this forward motion are mainly based on the ingrained xenophobia of a culture that has spent too many years under the control of others--China and Japan, specifically. Koreans have been taught for generations now that the homogeneity of their culture was a good thing.

Some foreigners here feel oppressed by the xenophobic attitude they find in Korean people. While this sometimes extends to Westerners, I think it is most strongly felt by southern Asians and people of dark skins like Middle Easterners and Africans, or African-Americans. If you think that makes Korea unacceptible, you should not come here. You should also never go to the United States.

And even this is more common in the very young or the very old. I personally have had very little of this. One day recently, I took the subway home because the weather was miserable and I was very tired. An older gentleman stood up and offered me his seat. He said I looked unwell, or upset.

After we talked for a few minuttes, I learned he was concerned; he heard English teachers did not make much money (about two million won, he said--the right ballpark for the beginning teacher, I think), and he worried that I was too poor or hungry.

A few days later, I was in a nearly empty line 9 car, nose buried in a book, when I noticed two young girls notice me. Little cuties. They first moved to the far end of the bench across from me, then shot across to the far end of my bench. There was no one between us. They were whispering to each other. Finally, the younger one, about four, coached by her big sister, about seven, said, "Hello!" She was flushed with embarrassment (even at that age, the can't-speak-English bug is active), but still looked right at me.

I said Hello back, and they giggled mightily as they backed up into the corner of the seat. They were trying to work out what to say next, but my stop came up, and we had to just wave at each other as I left. (Have I mentioned the public transport here is really, really great?)

I suppose those stories could be taken to show how annoying it is to be a foreigner here--kids stare, people practice their English on you--but at this point I've no complaints. And I'm not trying to make light of the problems foreigners can face in this area; just recently, a foreign man and his Korean girlfriend were verbally harassed by some asshole, so they took him to court. And they won, which is something.

My point is that some people are going to be assholes, wherever you go--whenever someone bumps into me in the street, or pulls up short right in front of me, or barges into my queue, it's tempting to think, Jeez, these Koreans are such jerks!. In reality, I think there's no difference in the assclown ratio here compared to back home.

I'm fortunate to have made a couple of Korean friends here, as well as some foreign friends, because that definitely makes a difference in one's quality of life. And it is kind of a safety net--I haven't yet felt terribly homesick, or horribly upset by anything that's happened to me, but it's good to know there are people I can talk to if I need it.

If there were a medical emergency, I am reasonably confident in the ability of medical services here, and thankful too that Korea's socialized medical insurance program covers many common problems I might have. The sewage system here is sufficient, and the tapwater is potable--try that in Beijing and see how far you get.

I have mentioned before how grateful I am that the city planners have taken care to provide some little green spaces, and also some really big ones. If the weather is nice this weekend, I'll resume my habit of going for a long stroll then settling onto a park bench at Yeouido kongwon for a nice read. That's quality of life, in my book.


Anonymous said...

You're an awesome guy with a really refreshing attitude/outlook on life. Keep on keeping on, sir!

Tuttle said...

Well, thanks very much, whoever you are!

Note to all: this is the best way to get your comment accepted on my blog...

SuperDrew said...

No need to comment anonymously on your own posts, Tuttle!

Tuttle said...

Drew: I know, right?

Srsly dunno who this is, but s/he's obviously brilliant and a great judge of character.