Korea, No Alternative
By Korean Don
I read your latest column with great interest. Here I am in Korea dreaming every day–no exaggeration!–of the Great Escape to the Land of Smiles. Reading about how your workmate plans on fleeing Thailand to return HERE thus really sets the mind to work.
After nearly three years in Korea (an expat from my native USA), having worked successively as a children's teacher, adult conversation teacher, and now as an "editor" for a mid-size law firm (read "glorified paralegal"), I offer you this perspective:
On a scale of 1 to 100:
The constant threat of war here in Korea puts my annoyance/perturbance level at a continuous 50. Especially since this whole North Korean nuclear crisis broke somewhat over a year ago, and we've been treated to almost daily articles on the world press on
the same. I do NOT sleep peacefully having just read online that Dick Cheney, US VP, says vis-a-vis North Korea, "We don't negotiate with evil. We defeat it." (Just imagine 100,000-plus NK artillery shells PER HOUR falling on densely populated Seoul in response to a US air strike up North. NOT a pretty picture for any of us living here.)
Starting, then, from a constant state of 50 on the annoyance/perturbance scale, one steps outside on a January afternoon here in Korea and is hit by–MINUS ZERO TEMPERATURES! Yes, and that's NOT factoring in the brisk chill wind blowing out of Siberia (which isn't too far away from Korea, if you check your map).
Just last week on my way to dinner, after about a five minutes' walk from my workplace, I found that my nose was so cold it had literally LOST ALL SENSATION. Was it leaking snot all over the place? The sinuses seemed to be running, but when I placed fingers to nose (after ungloving them), there was NO SENSATION. Make no mistake, these sub-zero temperatures are no laughing matter. They are DANGEROUS in the truest sense of the word. To exposed skin anyway, which is why you see so many Seoulites this time of year strolling down the pavement in SURGICAL MASKS in addition to the hats and scarves and ear-muffs.
Starting from a discomfort level of 50, then, I tack on another 10 to 20 points at this time of year due to the extreme cold.
Next, Korean rudeness.
This is a very delicate topic. Trust me, Stickman, I'm as liberal-left as anyone out there and truly from the bottom of my heart DO NOT wish to be the ugly American or the boorish insensitive Westerner of any description. I'd like to see myself, rather, as a kind of missionary in reverse, i.e., someone who has come to learn from the local culture rather than teach it.
Nonetheless, there's little avoiding cold, hard facts–if we're honest about them, that is.
Fact: Koreans, for whatever obscure reason, do not look where they're going on the pavement.
This may seem like a trivial or inconsequential complaint, but believe me, it's very serious and very real. There hardly passes a day that some local jerk, of whichever of the two sexes or whatever age, crashes into me due to simply NOT LOOKING. Bizarre behaviour! We in the West learn at an early age to look where we're going and generally swerve and veer so as not to collide into other folks when out walking (or driving, for that matter). Koreans never learn this.
Raise that annoyance/perturbance factor from 50 plus 10 to another 10 for a total of 70!
Then there's the spitting.
Koreans must be the world's greatest spitters. You truly cannot imagine it, Stickman, until you've been here. The extremely LOUD and exaggerated hawking up of phlegm and spitting is something one comes across CONSTANTLY, every single day, Sundays and holidays not excepted. Can the average adult Korean male be clocked in at one obnoxious public spit per every ten minutes? Quite possibly.
And then there's the odd drunk pissing against the wall just opposite the entrance to my apartment at all hours of the day and night. This is so endemic, with too many bars in the area (though what neighborhood in Seoul DOESN'T have too many of these?), that someone has in fact stencilled up on that selfsame wall the words "Don't urinate here. Bathroom 50 m (arrow)."
No one pays any heed, of course, and so bump that annoyance level up to about 80 when I encounter the culprit pisser, doing his business right outside my flat, upon leaving home in the morning or returning home at night.
This has been a very long email, but it has a very short and simple moral:
Bangkok, by comparison, ain't so bad!
I'm on a one-way flight BKK-bound at the end of July, six months and counting, and would be happy to buy you a beer upon arrival, dear Stickman.
Meanwhile, I hope that all the above helps put South Korea in some perspective for you. You DON'T want to be here, you truly don't, nor does your friend if he reconsidered the matter, however much better the money may be. (And yes, there IS more to be made here, but it gets spent SO much more quickly, with proportionately higher prices, just as in Japan.)
I think we can safely cross South Korea off the list!