Readers' Submissions

SE Asia vs. NE Asia



Back in South Korea for nearly two months now, I find myself dreaming of Thailand more and more all the time. In fact, it's got to the point where–once again!–I suspect I will live these next several months for the day I board that lucky plane to BKK.

In this connection, some thoughts:

The winter cold up here in Northeast Asia really does get you down. It bores its insidious way right through your clothes, no matter how deeply layered. It chills the exposed flesh. It makes you sniffle, wheeze, curse your fate if you find yourself out of doors anywhere between about November and April. Meanwhile, thoughts of balmy Bangkok infest your brain.

The language barrier here in Korea (and in Japan, for that matter, where I've been on brief trips twice in the past month) seems much more severe. In summary: while the Japanese and Koreans spend fortunes on language instruction, they remain (for the most part) uncomfortable actually SPEAKING English, however well they may read and write it. Case in point: More than once here in Korea I've walked into a convenience store, noticed that the young man or woman behind the counter was studying a fairly advanced-looking English text, assumed that I could safely SPEAK English (if only up to the "how much; please; thank you" level), only to be met with a blank stare, confused laughter, or even the "No English" routine. Contrast the Sukhumvit road scene, where everyone from Family Mart clerks to bargirls to even beggars seem, by and large, more or less to manage basic conversational English. The difference? Thais actually get to USE their little bit of English (at least in the more tourist-frequented parts of the Kingdom), while Northeast Asians will go their entire lives, literally, without ever exchanging so much as a simple hello with a long nose.

On a related note: In Korea (though Japanese major cities may be different in this respect), you can truly come in for an awful lot of sheer nonsense as a non-native. My personal all-time pet peeve: People just plain breaking out in laughter at the mere SIGHT of you. (Copped this the other day at my local supermarket. I was making my way through the checkout line. Paid up, said yes to a plastic bag, thanked the cashier, all in fully competent Korean. Two cashiers across the way meanwhile BUSTING A GUT at the sight of the blue-eyed man in the checkout line–HAH, HAH, HAH! Don't you get it, Stickman?: BLUE EYES! Drop-dead hysterical!)

Gotta say that I never experienced this in Thailand, though perhaps you have.

Sure, Stickman, I've read everything you ever posted on line–everything!–and so I know about the double pricing, the occasional shakedown by the boys in brown, etc. Still, this being treated as though you were dressed up in a clown costume, all because you don't have the slanty eyes (I'm returning insult for insult in choosing to put it this way) can REALLY be a bummer. And in this respect, if in no other, Thailand seems to be more sophisticated, more worldly wise, in my own experience, anyway.

Getting to the killer:

My monthly salary here in South Korea, at today's exchange rate, is just about exactly 75,000 baht.

Granted, prices tend to be higher.

Accommodations are typically thrown in free-of-charge, however, by Korean schools. I'm now living in a very, very comfortable one-room apartment, single accommodation, fully furnished by the school (even including a computer and TV!), and thus find myself looking at very goods on saving the equivalent of about 30 to 40 baht a month for the remainder of my contract here.

Meanwhile . . .

It's bitterly cold.

No one speaks English.

My blond hair and blue eyes are just HYSTERICALLY funny, and a total death knell to any hope of friendship or anything remotely similar with any but the most truly oddball of Koreans,

and

I'm dreaming of that flight to BKK.

Yikes! Am I wallowing in self-pity?

Nope, I'm making money.

TO BE SPENT IN THAILAND!

Stickman's thoughts:

Northeast Asia ain't for me!