Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Concerning things I kind of won't miss

OK, I have to air them...the year's worth of little grievances that have festered under my skin, and fine, that have occasionally been given voice in this blog. Don't worry, the sappy, bittersweet parting from my host country and all that it has unexpectedly come to be to me is coming right around the corner but this is my chance at some details before the rose colored glasses of departure and distance become welded into place. Here we go.

Public spitting, especially the prodigious hawking employed by gross old men who sound like they are choking and vomiting at the same time. I've had to frequently dodge pools in the street, this is not a pretty habit.

Being absolutely in real danger of losing my life every time I walk on the street. Llllleeeeaarrrn to drive, people. And, let me say that every time my Dad made an ironic joke about the Asian inability to work a car just to rile me up I was suitably rankled back home, but it's absolutely true. A Korean friend recently asked, in a dead pan voice, what checking your blind spot really does like it's an appendix or something. To be fair, it's because Korea's only had a motor culture for about 50 years whereas our laws have had twice as long to keep pace with the growth. But, all the same, this country hasn't figured out yet that a car can't die but a person, in fact, can.

Vanity. Men in salons artfully twisting every little hair into place and women obsessing about small features and maintaining perfectly white skin beneath their umbrellas. Korea, you've already got great genes. This is going to be harsh, but stop trying to make yourself look western, you never will be and you undermine your own culture and beauty by doing it.

Being gawked at everywhere I go. I am a person. I'm really boring. I look like death in the mornings, I have a weakness for bad TV, and I probably didn't shave my legs the day you were looking at me. THIS is not the recipe for a celebrity.

Lingering sexism. Soko, wake up. Women are not defined by their ability to bear children. In a marriage, a husband never calls his wife by her name but after their kids are born, she is known as 'Name's Mother'. Nor does their professional capability end with dressing up in a tight secretary uniform. Korea barely ranks above Saudi Arabia in terms of women's rights and I have to say, not so surprised.

Aesthetic over-embellishment. Everything here is sequined, bedazzled, lit up, dipped in frosting and covered with a Christmas bow. Quality is sacrificed for glitz, in architecture, shops are gutted in days and as long as it looks OK, business continues as usual. The classic, the simple, the elegant, the understated have all been outshone by the flashing neon lights.

Hypochondria. Korea, a sinus infection does not require 16 pills a day. A cut does not need a legion of antibiotics. A bump, bruise, ache, or pain is all a natural function of the body. It was built to deal with this stuff, so let it. You won't die, promise.

Literally thousands upon thousands of apartment buildings with no variation whatsoever. That, more than anything, drives the ruthless anonymity of Korea home. This all feeds into a latent and cultural hive mentality that settles into the very concrete, same same same. It's not wrong but it rubs against the grain of the fierce individuality that my culture has taught me to value.

It's on the wrong side of the Pacific! This is probably my biggest beef...it's not home. And that actually says a lot to how much I did eventually like it here that this was the most serious and lasting problem that I had with this country.

As I said, Korea has won my grudging respect and even affection in a number of ways that will get explored at emotional and contemplative length very shortly. These are just my personal little pet peeves and I hope they aren't given more weight than I mean to assign them. But, I'd be lying if I said I fell in love with everything about where I've been for the last year, so this is an honest parting snap shot of some of its foibles.

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