Monday, December 13, 2010

as we near the final days of 2010, i can't help but be absolutely blown away by all that i've experienced this year. by way of this blog, you know about most of the wonderful things that i've seen and tasted and felt and endured. so as i look towards the close of the year and my return to the states, i'm going to do something a little different. i'm going to tell you some of the things that i haven't previously shared that i will not miss about korea. i'm afraid that, out of my excessive enthusiasm, i might not have given you a totally fair look at my time here. the year has absolutely not been all butterflies & roses, and i think i would be cheating you if i didn't share some of the ugly parts, too.

disclaimer: this is 100% my opinion wrought from personal experience. i by no means speak for all of korea or all korean adoptees or all americans or any other demographic group. therefore, nobody get your undies in a wad. if you are a korean reading this, you're probably not going to like most of what i say in this entry. therefore you have the option to 1) skip this one and come back in a couple of weeks 2) take it for what it is - an opinion piece - and not be personally offended. my entire year's worth of blogs have been dedicated to singing the praises of your wonderful country, which has a huge place in my heart.

also, this entry will be absolutely dripping with sarcasm. be forewarned.

so here it is. stemming mostly from my being a koreanless korean in korea, these are the things i won't miss in 2011:

1) going out for dinner with my white american friends & the entire restaurant staff assuming i am the group's hired translator.
:: this happens at least 3 times a week. it's the worst.

2) people (koreans & americans both) telling me how good my english is.
:: uhhh thanks. i studied a lot.

3) people (koreans & americans both) shamelessly gawking at me when they hear me speak english.
:: you would not believe the audacity and general ignorance of some of the people i've met here. at times, i've been genuinely concerned that my mere existence would cause some moron's brain to physically explode. some wide-eyed people have gotten so close to me that i could smell their awful kimchi breath. at which point, i've had to make the awkward situation more awkward by glaring them down until they felt uncomfortable enough to pick their jaw off the ground and keep walking.

4) not being able to talk on the phone or speak out loud on public transportation or public.
:: in order to avoid gawkers' stares, i generally ignore all phone calls until i am alone or somewhere "safe." refer to #3.

5) people assuming i'm chinese when i tell them i can't speak korean.
:: it's no secret that thousands of korean children have been adopted to english-speaking countries. in addition, thousands of korean families have migrated to said countries. therefore, countless korean faces, like me, do not speak korean. however, you would never know that by the reactions i've received. if you can't speak korean, you must not be korean, right?!

6) the snickers i hear behind my back after i try my best at speaking korean.
:: forgive me, but i haven't been able to completely master the language in 11 months. all koreans receive at least 10 years worth of english classes in grade school...yet only a minute percentage can speak fluent english. do you see me laughing at you??

7) the obnoxious coworker who just knows i'm lying about not being able to speak korean and therefore continues to speak korean to me. every day.
:: you'd think my continual blank stares would give it away.

8) the glass ceiling i've encountered in the workplace.

9) the crazy ahjummas & ahjussis who yell at me when they hear me speak english.
:: i've actually had an old lady chase me down the road screaming when she heard me talking on the phone. it's generally something like "i don't want to hear your english" or "speak korean" or a simple "shut up."

10) the koreans who feel i owe them or their country something in lieu of my 23-year absence.
:: wait -- what?? how does that one work?

11) koreans doing whatever it takes to save face. including a lot of lying.
:: i've been played wrong more times this year than i have in my entire life combined. thankfully, i've also met some kind & good koreans who have helped me not to lose complete hope in the entire korean race. based solely on my personal experiences, i now live by the following - "don't trust a korean any further than you can throw her."

12) koreans' lack of any sort of filter.
:: "what's on your face?! you have some skin problems..." yes, that's a zit. sorry if it's personally offending you, but i get them sometimes.
:: "you look tired." yes, i am tired. thank you for noticing.
:: "your clothes are not so good. i think you should buy new ones." sorry if i'm not the country's top fashionista, but were you planning to sponsor my new wardrobe?
:: "you should wear make-up" sorry. i'm too lazy. i like to sleep 10 extra minutes in the morning. sue me.
:: "your hair is terrible." well, stop looking at it.
:: "you are big size. you need more exercise." i'm an american. americans, generally, tend to be fat and lazy. sorry that i'm not a size 0. believe it or not, i would actually be considered quite slender in the states.
:: yes, i have personally heard each of these statements & more.

13) my friends either a. getting awkward or b. feeling like they have to defend me when somebody makes a stupid comment or gawks at me.
:: while i certainly appreciate their concern, i'm a big girl and i can fight my own battles.

14) people pitying me.
:: life is full of ignorant people and crappy situations. you gotta buck up & move on.

15) a workplace that is freezing during the winter and sweltering during the summer.
:: assuming that a/c & heat are too expensive, my school generally doesn't use either unless absolutely necessary. it's miserable for everyone.

16) the english paradox.
:: koreans are obsessed with teaching their kids english. the government is cramming it down students' throats. english, english, english! but when they hear me speak it, i get the death stare. wait...what? i'm confused. i thought you wanted me to be good at english? ohhhh, but i'm just not supposed to use it? ok sorry. i missed that memo. makes perfect sense now.

17) unplowed streets during winter.
:: it's not pleasant when you don't have a car, but rather rely on public transportation and your own 2 feet to get you to work and back.

18) koreans who are baffled by my ability to read or speak korean.
:: korea is full of paradoxes. here is another. after i can finally pound it into a thick, korean skull that i, in fact, can only speak english fluently, they literally can not wrap their brains around how i can say "thank you" or "hello" in korean. or how i can read a road sign or restaurant menu in korean. they get all confused all over again and i have to explain for the thousandth time that i lived in america for the past 23 years, but have been studying korean in 2010. strangely enough, it is possible to know just a little of a language without being completely fluent!

19) people assuming that my brother is my boyfriend. and my having to agree that he is.
:: korea has an obsession with love and dating. it's unhealthy, really. so if they see a picture of me with my brother, they automatically assume he is my boyfriend. when my students see it, i now just say - "yes, he is." it's a lie, i know -- but YOU try to explain in english to a korean 3rd grader that i'm an american who just met my korean family this year...and that i have 2 families - a white one and a korean one. it's a lot harder than it sounds, huh? you would lie, too.

20) korean "breakfast."
:: koreans don't differentiate breakfast from any other meal of the day. it's the same thing 3 times a day - rice, kimchi, meat, side dishes, etc. much more spice than my poor american stomach can handle at 7am.

there you have it. this is by no means a comprehensive list, but i hope it gives you a slight glimpse into the not-so-pretty parts of my year in korea. i knew i would face some challenges when i boarded the plane to get here, but i had no idea what all i was getting myself into. while some of these things were laughable at first, they tended to get progressively less funny with each passing day. now they are simply obnoxious things that i have the pleasure of dealing with daily.

if you're about to leave a hateful response, just...don't. take a breath, re-read my disclaimer above, and move on. korea has been a challenge for me and this has been my experience. again, i don't speak for any particular demographic, and this list doesn't apply to every korean...just most of those that i've had the misfortune of encountering this year. every country & people group has it's flaws, and i'll be the first to admit that america sure isn't perfect. actually, i think i've even blogged about that before...

i am interested in hearing from other adoptees or gyopos who have spent some time in korea. maybe you have a similar experience or something you would add to the list...or maybe your time in korea was totally different from mine. what are your thoughts?

after reading this, can you now better understand my love/hate relationship with korea?


jlee_1227 said...

yes, as a korean-adoptee living here in korea for the past 4 and 1/2 consecutive years, i have experienced all of the above. have you found that it does get better though b/c you're learning and speaking more korean (at least with strangers)? i can now usually fly under the radar with my basic korean but it can get old being ... different.

and i get that feeling in the US too. as my chinese-american friend once told me, "when i'm with my chinese friends, i'm never chinese enough. but when i'm with my american friends, i'm always the asian one."

sigh. i've always thought, "why can't you let me be ME? why must you (americans and koreans who do not know me well) press upon me what you THINK i should be because of my face?"

but i know that you (and i) have also had such beautiful moments and experiences here in korea (hence your numerous previous blogs^^) that it takes our breath away. praise GOD for the bitter and the joyful, which makes the GOOD all the more sweet.

Will Knowles said...

After Liz and I's trip to Guatemala, I told her that I didn't think I could move overseas to do the general lack of breakfast-y foods. So, I feel you on number 20.

I think youre allowed one crabby post per a year worth of positive ones... Im glad you filled it with as much sarcasm as possible.

Whitney said...

thank you both for your validating responses. i by no means have the intention of extending this sort of tone beyond this isolated post, but i do think it's important to acknowledge the bad with the good. and i am, by nature, an overly-sarcastic person.

@jlee_1227, your chinese-american friend certainly hit the nail on the head. a perfect way to describe it. i am learning daily more ways to "fly under the radar" and it has certainly helped. you must be amazing at this with 4+ years of experience! :)

Moa said...

Whitney: Ranting is great! Adoptees who've never lived in Korea probly can't imagine what it's like! the FRUSTRATION! XD
I've been lucky (or I'm just ignorant by nature?) but I didn't recognize any of the "speaking English"-problems you've had! Maybe because my first language isn't English, plus I speak Korean to some degree ^^ But I know the feeling of the "is he your brother?"-question. Ouch. Ever happend to get the "You're not Korean? Are you sure?"-question?

Great blog. I'd say it's venting at its best!

Pix said...

Great, great post. So glad that you are honest and not ignoring/hiding the tough stuff. Sorry though, that you had to put up with that.

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