Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bowing out.

Sorry dear readers to make you wait an entire week to find out that I'm shucking you. I feel that it's my time to bow out with whatever dignity is left over from all my self-depreciating posts about my adventures in Korea. I have had a wonderful time writing here and hope that it has inspired others to write about their own experiences and opinions. My decision to part ways for the time being is not in any way tied to any animosity or ill-will whatsoever. I've simply written all that I need to write for the time being.

Matthew KC101 korea blog
I've learned a lot about myself and of Korea during my time here. Your comments and viewpoints have helped me understand more about what makes me tick: Korea. For those still wanting to follow what I'm up to, I've got two blogs that might be of interest to you: one focusing on my Korean language studying and the other on my Korean history pursuits.

For those curious, I actually had a list of topics that I wanted to write but never got around to tackling them. For the sake of curiosity, I leave you with my unfinished list. Someone take the torch and blog away.
  • horoscopes / year of the ~ /constitution personality determination
  • (PIFF) Pusan International Film Festival / movie history
  • eccentric male TV hosts and why it's an acceptable deviation of standard gender roles
  • Korean mother-in-laws
  • geographic regions (part series)
  • history of korean innovation
  • 재벌 (monopoly-like corporations)
  • grocery stores (360° shopping carts, locking escalators, soju in juice boxes, insanely nice service)
  • the fine art of haggling
  • cultural and linguistic double standards for Korean adoptees and half-Koreans
  • 교포, 일점오세, 이세, Korean-Americans
  • public transportation (bus, taxi, KTX, subway)
  • gender separation at young age
  • surgical masks when sick / H1N1 hysteria
  • 셀카 (selca)
  • religion and all those red crosses at night
  • losing face/ maintaining your supervisor's face amidst obvious error
  • speaking Korean  vs. not speaking Korean and how it can make you lose the upper hand
  • English education and the culture of being a glorified resource
  • competition between families / Korean mothers
  • Koreans and their history with Japan / 독도 / culture export, import
  • 민족 (korean blood) / nationalism / cultural identity
It amazes me that I never touched upon the curiously self-indulgent self-camera culture as well as the murky and complicated 교포 waters. Oh well. At least I covered the overabundance of pickles. That's always important. Nice job Matthew.

I hope that this simple blog has been fun. So for the last time it seems, I ask you again:

Western food in Korea.

Part Two of Two.

As we looked at last week, pickles are plentiful and Italian food is an embarrassment. Did I already apologize on behalf of Korea? 이탈리아, 죄송합니다.

But this week we're looking at the good stuff. We're looking at what Korea does right.* Depending on how adventurous you are. 

One thing that comes to mind when I think of Western food done right..dare I say it? better than Americans do it is fried chicken. In the states, I'm a fan of spicy chicken tenders. Strips of boneless chicken meat fried and coated with red pepper flakes. Take one of them bad boys and dip it into a cup of warm creamy gravy and you have yourself not only a dangerously meal but you are now suspect to heart failure.

But we're not talking about that type of chicken. We're talking back to the basics. We're talking right-after-church-Southern-style-fried-chicken. Bone. Skin. Crispy. Deep. Fried. Goodness. Koreans do it right and they know it.

Fried chicken comes in the traditional breaded and deep fried fashion in Korea but it also has it's own Korean spin to it. Like many other Korean foods, it can come with the a side (or soaked in) the ubiquitous sauce you either love or hate known as 양념.

Not only that but the chicken doesn't come in sizes such as large, medium and so on. One must order chicken by the animal. A typical order might be half of a chicken - literally. Or a whole chicken. A face on your food? Oh yeah. I mean, it makes sense to do so but it still feels a little weird telling the sweet smiling lady behind the counter "I'd like one whole chicken for dinner. Yes I'm eating alone why do you ask?"

None of that compares to the recent monstrosity that is this little number. A little food stand sells this near my place and I tried it. I then promptly collapsed from fatness overload. Combine a soda with a little bit of fried chicken tender bits on top and throw some 양념 or ketchup and you've got Korea's answer to KFC's famous bowls. All the grease and none of the questionably nutritious vegetables or vegetable by-products like mashed potatoes. Just fried goodness.

KC101 korea food blog chicken
We've taken a look at the good, the bad, and the pickley. I hope you've enjoyed this cuisine cruise. For more on food in Korea, both Western and non-scary, check out ZenKimchi.

Western food in Korea.

Part One of Two. 

Why sweet baby Jesus are there pickles served with everything here?

KC101 blog korea korean pickles pickle food western side dish
It's so unnecessary. For some reason, Korea feels the need to supply Western food with a heaping side of pickles with every meal. I still can't tell if it is for the benefit if foreigners who have this supposed insatiable appetite for salted cucumbers or if it's for Koreans who want an alternative to 김치 during their meal. Either way, it's peculiar.

In addition to the green spectacle served with pizza, spaghetti and other Italian mutations, there exists gut-wrenching excuses for Western food in this land. Granted, fast food and convenience store food is awful no matter which country you live in, but this abomination... is unforgivable.

KC101 blog korea korean western food spaghetti
See, I come from a country where 'real' Italian food is hard enough to come by, but we Americans get by. Although we have Papa John's and Fazzoli's, we acknowledge that it isn't 'real' Italian but it's still tasty food none the less. It's like a delicious copy. But the sinful excuse for Italian food in Korea is shameful. A copy of a copy in every sense of the word, Italian food here has become a shadow of its former self and moreso, a western food monster. Sugar sprinkled garlic bread, marinara sauce with the sweetness of vanilla ice cream and a peculiarly thin cream sauce will raise bot only eyebrows but also the dead.

I won't even get started on Korea's relationship with cheese. It's no bueno.

I confess though that I actually like most cream sauce dishes here. It doesn't leave the heaviness of alfredo sauce but that's probably because it doesn't have alfredo cheese in it. So, if it's lacking in real cheese, why am I paying an arm and a leg for it in the first place?

For example, a heaping serving of delicious 참치김치찌개 (tuna kimchi stew) that comes piping hot with at least four side dishes and a healthy portion of cooked rice will run you 5000원 (less than five bucks USD). Not bad. A freshly cooked healthy meal with plenty of vegetables. Who can argue with that?

How about a artery clogging fake cheese drenched noodle bowl with some pickles on the side? Good thing I paid four times what I should have for that big steaming pile of lies. Italian food - you are expensive and you have bad taste. You're like the Adam Sandler of food.


What a funny thing you have done to the English language, South Korea. You make me laugh. Daily. Hourly. Minute...ly.

But don't get me wrong. I'm not making fun of Korea in the sense that I think my foreign language skills are better. Not sure if you've noticed recently, but my Korean isn't that great. I'm still translating kid books. So yeah, it's fun to laugh at but plenty of my friends get to laugh at my expense daily.

Having said that, Engrish is funny. Some of my favorites: "Don't you tired?", "That test made me hard", and "You will be a stress". Classic. You can't make up comedy like that. Just a cursory google search will yield some awesome results. There is no shortage of goofy Engrish here.

What other native English speakers have posed before, and I agree with, is that Korea overuses English. I'm not saying that people use English too much in the sense of communication but for advertising and such, English is overused and largely misused when the target demographic aren't even native English speakers. Therefore, an advertisement in the Korean language would be seemingly more effective. I suppose it's the status symbol of English in this country that pushes such awful English. What status symbol that is, I don't know but it's some sort of status.
KC101 blog korea korean sign engrish funny english
Still, if they started replacing questionable food titles and hilarious recycling signs with only Korean language explanations, it would make things hard to get around for non-Korean speakers. Make sure that I'm not for the full removal of English; I'm just for the promulgation of coherent English. Otherwise, leave it alone.

All in all, it's all just one big unintentional joke. Some of the best Engrish is found on trivial goods such as casual tee shirts and department stores. It's clearly geared towards a younger audience with disposable income who likely has more of a familiarity with English than the older generation. However, the line between clever marketing and professional incompetence gets blurred all too often leaving foreigners to judge Korea's image on things that Korea would rather not choose.

To put things in perspective (for our own entertainment, of course) I present Matthew: in full Engrish. Imagine me at a subway stop near you. Brace yourself. It's going to get ugly.
KC101 blog korea korean funny engrish sign matthew model
Thus ends my Engrish modeling career.

The Korean language is daunting as it is but it's preferable than poorly edited Engrish. Making mistakes in a conversation is one thing - I would never fault anyone for trying to speak a foreign language, let alone English - but marketing English as some sort of hook is almost insulting. It trivializes the language and makes it the butt of jokes and weakly delivered Korean rap song introductions. Example you say? 쥬얼리 (Jewelry)'s song "Vari2ty" is 30% less sexy just from the introduction. What the hell Baby J? Didn't you live in California for a while? Reason #29 why I hate California.

Ahh geez... It's one of those days again. Look, no offense kind madam, but if you eyeball me one more time I'm going to start stabbing people. Thank you for not staring. It only took you five subway stops to lose interest in my remarkably hairy arm. Thanks. A word of advice? Perhaps next time you see someone with blue eyes you won't look make that 'throw up' face. Deal? No? Fair enough. ** **** yourself.
What? You've never thought this before? It's brutal, sure but try getting stared at 24/7. And to think, mine is a face that is a socially acceptable deviance of what a foreigner 'can' look like (so to say). But who am I kidding? I'm the poster boy for native English education. I can't imagine what others are experiencing here. I know it's not just me.

Where I'm from, it's rude. I'm not saying that it doesn't occur in the States but it's not appropriate social behavior. Regardless of the reason for staring be it an interracial relationship, hyper-obesity, revealing clothing, special needs, a little person, etc - it's just not a nice thing to do. Americans are taught at a young age to put their curiosity aside in order to allow the other person to be treated equal. While not universally obeyed, if any staring occurs, attempts are subtle and try to go unnoticed.

While likely not an isolated event in Korea, it is my understanding that those doing the staring are clueless to it's offending powers. In Korea, some misunderstand it and take it as racist behavior. Looking at it from the racist angle, it's quite uncomfortable and victimizes the person who receives the dagger-like stares. While I'm sure racism exists in some form on every continent, I would suggest to try not to get offended. No matter how tempting it may be to scream "왜 그렇게 보고있어?!?" I urge you to try looking at it from their perspective. It's not out of blood-boiling hatred or radical nationalism. It's out of pure curiosity. *most of the time.
KC101 blog staring subtle korea looking stare
*Okay, not all the time. Sure sometimes, it's because a foreigner is talking too loud on the bus or subway. Hey even if you were speaking Korean you'd get stared at for the volume of your voice. Sometimes it's because you're showing too much skin. Not saying you should wear a turtle neck 24/7 but if your upper body's exposed, eyeballs are drawn to the exposed area like a moth to a flame. Sometimes it's because your clothes are different. Yep. In a world of shiny pants and pink couple shirts for all, your Abercrombie & Fitch clothes might look a little off.

Fair enough, but some of it also stems from ignorance and misinformation of other nationalities.

A common complaint (and one shared by myself) is the situation where razor-like stares are sent when a clearly non-Korean man (like myself) is seen with a Korean female (be it just a friend or significant other). It's not anything new and not anything terribly shocking, either. However, at least a few times a week, it apparently deserves hardcore glaring from anyone curious or old enough on the subway. From a purely superficial skin-deep standpoint, I am in a common-looking international relationship. A white guy with a Korean woman is nothing new to write home about. One would think that people would have quit freaking out about that a hundred and fifty years ago.

Despite the uncomfortableness it may cause the receivers of such random fixed gazes, I submit that most Koreans are staring out of pure curiosity. Come on, one cannot make the claim that Korea is so homogeneous and expect an interracial relationship to be anything but a source for curiosity; especially for the older generation. I have the utmost confidence that Korea will soon find other things more interesting than an insignificant foreigner such as myself smiling at my significant other on the bus.

Solution? Things are-a changing. Slowly, but surely some foreigners get it, too Many have figured out that things aren't the same as back home. However, it is fair to say that many Koreans with international experience have figured out that staring is rude to most westerners. In the meantime, if you find yourself the victim of eyeball glares and analytical squints, just relax and turn up the volume on your iPod. See no evil hear no evil.

Got your eye on some more? Well, more than just Koreans are doing the staring. Apparently, it's an Asian thing. What if you're just minding your own business with a friend of the opposite sex? Sadly, this happens even to platonic friends of opposite gender, too. In closing, in a wicked sense of comedy comes this little tidbit of information: even other Asians get stared at, too. Go figure.

Photo credits: 선현우 and 안효진

Christmas in Korea.

Plainly said, Christmas is a 'friend' holiday instead of a 'family' holiday like it is in America. The opposite can be said about New Years in Korea - it's a 'family' holiday instead of a 'friend' holiday like it is in America. No need to complicate matters. Everything else is completely backwards here so why not Christmas, right?

So in this already insanely commercialized country where even chocolate covered pretzel sticks have their own holiday one would assume that Christmas is just as commercial as it is in America. However, one might be surprised that in a country where Christianity is the majority religion, Christmas is not much more important than any other holiday. One could make the argument that 빼빼로데이 is bigger. One would also get pulverized by either candy canes or 빼빼로 depending who's arguing.

KC101 blog korea korean christmas 산타 할아버지
So what about Saint Nick coming down your chimney? Oh yeah...no chimneys here. Well, what about the lumps of coal in your stocking if you're bad? No stockings over the non-existent fire place...well then surely they kiss under the mistletoe? What do you mean it doesn't grow here? Well it's not Christmas without lights a tree...huh? what's a fire hazard? Coniferous evergreens in short supply you say? For the love... if nothing else, they've heard of A Charlie Brown Christmas, right? No? Good grief.

But have no fear. It is a public holiday so most business will be closed. You'll even see a lively decoration here and there. It also seems that each year is getting more Christmas-y looking. Artificial trees may not be in mass abundance but you can certainly find them. However, gifts under the tree are less in number. One thoughtful gift is much more common than several smaller gifts. Yeah but when I say thoughtful gift we may not be talking about the same thing. An envelope stuffed with cash? Thoughtful gift in Korea. Not rude. Soak that in, stranger.

It makes sense, though. How ethnocentric must I be to expect Korea to celebrate a uniquely Western holiday in the same fashion? Take the good with the bad, I say. At least Korea is safe from harm's way. Christmas time in America is also the time for ear-piercingly bad Christmas music. Someone a whole lot more funny than me has already dissected just how bad it can be (NSFW but funny as all get out).

I joke but of course Father Christmas is in Korea. Take a look. It's a bit different and a bit muted, but it's slowly turning into the over-hyped money-driven holiday that we all know and hate love back in the States. Happy Holidays, y'all.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Korean fashion.

Part Two of Two. Part One can be found here.

I present what's happening in the world of female fashion according to a man with no fashion sense. Remember that this covers mostly the young women and not the older women who are long-deserving of a post of their own. In the meantime, here is a selected representation of the pleasantly attractive but curiously strange world of Korean women fashion.
KC101 blog korean female women woman fashion girl
- Skinny -
As touched upon in the infamous "fat" post, Korea is hurtin for a good ol' American steak. We gots lot of skinny girls in desperate need of some meat. Haven't they ever had an enchilada or two? If skinny is the new black then this place is straight-up darkness. Sneeze hard enough and one of the college girls on the subway might fall over from the force. Please go back for seconds, Korean women. You look nice but at what cost?

- Short Skirts -
This weather-be-damned article of clothing will be worn no matter the temperature. Despite the skinny leg eye candy that short skirts merit, it does make me want to buy them all a blanket. Something about the sea of short skirts in Korea makes me question the whole 'conservative society' image of Korea. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

- Leggings -
Call them stockings, panty hose or leggings but either way they cover a woman's legs and they are everywhere. Something about legs that becomes the focus of Korean fashion. Perhaps it's due the vast ocean of chopstick-looking legs that is found in Seoul. These chopstick wielding young women have money so the clothes manufacturers match the demographic. Enter: leggings for the masses.

- Black -
Leave it to Korean women to find twelve shades of black to wear on any occasion. So much black it's evil. Again with the demographics, Asian skin tones against black are understandably more complementary than a typical (if such a thing exists) Western woman's skin tones. Therefore, black is the new...black? No that's no good. Come on Matthew...something creative. How can I make fun without being insulting....how about a song reference. Hopefully the younger generation will catch it, too. ♫ I see Korean girls and I want them to wear black ♫

- Fabric -
Ever see that space-age golf fabric that dries quickly in the wind and prevents sweat stains? That's pretty common for summer clothes here. It's all scrunchy looking and feels funny. Matter of fact, a lot of the clothes in the summer are very thin. All it takes to understand this is one, balls-hot Korean summer and you will suffocate in your hefty 100% cotton undershirt. I'll wear a scrunchy shirt any day of a Korean summer.

- Little Dogs -
More like an accessory than a real animal, these yipping dogs are 100% worthless. I'm not a dog hater by any means but a dog is measured by it's ability to function like a civilized animal. My measurement is simple: any dog that can't stand still and bark without falling backwards is worthless. Nothing screams "I'm a real catch!" better than a single woman walking a dog the size of a peanut. If a thief broke into your apartment you would rather have a real dog protect you instead of an over-grown rat have a seizure and choke on its own tiny rage. Stop the madness and get a real dog.

- High Heels -
Doesn't matter if you're just going up the street to buy some milk or you're going to class, you're probably wearing heels. What is the deal with heels? Why on earth would you go hiking in those, young madam? Really? You're wearing heels to go up a hill? The goofy thing is that when I ask if someone's feet hurt, they confidently reply "No, these are actually not that bad". Perhaps they never heard of sneakers.

- Layers -
Being skinny has perks, you know. You can pile on the layers of scrawny slips of fabric without looking like a balloon. Sometimes I wonder if some girl really knew how well her ensemble looks and if she planned it that way or just threw it all together. My intuition tells me that when a young woman shops, she recalls what is in her closet and tries to buy things to match them for different ensembles. Nothing wrong with that. Like the zipper-tie in the last post, I have nothing against this. Thumbs up for looking sharp.
- - - - - -

When it's all said and done, Korea is just comparison after comparison for me. Not quite as progressive and out-there as Japan and not exactly as chic as France but certainly more everyday fashionable than America. Ever heard of the phrase "All dressed up and nowhere to go"? That's what comes to mind. I can't help but wonder where all these dolled up women are going to. And then I realize the answer: Nowhere.