Letter from Korea, May 2012.
I feel obliged to offer an apology for a lack of social commentary on life in Korea. Being Irish, I complain all the time, even when things are going well. If you were to sit with me for a relatively short period of time, I would undoubtedly complain about plenty of things I can do nothing about. It’s kind of an old-man syndrome I suppose.
The thing is, complaining about life in Korea doesn’t interest me as much anymore. Well, at least complaining about it on the internet and pointing out all the failings and the misery and normality of living here doesn’t interest me much. I suppose it’s just not productive. It doesn’t make my life any better, and while I’d love to attract the swathes of readers across the waeg readership who are itching for scandal and tales of depravity and inadequacy, I’m pretty to keep to myself these days. You see, it’s not just Irish people who like to complain all the time about things they can do nothing about.
Before I really get started here, there’s plenty to complain about living and working in Korea, believe me. Much like there is to complain about living anywhere else, especially Ireland, but what purpose does it serve other than venting? For starters, there’s not much value in complaining about problems which I brought upon myself.
A while back I felt obliged to write about ten things I dislike about Korea. The things I complained about were trivial things, and it would be easy enough to go on about similar complaints about living anywhere. I also did my best to maintain a perspective where a reader, regardless of where they were from – essentially Korean or foreign – could agree, within reason of course. Maybe I was trolling a little in that post, as I had gone through a fairly gloomy period after realising that a pretty big change in my life had come about (this change was nothing to be gloomy about, but my current situation relating to this change was – does that make sense?).
I won’t lie though; the ten things I wrote about, I do dislike. In fact they make Korea a frustrating place to live for a normal person (I won’t go into what a normal person is right now). But most of us who are here and struggling still persist. We find different ways to vent our frustrations. We might go and drink, we might spend too much time in Itaewon, we might blog. Whatever we might do or actually do, complaining makes us happy.
Take this little piece I’m going to steal from Expat Hell, a wonderful blog that’s well worth reading if you’re a looking for a source of vitriol and hilarity, but also one of the finest and most consistent, uninhibited, and entertaining regale spinners of the expat experience in Korea:
…in the interest of keeping the expat story telling tradition alive, might I suggest the following as first lines for essays to be written and posted on various Korea-centric Korea-blogs in the K-blogosphere (fuck that word!):
1. I met a Korean girl and she’s not like the others.
2. The taxi driver said he knew where Dongdaemun was but…
3. She said we didn’t need to use a condom because she loved me.
4. I can speak a little Korean so I get treated with respect.
5. I told the Immigration officer his country sucked, and then…
6. Real men don’t pay for sex.
7. I’m in my thirties and pretty good looking so Korean women treat me differently.
8. The guy selling his hagwon showed me his books for the last month so I knew there would be no risk.
9. I only take Viagra because I’m testing it for a friend,
10. I try to bargain, so Korean people respect me.
11. I don’t think you really need to learn Korean to live in Korea.
12. People who went to a good university, wear business suits, drive nice cars, or live in desirable neighborhoods can be trusted unequivocally.
13. Loaning money to other expats is a good long term networking strategy.
If my reader is still experiencing writer’s block when it comes time to end your Korea-centric Korea-blog posting, might I suggest the following:
1. Ok the cold, hard truth: I met a Korean girl and she was EXACTLY like the others.
2. The taxi driver knew exactly where Dongdaemun was, but he took me on an hour ride around the city anyway.
3. I wish I had worn a condom (over my whole body).
4. Looking back, I never got treated with respect at all, ever, even one time.
5. In retrospect, telling a Korean Immigration officer that his country blows was a mistake.
6. I’m paying for it now–and loving it.
7. Like I said I’m in my thirties and pretty good looking: and the women disrespect me as much as anyone else.
8. Don’t ever ever ever ever ever buy a hagwon in Korea.
9. Ok, the truth; I’ve got little blue pills falling out of my ears, and my nose, and my rectum.
10. I bargain hard so why don’t Korean people respect me?
11. Ok, I give up–you need to know the fucking language to get anything done.
12. People who went to a good university, wear business suits, drive nice cars, or live in desirable neighborhoods largely got to where they are by lying, cheating and stepping all over other human beings on the way to the top.
13. Loaning money to other expats has broken my spirit and destroyed my life.
(Disclaimer: Number 1 – I met one Korean girl, and she’s my Korean girl and while she might be Korean with all of the stereotypical faults attached, I still love her for everything she is)
Essentially, that’s about the sum total of worthwhile things you can complain about here in Korea that are worth really complaining about. But you see, none of these things are in the slightest bit interesting. Perhaps for you to keep in a private journal to chortle over or shake your head in disgust ten years down the line. Writing about it on the internet though? I honestly don’t think there’s anything worth complaining about here, because if you do any of these things here, it’s your own fucking fault and if you want to make the internet, or better still the Korean blogosphere your own agony aunt column, I would suggest finding a different hobby.
Complaining to the internet just doesn’t serve any function. I know this because sooner or later people just don’t listen and people don’t want anything to do with you. Negativity breeds negativity and after a while the only people who have any interest in you are fellow assholes. There are plenty of bars around Itaewon that are a perfect example of this. But maybe that’s just my problem with blog writing in general, and I speak to myself here as well; blogging gives an online voice to the bar stool moaners, and provides some false sense of authority based around the length of time in Korea, and someone’s ability to string together a few complaints in relatively well written prose.
I know I’m going to bitch and whine about stuff that I can’t do anything about, but to bitch and whine about things that are essentially my fault …. But there are seriously more important things to talk about. But where do I get the authority to blame or praise anything here when I hardly read the newspapers and base a fair amount of my understanding on my wife’s translations? I get by here well enough without have to dig myself into any further pits of negativity built around the support group of over enthusiastic commentors.
I’ve lived here in Korea for long enough to know my problems. I have plenty of them. I could go on for a long time. I have plenty of stories. As a foreigner, waeg, or that abominable term, an expat, this world I exist in isn’t too bad, but then again it’s awful, and I’d drop all to move to the perfect job and living situation somewhere on the Mediteranean coastline (the wine producing side) and recline into some other form of foreigner, waeg, or expat bliss until the world comes up and starts pissing me off in a different kind of way.
I think that there’s just something about living in Korea that we feel this place can be so barbaric, so different, so much against us, that we just need to give out about it. Well, I know that this is bullshit.
Whoever we are, we all have our own problems and bullshit to put up, and listening to more and more people complain, and especially from people who actually don’t have that much to complain about…well I won’t be too cliché with a metaphor…but you can create your comparison here. I call it ‘bollocks’ (but you can also spell it ‘bollox’). Bitch and moan to your friends, but don’t bitch and moan from some rickety high-rocking-horse and expect whatever it is to change. It won’t. If you want something to change, change yourself.