Recent Blog Posts
Today, Korea commemorates the King Sejong’s (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) promulgation of Hangul in 1446 through the publication of The Proper Sounds to Instruct the People, or Hunminjeongeum (訓民正音, 훈민정음). This blogger has been calling for moderation in Hangul pride, and will continue to do so in his posts on Hangul supremacy and exclusivity. He would also like to point out what is most neglected and under-appreciated today about Hangul: that is, that Hangul was an expression of Neo-Confucian (性理學, 성리학) metaphysics. Indeed, the Hunminjeongeum gives insight on how Korean Neo-Confucian scholars viewed phonetics in the context of metaphysics. References to the Yin and Yang (陰陽, 음양, Eumyang) and the Five Elements (五行, 오행) are strewn throughout the Hunminjeongeum. Another interesting fact is that there are a total of five Classical Chinese poems, summarizing: (1) all the consonants and vowels; (2) the initial consonants; (3) the medial vowels; (4) the final consonants; and (5) how the initial consonant, medial vowel, and final consonant assemble to form a syllable. The following is from the first poem:
The Proper Sounds to Instruct the People
The work of heaven and earth was originally one Ki (氣, 기)
The Ying and Yang and Five Elements are mutually the start and the end.
All things between these two have form and sound.
Originally, they were not two and instead passed through logic and reason.
The proper sounds created letters still in their shapes.
Based on obstacles to sound, a stroke was added each time.
Heaven • earth • possessive marker • change • originally • one • energy
Yin • yang • five • elements • mutually • start • end
Things • locative marker • two • spaces • to have • form • sound
Originally • originally • to have not • two • logic • reason • to pass
Proper • sound • to create • letters • still • their • shape
Because of • sound • possessive marker • obstacles • each time • to add • strokes
- Five elements (五行, 오행) of Neo-Confucian metaphysics were: wood (木, 목), fire (火, 화), earth (土, 토), metal (金, 금), and water (水, 수).
Cheonan Station (Seoul Subway Line 1).
Take Bus 24, 381, 500 to Cheonan Three-way Intersection Park (Cheonan Samgeori Park) (천안삼거리공원).
cheonanfestival.com (Korean, English)
Cheonan Station (Subway Line 1).
Take Bus 310, 383, 391, 512 or 720 to Cheonan Samgeori Park (천안삼거리공원).
This week’s episode of Say What?! Wednesday is related to the last episode about personal space. Last week we talked about personal bubbles, but what happens when that personal bubble is violated? In America, it feels like if people come within two arms length of you they apologize for possibly being in your way. That’s one thing I noticed when I visited America last time, and I was always looking around for someone else they could be apologizing to because it seemed overboard to be apologizing to me!
We’ve been living in Korea for over 3 years, and this is just one of the examples of how much Korea has changed us! Apologies are not given out often or casually here, especially when it comes to violating your personal bubble. Koreans’ personal bubbles are much smaller, simply because of the size of Korea and its population density.
In this video I talk about what expectations to have in regards to receiving apologies from Koreans, and how to manage those expectations. Remember, this isn’t your home country. Adjust and laugh it off!
Korea Gender Cafe: Extended Rebuttal: Inflated Assumption that Sex Workers in Korea Earn “higher than the average Korean”
The Korea Herald: Seoul district eases ban on gay rights banner
SeoulBeats: Roundtable: What’s With Cross-Dressing?
UKBigBang: Hong Seok Cheon Tweets Photo of Him with TOP and Lee Soo Hyuk
BUSAN, South Korea -- Yeah you like the lights and crowds of Seomyeon, but sometimes you want a more mellow, hipper vibe; a place to study, converse, feel apart from the bustle and maze where the green and brown tracks collide. A person could live in Busan for years before finding just such a place: the Jeonpo Cafe District. Minutes away from Seomyeon and directly accessible from Jeonpo Station on the green line, this small area used to be only machine shops and unremarkable stores, but today it is brimming with unique personality. Along the streets of this humble grid you'll find friendly service, trendy decor, and spaces that feel designed for people who want to have a more authentic connection to the city they live in. If one day soon you decide to forgo the chain coffee shops and restaurants, if you’re looking for a place that is uniquely Busan, visit this neighborhood and see for yourself. To get to the main cafe street, walk East from Seomyeon on the street where Zara and Kappa Sushi are located. Here are a few spots to try:
Seoul Kitchen Cafe: Just above Dal, this little haven presents a clean wood and cement aesthetic. It has an impressive quality of well-considered comfort. There's a couple options for vegetarians here too; mushroom and rice bowl with Gingerade set for 11,000 won. Superb.
Dal: Lee and Jay opened Dali five months ago, and created an atmosphere rivaling any in Busan. This bar would be cool in any city. Excellent place to meet your friends or visit as part of a date. Drinks are reasonably priced and not short on alcohol. Visit once and you'll be back.
Cafe Suda: Run by two very friendly women, Min and Jin, Suda cafe is quirky and fun. It's often full in the evening since it is such a comfortable and open space to study or talk with friends. Walking up from Seomyeon, turn left at the Cafe Promenade intersection, walk past Warehouse, and Suda is located on your right.
It’s not all exotic food, beautiful temples, and glitzy K-Pop in the ROK. South Korea is no different than any other nation in the world in this way. It’s made up of people. The broad spectrum of personalities, desires, views on life, and morality is as wide as you’ll find anywhere else.
Most of us are aware of the myriad of volunteering opportunities out there from homeless shelters to orphanages. In Busan, foreigners can look to the Facebook group, Busan Volunteer, for many volunteering opportunities in the city.
This documentary, the Baby Box, is of a different and shocking nature though. At least it was shocking to me.
From the video description by Journeyman Pictures:
In this heart-breaking report, we follow a man who’s dedicated his life to saving South Korea’s unwanted babies. With hundreds of them being abandoned every year, why has the government ordered him to stop?Up to 18 babies a month end up in Pastor Lee’s Baby Box, a box attached to his house for women to leave their unwanted children in. “The babies that come here are the ones who’d otherwise die,” he says. The shame of having a baby out of wedlock leaves many women feeling desperate. But some say the Baby Box encourages mothers to abandon babies without registration, slowing down the adoption process. Pastor Lee’s been ordered to shut down his facility, but remains defiant: “There is nothing illegal about saving someone’s life.”
No matter where you are in this world, you’ll never be far from home. That is, the things that make home a home. You may be traveling abroad to see the bright colors, flashing lights, and to experience a story or two of your survival of Korean’ness. However, keep in mind that the world will still be happening.
There are aspects of life here in Korea that are dark and disconcerting and this video sheds light on one of those aspects. Regardless of where you fall on topics such as spirituality, eternity, morality, Heaven and Hell, it’s clear that this story is about one of the many unfortunate and disheartening aspects of life – the willful surrendering of children by parents. In the case of this short film – disabled children.
I think we can all agree that we could use a lot more people like the man featured in this short documentary. Unfortunately, they look to shut him down. I comment on this documentary and some of the surrounding issues and topics related to orphans and adoption.
Keep these things in mind as you travel to South Korea or other nations around the world. Keep it in mind back home too. See if there is an opportunity to support efforts like the Baby Box in Korea.
As I said, I’ve been back in Korea for a little over a month and a bit. Plenty has happened, including Chuseok, the IAK ceili, a trip to Herself’s grandmother’s farm, walks into and out of work, and a little bit of a trip to a theme park.
Here is a simple photo update of the past 40 odd days. Some have had some editing, others go up in their natural state, so to speak.
All photographs copyright Conor O’Reilly, 2013
I took issue with yet another of Ask a Korean's posts this week (he seems to be good ammunition for the Korea blogosphere at the moment), not so much because I disagreed totally with him but because of what he left out, which was important to say. However, all credit to the guy for coming-up with interesting topics that bring me to his blog because, as I have said before, I am often not motivated to read other people's blogs very much. Check out this post anyway:
I won't re-write what he wrote, but I am going to summarise it by saying that the overall conclusion is that his answer to the question in my title is because of a deep-seated racism and cultural stereotyping which consciously and unconsciously effects people's choices. Actually, I agree that this could be a considerable factor, but there are other things that should not be over-looked. This post will not be a direct response as such because I do not live and have never lived in America and I don't know what it is like there, but some of the things I bring up here will at least have some relevance to the subject.
My expertise is with Korea, so I am going to look at the question from the point of view of living in Korea. Let me first acknowledge, however, that it probably is true that society puts the white man on top of the social status pyramid and because status is a major influence on a woman's taste in a man, this is of course a big element to the whole thing, which is part of what The Korean is talking about. It is not, however, the only reason.
How Well do the Cultures Mix?
I suspect that a very conservative way of looking at women is present in many other Asian countries as well as Korea. In Korea, women are still discriminated against in a variety of ways, so much so that Korea was ranked 108th in global gender equality - much to the disbelief of many Korean men who seem to think that, if anything, they are the ones being hard done by (which always makes me laugh).
With this in mind then, it is pretty easy to see the appeal of a cross-cultural relationship (i.e. to a Western man). A Korean woman can have greater freedoms, not worry about her traditional responsibilities, not be so concerned of a strained relationship with the in-laws (one of the main reasons for divorce in Korea), and maybe able to escape to another country altogether that treats women better and gives them better opportunities. Not to mention the fact that women are generally a little more communicative than men generally, and in Korea especially this means that they are more likely to strike up a conversation with a Western man in the first place, making it more likely they will form a relationship. I have also noticed that Western men seem to be a little bolder in approaching women as well.
If you think of the situation the other way round, however, is there as much appeal for a Western woman to be with a Korean man and indeed for the Korean man to be with the Western woman? This seems a little bit more of a problematic relationship and despite the fact there are many success stories, here are some of the problems I foresee for such couples, which are not insurmountable, but definitely make things more difficult:
* A Western woman is far less likely to be the model daughter in-law for a Korean family and put-up with all the duties that the average Korean family requires (I have had a few responses to my blogs by Western women who married Korean men stating this very problem).
* Korean men are often more conservative in nature and this allows less freedom for a Western woman, who may well value her independence more than your average Korean woman. This could be frustrating for the woman as well as the man.
* A Western woman may be forced to move into a society that gives her less opportunities and less freedom.
* A Korean man could be more intimidated by a perhaps a more independent and outspoken Western woman.
* A Western woman may well be intimidated by a more conservative Korean man.
The fact of a more liberal West and a more conservative East immediately makes a difference in the appeal of an Asian/Western relationship between a man and a woman. I know TheKorean's post was about America, but the cultural element must not have been lost completely and is still relevant. If you are going to say these are all stereotypes not applicable to everyone, then yes, they aren't applicable to everyone, but we need only identify a trend to explain the differences in relationships. If you think that Asian men are generally not more likely to have conservative attitudes (especially if they live in an Asian country), I'd advise you to travel to an Asian country and see for yourself or stop being in denial. Most Korean men I know are far more conservative than I am used to in my own culture. All of them, no, but most of them, yes.
Again the argument also works the other way and that because of a more liberal West, Asian women with a more traditional outlook on life - for better or worse - could well be more appealing as a long-term partner for some Western men.
For these reasons then, I think it is clear to see that the combination of Eastern and Western culture in a relationship between two people does favour the Asian woman with the Western man rather than the other way round.
In Korea, Foreigners are Dangerous and Therefore Attractive
Actually, TheKorean hinted at the cause for this in his post when he talked about the response of many Asian men saying stupid things like, "They are stealing our women."
If you have lived in Korea for any length of time, you will have heard of a few TV shows that got all us foreigner's knickers in a bit of a twist regarding Western men preying on Korean women in Korea and the general distrust of Western men in the news generally. Grave warnings of us evil foreigners using them for one-night stands, having sex, then jettisoning them the next day, as well as the risk of contracting AIDS from us.
In reality, all us foreigners that are interested in Korean women should have thanked MBC and the rest for doing us such a favour and making us all appear significantly more attractive than we actually are. I have been musing for years why my friends that treat women terribly seem to get all the action, while I struggle away being nice and coming-up with diddly-squat. This might come as news for some, but women the world over get a kick out of dating the bad guy. Every time the Korean media say we are dangerous and not to be trusted, us foreign fella's sex appeal goes up just one more notch.
Now, the statistics probably won't show-up one night stands, just marriages and maybe long-term relationships, but that is the beauty of the whole thing for guys like me and other fine, upstanding young gentlemen. I am about as dangerous as a butterfly on ecstasy, but the mystery and danger that immediately surrounds me as a white guy in Korea, makes me much more desirable than back home. When it turns out that us "nice guys" treat our date well and don't use them for sex, abuse them, or give them AIDS, we probably look like the best things since sliced bread. We are dangerous and gentle all at the same time. This was definitely a factor in me meeting my wife and by the time she had figured out how normal and boring I really am, I had already charmed my way into her affections with my "niceness", something which - in my experience - upon first meeting most women, seems to be about as attractive as talking about cricket to them.
It Must be Taken into Consideration
Now, before you shoot me, I am not saying that the following argument is true but I have heard it coming from a few Korean women I know, so I think it is worth addressing. It could simply be that, on average, Western men (White in particular) are just more attractive than Asian guys to more Asian women than Asian men are to white women, and I am not simply talking about the role that popular culture and stereotypes play on our sub-conscious, maybe they just naturally are.
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone denying that Asian men are on-average smaller than White or Black men. So what is naturally attractive for a woman as a mate? Size and strength must be a factor. It sounds almost too stupid and offensive to say, but coincidentally my wife - who is currently living in Australia - had a conversation with her Japanese flatmate yesterday on precisely this topic. They both said they prefer white men because they are usually bigger. Each to their own of course and there will be many Asian women who don't like a bigger man, but this has come up quite regularly in conversation with the Asian women I know.
Of course, what this does also suggest is some hypocrisy and that the image society portrays for the races is relevent because they don't often find themselves attracted to black men. With this in mind then there is most probably an effect on the mind of Asian women by society, stereotypes and racism even when it comes to Asian men, I am certainly not denying it. However, I am going to take at least some of what they say as a genuine preference a bit like people preferring brunettes or blondes. It could simply be that Asian men just aren't as attractive to many women like the ginger-haired are often considered less attractive in the West.
White men also, tend to vary in aspects of their physical appearance in ways Asian men do not. I am not saying any of this makes White men superior, the simple fact is that Asian women may well be attracted to these differences. White Westerners stand-out in the crowd, like brighter feathers on a peacock. Blonde hair, blue or green eyes, white skin, these could all simply amount to White guys being more desirable for many Asian women (no theory should go unexplored when you are grasping for the truth, I refuse to fold to political correctness on this blog). If other animals can be attracted by shows of colour or simply different physical traits, why not humans?
Going the other way, Asian women tend to be quite petit, slimmer and arguably more feminine than their White sisters, which may appeal to all men as well. Certainly there is a general trend for Asians, both male and female to be smaller and slimmer, so what do these traits tend to favour in the looks department, men or women?
So while a form of racism and stereotyping exists that harms an Asian man's chances of bagging a White Western woman, this is certainly not the whole story. Every issue that exists between the races is not solely down to ignorance, prejudice, and discrimination. We must explore all avenues, even if some of those avenues sound like they are being racist themselves. We cannot let the "isms" blind objectivity, which seems to be happening too often lately.
TheKorean seems to like talking about an ocean of different cultural possibilities - when an outsider tries to explain Korean culture - that make it difficult to come to conclusions. Without further research the issue of why there are more Asian women with white men is like the ocean in that it may be difficult to pinpoint one particular reason and it may change for different people, but with an overall trend possibly present somewhere. Why then, when the subject of discrimination or racism and Western culture come into focus does he narrowly forget the ocean analogy and zero-in on one reason for the trends we see in Western society related to Asians. I see a double-standard at work here because if trying to explain the behaviour of Asian people based on culture is difficult, he should acknowledge that it is also difficult to explain Western people this way also.
You can stream Arirang directly from your computer. Enjoy!