Saturday, November 24, 2012

Medical Treatments in Korea

Korea has perhaps an unexpectedly good and efficient healthcare system, with doctors surgeries and hospitals aplenty in the average city.  If you get sick in Korea and you have medical insurance you will receive some of the best quality care going, but there are some strange little oddities that go on from time to time.


I don't know if Korean people are just overly paranoid about their health or they simply want to fully utilise their health cover to the best of their ability, but they do seem to have some seriously over the top treatments at times. 

If you are sick with a cold or a stomach bug and go to the doctors in Korea for some medicine they are likely to put you on a saline drip or at least offer to.  I had never been on one before I came here but I was sort of bullied into it the other day when I had a stomach complaint.  It did cost me a little extra money, although I have to admit I felt about a hundred times better after having it.  I don't know that it was wholly necessary though (maybe the Koreans are on to something though, as I said it did make me feel much better).  My wife does it all the time and because she is a nurse she even does it herself or does it for friends and family for ordinary cold symptoms.  It is all quite normal.

When I sprained my ankle a couple of years ago in Korea, I knew what I had done because it had happened to me before.  Although painful, I refused to go to the doctors because I knew what would happen.  Any, even very minor injury, is often treated by placing unnecessary strapping or casts to the affected area.  At the all-boys high school where I work there are always students hobbling around on casts, wearing neck braces, or have bandages over arms.  At the time of writing I have just taught a class where a student came in looking like he had been in a car crash with a big neck brace.  It turned out that when I asked him what he did, he had just slept strangely and woken up with a sore neck in the morning.

Korean Alternative Therapies

The popular traditional therapies in Korea appear to be some different forms of acupuncture and Chinese medicine.  As a proponent of the scientific method, I have always been sceptical of alternative therapies because, essentially, by being called 'alternative' it means that they are unproven.  This especially relevant to Chinese medicine and acupuncture because they have both been extensively tested and found to be no better than placebo time and time again.  Some ingredients in Chinese medicine have been shown effective but these don't come around very often.

Everybody knows what acupuncture entails but there is an interesting type of acupuncture in Korea called moxibustion.  This involves applying heat to the body with a stick or a burning cone of mugwort.  This is then placed over injuries or pressure points to stimulate and strengthen the blood - although what exactly 'strengthening' the blood does is a bit of a mystery to me.  This technique is often used alongside the more conventional form of acupuncture and the use of round glass jars with the burning mugwort inside is common.  This results in dark circles forming temporarily on the backs of the patients, which many foreigners may have seen in the showers (resembling an attack from a giant octopus) if they use the public baths or go to the gym.

Eating Korean Porridge (죽)

If you are sick, Korean doctors, bosses, and everyone will recommend that you eat porridge.  When I was first in Korea I was a little confused as I thought that meant good old-fashioned oat porridge with a bit of jam and sugar.  In Korea, though, porridge is rice based and is sort of a gloopy, soupy mixture of rice, vegetables, mushrooms, and sometimes meat or fish.  This description doesn't make it sound all that appetising but it is really good, healthy, and easy to digest, and for this reason it makes perfect sense to prescribe it.

Drips in the Streets

One of the iconic sights of Korea, I reckon.  Hospital patients can regularly be seen outside hospitals or even down the local supermarket with a saline drip attached to them, walking around with it.  People even sit outside on a drip and smoke cigarettes.  In my view, if they are sick enough to need a drip they should not be out and about.  The reason that they are walking around with them is that they don't really need them, harping back to the first point I made in this blog post.

The Injection in the Butt

I am sure that anyone living in Korea for an extended period of time or anyone who has been a little sick here would have had the needle in the backside treatment.  I had it done a couple of times when I was very new to Korea and suffering with acute irritable bowel syndrome brought on by eating their bread, which is made with milk (I am lactose intolerant).  Bent over in painful stomach cramps I went to my employer for help in going to a doctor before I started my day's work.  I said it was unlikely that I would be able to work that day.  My boss simply took me to a doctor's surgery where they gave me the injection.  I was then told to have an hours rest and come to work as normal.  It did not make any difference whatsoever.

Korean Pills

Go to a pharmacy in Korea and you will be likely to receive an array of brightly coloured pills for even mild complaints.  It all seems a bit worrying but apparently it is only this way because in Korea they do not combine all the ingredients into one pill and prefer to leave them separate.  In all likelyhood 3 or 4 brightly coloured pills have exactly the same effect as just the normal one or two in our countries. 

The Koreans may well be on to something, however, as numerous studies on the placebo effect have shown that sugar pills with brighter colours tend to make people feel better than a simple colourless pill.  Also, expensive brand pills in supermarkets often have the same result in making people feel better than cheaper brands do, despite there being exactly the same quantities of active ingredient in them.  Maybe they are trying to boost the psychological effects of taking the medicine.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Attitudes to Abortion in Korea

In August this year South Korea's constitutional court upheld a 59 year long ban on having abortions.  South Korea banned abortion in 1953 with exceptions for rape, incest or severe genetic disorders. 

This may come as a surprise for anyone living in Korea who keeps their eyes and ears open. With my close connections in Korea I have known a number of Korean women of varying ages who have had abortions.

This week abortion hit the headlines with a case of an Indian woman in Ireland who was refused an abortion despite being in severe pain from the pregnancy.  She later died of septicemia brought on by an obviously invalid pregnancy.  So are Korean attitudes to abortion similar to those in Ireland, a country which has the same laws against abortion?  The answer is that, strangely, despite the similarity in guidelines, the two countries are poles apart.

Abortions in Korea take place in hospitals and apparently sometimes without anesthetic because hospitals have to register each time they use it, and since abortion is supposed to be illegal they do not want to do this.

The most shocking thing about abortion in Korea, however, appears to be the flippancy and the ease with which it is undertaken, made even more surprising because it is against the law.

UN statistics estimate abortions to run at about 20 per 1000 births in Korea, which is exactly the same as the US (there must be a lot of rape, incest and/or genetic disorders in Korea as abortion is legal in most of the US), but in Korea many abortions go unreported.  I would shudder to think of the actual figures; this is a problem that could be getting out of hand.  The behind closed doors and prudish nature of the Korean people towards sex could also be causing a lack of knowledge in the family planning department.  Fear of family reactions to news of an unwanted pregnancy or a pregnancy before marriage may also push young people to have abortions in secret.

Back in England I had known a few people who had abortions and it literally wreaked havoc to their mental health, causing some level of depression in everyone I had known to have the procedure.  The women I knew who had abortions were guilt-ridden and clearly emotionally damaged by the whole experience.  What I have seen in Korea does not match the consequences of abortion that I saw in England.

The process itself is obviously never an easy experience and as a man, and someone who has not experienced it through a partner, I cannot comment on the procedure itself but I cannot imagine it is pleasant. 

But it is not so much the speed of the physical recovery that is shocking but the mental recovery and the relative ease with which some of the Korean women, and their partners I have heard about, come to their decision.  Sometimes the reasons for their abortions have seemed of mere inconvenience rather than a genuine problem of bringing up the child.

Being a non-religious man and erring slightly liberal in my political opinion, I am actually in favour of pro-choice and not of a ban on abortions generally, but it still troubles me when it looks like such an important decision is taken without too much due care and attention and appears to not overly perturb the person in question.

Of course, it should not be a surprise that Koreans do not follow this law banning abortions.  Korean people are regularly quite selective with the supposed requirements of their government.  Think of traffic laws (as I have said before there must be some), employment laws - such as those requiring Koreans to work no more than 40 hours a week unless they are paid overtime (there is a loophole that says maybe 52 hours but they even exceed that) - and rules on dog meat which Korean Food Sanitary Law states is an illegal food ingredient and the Seoul Metropolitan government categorizes as 'repugnant food'.  All of these rules and regulations are flouted everyday in plain view of anyone who cares to look and not bury their heads in the sand.

It is the social attitude towards it all, though, that is most disturbing of all.  To my eyes it is as clear as day that the value and sanctity of life is not as high here, whether it be human or animal.  This also includes the care and treatment people and non-humans receive during life and not in matters of just life and death.

For another example of this, I needed to not look any further than my own Korean family.  My uncle in-law used to have two Jindo dogs (a famous and traditional Korean breed)  for a number of years.  While they were alive they were rarely if ever let off the short leash that they were tied to outside their house in all weather (it can get seriously cold in Korea in winter).  The younger dog would still get excited when anyone came near, desperate for attention, but for the older dog it did seem that his life had broken him and taken away all of his spirit.  To make a sad story even sadder still, I went to the house for dinner a couple of months ago and the dogs were not there, they had both been sold to the dog meat trade.

Can we seriously think that people would do the same to a pet in the West?  There are obviously cases of abuse but these are among the poor, the uneducated, and the trouble-makers in our societies.  In the case of my uncle in-law and his family they are a perfectly pleasant and nice Korean family in every other respect.  It is clear that this is a cultural attitude and not a case of a few rotten eggs, that's the difference.  A further reason for thinking this way was because of the amount of students I have taught who had dogs in the past but told of how their parents had sold them for dog meat also.

The case of Koreans eating dogs is old hat and to be fair not many people do it anymore, but it has always been the treatment of them that has aggravated me more.  They too often display a callous lack of respect for the animal's life and I believe this also shows in their attitudes towards abortion.

Bring up the issue of dogs around a Korean and they often point to the hypocrisy the West shows towards animals, after all we keep pigs (and other animals) in small pens and kill them, with the average pig life having vastly more suffering than a pet dog in Korea.  They are in a way correct, but whilst logically I must agree, I have a moral intuition that there really is something special about a dog.  We have had a faithful partnership with them for thousands of years and it shows in how we dote on them and vice versa.  It feels like the betrayal of a trusted friends and I feel this guilt on behalf of everyone that does not care about their welfare.

The same argument can be made with abortion.  I recognize, and agree with the views of  people like Peter Singer who draw a comparison between abortions and killing animals for meat.  He says that a cow, for example, will suffer far more than an unborn fetus with a nervous system that is not fully developed.  Therefore, if we are so concerned about a fetus we should be, in fact, more concerned about the cow.  Again, there is great logic in this and perhaps he is 100% right and that it is just because we all merely favour our own species, but I have a niggling sense inside that we should not be so frivolous with the unborn, and abortions, although allowed, should be as a last resort with all the alternatives carefully considered.  This is not the feeling I get from many of the people I have talked to and learned about in Korea, who must for obvious reasons remain anonymous.

Of some of the older Korean women I have knowledge of, some have had multiple abortions and although I have obviously no idea what is going on inside their heads, I don't sense that much remorse in them, at least certainly not on the level that I could see in women in England.

Of course, you could throw the argument on its head by saying that we in the West are too caught up with the issue of the sanctity of human life.  The West has a Christian tradition and even if people are atheists like me, much of our moral intuitions are shaped by almost 2000 years of Christian culture.  Before the Christians, infanticide was a common cultural practice in ancient Greece and Rome, where parents would leave their sometimes only slightly disabled children on hilltops to die of exposure or even throw them off of cliffs.  This wasn't done because they had no heart or moral sense - indeed the Greeks, especially, had a famous and solid grasp of morals that was much ahead of their time - they simply had a different cultural philosophy.

In Christianity, the church ingrained a special value upon human life, even from the moment of conception which puts an extremely high value on all life.  This high value might seem a wonderful thing, but has consequences itself in stopping us from ending lives (even our own) when a high degree of suffering is making life not worth living, and obstructing possible life saving (and life improving) scientific research, such as that done using human stem cells.

Korea does not have a Christian history imprinted on the cultural make up, it has a Confucian tradition which values social harmony and the group.  With this way of thinking, individuals are not necessarily special, it is the group that comes first.  Under this line of thought it is therefore understandable to me how it might be easier for some Korean people to handle abortions with less emotional importance.

There are obviously Korean people and indeed Western people who reject or accept certain parts of their cultures to greater and lesser degrees and this is not applicable to everyone, but the pattern of behaviour cannot go unnoticed.

I am not a fan of Christianity and think we need to move on from it more quickly than we are doing, but it did give us this important sense of value of life, which although needs tweaking a little, is nonetheless quite precious.  Maybe, however, we could do with meeting Korean culture somewhere in the middle and perhaps the guilt experienced by many women from abortion is really quite unnecessary, a hangover from deep lessons of Christian inspired history and while abortion should never be taken lightly it could be thought of a little less gravely than it is currently in the West.

Update: Here are some sources that validate some of the conclusions which may seem to have been made from anecdotal evidence in the article.  These sources would seem to back up my observations.

Below are a number of articles that may validate my point about the casual nature of abortions in Korea.
Below is taken from the above link, an admittedly fairly old study (1996), but does seem to back up what I have noticed.
C. Abortion
In Korean law, an induced abortion, defined as the removing of a fetus before the twenty-eighth week of gestation, is allowed in cases of genetically inherited diseases, transmitted diseases, incest, rape, and those cases that may greatly harm maternal health. However, it has been used as a form of contraception in Korea, and the number of induced abortions runs between 1.5 to 2 million cases annually. There are 600,000 newborns in Korea each year, and the number of abortions is nearly three times the number of deliveries. The total number of abortions in Korea is the second highest in the world. One out of two married women has experienced an abortion. Eighty percent of abortions are done for gender-selection purposes, using an ultrasound scan to ascertain the gender and then selectively abort female fetuses. Those who seek abortions for reasons defined by the law account for only 20 percent of all abortions. Unmarried women have 18.5 percent of the induced abortions; 26.5 percent of these women were between ages 16 and 20. The overwhelming majority of women who had an abortion, 77.9 percent of married women and 71.3 percent of unmarried women, reported satisfaction with the results of the abortion. This reflects, perhaps, the fact that abortion has become commonplace in Korea (PPFK 1996).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is a Clash of Culture Inevitable and Irreconcilable?

From the perspective deep inside the culture of Korea with Korean in-laws it starts to become clearer to me why the East and West do have so many problems in relations.  There are some key differences based on our core values that are simply not compatible with each other.

Let's start with the West and our core values: freedom, equality, and individuality.  There are obviously others like fairness, for example, and even respect is important, it is just not as important and is over-shadowed by the others when push comes to shove.

In the East (focusing on Korea) the core values are contrary to the West: respect and duty.  This is not to say that freedom, equality, and individuality are not at all important but they are superseded by respect and duty.

Everyone, to some degree, is probably aware of these differences but some practical examples are needed to illustrate just how badly these can clash sometimes, and I can give some from personal experience.

In Korea, the old have a duty of care for the young and in return the young have a duty to respect and obey older people's wishes, especially that of family.  As a son in-law I fall into to this family dynamic and I am expected to obey my in-laws when they ask something of me.  Most of the time I accept this duty, not least because often they are not asking for the world and it is better to simply not cause any trouble.  This is not to say, however, that this cannot be tiresome on occasion as even the mundane, like going round for dinner, to a small degree, requires that I abandon my own core principles.

When I arrive, where we go, how I behave, and when I leave are all out of my hands, so that is freedom gone.  Throughout the whole time I have to respect the in-laws also, bowing, respectful language, turning away when I drink, etc.  Equality gone.  Individuality is the only thing that remains but even then I am required to conform, which is certainly not in my nature, so I think we can safely say that is all my core values jettisoned.

If this is beginning to sound like a moan, you maybe right, but honestly I accept most of this from week to week without that much trouble, only if I am tired or in a bit of a bad mood do I become slightly grizzly about it or if I have spent too long in their company.  It is clear that I need to compromise some of my own culture's beliefs in order to make things run smoothly with my wife and her family, so I don't mind too much, especially as my wife's parents are good people, they were merely brought up from the opposite side of the world to me.

Every now and then, however, (perhaps even as little as once a year) a situation comes up that reminds me of the fragile nature of the peace between our cultures.  I can think of a few instances where I have flat-out refused to do what my in-laws require of me, where what they have asked has just tip-toed over the line of what I believe is acceptable.  On a couple of these cases in point, my wife has lied to her parents to avoid conflict, not just little white lies, but some pretty whopping porky pies.  To a Western ear, lying to your parents sounds abhorrent but I have learned that this is common in Korea and what's more I believe this is preferred to honesty by parents themselves if the honesty causes any disruption in the social order or the family dynamic.  Some of the lies my wife has said to her parents have been so transparent they must have known she was lying, and I see this in the culture generally, it really seems as if lying is not that bad a thing to do if it maintains the status quo.

On two other occasions, however, no lie could save the situation.  The first is the situation I shared in the post on 'My Korean Family' where I met her (rather wealthy) uncle for the first time, who invited me for dinner with the rest of the family the next day and then about an hour before the scheduled meeting time informed me, via my wife, that he would like me to pay for all ten people present.  I refused as I had only met them for an hour or two the day before and felt this was stretching my charity to them a little too far.

The other occurred last week after I had just finished dinner at home on a Wednesday night at about 8 o'clock.  My wife received a phone call from her mother, who was drinking (and drunk) with a friend. Her friend decided to phone up her daughter and ask whether they could meet with them with her son in-law, and because they were Korean they dropped everything and joined them at short notice.  This is done more as a way of showing-off just how wonderful your family is, in Korean culture, and as cynical as it sounds, the most probable reason for her friend to call her daughter to meet was to make my mother in-law feel jealous.  These acts are painfully easy to see for what they really are, even if you do not have a great grasp of the language, but my mother in-law took the bait and was indeed jealous.  This was all the motivation she needed to call us over.

Now, there might be times where I would be a willing participant in this little status game to save any aggravation but that night was not one of them.  I was tired, ready to relax, and wanted to get up early for a run, and besides she had given us no notice whatsoever, just 'come now!'  My Western ideals started clapping like thunder inside my head, 'I am not here to be used and commanded by someone else' was my immediate reaction.  However, after a few minutes of seeing my wife looking a bit upset and wondering what on earth she was going to say to her mother, I offered a compromise and that was that I would go out but I did not want to sit in a smoky bar.  We could have gone to one of the many coffee shops around or even met around their house which was close by but that was not acceptable.  We had to meet on exactly her terms because that would show her friend what a dutiful and wonderful daughter and son in-law she had.

While I have some sympathy for my mother in-law in this situation - it is her culture after all - this was grossly unfair on me, and especially unfair on my poor wife who was stuck in the middle.  What should have happened was that she was fine to ask if we wanted to join her but not to demand it and certainly not to be upset with my wife when I did not go.  In my eyes, she was behaving like a dictator and from my point of view and my core values, I cannot respect this and in-fact I actively want to disobey this behaviour simply because it flies in the face of my principles.  From her perspective though, I was not respecting her wishes and not fulfilling my duty as a son in-law and she was probably as offended at my behaviour as I was of hers.  The difference is irreconcilable and the only thing that can be done is to paint over the cracks and forget about it.

Bring these same issues up to societal, country, and regional level and it is easy to see where we have problems in relations.  What we think is important and right, deep down inside, is not only different but opposed and actually clash head on.  I have a deeper understanding than most and I am keen for things to work out well because of my wife but most people do not have this close cultural connection or so much vested interest in a pleasant outcome.  No wonder we have problems in the world.

The important thing to remember, even though these differences are so damaging and cause a fair amount of anger and conflict, is that there is no doubt that my in-laws are good people and no doubt that most Koreans are good people, this goes for Chinese, Japanese, Iranians, Afghans, Russians and all the others we might have troubles with.  Travel teaches you this, most people are great, even if you don't enjoy their culture.  What's more I am good too, and so are the vast majority of people from Western countries also.  Just because we offend each other sometimes does not mean one side is evil and the other righteous.  On the other hand, maybe it is just because of where I was brought up but I genuinely think that Western core principles really are better, but many in the East will of course dispute this.  So we have come full circle again and it could be that there is no solution, we'll all just have to live with it the best we can, like I have to.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Brand Names and Status Games

One of the first observations my mother made of Korean people when she visited me a few weeks ago was that everyone wore such nice shoes, especially the women, but the men also.  A short time later she also noted that many of them had designer handbags, watches, and clothes. 

I suspect the reality of Korea was nothing like what she might have pictured when I first told her I was planning to work there.  I am guessing she would have had visions of Thailand or Vietnam, places where you can see development but also has its lion's share of poverty.

It does appear that everybody has money and is displaying this to everyone else.  It can be difficult to pick out the wealthy from the relatively poor.  It is almost like an arms race but it's not about who has the strongest weapons it's about who has the best brands and most expensive gear.

Status really matters in this part of the world, the Joseon Dynasty was the longest running Confucian empire and ideals of status within society run very deep in this line of thought.  High status used to be based on bloodlines, scholarly accomplishment, battlefield triumphs, or good business acumen, but these days it is increasingly displayed by what people wear and own.

As well as the status element to their culture, Korea also is a group centred culture, which makes fitting in and being accepted by your peers and others even more important than it is in Western culture.  This means if one person has brand name shoes or a designer watch everyone else tends to follow.

You can see the fall-out from all of this by just walking the streets but things become even worse when you are transported into a school.  There seem to be a few must-haves for my high school students; colourful brand name trainers, North Face jackets, and - something I have only recently noticed - big divers-like watches.

If I sound a little out of my depth here in talking about what is fashionable, you would not be wrong.  I have always distanced myself from all this brand name nonsense.  It has always looked like a perfect waste of money to me and it has a divisive and shallowing effect on society generally.

This is how the war of status is played out in the classrooms and streets of Korea with trinkets bought from some of the most over-priced and pretentious department stores you will ever see.  No wonder these places can afford to employ about 2 or 3 members of staff for every section and brand they sell.

I just do not know how Korean people afford all these things.  They work some of the longest hours in the world then flitter all their cash on over-hyped garbage that they simply don't need and won't make them happier.  It is all simply to make themselves either be as good as or better than the next person.  You don't have to be a philosopher to realise this is not a great recipe for living the good life.

So are we in the West so much more enlightened?  Well, when it comes to brand names maybe we do have more people who show disdain for them and because of our culture it may be a little more acceptable to not go along with the crowd.  Many people do, however, still have an obsession with it, indeed we are the originators of it and it is further fuelled by the celebrity obsessed masses.

It has to be said, though, that our status games are fought on a battlefield with slightly different rules.

My country has spawned the slightly cringe-worthy phrase 'Cool Britannia' and I think this sums things up quite nicely, essentially it's saying we are not powerful anymore, but we are at least trendier than everywhere else.  In the UK status is still important for people - it always will be in a social primate species - but it is not necessarily possessions that show-off someone's status it is their levels of confidence, arrogance, and sometimes their disdain for others, in short, how 'cool' they are.

Being 'cool' is how you are socially accepted and how you climb up the tree of status, exactly like the brand name obsession of Korea.  Now, brand names can aid in this, but - conversely to Korea - one biggest aspects is being individual, being crazy, standing out in a crowd or rebelling against 'the system', whatever that is.

While expressing your individuality might seem like a good idea that would breed a healthy unrepressed sort of society, actually the opposite is true.  There will always be the true characters that are genuinely different and that are natural and comfortable with being set apart from everybody else, but the fact is that most people are not like this at all, they only act this way to make others believe that they are.

'Statistics show that the average person doesn't think they are very average at all.'  I have always liked this quote because it really is so true.  This is also a little depressing for people from my culture who want to be different, wild, or crazy, because most just aren't.  So in the 99% of people you see that are acting in a confident, outlandish, or in a maverick kind of manner, most of them are doing just that, acting, and it is not for the benefit of letting their personality run free, it is for everyone else so they can climb that status ladder.  These people are on a par with those that are carrying the Prada bags, Gucci watches, and North Face jackets.

Coming back to Korea, it is not just us Brits that have this disease it has afflicted most of the Western world.  When foreigners display 'the bulldozer effect' - this being a lack of sensitivity in handling touchy cultural situations - it is often directly related to looking good.  One classic way of looking 'cool' is not caring about convention and doing things your way.  Well, if people do that here, many Koreans will be offended, but then again they don't care, right?  Offence is sometimes necessary, especially when there is injustice involved, but this is rarely the motivation behind most issues in Korea involving offence caused by foreigners.

English teachers living in South Korea provide an interesting experiment in status games because almost everyone is in the same boat; they have the same job, the same kind of apartment, and are mostly as unaware as each other of the culture in which they reside. 

Now don't take this the wrong way but I always thought there was just something a little strange about many of the foreigners that come to Korea, some do not appear to be that genuine.  Firstly, I should say that this does not apply to everyone I have met, but still a fair few fit into this bracket.  This could be because they are in a foreign situation with no friends they have known for a long time, so they try too hard to impress.  It could also be exactly because of the equality in jobs and lifestyles that they have to stand out somehow.

Some people who come to Korea to work have problems that are not of their own making as it is always a possibility (in any country) to meet unscrupulous people, but many create their own problems and this has a lot to do with the attitude they display in trying to elevate their status.  Whatever happened to acting humble in a unfamiliar place? 

Some people I have met in Korea have stepped off the plane in Incheon and approached each situation as bold as brass with a confidence and dare I say an arrogance which I could see would upset people, not only here but in any country.  It is like stepping onto a football field having never played before and expecting to be on the same level as professionals.  Everyone deserves respect but when the Western bulldozer comes through it must be hard for some Korean people to show it sometimes.

Finally, if anyone is having problems out there, you should know that status is so important here.  If you accept the position of lower status and swallow your pride it can enable an escape from a variety of sticky situations.  Transcend the brand names and status games in any culture and life usually tastes much sweeter, perhaps even more so in Korea.