Saturday, May 26, 2012

Morals in Korea

It is easy to travel to new places and become uncomfortable with a culture that is very different to your own.  This happened to me in the first year that I lived in Korea.  These days, I understand much more about what is going on and I can accept, without having my mind blown too greatly, why people are doing what they do and calmly deal with it.  Just recently, however, this greater level of understanding is not helping with some of the moral issues that appear to be continually cropping up, and I'm starting to become a little annoyed about them.

At this juncture, I should add, that as far as my own personal treatment is concerned I have very little to complain about.  It is on the behalf of others that my patience of your average Koreans' moral behaviour is starting to wear pretty thin.  Their moral compass is highly influenced by Confucian group culture, with social cohesion being the greatest ideal.  They have a duty to others and this is expressed in their behaviour.  Sounds great, but this duty doesn't stretch as far and wide as it should. It tends to sit mainly within small groups, such as family, friends, and work colleagues, others can quickly become outside of the group and therefore their moral sphere.

Korean people are amazingly honest, but surprisingly mainly to strangers and not to their own family. In the family setting lying to parents appears to be far more tolerable than being honest with them in a disagreement.  In my experience with my parents in-law, they would much rather be lied to, even if they really knew it was a lie, than face up to the truth that someone in their family wasn't going to do what they wanted.

For an example of this, when I went to Indonesia in the winter it was over Korean New Year, an important time of year.  It was, however, the only time I could go away and I wasn't about to lose the opportunity to travel.  My wife told me that her parents wouldn't allow me to go at Korean New Year. My response to my wife was something along the lines of, 'that's funny because I wasn't asking them, I will go if I want to, simple as that.'  My wife, knowing that I would never back down and her parents demanded their family be together over New Year, concocted a bit of a porky pie and told her parents that I was visiting my family in England.  This they would accept because of the importance of family in Korean culture.

So, I went to Indonesia and all was fine and they didn't even ask about my highly tanned skin on returning (a very odd occurrence for England in January). My guess is they might of half-known that it may have been all an elaborate ruse, but the power of denial is a very strong force in Korea.

The above tale shows essentially some of what is different about or cultural values.  In Korea they value respect and status, and in England people value honesty, fairness, and freedom.  This is a great example of how clashes can happen.  I value freedom and the ability to choose what I want to do and when I want to do it, I am never going to allow someone to not allow me to do something.  My parents in-law value respect and could never allow me to leave the family behind on such an important occasion for my own selfish reasons, it would not be respectful to them as parents.

Because respect, social cohesion, and status within the group is so important perhaps this is why they are so honest among strangers.  If you are going to lose your passport, wallet, or phone, do it in Korea and you will have an excellent chance of getting it back.  When wallets are lost in Korea most people put them in a mail box and then the postman gives it to the police.  The police then find you as everyone has an identity card.

I wonder if this is because everyone is genuinely kind in Korea, or whether it is because of a social duty and stealing, found out or not, would lower a Koreans' status in society as their duty was not performed.  This great concern for how one is perceived within society is also a major factor in the apparent lack of a class system here.

I live in the cheapest apartments in my city and no one there appears to be any different from anyone else and I rarely have any problems.  If I lived in the same kind of area in England, I am sure the 'chav' population would be in such great numbers, that I would be regularly bothered by them in a great number of idiotic ways.

Duty plays a massive role in Korean culture and its effects can be seen on a daily basis.  So many people live out their daily lives doing things they really don't want to do, seeing people they don't want to see, and being nice to people they really don't like.  They are constantly holding back their frustrations and putting a good face on things.  This is something, even though I am quite a patient man, I cannot do for any length of time and I find that although sometimes friends and family in my country can consider me quite aloof and unemotional at times, in Korea, like a bad poker player, I am constantly showing my hand.  If I am bored, tired, angry, upset, amused, or frustrated, despite what I thought previously about my good self-control, it apparently is written all over my face and I do a lousy job of covering it up.  I would hate to play a Korean at poker, they must be awesome at it.

My impatience, and the fact that I am not Korean and somewhat outside the normal sphere of acceptable group behaviour, does get me out of a great many duties and works to my advantage so I am not about to change anything.  I have an awful feeling that many Korean people live their whole lives under the dictatorship of their duties and rarely truly do what they want to do with their lives.  I often feel very sorry for them.  From about the age of 16, when they start high school, they have so many responsibilities (family duties especially) that if they were to go off their family's plan for them and travel, or have their own ideas about business or life in general, they would be scorned for being selfish.

On the surface of things, all is well in Korea and in many respects there seem to be far less problems in society because most people do what they are supposed to do and fall in line.  Underlying this, though, there is a troubling problem.  I am regularly shocked by the heartlessness of Korean people.  I believe this is caused because Koreans have a set way of doing things and duties to perform and anything or anyone that goes outside the normal line of duty is largely ignored or deplored.

Koreans are especially unsympathetic to work colleagues that show a glimmer of individual thinking. I documented this in my first blog, which was more of a rant on my wife's unfair treatment at work.  I am going to comment on a couple of recent incidents that have confirmed what I already thought about Korean culture, that it lacks an ability to empathize with people (and animals) and that because of this the their culture, and the culture of the Far East in general, is ultimately going to be morally inferior to that of the West (not just different, inferior).  Western societies have their problems for sure, but I think people generally care more genuinely because of their ability to empathize with others based on an individual assessment of the world, instead of a group vision of it.

Far Eastern people in general can treat anyone or anything perceived as outside the group or ideal rather shabbily and even brutally sometimes.  This holds true on a small scale like people who don't fit in at work or school, and mistreatment of pets, to rather large scale matters such as major animal rights abuses, the ultimate totalitarian regime in North Korea, and human rights abuses in China. 

I believe that even the crimes of Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin can be explained well through the culture of valuing the group over the individual, encouraging our natural tendency to tribalism.  Many religious people attribute the above to a lack of belief in god, but surely if they were to travel to this part of the world they could understand that there is a massive difference between your average Western atheist and Eastern atheist.  Their values and ways of thinking are completely different (and how can a lack of belief motivate you to do something?).

A Western person values their freedom the most, and a Far Eastern person tends to value their status within the group the most.  An over-simplification this maybe, but it has an effect of explaining an awful lot of the differences between the cultures.

Below:  Portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.  How can such a regime come about?  Are the core values of North and South Koreans so different?  I see worrying similarities between the dictatorship of North Korea and the behaviour of some people, families, and especially many workplaces in South Korea.

I have already mentioned the major isuues involved with this way of thinking.  There are also some smaller things that seem to be a part of everyday life:  Racism is a big problem, and any mixed race children or children from a different race other than Koreans, can have huge difficulties at school as they reside firmly outside the 'pure Korean blood' group and therefore often seem outside of moral consideration.

Domestic violence also appears to be a problem.  Anyone living in my area in Suncheon may well have heard some blood-curdling screams lately coming from a nearby apartment; it turns out that they were from my wife's friend in an apartment over the other side of the street, who had been going through an abusive relationship with her boyfriend.  My first reaction was to call the police for concern for her safety, but thought their next door neighbours might have done it.  My wife said, however, that Koreans always stay out of such matters and the police are rarely concerned and usually just tell the woman to calm down and leave them to it (if they are bothered at all).

Trust me, if you had heard the sound of the scream at 7am on a Sunday, you would have been concerned, but it seemed as if the whole street wasn't.  Recently, because of a few cases of domestic violence turning to murder, police have been encouraged to take these matters a little more seriously.

When we called the police, they showed up and talked to my wife's friend and them left them fairly swiftly, despite the fact her boyfriend was hammered drunk.  Watching from across the street at our own apartment they didn't even go in the apartment and appeared to only speak to her.

Animal cruelty also appears quite widespread here, with various major and minor instances rearing their ugly head from time to time.  A fairly recent incident involved how the Korean government decided to deal with a minor outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the pig population.  They decided to cull over a million pigs in the most disgusting way possible; they tipped them all into pits, on top of each other, and buried them alive (thousands at a time).  I have a video of this below, fast forward to about 2 minutes, and be warned it is painfully disturbing and upsetting.

It is worth mentioning the dog-meat trade also in Korea, which is technically illegal here, but not too many people bat an eye-lid when they see dog meat served in restaurants and when dogs are seen on trucks in tiny cages. 

Most people don't eat dog-meat in Korea, especially the young, but there is not enough collective public outrage against the illegal dog-meat trade, so nothing is done about it.  Many Koreans are still in favour of eating dog-meat will give the argument that pigs are a similar animal in intelligence and we eat them.  This is only a slightly valid argument, as the dogs in Korea are kept in appauling conditions and they tend to have a nasty habit of beating them to death because they rather strangely and cruely think that doing this improves the flavour of the meat. 

One does also worry about a culture that can mistreat a valued and close friend of the human species for thousands of years.  If they can treat our closest animal allies in this way, then there is a slippery slope argument that says this could slide its way down to mistreatment of people too.

There have been two articles on the news lately of dogs been tied to the back of cars and dragged down the street, with one dog dying as a result.  Generally speaking, the treatment of their pets is not up to the standards we in the west would consider acceptable.  If I was in England, I would have reported numerous people to the RSPCA (Royal Society for Protection of Cruelty to Animals), even one of my uncles in-law, whose poor dogs are chained up outside their house with little shelter in all weather and, as far as I can tell, never walked or allowed to explore anything other than the view of the house for their whole life.

It would, of course be wrong of me to suggest that all Koreans don't care about abuses such as this, but it shouldn't be wrong to point out that there is an undercurrent of heartlessness for such instances generally in this part of the world, and although not exclusive to this part of the world, there does appear to be more problems here.

I am obviously not suggesting that all Far Eastern people are bad (I wouldn't have married one if I thought that) and I am also not suggesting that all Western people are good and that we don't have moral issues in our culture.  I cannot help but point out, however, that frank discussions about morals, a tradition of questioning authority, and generally standing up for the vulnerable in society, appear to be making greater strides in Western culture, we have come further and are the world leaders in this department. 

Many of whom stand up for the rights of others are ignored by government, and we do have a disturbing gap between the rich and the poor, and still ignore much of the third world, but moral progress is being made.  I don't see such marked moral progress in the Far East and I am concerned that, because of the fundamentals of their culture, even as they become richer, more highly educated and powerful they will continue to be slightly reticent in defending the rights of others when they exist outside of their community and sometimes even the ones inside it too.

The USA are often scorned by the rest of the world for being a super-power but for all their faults and those of other major Western countries, can we really imagine the world being a better place if the countries of the Far East dominate the world and become super-powers themselves?  At this moment moral standards in South Korea, and the Far East generally, still have a long way to go.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Korean and Japanese Rivalry

Before I came to Korea I had no idea about the rivalry bewteen the Koreans and the Japanese.  This might come as quite a surprise to my readers at home, but the rivalry is as bitter as any country rivalry around the world, and makes some of the small disputes that go on in Europe rather trivial.  There is such a genuine bitterness and hatred going on over here in the Far East, that it regularly surfaces itself and usually in a rather pathetic and petty fashion.

There is the rather continually annoying subject of the argument between the Koreans and the Japanese over the ownership of a (very) small island named Dokdo, located between Korea and Japan, and the bickering about the naming of the East Sea/Sea of Japan.

Korean people get all riled up about these topics and I'm not just talking about politicians, but EVERYONE and the same is true in Japan.  Put a map of the world up in an Elementary school class and all the children will notice that it says Sea of Japan instead of the East sea, even if they can hardly speak a word of English.

They are somehow made to care about an issue that has no influence on their young lives whatsoever.

Foreign teachers and visitors are not even allowed to ignore these issues as upon arrival in Korea at our orientation, the back of our 'Introduction to Korea' books on teaching in Korea were plastered with an article about how Dokdo is rightfully Korea's property and not the Japanese and the historical reasons why.

I am not saying that these matters have no importance at all, but these matters are a political matter between Korean and Japanese governments, and of minor importance.  I say this because an invasion of Dokdo by either side might upset, perhaps two part-time residents of, what is essentially a rock in the sea.  No one lives there.  I have also read articles over the naming of the Sea of Japan/East sea, and this is a matter of name only and not ownership, the words 'Sea of Japan' do not mean that the Japanese own those waters.  So what we are left with is the pedantic argument over a name, plain and simple.

Let me first announce the reality of the fact that every person in the world that isn't Japanese or Korean or a politician does not care about any of this.  To give an idea of the ridiculousness of everyone in a country becoming upset about this issue, we can make a very valid comparison in my own country's affairs, and that's the Falkland Islands.

Does everyone in England really care that much about the current situation in the Falkland islands?

Maybe they care a bit, but not enough to protest in the street, to tell young school children, and to blanket visitors to the British Isles with propaganda about our rightful ownership.  And let's not forget that this is an unfair comparison seeing as some 6000 people live on the Falkland Islands and Dokdo has currently 2 people living on it, but surprise surprise the Korean government want to increase this number (I wonder why?).

In the case of the Sea of Japan/East Sea argument, a name is really of no importance, but in my opinion the Sea of Japan explains a lot more clearly where the sea actually is.  The East sea could be in any number of places, so I think the Sea of Japan should stay.

It sounds like I am being really harsh on the Koreans and with a Korean wife, who feels as strongly as any other Korean in this country about these issues, you might wonder why I am conciously designating myself a place in the doghouse.  I can, however, provide quite a valid explanation for the behaviour of Korea people.

There is quite a long history between Korea and Japan and it is not necessarily a happy one for Koreans.  Korea has been invaded twice by the Japanese, with the most recent still a painful memory that some of the older generation had to live through and suffer. 

I was reminded by my wife when I brought up the subject of Korean people being over-patriotic and insecure about many things to do with their country (especially when it has to do with Japan), that I come from a country that was a coloniser itself, much like the Japanese.  Of the many crimes committed by my fellow countrymen in colonial history, perhaps the one they did not commit was the forced adoption of their culture.  They merely ruled many nations and didn't interfere with their culture that much (some Scottish and Irish people, I know, might take issue with this). 

With some exceptions, maybe, the British were not nearly as dictatorial and destructive of another country's culture as the Japanese were in Korea (perhaps this is why Japan failed to colonise as great a number of countries and failed to hold on to them for as long as they wanted to). 

The Japanese wanted to completely change the Korean way of life, including their language, and were guilty of some horrendous crimes against the Korean people.  Many Japanese politicians have apologised since but much of their behaviour after their comments made Koreans feels their apologies were not sincere.  Many Japanese of high government standing have also stirred things up nicely with other insensitive comments, for example (source, wikipedia):

During the talks between Japan and Korea in 1953, Kubota Kanichiro (久保田貫一郞), one of the Japanese representatives, stated that "Japanese colonial rule was beneficial to Korea...Korea would have been colonized by other countries anyway, which would have led to harsher rules than Japanese rules." This remark is considered by Koreans as the first reckless statement by Japanese politicians on colonial rules on Korea.

In 1997, Abe Shinzo (安倍晋三), an ex-Prime Minister of Japan, stated that "Many so-called victims of comfort women system are liars...prostitution was ordinary behavior in Korea because the country had many brothels."

On May 31, 2003, Aso Taro (麻生太郎), another ex-Prime Minister of Japan, stated that "the change to Japanese name (創氏改名) during Japanese colonial rule was what Koreans wanted."

On October 28, 2003, Ishihara Shintaro (石原愼太郞), Governor of Tokyo stated that "The annexation of Korea and Japan was Koreans' choice...the ones to be blamed are the ancestors of Koreans".

In 2007, Shimomura Hakubun (下村博文), Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japanese government, stated that "The comfort women system existed, but I believe it was because Korean parents sold their daughters at that time."

On March 27, 2010, in the centennial of Japan-Korean annexation, Edano Yukio (枝野幸男), Japanese Minister of State for Government Revitalization, stated that "The invasion and colonization of China and Korea was historically inevitable...since China and Korea could not modernize themselves."

The second and penultimate comment refers to 'Comfort Women', these were Korean women, some of whom are still alive, that were repeatedly sexually abused by Japanese soldiers in the second World War.  Women from all over Asia as well as Korea were forced into sexual slavery for the amusement of the Japanese military. 

These were widely known and highly organised prostitution centres.  Most international media sources quote the number of women used in this way by the Japanese to be of the number of about 200,000.  Many in the Japanese government refuse to accept this number and also state that the Korean comfort women voluntarily participated (I find this slightly hard to believe). 

Koreans are still demanding an official apology from the Japanese government and sufficient compensation for those women who are still alive.  Korea currently have a statue in the image of one such women outside the Japanese embassy and faced towards it, in Seoul, much to the annoyance of the Japanese.  If the 'Comfort Women' system is indeed true, and it is believed by almost every nation except for Japan, then this behaviour during World War II should be apologised for and compensation given, of that there can be no doubt.

With my wife's perspective on the situation, and the history between the two countries, I could easily understand Korea's stubborness with any issues relating to having to cede ground to the Japanese.  The Japanese, not so long ago, tried to obliterate their national identity, and they don't appear to be that sorry about it.  At some point, however, someone is going to have to take the moral high ground and make relations between the two nations a bit more pleasant. 

Stubborness exists on both sides, perhaps more righteously on the Korean side, but Korea could still benefit at looking at situations a little more dispassionately and logically.  There is always constant bickering going on between the two countries, and to foreign eyes it all looks quite petty and pathetic. 

When it comes to Dokdo, Japan could just give it up to Korea to show some humility and acknowledge past mistakes, or even better surely they can just jointly own the island (although duel-ownership of land world-wide never appears to make people happy). 

In the case of the Sea of Japan/East Sea argument, Korea has a logically weak position and should just concede that in name only the sea is better named 'The Sea of Japan'.  It is easier for lay-people to recognise the location of the sea under this name and it is already the most widely used term across all nations.  Korea have to suck up their insecurity and deal with it.

On top of all of the feuding over territory, arguments over history, and names of places, there are other even sillier things that go on and regularly make the news over here in Korea.  Things like a Japanese boycott on flying with Korean Air, regular trade disagreements, the Japanese making Kimchi the wrong way and claiming that they created it, general micky-taking and racism on both sides, and some insensitive television making. 

An incident that brought quite a bit of attention was an exhibition kick boxing match between a Korean woman mixed martial arts champion Lim Soo Jung and three Japanese entertainers, who were all men.  The men were, however, all capable kick boxing practictioners and wore protective clothing while the Korean women didn't, the result can be viewed below (fast forward to about 2.45 and agian at 4.20 for some highlights and make up your own mind):

It is all quite puzzling that such bitterness does not seem to exist in Europe, as of course, at the same time Japan was occupying Korea, Germany was occupying many countries and killing its fair share of Jews.  Maybe I am unaware of it, but Germany appears to be less at odds with the people Nazism oppressed than the Japanese are with Korea.  Is this because the Germans were so much more apologetic or the people of Europe more forgiving?  It could be a combination of both and there should be a lesson to be learned by the Japanese and Koreans, it is possible to be friends again, and it requires both sides to do their bit.  One side has to be genuinely apologetic and make genuine gestures of friendship, and the other has to be willing to forgive and let the past stay in the past.  If only it were that easy.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Asian Stereotypes - Fact or Fiction

Thought I would let everyone know just what I think about the many stereotypes that people have towards Asian people, and particularly those form the Far East, in an effort to dispell some myths and also to confirm which ones do in fact have some truth to them.  My experiences in Korea over the last 3 years or so, and those with my Korean family have served to either expel these many stereotypes that I indeed had myself or to, if not embrace the ones that are true, at least understand them.  I will be brief with some stereotypes that are simple to deal with, but others may take a little more explanation.  So here we go with my take on Asian stereotypes from a Korean perspective:

1. All Far East Asians are Chinese and speak like this -  'Ching Chang Chong'
An easy one to start with.  The three main languages of the Far East are Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.  Only the Chinese sound this way because of a peculiar quirk of their language; usually the same word can mean different things depending on it's intonation, this is why when Chinese people speak it sounds like what they are saying is going up, down, left, right and all over the place.  Korean and Japanese do not have this in their language, and therefore they really sound nothing like Chinese.  In fact, when I came to Korea I was amused to hear Korean children making fun of the Chinese language in much the same way we do.

When I lived in England with my Korean wife, everyone just assumed she was Chinese, and she received the odd 'Ching Chang Chong' comment from morons on the street, and 'Nihow's' from passers-by, much to her annoyance.

2. All Far East Asian People Can Do Martial Arts
This is generally untrue but a larger percentage of the population probably has some experience of doing martial arts compared to... say, my own country, England. 

In Korea, there are many academies for learning the Korean martial arts of Taekwondo, Hapkido, Gumdo, and Judo.  It is also interesting to observe the students in my school doing Gumdo (meaning 'Way of the Sword' descended from Kendo in Japan), outside in good weather and in the gym in bad weather, a very Far East style PE lesson.  Because of this Korean people certainly are more aware of martial arts.

To give you an idea of their competency, however, it is probably akin to how good the average person in England is at French, we learn it at school and we live right next door to them, but most of us can't speak it.  This is what martial arts is like for most Korean people.

3. Asian Women Value Money the Most
This is only really true in Korea, as far as it is true generally around the world, Korean women do not seem overly concerned in relationships with their partner's wealth.  Of course, world-wide, women do certainly think of a rich boyfriend or husband as a significant tick in the box, but it doesn't seem more so here in Korea. 

One thing I would say, however, is that it is more important for families that their daughters marry a man with money.  The reason is that the culture in the Far East does stress that family take care of each other much more and this means paying for parents in old age.  Parents do expect to be given money when they are older by their children, and this goes for their son in-law too.  Therefore is is definitely a welcome bonus for the family that they are wealthy. 

In most of Asia older people can not expect such fair and kindly treatment as they do in my country, so they do rely on their children to provide for them when they are older.  This is especially true of the poorer South East Asian countries and so it is easy to understand why so many of these countries (e.g. Thailand) has a reputation for women that marry for money.  It is not so much that it is important for them, but it can in fact be a matter of life and death for their families, in which case it is easy to see why they do it.  This is not so much the case in the richer countries of Korea and Japan. 

In Korea, especially, ii is uncommon to see relationships between Koreans and foreigners, and in my city, I believe there are only 4 or 5 of these relationships.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, this is because of Korea's general mistrust of foreigners, and a strange tradition of thinking that the purity of Korean blood is important. 

Racial attitudes are actually quite divisive in Korea, and mixed race people, and particularly children at school are not treated very well at all.  For all these reasons families are not keen on having someone from another race come into their family, even if their son or daughter is very open-minded about it all. 

Differences in culture, manners, etiquette, and behaviour can all contribute to a very tricky relationship with families, which is too much for most mixed race couples to handle.  Trust me, it's not easy.

4. Asian Children Are All Geniuses
This is obviously not true, but children in Korea are pushed much harder in their education than in the West.  This may make many of them slightly smarter than average when it comes to book smarts, facts and figures, but more world-wise, confident, and capable they are not.  They also appear to be slightly less mature for their age than children in my country.

5. Asian Children Excel at Playing Musical Instruments
Following on from the previous point, many children do indeed play a musical instrument quite well, and again this is because they are pushed by their parents.  Parents spend an awful lot of money on their children's education in private schools after their normal school days, and these often include music schools for different instruments.  Sometimes students enjoy this 'after-schooling', but their competence in such matters is usually because of forced dedication and not too many children, or in fact adults, have a passion for what they are doing, which makes true genius, individuality, and inspiration a difficult thing to come by in Korea and is the main fault in their education system and culture.

6. All Asians are Studious and Want to Become Doctors.
If you changed the sub-heading to all Asian parents want their children to be studious and become doctors it would be much closer to the truth.  Average Korean parents have a fairly one-track mind about their children, and they not so gently push their children towards what they want them to be (especially if the parents have money already). 

A doctor is about the highest status profession you can achieve in Korea, and the Far East in general, and it is for this reason they encourage their children to be one.  I very much doubt from what I have observed that the principle reason is to help save lives and help people, call me cynical, but that's what I see.

7. Asian People are Strict Parents
When it comes to education parents in Korea are very strict, but in other matters they appear to vary in their firmness with their children along a fairly normal range.  I have seen many examples of overly permissive parenting, and unruly children as a result.

8. Asian People Don't Drive Well
I am sure there are exceptions, but this is absolutely true in Korea and China, they are terrible drivers and are so inconsiderate.  On a trip to Japan, however, I did notice that they were not nearly so bad.  So if I was Japanese, I'm not sure I would be very happy with being lumped in with the Koreans and Chinese as bad drivers.

The Korean driving test also appears to be relatively simple to pass.  I think my wife passed hers with about 6 or 7 hours of driving tuition at most, and was certainly not ready to be on the road when she passed her test.  Being in the passenger seat for the first week or so was a nerve-racking experience.

9. Asian People Have Lots of Relatives
This is untrue, they have the same amount of relatives, the only difference is that they see them all much more frequently than we do in Western countries.  For example, my wife has 3 cousins (I think) and the relationship between them is more like brothers and sisters.  I can't remember the last time I saw my cousin, although I am fairly sure he is a regular reader of my blogs, so 'Hi Rob!' 

10. Asian People Mainly Eat Rice
Yes, they do, and much healthier they are for it.  Typically, rice is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Sounds boring, but there is good variety in their food, they just accompany every meal with rice.  They believe it gives them good energy and helps them feel a nice kind of full, and to be fair I think they are correct on this and I am a big fan of eating lots of rice.

11. They have Poor English Language Skills
This is a tad ironic coming from the English speaking nations, who are notorious for being bad speakers of other languages. 

This one does have some truth to it, and they famously have trouble with 'r's' and 'l's'.  They have this trouble in Korea at least because the character in their alphabet that produces the nearest sounds to this is 'ㄹ' which sometimes sounds like an 'l', sometimes like a 'r', and sometimes sort of in the middle.  This makes it equally difficult to pronounce in Korean for me and I reckon there is probably an equivalent derogatory saying to 'flied lice' that they make fun of English speakers for. 

On top of this, you can observe quite a few amusing spelling mistakes in many situations in Korea.  There are also many strange translations of a great deal of things that you may read and this is because of the vast differences in the languages.  Many teachers in Korea often put their school memos into 'Google Translate' and the translation regularly comes out very strange indeed.  For example, thought I would just copy and paste a random Korean article on a news website into 'Translate', and this is what I got:

'지난해 여덟 살 많은 남편과 결혼한 직장인 황리나(34) 씨는 첫 추석과 설날 당일 시댁에 가지 않았다. 남편은 여동생 둘이 있는 장남인데 시어머니가 “기독교라 차례도 지내지 않는 데다 여동생 가족도 명절 다음 날에 오니, 두 번 걸음 하지 말고 그때 오라”고 했던 것. 그 대신 황씨 부부는 명절 당일 친정을 찾았고, 불교를 믿는 친정 가족과 함께 차례를 지냈다. 그는 “고부갈등을 많이 걱정했는데, 시어머니가 상당히 열려 있고 우리 부부가 워낙 나이가 많아서 그런지 별로 신경을 쓰지 않는다”며 “뒤늦게 독립한 남편 역시 시댁 일에 얽매이지 않고 부부 중심으로 모든 일을 처리하려 한다”고 했다'.

'Last year, eight years older and married her husband hwangrina workers (34) says the first Thanksgiving and New Year's day did not go to his family. He is the eldest sister, mother-in-law that they "do not get along that point, deda gidokgyora sister sludge family holiday the next day, then do not step twice," Come at that. Instead, the feast day of Hwang will speed up the couple visited a Buddhist believer will speed up the ancestral rites with their families. "I was worried a lot of intergenerational conflict, mother-in-law and my husband is very open, so a lot of old grunge does not care much," said "too late, separate laws on her husband without being tied around the couple tries to handle all the work "he said'.

It is easy to understand why they, and I, have difficulty.

12. Asians are Always Taking Pictures on Holiday
In my experience this is absolutely true and my wife is no exception.  She takes pictures of everything and especially food.  She really loves to take pictures of food and when left to her own devises she can take whole photo albums of food that she has eaten on holiday, I don't really understand it.

13. Most Asians Wear Glasses
People in Korea do appear to have more eyesight problems it is true, and the style that tends to suit their faces are these thick style glasses, so it is quite noticable. 

I have done some research and apparently there are a few explanations for this phenomenon; some say Asian people have a greater genetic disposition to getting myopia, others say that children do more reading and close up tasks from a young age in Asia which also contributes towards myopia, and some have even claimed that because Asian children spend more time at home and studying that their eyes adapt to only short distances, again increasing the instances of myopia.  It is argued that if they spent more time outside, then they would not be so prone to developing bad eyesight.

14. They Dress Strangely
Only the Japanese and K-Pop music stars in Korea.  Generally, the Korean style is not too bad, although the guys bring skinny jeans to a whole new level.

15. The Men are All Mysogynists
There is some truth to this claim in Korea.  As I mentioned in my previous blog on Korean couples, some men (particularly the older ones) don't see adultery as an especially serious crime.  There is also a certain amount of inequality in the workplace and in everyday life in general.  In my school it is always the female teachers who clean up or make cups of coffee or tea while the men sit around making horrible noises. 

Because of their Confucian origins, it is the men that are still thought of more highly in life generally, and many Korean men are against this changing.

16. They are Hard Working
Absolutely.  I came across an answer on 'Yahoo' the other day about why Asian people seem to be all hard-working, and the answerer ridiculously accused the questioner of being racist.  Well, I can tell you that they do tend to work very hard indeed, which of course has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with the culture in this part of the world.  If you are a Korean employed in Korea, don't expect to work your contract hours (in fact don't expect a contract), don't expect any vacation days, sick days, or many Saturdays off work.

17. Asians are not Fat.
Obviously, there are exceptions, but this does appear so.  In Korea, obesity in the population is increasing, largely due to the popularity of Western fast food with the young, and the perpensity to spend all day in PC rooms.  Generally, though, genuinely fat people are still pretty difficult to find.  Again, this is not because of race, but because of culture.  Korean people eat better food, and have a better attitude to health than people in the West. 

Their society also does not tolerate people that are overweight, sometimes to the point of bullying, which is not good, but they don't accept the nonsense excuses for obesity that western countries accept. 

Also, it is harder for Koreans to get away with being a little chubby, women especially.  White and black girls that are overweight can sometimes pull off a curvaceous, voluptuous look that can often look quite attractive to some people.  In Asian women, however, this kind of look appears to never actually occur.  Sounds horrible, I know, but Asian people think that women have to be slim to be attractive, and I think I agree.  Big Asian women never look good.

Stereotypes that Asian People have of us in the West

1. Western People are Selfish
This is because we appear to always talk about ourselves and it is important that we are treated fairly in any given situation.  We talk about 'my rights', and we make decisions because of how we feel personally about matters. 

Fairness and personal rights are not values in Korea, I will put it as plainly as this.  If you think fairness is a universal moral value you'd be wrong.  If you are unhappy with how a situation is unfolding in Korea and say, 'well it's just not fair', you will probably not receive a sympathetic response. 

If I can drill home a very different aspect to our cultures it is this; it is the group that matters to people in the Far East, it is the individual in the West.  If someone is being treated badly, but this treatment may benefit the particular group they are in, they have to suck it up.  They are thinking too much about themselves and they are perceived as being selfish. 

My wife often gets accused of being too 'Western' at her hospital when she voices even a moderate complaint about her working conditions (which are diabolical). 

It is so easy to see where China's roots of human right abuses have originated, and how North Korea even exists when the culture of the Far East doesn't believe in individual rights and fairness, let alone standing up for them. 

Things do, of course, change and it is possible to see many Korean people protesting these days, but it is curious to see what they protest about.  They normally protest about patriotic issues to do with their country, trade agreements, Japanese abuses in the past, names of seas, the ownership of rocks in the middle of the sea, etc.  They rarely protest about inequalities in their own country, and personal freedoms and rights. 

This is the very reason why foreigners in Korea don't care about Korea and Japan fighting over the name of a sea or who owns a small island.  To us this is petty and small-minded stuff, matters which western countries do argue with each other about for sure, but which the average member of the public frankly couldn't give a damn about.  Such arguments between countries are valid, but why should every person in the country care about it?  In Korea, pro-Dokdo (the rock in the sea), and the naming of the East Sea/Sea of Japan argument, propaganda are circulated to everyone, including foreigners living in Korea and children in schools.  It is ridiculous to do this with children, and completely pointless to inform foreigners about it.

One advantage of being a little selfish and thinking individually is that you can put yourself in someone elses shoes and this can encourage empathy, sympathy, and understanding. 

It can be quite shocking to witness just how heartless Korean people can be sometimes.  If someone is tired, sick, or simply struggling in their job, for example, help is rarely given, and in fact the knives come out ready to cut the weak link from the chain.  Again, this is a factor in human rights abuses, and mistreatment of animals in the Far East, which is quite widespread across all the Far East nations. 

There are increasing amounts of enlightened individuals from these countries that fight for human and non-human animal's rights, but they are still in the minority here.  People outside the cultural group can be thought of as being slightly less than human and therefore this is how people can carry out human rights abuses.  Animals are not even in the same species, so they get it even worse. 

Every country has tribalism, but the culture here magnifies it.  On a smaller level many Korean people have no thought for others when they are walking on the street, smoking, driving, and parking, and generally they are fairly thoughtless about the comfort and needs of others that are not in a certain group, e.g. family, friends, or work colleagues.  This has the result of most Korean people being just as selfish as that of Western people but in a different way.

2. White People are Attractive
Koreans have the highest number of plastic surgeries in the world (3.8% of all plastic surgeries conducted in the world), which is amazing for such a small nation.  Most of these surgeries are on their eyes and noses, with the main purpose that they appear a little more like those of white people.  They also use whiteners in their skin cosmetics and moisturisers, wear white make-up, and protect their faces and bodies from the sun at all times in order not to tan. 

They admire the white person look.  I am not in much of a position to comment on Korean men's appearance, but the women need not worry as the majority are far more pleasing on the eye than the women in my country.

3. Western White People are Racist.
This is highly ironic, when you consider that Korean people are amoung the most racist people I have ever known.  I think they get this impression from history, movie culture, and simpy that we have more interaction between races and therefore more problems. 

In reality, people in the West are now very guarded about any comment or action that could be deemed racist.  Korean people don't have this, and can display a shocking level of racism sometimes, especially towards black people.  Their form of racism is more subtle, however, and resides inside their heads and when it does show it is maybe a little less in your face than in Western countries, and therefore less noticeable.

4. Western People Smell
When I first arrived in Korea, I was told that some Korean people will hold their finger under their noses when they pass a foreigner in their country.  I haven't seen this  (maybe I am not too bad), but my wife informs me that a lot of foreigners have a 'western smell' of body odour. 

It is true that I don't think I have ever smelt BO on a Korean, and they never use deodorant either.  It can be purchased in the shops here, but at severely inflated prices as no one uses it.  Instead of BO, Koreans make up for it by smelling strongly of garlic and soju, which they consume in large quantities.

5. Every Non-Asian Face is an American
Talked about in a previous blog.

6. We are all unhealthy
They tend to assume that all we eat is pizza, burgers, and chips, and that any health condition we have, whether it be bad skin, the odd cold, or sickness, is caused by us all eating bad food and not exercising.  There may be some truth to this in some people, but this doesn't hold true for many, including me.

7.  We are All Work-Shy
This harps back to point 1, in that they connect laziness and selfishness.  Many think that foreign teachers stick rigidly to their contracts in order to avoid doing work.  I have known many fellow teachers to slightly abuse their allocation of sick days, but generally we stick to contracts in order not to be treated unfairly by our bosses, and not because we are lazy.  And being treated unfairly by your boss can be quite a common-place practice in Korea.