Finally, the follow-up to my post "5 Things I Love About Living in Korea." Let's get it!
Before we begin, I must point out that some of the problems I face in this country are either directly or indirectly related to who I am in some way. Let me break it down: I am foreign. I am American. I am Black. I am a woman. But let's begin with something that has nothing to do with any of that...
5. Air Quality
The air quality in South Korea is trash, to put it quite frankly. This is something that I had no idea about before moving here. In recent years the poor air quality has become worse. Many people have their speculation about why, but the most common one I hear is China. Apparently dust and pollution blows from China and pollutes the air in Korea. Though there might be some truth to this, I'm a bit skeptical of those who place total blame on another country. Korea definitely contributes to it's own pollution with motor vehicles, factories, and continuous construction work. During the months of March and April this year, the air got so bad that outdoor classes were banned, and we weren't allowed to open classroom windows. My school nurse also sent out daily reminders to wear proper masks when going outside. Many people could be seen wearing either medical grade masks, or masks with special air filters. Air pollution can cause health issues including, asthma, immune deficiency, respiratory inflammation, and in some cases cancer. Wear yo mask. or die....slowly.
4. Making Friends
Although I have lived here for nearly two years, I can count the number of Korean friends I have on one hand. And when I say "friends" I mean people with whom I would feel comfortable asking for help with a serious problem or those who wold invite me into their home. The best way to know and understand the culture of this country (or any country) is by forming bonds with the people who inhabit it. I have met many Korean people in various settings over the years but many of them come and go. I ask myself why. Sometimes I find myself wanting to spend free-time with friends but when I look at my contact list, there is no one I can ask. This makes me feel like I am doing something wrong. And I am. I fear rejection and being bothersome, so I don't reach out.
As I write this, I realize that there has been a shift in my life this year. Since finding a church home I have met many kind people who have opened their heart to accept me. I'm grateful. Without their love, my feelings of loneliness would've continued. Even at school, I feel more connected to my co-workers than before. For these changes, I am grateful. Quality over quantity.
Ghosting: to end a personal relationship by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. There is a ghosting epidemic on the rise in South Korea. Or maybe its a pandemic. But I can only speak from my experience in this country. So, too many times I've met someone, talked for a brief while via text, only for them to disappear into a black hole. Whaaaa!? This behavior is usually preceded by slow response time and one word answers. How do I know? I caught the ghost bug too *Kanye shrug* I get it. Its just so much easier to discontinue interaction with someone, than to explain why you're no longer interested in perusing a relationship with them. Even though I know this, it doesn't disappoint me any less. Before my last ghost sighting...I decided to try being a mature adult by expressing my feelings. "I don't want to continue this interaction between us. But thank you for your time. I hope it wasn't wasted." I sent that in a message. He messaged back: "I appreciate your sincerity. Honestly, I could see this coming. I hope you find what you're looking for." Wow, refreshing! Even though this guy had been a rare gem during our exchanges, I expected to get cursed out. The expectation of being cursed out, or starting an argument is what I think leads us to ghost in the first place. We would rather save ourselves and our prospective friend, the wasted effort so we sashay...away! If only this message could be translated into Korean and spread about like ultra-fine dust. *le sigh*
2. National Favoritism
Once upon a time there lived three women. These three women came from three different countries to South Korea. One was from America. The other from England. The other from South Africa. When the three of them traveled together, the locals often asked them, "Where are you from?"
"I'm from America," said the American. "I'm from England," said the British. "I'm from South Africa," said the South African.
If you can correctly guess the responses of Korean people to each woman, I will send you ten thousand won from my personal account..
When the American woman spoke, Koreans usually responded with, "Wow. Amazing." Along with a thumbs up. The British woman received a similar response. "Wow. Awesome." The South African woman got this response:
"Oh. Okay!" There was the occasional mention of the late Nelson Mandela but that was about it. I told this story to express something. Koreans seem to show favoritism to foreigners from certain countries, those from African countries seemingly the least favorite. Whites, regardless of their origins, are most favored. Historically, I can understand this, but that doesn't make it justifiable. The interesting thing about these three women is they are all ethnically African. But they can still be perceived differently solely based on their home countries. The first issue is the lie, that all African countries are poor and in desperate need of help from other developed countries. NEWS FLASH: South Africa is a developing country just like any other. The second issue is the belief that each of the three women represent the whole of the countries they come from. They do not. Each woman has her own personality, shaped by her environment. My advice: get to know each women personally, rather than having an expectation of who she is based on the country she came from. And turn off the UNICEF ads; use your high speed internet and research the continent of Africa!
1. Staring and Other Micro-aggressions
Me and the Korean woman at the crosswalk:
Wow. Its as if someone started an unofficial staring contest the minute I walked into Incheon Airport. FIGHT ME THEN!!!! Too many times I have been minding my business and out of the corner of my eye, I notice I'm being watched. *Face-palm* This has went on continuously for the 549 days since I arrived in South Korea. (Yes, I googled it; I'm that serious!!) Staring is rude. Period. I don't care where you live. Also....just why!? Yes, I'm a foreigner. Take a look and move on to your regularly scheduled program. When someone is staring at me I feel the most out of place and unwelcome. They are acknowledging that something about me is different, therefore I stand out. These days I have almost mastered the art of ignoring people when they stare at me. I just simply ignore them. I use my eyes like a camera and leave them out of focus when I am walking. If you happen to see me out and about and I ignore you, that's why. I can't see you. Sorry bro! You might wanna call out my name. LOL. Anyway...another thing that bothers me is riding the bus. I'm usually the last person people wanna sit next to...But the gag is, at least I get to sit alone. I used to be offended by this, but I now I see that it works in my favor. If someone doesn't want to sit by me, its their loss, not mine. Whether its being stared at, or NOT sat next to, I'm learning not to take these things too personally. In the past I may have anticipated ignorance, but I cannot anymore. No matter how much or how little Korean people know about foreigners, first and foremost I am a human being. I will be treated as such. Rant over.
"Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me."