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Inch'on, South Korea

It started out innocently enough. Master and I were driving home from hapkido when he remarked that he was hungry, because he hadn’t eaten breakfast. Idly, I asked why. “My wife,” he said, “sleeping.” I looked at him expectantly. He hadn’t answered my question. “Sleep,” he said, “so, not food making.”
“Well, why didn’t you make breakfast?”
He looked at me like I’d suggested he check out the latest career opportunities with Mary Kay. “No!” he cried, horrified. “Woman is food making!”
“Or, you could do it yourself.”
“I work.”

I looked sideways at him in his ninja suit. The man wears pajamas all day long, and we’ve just spent an hour practicing somersaults and handsprings. “It’s not that hard to fry an egg,” I said. “You can do both.”
“Not Korea man job,” he insisted. “I have wife.” He was about to say more, but he was at least wise enough to sense a tirade coming, so instead he said, “Pass.” That’s our conversational safe word for when cultural differences threaten needless arguments. With one last withering glance meant to transcend language barriers, I reminded myself that it isn’t my job to come over here and impose my own value system on others. Still, it niggles. This isn’t the only instance of sexism here in Korea. In general, I look past it, because I know that I can do anything I want, and usually that’s enough for me. But it’s fairly pervasive in this overwhelmingly patriarchal society. It often feels like women are just about 15 per cent less of a person here. For just a moment there in the van, I forgot what decade I had wandered into.

Actually, that’s been a pretty common theme here. Fads come in and out like the weather, and I can never tell if Korean culture is so trendy that these dated fads are coming back, or are just now getting here. Example: when I first arrived, Korea was going through a serious New Kids on the Block phase. I emphasize serious here, because it’s not like they were enjoying it in a cutesy reminiscent sense, the way I like, say, Guns’n’Roses. No no. Grown men sported NKOTB tee shirts, and the radio stations played New Kids mash-ups. Really. I missed the American NKOTB phase by a couple years, but that still puts Korea about twenty years behind.

Naturally, it follows that there are dozens of boy bands, and some girl bands too, dominating the pop scene. At first, I failed to find the joy in what are essentially the Korean versions of the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls (remember 1998?). But, one of the dubious benefits of teaching is always being clued in to pop culture via the students. After a couple months, I realized I couldn’t fight the K-pop wave, and it was better to just embrace it. As such, I’d like to share this link to a video of my favorite K-pop boy band, 2PM. (Album title: The Hottest Time of the Day.)

Please go watch this. It will bring you immeasurably closer to my experience here.

And man, those boys can dance! One way in which I feel Korean boy bands are superior to the ones we knew is the mandatory rap section in the middle of each song. I find that I’m less offended by Korean hip hop, due to my rudimentary grasp of the lyrics. I’ve even started to understand a little of the magic of Korea’s biggest sex symbol, G-Dragon (really!), which probably means it’s about time to move. If you've got a little time to get lost on youtube, check out Big Bang (G-Dragon’s group), Epik High, and the Wondergirls for starters. I also recommend MC Sniper if you’re feeling a little edgier. Other things just now appearing in Korea: snap bracelets, the Power Rangers, and acid washed jeans. I’m pretty sure I saw pogs the other day, too. I kind of wish I could be here for when they rediscover N’Sync. They’re going to be HUGE! ... Again.

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on November 20, 2009 from Inch'on, South Korea
from the travel blog: I go Korea!
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Hey everyone! In February 2009 I left the Pac Northwest for South Korea to teach English for a year. This is what I'm up to! Keep in touch!

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