Tuesday, September 11, 2007

International Hub? Yeah, right!


Okay, this is pretty much a rant, so with that said, let me get to it.

I was on my way home this evening and decided to stop to get dinner. I got off the bus and went to the Shanghai Deli. I ordered some dim sum and fried rice, got my food and made my way back to the bus stop.

Now, as I mentioned before, I try to avoid the rush hour and also the times that school is letting out. I truly think middle school kids worldwide just need to be sent away until they mature, kind of like wine.

The good thing about middle school students in Korea is they're easy to identify because of their shiteous uniforms. The middle school kids in Banpo-dong weren't so bad. Believe me, I've seen worse. However, what just got under my skin was a pair who walked past and one shoved the other in my direction. This happened to me also when I was in Berlin when a bunch of white guys did it. I was no less pissed off then either, so don't say I'm anti-Korea. Someone will have to pay me to go back to Berlin 'cause it was shitty.

This is minor but just so irritating to me. What makes you think that you noticing me and how I'm different gives you any right to disturb me? I can understand looking. I can understand talking to your friends about the foreigner. But I don't understand why your ignorance is EVER my problem.
It's just that if I'm minding my own business after a day at work and I just want to go home, relax and eat my Chinese take-out when stuff like this happens it really irks me. If I'm minding my own business I really would appreciate it if you minded yours. I know enough Korean so that I could hurl a few choice words their way, but to even have to go there is irritating.

Now I know this is nothing compared to stuff that can happen in some areas in the States. I also know that being different in places in the States can be more than irritating. It can be downright dangerous or even fatal, so don't come at me with comparisons 'cause I know.

However, I can still talk about what happens to me and feel the anger that comes with it. This is particularly because, yes, I'm well aware of the mess that goes on back home. I'm also aware that when I get home, I'll have to face certain degrees of it there too because the USA is a race-obsessed country. However, this about my commute home in Seoul today and not about comparative analysis on other societies.

What's funny is if you pay attention to the Korean media there are often press releases where the Korean government has decided it wants to be an international hub. This is because they realize they can't compete against China in manufacturing potential, so they've got to corner the market in something, so smart move. You hear the government is taking on some ambitious plan to attract foreign press and investment. However, it never seems like a lot of these plans look to educate its population beyond crappy English instructors, bozo foreigners on Korean TV or stereotypical depictions of foreigners and foreign society. (To those I know on Korean TV, you're all the exception...maybe)

When you have a society where it's pretty much certain that a foreigner is going to be greeted with gawks, stares, finger pointing, giggles, etc. and sometimes behavior that is just plan offensive, forget ever becoming appealing enough that businesses would ever consider relocating their business and employees in your country en masse. Yes, there are exceptions. But even where companies invest sometimes they're driven out due to the market patently rejecting foreign business. Walmart and Carrefour come to mind as two examples.

Now there are other issues:

* a horrible selection of international schools (I know this as I put together a report on it over the summer.)
* a society that is still very much working on the quality of its university level education system (the way Korean professors react to student cheating and, to be blunt, sometimes cheat would have them fired in the West.)
* a new selection of banking laws limiting foreigner's transactions (rather than just targeting the Korean-speaking Chinese that are doing it.)
* a general atmosphere where excuses are made rather than solutions being sought when things go wrong.
* etc.

No, most companies are going to look to Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore or other locations. Most foreigners are also going to skip straight over Korea and visit China or Japan.

Korea is steadily improving, no doubt, but it's little stuff like that which is rarer in other Asian countries that makes it a location that keeps it from being a serious contender with other Asian hubs.

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