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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28 comments:

Whitey said...

Jane, I'm feelin' ya! You had what my fellow American friend and I refer to as "a bad Korea day."

I felt the same about a week ago. Then today I had a good Korea day. Your next good day will come soon. I'm sure you know that; I'm just trying to cheer you up.

Keep up the good writing.

Kanani said...

Well, it's a very stupid thing to do.
They might have done it if you were of the opposite sex, had you been Korean.

But no, you are and will forever be, an object of curiosity, and this group doesn't handle it properly.

So yeah, you got pissed. And I can't blame you. Not after you've busted your ass all day.

On the other hand, next time just stop them cold. Say, "Hello, How are you. What's your name?"

Being teenagers, they'll run away.

Impressions of race run deep in Asian countries. They just do, and I have always shrugged when an American --usually young, white, and a backpacker, has waxed about how beautiful and spiritual Asia is. Each country is different, but I'd have to say that for all the fashionable zen stuff going on, that you also can't overlook that there are definite issues of race, class and gender roles.

ExpatJane said...

Hey Whitey,

Actually, it was a bad Korea commute home.

My day was pretty good and evening has been great. I think writing about it and hitting "publish" just set that anger demon free. I actually managed to write another post on another blog ;)

ExpatJane said...

Kanani,

Race definitely runs deep. I'd say that the other Asian countries I've been too have been better, but there is the undercurrents I've sensed in others too.

Japan is the best 'cause they're just so damn nice. China is AWESOME and the Chinese have so much national pride and self-esteem that they don't care much about comparing themselves to you (at least, that's how I read them.)

Thailand was the other country where I had a bad day once, but I still love the country. But I definitely have an affection for Korea too, in spite of its dumb azz middle school students.

Kanani said...

Good to see you around, Jane. I've missed your energy.

Oh, it's not just race over in the Asian countries, it's gender. True, I could easily be talking about almost any country, but nowhere do I see it as willingly overlooked than with the Asian countries.

All sorts of things people over in SF or West L.A. who surround themselves with zen things don't want to talk about like this pesky habit of female infanticide over in China. That the lady described had twenty six pins put into her from birth tells you that there is a deeply ingrained tendency that now we see as psychotic --at least by western standards.

Anyway, I do wonder where this internationalization in manufacturing is going. Right now, all the jobs we cut out here in the states have really hurt the working class, even those in the tech sector. And look... quality control in those countries isn't what we expect --lead paint on toys, substitutions in medical supplies and drugs.

Back to your middle school spaazzes.... don't let them get you down.

ExpatJane said...

You know what? I don't know why they overlook it 'cause you're right.

Maybe it's the West rolling back its colonialistic tendencies? I mean the society we hail from, Western and highly British/European influenced, has a long history of actually doing the exact opposite.

I see the same thing with a lot of the countries in Africa. We know that female circumcision is wrong. Not only is it wrong, it's brutal psychologically and physically and it sometimes kills.

But the priority has been shifted to cultural appreciation and, in a way, I kind of agree. We think it's bad, but when the people in it get enough they'll change it.

My only issue is in societies where the people "in it", so to speak, are so young or, in the case of gender, are so powerless that even if they were fed up, they'd be unable to change things.

Oh, and, I made a comment about your perspective on medical care a few posts back. Believe me, I'm getting the best medical care being here. I'd be having a much harder time of it back home. Endos back home would rather radiate a thyroid than take the time to treat the disease.

Anonymous said...

hahaha, don't worry that comes with me all the time here in texas. Being I have an interracial daughter who looks latino all the way when she calls me mommy boy do I get stares and such.

But you are right , how can you say you are international when you do not tell your people to open up to different cultures.

are koreans scared that they will be over run with foreigners and eventually be wiped out with all the mixing? They might go all "period" (Jumong, Seodong yo etc.)drama on you girl

lovelypyeha76 said...

That is just plain argh.....

You are right about america though , Vidor Texas has it's sign up with a negative racial slur. I have heard many people tell me of the high level prejudice that goes on in other areas in San Antonio (this being a predominately hispanic community)

Why do they emulate other cultures yet fail to embrace them... I heard on a podcast you mention the singer Jung Ji Hoon (Rain..Bi) and he loves Usher.. Usher , Tyrese as well as other african americans came to korea and how did that go down? This paradigm I don't understand?

Are they only open when it benefits them?

Melonie said...

It's Melonie (lovelypyeha)
Also I meant to ask you Jane , have you ever ran across this site http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/shogun.html and what is your commentary...I found it interesting , but that proverb "wow" , if that is true , that would change alot of the mindsets...lol
I await your comment

ExpatJane said...

Hey Anon in Texas,

They might have a thing about mixing. I mean I know the men make a big deal of it either especially when it's their daughters. But Korean women marry out like gangbusters much moreso than black women.

From that perspective they should have no worries about me seeking my Korean prince charming.

ExpatJane said...

lovelypyeha76,

"Are they only open when it benefits them?"

That's pretty much it.

They're open to diplomacy and aide but now that the time has come for them to give back as they're in the top 15 economies in the world, a lot of the times you'll hear Koreans crying poor.

It's the same thing with culture. B-ball cool, hip-hop cool...anything entertaining, American, and (gasp) even Black.

They'll emulate it but they'll forget in a heartbeat where they took it from. That's not everyone, but it's interesting how they'll take aspects of my culture yet not truly get the depth of how much they're influenced.

Lina said...

I guess wherever we go we are always going to be different only it is not always going to be this obvious. Sorry though that you had such a shitty time in Berlin and this happening to you in Korea.

Jae Young said...

Yeah, middle school kids are crazy everywhere. Tho the thing that I hate in NY is how teenagers feel NO qualms about calling each other NIGGA on the top of their lungs. I mean the majority of them aren't black, read Latino, but honestly. I want to kick them and tell them "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU DO YOU LIKE IT WHEN PEOPLE THINK IT'S OKAY TO CALL MEXICANS WETBACKS? SLUR BAD AND NOT TERM OF AFFECTION"

Of course they also think I don't understand their smack talk in Spanish. Ah, youth.

ExpatJane said...

Lina,

Berlin wasn't THAT bad but it was bad enough that it's not on my list of cities to return to. It was proveribally a backwater town (or felt like it.)

------------

Jae-young,

That's exactly why I talked about how stupid we are back home. There is always some fuckwit who wanders on to the comment section to remind me it's not just Korea. I know this.

It's tough back home. Probably tougher because you want to hold on to your culture but also mix into the US culture and the other subcultures that are dominant. For kids in the inner city, that's what they see as black culture - I'd argue the lowest aspects of black culture because you don't see these kids running to Sunday church, do you?

ExpatJane said...

Melonie (lovelypyeha),

As for the information in the link you provided here, it's interesting. But if life originated on the African continent, then there are going to be traces of African in every single culture and race out there. It's just they're parsing it out in further detail.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm not daft enough to think that I know what it's like to be a minority after my 17 years in Japan, but I do know that looking different from everyone around you can get old pretty fast. I used to be the tallest woman on campus and there was a time when I thought if one more Japanese girl shrieked and put her hand over her mouth when she saw me washing my hands in the restroom, I was going to let her have it. On one or two occasions, it is no big deal. But when you have to cope with it every single day -- all the catcalls, the stares, the whispers, the huddled giggles and 'Wow, get a load of HER' comments -- it really gets under your skin.

Breathe deeply. Smile. Tell yourself that even this will pass away.

melonie said...

well jane I think that would be the funniest thing and such a well slap in the face if that were the case, the one drop rule would apply and well it would become a black planet. But hey what's the fun in non diversity.

It's the challenge of overcoming it that's cool. I wonder what kind of samurai you would be , I think you would probably be the first black female shogun...lol I would definitely come work for you..

ExpatJane said...

Well, first I'm in Korea not Japan and you've got to recognize that while I do adore the Japanese I have adopted some of the Korean prickliness re Korea being compared to it all the time.

This is particularly due to the Japanese occupation which was downright brutal.

I'm on the other side of this. I'm all of figuring out the development of mankind, but I'm not about claiming any race of people. We could go back and say everyone is black, but the fact is, they're not.

I'd rather just see it as we're all human. Now because others view the world through the lens of race and racism I have to go there at times, but it's not my primary way of going through the world.

ExpatJane said...

Hey Mary,

Yeah, I know it will pass. It's just that living in Seoul I don't get it as much. But I've also engineered my life so I just don't deal with it as much.

I moved to Seoul here for school after three years of living in the country where shit like that happens constantly. So I'm VERY sensitive to it and that's exactly why I engineer my life to avoid it.

Those students are VERY sophisticated and didn't blink an eye. Mostly, they were wondering what the hell was I doing there.

It will pass away. I just have to say it's still very annoying when it happens because it's their problem. Not mine.

melonie said...

well said Jane and you are absolutely right , I can't till the day when they look at me and say hey that woman wrote a darn good screenplay and she deserved that academy award and not look at the black woman who wrote that.

we're all human and we all bleed when cut..

I was just kidding about the japanese thing an am aware of the hatred btwn korea and japan..maybe hatred is too strong a word..I just relished the thought that our history in affecting the world's culture stemmed farther than africa.but that is another blog

ExpatJane said...

I dig Japan. It's one of my favorite places to go, but I can't forget how deep in denial they are about the Japanese occupation of Korea. It's very similar to how people in US society tell us to "get over" slavery.

The Japanese still aren't teaching it in schools. At least in the States we beat them on that, but the conventional attitude of pick yourselves up by your bootstraps and get over it wears thin. With the Japanese it's very much it didn't happen.

So I'm very careful of referring to NE Asians in one big swipe. They're very quick to remind you of their differences.

It's a precarious balance. How much and when to focus on race and culture and when to retreat to the we're all human corner.

Mary Witzl said...

Here in Scotland, there is animosity between Catholics and Protestants. Being foreign, I cannot tell the difference between these two groups (nor can most people here -- they do all sorts of sneaky things to try and find out which you are). Most of my Japanese friends who traveled to Korea had to admit that they could hardly tell the difference between Japanese and Koreans just by looking, especially when one race had been in the other's country for any length of time. And yet there is such bad history between these two countries. Quite apart from Japan's brutal occupation of Korea and, as you've pointed out, the tendency of some Japanese to deny or make little of this, there was plenty that went on even before that, such as the widescale massacre of resident Koreans in Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, when thousands of Koreans were murdered under suspicion of looting and poisoning wells.

It never fails to amaze me how even when people look just the same, there are those who are keen to look for differences. Sometimes you really wonder if the human race is going to make it.

Mary Witzl said...

I also meant to tell Melonie that in my experience, hatred isn't too strong a word for how some Koreans feel about the Japanese, and it is not hard to understand why. I traveled around Korea for over a month once and was forced to use Japanese, not speaking much Korean, and most Koreans not having much English. Because most elderly people learned Japanese during the occupation, I got a real earful, and it was just heartbreaking. The hatred is very deep indeed. And what really amazes me is that some Japanese feel hatred for Koreans. You really have to ask yourself why. It is as though if you subjugate a people and mistreat them so badly, you actually begin to feel that they are despicable.

Okay -- off of my soapbox for the time being.

ExpatJane said...

Soapboxes are fun.

I do bristle at the Japan - Korea comparisons 'cause I know just how deeply the Korean people still feel the hurt from the brutality of the Japanese occupation.

In a way, it consoles me because black Americans are still very much wrestling with the wounds from racism (probably because racism hasn't gone anywhere, but underground in most cases.)

Mary Witzl said...

I do love a soapbox. And blogs are great because they spare my poor family...

Racism in America is pretty much underground in a lot of places. People tend to use it a little like a private handshake. They will say things that are just a tiny bit racist and if you don't frown or respond negatively, they take that as a sign that you agree with them and really open up, coming out with more and more of it. I can never figure out which I hate more -- the overt in-your-face racism or the insidious 'I will if you will' stuff.

ExpatJane said...

I'll tell you which one the ""I will if you will" stuff.

Look, I really don't care if someone thinks I'm a bad or inferior person because I was born black. To me that's just such a stupid crock of shit to walk around believing anyway. Anyone who believes it isn't worth my time or energy.

Let me know that you don't like me and you'll get the benefit of me keeping as far as I possibly can from you.

People can be racist if they want. My problem is when they use racism as policy and interfere in my life and the lives of others like me 'cause of their stupid beliefs. Hate me, but leave me and mine the hell alone.

Sure, ideally, they should mend their ways and learn, but I'm past caring. They're welcome to their lives filled with hate.

I just think it's cowardly and sneaky to hide it.

Mary Witzl said...

At least you don't have to waste time with the up-front racists. They're like the cockroaches who come right out and wave their antennae at you rather than hide behind the refrigerator, and all the easier to swat. But up-front racists depress me no end, and I can't help myself: I want to convert them all, up-front and hidden ones alike. This is in my blood: the minute I find one, I want to change them. We are all of us a little bit racist whether we like it or not (I don't mean like George Wallace, I mean in little, subliminal ways that we often don't want to acknowledge) and I feel like reaching out and telling those unabashed, unashamed racists, hidden or overt, that they too can be cured and learn to live good, loving, hate-and-fear-free lives.

Don't worry: I'm old, and I already know how futile a hope that is. But we've all got to have a dream of some kind, and that's one of mine.

Okay, Jane -- I've enjoyed sharing your rant, and now I'll just get back to my rejection letters!

ExpatJane said...

Well, I'd rather waste time with the upfront racists than deal with the undercover ones. Believe me, there are A LOT of them here in Korea.

Enjoy your rejection letters ;)