Tuesday, March 3, 2009

도장 Discovery

My departure is imminent and I'm goofing off. NOW I want to read other K-blogs ;)

Actually, that's not fair to me. I was looking into the process of getting a 도장, dojang, at the last minute. A dojang is the official and legally binding Korean stamp that Koreans use for official documents. Someone suggested I get one today, so I was seeing what info was out there on the net about them to see if the process of getting one is worth it for me. (Probably not, BTW.)

What I found was Surviving Korea, a blog written by a Filipina who is married to a Korean, and her post on registering a dojang at the local district office. It was great to find and, honestly, a pleasure to read because it was minus the whine-quotient you find on so many expat blogs from people from the West. Yes, I know, I've had my bitchtastic "hatin' on Korea" moments too. However, I have tried to keep that to a minimum or, at least, balance it out by blogging about the good or fun stuff that happens here too. There is some really practical survivor advice out there. One of the first friends I made in Korea was a young Filipina who'd met and married a Korean man. We've grown apart because she's still in Yeosu, which is a small city down in Jeollanamdo, and I've been gradually migrating north to Seoul as a huge number of people seem to do in South Korea.

Anyway, it occurred to me reading her blog and seeing what she's writing about is that there are at least three strains of K-bloggers out there: the Koreans, the English-speaking expats and, at least, one more, the immigrant housewives. Yes, I know there are definitely other types too, but these are the types I'm most likely to trip over.

These wives come from mostly Asian countries like the Philippines, Vietnam and China. However, of course, they have their own networks, tricks and survival tips. It was there that I got enough info on a dojang that I decided, eh, screw it. It's different when you're married to a Korean I'm sure.

I don't have the time right now, but I'm going take the time to find a few more and link to them. I'm sure they've got some interesting stories and probably very practical advice.

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  1. I recently moved to Seoul because I married a Korean-American and he had a job opportunity here. I am trying to be open-minded but the standard of living is so much lower here in many ways. They have very little organic food. I miss Whole Foods and Bloomingdales.

    Did you honestly like living here? I still can't understand why foreign women would choose to live here. I want to go back to Dc or Cali so bad. I am so envious you are leaving!

    I try not to be negative and focus on the good... like being able to afford weekly facials, a maid, and being able to go to jimjilbangs... but these things just aren't enough for me. Were you really happy here? How did you meet like-minded friends (not loser drunkards that seem to comprise most of the foreign population here)?

    In any event, I love your blog. You seem like a very interesting person and I wish you well back in the States.

  2. The standard of living IS lower (or maybe it's better to say "different"). It's not the USA and it will never be the USA. Maybe it's that you're here under different circumstances, you're here because you married to someone who is ethnically Korean. However, I'm here because I wanted to live in a foreign culture and in a different world. I had to adjust and adjusting is part of the expatriate experience. This country is developed in some ways that are similar. It unfortunately has the USA's materialism and consumerism but that's the case for other countries and cultures too. However, it is developing in other ways.

    Economically, it's impressive the strides they've made in such a short time. You have to learn that history, I doubt you know it. But the one thing I noticed was with seemed to be a 1950s-level mentality here. I think that's true to a certain extend. Granted, I wasn't around in the 50s, but that's how it feels with the corporate masses, the identical business suits, the uniformed bank tellers and hospital nurses with the same uniforms. It feels very retro in some ways.

    There are ~some~ organic foods here, but, yeah, not like back home. For sure. I've had to adjust and my weight has suffered as result. Between Koreans not recognizing that headphones, someone in exercise clothes means they're not hanging out to talk when they're in the gym and just crappy gyms, I've gained, at least, two sizes. Not cool. That comes into stark focus now since I'm packing things up. However, what I've noticed is I go right back to old habits when I'm in the States.

    Medical care rocks but public awareness of how to deal with disease is much worse. I've been taken care of but certain products like sugar-free drinks and yogurts never caught on during my time here. That to me is funny considering the obsession with being rail thin here. Marketing pretty much sucks here because they've tried with sugar free lemon-lime drinks (but never with yogurt, I just started making my own.)

    I've never had the perspective that my point of view holds for every other woman. Also, I think, it is better for single men living here. I had my reasons to stay, but the key one is personal. Once that decision was made and I knew I was going to be here longer than my intended couple of years, my attitude had to change. When that reason didn't work out it was a hard adjustment but I threw myself into that society I found and I was also in school. I think I would have slashed my wrists being in the company of drunk and pissed off English teachers. Plus, realize, I had jobs that gave me five months paid vacation. Those first few years, I wasn't here during my time off. I was traveling.

    I've written and complained about the losers who are here too. I don't bother with them. There are other strains of expatriate society here. When I shifted class, things got better. Yes, I mean class, which is usually tied to their function here: English teacher, business person, diplomat, etc.

    You've yet to find them. For your sake, I hate to say but the kyopo (Korean-Americans, Korean-Canadians) etc, are a rare sight in those circles.

    I think you've got to adjust to where you are and it sounds like you're trying but you've not. If you're constantly doing comparisons, and I had that phase when I was here, you're almost certain to not like it.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment. You reminded me how lucky I am to experience immersion in a very different culture. I admire and respect people who come here and accomplish that.

    The thing is, these people get to leave eventually. If I was going to be here for 3 years or so, or even 5, I would be thrilled and excited to experience everything I am experiencing. For me, I must live here for 15 years or so. So it is hard to appreciate the things I like when I know I am stuck here without the option to return to the States. :(

    I do like Korean healthcare, hospitality, food, customs/culture, and so on. I really do. I love ondol floors and jimjilbangs. This is the type of place I would love to VISIT. tehehe

    It is just difficult to go from a professional, independant woman- the one everyone came to for everything- to one that cannot even speak or understand anything. I no longer even drive. It's like my slate has been washed clean and everything I knew (ability to read/speak, friends, family, sense of humor, ability to charm, politeness, smalltalk, brands, stores, names of ingredients, etc) has been taken away from me and I am like an infant.

    I can only speak to my husband; my inlaws only speak Korean. Days or weeks can go by before I see another caucasian (unless I go to Itaewon). The other day I used a fork and it actually felt weird (this lets you know how korean my life is now).

    Other than your awesome professor position (5 months!) did you make friends through any other outlet? Are you able to speak survival Korean or better?

    You seemed to have a good time here because of your career/class. I guess you found your niche, which I have yet to do. The thing is, where does a 31 yr old non-Korean western woman fit in here? I don't fit in with the english teachers, russian models (tehehe), or korean american wives. There isn't a group for me here. I would love to meet some western spouses here but they seem to be a lot older than me.

    Btw, I am totally with you on the sugar-free thing. Everything is too sweet here. Ick. If my fridge was bigger, I would make my own stuff too.

    Very jealous,

    Crystal Kim (Wible) under the DC facebook network

  4. I'm going to break this down bluntly. Don't take it the wrong way. I'm tired. I'm stressed and I'm now paying the price for waiting until the last minute to sort through my stuff.

    However, you've got it better than a lot of teachers because you're married to a Korean. You're here on a spouse visa and, therefore, you've actually got more freedom than most foreigners but you're complaining. You can work with a spouse visa I believe too.

    No one is going to come and knock on your door. It sounds like you're right here in Seoul, for goodness sake, find people. I started out in a small town with very few foreigners, and I enjoyed my first year here because I traveled, socialized and I also took hapkido, 합기도. I chose to not take 합기도 up again when I moved away, but I still know the basics and might take it back up when I get home.

    Take Korean lessons and meet people. Tons of lessons, including free ones at the Korea Foundation.

    There are all sorts of networks of people. Korea4Expats.com has links to things going on. I know that site is listed on my sidebar because I helped get it up and running a couple of years ago.

    There are maybe two or three active women's organizations that have a lot of spouses in them as well as working women. I never joined. I was too busy and it's really not my demographic as I'm single and I also wasn't here as a corporate worker or corporate spouse. Maybe you can meet people and start working or even volunteering. There are places like animal shelters and orphanages that I'm sure wouldn't mind a helping hand. I know I volunteered at an orphanage a few years ago when I lived about 90 minutes south of Seoul.

    I don't get it. If I had the luxury of all sorts of free time and didn't have to work, the last thing I would be doing is complaining. I'd be exploring the city, getting lost, trying the language (even if you don't take lessons you ought to be able to read Korean - it takes a day to master the alphabet). I got a driver's license the first year I was here and little car too. I drove until I moved to Seoul simply because the mass transit was good enough. I was in school, felt no need to pay for a parking space when all I did was go across town to class and socialize with friends.

    You're so focused on what you can't do and what you don't see that you're really not seeing the massive plus of being in your situation.

    Hell, if you've got all that free time, I'm completely behind. You can come tomorrow and help me keep packing and throwing stuff out ;)

  5. Hello Crystal! I hope you are doing well. I have a curious question? Since you're in Seoul, have you tried making friends with Koreans?

    In my case, I went to a language exchange website and made friends with a Korean person who wanted to learn Spanish. I was still living in the U.S. at the time and wanted to exchanage my Spanish for her Korean. Months later I ended up in South Korea (long story) and my Korean friend offered to show me around Seoul. The next thing I knew, she wanted to introduce me to her friends who were also learning Spanish. Things just snowballed from there. Now my Saturdays are so packed that it's not even funny!

    As Expat Jane said, you have to make the first step. The ironic thing is that I am painfully shy, but I had to make some kind of effort and it just happened to be easier for me to do that over the internet. Now I have a group of Korean friends that I like to hang out with on Saturdays. Knowing that there are people out there who are willing to make friends with "foreigners" has given me the confidence to go out and make small talk with other Koreans.

    Talk to the shop owners and ask them about the weather! Speak to the ajummas who sell food near the train stations! You'll never know unless you get out there! Once a Korean person lets you into his or her circle, things will get interesting!

  6. Gotta agree with Junita. (Thanks for hitting an angle I completely forgot to touc.) ;)

    You're married to a Korean-American man, you're in Korea, maybe make friends with Koreans. When I was at Ewha my Korean classmates were great. Most of that time I avoided ALL Westerners. Some of my Ewha classmates will be friends for life.

  7. Hi Crystal,

    Are you going to try to learn Korean at all?

    I am an English teacher who has been in Korea for over three and a half years now (well, I came and left a couple times but have been here for that amount of time in total).

    When I first came here, I lived in a small town with only 5 other foreigners, and only one of whom who seemed sane. It kind of forced me to learn the language a bit, which helped out, and I made a very good Korean friend which REALLY helped. I agree that Korean friends are key to living happily in Korea.

    I later moved to Seoul where I studied Korean in a formal situation. I also happened to meet my Korean boyfriend who can't speak English (the current reason why I have not left Korea yet). Now that I speak the language decently I feel a lot more comfortable and confident than when I first came. I think that learning Korean is the other key to living happily in Korea. To me not knowing a language is like being stripped of all your power.
    So starting by learning the language is my recommendation. You do not have a job right now, right? That is perfect for studying

    Finally, you seem very daunted at the thought of staying here for so long, but maybe instead of thinking so far into the future, just focus on now, or the next couple years here? The future always changes anyway. Try to discover not only what Korea has to offer, but also what living in a foreign country has to offer. It's like being a kid again, which can be frustrating or eye opening. And if you still hate it here in the future, couldn't you guys move back to the States? At least you're giving it a try, and you haven't been here long, right? So your impressions will change a lot. I don't think that Korea is the best place on earth or anything but everywhere on the planet has people you can relate to, you just have to meet them! :) That's the great thing!


  8. Heather has it right. You have to try and it really reads as if you've expected Korea to be a mini-USA. It's not. Try learning the language and getting your independence back.

    That might be a great start.

  9. Thank you for all your comments. I guess I am just a wimp compared to most of you. :)

    I am at Sogang full-time now and I like it a lot but honestly, I don't think I will ever learn to speak Korean fluently (I don't think most foreigners ever do either). Even if I learned Korean, it wouldn't be enough to really communicate on a deep level. It would be like talking to a 8 year old or 11 year old.

    Nobody in my class is like me. Everyone is here only for 1-3 years. I am the only crazy person making this place my permanent home
    ! :o

    I really didn't expect Seoul to be a mini-USA. I've been here twice before. I've traveled to Europe, Africa, Canada, and Asia before. It was mostly just for fun or for study though. I just didn't realize how different it is living somewhere permanently as compared to visiting a country or living somewhere for a year or so. Also, I really am stuck here. I have no option to leave. I love my husband and he has to stay here due to his business.

    I would love to get my independence back but it is not happening. Let's face it, it is impossible to be as competent here as I was back on my home-turf. I can't even find an eyebrow threading lady here or framing shop.

    Also, and most importantly, I am unable to find people like myself here. That is mostly what I was bitching about. :) I finally have people I can hang out with but none of them are a perfect match for me. Damn it, I guess I was just spoiled before by my awesome friends back home. I just really need one of those special friends that could potentially become a best friend to me. Even though I married, female friendship is still very important to me.

    I think all of you are lucky in a way because you are all english teachers and professors. You are all here for a few years having fun and then leaving.

    Anyway, hats off to you ladies who learned Korean. Very impressive!

    No more complaining after this I swear!

    Crystal :)


  10. Complaining is part of the process. I think most of us understand that. However, you can get caught in a rut of negativity. My goal was to show you the other side of things.

    It’s most definitely difficult to adjust to Korea for most people. It’s not merely another country. It’s another country with a way that is very different than the American perspective and history. Not only that, it has a base of cultural beliefs that differ. It was easy for me to work past cultural differences and frustration when I worked on my point of view and, crucial to me, I studied both the culture and history of the country. Then things start making more sense.

    I’d differ with you on one point. Sure, maybe most teachers do stay for a bit and then leave. Also, I’d say most foreigners married to Korean nationals are men married to Korean women. However, that’s changing. When I went out to socialize, it was rare that I didn’t meet a Westerner who’d come to Korea with the intent to stay for a short time, who then fell in love with a Korean woman, married her and chose to stay. You’re definitely not the only person staying in Korea on a long-term or permanent basis.

    Anyway, complain but just keep it in . Good luck to you.
    Now back to my cruise with John Mayer ;)

  11. I have been Kicking around the idea of teaching English in Korea after I finish college. I had a friend who did so for 3 years and loved every minute. While I am prepared to deal with being a black woman in Korea there is something else I Worry about. All the Korean woman I have seen are ultra trim and slim, I an not a size 6 or even a size 8, I am a plump girl. Should this be a concern for me?

  12. It's a problem if you come with very few clothes. But they do have larger sized stores in Itaewon (I avoided them and stuck to mail order because EddieBauer.com clothes fit me well.)

    It's not an issue in the sense that you're not the first or the last bigger sized girl to lived and work in Korea. Just make sure you know your size so you can order online. Also, if you have a friend that has base access, that helps too.

    It's not ideal but it's not a deal breaker either.

  13. I wouldn't be overly concerned unless you are obese. If you are obese, I wouldn't come here unless you have a really good self-esteem.

    Koreans aren't used to seeing overweight people, so they stick out. Also, Koreans are really big on being thin. Also, the weight ideal here is very small. Clothes only come in small, medium, and large and their large is probably like a size 8 in American. I wear a 55, which is a medium, and I'm in the 120s and I am 5'8. I look very thin (except my hips/butt) yet I still have pressure to make my butt/hips smaller. My hip bones just stick out there, even if I weighed 100 pounds, I would still have much wider hips than my waist.

    Anyway, if you are just chubby, I would diet and walk a lot and bring clothes with you. By the time you leave here or maybe beforehand, you will be thin or average.

    Seoul is a fun place and I think you can handle being being slightly above the weight ideal. Remember though, if you are single and looking for "the one" that korea can be harsh towards the overweight woman. There are lots of korean women looking for foreign men and they do everything they can to be competitive in that area.

    I have a very close gf, who I love so much, who wanted to come here, and I told her no. She is strikingly beautiful but she is overweight. She is 29 and she is looking for the one. I didn't want her to waste her precious time here. I know it is possible to find a spouse here being overweight but it greatly decreases the chances. I told her to go to Italy instead where they will appreciate her latina curves/ body. I mean she is damn sexy but here she would just be labeled fat.

    Bottom-line :) I wouldn't worry too much but I would be proactive and try to slim down before coming here or while here.

    this is just my opinion based on what I've heard countless of koreans tell me. Also, my husband is korean and he tells me what koreans say about overweight people and it is quite shocking. It's like being overweight is literally a sin here.

    Oh, on another issue, Ive found koreans to be very curious about african-americans and I think they will be excessively nice to you. They will go out of their way to befriend you and help you.

    Good luck with whatever u decide.


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.