More Korean Oddities

This post is going to be half oddities, half news, so let’s get down to it.

  • I’ve mentioned it before, but prostitution is gigantic here. How gigantic? Speaking Korea reports that annually it makes more money than Korea’s entire agricultural sector (http://speakingkorea.com/?p=1876).
  • Not only is prostitution prevalent, but it’s goddamn ball-sy. If you go to any part of a city with a couple bars, it’s quite common to see the ground and parked cars covered with business cards with naked women and numbers to call. The going price seems to be generally around 90,000 won (about $80) for one girl, or 120,000 won ($110) for two girls.
  • Not only are business cards readily available, but they also broadcast the building’s existence quite plainly. If you see a building with one barber pole, then it’s just an ordinary barber shop. If you see two poles, it’s a whore house.
  • Despite how laughably easy it would be to shut these places down, it seems to not be a very high priority for the police here.
  • In a conversation I had with Chang-ki, he mentioned that due to mandatory military service for all men in Korea, the proportion of men that have “experienced” a prostitute is quite high. This actually contradicts a large reason for anti-American sentiment here in Korea. Many Koreans believe that Americans bring or attract crime, and while prostitution is very common in cities with large military bases, they’re everywhere in general.
  • Friday, I pissed off a couple students in my F class because I wrote their names in red marker on the board. I wrote everyone’s name, but two girls in particular took offense to it. In Korea, when someone’s name is written in red, it means they’re deceased. They kept trying to erase it, and kept saying “We’re not dead!” It was the only marker I had at the moment, so it was irrelevant. They got mad and wrote my name in red pencil on two pieces of paper and held it up to show me. I said “good job” and gave them a thumbs up and my best “I don’t give a shit” look. I don’t really like these two girls.
  • Another piece of Korean superstition: I learned today from Mr. Lee that it’s a normal superstition in Korea to think that whenever you hear a crow cry then it means that someone has just died. Like, that exact moment. I can’t speak to what proportion of people actually believe that, but apparently it’s a thing.
  • Korea has a “why” culture. Koreans are always asking why. Sometimes it’s a little aggravating. Mr. Lee will wake me up and ask if I was sleeping. “Yes.” “Why?” Motherfucker, why the fuck you think? I’m fucking tired. When he saw me with my camera on Sports Day: “Camera?” “Yes.” “Why?” Riddle it out, Sherlock. Methinks I want to photograph something.
  • It extends beyond this, though. A lot of times when I call a kid in class, they respond “why” and not “what”. This isn’t a translation mistake. It’s just a cultural difference. Koreans use “why” to respond to tons of things. One day, Jane actually asked me why I kept saying “what” instead of “why”. She was genuinely surprised that Americans use “what” instead of “why”. “Why” in Korean is wea — sounds like ‘way’ — and if you listen to any Korean conversation for more than thirty seconds, you’re bound to hear it.
  • Old people here are much more spry and independent than in America. I learned from my students that there are old folks’ homes here, but I’ve seen Koreans that look like they date back to roughly the Neolithic era hiking mountains, pulling carts loaded down with shit, and generally being active, independent individuals. I think it’s something in the kimchi.
  • More linguistic differences. There are couple words that Koreans use a ton, and usually incorrectly. They use “can” like “did/do” and “make” like “get”. It’s not a translation mistake. It’s just how they say things in Korean. Mr. Lee asks me on a weekly basis if I have “made” a girlfriend yet. They also say things like “I made a cellphone” etc… They also say things like “How can you know, how can you remember” etc…
  • Saturday here is Teacher’s Day. While I’m told students usually bring a wide array of presents for teachers, all I got was a decorative bar of soap that one of my students’ mom made. It smells really great, but I feel like I have no reason to ever use it.
  • I’ve mentioned it before, but I get stared at a lot. Pretty much by everyone, but especially by young children and babies. I’d always thought that children were born without any concept of race, and that ideas of what race were generally learned from the parents. However, I now know this to be untrue. I’ve had babies under a year, completely incapable of communicating, much less learning about the social implications of race, stare at me intently. They can tell I’m different from everyone else. I’m strange to them.
  • I think I’ve finally experienced discrimination. Of all things, it’s from bus drivers. When I’m on a bus, if a Korean is running to catch the bus, the driver generally stops and waits for them. However, if I’m running to catch a bus, wave my arms as I may, bus drivers don’t stop for shit. Bastards.

I spent about eight nine hours with Mr. Lee today. We went to his hometown Gongju. Gongju was actually the capital of ancient Korea because it sits on a large river. We went to Gongju to meet his mother and have lunch and plant some pepper plants. His mom lives in what I’d call the Korean equivalent of a trailer home. It’s not really a low class thing like it is in America. It’s just a five room aluminum box that’s specifically geared towards the elderly. After lunch, he told me to just walk around and take a look around. I found a couple ducks, then walked around a corner and found a dog in a cage.

It was immediately apparent that this was not the charmed life of a household pet only momentarily locked up while his owner was away. This dog is fucking food waiting to happen. He looked goddamn miserable. I stood there for a couple minutes just looking at him and feeling pretty depressed, then walked away. For half an hour, it really bothered me. The state of his cage was pretty goddamn deplorable, which is what upset me most. At first, I thought “okay, you can eat him, but at least treat him with some goddamn decency so his life isn’t utter shit.” Then I realized that even that is impossible, because just showing an animal more than the bare minimum requirement for care invests some emotional input, and it’s going to be way too hard to butcher it later. You can’t be taking this thing for walks and giving it baths and shit and then kill it. You kind of have to treat it like a wretched piece of food for it to be even possible.

I asked Mr. Lee about it, and he told me that you don’t actually eat the dog or butcher it yourself. You sell it to someone and they kill it and sell it. He said it would be “too savage” to eat the dog one has taken care of personally. It doesn’t really make it okay, but I understand it a little better now.

Not too much later we spent an hour or two planting pepper plants. It actually went a lot faster than I thought it would. Afterward, we had some fruit in the tin can along with some roasted peanuts. He said his mother really appreciated my help. I guess I proved myself to be worthy, because she said I should come back some time, so I offered to come back and help pick the peppers when they were ripe.

On the way home, Mr. Lee and I stopped for dinner at a kaegogi restaurant. That’s dog meat. Ironic, considering not more than three or four hours before I was struck with an ethical dilemma on the same subject. Up until that point I’d actually been bugging Mr. Lee about when he’d take me for kaegogi becauseĀ  I was really curious about it. Even after my experience with the dog, I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose away from it. The meat was kind of purple, really fatty, but super tender, too. No particular flavor, but it came with a really good spicy dipping sauce. Ate until I was stuffed. I actually spent most of the day eating, with the small break for planting peppers in between.

Mr. Lee tried to get me to go to a jimjjilbang with him, but I politely declined, so he dropped me at home. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with some people to see the new movie, Robin Hood, which I’m pretty stoked for, so I’ll be happy. Tonight will be a quiet night of Korean movies and maybe Aesop’s Fables.

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One Response to “More Korean Oddities”

  1. i do not like trailer homes because it is not sturdy enough specially when the weather goes bad *”;

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