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10 Things I Hate About Korea

Written By Aris Setiawan on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | 11:17 AM


As any insightful person should be able to tell, I love Korea and the Korean people deeply. I have a good life here, and Koreans have been very good to me. The positives of living here far outweigh the negatives, so don't read too much into what I'm about to say.

This post been inspired by me having my Christmas plans ruined by my disorganised inconsiderate school, which has put me in a foul mood, and has meant that certain little things about this place are really annoying me at the moment.

A lot of them are specific to Seoul, but to me Seoul is Korea, as I haven't lived anywhere else.

Also, when I state that "Koreans are..." I understand that I am making a generalisation, and that generalisations are always bad. If you want to argue with me, argue with what I am saying and prove me wrong, don't pull me up because I don't have time to qualify every statement that I make.

The only reason I am making these comments at all is that the last time I ranted and raved, in an email I never should have sent, about a particular country I unintentionally offended a lot of people who I care about and disrespected their hospitality. That was not my intention then, nor it it my intention now.

If you are a Korean reading this, please understand that I think Korea is a great country, and that this is just me letting off some steam.

In no particular order:

1) Racism. Koreans are the most racist people I've ever come across. Starting with their delusion of being part of a pure-blooded Korean 'race', they have attitudes similar to those of white supremacists. This manifests itself in hostility towards non-Koreans, especially non-Korean Asians. It also results in people treating me a certain way based completely on the colour of my skin. I'm not saying that this kind of thing doesn't happen to minorities in Australia either, but at least we don't oppose Australians marrying foreigners on the grounds of blood-mixing, which is what makes the treatment I sometimes get here all the more irritating.

Last night I went to Myungin Mandu, a nice but cheap restaurant chain, and had a conversation with the server that went something like this,

Server: 뭐 드릴까요? What shall I get for you sir?

Me: 떡만두국 주세요. Give me rice cake and dumpling soup please.

Server: 고기만두 드릴까요? Shall I bring you meat dumplings sir?

Me:(louder) 떡만두국, 주세요. Rice cake and dumpling soup, please.

Server: 고기 만두 드릴까요? Shall I bring you meat dumplings sir?

Me: (Thinking he must be asking me whether I want meat dumplings in the soup, as this has happened before) 예. Yes.

Another server brings me my side dishes and a plate with soy sauce and vinegar for dipping dumplings in. I realise that they are going to bring me meat dumplings, which I don't want. I walked 15 minutes because I like the soup there.

Me: 고기만두말고 떡만두국 주세요. No meat dumplings, give me rice cake and dumpling soup please.

This time I am perfectly understood. 

I interpret the above miscommunication occurring because the first guy assumed that, a) I can't speak Korean, so I can't possibly mean what I am actually saying, and, b) that for some reason I must want meat dumplings, as that's probably what the last foreigner ordered, or what I ordered last time.

Close your eyes and listen next time mate, my Korean is not that bad.

2) Toilets. When are Koreans going to demand proper toilet facilities in their homes and workplaces? Maybe if they traveled more they would realise that other developed countries consider squat toilets with shit-paper bins full of flies and phlegm to be third world. Some people have bidets and that's good. However, I'd prefer a clean toilet with no soiled paper sitting next to my feet than an occasional fancy seat that I can't trust not to spray me in the face anyway.

3) Driving. I had a taxi driver the other day (after a few refused to pick me up because I'm a foreigner. See Racism) who was watching a comedy show on his GPS screen while speeding, cutting people off, and changing lanes without looking or indicating. The guy I had on the way back is one of the few people I've ever been sure I can drive better than. On the bus the other day I was surprised to see a female driver on my route. She was also wearing heels. Then she stalled on a hill and we started to roll backwards. Luckily her boyfriend/husband the bus driver was there to take over.

4) Dirt. Hire a window cleaner once a year. Please. A sign covered with years of dirt and grime doesn't inspire confidence in your kitchen. The office space where my school teachers room is located is never cleaned. The garbage bins are overflowing. The sink is clogged. Every now and then someone will try to organise a cleaning day, and rope us all into moving it all downstairs. Well, from now on it's not my problem. My boss can hire a cleaner for $10 a week, or pay me overtime.

5) Grocery Shopping. I have to travel for 45 minutes by subway to buy oatmeal. Cheese costs $8 for a small block. There is absolutely no variety anywhere, even in supposedly upmarket department stores. I went in a supermarket in the middle of a Beijing hutong (slum) that had a better selection of imported goods than anywhere I've seen in Korea. The new Welmark supermarket at Da Wang Lu was like walking into paradise - they had everything I can buy in Korea, plus a huge array of goods from around the world.

6) Obsolete Foods. By that I mean foods that we don't need to eat anymore, because technology has improved. A Western equivalent might be low-grade sausages, or meat pies made from lips and ears. I realise that at one time Korea was so poor that even the Chinese immigrants left for greener pastures. At that time some seaweed boiled in water for a few hours was probably a treat. When you've got access to cheap but good quality produce you no longer need to eat poverty inspired food like rice cakes, or 부대찌개 Budaejjigae, which is kimchi stew with spam and bits of sausage in it. It means Army Stew, and combines the food eaten by the American soldiers during the Korean War, considered to be high quality, with a traditional Korean dish. Newsflash for Koreans - Spam is what you eat when there's nothing else available, or when you were a G.I in the 1950s. It doesn't belong on delicatessen shelves, or in expensive gift packs. (See picture, a Spam and olive oil gift set. Just what you always wanted. It costs about US$30.Link.)

7) Garbage Disposal. My building doesn't have a place for people to put their garbage. We just walk 25 metres to the main road and dump it by the nearest telegraph pole. Same for recycling and food waste. It wasn't much better at my last two places. Toss it against a wall outside somewhere where the old people who scavenge through garbage to make 10c a day scatter your recycling all over the place, and street cats rip the food waste bags to shreds. Trying to find a public trash can is almost impossible, so people just treat the street as a giant waste ground.

Apparently a few years ago Seoul has a fantastic garbage disposal system complete with public waste receptacles galore. Then some bureaucratic geniuses decided to raise some extra revenue by creating special plastic garbage bags that are expensive. Resilient Korean housewives, expert penny-pinchers hardened by the difficulties of living through or after the Korean War, simply started using the public bins instead of spending an extra 50 cents. In a city as densely populated as this one, garbage soon piled up, and the government responded by removing the public bins. Now the streets are covered in litter at all hours.

8) Noise Pollution. Bongo trucks selling fruit and vegetables driving slowly through the neighbourhood with loudspeakers on top volume blaring "생귤" FRESH MANDARINS over and over again. People who think it's acceptable to vacuum and hammer nails into the wall at 3am. Advertising trucks and noisy businesses which set up speakers outside, doing permanent ear damage to anyone who walks by. At least there are less dickheads with loud cars over here.

9) Lack of Common Courtesy. My number one pet hate about Korea - people who don't wait for others to get off before they shove their way into an elevator, bus, or subway car. To me it shows a complete and utter disregard for others. All it takes is one small thought, "Maybe someone might want to get off", to stop you barging on before others have gotten off. It's an absence of the most basic form of manners.

A lot of people don't even stand to the side when the subway arrives, so that when the doors open there is a wall of people who all try to get in at once, while a whole load of other people have to push and shove their way out. It makes me so mad. 

Elevators are just as bad. One will stop at my floor, and before I can even get half way out, three new people have squeezed their way inside and have pressed the buttons for their respective floors, often in opposite directions. Koreans love to get on the elevator no matter whether it is going in the direction they are travelling or not. Some distorted sense of logic tells them it is quicker to overload the elevator and inconvenience everyone already inside, rather than wait for it to return empty.

I understand that Seoul is densely populated, and that pushing and shoving are unavoidable and not necessarily rude, but I witnessed more civilised behaviour in Hong Kong and Beijing, both of which have more crowded subways than Seoul. Koreans take every opportunity to look down their noses at the dirty, smelly, ugly, short, fat, greasy food eating, noisy, smoking, spitting, rude, brown toothed Chinese, but they could learn a few lessons here.

Well, that's only nine things I can think of. I guess Korea's not so bad after all.


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