Expat Dribble

Andrea Avery Jackley: An expat with lots of dribble to write about.

Inane Observations

The little things that don’t need to take up valuable posting space… Wait?

Old Memories Never Die

An older man, probably in his 70s, stopped me on my way to work yesterday. He snuck up on his bike as I was traipsing down the road, MP3s blasting in my ears. Tapping me on the shoulder, he said: “Excuse me, where are you from? Mekook?” ‘Mekook’ (also pronounced ‘Megook’) is the Korean term for America – derived from a Chinese term that means, flatteringly, ‘beautiful country.’ After responding yes, the man smiled and was eager to regale me with his notions that ‘Mekook’ was number one in the world, ‘Yongkook’ (Great Britain) was number two, and that Korea, “I think” he said timidly, was number three. He then told me that he had fought alongside a regiment of the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Touched, I shook his hand and told him it was a pleasure.

Sun of the Beach

I’ve been teaching my little class of “monsters” since I arrived in Korea – a precarious grouping of fifth-graders, comprised of seven lawless boys and three girls who tend to follow the flock. The boys are always thrilled whenever they learn of a new Western slang or “swear” word, usually from a television program or a rap song that makes it across seas. Anyway, I walked into the classroom the other day to the students laughing hysterically as Brian, one of the ringleaders, was writing on the board. When he was finished, he displayed to me quite proudly the words “Sun of the Beach!” “TEACHER! VERY bad word!” he exclaimed. I played along, swallowing my own giggles, and said, “Yes, Brian, VERY bad word! Never say it again!” That was followed by three or four mimickers chanting the phrase in the background.

Chop, Chop

I’m just realizing that I now use chopsticks to eat almost every meal. Huh.

White Is Right

To accompany my latest blog posting, 6.19.09, I’d like to elaborate on my declaration of Korea’s cultural worshiping of whiteness: it isn’t a race issue so much as the idea here that white, pale skin is preferable to tanned, dark skin. Go figure. Korean women use parasols and plenty of sun block to control their exposure to the sun, and wear makeup to lighten their complexion versus the bronzers that are becoming so popular in the West. A friend of mine once noted that he believed this was a result of the antiquated thinking that bleached appearances were a symbol of affluence – and the luxury of being able to do as one please instead of working in the sun – which is a Victorian-aged mindset. I contended that people, by nature, always want what they don’t have. But, as anyone can make their own superficial judgment just by watching a Chinese or Japanese movie that takes place in days of yore, white makeup has been worn in Asian cultures for centuries. And you know what? It works for me.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Today one of my students, approximately 12 years of age, told me that the September 11th, 2001 attacks were actually perpetrated by the Bush Administration, who had apparently rigged the Twin Towers with dynamite to simulate the plane crashes. When I asked him where he had gotten this ludicrous (update: this is the correct spelling; it isn’t “Lud-A-cris” for pete sake) idea, he told me that one of our haegwon’s former teachers – a Korean-born American – had told him this. In between seething breathes, I explained that this was absolutely inaccurate, and that “this former teacher”, who remains unnamed out of pity, is crazy and just plain stoopid. I happen to know via personal experience that “this former teacher” is an Internet conspiracy-theory enthusiast whose fragile mind is easily swayed by the chronically-misspelled, online written word. Here’s to treating one small part of the worldwide American misinterpretation, one Korean student at a time.

Sweatin’ Solid

Koreans don’t sweat. It’s a fact. It can be 30 degrees (Celsius, Americans, c’mon – that translates to 86 degrees Fahrenheit), and Koreans are wearing hoodies and overcoats on the street. Only pasty, white foreigners sweat like pigs in this crazy climate that boasts cold, snowy winters and sub-tropical, insanely humid summers complete with monsoon season. Much to my relief, I discovered that the pit-stain problem I’ve become so self-conscience about wasn’t just mine; it’s shared by all white people I’ve met who reside in Korea (although I’ve yet to meet Australians here). But again, Asian people – well, at least Koreans, that I can certify – don’t sweat.

Dog: It’s What’s For Dinner

We’ve all heard the stereotype: Koreans like to eat dog. Gasp! Shock! Americans are disturbed by the image of their beloved, domestic “best friends” being served up on a buffet line; and Westernized Koreans are offended that we’re so offended, and that we insist on continuously perpetuating the rumors. Well, let me set the record straight: yes, Some Koreans eat dog. They are not by any means the majority of the population, and more often than not the practice takes place among older, more traditional generations that reside in rural areas. In fact, there is a certain breed – its name I’m not sure of – that is raised and farmed like any other type of edible animal. All of this seems perfectly reasonable to me, not that I have any desire to actually partake in the ritual. Oh, and it still doesn’t stop me from making an occasional dog meat joke.

If I Don’t Stare, I Don’t Care

I’ve mentioned the Korean propensity for boldface staring before, but its gone to a new level lately. Not only do people stare, but some of them actually molest you. I thought it was just me – after having my face stroked by a random old lady, and my hands and arms touched by random old men (and you know, it doesn’t bother me a bit; I just figure heck, they’re old, what do they care? Touche) – but an American friend of mine recently told me he had experienced the same phenomena. Being a foreigner in this homogenous country can be quite a trip, so I guess I’ll just enjoy my star power while it lasts.

Hittin’ The Streets

I suspected something was a little off when I noticed my address, as translated by my Korean friend, contained no street names. And then again when I showed the cab driver, on my first solo trip, the picture I had taken of what I thought was my street sign. He looked at me like I was an idiot; but this certainly wasn’t concrete proof, I get that look all the time. So when my coworker told me during one of our tri-weekly walks that Koreans don’t use street names, and in fact had not even bothered to give their arteries the honor of titles until very recently, it all made sense. “You need to know landmarks,” she said. “Cab drivers won’t know any streets.” However, large intersections are being graced with incredibly long names more frequently, so I have that going for me.

Going To The Movies

Please bear in mind this is said in pure, good-natured jest (like all of my posts): women in South Korea like to dress up. They like to dress up A LOT. They wear four-inch heels while navigating pot-holed sidewalks, riding their bikes, and presumably while tending the garden. Their everyday dresses can often be equated to evening wear found in American hotel lounges. It can be 15 or 95 degrees, and they’re donning their pleats and ruffles. And so it came one day that, while commenting on this phenomenon, I made the reference to Korean women strutting down the sidewalk in Chinese-manufactured Vera Wang and Jimmy Choo knockoffs as simply “going to the movies.” My phrase has since become so popular with my inconsequential group of recluse Americans that we are now categorizing the “going to the movies” crowd by genre: comedy, drama, tragedy, Korean knife-gang war legends…

Hyundai Owns South Korea

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind – after observing that the metal coat hanger posted in the women’s bathroom at the haegwon was (quite plainly and in large letters) manufactured by Hyundai – that the conglomerate owns the country outright. Let me put it this way: 3/4 of the cars on South Korean roads are Hyundai, mostly due to heavy taxes imposed on foreign brands that make their purchase near impossible by the average citizen; they own and operate most of the gas stations; their boldly marked high rises are everywhere; they own my cable; they manufacture computers and other electronics, fans, and COAT HANGERS. They own this country. Mr. Hyundai (doesn’t matter which one), I love you.

White Sox Caps With Gold Stitching Are A Farce

One of my students became extremely upset with me today when I outed him as a fake MLB fan. You see, MLB gear is quite popular here, even if the wearer has no clue what the symbols all over their extremities mean. He was wearing a White Sox cap with GOLD stitching displaying the stomach-turning “Sox” logo on the front. I told him that they were the WHITE Sox, not the damn GOLD Sox, and therefore his hat was a farce and couldn’t be considered legitimate by anyone, let alone serious baseball fans, of which he was not one. Not taking kindly to this, he simply yelled: “I like team! Chicago!!” Damn.

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