Wednesday 3 February 2010

Mailbag: Ask An Insecure Kyopo Who Can't Speak The Language, Posing As Food Ambassador To Feel Like A Korea Expert

(another actual letter from reader this time: we are so excite!)

Dokdo Is Ours is happy to introduce another expert to the ranks of our advice columnists; as always, Dokdo Is Ours will always be happy to accept your letters requesting advice from any of our stable of advisors. It is time now for:

Ask An Insecure Gyopo Who Can't Speak The Language Well Who Seeks Relative Cultural Credibility by Repeatedly Playing Food Ambassador To Foreigner Friends At Cheap 고기집s:

Hello everyone. It is I, Insecure Gyopo Who Can't Speak The Language Well Who Seeks Relative Cultural Credibility by Repeatedly Playing Food Ambassador To Foreigner Friends At Cheap 고기집s. First of all, please don't be intimidated by the authentic Korean I use in my pen name: there's nothing to be nervous about. It's just the hangeul for "Barbeque Restaurant" -- literally, "Meat House" 고기 (gogi) meaning meat, and 집 (jip) meaning house. I use a little Korean here and there in my conversation and writing, because, you know, I'm Korean. But I grew up in America: that's why I write English well. It is a quite a debut I have for you today, with four questions for you, all on a related topic. I do that sometimes, because Koreans are indirect. That's how we think. So here we go.

Question 1. Oh my god this marinated beef is so good, what's it called again?

Yes, I'm fond of it too. It's called 불고기 which is pronounced, "bool-go-gi" - it means fire (that's bul) meat (gogi). As you can see, one strength of Korean language is its functionality. It simply names the food exactly what it is. That's why it's easy to learn. I have to study Korean harder. My grandmother spoke it to me, but we went to America when I was two. However, the lettering system is very simple. Here. Let me write your name in Korean. See? David, here's your name: 대이비드 and here's yours, Joanne: 조앤 isn't that great? You can keep the napkin. It's yours.

Question 2. Would you please explain this fascinating business about the proper way to pour alcohol?

A-ha. As you can see, Korean culture is very complex. I think that's why my Uncle never talks to me. He doesn't speak English, and I can only speak a little Korean. God I should study Korean more. But he taught me this before I used the wrong verb ending with him, and accidentally called him "Maternal Aunt who is Wife of my Mother's Younger Brother" instead of "Paternal Uncle Who is Older Brother to my Father" - boy, was my face red. You see, to show proper respect, you have to lift your glass with two hands, or put your left hand under your right forearm like this. Then, tip the glass, tilting your wrist toward the inside - never the outside. Also, it's important to never refill a glass until it's empty. That's the other thing I did wrong to my uncle. That's about as bad as calling your American uncle ... well... something really insulting. Do you like soju? It's like, my favorite drink, even though I drank beer all through university... but that must be because I'm Korean. Loving soju must just be in my 피 OOPS! Did I say 피 instead of blood? I must have unconsciously replaced the English word with the Korean one. Silly me!

Question 3: I enjoy that which appears witty and ironic; would you happen to know where I could purchase a t-shirt that reads "foreigner" in Korean?

Sorry, I wouldn't know about that. I'm not a foreigner, you see.

Question 4: Dude you know about Club Night, right?

Yes, yes, I used to go to club night in my first year. Not any more: too many foreigners, and these days it's all so stylish. I swear it's not because I got older and the university girls won't dance with me anymore. Hongdae, which used to be known as a hub of underground and hipster music, is also home to Yonsei university, one of Korea's SKY universities... you know what SKY stands for, right? Shinchon also has an old historical train station that's been replaced by a (wrinkle nose in disgust) shopping center. I hate that REAL Korea is being replaced with all these shopping centers and IMAX theaters. I wish I could remember the Korea of my childhood more clearly. God I have to study Korean more. Hey, put another piece of meat on the barbeque: I'm still 배고파 OOPS! I used the Korean for hungry instead of English! I did it again! Please forgive me.


Lee Farrand said...

You'd expect them to have the best parts of both cultures, but sometimes they end up with a peculiar mix of the worst.

getaclue said...

ICanHazCheeseburger said...

The common thread I see is the arrogance I have become accustomed to seeing among North American expats--men and women. There is a sense that they critique because they come from AMERICA where people have FREEDOM and savor INDIVIDUALITY, etc., and when others cannot take the criticism it is because they are not familiar with FREE SPEECH and ORIGINAL THINKING.

I am Indian-America, and have lived equally in both countries in my hyphenated existence, and have traveled through Asia and the Middle East, and the attitude displayed by Americans is about the same in every country. There is always the usual complaint about race relations (news flash, American race issues--with its horrific history of slavery and institutionalized racism--is not of interest to most people not American) or gender equality. One would think based on complaints from American expats that the only way to be free is to mimic an American woman. Hijab, the veil, early marriage, stay-at-home moms, etc., are categorically dismissed as being enslaved or enslaving, etc.

get a clue loser said...

(continued) So, Koreans are not the only ones who are fed up with North American expats whining. Most of the world is.

Your post, while well-written, would have been more worthwhile if you had examined your assumptions. Instead of being defensive, you should have evaluated why so many North Americans feel the need to come to another nation and denigrade it. Where do these instincts come from? Why would you feel that you have the right to criticize at all? Why does anyone have to defend anything to YOU? Where does your arrogance come from?

I grew up in a diverse immigrant family in the U.S. I also studied for my B.A. and M.A. in the heartland of America. I did my doctoral studies in a coastal city. I came across the same "type" of Americans--woefully self-indulgent and self-centered in their world view. The point is that these instincts to complain without self awareness--to mock China's Olympics b/c of human rights abuses while maintaining Gitmo, etc.,--is beyond logic.

get a clue said...

(continued) Learn to be more self aware. When I was in Seoul, many people stared at me, called out if I was Hindoo. I stopped to chat with all of the people--because curiousity is far better than politically correct cosmopolitanism. Heck, when I was in village in South India, people stared at me because I was wearing jeans. Hell heck, I stared at the first blonde woman I ever saw. So what?

The idea that by becoming economically part of a developed nation opens one up to playing with the "big boys" and thus opens one up to criticism is ridiculous. Why should Koreans or Chinese or Indians have to play by rules set by North Americans? Just because you think that criticism (I call it infantile whining) is a mark of one's individuality doesn't mean it has automatic validity. It doesn't. It just shows that you are as much caged in by the narrow mentality of your own background as you argue others are.

One example: While in Delhi I came across a Canadian woman studying arranged marriages, and she went on and on about how women in India have it bad. I saw other Indians trying to defend women's rights to her. She noticed that I kept mostly silent and she asked how I felt. And I told her that it amazed me how little I cared about what she felt about Indian women. She was taken aback. I told her that I respected her and thought she was a lovely woman, but just couldn't care less about what she thought about India, its poverty, its class inequities. I care very much about India, its poverty, its lack of rights for its citizens, etc., I just didn't give two hoots about what she thought. Why? Because damn if I will get into a defensive mode with her. I could give her a million reasons why she was wrong or why she was right, but the reality was that her position of complaint came from that of superiority--even if she was unaware. She came from a mindset that she needed to fix the poor people of India. Two hundred years of colonization and 50 years of American imperialism have taught some of us Indians that we do not need to justify our country to anyone. The woman was welcome to whine, stay in India and complain, or gush over it, or whatever. I didn't care.

I think Koreans need to get that attitude.

To the expats who have lived in Korea for 5+ years and feel that they have the right to complain: sure you have the right to complain, but also examine yourself and your assumptions and your attitude and learn to evaluate how much of your entrenched background you are still caged within and what the nature of the cage is from which you speak. It is not the matter of how many years you have lived somewhere--it is a matter of where you are coming from.

Let Koreans fulfill their own destiny...and if Koreans find your comments offensive enough that they are defensive, then shut up. There is a reason why there is a private space and a public space. Expats, if you are fed up or angry, complain to your own friends. That's where private space comes in. If Koreans don't want to listen to your whiney ass, they shouldn't have to. Take the cue, and be quiet.

I'd like to see you guys go to South L.A. and whine about Mexican gangs...while in Mexican neighborhoods. See how defensive they get...and you get when you get kneecapped.

Whine in the privacy of your home if you are complaining is your nature. Koreans don't need to indulge you--and if you think they do, then you need to figure out why you think that way and how and why you have this John Bolton-Rumsfeld-Cheney mentality about how the world should treat you.

Dokdo Is Ours said...

That was a cute, albeit random, rant.

Maybe you should start your own blog, getaclue. As with you reading this blog, apparently, people might be confused as to whether you're commenting in earnest, or taking the piss.