Waygookin 2.0

4 Nov

Anonymity is impossible for a foreigner in Korea.  Koreans all look the same.  They have the same eyes, the same hair, the same language the same everything.  On top of that the Korean culture is based on collectivism.  So it’s not hard to understand why we stand out as much as we do.  And you can try your hardest to fit in like eating Korean food, trying to speak the language, basically adapting to their culture – but no matter what you do you will never get rid of your foreignness.  I have tried to explain to many Koreans that the never-ending staring, pointing and murmuring makes us feel very uneasy and quite frankly it is rude.  And all of them justify this by stating that Koreans are not used to foreigners so whenever they see one they are shocked.  Now this is completely understandable (although I think they’re too melodramatic in their reactions) since Korea is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world. I am not sure of the exact statistic but I read the other day there are just over 1 million foreigners in Korea.  Now that is not a lot in a country of 50 million people.  the majority of this group hails from China (who can blend in) and South East Asia.  English teachers from the “seven English speaking” countries are an insignificant number.   I can imagine what it must have been for Africans to see Europeans for the first time.  both groups must have been shocked and quite amazed by what they are looking at.  It’s a person, a human being, but they look so different!  This reaction was understandable for centuries ago.  We are now in the 21st century and globalisation is at its peak.  the Korean media is flooded with influences from around the world.  A ‘foreigner’ will make his/her appearance at least once a day in most korean living rooms.  So many kids attend academies where there is a native English teacher.  And even though the Daegu public school system was the most underserved area in Korea regarding native teachers, as of this fall every single elementary school and middle school in Daegu has a native english teacher.  The fact that we stand out as much as we do and that everybody points at us reminds me of Saartjie Baardman who was a south african woman exhibited across Europe because of her African features.

The fact that we are so few foreigners here in Daegu whenever we spot another foreigner (other than downtown) there is that akward ‘waygook moment’.  Almost as if you also want to react in the Korean manner of Oh Waygookin.  What do you do, do you say hi, do you nod and smile or do you stir up a conversation.  It happened the other day while I was waiting to meet a friend in the subway station.  I was waiting by track on one of the benches when all of a sudden as if out of nowhere another foreigner appear and sits next to me.  I say hello and smile akwardly.  What do I do?  What do i do?  Do I make small talk, ugh I hate small talk.  Do we just sit akwardly and stare at each other?  What to do?  But before I could even respond to any of these questions the train arrived and she got on.  Phew!

Cheers from Kimchiland!

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