Conversations at Mudfest

July 24, 2011

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Rain is pouring down on the east coast of South Korea this month, being the rainy season and all. I have to say the timing on all this bad weather has worked out swimmingly. Saturdays have been clear and sunny, only Sundays and weekdays have seen any rain.

This weekend is also the last day of the Boryeong Mud Festival, a gathering of foreigners and Koreans to celebrate this west coast town’s unique therapeutic mud with drinking, music, fun in the sun, and games. I honestly don’t know why this festival above all others seems to be the biggest 외국인 magnet.

As I live in a small town, and don’t really have too many opportunities to hang out in Seoul, Busan, or Daegu, this weekend trip was probably the first time in a year I had seen foreigners outnumber Koreans. It also felt like a good litmus test on returning to the US (perhaps not, but that’s how I judged it): was I comfortable around my countrymen? Had I lost all my social skills? Would I find the mere presence of other Americans revolting, causing me to flee to yet another country? Were these outsiders at least intelligent, reserved, open-minded people?

Well, as you can imagine, some were, some weren’t. But what do foreigners usually do when they congregate? They complain. It’s not as though we hate living in Korea, but there are always incidents that crop up we feel only our countrymen can adequately understand… or we simply haven’t mastered the language skills necessary to try and obtain an explanation from a local. Here are some of the highlights of what I overheard:

– One man discussing how cheap Korean socks were, and how he planned to spend 365,000 Won on 365 pairs, to have one a day for the next year, and never have to wash a single pair. Wasteful.

– Teachers completely unwilling to accept conditions other that those stated in their contract, some even shoving the paper into their managers’ faces to get their way. “My contract states I’m only required to be at school for eight hours. My classes finish at 4:00. If you want me to stay until 4:40, then I’m not coming in until 8:40. I understand Korean teachers are willing to stay until 4:40, but guess what? I’m not Korean.”

Ah yes, the famous double standard. You want to be treated with respect, you want to have the same privileges Korean workers have, and yet when confronted with tasks many Koreans have no problem carrying out, you exploit your foreignness to get your way, i.e. the waygook card. As difficult as it may be to accept, sticking to the letter of the law, in this case, your employment contract, is a western concept. Although Korea has embraced the bureaucracy and the paperwork accompanying it, most business arrangements are ensured not as a matter of law, but as a relationship. That is, if you do what you’re told respectfully and well, you will get what you want (in my experience). If you feel like you’re being asked something over and beyond what you are willing to do, then don’t say no right away; go along with it, show you are willing to work with them, and THEN bring it up once your relationship is closer. Maybe this approach only works with a dedicated and understanding employer…

Being surrounded by Americans again was a splash of cold water, but it didn’t really change my decision to leave. No matter where I go, I’m going to have to learn to deal with people I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye and forge friendships based on share interests. Although my circle is small in Korea, I think I’ve done that. Now to learn how to do so when there are more options available.

3 Responses to Conversations at Mudfest

  1. Jennifer on July 24, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I was also at the Mud Festival this weekend, and enjoyed seeing so many foreigners. I found it interesting that there were really many foreigners from many different countries, there, not just westerners. I would have to say, though, it was the westerners who I found to be the most umm…. sad? I don’t know. I know what you mean, though, about these conversations. At one point I asked my friends, if the four of us were bad because we weren’t being social and going and meeting people, but, really, the things that people were talking about were of not interest to us. We all have our issues with Korea, but there’s a time and a place for it. I actually, really wondered what the locals must feel about the people who come to the mud festival. I don’t think we all represent our countries very well at times like these. 🙁

  2. Turner on July 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Quite so. I saw some reasonable party behavior, but other stupid things that really have no place in society.

  3. Mack Reynolds on July 29, 2011 at 3:32 am

    yeah, we americans suck.

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