Surfing and Hosting

September 9, 2010

Completely unrelated to this entry is an event that happened today. You know what I’m talking about, English teachers, or anyone who’s worked abroad… the dreaded “in OUR country, we do things this way” or “this is part of OUR culture”, as if Korea has a license on certain cultural values… some would be really disappointed to discover how similar I believe them to be to the those of the Japanese.

Anyway, I had been discussing the number of sick students at the school. The germiest profession on the planet isn’t dentistry, it’s teaching. If one sick kid enters the school, he’ll infect another and another; or, even worse, the teacher, who can spread the illness to the entire population. We’ve had quite a few children coughing violently and sneezing in the middle of classes. I asked the Korean teacher if we had the authority to send these kids home, or at least out of the classroom while others were trying to learn.

“Maybe you don’t understand… difficult to explain… this is Korean culture. Mother say ‘kids, go to school’ even when sick.”

At some level, I could understand this argument, but parents are tough on their kids everywhere; my mom asked me to “suck it up and go to school” on a few occasions. Mother culture, not Korean culture. No big offense, but I didn’t like him making that argument.

In other news, I had my first Couchsurfer come and stay on my floor cushions in Bugu. This really surprised me. Personally, I love my area and would rather be here than in Seoul, but it’s definitely well off the beaten path; few would travel the east coast, as the train lines between Busan and Seoul run down the middle of Korea. It was even more surprising that this surfer was no less than the general manager of CSing. Wow. I would call that the most random hosting opportunity on the site.

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And what better way to show this CSing connoisseur my corner of Korea than to have him arrive on the last possible bus from Uljin in the pouring rain? Could have been worse. He did get here, after all, and we had a good time chilling at Deokgu the next morning. All in all, it was kind of satisfying to learn one of the head honchos of CSing wasn’t omniscient when it came to traveling. He didn’t know Korean, had plenty of questions, and took things in stride. Actually, he presented as the same kind of surfer I think I am: respectful, laid back, and, naturally, independent.

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Prior to his arrival, I had been surfing in Gangneung (강릉) as part of my quest to explore cities within a few hours’ bus ride from Uljin. Gangneung is about two hours’ north, with a population of 230,000. Making it a virtual metropolis from the perspective of someone in Bugu.

Jeremy and Ariel were great. I arrived to find their apartment alongside a row of ugly identical buildings (isn’t that the way?) with Jeremy taking out the trash, fighting a hangover. They had both just woken up, and suggested a day at Gyeongpo Beach. I had wanted to see a white sand beach to the south with buildings shaped like cruise ships, but was perfectly open to alternatives. Anything for an adventure.

After a short taxi ride, we arrived to find a cultural performance in progress. Serendipity. Add to that some of the finest weather I’ve ever seen, a few expat ladies, and you’ve got yourself a good Saturday. One which had just begun.

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And the randomness continues with Kwante, a Korean man my hosts had met on the street and subsequently taken out to dinner a number of times. This evening, they were the ones to benefit, with a soccer game and Korean BBQ (고기구이). The game was pretty boring, other than the occasional fan throwing fried chicken onto the field after a “bad” call.

Next up, the BBQ. There are a few rules one should keep in mind:

1. Cut the meat after it’s been cooking for a few minutes.

2. Turning the meat is an art. Don’t be surprised if your waiter offers to help.

3. The grill needs to be changed every so often to keep the hot grease down and out of your face.

4. You can just eat the meat with chopsticks, but there should be lettuce leaves available.

And what we would do after a meal that left everyone too full to walk? Noraebang, naturally. Singing and drinking. I only mention it because this was the first karaoke machine I had ever seen to offer “Dick in a Box”. Sure made the ladies happy. Crazy night.

On my way out the next morning, I took stock. There are two major department stores I’m aware of: E-Mart and Home Plus. In Donghae, E-Mart is the only option. So when I shopped in Home Plus in a larger city, I discovered bottled Japanese green tea, sake, and organic orange juice. It’s a good thing I don’t live in Gangneung, because I’d be sure to spend all my money in a matter of hours at Home Plus. Must… have… restraint.

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2 Responses to Surfing and Hosting

  1. LP on September 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Personally, I don’t feel as if the teacher who was arguing that making sick students come to school was suggesting at all that this was an exclusive aspect of Korean culture. To me, it just seemed as if he assumed you wouldn’t understand because in Western countries, parents generally don’t send students to school when sick, or at least their option to do is much more flexible than it is in Korea and Asia.

    Based on your description of the argument, he didn’t even seem to be arguing, to be honest. If he had said something like “only in Korea parents send their kids to school sick” would I see your point, but I think you just misunderstood him. Why is it bad to suggest how certain things are done in “OUR” country? If it’s true, then that’s that and there is nothing patronizing about it or anything to suggest that other countries don’t do likewise.

    As an American-born Korean, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and seeing how a non-Korean interacts with my home country. But there are times when you draw far too much of a comparison with your experience in Japan, and while I understand that it may be done to make points of reference, the fact is that Korea is an entirely different country. This isn’t out of any bitterness towards Japan, as I myself have spent time in the country and have loved it, but as someone who seems to be cultivating an image as an intrepid traveller in Asia, your inability to unlatch from the Japanese standard, so to speak, is working against you. Globalization may be doing its thing, but Asian countries remain very distinct from one other. This isn’t Europe.

    And please, do not belittle the sentiments surrounding Dokdo island. As a foreigner, there are certain cultural and historical sentiments that you will never understand or ever succeed in rationalizing. My advice? Just don’t talk about it.

  2. Turner on September 9, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Thank you for leaving a thoughtful comment without resorting to obscenities or otherwise.

    “But there are times when you draw far too much of a comparison with your experience in Japan.” This is true. I just can’t help it, and it’s likely to continue. Of course Korea is unique, but if you think about it as a cultural litmus test, a country like America would score red whereas Japan and Korea would be a similar shade of blue – not because every little detail is the same, but, from my American perspective, a LOT is.

    “And please, do not belittle the sentiments surrounding Dokdo island. My advice? Just don’t talk about it.” I don’t think I belittled it AT ALL. Where did you get that idea? My conclusion was that Korea had a right to emotionally invest in territory they believed to be theirs. Not talking about it doesn’t serve anyone… it just helps to create an additional layer of mystery around the culture of that island.

    “As a foreigner, there are certain cultural and historical sentiments that you will never understand or ever succeed in rationalizing.” I hate it when natives make this argument, sorry. Would you feel comfortable with me telling you to just blindly accept all parts of American culture, and when something controversial comes up, tell you you just don’t have a valid opinion? That’s like you expressing your views on policing immigration in Arizona, the burning of the Korans in Florida, and the building of the Islamic cultural center in NYC, and me telling you “Oh, just don’t talk about it. As a Korean, you just can’t understand.” Pardon me for being blunt, but I would never say that – it’s stupid.

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