Top Five Things I Hate About Korea

After I wrote the list of the Five things I Love about Korea, I alluded that a ‘hate’ list was coming soon. Well here it is….TA-DA! After having lived in this wonderful country for so long, I realize that there are lots of things to love. However, no place is perfect and with that comes a number of things that annoy me. Maybe hate was too strong a word, but I got your attention didn’t I? Here are the things I hate about Korea.

Useless Loosely Related Fact: Allusions are one of my favorite literary devices.

and here we go!

5) You Can’t See the Stars!

Lunar Eclipse - hate about Korea
A sorry attempt at capturing a lunar eclipse.

I remember my first day teaching solo in Korea. I read the story in advance and realized it was about space. What a lucky break for someone who studied Aerospace Engineering and took a year off* to have the opportunity to teach space science to third graders. The kids paid attention to the whole lesson and were genuinely interested in the topic. I had the perfect homework planned, too! “Go outside of your house and try to find the constellation Orion.” Surely the kids will like my style of easy but interesting homework.

The next day, the kids come back grunting. “I spent 2 hours and couldn’t find Orion.” “Me too, there are no stars,” others chimed in. “Damn lazy kids,” I thought, “I knew it was too good to be true.” Sure enough, I looked up that night without a cloud in the sky and had trouble finding Orion, too. While there are a few that you can see, the light pollution of every major city makes the star gazing experience washed out at best.

* One year has turned into four, much to my mother’s disappointment

Loosely Related Fact: The brightest star in the night sky is Sirius A

 

4) Korea’s Self-Evaluation is too Dependent  on What America Thinks

Canadian-American Border - Hate about Korea
Crossing the border into the US from Vancouver.

I sat in front of my computer for 10 minutes and could not think of a better title… oh, well! When it comes to the way Korea evaluates success in sports, music, or movies, it depends too much on international success (but really, success in America). Let me give a few specific examples to prove my point.

Hines Ward – Unless you are a football fan, you might not know who he is. Hines Ward is a former NFL player that is half Korean, half-African American who played his entire (very successful) career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Because he is half Korean and plays in an American sport, Korean TV would always show his highlights when he played. Note: I really mean HIS HIGHLIGHTS. They didn’t show the actual game, nor any other player, nor what THE SCORE ACTUALLY WAS, nor who won, just Ward catching and running with the ball over and over again. If you know anything about football, you would know that a wide receiver doesn’t actually catch the ball that often, but they just keep showing the same plays on replay…again, and again, and again. Koreans don’t even like, and most don’t understand American football at all. Nonetheless, Ward is a star in America, so he got a lot of airtime on TV.

Ryu Hyun-Jin – Another sports star, Ryu is a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Granted that I don’t follow baseball at all, so I don’t really know how famous he was before he moved, but nothing could possibly compare to the coverage he gets today. Since his move to LA in April, whenever I turn on a TV, there is a special on “Monster 99” pitching and striking out people. Much like Ward, they… again… don’t show the actual game, just Ryu’s highlights… over and over again, with the MLB logo spinning a bunch of times in front of the TV screen.

Psy – How could I leave out the charming (barf) artist (questionable) who brought us (shoved down our throats) the somewhat catchy, but extremely annoying ‘Gangnam Style‘ song about a year ago. If you haven’t heard it yet… welcome to Earth and consider yourself lucky. Okay, so I don’t like the song, that much is obvious. While the song is… meh… mediocre at best, what really irks me is that it remained relevant in Korea, not because it was so good, but because of its success in America. “Did you know Psy performed in LA. Did you know Psy was in New York this weekend.” The Psy craze has finally died down, and not because Koreans disliked his sequel “Gentleman,” but because it was catered to appeal to an international community and flopped in the US. I actually happen to like Korean music and think its appeal and acceptance should be based on what Korean think. If other countries like it, good, if not, so be it.

On top of these examples, actors and directors are often thought of as the real deal if they have done a movie in America. Despite there being some very talented actors in Korea, there is a certain prestige with having made is big in the ‘land of the free.’

Loosely Related Fact: My favorite Korean Song at the moment is: “Gone, Not Around Any Longer” by Sistar 19. Check it out.

 

3) Obsession with Material Goods

Driving a Mustang - Hate about Korea
The closest I got to having a cool car was my beat up Ford Mustang :).

Many Koreans often compare what material goods they have to evaluate status. I have been asked on numerous occasions if I have a car. When I reply ‘no’ they give me an apologetic smile, as if trying to console me for not owning something I really want but can’t afford. I don’t want a car nor need one. Korea has one of the best public transportation systems in the world and Seoul’s subway is often much faster and convenient than using a car. This, of course, comes off as ‘giving excuses’… sigh. The same goes for when I am asked about my apartment or my TV, phone, and pretty much anything you can think of.

The opposite has also happened to me. I travel as much as I can, and when I tell people where I am going, they feel as if I am this rich guy with money to throw around. The direct Korean translation for “good for you” in this situation would be “I envy you,” dwell on that for a second. First off, while I do get paid decently well, 60% of my income goes directly into paying off my student loans, so more than likely, I have less spendable money than most people. I just spend my money in things that make me happy, not on $1000 cell phones every year.

Speaking of cell phones. Sometimes, I am curious about what cell phone people have. However, I have learned to be careful when inquiring about this. If they have an older model, or a non-smart phone, they answer in shame, as if they should have the latest and greatest. I am just making conversation, but I guess I’ll just shut up next time.

Very Loosely Related Fact: The Seoul Zoo has pygmy hippos, my favorite animal. Connection: The zoo can be reached by driving a CAR or taking the SUBWAY.

 

2) Kids Can’t be Kids

Kids Working Hard - hate about Korea
Get out and bounce a ball children!

Elementary School->Piano School->English School->Taekwondo->Homework->Sleep (optional). This is the schedule of an average child in Korea. An American child should take note and count his blessings. “When do you have time for fun,” I asked a kid not too long ago. “Sometimes, on Sundays, I can jump rope for 5 minutes,” is not what she said, but I thought it was more dramatic.* Kids work too hard in Korea, and while it is impressive to see a fourth grader read at a 12 grade level and use words in essays that I have to look up in the dictionary, (not actually true)** it really makes you wonder if this will have a negative effect on them down the road (the metaphorical road, I am not suggesting they will get hit by a car while reading a book on an actual road). While it is great for them to be reading, put the book down Korean kids and go get a few knee scrapes in the playground.

Loosely Related Fact: Taekwondo, the Korean martial art, is one of the only sports Mexico is ever competitive in during the Summer Olympics.

* What she really said was that she can sometimes play in the playground where she lives if she finishes early.

** actually true

 

1) Old People Have Too Much Authority

Korean Guy - Hate About Korea
Despite his shady appearance (jk) this is some random dude I took a picture of.

In Korea, there are different forms of addressing one another. Much like Spanish, there is an informal and a formal way of speaking. However, unlike in Spanish, these are mainly based on age in Korean with little margin for error.

Don’t be surprised if on your first meeting with a Korean, they immediately ask for your age. This is relevant in knowing how to address you as they would use the honorific speech is you happen to be even one year older than them.  It doesn’t matter what your profession is (well it does, kind of), or how much you make, or even if you are a total dick. In fact, you could continue being a total dick for the rest of your life and they would still address you in a polite way. Combine this with Korea’s …ehhem… drinking problem … and it is obvious to see how this ‘power’ can easily be abused (and often is).

[To highlight this even further, the word for ‘friend’ in Korean has the very specific meaning of being the exact same age. If someone is older or younger, they are not your ‘friends’ and they would even scoff at such a suggestion.]

Many times, older people are right, just because they are older (and will tell you as much). Children are taught from a very early age that the elderly should be honored and respected. While this is great in theory, when that power if abused, people will avoid conflict or contradicting the older person at all cost, even if they are flat out wrong, completely out of line, obviously lying, or any other terrible thing you can think of.

During the disaster of Asiana flight 214 a few weeks ago, it was suggested in this article that it was this same system of unquestionable hierarchy that prevented the first officer from challenging the older captain, even if he thought he was wrong for landing when he did. While some question the validity of that article, the very fact that it was an accepted theory by many across the net goes to show that this culture of obedience holds true, even when the lives of almost 300 people are at stake.

Loosely Related Fact: The Asiana Airlines flight attendant uniform is brownish greyish and quite stylish.

 

I hope you liked this negative list. I make negative lists to put things into perspective, not to insult anyone. I think that the good in Korea FAR outweighs the bad, so I am proud to call Korea, my home.*

*=Even if I complain about how crowded and hot it is in the summer, I still heart you Korea.

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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4 thoughts on “Top Five Things I Hate About Korea

  • March 13, 2014 at 9:28 pm
    Permalink

    I tentatively read this post, I’ve seen American or other western teachers share their “dislikes” about Korea. Sometimes it slides into bias, ignorance, and even prejudice.

    However, your “Five Things” are not only fairly accurate, but they are subtle and not damning of Korean culture or society. Indeed, every cultures has some realities that can be challenging or even frustrating. My wife, (who is Korean) largely agreed about your assessment.

    Reply
    • March 15, 2014 at 7:40 pm
      Permalink

      I am not one who complains a lot. We have an incredible situation in Korea with very good pay and benefits. I too hate it when foreigners complain about things like “they can’t make a decent burger.” Guess what? It’s not a burger country, they make excellent KOREAN food.
      After a while, I have started to think about Korean culture almost like my own, so I criticise it in its own terms. I try not to complain just to complain. I don’t know if you noticed, but I made this article as a response to the one about things that I love about Korea.
      http://www.travelworldheritage.com/2013/07/20/love-about-korea/

      Reply
      • February 6, 2016 at 5:50 am
        Permalink

        “they can’t make a decent burger.”

        Strangely enough there’s a burger place in the big department store near Gangnam that made a burger better than anything I’ve had in North America.

        Reply

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