Sunday, February 20, 2011

Seoul Searching

My brother-in-law is living in Seoul, South Korea right now, and Michael and I get to be the wise, all-knowing, already-lived-there expats who constantly irritate him by saying ‘ you should definitely go see (insert random tourist attraction, museum, giant mall)’. Actually, he probably isn’t all that irritated by it, but the fact remains: we are smug expats. Mirror, mirror on the wall… who is the smuggest of them all?

As such, we I suffer the occasional pang of expat jealousy. Fellow expats will know the feeling. You’ve lived somewhere foreign, made it your own, created memories and interesting stories to tell, and eventually left… and then someone you know goes and moves there years later, and you feel as though no other expat should be allowed to have your experiences.

All of this is completely ridiculous, of course. I’d never in a million years wish some of my Korean experiences on Michael’s brother (random shot of whoknowswhatkindofmedecine in my rear to cure me of the Asian death flu being one experience that comes to mind). In any case, he’s there with the imperial American army, and not teaching English to small children. He definitely has the easier job. I’m pretty sure if he had to spend a day in a Korean classroom repeating ‘no, I don’t want to see your boogers’ ad nauseam, he would be signing up to fight Pyongyang faster than a speeding kimchi fart.

Despite my expat jealousy, I find it fascinating to see the country through his eyes. He really seems to be making the most of his time there, which is even more admirable when faced with the reality of being separated from his wife and children. I am very happy for him that he is able to do this, because I think that Korea is one of those countries for which you really have to make the effort. Lord knows, they don't make it easy to integrate beyond the friendly tourist fa├žade. If you can move to Korea with unwavering optimism, and not mind that you'll always stick out, then you will find a wonderful country full of many hidden delights. Unfortunately, I wasn't quite able to do that, and my optimism gave way to frustration. I didn't absolutely hate my time there, but I didn't make the most of it either, which I often regret. I feel about Korea the way I felt about my students there: I'm fond of the place, but I don't really want to spend much time with it. I'm glad my brother-in-law seems to feel differently.

Still, I can't help being a smug expat. So here is a list of THINGS KOREANS LOVE:

- Kimchi in all its various forms (from cabbage to radish, our favourite was always the cucumber kimchi)

- Pop songs with English choruses: "I want nobody, nobody but YOU!"

- This

- Noraebang (Karaoke)

- Long, drawn out work parties (often with Noraebang)

- Hating the mother-in-law (the bane of Korean wives everywhere)

- Dried squid, dried octopus, and dried random sea creature whose name we never figured out

- Korean-ized foreign food (kimchi pilaf at Indian restaurants, squid on pizza etc)

- Smoking at the gym

- Matching couples' outfits

- Teetering along in insanely high-heeled shoes

- Heated floors (actually, these were amazing)

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