They don’t deserve the ‘ugly’ label, do they?So many Koreans are going overseas these days that you’re beginning to hear stories about “ugly Koreans.” The tales usually go like this: Koreans are noisy, rude and seek out Korean restaurants instead of eating the local food.
But I’ve encountered many Koreans in my travels and have had only good experiences. I’ve found Koreans to be sensitive to other cultures, open-minded and generous ― at least after they put away their squid.
I’ve spent substantial time with Korean backpacker types all over the world. In Greece I scrambled around the Parthenon with a Korean man and woman in their 20s. In India I waxed spiritual with two Korean hippie guys staying at an ashram in Rishikesh.
But the best experience I had was in China. About five years ago I was gallivanting around the country with my American girlfriend, and we were traveling on the cheap. We took a bus up to Inner Mongolia to see the steppes, the region’s vast grasslands. We aimed for a region northeast of Hohhot, the central city in the region.
There was a nice place for tourists to stay there, where the locals had set up a camp consisting of a few yurts. But the yurts were full up with package tourists, so we had to rent a tent to sleep in.
When dinner time came on the first night, my girlfriend and I decided to be frugal, so we ordered a couple of bowls of bland noodles. Nearby were the package tourists. About seven or eight young Koreans made up one group. They were on the deluxe tour ― their guide had prepared for them a lavish buffet.
One woman in the group took pity on us and our paltry meals, and invited us to join her group. The way she asked was so sweet. It was as if she couldn’t enjoy her big meal if she knew we were getting by on only noodles.
We gladly joined her group, and shared in the big dinner ― grilled mutton, boiled beef and dumplings. The guides kept the local liquor flowing. We talked about our experiences in China. It was a good time for all.
Eventually my girlfriend and I said goodnight to our new friends and retired to our tent. We couldn’t have been happier, with full bellies and the luminous night sky above.
We slept well, until we were awakened just after dawn by a rustling of our tent. I unzipped the opening, and there was the friendly Korean girl with a handful of wildflowers for us. She said her group was about to leave and she just wanted to say goodbye.
Wildflowers smell a lot better than squid.
by Mike Ferrin