[LETTERS to the editor]Korea on an expat’s balance sheetKorea is a very prosperous and well-developed country with civilized behavior, efficient procedures, quality products, advanced technology, an impressive transportation system, low cost of living, beautiful scenery, safe streets and little poverty.
Koreans travel in cars and communicate with mobile phones. They store their food in refrigerators and heat their food in microwaves. They wear Western clothes. Korean soap operas are on TV, Korean movies are in the cinema, Korean pop is on the radio. But Koreans are still very, very Korean. Korean society is one of the best examples of one group of people adopting the culture of another group of people without losing their cultural identity. They are 99 percent Western and 100 percent Korean.
They seem to have struck the right balance. They have national unity and universal participation without fascism. They have neither the “anything goes” of America nor the hyper-strictness of Saudi Arabia. The government allows complete religious freedom and the church does not respond by getting involved in government.
Shopkeepers don’t quote you a higher price just because you’re a foreigner. Bargaining isn’t an exhausting process. Street vendors don’t howl at you, jump in front of you, or grab you. Pedestrians who want to cross the street go to the nearest intersection and wait for the walk sign to flash instead of crossing wherever they happen to be and jostling with drivers. People waiting to board a subway car allow passengers to exit first. Shoes come off in most homes and in many restaurants. Restaurant tables and floors are clean even after meals. Loud voices are generally reserved for the karaoke bar. Children roam the neighborhood unchaperoned and unmolested. Shopkeepers leave large amounts of expensive merchandise unwatched on the sidewalk overnight.
Few bag ladies, bums, or beggars. Few punkers, few hippies. No gangs. Few stray animals. Korean cities have red-light districts, but neither AIDS nor drug abuse are national epidemics.
Written Korean is one of the easiest languages to learn and one of the most scientific. It was invented, not developed. It is considered one of the great linguistic achievements of human history. Medical care in Korea is much cheaper than in Western countries, and just as good. Neighborhood restaurants deliver to your office and pick up the dishes an hour later.
Although premarital relationships have changed considerably, Korea is still a very socially conservative and very socially structured society. Age and authority are respected. Family and home are valued. Children are cherished and nurtured. Women leave the workplace to raise children, then return after the children graduate from high school. Education is given high priority. Obesity is increasing but still fairly rare. Sightings of long-haired men and beards are about as frequent as sightings of Elvis. Bowing is still common. Koreans work hard, play vigorously, study a lot, and don’t know what laziness and loitering are.
Korean children are among the best cared for, physically and emotionally healthiest, happiest and most carefree in the world. They are also among the most enthusiastic in the classroom. Teenagers are another story. Middle and high school students are under a lot of pressure to qualify for college. They are much more reserved and soft spoken in the classroom. Most of them take music lessons and learn to play at least one instrument as children. But as teenagers, it’s prep, prep, prep for college.
Downside: North Korea. Xenophobia. Materialism. Caste system. Government corruption. Race, accent and age discrimination. Stricter policies ― original transcripts, deportation for private tutoring and for working on a tourist visa, frequent crackdowns. Thirty lessons a week and a lot of paperwork. Need ESP or a degree in psychology to know what people are truly thinking and feeling.
by Carl Slaughter