Oddly enough, I have returned and am now living in the town, if you can call it that, in which I was born. Obviously, after being orphaned at the age of three, I left this place many years —nearly three decades now— ago. This current living situation marks my third visit back to this place of my birth since being shipped away, and honestly, I have little to nothing good to say about it. If I take the advice of my mother (advice even she cannot seem to follow), I would say nothing at all, but because mothers lead by example, I shall say the worst.
Firstly, however, I must qualify what I am about to say with a few presumptions. I do not know what this place was like when I was born. I imagine that visually, nothing, these days, resembles life back then; cultural-consciously, I assume much has not changed. Despite having visited two times before, I toured as a tourist and thus, gleaned little to nothing about the people and their culture as a whole. Today, I have lived here for four years and four months, have worked in a work environment, have made friends with native citizens, have been invited into the homes of families and have eaten all the various types of traditional cuisine. I am confident in my opinion of this place because I have lived in two very different cities and have visited many others. The only thing about which I can honestly say I am not qualified to speak is country life and living, and so, I shall not. Therefore, my comments remain largely about big-city living.
After taking a deep, respectful breath to pause in the expanse of what I’m about to say, I will start simply by saying, I am the worst version of myself in this country’s largest city. And now, I will do my best to address a handful of the most glaring issues that do not gel with me well and that, in turn, have forced me into living a life as a person I do not like or enjoy.
- Gender Discrimination
Sexism rules the social law. Men have their role —at the top— and perform very specific duties within every aspect of life. Women are subservient and acknowledge that men are “better.” Employment opportunities are gendered as well as friendships and social behavior. Men have “manly” jobs (e.g., transportation, science and technology, delivery personnel, convenience store clerks, bosses, for the elderly, security guards, and basically any form of work that “requires” physical strength and brains). Women fill all of the positions best left to women and their soft touch (e.g., teachers with the exception of math and sciences, cashiers, cooks, moms, clothing shop attendants, customer service, interior cleaning services, and ever so often, a boss within an employment sector where the employees are only female).
As a female who grew up within the new millennium in a country where women are (at least) allowed to believe they can do anything, in a family that (despite a mother who vents about gender equality while simultaneously growing upset that a man hasn’t offered her a seat) had a father figure who insisted that being a girl could never be an excuse to not try something, life here in this place is frustrating at best, utterly disgusting at worst. Frustration rises when I watch a fat man stuff his face with pork belly and soju as his anorexic wife sits and cooks up all the food on the bbq and stuffs her fat son’s face with food. Disgust bubbles forth when my middle-school-aged, female student looks at me one day and says that her mother and doctor demand that she go on a diet because she’s “too fat” (she is by far not even the least bit fluffy), and then another day, she says that boys will always win on sports day because boys are stronger and better at sports (because girls are not encouraged to even participate in any form of physical endeavor). To be fair, the tides of change are rippling through, slowly but surely.
- Blinding Cultural Ignorance
This place celebrates, on average, one to two holidays per month with the exception of two multi-day-long celebrations for the autumn harvest and Lunar New Year. When asked what these other holidays (national holidays, mind you) acknowledge or celebrate, they are largely unknown. All they know is that they get the day off, and frankly, that’s all they need to know, according to them.
Also, when speaking to native speakers who are learning English, many have little to no idea that they speak English all the time without knowing it. They fail to learn or understand that many of their modern-day vocabulary have been transliterated from English. For instance, I pointed out that elevator is the same in both languages, and the person to whom I spoke looked at me and said, “No. We have our own word for it, el-eh-bae-ih-tah.” To which I responded, “Yea, it’s the same word, elevator. Your language uses the same word, with your language’s alphabet sounds.” The look on the person’s face was unbelievable.
[For the sake of this being a rough draft and the fact that I have run out of writing time for the day, I will simply list some more topics about which I will eventually write at a later date.]
- Lemming-like Sameness
- Unfamiliarity as an Excuse for Ignorance
- The Error of “We”
- Intentional Cultural Appropriation (Lack of Originality in Aesthetics and The Death of Inherent Culture)