I’m half Korean

Today or tomorrow –not exactly sure– marks the half way point of my nearly two month business trip to South Korea. Figured I’d spend a little time today reflecting on my experiences.

Six Foot Two Inch White Guy:

I guess I fall on the taller side of the height spectrum being 6’2, but when my Dad is 6’5 and my little brother is 6’7, I’ve never really felt that tall. That was until I stepped off the plane and entered Incheon Airport. I guess I’ve never really realized just how much of a melting pot America really is. No one stops and stares in America at someone for being Asian, or Black, or Hispanic. We are so accustom to diversity, we don’t even think twice about it.

South Korea is a different story. I stick out like a sore thumb. It’s really odd being the only person at a restaurant with Blue Eyes or Dirty Blonde hair. In fact, I had my feelings of “that guy doesn’t fit in here” confirmed when a random Korean citizen came up to me and asked if I was an American. When I told him “Yes.”, he asked if I would take a picture with him (which I did). Definitely the minority here 🙂

Subway rides really are THAT crazy:

I remember years ago, passing around a video I saw on YouTube of a bunch of people trying to cram on a train in Japan. Here’s one such video…

I guess I’m kind of naive because I always figured the video was fake. Boy oh boy was I wrong. I had to take the train one day and everything in that video happened on my ride. There is no such thing as personal space when it comes to public transportation here. Hop on an American bus or train and you know that every other seat is going to be open because  Americans hate sitting next to each other. Definitely not the case here. In fact, the dude next to me on the train was so uncomfortably close to my “no-no” zone I’m pretty sure I’m pregnant. At least I was entertained by the other American on the train who was having a mild panic attack due to the claustrophobic conditions.

There is no guessing in Korea:

I’ve done some time in Canada, Aruba, Mexico, France, and Germany. While I only speak English, I was at least able to reason my way to what some of the local words meant. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that “aereopuerto” means “airport”. But how in the hello am I suppose to reason my way to 닭고기 meaning chicken? If it isn’t in English, I’m out of luck. Sucks having to hope they can speak my language, when I should be the one speaking theirs (I am trying to learn though). This was the sign that welcomed me off the airplane, something tells me it was probably something important to know…

Cold does not equal snow:

I love skiing. I haven’t been able to do enough of it over the last eight years since San Diego is obviously not known for having epic powder sessions in the winter months, or ever for that matter. On one of my weekends I decided to go be adventurous and hit the slopes Korean style. Hyundai Sungwoo Resort was the closest mountain and I figured it would be worth a go.

It’s been really cold here (Suppose to be 2˚F on Wednesday) so I assumed the mountains would have plenty of snow. I got to the resort, put my skis on, and started treading my way to the chair lift. I was pumped for a day of skiing. It wasn’t until I got to the top of the chairlift and looked at my surroundings that I realized the resort was all man-made snow and the neighboring hills were completely snow-free. I died a little inside. I would have never taken the trip had I known I’d just be skiing the Korean equivalent of Big Bear (the closest skiing to San Diego). Here’s a shot I took from the top of the lift…

Food:

I have stepped out of my comfort zone and tried some of the local Korean dishes like Spicy Beef Bulgogi, which was actually pretty good. I was also told I had to try some Kimchi while I was here. I gave the Kimchi a shot, but after a few bites just couldn’t convince myself to keep eating. It wasn’t so much the taste that bothered me, but more the fact that I was eating fermented vegetables. Psychologically freaked me out :(.

I have, however, had some incredible Italian and Turkish food. Oh and what would a trip to Korea be without getting some Mexican food…haha. Took me a while to track a place down, but I was super pumped when I found myself some steak fajitas. Oh and to make it worse, check out my view from the Mexican joint….

Street vendors: 

Everywhere you go there are  a million street vendors selling just about anything and everything you can imagine. It seems like some of the most common items I see for sale are American sports team jerseys, mink blankets, scarves/beanies/gloves, leather jackets, custom tailored suits, and fake purses. American money is highly desired here. So much so that one of the places I bought something from refused to take Korean Won when I offered it. Kinda weird being in Korea and not being able to use Korean money everywhere.

The most incredible thing I’ve seen so far is a painting a local vendor did that is so realistic and detailed it looks like a picture. Homeboy’s got some mad paintbrush talent and I’m seriously considering hiring him to paint something for me. Check out his work…

That about wraps it up for now. I still have another 3.5 weeks in this place so I’m hoping to take a tour of the DMZ and do some shopping in Seoul before I head back for the states. While it’s pretty cool here (both figuratively and literally), I think Germany takes the cake for coolest business trip location so far 🙂

50 thoughts on “I’m half Korean

  1. It really opens your eyes to raw talent/skill when you see how amazing these Street Artists are. I can relate to this having seen some of the Thai artists over the last few years. It is truly amazing how accurately they can reproduce photographs- to the extent that a lot of people think they have been printed. I would highly recommend you get a piece commissioned (you won’t be able to get it done so skillfully at that price in many other places)!

  2. The transit thing isn’t an Asian thing, it’s just a major metropolitan city thing. Getting on the subway or streetcar at rush hour in Toronto is exactly like that (except everyone knows not to block the doors; that was the thing that screamed “fake” to me about that video). I assume it’s the same for a city like New York or Paris and I’ve seen it happen when I was living in London. There are weird codes of etiquette, too, regarding packed streetcars. It’s not as bad as it looks.

  3. Very interesting! I actually am half Korean (but I do nothing Korean-like, as I grew up with my Danish father), so it’s interesting to read this!

  4. Hop on an American bus or train and you know that every other seat is going to be open . . .
    – You have never been on a rush hour subway in New York City.

    It wasn’t so much the taste that bothered me, but more the fact that I was eating fermented vegetables.
    – You eat sauerkraut, pickles? They are fermented vegetables. Please keep trying Korean food.

    So much so that one of the places I bought something from refused to take Korean Won when I offered it.
    – She or he may have thought you were an American. Try scunching down so you don’t stand out so much.

    The most incredible thing I’ve seen so far is a painting a local vendor did that is so realistic and detailed it looks like a picture. Homeboy’s got some mad paintbrush talent with and I’m seriously considering hiring him to paint something for me.
    – Do it. I doubt his prices will be high.

    That about wraps it up for now. I still have another 3.5 weeks in this place so I’m hoping to take a tour of the DMZ and do some shopping in Seoul before I head back for the states. While it’s pretty cool here (both figuratively and literally), I think Germany takes the cake for coolest business trip location so far
    – I think you’re having a good time.

    • Agreed with Larry on the fermented vegetables. Kimchi is something you learn to like. Pickles were definitely that way for me.

      I’m glad you like the bulgogi! Try the kalbi, they’re barbequed short ribs…even better! As well as bibimbap – it’s a stone rice bowl topped with meat and vegetables. Ok, now I’m just getting envious…hahaha

  5. We spent 6 months in Seoul for business and I can totally relate, especially to the train thing. Have you been to Bukhansan National Park? Totally worth the effort, the views on the hike are incredible. It’s also incredible how many older women hike together in the typical black outfits, but with very colorful accents, like hats, shoes, nails and lipstick that are all bright pink. If you have a weekend to get away I recommend Seoraksan National Park. There’s a gondola and it’s fairly inexpensive.

    How about the monotone color cars? Did that throw you? It did me. The first time I saw a parking lot with all grey, white and black cars I was shocked. I had noticed driving around that there weren’t many colors of cars but seeing them all parked next to each other was something else.

    Have fun on the DMZ tour! It was interesting and there was a TON of propaganda. It costs a little more but doing the entire tour (the one where you have to have your passport and background check done) is totally worth it.

    Oh, and one more thing. Have you seen advertisements for the Green Tea McFlurry? It looks like ice cream covered in green slime. My kids thought it looked awesome.

  6. I’ve been to a lot of countries, but mostly places where you can guess the words (except Hungary). It is a strange feeling to be in a completely foreign place. The overcrowding makes me hesitant to visit some Asian cities like Tokyo.

  7. Had a great time reading your post; very enlightening! A friend of mine once did a bike tour of Vietnam; people stopped her on the streets because they wanted to touch her red hair!

    When I was in Budapest, Hungary on business about 5 years ago, and it was probably the most “lost” I’d ever felt; I’m fluently bilingual in French and English, and many times, it didn’t help me, but luckily several important signs and direction were in English.

    I’m so used to personal space; I think I would also have a panic attack if I had to take a subway in Korea! LOL! I’m heading off to Paris in about 5 weeks; luckily, my French skills will be put to good use, and I won’t have any problem navigating the streets, even if I get lost 🙂

  8. There’s an underground economy where you can exchange USD/KRW at much better rates than a bank will give you. You may be too tall and white though to do a successful trade. When my aunt did it for me, it was (literally) at the NamDaeMoon (North Door) underground market. We took the bus to and from there and I remember we missed our stop because we had to work our way to the front of the bus. You literally have to push your way through… it was hot, sweaty, and disgusting day. It made for close contact even more uncomfortable. Still, it was a fantastic time.

  9. Okay, a few things.

    you’re not half Korean.

    Korea isn’t Japan.

    You’re inching into that territory again. The not so good place to be. Please be respectful and mindful that a small number of people of color do read your blog (in spite of myself) and might be slightly offended. Regardless of what others feel, I am offended.

    Also, you might as well have a siren over your head going “WHITE PERSON WHITE PERSON WHITE PERSON” with some of the things you say. People do indeed stare. A woman in Florida stared at me in a majority white place. People in Missouri stared at me when I was the only person of color in that immediate area. People stared at my parents together when I was a child and it made me angry and self-conscious (as if being mixed isn’t hard enough on its own). You will never know what it feels like to have someone stare at your parents together like a circus sideshow. Please be mindful that you are coming from a white person’s perspective and it skews how you see things and it’s VERY obvious that you’re white from what you’re saying and I encourage you to change that.

    • Didn’t you realize the OP would be ignorant the rest of the article when he referred to the term “melting pot” early on? That set my expectation fair quickly for the rest of the article. So, I suppose I did not feel as offended as you. You can’t really criticize him for the whole staring thing… People are Korea are gonna stare at a tall white guy. People will stare at you if you’re the only “colored” person around. Rude, but expected. And by “colored” I assume you are including Asian.

    • This might be a surprise to you but there is a such thing as a play on words. When I said I’m half Korean I was implying I’m halfway done with my trip to Korea. Wouldn’t expect you to pick up on that though since I can’t do anything right in your eyes.

      • C The Writer has a point though… You’re in Korea, but you show a video about Japanese subways. Other than proximity and subways, what do the two have to do with each other?

        Diversity is not alive and well. Drive across the country sometimes and see what the color make up is… Or look at a census map. Diversity is only in certain places. At least you get a taste of what being different is like being in Korea. You’re in the best country because most Koreans still love Americans.

        • He was almost literally saying Japan=Korea. He talks about how he thought it was an exaggeration. Instead of showing a video of Korea, he pulls out one of Japan…okay then.

          Actually, given the history between the two countries, it’s a pretty bad mixup. I’d be more comfortable if he was posting a picture of a crazy train station in Rome and saying “I HEARD it was crazy, but DAMN.”

        • Also, the comments about the food are just rude. Brings me back to what he said about being a simple eater, blah blah. It’s just xenophobia at its core.

          And yes, Ninja, sauerkraut, if you’ve ever eaten it, is fermented vegetables. Funny that. Or is it all just so strange and weird that you have to show how little you know?

          The truth hurts, but I’m not going to sit back and listen to that. Nope.

          • How are complaints about food rude? I even said the food wasn’t gross, but it was my own psychological barrier that prevented me from enjoying it. I didn’t say Kimchi is disgusting, how the heck can anyone eat it. Simply said, it wasn’t bad, but not my cup of tea. And yes, I also hate saurkraut, and pickles. Apparently doing so makes me a racist.

      • If you’re halfway done with your trip, say that. Being half Korean has nothing to do with being halfway done with a trip to the country of Korea. That’s not even a play on words. That just sounds, excuse me, but dumb. I picked up on what you were trying to be clever about but I was not amused, and perhaps others were unamused as well.

        I have already suggested ways in which you could be more sensitive to women, to people of color, and others whose lives you don’t understand. Yes, you are very steeped in your worldview and have no way of getting out. Too bad you won’t even try to think about how it feels for others.

        • Funny that no one complained about my blog post in Germany titled “I’m pretty much half German”. I even linked to that article at the end of this one. You’re trying desparately to make me in to something I am not. Sorry I can’t constantly entertain and amuse you with every joke or pun I make. You know you could just stop reading or commenting on my blog. Who am I kidding, you would never do that since I am your primary source of traffic to your site.

          • Yes, and you’re also the primary source of traffic for a lot of your other readers. Your point? I’m not using you to get people to visit my page. I have stuff to say to you and people follow the link. So sorry.

          • C, I have to defend Ninja here. You say that you don’t comment here to drive traffic to your blog, but with way you interact with this community, I don’t believe you. Most of the commenters here make considered and thoughtful replies, and yet you seem to find any and every reason to insult many readers with off-the-cuff and sardonic remarks as fast as you possibly can. And your own blog posts beg for traffic and as good as mention Ninja by name.

            We are all shaped by our backgrounds and the experiences we have had in life so far. I am incredulous that, in a post where Ninja shares how much his world view has been broadened by traveling, experiencing a new culture, and trying new things, you fault him for being close minded. Satire, humor, and hyperbole have been a part of this blog as long as I have been reading, and Ninja’s challenging politically correct thought has given opportunity for some very interesting discussions.

            If you want readership and a discussion on your own blog, you won’t find here it by disrespecting this community in such a way. Respect gets respect. There is always room for differing opinions, considered arguments, and sharing your experiences, but you won’t persuade anyone of your position by bandying insults and attacks.

          • I’m sorry, but if you think my posts beg for traffic, or that me mentioning Ninja offhand a few times in my posts means anything other than I’m blogging, then you are mistaken.

            I’m a firecracker with an opinion of my own. I’m not a butt kisser. Deal with it.

    • You have a right to feel whatever you feel, but c’mon. People in general are too easily offended. The comments in this blog aren’t harsh or ignorant, they’re meant to be funny. Not everything that is funny to one person, is funny to another. I get it.

      Quick question. What would everyone think if someone started a NAAWP (national association for the advancement of white people). Tell me they wouldn’t freak out.

  10. People, calm down. It’s not that serious. And yes, there is such a thing as personal space, even here in New York in rush hour. Just get as close as you would in Korea or Japan and you’ll find out.

    Foods that you are USED TO, can be difficult for someone’s palate. Try feeding your Japanese friends an American pound cake. They might say that it’s too sweet and might dislike it. Feed your non-Jewish friends gefilte fish. It might not sit well on their tongue either.

    Drop someone of a different race in a country that is traditionally made up of one race. You get stares. It’s all good as long as you’re comfortable.

    I give Ninja props for GOING to Korea. Lots of people wouldn’t even consider it. He’s cool with me.

    • I think even some Jewish people don’t like gefilte fish. : D

      Anyone who wouldn’t visit Korea hasn’t seen some of the awesome apartments people get to live in while teaching English to students.

  11. By the way, Japan is an island… It’s not the same continent as Korea. You should know Japan and Korea got beef from world war 2. Japanese soldiers raped Korean women for “comfort”.

    • Japan, sadly, has a long, long history of oppressing Koreans. I learned about it from a Korean literature class I took in college. Very depressing stuff that I’d rather not think about.

      They also have a history of occupying other Asian countries (China, also) and doing terrible things.

        • Using the same dictionary you used, I’m going to have to back Ninja on his interpretation.

          http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/continent
          1. one of the main landmasses of the globe, usually reckoned as seven in number (Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Antarctica).

          Though Japan is an island nation, it is not considered to be a seperate continent like Australia or Antarctica are. Since it is considered to be part of Asia, it is a legitimate interpretation to consider South Korea and Japan to be part of the same continent. I’m not saying it is the only way to look at it, but it is a legitimate one.

  12. Wow…I think I get a more sobering idea of the diversity of people reading your comments than i do from reading your post about Korea. Proves the point that no matter how rational one’s arguments are, they are no match for irrational people. A few things that will help those who are inexperienced in forming rational arguments (those worthy of a person’s respect and response) may be to actually understand the terms used in the argument (i.e. continent) and also to understand the context under which this article is written. Examples being the title- it is a pun, he is not literally stating he’s half Korean nor even making fun of being Korean whatsoever but relating it to the duration he has been in Korea in a clever way. Although this level of understanding/comprehension would not be common in some younger age readers (let me clarify I’m not saying all younger readers), it is fairly common for adult age readers to understand the implied comparison. Likewise, the subway comparison is in fact a comparison but it compares one aspect of two societies – congested subways… not both societies as a whole (this would be like saying since one white guy has one similarity to a white criminal all white people are criminals…the argument is terribly flawed because it’s premise is flawed). Keep in mind Ninja also qualifies that the congestion in the Korean subways reminded him of a video “Like” the one seen of the Japanese subway, implying that it is simply an example not anything more or less. Ninja uses many literary devices in his posts that may be meant for an audience that can comprehend at a higher level (i don’t mean to diminish some posters’ understanding but please ask for clarification if you don’t fully understand, rather than spouting nonsense due to a lack thereof, it makes arguments entirely senseless). i hope this helps people in future posts and avoids rants and tirades that show nothing more than one’s ignorance.

  13. Sorry you are getting so much backlash for your post Ninja. I found most of the observations to be amusing because I remember going through an adjustment period as well when I was living in an entirely new society when I lived in Japan.

    If you haven’t suffered any overt racism against you yet, feel blessed. I trust that you are using the experience of being in the minority to get a glimpse into what life can be like for those who are minorities in America. I experienced outright hostility against me a few times when I was in Japan. To be verbally attacked simply because of my race was an eye-opening experience. It made me far more aware of racism in all forms both at home and abroad.

    I don’t believe that you are racist or xenophobic because if you were, you never would have gone to South Korea in the first place. You had the choice to travel there or stay home and I believe that by choosing to travel, you are opening yourself up to learn and experience everything you can. But please keep trying to food, there will always be foods in any culture that you don’t love, but there may be some that you will miss when you get back.

  14. Heidi – if that’s how he meant it then your interpretation is okay as well. Ninja should disappear with a smoke bomb on this one… Lol

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