Korea 'Made Simple'
(This post refers to Chris Backe’s blog and uses the term ”made simple’ which bears a similarity to the title of Chris’ recent book on learning Korean, Korean Made Easy). My references to ‘Korea made simple’ have nothing to do with his excellent book )
I had a drink this weekend in a bar around the corner from where I live. Everything was going well until the place was invaded by fifteen foreigners who were all drunk and noisy. As they entered, only one acknowledged the presence of either myself, or the two westerners I was with. When we decided to leave, just a few minutes later, the same woman that had said hello, apologised for not having been friendlier, meanwhile, the rest of the crowd she was with, continued to blank us.
It seems that expat-sub-culture slang, recently highlighted by Chris Backe (Chris in Korea), describes our experience as that of, ‘being waygooked.’ Chris lists a number Korean words adopted by westerners to use as slang and all comprise the first and only words many westerners learn during their short stay in Korea. I am pleased to report I wasn’t aware of any other meanings than those of the original Korean.
A sub-culture lingo lurks in any foreign place with a substantial numbers of foreigners but without doubt, the increased numbers of foreigners now living in Korea, coupled with the internet and the high number of ESL teachers help to consolidate and disseminate its lexicon. Whilst some of the examples Chris cites are harmless and amusing, a ‘chunner’ for a thousand Won, ‘manner’ for 10.000 Won, for example, others are not just unpleasant, but suggest many come to Korea with cultural attitudes cast in stone and from which they judge everything Korean – generally in a negative light.
To use expat, sub-culture slang self reflectively, Korea has been well and truly ‘waygooked’ though it might be more appropriate to stick to English and simply use the word ‘invaded!’ As each one of us arrives on the peninsula the reception for subsequent ‘visitors’ is made less unique and more mundane. Anyone who was here just ten years ago, will testify how much Korea has changed. To allow westerners to interface with Korean culture, and in order to look progressive, Korea has been ‘made simple.’ Gone are the days when you were compelled to either try to learn Korean or enjoy taking a gamble as everything from menus to bus arrival and departure boards, are now bilingual. About the only item still to be ‘made simple’ is the train ticket. Western food is now available everywhere and it is now possible to eat in different restaurants everyday without being required to sit on the floor or use chopsticks. And a wealth of information relative to Korea grows at a rapid rate. Language packages, blogs, cultural information, official websites, cooking websites, all proliferate. The Daegu, Kyobo book store’s section on the Korea Language for foreigners now occupies ten times the space it did ten years ago and one of the most elusive aspects of Korean culture, notably hanja, now has a number of books designed specifically for English speakers. Learning about Korea has never been easier but in the process, acquiring that information has never been more boring and unchallenging. The diary I kept on a daily basis during my first visit to Korea, before the days of blogging, vlogging and podcasts was was written with a view to publication back in the UK and the audience were clearly western. Today, a high percentage of the audience who access this blog live on the peninsula and are themselves bloggers.
Not too long ago, Korea needed to be discovered, it was elusive and mysterious and attracted a kind of foreigner with some spirit of adventure. I’m not saying that such individuals no longer come here, they do, but if you’re looking to ‘discover’ and ‘uncover’ things unique, as well as discover something about your own character, Korea is rapidly becoming a very safe option and ‘waygookinized’ almost, but not quite, to the same extent Thailand was ‘DeCaprionized.’ Soon the entire peninsula will posses as much potential to offer a unique experience as the Boring Boryeong Mud Festival. Not only can you research a wealth of information before you even buy passage, but you can communicate in various formats with those already here and discover just how safe it all is. And when you arrive you can pal-up, online and in reality, with a community predominantly doing the same thing you are – probably teaching. If I was setting out to Korea anew, it would be to somewhere like backwater Kangwondo or Ulundo and certainly not to any of the major cities which have now been saturated.
Yes, I am making a mountain out of a mole hill! I shouldn’t take it too seriously! But if anything is likely to make me leave Korea it is when it reaches a point where the experience of being here is not that different to being back-home. I came to Korea to experience its uniqueness and the more waygookins that come here, and I too am part of the problem, the more we connect and form a sub-culture, the more we adapt Korean to express our own predjudices (especially when so few of us can actually speak Korean), and assert a cultural superiority, the more unease I feel.
‘Ganging up’ with other foreigners to invade places, to ‘waygook’ them, is last thing I want to participant in and I certainly don’t want to be its victim. Many foreigners share such feelings and come to Korea to escape aspects of their own culture and to immerse themselves in a new one; ‘waygooking’ an environment is counterproductive to such objectives. And while I can chuckle at terms such as ‘chunner’ and ‘manner,’ and may well use them, other terms verge on either the culturally elite, or are racist. Korean ‘ajjumas’ can dress ‘loudly’ and those dollies that participate in high energy aerobic classes, decked out in glitzy leggings and multi-coloured, sequined apparel, are a constant source of interest rather than mockery. Back in the UK the dress code for a great number of younger women can be summarized as ‘vulgar and skimpy.’ For many Brits, fashion, which of course we think the ultimate, is on much the same level as that of some former soviet bloc nations. And yes, ‘ajjumas’ push and shove but this is a cultural difference and the way to diffuse your annoyance is to embrace it and simply shove back.
Yes, ajjumas can be somewhat exotic in the mish-mash of colours, but how much nicer and civilised that of a man-like female, covered in tattoos and with a mouth like a sewer. Where I live in the UK some of the females are very unpleasant. And Koreans can push and shove but I’ve never had one treat me with the anything like the level of aggression I would face on many a street in the UK. Meanwhile, here are some Korean words which can be adapted to describe some foreigners or indeed broader idiosyncrasies of western, or more specifically, British culture.
Sir-e-ki sa-ram – ‘dirty people’ who don’t wash properly especially as a report last year highlighted how as many as 40% of Brits don’t wash their hands after having a shit. ‘That businessman looks like a sir-e-ki saram‘ (he looks dirty or unclean).
Tre-shi ot – ‘trash clothes’ / ‘trash bag’ – the term used to describe the clothes worn by British people. ”The whole family wear tre-shi ot’ (the whole family dress like shit). This could aptly describe those teachers in Korea who go to work in cargo shorts and flip-flops.
Ch’ang n’yeo hak – ‘Prostitute girls’ – to describe the promiscuous manner in which many teenagers dress. (That crotchless thong makes your nine year old daughter look like a ch’ang n’yeo hak. (Basically, you little kid looks like a slapper!)
Bok pal-ip – ‘mouth explosion’ – to describe notoriously bad British teeth. ‘Look at the bok pal ip on him. (Look at his shit teeth)
Ddong mul pa-i-peu – ‘sewer pipe’ – a term used to describe both the physical and mental degeneracy of many British people – basically clean on the outside and filthy within. ‘Their kids are as wholesome as a ddong mul pa-i-peu.’ (The underwear might be clean but their contents house numerous infectious diseases).
ch’a-pi – chav – ‘most of the nation are ch’a-pi’ (most of the nation are chav).
di-pi-di – ‘dirty, violent , depressing” – DVD.
But I don’t mean to be offensive…
© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.