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Western food in Korea - scary and expensive with a side of pickles p.2

Western food in Korea.

Part Two of Two.

As we looked at last week, pickles are plentiful and Italian food is an embarrassment. Did I already apologize on behalf of Korea? 이탈리아, 죄송합니다.

But this week we’re looking at the good stuff. We’re looking at what Korea does right.* Depending on how adventurous you are.

One thing that comes to mind when I think of Western food done right..dare I say it? better than Americans do it is fried chicken. In the states, I’m a fan of spicy chicken tenders. Strips of boneless chicken meat fried and coated with red pepper flakes. Take one of them bad boys and dip it into a cup of warm creamy gravy and you have yourself not only a dangerously meal but you are now suspect to heart failure.

But we’re not talking about that type of chicken. We’re talking back to the basics. We’re talking right-after-church-Southern-style-fried-chicken. Bone. Skin. Crispy. Deep. Fried. Goodness. Koreans do it right and they know it.

Fried chicken comes in the traditional breaded and deep fried fashion in Korea but it also has it’s own Korean spin to it. Like many other Korean foods, it can come with the a side (or soaked in) the ubiquitous sauce you either love or hate known as 양념.

Not only that but the chicken doesn’t come in sizes such as large, medium and so on. One must order chicken by the animal. A typical order might be half of a chicken - literally. Or a whole chicken. A face on your food? Oh yeah. I mean, it makes sense to do so but it still feels a little weird telling the sweet smiling lady behind the counter “I’d like one whole chicken for dinner. Yes I’m eating alone why do you ask?”

None of that compares to the recent monstrosity that is this little number. A little food stand sells this near my place and I tried it. I then promptly collapsed from fatness overload. Combine a soda with a little bit of fried chicken tender bits on top and throw some 양념 or ketchup and you’ve got Korea’s answer to KFC’s famous bowls. All the grease and none of the questionably nutritious vegetables or vegetable by-products like mashed potatoes. Just fried goodness.

KC101 korea food blog chicken

We’ve taken a look at the good, the bad, and the pickley. I hope you’ve enjoyed this cuisine cruise. For more on food in Korea, both Western and non-scary, check out ZenKimchi.


Western food in Korea - scary and expensive with a side of pickles p.1

Western food in Korea.

Part One of Two.

Why sweet baby Jesus are there pickles served with everything here?

KC101 blog korea korean pickles pickle food western side dish

It’s so unnecessary. For some reason, Korea feels the need to supply Western food with a heaping side of pickles with every meal. I still can’t tell if it is for the benefit if foreigners who have this supposed insatiable appetite for salted cucumbers or if it’s for Koreans who want an alternative to 김치 during their meal. Either way, it’s peculiar.

In addition to the green spectacle served with pizza, spaghetti and other Italian mutations, there exists gut-wrenching excuses for Western food in this land. Granted, fast food and convenience store food is awful no matter which country you live in, but this abomination… is unforgivable.

KC101 blog korea korean western food spaghetti

See, I come from a country where ‘real’ Italian food is hard enough to come by, but we Americans get by. Although we have Papa John’s and Fazzoli’s, we acknowledge that it isn’t ‘real’ Italian but it’s still tasty food none the less. It’s like a delicious copy. But the sinful excuse for Italian food in Korea is shameful. A copy of a copy in every sense of the word, Italian food here has become a shadow of its former self and moreso, a western food monster. Sugar sprinkled garlic bread, marinara sauce with the sweetness of vanilla ice cream and a peculiarly thin cream sauce will raise bot only eyebrows but also the dead.

I won’t even get started on Korea’s relationship with cheese. It’s no bueno.

I confess though that I actually like most cream sauce dishes here. It doesn’t leave the heaviness of alfredo sauce but that’s probably because it doesn’t have alfredo cheese in it. So, if it’s lacking in real cheese, why am I paying an arm and a leg for it in the first place?

For example, a heaping serving of delicious 참치김치찌개 (tuna kimchi stew) that comes piping hot with at least four side dishes and a healthy portion of cooked rice will run you 5000원 (less than five bucks USD). Not bad. A freshly cooked healthy meal with plenty of vegetables. Who can argue with that?

How about a artery clogging fake cheese drenched noodle bowl with some pickles on the side? Good thing I paid four times what I should have for that big steaming pile of lies. Italian food - you are expensive and you have bad taste. You’re like the Adam Sandler of food.


Engrish,, an ohter comon bad the moments times of a recently


What a funny thing you have done to the English language, South Korea. You make me laugh. Daily. Hourly. Minute…ly.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not making fun of Korea in the sense that I think my foreign language skills are better. Not sure if you’ve noticed recently, but my Korean isn’t that great. I’m still translating kid books. So yeah, it’s fun to laugh at but plenty of my friends get to laugh at my expense daily.

Having said that, Engrish is funny. Some of my favorites: “Don’t you tired?“, “That test made me hard“, and “You will be a stress“. Classic. You can’t make up comedy like that. Just a cursory google search will yield some awesome results. There is no shortage of goofy Engrish here.

What other native English speakers have posed before, and I agree with, is that Korea overuses English. I’m not saying that people use English too much in the sense of communication but for advertising and such, English is overused and largely misused when the target demographic aren’t even native English speakers. Therefore, an advertisement in the Korean language would be seemingly more effective. I suppose it’s the status symbol of English in this country that pushes such awful English. What status symbol that is, I don’t know but it’s some sort of status.

KC101 blog korea korean sign engrish funny english

Still, if they started replacing questionable food titles and hilarious recycling signs with only Korean language explanations, it would make things hard to get around for non-Korean speakers. Make sure that I’m not for the full removal of English; I’m just for the promulgation of coherent English. Otherwise, leave it alone.

All in all, it’s all just one big unintentional joke. Some of the best Engrish is found on trivial goods such as casual tee shirts and department stores. It’s clearly geared towards a younger audience with disposable income who likely has more of a familiarity with English than the older generation. However, the line between clever marketing and professional incompetence gets blurred all too often leaving foreigners to judge Korea’s image on things that Korea would rather not choose.

To put things in perspective (for our own entertainment, of course) I present Matthew: in full Engrish. Imagine me at a subway stop near you. Brace yourself. It’s going to get ugly.

KC101 blog korea korean funny engrish sign matthew model

Thus ends my Engrish modeling career.

The Korean language is daunting as it is but it’s preferable than poorly edited Engrish. Making mistakes in a conversation is one thing - I would never fault anyone for trying to speak a foreign language, let alone English - but marketing English as some sort of hook is almost insulting. It trivializes the language and makes it the butt of jokes and weakly delivered Korean rap song introductions. Example you say? 쥬얼리 (Jewelry)’s song “Vari2ty” is 30% less sexy just from the introduction. What the hell Baby J? Didn’t you live in California for a while? Reason #29 why I hate California.


You lookin’ at me? Staring in Korea


Ahh geez… It’s one of those days again. Look, no offense kind madam, but if you eyeball me one more time I’m going to start stabbing people. Thank you for not staring. It only took you five subway stops to lose interest in my remarkably hairy arm. Thanks. A word of advice? Perhaps next time you see someone with blue eyes you won’t look make that ‘throw up’ face. Deal? No? Fair enough. ** **** yourself.

What? You’ve never thought this before? It’s brutal, sure but try getting stared at 24/7. And to think, mine is a face that is a socially acceptable deviance of what a foreigner ‘can’ look like (so to say). But who am I kidding? I’m the poster boy for native English education. I can’t imagine what others are experiencing here. I know it’s not just me.

Where I’m from, it’s rude. I’m not saying that it doesn’t occur in the States but it’s not appropriate social behavior. Regardless of the reason for staring be it an interracial relationship, hyper-obesity, revealing clothing, special needs, a little person, etc - it’s just not a nice thing to do. Americans are taught at a young age to put their curiosity aside in order to allow the other person to be treated equal. While not universally obeyed, if any staring occurs, attempts are subtle and try to go unnoticed.

While likely not an isolated event in Korea, it is my understanding that those doing the staring are clueless to it’s offending powers. In Korea, some misunderstand it and take it as racist behavior. Looking at it from the racist angle, it’s quite uncomfortable and victimizes the person who receives the dagger-like stares. While I’m sure racism exists in some form on every continent, I would suggest to try not to get offended. No matter how tempting it may be to scream “왜 그렇게 보고있어?!?” I urge you to try looking at it from their perspective. It’s not out of blood-boiling hatred or radical nationalism. It’s out of pure curiosity. *most of the time.

KC101 blog staring subtle korea looking stare

*Okay, not all the time. Sure sometimes, it’s because a foreigner is talking too loud on the bus or subway. Hey even if you were speaking Korean you’d get stared at for the volume of your voice. Sometimes it’s because you’re showing too much skin. Not saying you should wear a turtle neck 24/7 but if your upper body’s exposed, eyeballs are drawn to the exposed area like a moth to a flame. Sometimes it’s because your clothes are different. Yep. In a world of shiny pants and pink couple shirts for all, your Abercrombie & Fitch clothes might look a little off.

Fair enough, but some of it also stems from ignorance and misinformation of other nationalities.

A common complaint (and one shared by myself) is the situation where razor-like stares are sent when a clearly non-Korean man (like myself) is seen with a Korean female (be it just a friend or significant other). It’s not anything new and not anything terribly shocking, either. However, at least a few times a week, it apparently deserves hardcore glaring from anyone curious or old enough on the subway. From a purely superficial skin-deep standpoint, I am in a common-looking international relationship. A white guy with a Korean woman is nothing new to write home about. One would think that people would have quit freaking out about that a hundred and fifty years ago.

Despite the uncomfortableness it may cause the receivers of such random fixed gazes, I submit that most Koreans are staring out of pure curiosity. Come on, one cannot make the claim that Korea is so homogeneous and expect an interracial relationship to be anything but a source for curiosity; especially for the older generation. I have the utmost confidence that Korea will soon find other things more interesting than an insignificant foreigner such as myself smiling at my significant other on the bus.

Solution? Things are-a changing. Slowly, but surely some foreigners get it, too Many have figured out that things aren’t the same as back home. However, it is fair to say that many Koreans with international experience have figured out that staring is rude to most westerners. In the meantime, if you find yourself the victim of eyeball glares and analytical squints, just relax and turn up the volume on your iPod. See no evil hear no evil.

Got your eye on some more? Well, more than just Koreans are doing the staring. Apparently, it’s an Asian thing. What if you’re just minding your own business with a friend of the opposite sex? Sadly, this happens even to platonic friends of opposite gender, too. In closing, in a wicked sense of comedy comes this little tidbit of information: even other Asians get stared at, too. Go figure.

Photo credits: 선현우 and 안효진

It’s a Korean kind of Christmas

Christmas in Korea.

Plainly said, Christmas is a ‘friend’ holiday instead of a ‘family’ holiday like it is in America. The opposite can be said about New Years in Korea - it’s a ‘family’ holiday instead of a ‘friend’ holiday like it is in America. No need to complicate matters. Everything else is completely backwards here so why not Christmas, right?

So in this already insanely commercialized country where even chocolate covered pretzel sticks have their own holiday one would assume that Christmas is just as commercial as it is in America. However, one might be surprised that in a country where Christianity is the majority religion, Christmas is not much more important than any other holiday. One could make the argument that 빼빼로데이 is bigger. One would also get pulverized by either candy canes or 빼빼로 depending who’s arguing.
KC101 blog korea korean christmas 산타 할아버지

So what about Saint Nick coming down your chimney? Oh yeah…no chimneys here. Well, what about the lumps of coal in your stocking if you’re bad? No stockings over the non-existent fire place…well then surely they kiss under the mistletoe? What do you mean it doesn’t grow here? Well it’s not Christmas without lights a tree…huh? what’s a fire hazard? Coniferous evergreens in short supply you say? For the love… if nothing else, they’ve heard of A Charlie Brown Christmas, right? No? Good grief.

But have no fear. It is a public holiday so most business will be closed. You’ll even see a lively decoration here and there. It also seems that each year is getting more Christmas-y looking. Artificial trees may not be in mass abundance but you can certainly find them. However, gifts under the tree are less in number. One thoughtful gift is much more common than several smaller gifts. Yeah but when I say thoughtful gift we may not be talking about the same thing. An envelope stuffed with cash? Thoughtful gift in Korea. Not rude. Soak that in, stranger.

It makes sense, though. How ethnocentric must I be to expect Korea to celebrate a uniquely Western holiday in the same fashion? Take the good with the bad, I say. At least Korea is safe from harm’s way. Christmas time in America is also the time for ear-piercingly bad Christmas music. Someone a whole lot more funny than me has already dissected just how bad it can be (NSFW but funny as all get out).

I joke but of course Father Christmas is in Korea. Take a look. It’s a bit different and a bit muted, but it’s slowly turning into the over-hyped money-driven holiday that we all know and hate love back in the States. Happy Holidays, y’all.


An idiot’s guide to Korean fashion - p.2

Korean fashion.

Part Two of Two. Part One can be found here.

I present what’s happening in the world of female fashion according to a man with no fashion sense. Remember that this covers mostly the young women and not the older women who are long-deserving of a post of their own. In the meantime, here is a selected representation of the pleasantly attractive but curiously strange world of Korean women fashion.

KC101 blog korean female women woman fashion girl

- Skinny <everything> -

As touched upon in the infamous “fat” post, Korea is hurtin for a good ol’ American steak. We gots lot of skinny girls in desperate need of some meat. Haven’t they ever had an enchilada or two? If skinny is the new black then this place is straight-up darkness. Sneeze hard enough and one of the college girls on the subway might fall over from the force. Please go back for seconds, Korean women. You look nice but at what cost?
- Short Skirts -

This weather-be-damned article of clothing will be worn no matter the temperature. Despite the skinny leg eye candy that short skirts merit, it does make me want to buy them all a blanket. Something about the sea of short skirts in Korea makes me question the whole ‘conservative society’ image of Korea. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

- Leggings -

Call them stockings, panty hose or leggings but either way they cover a woman’s legs and they are everywhere. Something about legs that becomes the focus of Korean fashion. Perhaps it’s due the vast ocean of chopstick-looking legs that is found in Seoul. These chopstick wielding young women have money so the clothes manufacturers match the demographic. Enter: leggings for the masses.

- Black -

Leave it to Korean women to find twelve shades of black to wear on any occasion. So much black it’s evil. Again with the demographics, Asian skin tones against black are understandably more complementary than a typical (if such a thing exists) Western woman’s skin tones. Therefore, black is the new…black? No that’s no good. Come on Matthew…something creative. How can I make fun without being insulting….how about a song reference. Hopefully the younger generation will catch it, too. ♫ I see Korean girls and I want them to wear black ♫

- Fabric -

Ever see that space-age golf fabric that dries quickly in the wind and prevents sweat stains? That’s pretty common for summer clothes here. It’s all scrunchy looking and feels funny. Matter of fact, a lot of the clothes in the summer are very thin. All it takes to understand this is one, balls-hot Korean summer and you will suffocate in your hefty 100% cotton undershirt. I’ll wear a scrunchy shirt any day of a Korean summer.
- Little Dogs -

More like an accessory than a real animal, these yipping dogs are 100% worthless. I’m not a dog hater by any means but a dog is measured by it’s ability to function like a civilized animal. My measurement is simple: any dog that can’t stand still and bark without falling backwards is worthless. Nothing screams “I’m a real catch!” better than a single woman walking a dog the size of a peanut. If a thief broke into your apartment you would rather have a real dog protect you instead of an over-grown rat have a seizure and choke on its own tiny rage. Stop the madness and get a real dog.

- High Heels -

Doesn’t matter if you’re just going up the street to buy some milk or you’re going to class, you’re probably wearing heels. What is the deal with heels? Why on earth would you go hiking in those, young madam? Really? You’re wearing heels to go up a hill? The goofy thing is that when I ask if someone’s feet hurt, they confidently reply “No, these are actually not that bad”. Perhaps they never heard of sneakers.

- Layers -

Being skinny has perks, you know. You can pile on the layers of scrawny slips of fabric without looking like a balloon. Sometimes I wonder if some girl really knew how well her ensemble looks and if she planned it that way or just threw it all together. My intuition tells me that when a young woman shops, she recalls what is in her closet and tries to buy things to match them for different ensembles. Nothing wrong with that. Like the zipper-tie in the last post, I have nothing against this. Thumbs up for looking sharp.

- - - - - -

When it’s all said and done, Korea is just comparison after comparison for me. Not quite as progressive and out-there as Japan and not exactly as chic as France but certainly more everyday fashionable than America. Ever heard of the phrase “All dressed up and nowhere to go”? That’s what comes to mind. I can’t help but wonder where all these dolled up women are going to. And then I realize the answer: Nowhere.


An idiot’s guide to Korean fashion - p.1

Korean fashion.

Part One of Two.

You know, you really shouldn’t be listening to me on this issue. I was already pretty faux metro in the States… but for what it’s worth here’s a simple observation and commentary of what can be commonly seen in Korea. By no means is this as detailed as it should be but for a non-fashion industry guy’s observation, I feel it’s worth mentioning. Nothing found on the runway, but certainly on the streets by young people. I present to you what’s happening in the world of male fashion according to a man with no appreciable fashion sense.

KC101 blog korean man men male fashion girly metro metrosexual

- Pink -

Look. I’m not here to make the whole “Korean guys wear pink” argument. Pink is found in all countries and is worn by men and women alike. Of course also in Korea the color pink is used to differentiate between baby boys and baby girls. It is clearly a girl color; however it isn’t exclusive to girls in Korea like it is in America. The remarkable thing is that Korean guys wear all shades of pink. Light pink, dark pink, medium pink, purpley pink, pink with white, frilly pink, etc. It’s insane how many shades of pink a Korean man can wear. You know the whole “tough guys wear pink” slogan? Korea is jam-packed with tough guys.

- Shiny -

No, not everyone’s least favorite Korean boy band SHINee, we’re talking about glittery suits, light-reflecting ties and sugar-coated dress shirts. Basically like a cupcake. Everything a man wants to look like, right? A dressed up call girl. Shiny is the new black apparently. 반짝반짝 indeed, kind sir. There’s nothing like a six hundred dollar suit that sparkles.

- Pointy Shoes -

Remember when cockroach killers were fashionable? Korea never forgot. Pointy shoes aren’t worn by everyone, but the guys that do wear them really have a point - those are some seriously sharp shoes. Not sharp in the nice looking way; sharp in the way that they could harm a man in an argument over who makes the more metro-looking pointy shoe.

- Scarves -

Is it cold outside? No. But we’re wearing scarves, aren’t we? Fashion scarves are a great accessory that would get a man pummeled in Texas. Although I’m guilty of owning more scarves than God, I would hesitate to wear them back in the states. Don’t want to give the wrong idea. But regardless, Korean scarves are more than just the neck-warming utilitarian objects of fabric that they should be. Instead, they are freakishly mutated shoulder covering whose design is right out of a Japanese comic book. Why do I need my shoulder covered by a yellow and black plaid piece of paper-thin cotton? I don’t. But I love how it brings out my eyes.

- Man Bag -

I, too, am guilty of man-purse ownership. Yes, the always fashionable guy-satchel is with me at all times. I try to hide the fact that it’s a man-purse by telling my friends that it’s a laptop bag that I use for work. Granted, it is a laptop bag but I never put my laptop in it. I use it daily to carry my digital camera, cell phone, reading material, pencils and the ever-important travel toothbrush. What? I like to brush my teeth…

- Couple Shirts -

Fair enough. It takes two to tango. Yes, a couple shirt is wore by both a man and a woman of said couple but it’s the guy that looks like a complete moron, not the woman. Think about it. The couple shirt is never a handsomely fitted polo shirt or a well-tailored Armani suit. Instead, it’s a pastel yellow shirt with Snoopy’s face plastered on it. When you see two young people walking hand in hand with matching shirts, you can’t help but wonder if that guy is also the same guy who drinks 소주 like a whale and who is trained to accurately shoot any North Korean soldiers that might invade South Korea. Is that him? The defender of the country? Wearing a shiny pink couple shirt?

- Zipper Ties -

How cool are these? I love these awesome alternative to the real thing. Zipper ties are cheap and oh-so-fun to wear. Instead of the traditional single piece of cloth, these ties come with a prefit knot and a crotch-like zipper that goes up and down according to your neck size. You’ll look like a big boy in no time. Thank you Korea for allowing an idiot like myself who can’t tie a tie properly to comfortably wear one for work. They are cheap and are sold by just about anyone in the subway. Buy often and buy many I always say.

- - - - - - - - -
Well that’s all about I have to make fun of say about young male fashion in Korea. Clearly there are other great things to gawk and shake your head at in disgust such as bare chest-revealing shirts, acid-wash skinny jeans and tough-guy Engrish shirts that say things like “Power love for money beast we are” and the like.

Despite the 배용준 reference, Korean men aren’t all flowery petals of femininity. Personality-wise, Korean men are truly known as a man’s man in the John Wayne sense both with advantages and disadvantages. But that’s another post for another time.

Stay tuned for next week’s look at female fashion. A sneak peak you say? Let’s just say the forecast is dark with a 90% chance of heels.


The Foreigner Card - pros and cons of using it in Korea

Preferential Treatment.

Clearly, I’m not talking about a green card. I’m talking about preferential treatment when faced with an unpleasant situation. It’s a time when cultural or linguistic negotiation has failed (or will fail) and the foreigner makes an ace-in-the-hole plea. Think: Come on buddy cut me some slack, will ya? but in a foreign land.

It’s not just Korea, obviously. Expats in South America and China also have pondered this point (although some literally have a card). Pulling the foreigner card is vital to an expat’s survival but it’s not to be overused. Perhaps it shouldn’t be used at all?

Like any card game, the Foreigner Card has it’s time and place when to use it. You wouldn’t want to use it when the outcome could adversely affect you.

Kc101 Korea Korean foreigner card 외�인

Yeah it gets you out of going to 회식 with coworkers you don’t like. Sure it allows you to leave the lunch table before your boss. It even lets you sit in the senior citizen bench on the subway. Granted you’ll get stared at like no one else before you but at least you’ll be the youngest person sitting. Thanks Foreigner Card!

But do you really want to be that guy? The one who has the rules bent for him? The guy who gets away with murder at the office? The one that has special privileges and less responsibility than the rest of the staff? You actually want to be that guy?

Well, yeah. Sometimes. Sure. It’s nice to be able to do things that other people don’t do. It’s nice to get out of some boring meetings that others have to attend. It’s nice not having to do anything other than smile when asked for a report. But, it excludes one from the group. It further alienates one from one’s coworkers. It darkens the line between ‘외국인’ and ‘one of us’.

Perhaps you were never part of the group in the first place? Perhaps others played the Foreigner Card before you and set you up to be treated differently from the rest. Regardless of the reason, as a foreigner living in Korea, it has it’s ups and downs.

I personally try my best to do whatever is expected of me. Outside of extreme embarrassment, I try not to pull the Card. Not only do I feel that it’s the polite thing to do, I have a particular affinity for Korea so I try to include myself whenever convenient (and frequently, inconvenient). Like everyone else here, I do some things here that I would never do back home. I could get out of them by pulling the Card but many times I choose not to do so.

So when should I? When must someone pull the Foreigner Card? Personal space invasion? Excessive alcohol consumption? Forced solo singing at 노래방? Eating with chopsticks? Not drinking water? Speaking Korean instead of English? Corporal punishment?


Woah woah woah - Personal bubble space and Korea

Bubble space. 개인공간.

To fully appreciate the invasion of personal bubble space, allow me to narrate my first bromance experience. You never forget your first:

Wow what a great party. Good friends, good food, good drinks. Oh hey, there’s one of my new buddies now. Oh he’s coming over here. Cool. Maybe he has something to tell me. Nope. Just standing. Smiling. Oh, standing and smiling a little closer than usual. No problem. Woah. Uh…I hate to pop his bubble but he’s standing too close to me. Seriously. What? You want to hold hands with me? Wait…why are we walking together with our arms around each other. Am I drunk? Am I gay?

Heterosexually unintoxicated, my Korean friend was just being friendly. But who deserves to feel weirded out? Was I the one homophobically over-analyzing the situation or was he just way over the “friend” line? Where exactly do we draw the line at invading personal space? Are Koreans just natural bubble poppers?

Many foreigners find it a little disturbing and even a few Koreans are aware that some foreigners are a little weirded out by it. Most foreigners require a specific amount of space in which to comfortably function. Some of us may wonder if this space has a measurement. What would be an acceptable distance for personal space? Well wouldn’t you know it? Someone figured it out a while back.

Personal bubble space Korea friendship

I would imagine that a standard Korean bubble would be a whole lot more orange and red and less blue and green. As we saw before, Korean friendships can be pretty hardcore. They start early and they start heavy. If a friend is a friend, it starts at kindergarten and lasts a lifetime. So consider that personal space invaded daily. Touchy-feely much?
Korea friendship boys holding hands personal space bubble

I don’t have much to say on the subject of maintaining my own bubble. Like some other foreigners, I have a ’switch’. When around Koreans, my space shrinks and I’m more comfortable with same-sex friends hanging around my neck. Around other Westerners, I give the ‘back that train up’ look if anyone gets in my bubble. Like other situations, when appropriate I make the switch to whatever is considered normal.

But like AAK pointed out, why isn’t my ’switch’ always on? Am I that insecure that I can only display affection towards Koreans but not friends from other countries? I mean, even writing that sentence makes me sound a little gay. This is coming from someone who has no personal problem with homosexuality in any way whatsoever but yet I feel bound by my cultural standard that demands that I appear as straight as possible at all times. No need to confuse the masses, it seems.

What about straight Korean men? Aren’t they afraid of looking…you know. Sure it may look a little strange from the Western perspective but then again, we’re talking about a very small aspect of Korean culture. It looks big and scary from a Western perspective but what is transpiring is very natural. What you see is two people of the same sex expressing their affection for each other in a platonic way that can only be described as ‘friendship’. Looking deep into the meaning of why two guys are all over each other would be placing a non-standard cultural judgment on something that already has a judgment. In Korea, it’s fine. So if you find yourself staring and waiting for two Korean guys to kiss, wait a bit longer because it likely won’t happen.
true love KC101 friendship guys

However, the question begs - who determines the normalness if there are members of different cultures present? If one American and one Korean are in a room, whose rules do you follow? Does it matter if you’re in Korea versus America? Is there a spoken arrangement beforehand? Does it matter if you’re speaking English or Korean? What about Korean versus Korean-American?


MT - Korea’s answer to the good old fashioned outing (엠티)

Membership Training. 엠티.

What exactly are you training for? Not sure, but bring an iron stomach because things could get a little drunk crazy.

Essentially, what we have is the time-honored Korean tradition of building strength and unity within a particular group. Typically, a company or university major will go on MTs to become closer and improve relationships within the group.

Keep in mind that Korea, like other parts of Asia, operates by thinking that the group is paramount. Generally speaking, the individual is of lower importance. This isn’t to say that one person is not important; rather one person when viewed outside of a group is of little concern. Suffice it to say that the group is more valued than the member.

Any group looking to have some fun, play some games, escape the city and get completely plastered make some great memories will go on an MT. One or more members within the group plan the event including booking a place to stay, organizing games, purchasing unGodly amounts of alcohol and snacks, and booking travel arrangements. Then, depending on the group’s budget (if there even is one) each member will pay equal amounts of the total bill. Many organizations already have this ‘equal pay’ system long before the MT is planned. The fund is used for any such group outing including MTs.

Typically an MT takes place away from the company or university in place like the mountains or a rural area. The idea is to get away and have some fun. It’s a time to be unplugged from one’s computer, unburdened by the daily minutia of work or study, and just to kick back and relax with coworkers and colleagues. Team building exercises help to further make the group one solid entity. All that from doing a whole lot of nothing in the mountains.

KC101 MT 엠티 relax

Ultimately when it’s all said and done, the group returns to the work place or university with a new common experience in which to feel a warm, fuzzy attachment. The group now has more in common with each other than other departments and majors. This solidarity is not unlike soldiers serving together in the same unit - no matter where they go, they will share the experience and still consider themselves part of that group once upon a time.

Keep in mind that business loyalty is much more pronounced in Korea than in America. To work at one single company throughout one’s career is a sign of devotion and respect in Korea. While it is certainly admirable in the States, it’s not frowned upon if one person has worked for several different companies throughout his or her life. In fact, it’s kind of expected.

Anyways, the whole experience is enjoyable and harkens back to time when companies would spend their own money to develop loyalty within the company. Like a team-building exercise, these outings were not vital to the day-to-day operations but ironed out some wrinkles within the company. It’s kind of hard to complain to HR that you got docked for 3 minutes if they put you up in the mountains for a weekend for fun and food.

Now, if you’re a long-time reader of the KC101 Blog, you already know that our very own Emily (holdfast) has already posted a first-hand account of an MT in America and her post deserves a read. Also, In regards to alcohol consumption, check out why Koreans get crazy drunk on the regular and why you feel left out if you’re sober.