Monday, July 14, 2008

Why do expats complain? A good read

There's an interesting joint post by Ask A Korean and Roboseyo on the following topic:

Why do expats complain?

Ask A Korean brings up a good point - as my family have noted many times before - most of us foreigners (myself included, minus time spent with family) tend to gravitate towards comparatively well-off, 20-somethings who speak nearly fluent English, which can lead to a very skewed view of Korean society.
On one hand you have your Koreans in their 60s who grew up in constant danger of death from war and starvation, and on the other hand you have your Koreans in their teens who are self-absorbed, battling obesity problem.
Few people (including younger Koreans themselves) understand this point, no matter how many times the Korean screams about it: only 50 years ago, Korea was DIRT FUCKING POOR. It was one of the poorest countries in the world. Here is an example: when the Korean War happened, Ethiopia was one of the countries that sent a contingent to aid South Korea. Ethiopia!
Roboseyo does a wonderful job of categorizing "complainers" by type -
  • The Snark Olympians: Harsher! Meaner! Ruder!
  • The Misdirected Culture-Shockers and Disappointed Orientalists: Next rung up on the ladder are the expats who complain not so much for the sport, but because they don't know any other way to articulate the culture-shock they're experiencing.
  • The Off-Duty Diplomats: The next level goes especially for people who complain online, or expats who always run Korea down when they're around other expats.
  • Alternate View Pointer-Outers like to divide complainers into the cathartic complainers and the social critics.
  • The Kimcheerleading Counterbalances: Closely related to the off-duty diplomats.
  • The (Maybe You Didn't Notice It Was) Affectionately Sarcastic: Some readers and listeners don't notice, can't notice, or intentionally ignore, the fact that some of us comment on this stuff because it amuses us, and we're not trying to be negative at all.
  • The Social Critic
  • The Constructive Social Critic
I'd like to think of myself as the "affectionately sarcastic" type, at least in my online world, where the "heavy" stuff is rarely discussed (I conveniently talk about elementary journal-esque topics such as "What I Ate for Dinner") simply because I originally intended for this blog to serve as a life-updater for my family and friends, in lieu of mass emails and Facebook/MySpace album uploads and what not, rather than a destination for essays on society. It's also a simple way for me to document some of my adventures, as well as a means to keeping my sanity when bored or restless. Personally, writing is cathartic, and for that, I have many other outlets (other blogs, joint blogs, email, snail mail, a "real" journal, etc.) that I'd rather keep to myself, or within a smaller circle, at times.

The majority of my complaining typically gets dished out to good ol' Mom (who is from Korea, I might add). Her reactions - sometimes based on her mood, whether or not Dad vacuumed the house, and the level of agitation in my voice - vary from, "Korea needs to work on changing that" to "I know how you feel, but just try to understand" to "Well, then come home already!"

I dare not "complain" to family members in Korea... rather, we discuss "how things differ in other parts of the world." For the most part, my family does a pretty good of understanding how I, the American, can often have an alternative perspective on culture, and like my mom, their reactions also vary from time to time. One thing, however, will never change - the constant requests to "Please learn how to eat ____ (i.e. goelbaengi or samgyeopsal) since you're in Korea," fully aware that what they say won't really make a difference - I will not give into eating snails or pork, people, no matter who you are or how nicely you ask me!

Anyway, I digress.

I suggest you all take 10 minutes out of your day for this read!

Ask A Korean


Richard said...

"Please learn how to eat ____ (i.e. goelbaengi or samgyeopsal)"
Thats funny!

Even though Im adopted and dont know of any Korean relatives...the one family I have made friends with has "adopted" me into their family...They invited me to spend Chinese New Years with them. I'll have to say it was great. Right up to the part where you bow to the elders and they give you their words of wisdom.

I was bluntly told "Richard, you are 27, have good job, you need to get married by the end of the year." love that bluntness its actually refreshing. You dont have to worry about what they think because they will tell you :)

Young said...

I need to read those more in depth, they are terribly interesting. In my work with an oral history project that covers different generations and their experiences with the korean war, I've discovered a lingering silence about what *was* and what *is*.

Many older Koreans who have experienced the war have never discussed it with their children, and if they are never prodded they never will. Mind you, those who survive today were very young. They essentially suffered childhood trauma during that war. About 3 million civilians were killed during those 3 years. Certain foods, pudae chigae comes to mind, are legacies of that war. The need for Koreans to succeed are legacies of that war...yet there is still an unwillingness to examine what that war meant on a personal level.

You'd be surprised at what a younger korean does *not* know about the war. It seems as if their trajectory is always pointed forward to succeed -- there is no going back, and with it, there is no perspective.

At least for me, I've discovered its not so surprising. Many of my older relatives still, in their bones, think of korea as a bombed-out country living under a dictatorship. They KNOW it's not, yet their comments are always coloured by the war.

It saddens me that much of their experiences will be lost because of the silence that lingers about it.


suejean said...

hi Cheri!

I just wanted to give you props on this post. I'd like to read s'more on this. (note: no deep thoughts to share yet, but they are brewing!)