Archive for the ‘ugly side of korea’ Category

A few days ago I had to go the bank. I had to send money, overseas transfer obviously. I use Moneygram usually. I’ve been doing it for so long, in the same bank. So what happened last week was a surprise, well, a little bit…

When you’re sending money abroad, you need to present your passport (if you’re a foreigner) or your ID (if Korean). The lady asked for my passport. Okay, can’t blame her for that, I don’t look Korean. I didn’t mind that. I just continued taking out my ID. She saw what I was doing and she almost blocked my hand and told me she needs my passport. This irritated me. I pulled out my ID and looked at her. “I’m Korean”. That’s all I said. She still didn’t seem apologetic.

She asked me to sign some documents. I told her I don’t need to. I only need to fill-out the Moneygram form. She insisted that it’s procedure and that I have to do it. I told her that I’ve sent money before and that I don’t need to sign an ‘overseas transfer form’. “Just fill this out. In case there’s no record”. She said.  I didn’t. I told her to check and I’ll wait.

I am annoyed because right when I was taking my ID she had already judged me. She assumed I was a foreigner although I was talking to her in fluent Korean (I don’t hold this against any Korean, I DO understand this part). When she almost blocked my hand just to tell me again to present my passport, that’s what annoying. It’s very unKorean-like. They’re mostly the best when it comes to customer service and respect. What she did there, she wouldn’t do to another Korean. She’d be yelled at!

This isn’t my first experience with Korean bigotry. I had to deal with a lot of that here. I usually let  it go, you can’t change the whole society anyway. But sometimes it gets in my nerves, especially when I’m in a hurry and I could tell that I’d be having a bad day.


In less than a month, two well-known young actress and singer committed suicide. Articles about the causes leading to their deaths abound. The two most striking articles for me were the ones that discussed depression and cyber bullying.
In the Feb. 13 article on the Korea Times by Kim Sue-yong, he (or she) wrote about the growing trend of cyber bullies. Pop singer Yuni killed herself less than a month ago. Her agency said that she got depressed due to pressures from the upcoming album and the apparent abundance of younger, sexier singers these days. Anti-fans (yeah, they have those people here, equivalent to celebrity stalkers abroad) posted negative comments about her sexy clothes, called her artificial lady (in reference to her plastic surgery). After her death, meaner comments surfaced such as “I am so happy that she is dead, now I don’t have to see her on TV anymore”.
In light of the recent events and growing complaints from affected citizens (families of actors/singers), the government plans to introduce an identification system that would require netizens to reveal their real names if they want to post comments. In actuality, most Korean sites already have that in place. In order to be a member or to post anything on the web, netizens are required to submit their name and ID number. Korea has an enforced ID checker where your number and name must match. Some are not too thrilled about the whole thing. They worry that this would increase identity theft. Others worry about their right to free speech.
The suicide of another young actress (Jeong Da-bin) just a few days ago was surrounded by mystery at first. She was found hanging in the boyfriend’s house. Her family didn’t accept the suicide story told by the bf (he said she tried to kill herself before) since they said there is no reason for her to be depressed. Reports said that her depression was due to a slump in her career. She used to star in various TV and movie drama but in recent months (or year), she couldn’t land a job. She also suffered negative comments on some websites same as Yuni.
According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Korea has the highest suicide rate among its member nations. This now growing epidemic, which I think the government is still ignoring, needs to be addressed quickly. In order to do so, depression and mental illness’ stigma needs to go away. People who suffer from depression should be able to get the help they need without them being labeled as underclass and hopeless. The government is doing nothing (I think) to erase or at least ease the strain on this issue. But then again, just like all the other issues here in this land, society needs to change so there can be a chance of changing the government and their policies.

Korean women always fascinated me. Their extreme attention to beauty is just over the top. As far as I have seen, they won’t leave the house without make-up. Another alarming trend going on now especially with college girls is anorexia. Statistics showed that the reported clinical anorexics are on the rise. The now accepted or considered ok for most women is size 44 (extra small or size 0). Health clubs, beauty clinics, dieting salons are abundant. It is even propagated by the entertainment media where most young singers and actresses are of that size.
There was also a recent article (Korea Times) about women job applicants, who spend some years before their actual application, recovering from surgery and making sure that they look good for that day. Beauty is considered one of the qualifications for a job. The writer asked the government to abolish the said discrimination and move beyond the looks aspect. Apparently most companies base their hiring on that. If they look good in person, they can get a second interview.
But looks are not the only reason for cosmetic surgery. Marriage, getting a husband is also a factor in a woman’s decision to go under the knife. It’s been said that a woman needs to be acceptable to her future husband (physically), while a man needs only to be financially ready.
CNN even had a feature on cosmetic surgery here in Seoul. Almost a third of the women population go under the knife to have eyelid surgery so their eyes would look bigger. Second most popular is rhinoplasty. I think their natural nose is beautiful enough but they go for perfection. The nose had to be in perfect size and shape.
Try going to a sauna here and you’ll see them without make-up. I have met few women who live in my neighborhood but failed to recognize them because they looked so different without the make-up.
Another thing I noticed here are the ads on TV. Most of the ads feature beautiful, skinny Korean women. Be it a car, insurance, appliances, or anything. One time when I was bored, I tried counting how many of the TV ads consisted of women. It was women after women so I just gave up (realized it was a waste of time… hehehe…).
I might never understand their obsession with beauty and for sure I will not agree with them. I guess all I can do is watch from a distance the society I belong to now.


Posted: December 5, 2006 in ugly side of korea

The term is slang for Korean-Asian. Children who are born with Korean (usually father) and Asian (mother) union. Top on the Asian list are Chinese followed by Vietnamese, Thai and Philippines. These are women who marry Korean guys after they applied or recruited at a dating service agency in their native country.
Discrimination against foreigners has long been happening in this country. With the now growing number of children born in inter-marriages, Koreans suddenly, in my opinion, don’t know how to react. Should they continue with the discrimination or be more open about it?
There are banners here where I can see every time we drive by on our way to the discount store. It advertises “Vietnamese bride here, get your own”. They’re being peddled as objects not as humans. It sickens me to see that banner every time and I always wonder why the government allows it.
There are, of course, those kind-hearted Koreans who open their views on this issue. When it comes to children, the issue becomes sensitive. I have a daughter who was teased and treated differently at first because of her skin color. My son gets teased when his friends saw me with him. They’ll say, “Hey, you have a foreign mom” with a tone that says it’s not normal. (My son came up with a cute way to answer them saying, “at least my mom’s the prettiest”).
There is documentary program/show that airs weekly on TV that focuses on this. It shows the inter-unions and their daily lives. That’s where you’ll get insight of how children feel about being half-and-half. It also tells the struggle we foreigners have to face in our daily lives here in Korea.
There are also good situations that come from it. In one farming community in the outskirts of Seoul, a Vietnamese woman becomes the head of the village when she was elected unanimously by the people there. They’re almost all old people and the idea of a younger generation leading them regardless of race seems good to them. There are also those who become famous because they’re of a different race. In my opinion though, the bad still outnumbers the good events.
The government can’t be chastised for doing nothing because they just recently launched a program for us. There are now hot lines where you can call and speak your native language if you do not know how to speak Korean (happens a lot). There are also support groups you can attend where you can meet others. They also offer free consultations, free counseling and others.
Still, how can they help anyone who needs the most help, those women who were recruited to be married and work in farms? They replace the Korean women who won’t do the manual labor in farms and rather be working in the city. Most of these foreign wives are physically and emotionally drained. Waking up very early in the morning, working hard labor in fields with their mother-in-law constantly talking to them in language they do not know. There are kids studying while being teased in a school where they’re color is an issue.
In another TV program here dealing with abuse, there are several cases of wife calling for help and nobody could understand her. It goes on until one neighbor can’t tolerate the noise and called the program. That’s when they realized what was happening.
What is really happening here is understated. I do think the Korean government should do more especially to the women in the farming villages.
Koreans need to be more tolerant and be sensitive to the children and their foreigner parent. But then again, Koreans are a stubborn nation and needs more than a blog for them to hear what needs to be done.