Then maybe you drift into comparing who is on the best contract, who earns the most money for the least work etc. Of course, this is just the prelude to someone starting a bitching session about everything local. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things here that are hard to deal with, but some of the ex-pats here seem to talk only about the bad things, and that gets a little bit tiresome to be honest, much as I like a little bit of bitching myself. It's when they bitch every day that it doesn't interest me at all. Sometimes I look at these people and ask myself why the hell they don't just go home if they hate it here so much?The IP? The IP? What's the IP? The IP of what exaclty? Then he clarified. Ex-pat social life in my town seems to revolve mainly around a small bar taken over by foreigners - the International Pub Everything there is Western - the beer, the people, the music, and the prices. I've been there exactly twice. The second time was just to make sure that I hadn't made a mistake in judging it on first impressions. Foreigners sitting around whining about Korea, and everything that's shit in Korea. Having the same conversation over and over again.
Do you know the IP?
Someone asked me recently if I'd made many friends here yet. I had to think for a good long while, considering my answer. Pretty much I haven't made any friends here at all yet, nor do I especially intend to. Why not? Well, I could trot out several reasons, but I'm not really satisfied with any of them. One thing is that the ex-pats that are here are pretty much all just here for a year, and all coming and going at different times, depending on how many months they have left in a tweleve month contract. Why bother getting to know someone who's already on month ten? Indeed, why would someone on month ten bother getting to know a fresh arrival? On the other hand, there are lots of people here who arrived around the same time as I did, and they'll be here presumably for the best part of my stay in Korea, so why don't I make more of an effort to get to know them ???
I just don't feel motivated. I feel like I have plenty of friends back home, more than I can easily keep in decent contact with, and why bother to acquire more friends - friends who you'll be leaving in a matter of months and who you'll probably never see again. Maybe they might come to your country at some point in the distant future, or maybe you might wander down to their neck of the woods on your travels - but it seems a little bit unlikely. So that just leaves e-mail, and in my bitter experience people are pretty crap at keeping up a friendship based solely on e-mail.
That's all true, but I think it's not the full truth, not by a long shot. I think what's really getting to me about the other ex-pats here is their attitude. I don't want to tar them all with the same brush, but as far as I can see, the majority of ex-patriot workers here are just here to have a good time, meet lots of other foreigners, make some money, and get out. Now that's all fine in my book too, but what I'd really like to do is to meet Koreans, to experience the Korean way of life and try to gain some insight into Korean culture. Most ex-pats who've been here a while seem to fall into one of two categories. Either they don't especially care about Korea and Koreans, or they actively dislike them. So shortly after I arrived, I asked my flatmate about ex-pat life here - if they don't do Korean stuff, then what exactly do the Westerners here do?
Do you know the IP?Where are you from?
How long have you been here?
Do you like the town?
Where do you teach? (we're pretty much all teachers)
What hours do you work?
Still and all, there are some things far worse than the embittered english teacher. The other night I was out and bumped into a group of foreigners, a group of 5 guys from the US. (or so I asumed from their accents) What I didn't notice though was that A - the group was all male, and B - they all had the same haircut. There are 37,000 of Uncle Sam's finest soldiers in the Republic of Korea, and I'd met my first bunch. One guy told me he was no ordinary soldier, but a SEAL. Well, I've seen the bad movies, I knew I should be totally impressed by this, and acted accordingly. Then just making conversation, I asked if they let women into the SEALS. To say that this was a mistake is like saying that the captain of the Titanic made a small mistake when he first spotted the iceberg. I ended up cornered and on the receiving end of a fifteen minute diatribe on the merits of the SEALS as a purely male force. Suspecting I was unconvinced, the followed up with another monologue on why women shouldn't be allowed in the Armed Forces at all. Escaping that I thought I'd ask them what they thought of Korea. Yes, I really am that stupid. Obviously the USA is the greatest country in the world and Korea is a piece of shit, and the Koreans are just going to have to learn to be more like Americans if they want to get anywhere in this world. (Strangely enough I'm not sure I disagree with the last part - if you judge "getting anywhere" by our standards of course) So yes, as much as I dislike the bitter ESL teachers, that's nothing compared to my contempt for these GI Joes - I can only hope that they're not representative of the other US Soldiers here, though I suspect that they are.
I'm not alone in feeling this way. The locals really hate the Americans. That's another preconception that's been knocked to bits. I thought that by coming here I'd finally be in a foreign country that didn't feel screwed over by the US government. Afterall, if it wasn't for the US interventions, and continued presence, the flourishing democracy that is South Korea just wouldn't exist. Yet, I guess naturally enough, the Koreans resent this dependency on the US. What really gets them though is that the tens of thousands of US troops here operate above Korean Law. If a GI commits a crime, the local police have no power to arrest him, no matter how strong the case, nor can the Korean government dish out any punsihment. It's carte blanche for the American boys, and boy do they know it. They swagger around like the own the place, and that's not really the way to make friends with the Koreans in their own country, y'know? Then the Koreans you talk with are full of horror stories. Two American soldiers in Busan attacked an old lady. And some soldiers in Seoul raped a Korean girl. etc. etc.
So just a little note to Americans thinking of coming here. You may think you're off on a great adventure, doing something no one back home has done before... But bear this in mind:
Korea - it's where others have gone before.
Well, that's it for now - my search for the foreign country that doesn't hate the americans goes ever on... Meanwhile the GIs are a necessary evil - to defend the Koreans and supply me with all sorts of illicit goods on the GI black market. :-) Stuff you just can't get anywhere else; Flouride toothpaste, here I come!