How long did it for you to become disillusioned with South Korea?
For me, the moment came when I attended my company dinner in March. They got us to come to a big wedding hall venue near Somyeon. We were told to arrive at 5:30 but had to sit around for hours while they kept rehearsing some speeches. When I looked at the table layout, I saw that they had put all of the English speaking tables in the equivalent of Siberia, the worst part of the room and the furthest point from the main action. It was also impossible to see the stage properly without turning your head at an awkward.
The speeches were all in Korean, they couldn’t be bothered to translate them. and then we came to the dinner, we found that there was no alcohol. I mean, the idea that you can have a company dinner without drinking is just unimaginable. But the worst part about it was that we all knew that we had been denied real inclusion to the event because we weren’t Korean.
That’s the problem. South Korea is great if you’re Korean, they haven’t figured out how to make it accessible to foreigners.
Like last year when it was Chuseok my co-worker asked me what I was doing. Even though I only arrived a week before, I was supposed to have a plan worked out. No-one thought that maybe as a foreigner it might be difficult to make a plan to do something. No-one though to invite me to hang out and experience this part of Korean holidays with them. Nobody thinks like that.
The crazy thing is, when I see TV shows with Koreans falling over themselves to make foreigners feel welcome when they visit Seoul, and I think about the reality of the situation, where they can barely smile at you.
People are constantly telling me to visit this or that tourist location in Busan. It gets tiresome after a while. I don’t doubt their good intentions but most of the places people mention to me are either far too crowded, or impossible to find, or simply not worth visiting in the first place.
I chose to come to Busan because of the closeness to Japan (perhaps not the best reason), and because, when I visited last year it seemed friendlier than Seoul. But guess what? It’s not actually any friendlier. And the cost of flying to Japan is actually really expensive. So what can I do? I thought about the beaches. But I live far away from all of them, and they’re only open some of the time.
There are mountains, but I’m not crazy about them. What I do most weekends, is go for a swim, have lunch. At the most, I might hope that I can meet some interesting people at the weekly foreigners’ Korean meet-up. What I’m saying I guess, is I thought that there would be more to my time here. I really did. I guess I should think carefully, really carefully, the next time I decide on such a crazy move to another country.