Tag Archives: Korea

Racist Korea

In 2017 I started working in Korea. I was full of excitement to visit the country I had learned so much about. But after living in Korea , I started to notice subtle forms of racism. The classic example that I can give is when I went to a restaurants and was refused entry as a solo diner. I never saw this happen to any Koreans. In fact, the only time I ever saw anyone denied entry was when they were foreign.

It got worse at work in the hagwon. Whilst a few of the Koreans made an effort to be friendly, a lot made it clear that they didn’t want anything to do with us. Perhaps the worst thing that happened was when a large bottle of air freshener was left on our desks – implying that even our body odour was offensive. I looked around to see if anyone had left any air-freshener anywhere else , but no. ours was the only desk to have a large bottle placed none-too subtly on our desk.

 Now I know you might be wondering why all this matters? Maybe it’s just a few companies that are like this. And I understand that the majority of Koreans will not be racist.

But here’s the thing. With millions of fans of Korean music, food and culture, Korea is positioning itself as the cultural capital of Asia. For example, the images you see on the Korean tourist board are of beautiful geography, food and costumes which are hard to match up to reality. Less developed Asian countries have bought into the Asian wave that the Korean government worked so assiduously to  build. Yet people from South-western countries are often discriminated against for being darker-skinned and coming from poorer countries. It can’t be right that a country with so much cultural power should be able to be so backwards when it comes to acceptance of other races.

Now another thing that makes it hard is when foreigners come to work in Korea without being able  to speak much Korean, they get taken advantage of, not just that they miss out on a lot of experiences that would be available to them if they knew the language, but there’s this uncomfortable feeling that a lot of Koreans will speak abusively about foreigners who they assume cannot understand them. I know that foreigners could make a greater effort to learn the language – but where’s the motivation? If I knew that a lot of Koreans would refuse to acknowledge me or talk to me in Korean , I would never have gone to the trouble of learning the amount of Korean language that I did.

For a lot of foreigners living in Korea, the level of Korean that they have learned already won’t be enough to make them easily understood to people. You can bet that this makes them an easy target for even more discrimination. You see, Koreans don’t really expect you to be able to speak Korean. Even if you can, they might act like they don’t understand you. Or laugh and simply ignore you, or speak over you without listening to anything you have said. So you can’t blame the foreigners who want to study and learn Korean only to lose motivation and interest. It’s too easy to give up; there aren’t decent resources available and Koreans refuse to speak to you in their language.

Right now, you could be thinking that I should be giving up. And it’s true that Korea is less of an interest to me these days. But its sad when I think that Korea was the first Asian country I visited, my girlfriend was Korean, and I studied Korean for years.

You often hear it said that Korea has the world’s fastest internet speeds. But that hasn’t led to Koreans becoming as developed in social affairs. But if you have ever bought Korean products, listened to K-pop, or even owned Samsung, you might want to take another look at the politics of the country that is behind them.

On getting my first taste of Asian fever

I had only been living in New Malden for a few months, the nondescript suburban neighborhood in South-west London between Wimbledon and Kingston. It’s not known by anyone outside of the area, except for one thing. It has the largest Korean community outside of Korea, and for me that was the reason why I ended up spending more than five years there.

I was living right in the middle of Korea-town – and as far I was concerned this was the best place in London to be. There may have been trendy areas outside – that were better connected to the rest of London. But what did I care? I had twenty Korean restaurants to visit – this was the closest I was going to get to Korea without moving there.

To give things some context, only two years before, Psy had smashed internet records by being the most played video on Youtube. Korean movies had already become well-known, and people were getting excited by Korean dramas. The K-pop scene had yet to become the all-conquering global power it is now, but it was getting there. But all this is just the frills, the extras on what was and is my primary reason for becoming interested in Korea.

I really started to notice the women when I moved to Korea town. The first thing I did was try to learn Korean. There’s no better way to meet a girl than attempting to speak her language. At the same time this was happening I got my first law firm job – providing personal injury support for road accident victims.

Maybe it wasn’t the best job – I was far too underpaid for the stress I got trying to meet targets- but there was one thing that made me happy to come to work each day.

Nak-young was a legal secretary who started working a month after I did. Eun Young was married and had a child. Not that that stopped me speaking to her. Nak-young was tall and slim. As far I was concerned she was the most beautiful woman in my life – she had the oval face, pale skin and full lips that are associated with Korean beauty. She was much nicer than most of the k-pop girls as well. She looked great wearing a hoodie or full evening wear. I soon started treating Nak-young as a close friend and the time we spent together was extremely precious to me.

We didn’t stop seeing each other after I left the job – she got to know me even better – as I felt that i could tell her everything about myself. i started to realise that there were two types of women as far as Asian women are concerned. There are those girls you can go out with – who may go on to be your girlfriend. Then there are those who will become your close friend, someone you can confide in, on the understanding that you will remain only friends. Even if I knew that Nak-young was never going to be more than a friend, I will say that I learned so much from my time with her.

When we went out the first time she told me about her job as an air hostess, then meeting her husband, and having a son with learning difficulties. The second time, it was her turn to talk about me – and she spent most of the time helping me find a way I could have sex with my girlfriend.

I won’t say that Nak-young was my Asian first time because she was not the first Asian woman I was intimate with ( I count our encounters as intimate based on the closeness of our thoughts). I think Nak-young was smart enough to see how much our experiences meant to me, though I’m sure they were more significant to me than her.

For the first time in my life, I felt that my life had a clear sense of purpose.. I felt there was a clear connection between the spicy heat of pickled cabbage, the green bottles of soju I drank, and Nak-young’s jet black hair, long legs and dazzling crescent moon eyes. My world was good and I loved everything in it.

The real reason people teach English abroad

Say what you will about teaching english abroad, it gets all kinds of comments online. Whatever you think about it, it’s been popular as a way for college students to delay their responsibilities some more, or to experience living abroad. But there’s one reason why so many decide to and teach in South Korea, Japan, China and Japan. Specifically, if you’re young and male, you’re going to be getting a lot more attention from women than you would at home.

That’s not what people put down on their supporting documents when they write their applications. Oh no. It’s all about expanding your horizons, giving something back, doing something they love.

Now I think about it, it’s not just for teaching. It goes for men travelling in Asia generally. Just imagine spending your entire life being made to feel worthless, not good enough for any woman you dare to approach. And then finding women who not only find you attractive, but are happy to have relationships with you as well, simply because they enjoy your company. I’ve heard of men who say that after going to Asia they will never date a white girl again.

Equally, I’ve encountered many women in Asia who are largely ignored because they don’t fit into the rigid boxes that society makes for them. Or they don’t have exactly the right physical attributes that men in those country expect women to have.

One day I’ll lose my hair, but it’ll be ok because I’ll look like Jason Statham.

Sometimes I see mismatched couples, usually when she is much more attractive than him. There are a few instances of Asian girls dating white guys that look just like Moby (thank you, Awkwafina). but many Asian women know their worth and are dating very attractive white guys. I don’t need to drive the point home too much. The evidence is all around. Geeky white guys (who stood watching everyone getting off with each other at parties) are going to Asia and marrying banging girls who end up coming back with them. If this were a movie it would be the feel-good hit of the year. But it’s not – it’s real life, and everyone’s winning in this love story.

English teaching in Korea

Did you ever think about teaching in South Korea? These days, it’s so popular, I can imagine there is a surplus of teachers and that competition for good positions is dropping.

Back in 2016, I was interviewed by the company EPIK, with a view to teaching in 2017. When I failed to be chosen, I looked at other companies before getting a job with Pagoda. Whilst I was disappointed I couldn’t place with EPIK, who seem to have the best reputation for English teaching, I think I did well to work with Pagoda. The class sizes were really nice, and I got on well with the majority of my students. By that I mean I struck up some really good relationships and got to know them outside the classroom too.

Whilst I did find living in South Korea difficult, none of it was caused by Pagoda. When they decided not to renew my contract, I was disappointed. Looking back, I probably didn’t give it as much effort as I could have. I was lucky to have laid-back students and a light schedule. Many people might look at English teaching as the kind of job anyone can do, it’s the teachers who work the hardest and have the most professional attitude that are kept back every year.

I enjoyed my time in Korea. I probably wouldn’t work again as an English teacher unless I had the freedom to choose my students and a choice of material. There are too many good teachers in South Korea, and it is my understanding that recruiters have a bias towards teachers who are female and under thirty.

My verdict: a good job for those prepared to really put the effort in. In a hagwon you’ll be with professionals who will have a work ethic that will put you to shame. Get used to criticism. Some of it will be harsh and unfair. I was told that the students all loved the outgoing teacher and that I should try to teach like her. It wasn’t the best advice and made me doubt my own abilities. Koreans don’t always speak openly and may act as though everything is fine whilst they criticise you to the hagwon manager. I sometimes regret choosing South Korea over Japan, but that was the choice I made.

Flight attendants

=Do you like flying? Although most people hate it, I think there are a number of reasons to love it. Apart from being the fastest way to travel, allowing us to get across the globe in less than 24 hours, it’s very cheap, probably the cheapest per mile of any transport. But for me the number one reason to love flying has to be the flight attendants. Sure, it would be nice to have a little more legroom and space, and I’d prefer it if the flight had fewer people (how are they always full even mid-week), but once I am onboard and I’m greeted by the sweet smile of a sexy young woman, my travel complaints all but disappear.

Snacks and dinner (as well as drinks which can be refilled several times) make the flight extremely comfortable, and when else do you get such attentive service? The narrow seating is actually a positive because it means that the flight attendants have to move closer to us. The other thing I should mention is that most of these women are beautiful and young. I don’t know about Easyjet or RyanAir, I haven’t used them for years. But if you take any Asian airline you won’t go wrong. It’s rare to see a male flight attendant, although it’s more likely on the long-haul flights. the uniforms are good, usually skirts and a tight-fitted jacket. Many flight attendants prefer to wear heels because of the height advantage. All of this means that I’m particularly motivated to fly and often board the plane early. Unfortunately, some passengers couldn’t care less about the service they receive onboard.

Do you greet the attendants when they are welcoming you onboard? Or do you ignore them and carry on looking for your seat? I’m astounded by how many people ignore this basic courtesy. And this rudeness continues onboard, with passengers ignoring requests to follow instructions, keep there seat-belts on, and generally behaving in a unpleasant manner. Like the character Nick in Crazy Rich Asians, (a self-professed airline geek), I always follow the safety demonstration in case their is an emergency, but many airlines don’t do this anymore, preferring to show a video on the seat TV screens, or totally ignoring it. A shame, as I particularly enjoy watching attendants mime the inflation of life jackets and showing us the emergency exits. I guess I’m not alone, because there’s a scene in Chungking Express where Valerie Chow strips out of her uniform and blows into an imaginary life jacket to seduce Tony Leung. The film also has Faye Wong dress up in a flight attendant uniform in the second part of the film.

Actually, a personal fantasy of mine is to fly alone on a small jet with a group of women from Korean air or JAL, just stopping off at airlines to refuel, and enjoying the food and drink onboard. I think there is a real niche out there for people like me who don’t care about where they go, only how they get there. I guess there is first class, which allows for a few passengers to enjoy better service and food, as well as boarding earlier. But my dream is to see these women in and out of their uniforms, to see what happens when the plane lands and the passengers leave. Mostly the attendants have several hours between flights and end up hanging around the airport. All this means you should feel much more positive about flying.


Ten things I hate about South Korea.

In no particular order:

Bars and restaurants

One of the worst things is going to restaurants and bars on your own. Koreans have a hatred of doing things on their own. Don’t expect to be welcomed by other Koreans when you go to restaurants as a foreigner, they will completely avoid any interaction with you. Although I enjoy eating Korean food, the pressure of sitting in a restaurant being glowered at is too much sometimes. The bottom line: Korea can be very lonely place for a single person.

Korean language

Aaahh, the Korean language. When I was England I was serious about studying Korean. I took lessons, went on language exchanges and used apps to improve my Korean. THe worst thing is when you have a conversation in Korean and people ignore you, or laugh, or answer you in English. I have learned very little Korean here and I am convinced my Korean is going backwards.


Wow, is dating hard work here. Its not that dating is unpleasant, it’s mroe the attitude Korean women have towards dating foreigners. For example, a common excuse is “I can’t speak English so I won’t date anyone who isn’t Korean.” It’s hard to approach someone and simply ask them out, at least, in my experience.

Traditional culture

I visited the Korean palace in Seoul. Apart from a nice garden and a pond, there was little else to see. As for traditional culture, Korean’s traditional music, pansoori consists of a drum being banged loudly for half an hour whilst a woman makes a noise like she is being slowly impaled. Apart from concerts and Koreans wearing Hanbok, I see very little signs of traditional culture here. At least in Japan you can easily see kimonos and visit traditional restaurants.


When people talk about Korean Wave, Hallyu, it’s K-pop that often comes up. Now, I like K-pop. I think some of it has been good fun. What I don’t like is that for most people K-pop is the only music they will hear in Korea. There are some great rock and Indie bands but due to the large record companies that produce and distribute music its very difficult to hear anything but the Melon 100.


Korea has the most miserable work culture in the world. But at least Koreans can talk to each other and share food at work. As a foreigner, I feel excluded from most work activities. For some reason, it doesn’t occur to my colleagues to ask me any questions about my life or pay any interest in what I am doing, or invite me to lunch. Although many Koreans teach English, they would much rather talk to their colleagues in Korean than speak English to me.

Old people

Encountering old people is one of the hardest aspects of life here. For example, there are seats marked for use for the elderly, one of the many areas where old people have privileges over everyone else. It’s quite common for older Koreans to take up every seat in a carriage while young people who have been working all day must stand.  Korea has a real problem with age. There are places where you won’t see anyone under thirty. At other times, you can visit an outside market and it will be mostly be seniors. It’s hard to reconcile the behaviours of older Koreans with younger people. It’s a problem that is going to get worse as Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world.

Clothes and fashion

I try not to buy many clothes here. It’s hard to find clothes of very good quality. Unfortunately Koreans have a mania for new things. It’s not socially acceptable to wear old clothes here. everything has to be brand new and up-to-the minute. I can’t deny that Koreans are well-dressed, stylish people, but the desire to follow the latest fashions seems exhausting.


This is certainly the least serious problem because there’s always the option of simply turning the TV off. There are typically three types of popular shows here:

1: Lifestyle and travel shows. A group of foreign tourists visit Korea and try kimchi, wear hanbok, etc. I can’t watch without cringing, but there are at least five programmes I can see which follow this theme.

2. Wacky and zany variety programs, the most popular is Running Man. They sometimes feature famous Americans such as Tom Cruise and Steven Youn.

In the last category are dramas. The good ones are ‘The Good Wife”, “The Return” and “Mr Sunshine.” There are also Korean soap operas which usually revolve around family relationships. A very common trope is a mother-in-law who criticises her daughter for not being a good wife, or making bad food or something. These are the least interesting programs on TV. There are several news programs which seem to be exclusively focused on domestic news. Which brings me to…….

Attitude to foreigners 

As many have pointed out, Koreans have a strange attitude. On the one hand, I think they want foreigners to know about Korean culture. I see that they have a lot of information about Korean attractions on line. On the other hand, a foreigner could easily come to the conclusion that Koreans don’t want to have any interaction with foreigners unless it involves money. Come on Koreans, you can do better!

Sexless Korea

Is it possible that I got it wrong about Korea? Specifically, that it’s really easy to get with women if you’re white?

Whilst there are those who would say otherwise, here are a few reasons why it’s actually hard, really hard, to get even a date here as a foreign male.

  1. The culture is totally different. Yes, it’s obvious, but any of the rules in other countries don’t apply here. The hook-up culture is not the same. For example, Tinder is used as much to make friends as it is for actual dating (or so I’m told).

Some Korean women won’t date foreigners. You could have excellent Korean, be successful and good-looking, but some Korean women won’t date you because you’re not Korean. Although you will see WMAF couples, you won’t see many really top-level Korean women going out with anyone not Korean. As much as I hate it, it’s just a fact of life here.

The clubs are as much for dancing as they are for meeting people. On the two occasions I have been to clubs, I saw that most people were staying in gender-segregated groups. Men were definitely not approaching woman to dance. It would be completely different back home. It’s even harder to approach people in bars, because people sit on separate tables and don’t even place their orders at the bar. Although there is less opportunity to take a girl home here (most people still live at home) Koreans use the same phrase for one night stand, showing that they are at least aware of the concept.

Koreans have a rigid dating culture, and to approach someone randomly on the street, or in a cafe, isn’t really done. Although I have tried it several times, in most cases I could feel that the women didn’t really want to have a conversation with me and made a point of moving on as soon as possible.

The sheer amount of foreign students and English teachers has made foreigners less of a novelty. In fact, I feel largely ignored here, and somewhat invisible, to the point where I can be in a room of Koreans and nobody will acknowledge me.

The possibility that women will feel judged if they go out with foreign men possibly puts them off approaching them in the first place.

Lastly, the fact is that there are some sickos out there who will date a korean woman and flood sites with articles like ‘Korean women are easy’. This sort of thing does nobody any favours. Whilst you must always take something like that with massive grain of salt, whether it’s even true – and ask yourself whether someone who was actually sleeping with a lot of women would want to tell others about it online – it’s going to only make it harder for everyone.

One thing I am seeing is that there are much more Korean men with western women. I guess its because men are much more comfortable dating out of their culture than women here.

Meanwhile any men moving to South Korea in search of easy sex should do an instant reality check.

1st Birth control advert showed in Korean cinema

You might have noticed if you had visited the cinema last month that there was one advert that stood out from the rest, which was shown before the main features of several major films in Korean theaters. Nestled between familiar commercials for Maxim coffee and insurance companies was a short clip for a company called Maybora (마이보라), which is the proprietary name for a company that makes birth control pills. The advert shows a sassy and confident young woman (Yura from Girl’s Day) rollerblading, meeting her boyfriend and going bowling. As far as sex, there is none, but I guess the implication is that by having already taken the pill, the girl in the clip can be prepared for any eventuality.

The ad happens to be the first time a Korean K-Pop singer has ever endorsed such a product. It’s a decision which some fans have criticized, even though the advert by no means authorises casual sex. When it comes to contraception, the pill is only taken by 2.5% women of reproductive age.

The interesting thing about Korean society is that from watching many dramas (where its common for the couple to get around to kissing in the 13th episode) you’d think that nobody ever has sex. Yet sex is not exactly hard to find. its just that here are so many double standards when it comes to women. Perhaps the ad will mark a turning point to attitudes to female sexuality. Time will tell.



1st month in Busan

Actually its already been longer than a month since I moved out here from England, but only a month since I have actually been working.

Rewind: I made the move out here to work for a Hagwon (teaching adults English) because I wanted to see the real Korea, and live in a foreign country. I chose Busan, because I had found it to be more  laid-back than Seoul when I visited in December, and I also liked the fact that it is closer to Japan, where my girlfriend lives.

It feels like its been longer.  London is already beginning to feel like a distant memory. Busan, for all it’s strangeness, is starting to feel like my home.

Still, I ran in to some teething problems during my first month here. What  you need to know is that everything is going fine, now. But there were definitely times when it wasn’t.

After jumping through hoops to get my visa, i felt I had got everything sorted, but then I still had to apply for an Alien resident card. Without this number, you’re not able to open a bank account, or register for many  essential services. Why they don’t allow you to get it before you arrive in Korea, I have no idea. So, now I have it, I’m at least able to feel like I’m an official resident here.

They won’t let you have  a Korean phone number until you have your ARC. Crazy right? I felt like I was the victim of a sick joke, living in the land of Samsung and LG but unable to have a sim card. Even when I got the card, I had to make a special journey to the SK telecom building and register my details. Maybe it’s a security against people taking out too many phone numbers.

I now have a Korean bank account number (good). But as of yet, no debit card. They just give you a paying in book. For a country that has some of the most advanced technology, they  certainly like to do things the old fashioned way.

Then I had some problems buying food. You know how most places have different supermarkets for different budgets? Well in Korea, there are no budget supermarkets. You simply pay a lot every where you go, and sometimes you pay a lot. 

The prices are crazy. For example, a dollar for a tiny carton of milk. Or shampoo, which your lucky to get for less than 5,000 Won. Then there are some things they simply don’t have. Like real cheese.  And frustratingly, its common for stores to bundle together a large bowl of fruit, forcing you to buy much more than you actually need.

A few things are on the whole cheap, for example, instant noodles and ice cream. But if you’re thinking of coming to live out here, be prepared to spend at least double what you would at home (i’m comparing to England prices, where stores are in direct competition and undercut rivals ruthlessly).

But the other thing is that when you live in a country as opposed to simply going on holiday, you become fairly non-plussed about what you used to get really worked up about. For example, I used to watch Korean movies in London all the time. But in Korea, all though there are more films to watch, it’s not the same (usually no subtitles). And funnily, I’m eating less kimchi here than in London. When you’re around Korean food all the time, it starts to become something really quotidian. Plus, you soon get tired of going in to restaurants where the staff can’t speak English and only come to your table to take your order, give you your food and then take your money. I hoping one day to get some interaction from the server but it hasn’t happened yet.

Its funny how people only talk about certain things, like the food, the dramas, or how hot the women are. All valid points, but practical advice on Korea would be more useful. Spend a week in Korea, and you might find Koreans to be polite. But try living here, and you might draw different conclusions. I’m not saying they are uncouth, but their behaviour is far from couth( a lovely word meaning lacking sophistication and refinement). I’ve seen spitting, shouting, and even physical fights (and that’s only the women). And god help you if you think that people shouldn’t talk with food in their mouth, or chew noisily… Enough, I know that this does not apply to all Koreans.

The writer Daniel Tudor (who has lived and worked here for ten years) wrote a book about life in Korea which he called The Impossible Country. I’m beginning to understand what he meant.


By the way, if you want a really good heads up on Korea, i can recommend this book. Much better than many of the blogs which simply churn out the same old jibber jabber about k-pop and dramas.


My Korean adventure

All of the admin and paperwork is really taking its toll.

Actually I applied twice to Korean  companies last year.

EPIK is the official company which finds positions for EFL teachers in Korea. Their form is more than twenty pages long, and it’s notorious for me of the questions asked. For example, it asks how many units of alcohol you drink, and then there is a whole page about tattoos and piercing. You might wonder what kind of job you are applying for…

Then when I had my first phone interview with the EPIK co-ordinator (at 6am GMT), he simply went over the same questions that were on the form. He told me that all the questions were ok but that I would still need to have another interview. But the next Monday I received an email from them explaining that they would not be taking the application further.

Then I applied for a position through Korvia, an agency which works for schools in the Gyeonghi Do area. I had a really nice phone call with one of the representatives and all was going well until they asked for a certificate that I didn’t have and wasn’t able to provide.

This year I decided to apply for a different position. If you don’t find a position in a Korean public school the other option is to work for a Hagwon, which is a private teaching academy. Now if you search any websites which cover EFL teaching  in Korea. you’ll find that most have nothing but bad things to say about Hagwons. From the hours that you have to work (split shifts) to the failure of the institutes to provide medical cover, complaints are legion.

Still. I really want to work in South Korea. I don’t particularly like the idea of working a few hours in the morning and then having a big gap in the afternoon. Then again, I’m sure I can deal with that. The one concern is that Pagoda Hagwon haven’t provided a contract yet. I have also been told that they don’t give any housing allowance. All of this is much less than I had hoped for but it’s not enough to make me abandon my plans just yet.

What do you think? Have you had any experience of working for a Korean teaching academy?