Friday, September 18, 2009

Licensed to be foreign

There are benefits to being the outsider. The foreigner that has come and observed, taking my little notebook with me along the way to actually see the way things are displayed and realize that as with any culture it is never all you see. You don't have to understand the language to understand the people. Some of the things you see displayed, such as people of the same gender holding hands as a display of friendship. People touch each other here to communicate their friendship and when someone asks to befriend you, it is often pondered with great thought by most people. I have found that is extraordinarily touching that coming from a society that is, for lack of a better word...are racially bigoted.

I haven't really thought of it in that way. Not seriously, but there is a lot of truth in it. Partially, not many foreigners reside on a permanent basis in South Korea. Foreigners are usually viewed as just passing through, so there is no 'real issue'...that is unless one decides to marry a Korean. There are many viewpoints about this, as unique as all of the races are in the world. There are views that is it more difficult for men than women, because a marriage of a foreign woman promises certain shame from their family.

Yet, I have to say that I have been amused with some of the perceptions I have run across. I have seen a child gesture towards a black person with wide eyes, and whisper, "African", as if in awe with a tinge of fear. My reaction to this was realizing this was a direct reflection of how sheltered Korea really is from the rest of the world. And, it has been by design. When you look at trade with Korea, you do see the air of protectionism in this country. You can by foreign made goods, but you will be paying top dollar. Koreans buy Korean goods, but they do let some foreign trade in.
As I have watched more cameras in the neighborhoods go up, I have often wondered about this peaceful country. Loud, boisterous behavior is frowned upon, save the children being children. However, there is a bit of the 'Stepford Wives' mentality I have seen routinely displayed. A group think, vice the individual voice, is viewed as safe. Where the dreams of many are to become the company man. A friend of mine was overjoyed with the ambitions of her fiancee to become an employee for one of Korea's largest companies. She was beaming with pride and was honestly surprised when I just nodded my head. I wanted to be happy for her, but it was sad. I saw a life with the typical treadmill. Not everyone wants the same thing. I am very aware of that. For me, I would start shopping for a funeral plot. I couldn't even fake a smile.
I had more regard for a young bar owner I met. He created a little place that took him seven years to get going. He made it with his imagination and passion for music. A devotion for the love of 'The Beatles', which in these times, makes him a bit dangerous for the typical box of Korean culture. The music is his life, his passion, and in a way...this little bar is his way of being an individual. There are no black suits, neckties, and cubicles. Velvet chairs, a stocked bar and Penny Lane plays. For those of us who are used to seeing the image of the social outsider, it's nothing new. However, there is something special when you find places like this in a place where everyone is striving to belong. Too afraid to an individual. Being the individual is like a fantasy to most people here. I heard the real story of how much courage it took to raise his head above the crowd. To create a place that didn't focus on a market segment, but focused solely on his passion.
Yet, when I see images that celebrate the individual a world where everyone wants to belong...I cheer. Maybe it is because they have had the courage to live the life they really dream...and not live the life of someone else's dream.

Just some notes from my notebook...foreign girl...signing out.

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