S. Korea… I love you. I love you NOT.
Picking up where I left off on my S. Korean love/hate drama, I voice some annoyances once again. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made great progress in our somewhat tumultuous relationship, but she still continues to irritate me here and there. I understand that my deep-rooted Western outlook is partly responsible for the frustration I sometimes feel. And I’m truly committed to Bae but for now I blow off some steam…
Back in February, the Daegu sky was gray and full of fog, blocking the sunshine and the view of the nearby mountains. The dull appearance of the sky was simply a symptom of the polluted air. South Korea experiences a phenomenon each spring called ‘Yellow Dust’ in which dust clouds containing pollutants travel from China toward S. Korea and Japan. And I happened to arrive during this period... Because I’m prone to asthma, my body reacted to the shit quality air by getting bronchitis (disclaimer: I failed to wear an anti-pollution mask. Oops. I learned my lesson.) I became slightly depressed because it took weeks for the sky to clear up and for my illness to go away. I have never appreciated clean air so much until that time. I thought the days of daydreaming at some park while staring at the crisp blue sky and luscious cumulus clouds were gone for good. But, as time passed, the Yellow Dust receded to give way to clean air, vibrant skies and colorful sunsets.
I’ve already talked about how collectivism is a pillar for S. Korean culture. For me, the most obvious aspect of collectivism is the uniformity of S. Korean appearance. What I mean is that most people seem to dress similarly to one another, wear the same hairstyles and even makeup. The fact that trends are wildly popular adds to this. Sometimes while walking through downtown Daegu, I am reminded of visiting the mall in the suburbs of Chicago and seeing groups of teenage girls wearing the exact same outfit, in hopes of fitting in. The odd thing is that for the most part, S. Koreans are incredibly stylish people but something seems to be missing – a personal touch. And as a Westerner, my eye is trained to appreciate individualism and a sense of personal style. But in South Korea, blending with the whole is promoted instead of standing out or dressing in a ‘unique’ way.
I’ll come out and say it: I don’t like shopping in Korean stores. The handful of times I’ve tried, I walked away empty-handed and frustrated at the rudeness of the staff. Usually, the clerks of mom and pop-style shops like to stare at customers like hawks, making for a very uncomfortable experience. To add insult to injury, women aren’t allowed to try on tops to avoid smearing makeup on them. Even if you aren’t wearing any. South Korea is also a firm believer of ‘one size fits all’, which simply isn’t realistic. Hello, curves?! And my personal favorite: shoes. As a girl with big feet (American size 9), trying to purchase shoes here is simply a joke. The biggest they have is 7ish. My beef with shopping is a true shame because there are endless stylish items I would like to be the proud owner of. But on the bright side, avoiding shopping is great news for my wallet.
As an anxious person, I resort to mindfulness practice to help quell my neurotic, monkey mind. A great way to dive into mindful living is through eating. Mindful eating promotes conscious, slow eating to better enjoy food and gauge when one is full. This is perfect for me because as a food lover I tend to overeat to an uncomfortable point. But, right before arriving in S. Korea, I was at the point where I learned to identify when I was full, avoiding food coma territory. This mindful eating approach was thrown out the window when I started eating lunch with my co-teachers. I was horrified the first day because they finished the meal in 10 minutes flat…. I still had so much food on my plate and the expectant stares waiting for me to finish were too much! I joked with fellow teachers that lunch was simply a race to see who could finish it first. I always lost. The notion of slow eating doesn’t seem to exist to my co-teachers and I silently suffered those first few months when as I scarfed down my food to try to match their speed. These days I have it figured out. I don’t eat all the rice (like my co-teachers do) and I happen to finish eating at the same time as them. But I still miss savoring every bite of the delicious lunches I am served…
Something tells this S. Korean love/hate saga will continue. I’ll make sure to apologize and make it up to Bae by praising her in the next installment.