5 Things I Specifically Hate About Korea

complainingBy Larry Lawrence

“Man alone is born crying, lives complaining, and dies disappointed.” ~Samuel Johnson


Like fans of a bloodsport worthy of Caesar, a great many expats residing in Korea find immense pleasure in complaining about all the things they hate about being here. Whether minor or major, “troublesome” or “alarming,” nearly all who pass through the turnstiles soon carry some sort of gripe, and they anxiously await entrance to the pissed off parties being held at the local bar, the myriad blogs or in the howl-led halls of the Facebook Colosseum.

It’s really quite the thing, you know?

I might well have exceeded the age where trends are a concern or current style is more than a wink and a nod, but I refuse to miss out on this one. So, with your indulgence, I would like to gain admittance to the party.

The Top 5 things that I specifically hate about Korea, in no particular order:

1.  Nothing
2.  Nothing
3.  Nothing
4.  Nothing
5.  Expats complaining about Korea

There you go.


Let’s examine my top five one by one.

Number 1: There’s nothing particularly bothersome about everyday life in Korea that I haven’t been bothered by elsewhere in the world. Be it the full demographic of citizens standing in my way on the escalator like it was a geriatric thrill ride at the amusement park; morning vomit in the elevator, obnoxious drunks who created the vomit the night before, cigarette burns in the stairwell, pools of spit on the sidewalk, pushy people on the subway, insane bus drivers, racist glares or blind nationalism. I’ve seen it all before, at home and abroad, and there’s nothing I hate about it more in Korea than anyplace else I’ve been.

Number 2: The strikingly shoddy journalism sometimes witnessed in the Korean English media is anything but unique. Crappy reporting and writing disgraces the pages of news outlets around the world. Much like here in Korea, I have elsewhere been peeved by “unnamed sources,” a lack of context, ideological slant, sensationalism and by a complete absence of objectivity. I have also witnessed such a worldwide abundance of bad grammar and piss-poor prose that I expect any day now the entire planet will break out into a chorus of We is da World.

Number 3: Fashion and style are, of course, amongst the many “beauty in the eye of the beholder” concepts. Being as I am said “beholder,” I find nothing any more “hateable” in Korea than I have found in other places I’ve traveled. Be it couple outfits, short skirts in the winter, bandannas, heavy makeup, facial reconstruction, lens-less glasses, obsessive dieting, overdone piercings or metrosexual males, I share an equal distaste for them all, no matter where they are.

I also harbor no bias in my disregard for people who dress up their dogs, dye their fur or carry them around in the streets—regardless of what street they are on, in whatever country it may be, and whether they plan to eat them or not.

Number 4: Bad driving exists everywhere I go and, from my experience, the difference between Korean drivers and the rest of the world is negligible. Be it senior citizens’ lack of familiarity with the rear-view mirror in Florida, pistol-wielding commuters on the LA Freeway, meth-infused Tuk Tuk drivers on the streets of Bangkok or piranha-like swarms of cyclists in Vietnam. And yet, cries ringing forth from the cheap seats in Expat Arena make it sound like the Korean roadway is in the midst of an automobile apocalypse.

Number 5: Much like the previous four above, expat bitching and moaning is neither unique nor special to Korea—people will turn nada into whine no matter where the podium rests. But, as I am living in Korea, and my stream of media is mostly based here, I am immersed in Korea-themed bickering on a regular basis. “I hate this!” and “I hate that!,” “Why can’t they do it this way?” or “Why don’t they do it that way?”

At the risk of stumbling on the metaphysical tripwire: You are they, they are you, we are all each other. And, as best I can assess, the aliens are likely waiting for a higher-evolved monkey before dropping in for dinner. In short, according to the universal scheme of things, we all kind of, you know, suck.

* * *

In retrospect, if I could add a sixth category, it would be my loathing of locals who say, “If you don’t like it here, then go somewhere else!”

The source of my distaste for this common utterance, heard the world round, is my belief that it is wrong to inflict upon the inhabitants of “somewhere else” another voice in the continuing chorus of global bitching by people doing the same damned things everywhere.

Get over it, because overall, life is mostly quite good and we’re mostly all the same—no matter where we are.

Actually, I hate it when people say that, too.


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70 comments

  1. I deal with a lot of foreign people who come here for a short time and the first piece of advice I give them is: It doesn’t matter how much you have traveled in the world how many countries you have been to, if this is the first time you have ever been to Korea the best thing you can do is to not think you are in s different country, but on a different planet.

    Things are so different here that invariably there will be complaints. But if you think you are on a different planet, somehow it is easier to accept that these people are very different in customs, culture and habits. I love Korea and Koreans, but when something weird (to me) happens I just remember that I’m the foreigner here and have to accept that what happens is just the way it is here. and remember that no matter what happens it is me that thinks something is wrong.

    1. Sound advice. My consistent impression has been that a great many (perhaps most) complaints boil down to a failure of Korea to be more like an idealized version of the moaner’s country of origin.

    2. Look at this prick. He thinks he knows everything. I deal with a lot of foreign people too. And almost all of em aren’t as stupid as you think they are or as pretentious as you are. Korea is a walk over. Different planet my arse. Get over yerself.

  2. Specifically though…

    Crazy bus drivers. I have taken the bus countless times in Korea and it is near impossible to stand up if there are no seats. And if you are in a seat you are either sick or nearly falling out of your seat from the driver flooring the gas amd slamming the breaks.

    Lack of garbage cans. For the amount of packaged shiny repackaged everything that is consumed in Korea (and Japan) there is a severe lack of garbage cans. You are usually left to carry your sauce covered snack paper/ package whatever for a prolonged period of time or throw it in a pile near a drain pipe/bush/alleyway before you can find a garbage can. Or you give it to some ajuma who is sweeping the streets…Get some garbage cans Asia, they arent that unsightly.

    1. My understanding is that the reason for an absence of public garbage cans in various places around the world (though no excuse for economic giant Korea today) is that people would put their house garbage in the public can to avoid having to pay for the home service.

      1. This is partly true. But the most noticeable change was when they took garbage bins out of subways due to security concerns. They have since returned in see through form although not nearly as many as before. Under serviced. Five years without adequate bins in the 2nd largest subway system in the world yet lots of vending machines creating mess seems ill thought out.

    2. I love the bus drivers in Korea. They will stop and pick you up no matter how many people are packed into the bus, shoehorning passengers in until they are a solid mass pressing against the doors. No-one gets left behind! Compare that to Sydney where once the regulation number of standing people is reached, the bastards will just leave you standing at the stop!

      1. “The bus drivers are the worst I’ve ridden with. Anywhere in the world. I think they’re all trained sadists.”

        You really are a very un-travelled person.

        1. No I’m not. I’ve had terrible car/van drivers in many countries, but when it comes to proper city bus drivers, the most aggressive and obnoxious have been Busan ajeosshis. Thanks, KEN.

      2. Well thanks. Im glad I know your feelings about Korean bus drivers. Cos you’ve taken a few bus rides in a couple of Asian countries. I’ll be sure to pass on your details to the global bus drivers alliance and you’ll never get on another one again.

        1. Haha. Point taken, though I have taken buses in plenty more than “a couple of Asian countries.” Have you ridden the city buses in Busan? They’re murder. And I am not a Korea hater/complainer…

    1. DING DING DING. BLAB BLAB WAFFLE WAFFLE EVERYONE IS IN AWE OF YOU! You have indeed arrived Mr. Motgol. On the same page over and over and over and over and over and over

  3. Love your sense of humor about complaining! When I find myself complaining or making generalizations about Korea, it usually turns into an inner reflection about why do I perceive those things as “bad.” Whether it’s the education hype, respecting elders, or plastic surgery, finding differences between your idea of what’s “normal” and what others find normal is more of a chance to challenge what IS normal after all… or what of my ideas is cultural upbringing too… If we simply complain about differences, we’re missing a great opportunity to reflect on your own standards.

    Thanks for the opportunity to reflect! 😀

  4. I just wanna say I completely disagree with you and others who get annoyed by expat complaining. I live in Korea for a few good reasons, but I see no problem in bitching about major issues like extreme gender inequality, values based on income/status, ageism, sanitation or public etiquette (among many others). I could list countless issues (many of which you did yourself) that I can’t possibly even create back home or in many other countries I’ve lived or visited.

    And before you say every place has ‘x’ issue, most western countries aren’t as bad in those regards. The only issues I can think of that’s worse back home are homelessness, gun violence, and drugs. Major issues for sure, but when I think about the issues that affect my daily life and the average person’s, Korea has worse issues. And there’s nothing wrong with those who don’t want to tolerate them. And please don’t say “If you don’t like it, leave.” I will soon enough and besides that attitude doesn’t help matters. I hate when people in my home country say that about others.

    Yeah I get annoyed too by the whining about little things like peoples’ style or food tastes, but I get more annoyed by those who defend or condone issues that affect each other like constant spitting, people constantly getting in the way of each other, being shoved by old people for seats on a bus/subway. constant reckless driving, not being able to throw out garbage in an effective way, etc.

    What also annoys me is the pseudo-intellectual cultural-relative bs that a lot of expats have here (not accusing the author of this). While every place has issues, not all are on the same playing field. For example, traffic issues in Korea are not comparable to places like LA. Yeah traffic is bad in LA but people aren’t “gun-wielding” (major hyperbole) and people obey traffic lights regularly as well as drive vastly more cautious than here (I’ve lived in LA and around for over 25 years, it’s not that bad). That said, I know traffic is worse in other places than Korea, but mostly developing countries like Thailand or India. I think the “let it be” attitude is more brainless than questioning it. I can question my culture and Korean’s, not just try to rationalize why some things are tolerable here.

    I’ve enjoyed my time in Korea and love the safety, some conveniences, and mostly the job market for ESL teaching, but I don’t ever think I could live here for life. Is there something wrong with me for thinking Korea isn’t equal or better to my home country? No. And people shouldn’t bitch about those who say anything about it. I’ve been here nearly 3 years and will be here hopefully only 1 more. If you enjoy it here, more power to you. But it’s okay if many don’t as I’ve become more aware of over my time here.

    I don’t mean to sound angry (and I apologize if I do), but I just get tired of seeing backlash about expat complaining. I think the reason why people complain so much about Korea though is that most of the complaints are things you see everyday and personally affect us all, expats and Koreans. The complaints I have with my country are usually more big picture issues that are really difficult to solve (but they at least strive to solve). But many of the problems here are just really simply to solve if they wanted to do so. Instead they’re too busy improving wireless technology, promoting the “Korean wave”, and spending billions on international sporting events simply to promote Korea. They’re too worried about making Korea recognized internationally than focusing on their own peoples’ welfare. That’s why I complain a lot. 🙂

    1. THIS. yes.
      And also, I do my best not to complain and try to remember that I’m basically on another planet (as mentioned by someone above), however I am seriously tired of people complaining about complaining.

    2. I didn’t write the piece, but I agree with the writer’s general gist. That said, thanks for reading the article and pretending to think about it. Korea is a prickly place and yeah, you make some points, but what I think (at least for many of us), the positives outweigh the negatives here. I miss home a lot, but going back really isn’t an option for me. But then when I visit home and actually see what the day-to-day life is there, I cherish the thought that I live here.

      “Is there something wrong with me for thinking Korea isn’t equal or better to my home country?” Or, to put it more succinctly: “Is there something wrong with me for thinking that Korea is INFERIOR to my home country?” Because that’s pretty much the only adjective left after equal or better are ruled out. Way to not get the point.

      The answer is YES. There is ‘something wrong’ with that. It makes you look like an entitled, ignorant typical expat boob.

      And despite your wishes, there IS a backlash against expat complaining, because it’s old hat, tired, sapped-out shit. End of. You’re a bunch of moaning little bitches, not even worth the time of day. You come and go every couple of years and whine about the same shit. Listen: we’ve heard it all before, mainly from privileged kids who always have the option of just going home to comfort land. I hope you made your money here and weren’t elbowed too many times, because, OMG, those gramma elbows are so bony. I hope you didn’t slip in any spit. And did I mention how expensive cheese is here????

      Go on and get. Go on now.

      1. Wow, you couldn’t even try to have a reasonable rebuttal. Thanks for being an asshole instead. I’ll avoid your shitty blog from now on I guess since it’s impossible to dissent or have a reasonable discussion.

      2. wow man….Im just going to go ahead and say, you’re white right? You must be in order to not empathize with the extreme racism to everyone except whites here.

    3. Here is the thing about people who complain about complaining, which includes me: we are not criticizing the fact that you complain. Rather, we are criticizing the quality of your complaints. It’s not that complaining expats complain; it is that the complaining expats’ complaints are really stupid. They usually begin with some frivolous aesthetic differences (is it really such a big deal that the buses are shaky?), and screech into sensationlistic news bits (ZOMG PLASTIC SURGERY) to highlight that Korea is some bizarre hell. Those complaints can throw around some lofty concept like “gender inequality,” but the underlying message is clear. Complaining expats don’t give a shit about gender inequality. They just hate the place, and they just need excuses.

      Just think about the implication of those complaints. Do you want to know why people keep saying that other countries have the same issues too? That’s because the implication from the complaints is super clear: Koreans are much more dumb/racist/sexist/evil/whatever. When people say other countries have the same issues, they are pointing out that this is the human condition, and no one is immune from it. But no–the complaining must continue, and for that, it has to be true that Koreans are particularly fucked up and inferior. This implication is the reason why people have such a strong reaction against expats’ complaints.

      If you want to complain about Korea, please go ahead. Just do it with some sophistication. People like Mike Breen and Daniel Tudor are making a career out of doing that, and Koreans freakin’ love hearing from them (as I do.) Heck, Koreans complain about their country ALL THE FUCKING TIME. But here is the difference: Koreans’ complaints have a modicum of sophistication. They know their society, and their complaints are on point.

      Just look at the quality of criticism that you, Bracing for Backlash, are able to deploy about your own society (=U.S.), and compare that to your criticism of Korea. Your critique of U.S. is reasonably sophisticated, with references to American politics and class struggle. Where is that sophistication as you complain about Korea? Can you read Korean newspapers? Do you know the biggest issues of Korean politics are today? Can you even name the main political parties of Korea?

      This part is especially risible: “everyone [in the U.S.] is aware of the issue and working towards it, unlike the issues I mentioned here and the Korean government’s response to them.” Are you kidding? Do you seriously think that Koreans are totally unaware of the social issues that affect them? Do you really think that Koreans do not talk amongst themselves about gender inequality, materialism, or public etiquette? For ANY issue about Korea you want to discuss, I can give a thousand links from government offices, mainstream Korean media as well as informal blog posts showing that Koreans at every level have been already talking about them and giving them a lot of thought. If you want to join that conversation, as people like Breen and Tudor have, you will be welcomed. But don’t insult Koreans’ intelligence with your ignorance.

      1. Thanks for dropping by, TK. Hitting on all cylinders.

        Breen and Tudor are both top notch. Had a beer with Daniel recently at a Pub he opened in Busan –when you get back over here we’ll go out for a beer and complain about how un-winterly warm Busan is and the fact that it simply doesn’t compare to LA warmth and waves. If they don’t install a wave machine soon, all hells gonna break loose –it’s simply wrong.

        1. Daniel opened one in Busan? Fantastic! I’ll definitely stop by next time I visit Korea. I love his beer. And of course, great piece of writing 🙂

      2. First off, thanks for having a mostly good-natured response to me (other than accusing me of being ignorant at the end). I appreciate attacking my argument not me, unlike others here who can’t seem to do so.

        I agree that many expat complaints are ridiculous, but those are usually from people who just came here and are trying to seem cool for their friends back home. Eventually most grow out of those “bizarre” differences that are frivolous and accept them. If not, then yeah, they’re being ridiculous.

        That said, I specifically made a point about that and how it’s okay to complain about the really bad ones. And I think it’s disingenuous to say those like myself who bring up concepts such as “gender inequality” are just making excuses because we already hate the place. That makes no sense. I loved Korea and often still do, but what makes me complain are the big issues that I mentioned.

        Excusing many of these issues as “part of the human condition” is total BS imo and excuses the lack of concern and lack of effort by the government and even citizens to work towards these issues. Appealing to the human condition for why things are the way they are is exactly what I’m talking about with this hippie, moral relative bullshit that people use to defend issues.

        I do read the Korean Herald and Korea Times daily (and sometimes the Chosun Ilbo), I do know the major political parties here, and I know enough about 공자 and Confucianism in Korean society to know where many of these issues stem from. I also teach adult classes where Koreans and I discuss these issues every night.

        Maybe I don’t know as much as many Koreans or some expats who’ve been here 10+ years, but I’ve tried hard to know a lot about the country I’ve lived in for 3 years. I know some people who’ve been here for nearly 10 years too and don’t know shit about Korea so tenure doesn’t make that much of a difference anyhow.

        1. Again with the “the lack of concern and lack of effort by the government and even citizens” stuff. Let’s play a game. You tell me one issue in which Koreans display a lack of concern and effort to address, and I will show you the efforts and concerns expended by Korean government, civic organizations and ordinary Korean citizens. Do you seriously doubt that I can do this?

          Let me repeat the most important point that I made previously: for ANY issue you can think of about Korea, Koreans have been already talking about them. You just didn’t care enough, or did not have to ability, to hear those conversations. So don’t insult people with your ignorance, and actively try to listen to those conversations.

    4. Your comment really resonates with me. People need to complain and vent. My friend and I are only in Korea because of our wives and would be happy to leave when or if they want to live in our home country. My friend is newer to Korea than I am and he told me he felt bad about complaining. I told him that he shouldn’t feel bad and that he needs to vent. If you don’t have an outlet it will just build up inside and bring you down.
      It’s not easy living in Korea. Korea is a huge economic power but I feel like people forget that Korea is still developing socially. Old traditions, customs, and conservative thinking are very difficult to deal with, espcially when us “waeguks” come from much more progressive western countries.

      1. +1 Same boat. The people who complain about complainers sound like broken people to me. They’ve been here long enough that Korea has beat them into submission. Seems like a bit of Stockholm syndrome.

        1. Exactly! A lot of these guys who’ve been living here so long just come off as defeated and “if you can’t beat ’em, join em.”

          1. Yah, we’ve been beat in to submission, walking around town, our hanbok’s in tatters. It’s getting harder and harder to go on. I think I’ll go start a fight in the street with an unsuspecting Canadian.

        2. Haha I like the analogy. At one point I was getting like that but then I went back to the US for about six months. When I came back I saw how submissive I was getting towards everything. Now that I’m back I won’t put up with BS anymore.

          The other day my friend was sitting in a waiting room, waiting for his wife to be done with a doctors visit. An older man was staring at him from across the room because there were no more seats left and the older man had to stand. The older man slowly crept towards my friend and then eventually started yelling at him to get up out of the seat. My friend didn’t move and it made me so proud and gave me motivation to stand up for myself.

          I don’t mind helping the older generations out but I get defiant when they act entitled.

  5. “Constant” spitting? Where do you live? In a baseball dugout? Sounds like a wee exaggeration to me.

    “They’re too worried about making Korea recognized internationally than focusing on their own peoples’ welfare.”

    Sorry, but that’s absurd, and ironic if you’re American (which I assumed you are if guns are a problem in your home country) as the poor and middle class are being ass raped there at the moment. Maybe you suppose that all those Washington lobbyist are buying legislation that benefits you personally, but I would have to disagree with that.

    1. I live in Busan and the sidewalks may as well be a dugout. I lived in Gwangju and Seoul before too, but Busan seems to be the most similar to a dugout in my experience. By constant I mean numerous times per day, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration at all.

      Like I referred to before, the issue of the American economy and the shrinking middle-class there is something that is at the forefront of American politics and is constantly being argued over. The problem isn’t that they’re not focusing on peoples’ welfare but that American politics have become so divisive that the parties can’t find common ground nor compromise so hardly anything gets done on that issue. I’d tell you that Obama and the Senate tried to repeal the Bush taxcuts which are causing this issue most, but that’s a whole other issue and even more controversial than what we’re arguing about. Regardless of who’s to blame, everyone is aware of the issue and working towards it, unlike the issues I mentioned here and the Korean government’s response to them.

      1. I don’t think it’s the government’s job to make people say excuse me when they bump into you or to legislate any of the other petty issues you raised; I thought by public “welfare” you were talking about the bigger issues that they do have some effect on, in which case I would ask you on what basis you claim that the government is unaware of the problems and is unconcerned. Sorry to say this, but your rant really strikes me as if you live in an expat bubble and have no clue what the various levels of government actually do here.

        1. I never said the govt can do anything specifically about pushing but they can easily take steps towards proper sanitation, safer roads, and enforcing traffic crimes among many others. They could even do things for spitting if they wanted to.

          Thanks for assuming I know nothing about Korea or just live in a bubble. I’ll just ignore you and your blog I guess if you can’t make an argument other than to attack my credibility.

          1. Re: “Thanks for assuming I know nothing about Korea or just live in a bubble.”

            I was pretty specific – I wondered whether you have a “clue what the various levels of government actually do here.” And that was addressed to your assertion that the Korean people and government are both unaware of the major issues that affect their society and are doing nothing about them. I also asked you a question: on what basis do you claim that? You didn’t or couldn’t answer that, so forgive me for wondering aloud whether you live in a bubble. If the Times and the Herald and your ajumma class is your lens into the concerns of “the Korean people” then let me humbly suggest you’re missing large pieces of the big picture.

    2. The constant spitting is absolutely a thing. The farther away you get from affluent areas the more you will see it. I was in Apujung the other day and one thing that hit me is how much less spitting and snot blowing I saw. I get off of the train in Uijeongbu and it’s back to seeing people spitting and snot shooting.

    1. Stats? Its the ripping of youz lot that gives the amusement. The actual blog writing is piss poor and predictable.

    1. The cognitive dissonance meter is off the charts for me on that one.

      That said, I am not a fan of principles that enforce the school uniform skirt rule in the winter –which is pretty much most of them.

  6. #4 is pretty much BS. I’m a complainer but I complain about things that are dangerous to me and my loved ones. You sound like someone who doesn’t drive here. When I go to Bangkok, Hanoi, especially anywhere in Japan, it’s a breath of fresh air. The scooters in Vietnam look crazy at first glance but then you realize there is a rhythm and they are navigating while appreciating the other drivers around them. Korean drivers seem as if they are the only people on the road. Driving and parking on sidewalks/crosswalks. Something you don’t see anywhere else. Forcing people to walk into the street. Any number of drivers who drive at night with their lights off and/or the hundreds of cars that have non-functioning brake lights. Zipping through red lights/crosswalks at high speed. You don’t go through a drink/drive spot check on any given day at 2 in the afternoon for no reason. And to enforce what could be regarded as conjecture, statistically speaking, you are 2.5 times more likely to die by car here than in the US. I don’t know what your definition of negligible is, but that’s not it.

  7. Good stuff. Although I find that globs of spit (indoors), piles of puke and the smell of feces emanating from the sewers on a summer’s day is something that is not common where I’m from, I still agree with the idea that foreigners should look at the bright side of life here.

  8. This some of the best complaining I have ever read. Nice one!

    I didn’t know all the things you experienced in Korea where so ubiquitous around the world, but I guess that’s because after fifteen years in Korea, I hadn’t visited more countries than her peninsula, Japan, the Philippines, England, and Canada.

    Peace!

  9. This some of the best complaining I have ever read. Nice one!

    I didn’t know all the things you experienced in Korea where so ubiquitous around the world, but I guess that’s because after fifteen years in Korea, I hadn’t visited more countries than her peninsula, Japan, the Philippines, England, and Canada.

    Peace!

  10. It sounds like Larry has never driven in Korea. Sure, the driving conditions aren’t much different then other developing 3rd world countries. Where I’m from the majority of people don’t run red lights and don’t think they and only they have right of way at every intersection. They don’t pull out from blind alleys into a street without stopping or looking. Yes, this happens even in developed countries, but not to the extremes and prevalence that it does on Korean roads.

    There’s a reason why that even in the video you have to watch before getting a Korean drivers license, they interview and show why Japanese people drive without honking and cutting each other off constantly.

  11. 5 things that you hate about Korea? Chincha? What about the 30 odd million Koreans who hate you cos you couldn’t make a dime anywhere else?

    A student: “The foreigners come to the Korea when their lives have crashed at home.”

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