Koreality Check: My arrival in Korea
Edit and disclaimer. From April 2010 to December 2010, I was being paid by the Korean government to write a blog called the Seoul Seacher, and sometimes my treatment of certain topics isn’t my own opinion, but rather, the opinion I was told to write. Sometimes I even have to act like I’m a total foreigner who has no Korea experience and use this to impart upon you unsuspecting foreigners knowledge of how awesome and superior Korea is. So, the bs is pretty thick here, in the first post. It progressively gets less and less thick, as they started to lose interest in what I was writing by mid June. On this blog, my actual writing starts somewhere in January 2011, but there are a few examples where I creatively used sarcasm and slipped a few inside jokes past my supervisors. Most of April and May of 2010 in this blog are rather boring, but you’re welcome to browse through it if you like.
First entry: Koreality Check!
That’s all I can say. When I first arrived here in 2000 as a traveler I was surprised beyond belief. For someone who’s grown up in the United States, I had considered myself someone who actually knew more about Korea than the average American. After all, I had studied Korea a bit in college, and I was well versed in Korean food eating etiquette. I had my fair share of Korean-American friends. But even so, I don’t think I was prepared for what I saw!
The reason? Well there are several but, I’d have to say that one American television show, M*A*S*H, is the main culprit. To the average American, this television show was probably the extent of exposure to Korea. The problem is that the show inaccurately depicted modern Korea. I watched M*A*S*H in reruns in the 1990s. It was made in the 70’s and ‘80s, and based on a movie from 1970, which itself was based on a 1968 novel. The novel was in turn based on historical events that took place almost 20 years earlier, so even th3 novel was presenting an archaic image of Korea. Imagine then when the same thing was being viewed in the 1990’s! To create an analogy that Americans might better understand, it would be similar to Aliens living in some distant world watching only reruns of “Leave it to Beaver” with little to no knowledge of America. Are the Cleavers are an accurate portrayal of the US in the
In addition to archaic TV shows, I have to also acknowledge that my Korean-American friends were also portraying Korea inaccurately. How so? Well, a lot, (or even most) had never even been to Korea, so their information about Korea came mostly from their parents. Their parents had immigrated to the US shortly before or after they were born, so for people my age, this would mean that the parents left Korea in the 1970’s or 1980’s. They obviously weren’t having a great time in Korea, otherwise why would they have left? Surely they passed on to their children an image of the Korea they left.
So it’s very possible that the image of Korea outside of Korea is fossilized. I have to admit, despite already having a lot of knowledge about Korea, my image was also fossilized. The last time I had been to Korea was in 1985, as a child, so imagine my surprise when I stepped off the plane into the very modern (and at that time brand spanking new) Incheon International Airport. All I could say was “Wow!”