The side of Korea that no one talks about

While the vast majority of time I do my best to bring out the lighter side of a foreigner being in an Asian country, and I think I do a decent job at that.  I also don’t want to be the one that ignores the WHOLE experience of being here.  This post is not to single out any person or business but to merely show what happens is a supposedly civilized country….on a regular occurrence.


This is the result of a student doing bad on a test.  His father beat him both arms are the same.  If this was just an isolated case, you could rack it up to a father with emotional issues because his father did the same and it would just be a simple sad case for the child and his situation.  It goes deeper than that.  Socially and pathologically deeper.

The worst thing you could to do an Asian is insult them.  Actually, that’s not quite true, one thing is worse….insulting them in a way that others become aware of it.  There is a severe issue here of ‘not looking bad’, or ‘saving face’.  It is so deep that one foreigner I know was hit by a taxi, had to get a cast, loose pay/work.  He won his case and received money but it wasn’t because of any expenses he occurred, the amount was calculated based purely on how much ‘face’ he had lost for not being able to do his job.

Now, take that idea and apply it to your family.  Your son does poorly in school, your friends find out and make a note of telling you how their son is at the top of their class and will be going to the top high school/university here when he is done.  (Yes, they also write entrance exams to get into certain high schools as well as Universities).  You are made to feel like a failed father/parent and the only explanation that makes any sense to you is that your son is just not trying hard enough.  He is too lazy.  This requires some action on your part and if working hard to pay for your son’s extra lessons doesn’t earn you the respect you feel you deserve, then he has to be ‘shown the way’ with the only response you know how…..the same ‘motivation’ that your father gave you.  That picture is the result.

This is a common occurrence.

There is a saying that ‘if you aren’t reporting a crime, you are just as bad as the criminal’.  Poor logic aside, not one single Korean person will say a damn thing about this to anyone.  They simply choose to ignore it.  My friend who took this picture, told his boss and his Korean co-worker, neither were interested in lifting a finger to do anything.  Then he called the police.  They told him to call Child Protective Services.  Two things that surprised me.  1/ That the police wouldn’t get involved.  2/ That there IS such a thing as Child Protective Services.

The only other thing of this particular story that I know is that the CPA people showed up, the boss was giving my friend the ugliest of looks (my friend was actually concerned about being fired, that feeling still lingers).  It was to the point that the Koreans were tying to talk in ‘Korean code’ to somehow make my friend look bad for calling the CPA.  Two problems with this.  1/ The fact that you ignore the cry for help of a child and try to blame the foreigner is really, really sad.  2/ My friend is also fluent in Korean.  So their attempts were rather sad.

If I get any more details of this story, I’ll update but that will be less likely because this issue will most definitely be handled outside of the school and thus private to any foreign eyes.

I’d be willing to bet that the student gets pulled from the school because the parent will be upset that the school is now causing him problems (again with the deflecting of blame).  This means money lost from the school in turn the school will blame my friend because a loss of money is a huge deal and the loss of a student is the potential loss of face as well.  More blame deflection.  It’s pretty much a guarantee that my friend will not be offered to renew the teaching contract, assuming that my friend was going to stay any ways.


Author: DragonDon

Having a love of travel has lead me to move to South Korea in 2010. Moving to an Eastern culture from a Western culture is a wild experience and there is never a dull day!

23 thoughts on “The side of Korea that no one talks about”

  1. Thanks for posting this. It’s an interesting insight into Korean culture I wasn’t aware of. Every culture has honor and duty high on it’s list in one form or another, around family, the individual’s behavior, military service, around men and women and how to behave.

  2. Even though it isn’t pleasant, thank you for sharing. There was a time, not that long ago that this was the attitude of many parents here in the USA. Maybe we can all grow to not put our pride in our children or spouses but find our own within ourselves. It isn’t easy to address this issues. I’m proud of your friend for sticking up for the kid. Hope all goes well for all parties involved.

    1. Yeah, I have always maintained an opinion I cornered shortly after being here, “Korea is going through an identity crisis. They want the western culture ago much but fight against 5000 years if their own culture.” This is evident in the things I see. English schools, suicides, child abuse, the lust for money and objects. There will be more issues that arise as this “merging with the world” continues.

      1. Meanwhile, there is a lot we can learn from them. I was an English tutor for a Korean mother here in the states. She was always giving me presents: home-cooked Kimchi, seaweed, Korean plates and tea sets. If we Americans had half the respect for teachers that the Koreans do our country would be light years ahead.

      2. Koreans, in general, are more respectful to elders/people in higher position of authority. Their language has this built in/used more to go with that. It is a plus with the flipside being that there are many elderly who use that as an excuse to shove you out of the way when they walk by.

      3. Our is and probably one of the biggest clashes of beliefs between east/west. That and individualism. The concept of “the greater good” is taken to extemes here, to the point of individual harm. Which really goes against the greater good because the individual is part of said greater good…

      4. Yeah……eventually there will be more and more talk till it changes. Can’t be part of a global community without playing by its rules.

  3. Thanks for the share…it’s good to get these things out in the open…we in our own countries also have the tendancy to turn a blind eye to how parents treat their kids…not long ago Italy had a similar problem with “faccia” face…in fact…it takes real effort to overcome our histories!

      1. Korea is a good example of what happens if you give a group something powerful and they are not ready for it. Capitalism, among other things, will be an ugly thing when a big crash hits here.

  4. Proud of your friend regardless of the outcome. I am surprised at the fact there is a Child Protective Services too. Them being involved takes away the “face” of the parent(s). Beating your child for a test score is wrong no matter what. I know its culture etc….but get over yourself! To me the whole hierarchical thing comes off as arrogance and self-importance that simply isn’t true.

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