Korean Relationships & Weddings

I know people like to read about how things are done in different cultures and I certainly aim to please in this department.

First, let’s talk a bit about dating.  In Korea, dating is a very serious thing.  One would almost think you were talking about a fiancée and not just the girl you are seeing.  See, I can not ask a girl out for coffee because that is a ‘date’.  Dating, to Koreans, means I am interested in that person, with the idea that sex will eventually happen but never on the first ‘date’.    If I said ‘let’s have coffee as friends’ then the concern instantly vapourizes and the girl is free to say yes or no without any perceived pressure.  Also, if you do end up dating a Korean girl, there is a precedent for formally asking for the father’s permission for marriage.  In North America this is considered old-fashioned but here it’s still a pretty important tradition.  I met a guy on the bus the other day who was on his way to do exactly that.  He was dressed smartly as if he was a businessman, dress pans, shiny black shoes.  He spoke good English and we had a nice conversation about language and cultural mindsets.

Ok, back to the whole ‘pre-marital’ arrangements.  In North America, it is nice to see a guy hold the door open for his girlfriend, carry packages, little thing to show that he is a gentleman and is willing to ‘ease her burden’ because that is what he is capable of doing for her.  What you will never see in North America is this:

Pink Purses and Men

At first, one might think that the guy is simply fashion-brain-damaged but still wants to express his personal choice of sexual orientation but you would be wrong.  Another view is that he is simply colour blind and thought that the ‘red’ messenger bag would perfectly accessorize his Angry Birds smartphone case but without knowing him personally, this is most likely not the case.  The last, and certainly not least, is that he is carrying his girlfriend’s purse for her.  For most westerners, this is completely foreign.  No woman would ever give up her purse and let someone else carry ‘their entire life’ for them.  It’s way too personal!  Not quite so here.  Despite living here, I will never carry my wife’s purse….ever.  Especially if it’s hot pink.

Weddings are in interesting affair here.  I have attended two of them and it still is an odd set-up.  Cheaper certainly but definitely odd.  First, the wedding and the buffet places are usually in the same building, on the same floor if the place you choose is sufficiently large enough for your budget.

“What do you mean, ‘same floor’?” you ask?

Oh that’s easy.  See Korea is a small country.  Many people don’t realize just how small is truly is till you put it into perspective.  South Korea will fit inside of Ontario TEN TIMES and yet the 50,000,000 dwarfs Canada’s 34,000,000.  Hell, the Greater Seoul area has 24,000,000 alone, nearly the entire population of Canada in just one city.  To that end, Korea builds UP and not OUT because space is a premium here.  This also means that there are more businesses in tall buildings.  The wedding we just attended was on the 4th floor while the dinner was in Basement 1.  The previous wedding both the ‘hall’ and the buffet were on the same floor but it was larger in both respects that wedding.

Here are a few pictures from the wedding.

Google & North Korea

This post crosses a few interests of mine.  Namely, Google, North Korea, Conspiracy Theory-made-manifest.

If you weren’t aware, Google’s Eric Schmidt (and ex-New Mexico Governor) Bill Richardson flew to North Korea.

Schmidt & Richardson watching a North Korean using the Internet. Photo courtesy of WSJ.

Word has it that the Richardson is pressing for the release of Pae Jun Ho, an US Citizen, for “Unspecified Crimes“.

What should concern people is that right now, tensions are a little high after the missile launch and the threat of a nuclear test being performed we don’t have an official GOVERNMENT visit to work things out (although, given the history of such and the following obvious failures…) we have CORPORATE interests gallivanting about the world, making ‘nice, nice’ with ugly neighbours.  Seriously, this smacks of the whole shift from a Democratic rulership to a Corporatocracy.  It’s not like we weren’t warned about this, publicly, in the 70’s.

This movie is one of my favourites and this scene is nearly as famous as the “Mad as Hell” scene.

So, back to my current northern neighbours.  What do you think the outcome will be?  Will Google be allowed inside the ‘hermit kingdom’?  That place where the Internet is so tightly controlled that only a select few are allowed to use it?  Somehow I doubt that will change anytime soon, given how tightly controlled the state media is.  Or should I say manipulated?  Were you aware that North Korea WON the World Cup in 2010?! (Despite Spain actually winning it seems.)

So what to the South Koreans think of the North Koreans?  Oddly not much.  There is a well know pattern that North Korea hypes up some event, threatens ‘Seoul’ with retaliation and then….fails to follow through. North Korea is like the boy who cried wolf all the time.  Sure some ‘spikes’ of interest show up (Kim Jong Il dying, Rocket launch) that get people to talk a little bit, otherwise North Korea is fairly well ignored by the southern populace.

I have met some Koreans whose families originate from North Korea (English teachers from South Africa actually) and they don’t seem any different from any other regular Korean really.  So it’s back to the big, egotistical Military types running the place and making big chest-pounding displays of strength while the rest of the people go ‘meh’.

Getting yelled at

So yesterday I got yelled at for crossing the street and not using the walk way. The Korean woman yelled at me, from 50ft away “Heyyyy!” Then made a pointing gesture sweeping across the sidewalk just down the road. I smiled , shook my head and finished my road crossing. It’s like she never saw anyone doing this before and decided to give the foreigner hell for doing so. The hypocracy amuses me.

Today I had an aujama who kept trying to look at something while going up the escalator. Why is significant? Well I just didn’t appreciate her perm, with greying roots, being with 2″ of my face, nearly slapping my eyes every time she turned her head rather violently. Koreans have no perception of awareness around them.

What I have learned in one week in Korea


Living in another country will certainly open your eyes and spirit to different ways of thinking and believing. The majority of people live in a bubble of their own realities and simply refuse to look beyond that bubble for fear it might not be the same. Well of course it’s not, otherwise we’d all be in the same bubble.

bubblesGoing with the bubble analogy, there are various levels of bubbles. There is the world bubble, the country bubble, the regional bubble, the city bubble and then the personal bubble. Have you ever watched a soapy/bubbly water mixture? You’ve seen all the bubbles there, they get along just fine. When one bubble bursts, it is usually and calmly absorbed to make the next bubble bigger. That is what I see happening to our world. The problem is that so many people are afraid of becoming the next big bubble that it paralyzes them. They fear what they don’t know. If I were to meet an alien from another planet and he asks me to summarize human reactions, that’s the sentence I would use. “Humans fear what they don’t know.”

There are tons of friends who are surprised and maybe even a bit jealous, of the fact that I simply up and moved to another country. Many could not comprehend such a concept. Yet there it is, right in front of them. Someone they know just popped and joined a bigger bubble. It doesn’t make me any better or any less than they are, it is simply a shift in perspective in the world.

Getting back to Korea specifically, there are many things here that would confuse a lot of people from the West. Maybe so to the point of lashing out because they simply cannot understand the reasoning. I’ll admit, I have tons still to learn but it will be fun.

Let’s talk about the people in general. I have found that the Korean people in the service sectors (specifically retail and restaurants) are seriously polite. Even when they are telling you that you’re wrong, they are polite. A simple smile, a benign gesture and you feel like you can’t disobey because they seem to earnest and polite. It’s like saying no to a kiss from Grandma.

Respect. The Korean people have a huge amount of respect for ‘older’ people. On the subway it is a common occurrence to see someone get out of their seat to allow an ‘older’ person to have it. Being here you cannot help but appreciate such ideals. I find myself almost wanting to have such a chance. I did once and the gentleman, who by no means was incapable of standing for long periods of time, politely refused. It was after some insistence that he took the seat with gratitude and I felt good that I was able to show respect for not only an elder but also a Korean. The society even goes so far as to have seat reserved for older generations. So if you are in a subway in Korea, don’t sit on the red-coloured seats or I hear you will actually get yelled at or at least a stern Korean lecture. I suspect that regardless of your nationality, you’ll understand that you are not supposed to sit in those seats.

Transportation. It is simply amazing how well things work here. Their public transportation could teach North America a whole new perspective. They have so many buses. For example, the bus stop by our place has 6 different busses that stop there. I think the longest wait time is something like 6 minutes for any given bus. The buses are shorter than the ones back home and every single one of them is either diesel or Natural Gas, as well as being standard transmissions.

Snapshot_20101119Everyone uses a bus card. It’s a kind of pre-pay card with an RFID chip in it. You simply hold the card (or wallet if it`s in it) to a scanner, it beeps, shows you your balance, and you take a seat. When you leave, you must leave by the rear entrance (99% of the time, I think rush hours is the only exception) and you scan the car again. Costs are based on distance travelled and your balance is shown once again. This system works pretty damn well it seems. Pay-for-use makes a lot of sense. The fare itself isn’t expensive either. I went from our town (Uijeongbu) into downtown Seoul and back for a whopping $2.00. That is about 2hrs+ travelling time round trip between taking a bus to the subway station, the subway to downtown and the reverse back.

Automotive. There seems to be this odd `pecking order` when it comes to traffic. By that I mean who actually follows the exact rules of the road. Taxis can turn from any lane through any colour of light. That confused me for the longest time but it seems that if you are a paying customer, you get right of way regardless. Buses are next. For the most part they obey the majority of lights but the `yellow`is in no way a deterrent to making a turn to get to the next stop. Mopeds are this kind of snaky little transportation that goes anywhere and everywhere. They generally don`t try to take on big traffic but in smaller roads they will slip between cars and use sidewalks to turn if it suits them. That would be because the vast majority of them are deliveries of some sort, typically food. Cars would be next. They generally respect all signs and lights. Note I said generally. Signals tend to be optional and parking is `where ever it can fit`. Pedestrians seems to be at the bottom of this totem pole as I almost got run over from behind me while on a sidewalk! It was by this stupid little Daewoo Damus.


This thing is smaller than a VW Microbus, if you can believe it. It`s can fit almost anywhere and the one that almost ran me over was delivering newspapers/flyers in these holders on street posts. I was waiting to cross the street when I heard this noise behind me and I saw this van come up right where I was standing! He apologized, deposited the papers into the holder and continued off the sidewalk and onto the road.

Well, that is a brief summary for now. There is still lots to write about but I’ll save that for another post Smile