When I was tentatively asked to move from working part-time to full-time at Busan International Foreign School back in February – a job I finally began last week – I understood that as part of this my son could be educated at the school during the duration of my contract, which my wife and I had decided would be a good idea since we had become concerned at his interactions with other children when he met them. Because of this, we didn’t search for a place in a Korean nursery for him, but a couple of days after I signed the contract we found out he was 10 days too young to qualify for a place. The moral of the story perhaps, is to always check the small print yourself.
When I started writing about my experiences here there were only two other foreigners writing blogs in Busan as far as I’m aware and so it enjoyed a level of mild popularity by virtue of absence of choice. This led to a few invitations to appear on Korean TV and radio shows, and I was also asked to write, but always for airline magazines – perhaps their editors had correctly surmised that I work best with a captive audience.
When I worked as a financial trader, people used to ask me from time to time about the viability of trading in Korea, and I tried to offer some polite ad-hoc advice elsewhere but I never really brought it onto this blog. This is a pity because the most comprehensive piece I think I ever wrote on the subject was on a forum for foreigners in Korea I later was kicked out of for not posting frequently enough to. The moral of the story – aside from the obvious question of whether you should actually avoid other foreigners and their forums in Korea like the plague – is if you’re going to write something useful, put it on your own site.
That said, I’m not promising to make this useful because the first and last thing I’m going to say about trading in Korea is don’t, with one caveat – there’s a distinction between longer-term investing over a period of years and shorter-term trading.
“I’m not just saying this because you’re related to me, but I used to think that all foreigners were dirty and smelly… but you’re not.” – a close relative who I am not permitted to name by title until the statute of limitations expires.
Does this mean I’ve pushed down the barriers of prejudice in Korea by just a little? Perhaps not, because this close relative went on to expand on that thought by adding “When I pass them in the street, I can smell their bad smell, they look unkempt and their clothes look years old. But you always look neat.”
And apparently I don’t smell that bad either. If only foreigners could smell as wonderful as Koreans.
Filed under ‘accidental truths close Korean relatives tell you when they finally let their guard down after five years’.
I’m alone in the apartment and receive a call from an unknown number on my mobile. I don’t answer it because my son has only slept 30 minutes all morning, he’s just woken up, and I’m desperate to get him back to sleep again so I can do something productive in the little time this will afford me. To this end, I’m walking circles around our lounge with him in a sling on my back, which is the only way of getting him to sleep, at all, ever.
The same number phones again exactly one minute later. This time I answer it, because it’s entirely possible that it might be important.
So I promised to tell you the racial abuse on the bus story. It happened two days after I’d been kicked out of a taxi when the driver saw I was a foreigner. It wasn’t a good week for me in Korea.
I was sat right at the back of a bus with a Korean colleague heading back to civilisation from Gijang after work. My colleague’s English is good but buses are noisy and you have to talk above it for comprehension.
I remember that it was cold and raining very heavily that morning. So heavily, that when the taxi finally pulled up outside the the last station before I headed out into the wilderness towards Gijang, its windows were steamed up and I couldn’t see the driver. The wait had been so long that I’d begun to wonder if I was ever going to get to work, and I really didn’t rate the chances of the woman who’d arrived behind me to start a queue at the designated taxi point.
My wife and I were waiting for an elevator when a little girl next to us, she must have been all of about six years old, said, ‘waegug-saram… anyoung’. ‘Anyoung’. ‘Anyoung waegug-saram’. Foreigner… hello. Hello. Hello foreigner. It was all smiles. Then she turned to my wife, and in a serious and surprisingly mature tone asked “Why did you marry a foreigner? Is it because you couldn’t get a Korean man?”
When I first lived in Korea I barely really lived in it at all. I stayed in my apartment trading the international financial markets, and when I ventured out – largely at the weekend on chaperoned trips – I felt more like a visiting alien, although to be fair that was the official classification the Korean government gave me; I still have the Alien Registration Card to prove it.
Recognising that living in Korea conventionally meant actually trying to live in it, I took the opportunity to do some writing for the local English-language radio station and appear on their shows, and later I got a part-time programming job so I started spending a lot of my life really out there, on the move.
Around six months ago Korean Brother went to a nightclub and related the events that shocked him to my wife the next morning.
Apparently several years ago during happier economic times when you went to a nightclub there was a point in the proceedings known as ‘sexy time’, when people would be invited up onto the stage to dance in front of the audience, for prize money typically around 1,000,000 won. The winner would often be the person who was prepared to perform the most provocative dance, and apparently there were few rules imposed by the nightclubs because this invariable involved removing some items of clothing, and sometimes all. But these are nevertheless fairly normal venues – not strip clubs.