Living as a stranger in a strange land
Monday, May 22, 2006
A Casual Dresser Living in a Suit-and-Tie World
I don't like wearing suits or other formal wear. I really don't.
But I live in a country that really emphasises the need to wear them. So much so, that it seems like they go to some rediculous extremes. I have even seen men (not so much women) wear business suits when they are climbing mountains (no kidding - or as the Koreans would say - gincha!).
It's great for them, maybe - but it certainly wears on me - a lot.
I'm a casual dresser. I loathe wearing a suit and tie - I really do (even though I'm wearing one as I write this blog). Most of the time, I would rather be wearing kaki's and a polo shirt.
But as I live in this 'strange land' with their formal ways - I feel like 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do'. Sometimes I rebel - and wear my polo shirt and kakis to work anyway (certainly my computers won't object) - but as often as not, I succumb and will at least wear a shirt and tie and nice slacks.
I certainly don't have to like it though. One good thing though. Jan, my Korean wife, is usually pretty OK with the decisions I make about the clothes I wear - even though I know that secretly she would rather see me off to work each morning dressed in a coat and tie. Sometimes, however, I just can't bring myself to do it.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
It's all about the LAST CAR LENGTH....
Driving in Seoul is a very taxing experience (to say the least). That's why I live very close to the Army Post, and have less than a mile (or should I say 1.6 kilometers?) from the post.
Once I make it through the gate, my internal reaction is almost always one of relief. "Whew," I think, "I made it to the gate...again"!!!
Why is the traffic so bad? As a friend pointed out to me, several months ago, it's all about getting "that last car length ahead of you". Seoul, Korea is a hyper-competitive place to live, and all of the aggressiveness that comes with this competition naturally spills over into the way Koreans (both men and women) drive. If they can ecke out that last car length and get ahead of you, I guess somehow that soothes their egos.
It will never change, I know that, but it sure makes for some 'maddening' driving.
Updating My Blog
This is just a short post to update my blog
AND YOU THOUGHT YOUR DENTIST WAS TOUGH ....
Going to the dentist in Korea is a real experience, adventure, hassle (take your pick) if you are an expatriate living in Seoul. I absolutely have to have a dentist who speaks English well enough so that I know what is happening. That means I have whenever I have to see my dentist (who is in Gangnam - I live in Yongsan), I will spend 3 hours for a 30-45 minute appointment.
Why? It is a 45 min - 1 hour Subway, taxi, or auto drive from my apartment to the dentist office - each way.
One of the big hassles of city life in Seoul - no matter what the city tries to do in terms of roads and public transportation, there never seems to be enough modes of transportation to move all 12 million people around this city with any kind of efficiency....
The standard line for being very, very late to work, a party, an appointment, etc? "I would have been there on time, but the traffic was SOOOO bad..." It works like a charm every time.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
EAT IT, ITS GOOD FOR YOU !
One of the Korean customs that I find very curious indeed is the Korean custom of trying to get you (the foreigner) to eat all manner of food and things Korean. Korean people that I come into contact with are always saying "Here try this. It's good for you". It doesn't seem to matter what it is - if it's Korean food it's bound to be "good for you".
My response? Well, if is something I can stomach, I will demurr and eat it. If not (or I just am not in the mood), I will respond by saying "Well if everything in Korea is so good for me, why does this country have the second highest rate of stomach cancer in the world?" When I get no rely, or a weak excuse, then I respond by saying "I think I'll pass today".
This may not go down in the annals of great diplomacy, but it works for me.
Seoul Survivor - Five Years later.
I can hardly believe I have been here now for five years. Sometimes I feel like I have just arrived in Seoul, sometimes I feel as though I have lived here forever.
So how does one adjust to living in one of the most crowded (if not the most polluted) cities in Asia with a population that largely does not speak your language and where try as you might, you will NEVER fit in??
What works for me is simply to retreat inside the 'American Ghetto' - I very, very rarely go off Yongsan Post anymore. My work, my social life, my religious experiences, my shopping, my eating, my workouts, etc all revolve arround the Yongsan US Army compound. I live outside one of the Gates, but except to go home and sleep, and do the nomal things one does at home, I work and live on Yongsan. Why? Simple - it looks and feels like America. Before you judge me too harshly (and even if you do - I really don't care), this is the life that allows me to live and be sane in Seoul. The roads in Seoul are too crowded, the Subways are ALWAYS jammed, the taxi drivers don't speak passible English, etc - in short, it is just to hard to go anywhere in Seoul - so I don't. So why do I live like this? My dear wife is not interested in living in the US and I am not interested in a divorce.
BTW - I have a well-paying job which is interesting most of the time, I have good friends, GREAT internet connections, plenty of social and religious activities on the base, and most importantly of all - STARBUCKS (yes - ON POST)!!! So my little slice of life is pretty OK, and I am not interested in complicating my life by trying to interface with a society that does not want to interface with me (except for those rare occasions where I am seen as a novelty).
Thursday, June 05, 2003
NAPS SHOULD BE MANDATORY - I come to work at 7:30 AM and I usually work well until lunch - but sometime after lunch, I find it hard not to nod off . It often takes 2 to 3 cups of coffee sometimes just to keep me awake. This might be a function of the amount of food I eat at lunch - and I'm trying to work on that - but more often than not, I think it is just a natural time of the day when your body slows down. I think the Spanish got it right with their siestas - and there is a lot of scientific evidence that allowing employees to take power naps would significantly increase productivity. So why doesn't our American society seem to allow it? Maybe because it doesn't fit into our work "mythic" (notice I did not say ethic) - the idea that we must constantly on the go in the workplace. Oh well.... I need to go get my coffee 'fix' - got to stay awake for another hour.
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
I was running late for work this morning (why do we use the term running late - how does 'late' run?). I wasn't really late - but in Seoul, leaving the apartment after 7 AM in the morning is late. Let me explain.
Automobile traffic in Seoul is absolutely horrible. It rivals some of the worst traffic anywhere in the world. In the morning everyone in this city is trying to get to their offices by 8:30 or 9:00 AM (So isn't this like the rest of the world?). It seems that EVERYONE gets on the streets at the same time. I live less than 2 miles from my office, but if I leave my apartment at 7:30 - it takes me 20 minutes to go those two miles - if I leave at 7:00 it only takes me 8-10 minutes.
So in order to minimize the pain of waiting in traffic (one of the very few thing I truely hate), if I run late, I try and take short cuts, and I take some risks, like driving too fast and trying to beat out the traffic. I know I shouldn't be doing this, its not right and all - but in Seoul, the tempation to beat traffic lights is so great (even to go thru some of the stupid lights - you know the type I'm talking about, the traffic light that is not justified by the amount of traffic going thru it). Why is this temptation so great? Because there are very few traffic police and the few they do have do not enforce the laws, because the Korean gov't does not want the traffic cops to bother the public. The Korean citizens are so emboldened by this that when a cop tries to give them a ticket they will yell, scream, cuss and sometimes even punch their traffic cops - amazing, huh? The bottom line is Seoul has no practical traffic law enforcement. This results in a lot of chaos in the streets. Sometimes I absolutely hate it, but sometimes.... I really like to take advantage of it. Not worrying about traffic laws can help when your running late to work and you want to beat the Seoul traffic rush.
Tuesday, June 03, 2003
I am kind of new to the art of the blog. But I thought that this would be a good place to put down some random thoughts about how it is to be an American living in Seoul Korea. Some days are good, some days are bad, but most days are interesting for sure. Thought I might share these thoughts in a blog. Writing is good for purging the demons of the Seoul (no pun intended).