Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Strange Events of Notes and Bowling

[This post is written by Nuna.]

Dear Korean,

While studying in China, I was approached by a group of 6 of my young Korean classmates (age 20-22), asking if I wanted to go bowling with them. I said I would be happy to go. After we agreed on all of the details – day, time, place to meet – they left. Soon after, they came back to my desk, and each one put a paper note on my desk listing the details – time, place, day, bowling. I had 6 identical pieces of paper on my desk saying when we'd go bowling. So, I looked at them and said "Okay. See you downstairs, Monday at 5 p.m. to go bowling." They went back to their desks. A few minutes later, they came back to my desk and said "We don't want to go bowling with you." And they each took their paper note back and left.

What did I do wrong??


Dear John,

Nuna guesses that they must have been Korean girls -- she just cannot imagine Korean guys doing things with notes. After Nuna discussed this with Umma (who is quite possibly the most cynical bluestocking in existence), Nuna has come up with three possible scenarios:

1. Bullying

There are lots of reasons why you might be singled out for bullying. You may be considered to be too fat, you stare off into the distance a lot, your responses to the girls always miss the mark by 0.5 seconds, but most likely, the bullies just thought you'd be the easiest to pick on and get away with.

Here is another possible reason that may have applied to you: Nuna never found out why, but the average Korean believes that people who smile a lot is inferior in pragmatism/practicality/quick decision making/focus, and they are smiling because they are inherently stupid. This happens to be a barrier for most white people, since we are taught to smile when we meet the eyes of a stranger, and smile very often in our conversations to indicate our friendliness.

Another thing to note: do NOT smile too often to a Korean, or look at them too closely. The assumption, for some crazy zany reason, is that smiling or looking too often at a Korean signifies that you like them *that way*. Nuna made this mistake several times in which Nuna was smiling constantly out of discomfort in being forced into sitauation with grown male children of family friends, and then heard their mothers making fun of me for blatantly displaying my attraction towards them.

(Picture from here.)

Yet another thing aginst those poor white people is that Koreans feel that when a person with a coloured iris speaks to them, they are not really focusing on you, and looking somewhere over your shoulder. (Incidentally, Koreans favour dark eyes where the pupils are indistinguishable from the iris). When this assumption carries over, it is assumed that any nice thing you do is not out of your graciousness or character, but because you are too stupid/vacant/lights are on but no-one's home to take advantage of it.

What you experienced, if this was the case, was classic group cattiness. The entire point of the bullying was to illustrate in an obtuse manner just how much you didn't fit in the group, and how much the group feels that you are a deadweight that the group has let in out of charity. The six notes reminding you of a date, place and time you are now barred from going is a sort of "voting you off the island" thing. They're amused and flattered at your apparent attraction to them, which just proves how awesome they are, but no, they're clearly headed for Better Things.

Nuna would like to make a note here though: this happens across all races and cultures, and this is also perhaps why men in a bar are afraid of asking a woman out when she is surrounded by a group of other women who will all simultaneously rise to go to the toilet at random times. Nuna also experienced similiar things with groups of men when they were briefly in the company of a woman they considered too fat/ugly/loose. As far as Nuna can tell, Nuna has never been subjected to this kind of scrutiny because Nuna is almost as manly in her mannerisms as Margaret Thatcher, and she tends to strike fear into all women who wish to remain feminine.

2. There was a girl who liked you who was not in the group, and she backed out.

The premise is simple. Some chick likes you, but hasn't got the courage to ask you out one on one. Thankfully, one of the group members hear her pleas and decided to do a group thang, partly to see if you meet their approval to date her dear friend. Hence the overbearing thing where each group member has to absolutely make sure, for the sake of said friend.

And then the said friend backs out. Well, the reality of the matter is, they weren't interested in you that way for starters. You were a nice enough guy, but certainly don't belong chatting amongst a group of chicks, and whatever will you do if girl talk came up? Hence, there was nothing for it but to tell you it's off, and it was most likely off for them too. They never liked bowling anyway, what with the ugly borrowed shoes, carrying heavy weights and the slippery floor. They chose it because white people would probably enjoy that kind of stuff. (Koreans have lots of strange notions about what white people like.)

3. They found something/someone better.

The premise here is that they got a promotion offering a group discount if more than a certain number attended - who knows, maybe 10. In this case, you would not have been the only one that was asked, and because bowling would be out of their price range if anyone dropped out, the assumption is that you, the foreigner, would not understand/care about these things and be the most likely to flippantly change their mind. Hence the repeat confirmation.

At this point in time, you're probably saying "Hey, how the hell is bowling in China out of ANYONE'S price range?" Well, Nuna is going to tell you this: A lot of Koreans tend to arrange trips and whatnot "for the experience", and they already know to a certain degree they may not enjoy it. In this case, the larger the group, the more of the members are assuming and attempting to seek gratification from the vague idea that "SOMEONE must be enjoying this at least, and we should suffer for he/she is a member of our group".

Now, in this scenario, someone else either thought up of going to karaoke (they discovered Korean songs are recorded on Chinese karaoke machines too), which is infinitely better because you get to be drunk and nobody gets to see your smeared makeup in the dark room, or someone else who was invited wanted to bring a friend that was favoured over you, presumably because that person can speak Korean and things won't be as awkward. So you were considered inferior to that person because of connections ( you didn't have other friends who were in on this thing) and the fact that you were a "stranger" (they would feel they were forced to be on their best behaviour so as not to have you bitching about Those Crazy Gooks later on).

Curiously, in all their planning and counter-planning, they never considered the fact that flippantly deciding to kick you off the list is a pretty crass and rude thing to do. Either explaining the situation was beyond their capabilities, or they just didn't feel like explaining it to you.

Whatever the reason behind it, it ultimately boils down to the fact that the group of girls considered you to be not "in" their group and privy to the group's discussions and considerations, and probably didn't explain anything to you because they realised it would only make them sound catty and stupid. Just laugh off at their immaturity in getting themselves into a mess and handling the situation badly, whatever their reasons may have been. They're just kids whose parents paid to send them off to China, after all.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Nuna, I think you're missing the fundemantal theme of the blog, turning this space into a place of stereotypical gossips.

    To my understanding(TK, correct me if I'm mistaken), the theme of this blog is that
    1. Koreans are not special creatures
    2. If Koreans are behaving in a characterizable pattern, here are the social/economic/historic reasons for it
    3. Racism is bad

    In this post, you said things like:
    "the average Korean believes that people who smile a lot is inferior"
    "Koreans favour dark eyes where the pupils are indistinguishable from the iris"
    "A lot of Koreans tend to arrange trips and whatnot "for the experience", and they already know to a certain degree they may not enjoy it"

    Above statements are not only very generalizing and stereotypical(which is against theme 1), you do not provide any social/economic/historic reasons for why you believe so(which is against theme 2). In other words, you generalized behaviours of Koreans without any reasons other than the fact that they're Koreans. That's racist and is against theme 3.

    While your posts bring a new tone to the blog which is refreshening (as well as entertaining to read), I feel that your posts are not only off topic but also completely in the opposite direction of where this blog was going.

  2. Maybe they wanted you to make a similar note and put it on their desks? And when you didn't, they decided you are unspeakably rude or a flake, so they dis-invited you?

  3. One question that might shed some light on this--did they girls go to the bowling without John, or was the event cancelled altogether? Perhaps something came up and they all decided not to go. Telling John "we don't want to go bowling with you" may have just been thier clumsy way of telling him the plans were cancelled.

  4. I thought Nuna's response was hilarious. Will you be my unni?

    I think I just realized why my coworkers keep saying I smile a lot...they think I'm dumb as hell!

  5. Calvin, Nuna was frankly surprised at your comments, and looked up the definition of the word "racism". Nuna's copy of the Australian Oxford Paperback Dictionary (2nd Edition, printed in 1996) defined it as:
    1. belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudice based on this.
    2. antagonism towards people of other races.

    Wikipedia states "Racism, by its simplest definition, is the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

    Nuna doesn't have a Webster to check whether the entry for racism has a purist definition that separates Wikipedia's conjoined definition, but it appears (here we go with generalisations again) that assigning superiority/inferiority is an inseparable part of the definition of racism.

    In a purely literary point of view, it appears you are confusing Orientalism with racism. You are stating that Nuna is presenting the Koreans in this frankly bizarre incident as the incomprehensible "other" who cannot escape from their "otherness" and only explained by their "otherness" - the central thesis of Orientalism, as butchered by Nuna because nobody should be subjected to the entirety of Edward Said's writings on it.

    Yes, Nuna is aware that presenting a defence of an Orientalist viewpoint instead of a Racist viewpoint is like saying it's manslaughter instead of murder in terms of political correctness. Which comes to this point: the statements are not sweeping definitive generalisations made about the race as a whole, nor do they state that the causation of these generalisations necessarily define the race/all individuals identifiable under that race.

    The trends mentioned within are also benign in nature, and do not assign any merit, fault or even strangeness in any particular race. They can be all easily construed as purely incidental, and do not contain any symbolism or imagery that provoke racist or orientalist sentiments unless one is already racist and views the world in that manner.

    Nuna also notes that you did not try to dispute the generalisations themselves. If they were such sweeping generalisations that also happened to be damaging, perhaps you would have tried to refute them.

    Nuna welcomes any number of anthropological explanations supporting or refuting the tendencies Nuna mentioned. However, Nuna has read hundereds of critiques and theories about other subjects which devolved into "just because", and wouldn't be surprised if the reasoning behind these trends was the same.

    Why do most people's favourite colours lie in the blue spectrum? Why is white associated with good and black with evil? Why is Nuna so prone to getting headaches?

    All that matters is that Nuna has a headache from the trauma of her high school English classes. Nuna still completed English Extension 2 for her HSC (which is comparable to matriculating with Honours first class), so Nuna will remain vaguely satisfied with sticking it to The Man.

    Finally, Nuna refuses to wonder why a governing body is invariably referred to as The Man while a country is generally referred to as a woman. Some things just are, and Nuna is glad to leave it at that because Nuna isn't a bloody ankle-biter set out to annoy adults during State of Origin.

  6. No need to shuffle through the internet; we had a discussion right on this blog on whether the word "racism" includes racially insensitive actions/remarks which is not motivated by racial hatred.

    In that discussion, The Korean, your boss, sided with "Yes, Racist" camp, stating, The Korean’s belief is that the distinction between "racism" and "racial insensitivity" or "racially inclined actions/thoughts" is illusory.

    Through statements like "the average Korean believes that people who smile a lot is inferior", you are pulling on a tight string that's looked down upon by your own boss. That would be misrepresenting his view which also misrepresents the theme of the blog.

    Even if you believe that your posts are not bound to The Korean's opinions, you should at the very least recognize that making a racially inclined statements regardless of the intents is a controversial area (hence the heated discussion) which you should be sensitive about, especially when it's put on a spotlight.

    You initially failed to see that your statements are potentially racist(especially on this blog where we had that discussion), and failed again to see that someone actually found your statements racist, even when it was blatantly pointed out.

    Your defense is that you didn't mean the whole Koreans and it is benign in nature. This is a clear example of why I think you're just not getting it. Regardless of whether those two reasons exclude you from being a racist, the big idea is that you should not categorize people by their race, period. It doesn't matter even if you meant to compliment them. Remember "Afro-American kids can run very, very well"? That was one of the controversial issues that was deemed sensitive.

    Let me give you some examples:
    Romanians are the hottest! Possibly racist.
    Jews are the smartest! Possibly racist.
    Russians are the tallest! Possibly racist unless proven by statistics.

    Disagree? Ask A Korean! if those are racist or not. (hint: see the discussion that I mentioned)

    You are missing the fundamental theme of the blog, turning this space into a place of stereotypical gossips. You are oblivious to the damages you're doing. Please stop.

    Note: Regardless of why I think you should stop writing, I still think that your post was funny. Racial jokes are the best!

  7. Calvin, Nuna's contemplated a lot between various options of getting her opinion across to you with as little damage to, as you put it, Nuna's beloved boss.

    If you were laughing at the jokes in the post, you weren't laughing at racist jokes. You were laughing at sexist jokes Nuna made at her own expense.

    No, Nuna isn't entitled to make sexist jokes just for the hell of it. What Nuna is entitled to do, however, is give an entirely absurd answer to an entirely absurd question stripped of its context. Nuna is guessing the others found it funny because the whole premise, starting from having to arbitarily assign a gender to the group, was absurd.

    This also throws an insight into your sensibilities. Nuna is guessing the sexism behind the jokes were not picked up because it wasn't phrased directly as "Girls are ____."

    Surely you have realised by now what a huge mistake you have made in the entire premise of your argument. It has gotten to the point from you merely accusing Nuna of being a racist gossipmonger to being selectively blind and hypocritical in your quest to portray Nuna's words in the worst possible light. Do you honestly believe Nuna's disappearance will cause the entirety of the blog to be cleansed of what you accuse Nuna of doing?

    Nuna suspects you are denigrating Nuna's words and opinions because you have already decided Nuna doesn't form part of whoever you feel defines "us" in this blog. You are so set on this, you petition Nuna to hand in her resignation.

    Nuna invites you to contact Nuna directly about any further issues you have, using whatever resources that take your fancy. The most obvious way, as you pointed out, is the email right there.

    Incidentally, it is sad that in your hunt for all the trees, you missed the proverbial forest: Nuna's post was about group mentality.


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