Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Dear Korean,

Hope you and your wife have been doing well. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your three-parter with answers to the students from Jangheung High School. I may actually adapt some parts of it for my students. I particularly appreciate your vulnerability in the section about loneliness.

Occasionally I go through a few situations in which I question my decision to move to Seoul. Last week I experienced such a situation. I'll spare you the details except to say that it soured me on Koreans and, for the first time since 2007, I gave some serious consideration to moving back home. Maybe that's why the Jangheung post had such emotional resonance for me.

Anyway, it's not over until it's over. :)

Finals are almost done, and I'll be spending the vacation working on Korean study and continuing education stuff. Then a trip home in February. Your blog's been a big encouragement to me. Have a great Christmas.

Marc H.

The nature of this blog means that great many readers of this blog are non-Korean expats living in Korea. Sometimes, the Korean can be impatient with them, and castigates some of them if he thinks that they are being particularly stupid. But this does not mean that the Korean is blind to the fundamental challenge being faced by expats in Korea:  depending on the day, Korea can be a very unwelcoming place for non-Koreans.

Now, that does not excuse the rants in some expat blogs/message boards that are absolutely nothing more than racist tripe. Neither does that justify the gross distortions of facts about Korea, in an attempt to paint the entire country and people in a negative light. However, without excusing and justifying, the Korean can extend his understanding as to where much of that bile is coming from. For non-Koreans, there will be moments in which their lives in Korea are genuinely shitty, simply because they are not Koreans. And as much time as the Korean spends trying to elucidate the incorrect understanding about Korea, he recognizes that in many cases, a wholesale criticism against Korea is completely fair.

Even when Korea is not being unwelcoming, Korea can be just too different. A large part of our day-to-day lives is not about some great fundamental truths about the universe. It is about a series of habits whose accumulation we have not been even aware of. So, for example, if you are accustomed to a Western-style personal space, you might find it grating to have someone stand next to you a little too close on your everyday commute. Is it a big deal? No. But again, much of life is about small deals. It is the accumulation of those small deals that eventually influence the overall impression of a place.

For some, Christmas is a time where all the negativity about Korea can bubble up. It is another one of those times in which Korea is just too different. Instead of a warm, family-oriented affair, Christmas in Korea is at best a neutered holiday meaningful only to Christians, and at worst a crassly commercialized second Valentine's Day. Of course Koreans have their own warm, family-oriented holidays, but they don't mean that much to non-Korean expats. Instead, facing the assault on senses, it is understandable to feel cold, lonely, and sour about the goddamn place.

Christmas tree at City Hall Square, Seoul
So here is the Korean's Christmas message for all you expats out there:  stay warm, and get together with friends. Remember that in any place of the world, life as a minority and an immigrant has a potential to be shitty from time to time -- especially if the place does not have a tradition of immigration like Korea. You can read this blog to get a better understanding about why Korea is the way it is, but ultimately, your feelings are yours. Even for a nice person like Marc -- a long time reader whose thoughtfulness is always appreciated -- life in Korea will have shitty moments. Whether or not those moments accumulate to a point where you might consider leaving Korea would be up to you. But in the meantime, stay warm and be with other people. Don't let the annoyance and bile percolate, but be in the spirit of the seasons.

Merry Christmas.

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


  1. I'm non-Korean living outside Korea and wishing you a Great Merry Christmas and May God Bless you.

  2. How do you (or do you) celebrate Christmas here in the states?

  3. What a wonderfully thoughtful and sensitive post. Thank you.

  4. I love posts like this, where the writer can nicely say... You're sometimes full of crap, ....but I understand and sympathize. I think when people rant that's really all they want to hear anyway, to get validation for the reason they feel a certain way. With so many (including myself) who are so quick to frown on generalizations, we often forget that there's a human element to whoever is making them. Cheers to everyone far away from home on a day like today. People like you make the world a better place.

  5. wow! huge christmas tree! Belated Merry Christmas!

    Sig: Andrew | medical equipment sales

  6. I have to say that I LOVE xmas in Korea. It comes with 120% of the lighting and flash of the US and none of the emotional/religious freight.

    Nothing better than grabbing a Seoul city bus and just riding it aimlessly, watching the views flash by.^^

    Apparently I am a shitty poet or a horse poet, because my Word Verification (malsi) was romanized from: 말시^^


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