Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Korea vs. Japan Showdown

I'll start out by saying that I've not decided which one I like best. I don't think I've lived here long enough to choose, anyway. I will state that I am constantly comparing the two in a way that makes me feel like Japan is the outright winner, though I think that it's just my frustration coming out from being in a new place. So here are some of my observations and I might add to the list as time goes on.

Kids/school: I've already wrote about how smart my students are but not a day goes by that one of them doesn't surprise me. It's remarkable how much english they know at such a young age. After teaching for nearly two weeks I've found that my worst student in a class of 5 year olds could out-english the smartest one in a class of 13 year olds in Japan. Just yesterday I was teaching a class of 12 year olds when in walks (late) the cutest little boy ever in these green glasses, I think he's probably 7 or so. I thought he was lost but he came in and sat down like he belonged there. I had a blank spot on my roll sheet with no English name so I asked him if that was him and he said yes in his cute little voice. I asked if he had an English name and he said it was Benjamin (I want to squeeze the poop out of him by this point, he's so adorable) and as it turns out he has better english and better pronunciation than anyone in the class. Well alright, welcome to the class Benjamin. Not only are the kids much more conversational than Japanese ones but, just like Benjamin, they actually pronounce things they way they are meant to be pronounced. For example, in both countries I've had at least one child named Jerry. In Korea, he refers to himself as "Jerry" while in Japan the poor kid was "Jelly" leaving me trying not to crack up. My students can say their Rs like it's an actual letter and not just some weird way to shape your tongue and make a sound.

Vending Machines: WHERE ARE THEY!??!?!?!!! I was very much looking forward to coming back to a vending machine every 12 feet on the sidewalk but alas, it seems Japan is alone in this incredible convenience. They exist, sure, but sadly they exist only slightly more than in America it seems. I bought a hot chocolate out of one at the subway station once but that's been the extent of it. In Japan I swear I was putting 100yen into a machine at least three times a day and getting something fantastic in return where as in Korea I have to schlep myself down to the quickie mart. And thinking of quickie mart...

Convenient Stores: Way more abundant than in Japan, though much smaller and less variety. Maybe having a 5x5 room full of Pepsi Nex Zero, bottled hot rice tea and dried fish skin in candy wrappers on every street corner makes up for the lack of vending machines? Nah. Not to me anyway. I like popping a coin in and getting something out in less than 10 seconds. Stopping in a store is too slow and too overwhelming. In the same kind of category as convenient stores is the convenient food.  There are so many street vendors you'd think I was at the Lewis County Fair. No matter what street or alleyway or what have you that I am on there is someone selling something or other from a little cart. Chicken, fish waffles, something on a stick that may or may not be meat, onion pancakes, regular waffles, dumplings...it's all sold from these tiny carts everywhere. There's also always someone who has plopped down on the sidewalk with a blanket and a bunch of oranges attempting to get rid of them. On the weekends little portable "shops" pop up all over the god forsaken place selling anything from vegetables to socks to fake Prada to hunks of metal. It's insanity...but also kind of awesome. (And speaking of fake Prada...and how I mentioned that Korea is not like Canal Street in NYC? Well, I lied. I found Canal Street in a place called Nampo and it's about a mile long.)

Culture: Koreans are much more, for lack of a better word, Americanized than Japanese people. And don't ask why, because I've yet to be able to put my finger on it. For the life of me I can't really pinpoint what makes me feel that way but it's true. And everyone else says the same thing. I'll try to explain it. They are a much, much warmer people than Japanese. Japanese people, especially men, are so...cold. Affection is looked down upon there it seems and I'd freak out when I saw two young people holding hands in public. Koreans are so affectionate and very open with it. It makes me happy because it's such a stark contrast to Japan. Koreans seem to be slightly less, and again for lack of a better, less offending word, brainwashed. They seem to have more open minds. Koreans have great pride in their country (who doesn't?) but their pride doesn't mesh with ignorance like in Japan...well, not as much I should say. With that being said, let's move on to the crazy Korea. So, Koreans run on a different aging schedule than we do. No, you didn't read that wrong. Koreans are actually 1-2 years older than what their birth certificates say they are. They believe (get ready for this) than you are 1 year old the day you are born because they take into account pregnancy (though you're only pregnant for 9 months?). Also, they don't get older on their birthday. (keeping up?) EVERYONE in the country turns one year older January 1st. But they still celebrate their birthday with cake and things. Don't worry, I don't get it either. Moving on.

Discrimination: So, pretty much, I've never felt more discriminated against while being here. Maybe I've taken for granted being...well...caucasion...but I'm not used to being treated like a second class citizen. In Japan foreigners are absolutely worshipped. I think in one of my old posts I wrote about how it was like being a celebrity, getting free stuff everywhere and all that. Not like that here. Foreign teachers are respected in a sense that "hey, you're teaching my kid english, good job" but it doesn't go much further than that. While Koreans are much warmer towards each other, Japanese people are much friendlier and more eager to help the foreigners and not just looking at you like you're in the way. For some reason in Korea casinos are for foreigners ONLY. Koreans aren't even allowed to step foot in them to gamble. Imagine living in Las Vegas but only non-Americans were allowed inside the casino. Weird right? If you caught my status updates last weekend you know that we took a trip there since, you know, we're allowed. They HATE us being in there. (and by us I mean white people) They cater to mostly Japanese and Chinese tourists and they go there and drop TONS of cash. Our friends say they know it's because we're going to go in and put $40 at the roulette table and drink for free all night where as that Chinese guy just put down $1,000 on red. It was a terrible feeling being shooed away from places and looked at like they'd like nothing better than for us to leave. Nothing to do but ignore it, I suppose.

Driving: So, we don't have a car here and THANK THE LORD. I've been to five Asian countries and I feel very secure in saying that the stereotype of them being bad drivers is 100% true. I thought Japanese drivers were bad, HA! The only other place I've seen more chaos on the road is Thailand and that's saying something. The vehicles are swerving in and out and in the middle of the road and honking at everything and doing u-turns in places I'm pretty sure is illegal (like the middle of the road) and coming within inches of pedestrians. The only thing that made Thailand worse was that there were a few thousand more cars and a few hundred thousand more scooters. I'll say one thing, it's chaos but it's organized chaos if I've ever seen it. Being in a taxi here is terrifying but you'll eventually get where you need to go...albeit with sweaty palms and heart racing, but you'll get there.

Food: I think I prefer Japanese food. Korean food is SO spicy I can barely eat any of it. They put red pepper flakes/paste/chunks on absolutely everything. It doesn't matter what it is. The section of the grocery store dedicated to plastic tub after tub of the stuff is comparable to that of the ranch dressing aisle at Super Wal-Mart. I don't like spicy food so it's taken me a bit to figure out what I can and cannot eat. Japanese food is much more bland, I think, but I loved the variety of noodle and rice dishes. I'll have to be here a little longer to figure out more local cuisine that I like. I did find a Japanese restaurant in the Shinsegae that serves very delish tonkatsu ramen (top five favorite foods EVER) so it's nice when I need a fix.

Other Foreigners: This could be perhaps that we lived in a super rural area in Japan but it seems that the other foreigners were much friendlier there. When we were new there never seemed to be a shortage of people who wanted to show us around and help us figure things out. Here, they all kind of just...do their own thing. It's a little disheartening. I don't know if people are just super unfriendly or of it's the West Virginian in me hitting the big city and wondering why no one is nice. In Japan, when we'd see another foreigner on the train or on the street each would give the other a little smile and a head nod as if to say "I know...we're in this together buddy". Here, not even a recognition! It's insane. We've met a few really nice cool people who work with us but they are leaving in a few weeks. I'm genuinely concerned how we're going to make friends. Everyone keep your fingers crossed it turns out well on the friend front.

Milk Tea: Another thing I was greatly looking forward to and there is none. NONE. It's pretty much the best substance ever created. Maybe I'll stockpile some when we go to Japan in a few weeks?


That's all for now...maybe I'll add to the list as the year goes on...

1 comment:

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