Monday, April 25, 2011


I think one of my co-teachers is annoyed with me. When we were talking about heroes I told our class that Mother Teresa was born in Albania, and I didn't realise she'd been telling them that she was Indian Brahmin. Needless to say they got very upset because I wouldn't give them any class points (since it wasn't a correct answer) and we had to start talking about someone else very quickly.

Ok - so obviously it's not good for teachers to contradict each other, that goes without saying. BUT. Even before I knew where she was from, I knew Mother Teresa wasn't Indian, she just lived and worked there for most of her life. It's pretty obvious from just looking at a picture of her, even a picture of her as an old woman (which most of them are) that she's not Indian, as racial features - heck, all features really - get less distinctive as we age. But anyway, somewhat tangentially (is that a word? It is now!) the whole thing made me realise once again just how multicultural Australia must seem to people, even though those of us living there know that while we have a lot of ethnic diversity, this doesn't necessarily preclude us from being an extremely racist country. And just to clarify, unless you're a complete idiot, you know that racism doesn't just mean white people hating non-white people and multiculturalism doesn't just mean you eat Chinese takeaway once in a while. Unless you live in an extremely small country town, by the tine we grow up, most of us can tell the difference between Indian and Filipino, know that Europe is a continent, not a country, and have eaten something more exotic than Teriyaki chicken at least once in our lives. Most of this is due to the fact that everyone in Australia except Aborigines is either an immigrant or descended from one (well, two to be biologically accurate). Korea doesn't have that. Even though it's pretty centrally located, as indicated by centuries of occupation, colonisation and general warfare for ground, for the majority of the world it's still a mystery. It's not somewhere that people know and automatically think "I'd like to go there someday" - it's somewhere they go either completely by chance (e.g. people looking to teach English who use recruiters and exchange students) or because they have some sort of connection with the country like family. Even though there's a large military presence (...) and there's been an increase in the number of South Asian immigrants here as wives or workers, there still isn't a lot of racial diversity and not much general knowledge amongst the population about other countries. Similiarly, even though a lot more people get the chance to travel these days, those of you who are familiar with the Korean travelling style (a whirlwind tour done with other Koreans, speaking in Korean most of the time and eating Korean food as much as possible) will know that it doesn't always give the most accurate impression of a country. Which is not to say that there aren't Koreans who don't take genuine interests in other countries, travel independently and can go for weeks at a time without rice or kimchi, and that people from other cultures don't do the "I don't actually travel outside of my own head" thing either (Aussies in Bali anyone?). This is just a generalisation. Hee~ :D

At any rate, the racial thing is actually one of the paradoxes of living in Korea for me - even though I look pretty much like the majority of the population and here I can be just part of the crowd for once, unless I keep my mouth shut and dress to the princess standard, I kind of stand out more than I do at home in Thirroul, which is a small and VERY white suburb. As someone who is ethnically Korean and who doesn't have any tattoos or weird hair I'm obviously not as sensational as much as some other foreigners, but I still wasn't raised Korean, I still don't have any Korean mannerisms (that I'm aware of) and I still don't carry myself the same way or have the same facial expressions as everyone else. So for someone like me, unless you're in Seoul, you still stand out and people WIL stop and stare at you in the street. Or stop you in the street to have a chat about the Bible. Or ask you about your life story and give you their opinion on why you should/shouldn't track down your birth parents (taxi ajosshis). Or goggle at you from their car windows as they careen through intersections because they find you more interesting than red lights, pedestrians or other vehicles.

Anyway, I find this double standard of obscurity/celebrity ... well, curious. It's a bit hard to call something interesting when it also means unwanted attention. If I'm a bit tired or having a bad day, sometimes I don't even say hi to my students if I see them in the street, I'll just smile and wave because I don't feel like having everyone turn and stare at me or try to start a conversation about random stuff when I have somewhere to be.

More after lunch.

Anyway so that was that. Still can't figure out if she's annoyed or not, but since a) this is the exact same lesson for that I did with her classes last year and b) she knows how to use the internet as much as I do there's not much I can or am planning to do about it. I was actually half expecting to be wrong since I'm pretty sure I originally got my facts from Wikipedia but I double checked anyway and I wasn't. Hopefully things will blow over.

Some more random things people said to me last week - apart from the even more random "I love you!"s and "사랑합니다!"s ('I love you' in Korean) that have been floating around thanks to the new Office of Education directive that we greet each other like this, which I find weird.

Seung-Yeon: "You look much more prettier today than usual. I mean, from other days this week."
Ms Yu: "You have an excellent nose." (English approximation - she's thinking of getting rhinoplasty).
Mr Kim: "Have some tea! It's hot... but I am cool." (that one was actually meant to be funny)

Asking students to write about a place they'd like to go:
"I'd like to go to Si-Yun's house. Because I want to kill Si-Yun. HAHAHA!!!"
"I'd like to go to my house. Because I am very tired. I will sleep there."
"I'd like to go to hell. Because I is black soul. I will make fire there."

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