Wednesday, August 05, 2009

It's been two weeks since I returned from Korea...

...and I'm still beaming. We traveled to Korea to visit my wife's family in Gwangju, and traveled around sight-seeing and meeting people. Her family really killed the fatted calf for us, I must say. They are mostly upper-class, church-going medical professionals, and they paid for us to go stay in a 6-star hotel in Seoul, and to a beachfront condo on Jeju Island. They welcomed us into their homes, in turns, and doted on us to the point that I could barely phrase my thanks. I'm an American southerner, so I like to think I know something about courtesy and hospitality, but these people were just on a whole higher level. Since I returned, I've been surfing the blogs of foreigners living in Korea. Many of them spin tales of how rude Koreans are, how dull the attractions are. Well, as to the latter, I'm no seasoned traveler, being more of a homebody. Korea is the only east Asian country I've ever been to, so I don't compare the sights with China or Japan. (Plus, I have a pre-existing interest, as my father was in Korea during the war.) And to the former, I can only wish the resident foreigners to have contact with people beyond their school co-workers, restaurant ajummas, jostling strangers on the public transportation, and club pickups.

I'd love to share some family pictures of these wonderful people with you, know...privacy and all that. You never know who's looking. You can see some generic vacation pics at my photo blog.


  1. I've enjoyed reading some of your observations and experiences in Korea. I stopped by after following a link from OFK.

    I've lived in Seoul for three years now. I think what both you and what many of the "blogs of foreigners living in Korea" say ring true. Individuals within Korean culture can be very warm to those within their own circles, and I too have benefitted more than once from almost over-the-top hospitality. But in general, if one is not in a Korean person's circles of family, school, and work -- whether you're Korean or "a foreigner" -- you don't really exist.

    It's very easy as a western, English-speaker to make friends here, but even within that, the friendships still tend to have boundaries. Very rarely have I been invited to a friend's home, for instance.

    Before I moved here I happened to meet a recent college graduate from the US who was fluent in Korean and lived here often and on during college for a couple years. When I asked him why he ultimately decided living in Korea wasn't for him (not even a few years more after college), he said that he never could escape the role of being a guest. He was invited into his Korean friends' homes, but he was always treated specially as a guest. Of course initially this is great, but eventually most Americans would feel much more comfortable if treated the same as everyone else.

    I take your experience as one who has married into and been wholeheartedly excepted into the family, definitely a positive thing, but you're on in the inside (to a point), while many of us are on the outside.

    Your relatives are also Christian -- the imperative to "love your neighbors" I think in general softens this culture's natural tendency to ignore others/those you're not associated with. I am not Christian myself, but have noticed this in many Christians here. Though I've noticed exceptions to this, too.

    Thanks again for your good observations.

  2. Thanks for the visit and the insightful comment. Foreign travel certainly is a broadening experience, isn't it?


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