I feel a little swell of pride when I hear people talking about Korea, and I get a little defensive when that talk isn't good.
I'm not Korean. But I have just returned home after spending the last 41/2 years living and working in Korea teaching English, after graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Korea gave me a job, a half-decade of memories and, somehow, a Japanese fiancée. I have a lot of affection for the country and its people. But I'm sorry to say most people here aren't too interested in any of that. They look at me like I've done a gap year abroad a few times too many.
When I do answer questions about Korea, it's to confirm that I lived in South Korea, not in the one with that crazy guy with the funny haircut from the movie "Team America." Yes, they do eat dog; no, I haven't; and no, it doesn't bother me.
Many American impressions of Korea haven't outgrown "M• A• S• H." If you get beyond lame jokes and lazy stereotypes, you see that the southern half of the peninsula isn't living in the past at all. It's considered "the most wired country on Earth." The fastest Internet service in the world is available everywhere in the country. It is electronics years ahead of the Western market.
I'm not sure I'll see any spike in traffic, in spite of my blog being mentioned under the article, but any new visitors might want to check out the "Korean internet" category for some of the news and issues that informed the piece. Readers from Pittsburgh might also like to learn about the church in Seoul built to resemble PPG Place.
Approaching South Korea as a "digital future" is still problematic because, as I note:
[I]t's still unfair to treat the country relative to the United States, whether as a version of the past or a vision of the future. Even that seemingly complimentary image, in the way it turns up stateside with fantastic stories of all-in-one phones, robot teachers and Internet addiction, confirm the long-held stereotype of East Asia being a weird, exotic, very different place.
If you've watched the programs on CNN Asia or the Discovery Asia, especially before the 2008 Summer Olympics, you've seen the new sort of Orientalism that's cropped up, whereby you can't talk about that part of the world anymore without marvelling at its progress, sometimes out of respect but sometimes to implicitly question how those people could do so much. They're always narrated by some fresh-off-the-boat white guy mesmerized by the overuse of neon as much as by the handheld technology years ahead of what had always been accessible to the average American. That same sort of approach is found in recent pieces like CNN's about "weaning Koreans off their wired world" or BBC's asking "Can South Koreans survive without the web?"
I do think there is a genuine interest to learn how people live over there, and how we live when we make the move. Otherwise, the Post-Gazette wouldn't have run something like this. I joke that people ask if I lived in North or South Korea, and that people are surprised that they have running water and schools, but those are really the sort of reactions I get sometimes. A doctor I saw in the North Hills a couple of summers ago told me that Koreans lived in hovels. We joke about the rotten perceptions some people hold in Korea of our countries and our cultures, but you'll of course find those same distortions back here, too, and returning teachers might provide some fresh perspectives. I don't want to start talking about "correct" ideas, in the same condescending way some Koreans try to dictate how others see their country. I also don't want to have people think I'm some kind of authority because my name is in the paper, and that Korea is something that can be "figured out" or "opened," to use that very loaded word.
It's just a nice little story in the paper, by a guy who spent time in a place most people only see on maps. Hell, I even talk about bingbongs, so let's not take this all too seriously.