Being white in South Korea

I grew up in North Dakota. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry, most Americans haven’t either. Also, most minorities would rather move to prison than the Prairie Rose State (that’s North Dakota’s nickname in case you were wondering).

Basically, as I blossomed into the fine youngish man I am today, not a lot of people of color lived around me. Even though I spent some time in New York City and Denver, I still was always the majority: a white kid. Sure there is "different" stuff about me: I adore Star Wars, I don’t really care about sports, I enjoy reading, my favorite gift on my birthday is always a day planner, and I tattoo a lot of my body. But it wasn’t until I high-tailed it to Korea that I learned what it’s really like to live as a minority.

Luckily, I’m a youngish white male with advanced university degrees. That kind of stuff would get my ass kicked in the US of A (United States of America—dumbasses), but in the R of K (Republic of Korea—no-dune-ja [Korean for "dumbass"]) that makes me a pretty hot item.

Here are some awesomely great things about being a white dude in Korea:

1. Language

  1. I can say "awesomely great," "super duper," or "okey dokey," and my Korean students think I’m super duper cool! Okey dokey?
  2. As soon as I learned a few Korean phrases like "Two beers please," "Nice weather, isn’t it?" or "Greetings elder statesman/friend!" the locals started treating me like the round-eyed/giant-headed son they never Caesarian sectioned. This is even more hilarious than when my half-Korean friends or other non-whites speak nearly fluent Korean, but the locals say, "I don’t like your accent." Then I’m treated with more free beers, kimchi and pats on the back.

2. Chicks

Miniskirts and stockings are queen up here. This is a country full of cute, smart, skinny and fashionable people. Half of them happen to be female. Do the math.

3. Soju

It’s the national drink. What is it? It’s like sake’s really really really cheap second-cousin. A 300-ml bottle costs about a buck. Take a few shots and you’re good to go. Also, beer is ridiculously cheap. And Koreans think you’re so cool because you’re drinking their national drink. Sometimes random dudes will even buy you this death-water!

4. Gangnam Style

Okay, I’m sure you’re pretty damn sick of that song, but when that tune plays at the club, and you’re a white dude shittily doing the Horse Dance, all of a sudden you realize why that video earned a gajillion views. Because people think it’s cool. Who are these people? Apparently drunk Koreans.

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5. Looks

  1. All white people look alike. So even though I’m short, stocky, dark-haired and more scars than your average self-cutter, Korean people still say I look like Brad Pitt or David Beckham. Say what you will about those two guys, but when a stranger on the street says you look like Tyler Durden, your self-esteem quadruples.
  2. At a whopping 5’10"/177 cm, I am considered a tall person in this country. I swam all through high school, college/university and grad school. I worked as a bouncer for years. Everybody laughed at me for being the shortest person around. Now I feel like a less hairy King Kong. I should probably try out for one of the Korean pro basketball teams.
  3. I weigh about 200 pounds/90 kg, so when I eat at restaurants, they assume I chow down. Which is generally true. Since I’m a really minor celebrity (or they think I’m Mr. Angelina Jolie/Mr. Posh Spice) they load up the food for me. Again, mega-nice.
  4. I receive a lot of attention. People look at me on the bus. When I teach at the kindergarten, some kids from other classes press their faces on the windows to catch a glimpse of "The White Monster Teacher."

6. Fear

Since I’m a giant, my height and weight terrify some people. Not once has a drunken old guy tried to start a fight with me—and believe me, there are a lot of drunken old guys in Korea, and they love starting fights. My other friends find this to be a problem from time to time. Me? Maybe piss-drunk dudes think I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger?

7. Good Neighbors

Sometimes kids on the street will strike up conversations with me. When I say, "I’m from America" they don’t throw bottles and rocks at me, they say, "Whoaaaaa! Cool! Do you live at the Statue of Liberty? Do you know Obama? How many swimming pools do you have?"

8. Drinking

I took boozing during my collegiate and bouncing years pretty seriously, so my tolerance is pretty serious. I also know a few drinking games. If you didn’t know, alcohol is basically Korea’s national pastime, sport and hobby. The fact that I can still sing songs, throw darts or play beer pong may seem completely useless after the age of 23, it’s actually…no, uh, nevermind. Those are all still pretty damn useless.

And I would be remiss not to also mention some of the things that suck about being a white-uh way-gook (white dude) in Korea.

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5 Sucky Things About Being White in Korea

1. Chicks

Korean girls find me mostly terrifying and gangsta-like. Is it the tattoos? Bad haircut? Scars? Awful fashion sense? Who knows? But my success with the Korean ladies is almost as impressive as my success in the Mr. NYU competition: I took absolute dead last.

2. Soju

Soju. While soju is cheap and awesome and gets the job done, you’ve never experienced a hangover like this before. Imagine you drank a bunch of lead-based paint, and then asked your dad to remove that paint by kicking you in the scrotum with lead-tipped boots. That’s the kind of morning-after feeling soju gives you.

3. Looks

  1. Being that I’m fairly stocky, everybody assumes I’m just another fatass American. Hey! I work out! Sure I could shed a few kilograms/pounds, but who couldn’t? Seriously, cruel students gave me eating disorders by calling me "Fat Teacher" or asking "Oh my God. You’re so fat. Where do you buy clothes that fit your fat ass?"
  2. Everybody thinks I’m a US military guy. Not that I have anything against military personnel, you guys rule. But the military’s reputation off the base and in the bar is a little less than desirable.
  3. Street vendors and hobos assume I carry the wealth of the US nation in my pocket, and always try to hit me up for money.

4. Bad Neighbors

All the other foreigners kind of hate each other. Why? I don’t know. It’s like some new snot-nosed kids moved into your neighborhood and started hogging all the fun playground rides. Also, if there are more white people, then I am not such hot shit any more.

5. The Other Foreigners

On top of that, friends back home ask me how the Korean people treat me as a foreigner. I always tell the truth, Koreans are some of the nicest folks in the world. The other foreigners though, are generally giant dickheads. I’m constantly embarrassed by my race and my countrymen (and women). As a whole, we are a drunk, loud, crude, rude, snotty, bossy, whiney and pissy group of people.

So there you go. If your skin is pretty pale and you’re feeling down about yourself, earn a college degree and get yourself a job teaching Engrish in Korea. You first soju shot is on me! Okey dokey???

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