Late this afternoon Julianne and I decided to head to COEX Mall for dinner, to play some video games in the arcade, and to wander through Bandi & Lunis book store, and lastly check out the CD and DVD store.

We mostly spent our long Korean New Year, commonly known as Seollal, weekend hibernating inside the apartment.  Last Thursday night we did a COSTCO run and picked up baked chicken, apple pie, and other things to make our long weekend nice.  And then on Friday night I was COMPLETELY NUTBAR and went to Lotte Mart at Seoul Station to pick up a few supplies . . .I didn’t have my camera with me Friday night, but I did have it earlier in the week and I snapped some shots of the New Year gift tables.  (Insert as many bodies as you can imagine into this picture and you’ll get what it really looked like this past Friday night.)

I always prefer to try and give gifts that display some degree of how much I know a person.  For example, giving a friend who loves movies a DVD, or a co-teacher who is into reading romance novels a romance novel as a gift.  Whenever I see the pre-packaged/pre-wrapped gifts I kind of cringe because it illuminates how much ‘bally-bally culture’ (“hurry-hurry”) has come to dominate Korea (and to be fair, North America has its own bally-bally gift giving culture too; gift cards and pre-wrapped gifts are also common back home).  I’m sure there are many Koreans who give gifts that have some kind of personal aspect to them but it’s just not something I see much of due to the types of places I can visit and as a result of that the limited experiences (as in there’s a LOT of Korean culture I never really see) I have as a foreigner living and teaching here.

In this picture you can see the influence of older generations in Korea and gift giving.  My understanding of why giving large sets of TUNA, or SPAM, as a gift is that it comes from post-Korean war culture and how older generation Koreans feel about gifts of food: they’re like gold!  I guess it says something about the privileged life most of us have had who have never experienced the lack of food and daily necessities the Korean senior citizens had to deal with growing up during the post-war period.

Unfortunately that still doesn’t change my reaction to seeing cans of tuna as a popular gift, lol.

I’m not sure but I get the feeling that Seollal is a bigger gift giving cultural event in Korea than Chuseok–maybe they’re on the same level?

Anyways, getting back to my story about Julianne and I getting out of the apartment today cause we spent most of the four day weekend indoors watching episodes of Dexter, playing games on our Wii, and napping like hibernating bears after munching on our chicken and apple pie from COSTCO (SERIOUSLY, COSTCO has the BEST CHICKEN in KOREA!) . . .

After eating dinner in COEX Mall’s food court we went to the arcade and played the Jurassic Park jeep first person shooter game.  It was a lot of fun and Julianne was a pretty good shot.  I also tried to shoot a stuffed animal off a plate at the back of the arcade but I swear they load the butts of the stuffed animals with weights cause I can never knock one off to give to Julianne–argh.

We then walked through Bandi & Lunis bookstore, and the CD/DVD store.  Having cured our cabin-fever we decided it was time to head home on the subway.

Now I’ve written before about ajusshi (middle age married man) in Korea and the staring that goes on (see this post, I almost dongchimmed an ajusshi in the subway tonight . . .) so I’ll try not to repeat myself about how much this is one very specific aspect of Korean culture that I really really hate–especially when it involves my girlfriend.

The Korean news media really loves to play up how perverted and depraved foreign English teachers are yet I never see (at least in Korean ENGLISH news media) stories about the lack of manners that X (I won’t put a number on it because I have no statistics to back it up) ajusshi in Korea exhibit towards foreigners in general, and foreign women in particular, but it’s pretty high in my experience (and I think most foreign/expat teachers you talk to will back this up too).

NOTE: I should also add here that there are different types of ajusshi sub-culture groups . . . one ajusshi sub-group is the always polite, always gentlemanly, always poised and elegant and cultured and intelligent and well-groomed and so on and so forth.  These guys are AWESOME, and a few of my co-teachers in the past have been this type of ‘ajusshi’ if I can suggest there is a continuum of ajusshi types, lol.  Simply put, not all ajusshi are like the staring-ajusshi type, and people reading my blog outside of Korea should not be confused by my characterizations here.

I don’t know if there have been any cross-cultural studies of staring and taboos (there probably have been, but I don’t have the inclination to spend time researching this on the Net), but I remember reading on a blog a foreign female teacher-writer who commented about how in the West guys do their best not to stare at women’s chests, whereas in Korea it seems like guys do their best to stare at women’s chests.

Anyways, tonight, on the subway ride home Julianne and I sat down and just across the aisle and slightly to our left was an ajusshi who thought we were the most interesting thing in the world to stare at.  Julianne stared back at him in a very obviously disgusted way–no reaction, he just kept staring.

I stared back at him with my best ‘teacher look of death stop what you’re doing or there will be consequences’–nothing.

I then started talking to Julianne in a loud voice and dropping in Korean words like ‘bose’ (stare) and ‘pyonte’ (pervert) and ‘ajusshi’ hoping he’d catch the indirect references, be ashamed, and stop starting–nope, nuthin’ doin’ . . .

By this point he was staring very intently at Julianne’s legs and I’d had enough.  I called out to him in Korean, politely, and asked him why he was staring–nothing.

I call out again, louder this time, and again using the polite forms in Korean–nothing.  By this time the other six Koreans sitting near us were VERY aware of what was going on.

I call out a third time, in a very loud voice, and he finally clues in to the fact that I’m speaking in Korean, staring at him and talking to him, and that I’m asking him why he’s staring . . . and he stops–for all of 90 seconds.

I’m not at the point yet where I’d ask an ajusshi if he’s a pervert in Korean because I’m still trying to be the ‘better person,’ to be polite and mature and not let ‘small’ things bother me and restrain the assertive parts of myself–but there are days . . . believe me, there are days.

Some Koreans, alright, MANY Koreans try to explain away this behavior by saying the ajusshi are ‘just curious.’  I’m sorry, but please explain to me exactly how much time has to pass before curiousity becomes rude and then transitions into perverse behavior?  Really, tell me, and I’ll try and adjust my ‘foreign’ attitude towards what to me seems to be disgustingly rude behavior.

Some foreigners might recommend that I just stop paying attention to who is staring, and ignore them.  Even if I was able to do this, which I am some days and not on others, I also have to take into consideration that it really bothers my girlfriend.  Should I ignore this?  Nope, it’s not who I am as a man or as a boyfriend.

For now I will continue to try and follow the spirit of this quote,

“Good manners sometimes means simply putting up with other people’s bad manners.

H. Jackson Browne, P.S. I Love You

But seriously,

I know my girlfriend is hot but will you please stop staring at her?

J

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