The GoGlobal Blog

I’m Just Trying to Not Get Run Over or Threaten the Delicate Patriarchy

I’m Just Trying to Not Get Run Over or Threaten the Delicate Patriarchy

Frogger: Seoul Edition: If I were to visualize the hierarchy of road occupants in Korea, the order would be as follows: TaxisTrucks → Cars → Scooters → Bicycles → Floating Plastic BagsPigeons That Wandered into the Street by AccidentDiscarded Cigarette Butts → then all the way at the bottom we would reach People (this is the only time you’ll find people ranked lower than pigeons, see below). Never before have I seen cars (and in particular, taxis) so blatantly ignore pedestrian crosswalks and attempt to pass through while people still crowd the way. I swear Korean taxis exist in an alternate Mario Kart-themed universe in which each pedestrian they swipe with their side mirrors while blasting through a crosswalk earns them extra coins.

To further confuse the matter, the roads of Seoul aren’t exactly filled with clunky, rusted Datsuns wheezing old exhaust. Rather, on a daily basis one can expect to see an army of Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes, and Bentleys cruising the streets at breakneck speeds. Thus, it is beyond my comprehension why a shining new Porsche would want to pay to get a Catie-sized dent removed from its hood after I am inevitably run down, much like Regina George in Mean Girls (hopefully minus the spinal fracture and halo brace).

Guys and Dolls: Relations Between the Sexes in Korea

Dorm life has its ups and downs, but one of the most striking differences between dorming in the US versus Korea is the rules imposed to regulate interactions between males and females. Each floor of the dorm is strictly separated by gender, which is not surprising to me as my freshman year dorm at Loyola adhered to the same protocol. However, males and females are strictly forbidden from entering each other’s rooms under any circumstances. Males and females are only allowed on each other’s floors from 8am to 10pm (after that they are strictly forbidden). Offenders are quite literally threatened with eviction if any such shenanigans should occur. Even the laundry rooms are segregated by gender. Additionally, should any resident or visiting guest forget that they are in the presence of weak and easily-overpowered females, helpful reminders have been placed near the entrance as a warning to possible miscreants.


So, what if one does wish to rendezvous with the opposite sex while in Korea? I’m glad you asked. As many young Koreans live with the parents until marriage (which often does not take place until late 20s/early 30s), the Korean youth have invented several convenient loopholes. Two popular locales exist:

1) DVD 방 (DVD Rooms) i.e. Korea’s answer to “Netflix and chill”. In these establishments, couples can rent movies and are provided with their own private room in which to watch said movie, thus what happens behind closed doors for the duration of the movie is their own business.

2) Motels that can be rented by the hour (I feel like this is pretty self-explanatory)

All in all, Korea has made astronomical strides in gender equality in the last fifty years. I mean, South Korea has only been a democracy since 1948 (if we’re going to be really honest, it has only been a functioning democracy since like 1993 but I won’t get into that now) and yet it has already elected its first female president, Park Geun-hye. Not that we’re keeping score, but the United States has been around since 1776 and has yet to see a female president in office. Anyways, I’m getting off topic. The point is, in many ways Korea has made impressive strides in gender equality, yet remnants of its traditionally patriarchal system are still evident. For example, in Korean class we learned how to introduce our family members and their various occupations. As I began to describe my family, I made the ‘mistake’ of beginning my description with my mother’s occupation instead of first talking about my father, causing my instructor to interrupt and remark: “In Korea, we talk about the father first, not the mother. Why did you talk about your mother first? Are you a feminist?” which caught me off guard. More than anything, I was surprised that a detail as small as referring to a woman before a man in a sentence is what constitutes an act of feminism in Korea.

I’ll end my thoughts on the matter with this observation: I’ve found that in Korea, masculinity seems much more fragile than elsewhere, an impression made apparent in the tiniest interactions.  While out to dinner with two Korean guys and a western girl, rice was delivered to the table in piping hot metal pots, which were determined by one of the guys to be too hot to distribute to the table at that moment. Being a waitress, I’m used to touching hot plates, so I simply picked them up without hesitation and passed them out. The look on the face of the Korean guy was one of unfettered embarrassment and humiliation; in that moment, I had basically discredited his masculinity by saying he was too ‘weak’ to pick up some stupid rice pots (and what’s worse is that I had done it publicly). This, of course, was not my intention- I just really wanted rice. I love carbs. But it’s the little moments such as this that get blown out of proportion that I am really made aware of just how fragile is Korean masculinity. As always, this statement is not true of all Korean men, nonetheless after such incidents I find myself becoming hyper-aware of such things.

Gangnam Style- (Not “Gang-land” Style): After skyping with my dear mother one Sunday evening, I came to realize that the title of the immensely-popular “Gangnam Style” by PSY was quite possibly a complete mystery to those unfamiliar with the geography of Seoul. Therefore, to save others the possible embarrassment of possessing the incorrect belief that Gangnam is a play on the English word “gang” (spliced with mystery Korean syllables), I feel it is only fair to explain that in reality, Gangnam actually refers to a very wealthy district of Seoul. If the song were set in New York City, the title would be “Upper East Side Style”; if it were Los Angeles, it would be “Beverly Hills Style”; as the song is Korean, the title remains “Gangnam Style”. Thus, the song is simply a celebration of the wealth and excess of the Gangnam lifestyle.

Pigeons: The Harbingers of the Apocalypse: Koreans are absolutely TERRIFIED of pigeons, which I find hilarious. It is a widely-held (and entirely accurate) belief in Korea (and pretty much everywhere else) that pigeons carry a variety of nasty diseases; the motion of flapping wings is believed to sprinkle said diseases like a morbid and unappetizing dusting of invisible confectioners’ sugar. However, it is the Korean reaction to pigeons that is something entirely unique. I have seen people literally cross the street to give a single scrawny bird a wide berth; if a pigeon takes flight, people duck and cringe in unison like a demented flash mob. I’m not saying that I would respond with delight and enthusiasm if a pigeon were to suddenly accost me in the face, however I must admit that there is definitely some comedic value in seeing a country full of reserved and dignified people respond with such hysteria to the presence of such pathetic creatures.

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