Misconception about Karaoke in Korea?
I've heard Karaoke described as being the national pastime in some Asian countries. Based on what I've seen in Korea I would say that isn't quite accurate. Singing is just part of the fun to be had during a night of revelry. I have met a lot of Koreans in the last month but I have yet to meet anyone who went out to sing with singing being the main activity. Some Koreans actually need some drinks in them before they are ready to sing.
I've asked a few about it. They say they will sing if there is still time, but they really wanted to eat, drink and talk. Singing comes after eating and drinking. Sometimes, it gets skipped.
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Getting around Wh-questions
Many Americans complain about Koreans asking them the same questions. When Koreans start in with their Wh-questions I take a shortcut: I like to sing, dance and drink. It obviously confuses them when I offer information so I try to be patient.
I usually wait patiently but yesterday I tried different strategy. Even before I was asked I said, "I'm Casey, I'm an American, I've been here for a month, before I came here I was in Washington D.C., but I'm originally from Texas."
Let's get physical
As I mentioned a few days ago, the Koreans I've met and hung out with are typically very physical when we're out eating, drinking and singing.
Last night I met up with some Koreans who work at a company in my area. One of them said "hello." When Koreans make an effort to greet me then I do my best to respond in kind. We started talking. They said they were going to drink or sing. They had already been eating and drinking so apparently this was stop number two or three of their night out.
It took about 20 minutes for them to decide which place to go. One thing I've read is that harmony is very important for Koreans. One part of the group wanted to continue drinking. Another part wanted to sing. So they split up into two groups when talks broke down.
After they learned that I could understand some Korean they seemed to warm up to me. That meant rubbing up against me, wrapping their arms around me, feeling my waist and muscles as we talked on the street about where to go. No kidding. As I've said, once the Koreans I've hung out with feel comfortable then things get very physical very quickly.
I'm not ready to draw conclusions about the things I've seen and been doing but I'm guessing this is connected to the Konglish word "skinship." It isn't necessarily a sexual thing. Once Koreans feel comfortable then there is absolutely concern about personal space. This goes beyond people bumping into each other on the street and not apologizing. In that case, you are ignoring people who are not in your world. Skinship is about the close feeling between people who are in your world.
My Korean listening ability is still low-level so I couldn't follow the conversation completely. But from what I could understand they were worried about what I would think about their plans for the night.
1) From what I've heard before and definitely learned later in the night, Koreans tend to see Americans as being hypersensitive, even prudish, when it comes to having fun. Apparently the group I was out with last night had been out with Americans and the Americans were more into making moral statements than in going along with the fun.
2) They didn't want to show me the bad side of Korea but they also wanted to have fun.
We went to one place but they didn't like the price quoted at the singing room. We then went to another place. After a couple of minutes they told me that some girls who worked at the singing room would be joining us. They seemed to be trying to put it as delicately as possible so they would not offend my sensitive Americans ears. It seemed that they had been debating whether or not I would not want them to invite girls in.
They were already engaged in horseplay before the girls joined us. Rubbing each other, bumping and grinding, sitting on each others' laps...seven Korean men wearing ties, dress shirts, formal pants. They were completely uninhibited with each other. When the girls came in then they got even worse. One guy started with sexually suggestive dance moves...
They were very concerned about me...every person who started to smoke would come directly to me to ask if it was okay with me if they smoked. I said I didn't smoke but I didn't mind if they did. I talked to one guy, he said that Koreans believe that Americans hate smoking, that Americans aren't allowed to smoke when they go out and that the Americans they have met start coughing at the sight of a cigarette. As one person said to me...America is a free country but sometimes it seems they aren't free to have fun.
They were clowning around and fondling the girls at every possible moment. The women would gently resist but they knew they couldn't resist too much. At one moment one of the guys told one of the uncooperative girls to leave. One of the other guys whispered in my ear that his friend was just joking but wanted to remind the ladies that they wanted to have fun.
At one point three of the girls were huddled around me. They told me I was such a gentleman. My guess at what they were trying to say: Thanks for not rubbing our breasts.
The women were there to feed the snacks to the guys, to fill their glasses, to sing with them, to pamper them, to get them to spend money. I did notice that the women would dump their own beer into garbage cans beneath the tables, apparently to get more beer bottles emptied faster. After feeding the snacks to the guys they were also in a hurry to order more to keep the tab meter running.
The bumping, grinding, dancing, and singing lasted until about 2 in the morning. I have no idea who paid, as is customary nobody asked me to chip in. They asked me several times during the night if I could teach them English two or three times a week. I suspect that most mornings they will be late for class, if they show up at all.
Speaking of getting physical
I saw two near fights last night.
1) I don't know if the woman had a towel or sweater...but whatever it was, she used it to snap, pop and crack the guy she was with in the head three times. The first time she caught him by surprise. The second time he tried to duck but still got hit in the head. The third time he tried to duck but got hit square in the face.
He was then screaming back at her. I watched as he then put her in a headlock. I continued watching as he did this for a few seconds. She managed to break free and walked ahead without him for a few seconds. He was clearly grumbling and cursing, but he swallowed his pride and caught up to her. He seemed to apologize. She was still ignoring him but finally allowed him to walk with her without having to duck...
2) I walked up as two guys were staring each other down. A woman with one of the guys convinced him to go into a beer place with her. They continued to stare at each but that was it.
Then, as I continued walking up the street, I witnessed some Korean women (yes, in high heels, miniskirts) attempting to chop up some plastic bricks. No matter how poorly they did the guy running the business would reward them with some type of a toy.
Just a short distance away there were some older Korean women, I would guess in their 50s, doing their best to kick a soccer ball in an arcade game.
This now puts into perspective an incident from a few weeks ago. I was out with some newly made friends. A Korean female suddenly wanted to show me that she knew taekwondo. I thought she was joking but took it seriously when she struck a fighting pose. She had already had many drinks so it wasn't difficult to block her first kick. She then saw that I knew what I was doing so she kicked harder the second time. That time, I blocked her kick with more force and responded with a move that would have knocked the lipstick off her face if I had followed through. I drew some cheers from the folks watching.
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I may not even bothering mentioning this many more times. When I was out with the Korean company workers last night they asked me about my age a little after I told them my name. I told them I would tell them my age after I had a drink.
One of the Korean guys asked me about 15 or 20 times. He told me that he could not relax until he knew my age. Finally, after we sat down at the singing place he immediately poured me a drink and began demanding my age.
As I mentioned before, Koreans need to know other peoples' ages so they can know how to address them. He then began calling me "big brother" in Korean.
Because I always add a decade or two to my age I can get away with a lot of stuff.
For example, it is still customary when Koreans eat together for everyone to wait until the oldest person has taken a bite or sip. Then, everyone else can eat. I like to eat food when it is still sizzling or smokin' and I like my beer when it is still cold so I hate having to wait for others. So, because I tell them I'm 54 or whatever age I feel like being at that moment I usually get to get or drink when I'm ready.
There is another reason I started telling people that I'm 54. I heard Chris Rock say that the average black man dies at the age of 57. So I tell people I may have only three more years to live so I want to do as much as possible in the time I have remaining...
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Solving geopolitical bullshit
A Korean friend who knows that I used to be a political commentator in America asked me why I'm not writing about things like Bill Clinton's visit to North Korea, Obama, Sotomayor, etc.
1) I haven't given a flip about political issues for a few years now. Working in D.C. for a few years cured me of any trust I had in politics or politicians.
2) Rational ignorance: No matter how much I learn about those issues I doubt that Obama would really care about my opinion.
3) I'm tired of the same arguments I've heard (from new people) for two decades.
4) The way so many people argue (questioning motives, making personal attacks) is tiresome.
5) Americans already know everything about everything so they don't need to hear anything from me.
6) There are already enough world-savers. They are so busy doing so that they probably didn't even know I had taken a break from doing so.
7) I'm sure I'll learn more about busybodies here in Korea.
8) Trying to help humanity is more likely to get you shot than praised (although, in death, you may be respected).
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Southeast D.C. in Seoul
I took two Korean female friends dancing in Itaewon (basically, an area where a lot of American soldiers go to party, it was once the main area for American tourist to visit).
They were both very curious about it but had never gone.
I took them to a black club. Seriously, it felt like I had been transported to southeast D.C., except that the women bumping and grinding were Korean. The brothers there were wearing do-rags, other ghetto type clothing and styles.
Of course, because I was with two sexy Korean women I had a number of guys who suddenly wanted to be my best friend.
I drank a large amount of Cherry Soju, probably the most I have ever had at one time. We then went to what seemed to be an Asian-American club. We met one really friendly Korean guy who shared a lot of (clearly expensive) Vodka he has purchased. But when he got up from his seat a Canadian guy plopped down. The Canadian started bitching about the club, complaining that the women wouldn't talk to him. He then shook up his bottle of beer and started spraying it into the air and onto himself, pretending to jerk off.
He then tried to get friendly with me but I told him he was bothering us. So after a minute he finally got up and left. Unfortunately, the Korean-American friend who has lived in America for a number of years was bothered by the cigarette smoke so we went back to the black club where the ventilation was better.
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Smoke in his eyes
As I mentioned, the Korean guys I was out with last night kept apologizing for wanting to smoke. A week or two ago when I was out with some Koreans, a Korean woman started puffing away on a cigarette. She then handed it to me when her cousin (or brother, it wasn't clear) returned to the table. She then whispered in Korean to me that he doesn't know she smokes. Well, I think that's what she said, she may have been telling me she was on fire, I still can't get the gist of some things even when I know the keywords.
They were all pleasantly surprised that I smoke (I don't). I then asked the Korean woman who had handed me the cigarette if she wanted to try. She pretended that she wasn't the least bit interested. But after I asked a few times she put on a great performance showing interest.
Her cousin who apparently didn't want her to smoke seemed to think it was funny that an American would ask his cousin to smoke. After all, Americans don't smoke and don't like it when others do so. He then encouraged her to smoke my cigarette. It was her cigarette after that...
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Swing & Sing!
Tomorrow night I will take my weekly swing dance lesson. After that a couple of us will go singing. The same thing will happen Friday night.