Impressions of South Korea

Reader "Spoonie Luv" aka Amit Singh writes of his experiences on a recent business trip to South Korea.

I just came back from a few weeks spent in South Korea on a work assignment and returned with some different perceptions of the Korean people, their culture, and their problems.

spoonieoctopus.jpgMy first misconception was that most South Koreans wanted reunification with North Korea because countless families were broken up during the separation, and also because they felt some degree of ethnic attachment to the North Koreans. As I spoke to more and more South Koreans, I was astonished to learn that all of those I spoke to did not want a united Korea. The biggest reason they feel this way is that they are well aware of the experience West Germany had merging with East Germany, and feel North Korea?s problems are exponentially more difficult to overcome and eventually would bankrupt the South Korean economy. Second, according to the older generation of South Koreans, the new generation of South Koreans does not have the same work ethic as they did. Their fear is that the Northerners would outperform them in most disciplines.

Perhaps as a desire for the status quo separation, I found most folks over there considered the claims of mass starvation and cannibalism in North Korea as propaganda by the United States and the conservative Korean politicians.

During my few days in Seoul there was a huge anti-American protest on the 50th anniversary of The Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States of America and the Republic of Korea. When I asked why thousands of citizens were protesting against us, I was informed that most if not all of the protesters were paid to demonstrate by private groups, which is a commonplace occurrence. I was told most college students are professional protesters in order to earn extra cash. In some ways I was glad the hatred for us was not as entrenched as it initially appeared, but I did fear what the repetition of such propaganda would do on their mindset. For example, when I tactfully asked my Korean co-worker about something I had noticed earlier - why many Koreans were overweight - he blamed the Americans and our fast-food. So I replied, ?Do the Americans force them to eat fast-food against their will?? The answer was, ?No, but they make it so tasty we cannot resist.?

But there are what I believe to be some legitimate complaints against the United States. Mostly because we have thousands of American teenage soldiers, whether they know and accept this role or not, who are our de-facto ambassadors to the South Korean public. Just as their counterparts in the U.S. or in Korea, they get drunk, get rowdy, get into trouble, and cause a lot of problems. Unfortunately, the Korean media is also quick to highlight and exaggerate the negative events caused by our soldiers. Often a Korean ?juicy girl?, an employee of the bar paid to flirt with customers, involved in a fight becomes a ?waitress? in the newspapers. Normally juicy girls are viewed in Korean society similar to how Americans view strippers.

But if the South Koreans want to remain a sovereign nation, they need us there. From what I saw, their military is completely dysfunctional, mostly because of the mandatory 2 year draft for all men between the ages of 19 and 26. These guys hate being in the military and often sleep on the job, ignore their duties, or simply disobey orders. On the other hand, the North Koreans are very well trained and would destroy the South Koreans in days if the Americans were not there. In the future, however, I would like to see the US support in South Korea transform from artillery to intelligence.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I did on my trip was to take a recon flight heading west along the de-militarized zone at night. On my left, I could see the millions of lights in South Korea as if the entire country was sprinkled with glitter. On my right was nothing but pitch black as if North Korea was simply a desert.

The other great thing about Korea was drinking SoJu and eating live baby octopi. Yummy!

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Seems things haven't changed

Seems things haven't changed much in the decade since I was there.

probably the thing that has

probably the thing that has changed the most is the broadband access (highest penetration in the world) and the incredible cell phone reception.

Interesting insight from an

Interesting insight from an on-the-street perspective.

It’s somewhat comical to hear people on both sides of the Pacific blame Big Fast Food for "forcing" them to overeat. ;-)

As far as the malaise and apathy of the South Korean troops: I’m not so sure an invasion by North Korean troops would mean the destruction of South Korea in days, if at all. I’m betting if NK sends its troops over the border, the half-hearted and lackadaisical mentality of the SK troops would change in a hurry. It’s one thing to be forced into patrolling the DMZ wasteland for two years against your wishes. But if their homeland is invaded, I wouldn’t be surprised if the SK army would be swamped with angry volunteers ready to grab a weapon.

The U.S. should give advance warning, and begin to pull out from the region. First, South Korea is wealthy enough to subsidize their own defense. Secondly, whenever a 'foreign' army is your protectorate, resentment and political disagreements are bound to arise the longer this shield hangs around, adding fuel to the local media editorial pages to play up its usual brand of anti-Americanism whenever a negative situation arises from the bars and brothels.

Regional problems are better left to regional nations.

it would be great if the US

it would be great if the US started pulling out of both Korea and Germany.

Hey Spoonie, you wouldn't

Hey Spoonie, you wouldn't happen to be related to Simon Singh, would you?

sorry Micha, the last name

sorry Micha, the last name Singh is about as common as Smith, Johnson, and Lee combined. I do have a cousin named Vijay Singh, but unfortunately he doesn't play golf.

Excellent post. South Korea

Excellent post. South Korea and Indonesia are two countries I hope to visit in the next few years.

I did have one question though. Are you *sure* the baby octopi were *live*?

I'm pretty sure. When they

I'm pretty sure. When they brought the plate out to the table all them were moving and crawling around. One of them bit me so I bit it back, harder.

I have a video but it is 10 MB. I'll see if I can edit and compress it.