Feb 102006
 

Alright, so the truth is that I’m already back in Japan. I’ve finished my travels in Busan as well as Seoul, Gyeongju, and the DMZ. I’m already part way through my next trip in Kyushu, Southern Japan. Too much fun, too little time to write about it all.

But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna skip out on anything. It just means that the content will be a little behind the actual events. I’ve been good about keeping brief notes during the trip so that I won’t forget what to write about when blog time rolls around 🙂

Plus I want to make sure that I take my time and write about all of the interesting little cultural differences that I see and unique experiences that I take part in. This blog is partially to keep everyone back home abreast about my life, but it’s also a personal journal. Ten years from now I hope to look back on these posts and think “Oh my god, I remember the first time I went to Korea! It seems like it’s been years!”

Well, I guess it will have been.

So, here comes the next interesting little cultural difference.

As I may have mentioned once before, the image of “manly” in Japan is quite different from that in the United States. In Japan, it’s perfectly acceptable for a male to have long, permed hair. It’s acceptable for him to use makeup, wear pink or purple clothing, and carry hairspray. To put it bluntly, in the eyes of the Westerner, Japanese males are sissy little girls.

I did not find this to be the case in Korea at all; men dress like men and have hairstyles like men. No make-up. No pink clothing. What is interesting, however, is that it seems like it’s perfectly acceptable to be a “dork” in Korea.

Now let me make one thing clear. I am a dork. I majored in computer engineering, I play video games, and I love Star Wars. This whole surfing/working out/clubbing thing is really just a farce. It is my Dr. Jekyll…er…Mr. Hyde. Whichever. Deep down, I’m a dork.

But when I say that I’m a dork I do not mean it like I might if I lived in Korea.

Over here, people have reached celebrity status purely based on their skill in playing online video games. The country’s best Starcraft players are featured in TV commercials, billboards, and magazines. For being good at a video game. Think about that for a minute.

But that’s not all; matches between the highest ranked players draw audiences that rival any rock concert I’ve ever been to. There’s even a 24/7 TV channel devoted to broadcasting such matches. When I was flipping through the channels at Chie’s house I passed one with a scoreboard and a guy excitedly yelling what sounded like play-by-plays. “Korea’s ESPN,” I assumed.

If Chie hadn’t stopped me I never would’ve known: it was a live match of Starcraft.

And then there are the PC rooms, of which I’ve seen more than public toilets. Their purpose: so that friends can get together and play online video games in close enough proximity to each other to enable the shouting of various threats and taunts without the need for a microphone. Sure, we have a few such places in the US, but I always thought they were the types of places that nobody really ever goes to, maybe just every now and then to check e-mail. In Korea, they’re packed.

I think these types of little cultural differences are really interesting: what’s acceptable and what’s not, what’s considered cool and what’s not. Somehow I always had the impression that Japan was the video game capital of the world – and while it definitely has its share of arcades and nerd havens (*ahem* Akihabara) I had no idea that the obsession continued across the Japan Sea all the way to Korea…especially after traveling to China where I saw no such thing.

Anyways, that’s enough about that. Next time it’s back to the narrative…for real this time!

  5 Responses to “Korea, Part 5: It’s OK to be a Nerd”

  1. It’s ok to be a dork in Korea?

    I’ll see you there.

    Actually, I think that you will find that the US is just a little bit more dork friendly than when you left. It is now trendy and has been for awhile to wear a tshirt with old 8-bit nintendo characters on it.

    For example, flipping past MTV i saw one of the exhaustingly-fashionably-dressed VJs wearing a shirt with four or five mario style mushrooms on it and the text under saying “Keep your mushrooms straight.”

  2. Places like that exist all over China. Video games are extremely popular here, you just have to know where to look. Internet cafes are hidden, but stuffed with people playing games. Almost all high school / university students play games

  3. Wow, I love that last picture! That’s amazing 🙂 You have made me want to visit Busan 🙂

    And that puppy is ADORABLE!!!!!

    Also: you climbing up that rock face building? Awesome.

  4. There is no way you are a dork with a girlfriend like Chie.

  5. Screw that! I’m called dork by my girl like at LEAST 7 times a day and she is of the “mad hotness” variety. Dorks rule and when in doubt refer to Revenge of the Nerd I and II… let’s just pretend III and IV never happened, shall we? 😀

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