But I didn’t want to leave the blog completely empty, so…
If you want to understand what it’s like to be even a little bit different in Korea, imagine you’re surfing the web in your office on campus when this pops up on your screen. Oh, you think, the campus sysadmins have gone ahead and done their biannual network security update, and you need to download yet another piece of crufty software to your computer in order to get back online, because password protection and behind-the-scenes updates just aren’t good enough.
Note the OS options:
Of course, you’re using Mac OS, or, as I was when I took this screenshot, Ubuntu Linux. There’s no option for that, because there’s no connection manager for those OSes.
And when you call and explain the situation, they suggest, “Why don’t you just use Windows like everyone else, then?” (Which people are stuck doing because of ActiveX.) And of course, they think they’re being helpful… but there’s still no way around that blockage site that’s just popped up. Sorry, this wifi network is for Windows Users only. And that’s the whole campus wired network.
That is what it’s like to be even a little bit different in Korea. Map that onto any other form of different you like: ethnic/racial, political, religious, cultural, dietary, sexual, physical, gender identification, enjoyment of reading, ability to speak English, ability to do anything well, passion for any subject.
It’s hard to be different in all those ways anywhere, but in Korea, it’s so systematically and bureaucratically institutionalized–and the sense that you can tell people, “Just be normal!” is so deeply ingrained, that you often end up face to face with options that do not, cannot, and will not ever apply to you.
When you say, “This isn’t workable for me,” the main reaction you get is, “Then why not just be normal?” When you can’t? Then, my dears, you’re plain S.O.L.
The tragedy of that isn’t that expat Mac and Linux users get annoyed. It’s much more heartbreaking than that: consider what could drive a gay fifteen-year-old to be making serious inquiries online as to how to emigrate? It’s enough to make you want to suggest to the kid that he try Kickstarter, to raise the funds needed to get into the States on an investor visa. Surely, there are 500,000 people out there would would spare a buck or two to get that kid out of whatever hell has him wanting to escape that badly, that young?