In the Starbucks where Miss Jiwaku and I hang out in Depok — she studies, I work on stuff — demographics have finally hit, like shit on a fan.
The demographics I’m talking about are micropopulation dynamics: the national demographics of enrollment in her Bahasa Indonesian language program at University of Jakarta have shifted, such that there’s a lot more Koreans at the university, in the neighborhood, and… at our Starbucks.
(Which prompted this advice from Miss Jiwaku to a new Korean student who enrolled this semester, a friend of a friend already enrolled last semester: “DON’T hang out with the other Koreans. Not if you actually wanna learn Indonesian. Make Indonesian friends,. Hang out with students from other places. But stay away from the Koreans as much as you can!” This is advice I’ve heard other bright people going abroad give one another: various people I’ve known have gone to places like Montreal, Adelaide, Saskatchewan and Edmonton, Iowa, and some tiny town in Scotland, because those were English-speaking places and there were not many Korean students taking language courses in those places. They were desperate to avoid Koreans. The woman who went to Adelaide told me Koreans basically ruin language schools one by one, over-enrolling and swamping classes with Korean students who, mostly, are overcome with the freedom of not living with mom and dad and lose control, studying not English but, well… all that naughtiness that is off-limits back home. One student, years ago, confessed to being given crack by some friends, and being told it was pot. CRACK. For all you mommies and daddies of yuhaksaeng, just think about that for a sec. I’m talking about CRACK.)
Anyway, as for this noisy quartet of Koreans in the Starbucks, today I happened to have my iPod with me, so I’m blocking out their half-shouted conversation that way, but if they start hanging out here everyday doing that, I’m eventually going to have to go teach them some manners ask them to keep it down a bit. Ruining all the Starbucks in Korea is their right, I suppose, such as it is, but outside Korea, we’re on neutral ground, and I did not take a holiday from Bucheon just to experience the exported version of the same crapworthy behaviour.They are so freaking loud. SO loud.
By the way, Koreans abroad? So obvious. High heeled shoes in unlikely places, boys who look like they’re trying to dress like gawky white teenagers trying to dress like rappers… and both the boys and the girls wearing too much face makeup. I swear: one guy in Miss Jiwaku’s class actually wears eye makeup and dresses like he is in a late-90s boy-band, and has a giant doll in his backpack.
Yet somehow it also amuses me.
And for those thinking there’s a self-contradiction there, I should note that Miss Jiwaku’s early and protracted stays abroad, and her general tendencies, make her unlike that loud, noisy, obnoxious sort of Korean-abroad I’m talking about. (Kind of like a number of Americans I know don’t wear Hawaiian shirts everyday or wander around loudly complaining that people where they’re living abroad don’t speak English well enough, and “need to learn.” The “ugly American” behaviour isn’t near as common as one might think from books and movies… though, I do remember once at jazz fest in Montreal, after waiting in line for quite a while, I thanked a cafe employee for giving my the coffee I’d ordered and she looked at me in shock and said, “Wait, you’re Canadian, aren’t you?” No lie.)
The stereotypical types are the ones who stick out when you see them. I’ve met some very nice Koreans here… like the Indonesian Language & Culture majors whom Miss Jiwaku considers friends, like the NGO worker she is pals with, like one couple we had coffee with on Sunday — well, they had coffee, I had water and groaned and ran to the toilet a lot… but I’m feeling much better now. Anyway… since it seems sometimes necessary to say so, I’m not slamming all Koreans. I’m noting how behaviour that’s quite widely tolerated in Korea sticks out like a sore thumb abroad — for example, like holding conversations at a half-shout in a quiet coffeeshop.
And, perhaps, observing I’ve been in Bucheon just a bit too long for my own good. Maybe been in Korea in general just a bit too long for my own good. Not sure.