Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One of the strangest things about Korea, though I guess this is actually normal, is that everyone is the same. I don't mean that all Koreans look the same, but that everyone I see is Korean. On my fourth day here, I took the subway for about two hours (you can do that here) and saw one person that wasn't Korean. I often looked around in a packed car and noticed that I was the only person out of maybe 200 people that wasn't Korean. If you think that all East Asians look the same, what you need to do is visit Seoul, Beijing or Tokyo and examine a crowd to see just how different everyone looks.

In Toronto, I would always look around the subway car and notice that it was surprisingly a hodgepodge. You would see whites, blacks, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Jamaicans, Guatemalans, Chinese, and so on. In New York, there was a little less diversity overall, but a lot more Hispanics. It was really hard to peg the city. Seoul, by contrast, is about 98% Korean, and of the 2% that are non-Koreans, many are American soldiers. Of course, this is true for most of the world's major cities: of the 20 biggest this list, only three are heterogeneous.

The result is that you stick out a lot as a foreigner. In this neighbourhood, bounded by highways and busy roads, anyone who is not Korean works at one of two schools in the area. The guy at the coffee shop down the street knew the name of my school without my telling him. Walking down the main street in the area, I can pick out my fellow teachers from a few blocks away, and it's not just me. Last week, a few of us were walking home when a car approached from behind. The woman in the car assumed we were teachers since we were foreigners and offered us a job at her school. I guess driving around looking for people who look and dress a certain way and asking them to do things for money, all from the driver's seat, is common around the world.

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