I had to leave school right after I finished my last class to catch a bus to Seoul. Given the rural location of my elementary school, sometimes I’m the only one on the bus, which was the case this time.
I got on the bus, sat in the front row, and picked up a call from a friend I was supposed to meet that evening. Of course, the bus driver was intrigued by the fact that I was speaking English and inquired about it. “Where do you live?”…”How did you learn English?”…”Are you married?”
That last question may alarm those unfamiliar with typical Korean conversation, but to the latter, asking a stranger about their marital status is pretty typical early in a starting conversation, especially if you look under thirty-five.
I chuckled and told the bus driver, “no, I don’t have any plans to get married anytime soon. I’m quite comfortable being single for a while.” Ah, then here it comes…the speech that perhaps all “overseas Koreans” receive at one point or another when visiting Korea:
You must marry a Korean to keep the blood pure
So he went on about how interracial marriages in Korea are causing problems due to children who are neither Korean nor any non-Korean ethnicity—children who are confused about their ethnic origin and have trouble in school. If a black person or a white person marries a Korean, their hair comes out all strange, huh? That’s why Koreans have to marry Koreans.
I told him I didn’t care, but that my grandpa has told me that I must marry a Korean-American, not a Korean born and raised in Korea. He told me that that was all well and good as long as my future husband’s blood was purely Korean.
And then he moved on to the other speech on Korean elitism. But this was a little different. “I’ve been all over the world—I’ve seen it, and I know that Korea is the best”. But I was skeptical. “Really? Where have you been?”
“I fought in Vietnam during the war and then I spent four years in Libya during the Qaddafi regime” I wasn’t expecting that last one. “I speak Arabic nearly fluently”
“Wow! Really? Can you say something”
“Of course! What should I say?”
“Hello, my name is…”
“Hello?” «Busts something out in Arabic» Really wasn’t expecting that one. Then he gets really excited.
“You know the Lord’s prayer? Our father who art in Heaven hallowed be thy name blah blah blah?” «busts out some more Arabic»
Who would’ve thought that a random bus driver in the countryside of Korea would speak Arabic fluently.
In any case, I think I can objectively say that he’s somewhat close-minded and slightly racist. However, some may just call it ethnic pride.
What an interesting bus ride.
An interesting article about multicultural sentiments in S. Korea: http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2012/04/19/2012041900821.html