The 28th of August will be the 6th month milestone of our new lives in South Korea. In February 2017 we left South Africa under some unforeseen and, to be honest, sad circumstances and moved to Pohang, a small city on the South East coast. Why we had to leave South Africa is for another discussion. This blog post is to share what it has been like living in this wonderful country. Here are four words that I want to use to communicate what it is like to live here:
* Please note that everything below is a generalization. There are many Koreans who don’t fit into what I describe.
Korea is beautiful. The landscape is beautiful, the language is beautiful and the people are beautiful (all generally speaking).
The streets are clean and the buildings well kept. There are pine trees everywhere that go green from April through to October. Then there are the cherry blossom trees that grow beautiful white flowers once a year. There are also many beautiful waterfalls and mountains to climb. In addition to this, most Koreans are known to have good taste in colour and design. The results are many shops and cafes that look beautiful. Then there is the Korean food. Some people love Korean food, some don’t. My personal favourite is a desert called 팥빙수 which in English is: Patbingsu or just Bingsu. Bingsu is a combination of shaved frozen milk (or ice) along with a topping or toppings of some sort such as mango, ice cream or red beans. From my experience, 빙수 always looks beautiful. The Korean language is also beautiful. The current Korean language was invented by the famous 세종이야기 which, in English is: King Seo Jeong. He created the language so that all Koreans can easily read and write. The result is a simple, yet beautifully written and spoken language.
Korea is super safe. I have heard that 서울 which, in English is: Seoul (the current capital of Korea) can have some dangerous places. However, generally speaking, Korea is super safe. I personally almost never ever lock my car. This may sound foolish, perhaps it is. Either way you look at it, I have never had anyone open the doors of my car and steal anything. Korea is super safe.
Koreans word very hard and as a result, foreigner do to (well, most of us). If you ask any Korean how many hours they work, you could hear them say anything from 8 to 12 hours of work each day. This kind of hard work can happen from as early as elementary (primary) school. I once saw a large group of school children walking out of their school at 9 pm on Friday night. These children had been at school the whole day from around 9 am. Koreans work very hard.
On the outside Korea is beautiful. However, if you dig a little deeper, you will find that it is a superficial society. It is a society where people walk around with masks – claiming everything is “good” – but where not everything is “good.” If you scratch at the make-up that is dumped on all levels of society you will find a broken, broken community.
There is child abuse, domestic violence and loneliness. Pornography addiction is incredibly high and, according to one statistic, eight out of ten Korean men visit prostitutes on a regular basis. Alcohol abuse is among the highest in the world (you can watch many documentaries on this). There is racism, suicide, pride, insecurity, jealousy, envy, comparison and the desire to change oneself in order to be accepted by the society. In Korea, plastic surgery or “cosmetic surgery” as it is called, is common. Woman and men spend thousands of dollars every year to change their bodies in order to look what they think is beautiful. I find this superficial world difficult to live with. In the Asian culture you don’t talk about what is really going on. You avoid conflict like water avoids oil. The Asian mind set is one where you always show strength, not weakness. Weakness is not accepted. This is why people hide their brokenness, for fear of being shamed. If only Koreans believed that talking about weakness is actually strength.
Would I recommend South Korea as a country to live? Yes, because with all its brokenness God is at work and we get to see this and engage with it at our school and at our local church. We love it here and we love the people and we look forward to seeing how God will use us!