So here's another vaguely race-baiting essay that I had to write.
I'm really, really fed up with the Koreans I've met in Beijing. Mind you, this has nothing to do with any Korean-Americans I know or any Koreans living in Korea. But there are essentially two groups of Koreans that I have met in Beijing, and while at first I didn't even seem to have any particular feelings about them, now when I see a 20-something Korean female or a 30-something male, I feel a lingering nausea.
The 20-something Korean females would describe 11 of 13 of my classmates this spring semester (the other two were Japanese females). They, like every Korean female teen out of Seoul, dresses the exact same: sneakers without socks, khaki shorts, pink/pastel polo shirt, gold necklace, and a NY Yankees hat. From Day 1 they acted like total and complete bitches to me. I remember asking one of them where she came from and replied, "Seoul" with a completely gratuitous sneer on her face. I brought up something about teaching English and I asked another person if she had studied English before, and she replied with a (Chinese) "Duh! Of course I have." That's before I realized what the English situation is in Korea: parents force their kids to spend every free second in some sort of cram class, most of which are English classes, but a lot still speak unintelligible English after 8-10 years of this routine because rote memorization is stressed too much. From that day on, any attempt at small talk between classes was greeted by absolute cold stares.
I can't really think of a reason for their attitude towards me. One reason might be that they looked down on me for not having as fluent Mandarin as they have. I'll admit that this semester I was at the bottom of the class. That's partly because I was relatively lazy during the semester, mostly because my grades at BNU don't count at all for my Swat degree. Another aspect is that they had a much better background that I did. Most of them had studied two or three years of only Chinese, while I had studied two years at Swat, where Chinese was 1/4 of my work load. Thirdly, there's a similarity between Korean and Chinese that makes it easier for them to learn Chinese e.g. the word for library: the Chinese = tushuguan and the Korean = doshuguan or that form of marital arts: Korean = tae-kwon-do or the Chinese = taiquandao. Another completely unrelated reason why they could have been snobs to me is perhaps they have a special dislike of Americans because of the whole stationing of 40,000 rowdy, ill-behaving US troops in South Korea thing. But I think the primary reason is feelings of racial superiority (which I'll talk about later.)
The other group of Koreans that I've met have been these 30-something Korean males. This would consist of the father of the two kids I tutored in the spring and these two guys who were in my class for about three weeks. The most striking thing about them was their intense male chauvinism (another essay topic.) But they also had the racial chauvinism thing going on too. This father would really really get on my nerves. He would constantly talk down to me, saying that I should only teach them in this one particular style of forcing them to repeat sentences over and over again until their pronunciation is perfect, much like they do in Korea. I repeatedly told him that that was the reason why most Koreans speak shit English after studying 10 years of it was that they can't break out of the rote memorization and try to actually work with the language. Furthermore, it was me, not him, who had experience teaching English and I knew which methods are best for them and easiest for me. I kept the job since he would only occasionally check in and give me this sort of shit, so I could teach as I saw fit. But I think the reason why he felt like he could talk to me this way, like I was some sort of servant who would do exactly as he said, stems from (once again) a feeling of racial superiority. Sure, I might be fluent at English; he'll respect me in that aspect and thus will seek my help in teaching his kids. But at the end of the day, I'm a white American and he's Korean and thus I'm below him in every other aspect, and he'll talk to me with a tone as if he were blessing me with his presence completely out of his benevolence.
I think the primary reason for their snobbishness comes down to cultural beliefs. Koreans, much like Chinese and Japanese, believe that their race/country is the number one in the world. On one hand, that leads to a bit of intracontinental hatred. For instance, the vast majority of Chinese loathe Koreans (probably because a few decades ago, they were economically similar but now Korea is much richer) and absolutely despise the Japanese (this might have something to do with the millions of civilians that the Japanese systematically slaughtered during WWII and, unlike Germany, never apologizing for it.) And the same goes for Koreans: they hate the Japanese (again, the whole WWII thing of invading Korea and forcing millions of their women to serve as military prostitutes; these "comfort women" were also regularly referred to as "public toilets" by the Japanese troops.) I admit that I don't know the typical Japanese's or Korean's attitude towards the Chinese since the only Japanese or Korean people I know are here studying Chinese (and thus are more prone to be open to the place), but I'm sure they look down on China as a filthy, authoritarian rural backwater.
But of course, this feeling is directed towards white people as well. It ranges in aspects from most of the Korean students I know being unwilling to hang out with white people (or non-Koreans in general) to complete familial/societal castigation if you dare marry a foreigner. Of course, not everyone is like that. There are plenty of exceptions. Certainly not every Chinese I know is a pig to me and I have several Japanese friends out here as well. But the reason why I'm focusing this essay on Koreans is that of the 15 or so that I directly knew, all 15 of them acted like complete assholes to me. Maybe if I were to go to Korea and live there and learn the language/culture, I would have a better experience with them, but as it is, Korea right now is pretty low on my list of countries I want to go and see. (Although I think North Korea would be pretty fucking cool to see.)
I think the only possible way for white people in America to understand the racial privileges they have is to live for a long-term period in some place like Seoul or Beijing. I think you have to directly experience DuBois's so-called "veil" (he proposed that blacks in America live as if they wear a veil; they can see the outside world, but the outside world can't see them) in order to understand his "double consciousness" (or the feelings of ambivalence of being both black and American). And I think it's also a humbling experience which every American should go through. It would certainly help out our "Rah rah! We're #1" complex.