The hagwon/Korean girlfriend blues.

This post is obviously not going to be about me. Because I neither work at a hagwon, nor do I have a Korean girlfriend. I'm just going to take advantage of the opportunity to completely sell my buddy down the river in blog format, because I really have nothing better to talk about.

Poor Smalltown. I can't say I didn't see all of this coming. But my favorite passtime these days is keeping my good-for-nothing smart mouth shut, as certain elder members of my family have been inclined to refer to it, in years past (and, occasionally, these days still will). We had a bit of a disagreement a month or so back when his girlfriend banned me for no good reason, but on the night when that duncecap followed me back from the bus stop, he was the natural choice for Male In My Life I Should Call In This Situation. Lucky for him. Because lately, I've been the natural choice for Female In His Life He Should Call In This Situation. This Situation being two-fold: 1. his hagwon recently being taken over by a raving psychotic "45 year old dragon of a virgin of a woman", as he likes to refer to her, and 2. his girlfriend driving him absolutely up the wall.

The two have become intrinsically intwined in his mind, because the outcome of one will decide and/or affect the outcome of the other.

Ah. The ol' to-stick-around-for-the-girl-or-not debate. I have to watch myself when doling out advice on this one, because my answers are all auto-set to "Hell no! What are you thinking?" To wit, every time I've felt a strong attachment to a person, there has been an issue of distance at play. In no such a situation thus far has that relationship ever trumped my desire to be wherever I was (or go wherever I was going). So, when my phone rang in the office this afternoon, and I took a seat on the steps outside to hash it all out, I had to make my responses measured, and give all kinds of preambling statements in offense toward my own advice.

Basically, today he quit his job. After first calling me about the situation, and us running over a list of things he needed to check into before he had The Conversation, he managed to find out that his hagwon has not had him under insurance coverage, has not been paying his taxes or into his pension, and has been overcharging him by 110,000 won a month for his building maintainance fee. Yay! It's so fucking typical that I don't even know where to start.

Discussions of these issues quickly lapsed into a completely uncharacteristic (for Smalltown) rant about issues with the girl. She's around all the time. She won't let him go out with anyone on his own at all, and rarely agrees to go out with him. And he's generally fed up with her altogether child-like behavior and view of the world. He's tired of her not even trying to find a job, not studying English at all (although she's pushing him to take her back to his home country with him), and of her embarrassing him when they're out with other foreigners by pouting, slapping him around and making a general scene of herself.

It's hard, isn't it, not to make these things about "Korean" women, yeah? But they're not. And I was quick to point this out, reminding him that, at the time he first met his current girlfriend, he, The Baby and I had all been meeting together on these bizarre double dates (that I was totally forced into against my will via methods I can still barely fathom) with an absolutely stunning Korean woman. An absolutely stunning Korean woman who was at the top of her class in university, spoke beautiful fluent English, was interested in and knowledgeable about just about every field of art, and was working diligently toward her degree, as well as holding up a part time job to help support herself. When Smalltown opted for the current option, in fact, I was totally crestfallen at the loss of a potential friendship and loads of time spent hanging out with this girl. I was seriously very nearly in love with her myself.

And shortly before he started officially dating the current option, he also met JH Unni, who was quite bald in her display of interest in him as well. And I adore JH Unni, who is also working to support herself, as well as working her ass off to make the scores necessary on the major English exams to attend the British university she's already been accepted into for the fall semester.

I didn't bring all of this up to slag his girl off -- that's one thing I just don't do. I also made arguments about how hanging around with him and other foreigners all the time, with their fluent English, must not be the most fun in the entire world, and you can't blame a girl for getting a little pouty about it. God knows I can get in a right strop at times when the conversation stays in fluent Korean for too long. But then again (this part, I didn't vocalize) the only one of Smalltown's friends who speaks any Korean at all and is able to bridge the gap in a social environment is me. And I was banned for being a girl. So....

The truth is, Smalltown had two very lovely, very reasonable other options on the table at that point. Two beautiful women who were both actively interested in, and capable of, moving back to his home country on their own steam (without his assistance in the least). But now he's complaining because the girl that he chose expects him to sort this all out on his own, and he's not even really sure that she's worth it.

And yet, when I raised the suggestion that, perhaps, he should just sort out his job situation and where he would like to be living, and worry about the relationship after that, I could feel his tone slip into oh-Liz-is-being-typical-Liz mode. I most certainly was not. And I'm perfectly capable of admitting it when I am. I just think that any relationship that's going to be worth all that trouble to begin with will be able to withstand a little time in transit first. Call me crazy.

It all goes back to a conversation I had with Doing It Korean Style over dinner on Saturday night. That conversation being, as tired as we may all get at times of the fucking never-ending merry-go-round that is dating as an expat, it can be incredibly difficult to manage to find someone willing and/or able to make the jump off the ride with you. For Koreans, by and large, we are not always a viable serious option. Or not as viable as another Korean would be. For other foreigners, we find ourselves in an interesting predicament, because oh! finally! we are surrounded by other people who suffer from wanderlust and who are not content to just stay in their hometowns and establish That Life, without getting a gander at what's out there first. But. These other foreigners are the other people who also tend to have incredibly strong wills about where they will be going next. So even if you do find someone who's willing to do the whole expat song-and-dance with you for long enough to call the thing a serious relationship, you have to find someone who's compass is similarly oriented. He wants to move on to Southeast Asia, and you've had your eye on South America. She's always wanted to spend a year in Russia, but you've been dreaming of the Middle East.

Oh. What a mess.

Add to this the fact that I spent the lunch period today hearing Co tell an incredibly depressing story about a Korean woman who married an American soldier years back, ended up in Wyoming with three halfsie children who refused to have anything at all to do with her culture, with him suddenly (back on his home turf) looking down on her for being generally considered weird and incompetent within American culture, how she's been through two divorces since then (both husbands ending up being abusive alcoholics, although they certainly didn't start that way), how she's now basically trapped in the US because she's too old to find work back in Korea, her children have no connection or interest in the country, and she can't even afford the plane ticket back to begin with, and my view of the potential for these things to end well for everyone involved has taken a huge blow today.

Thank god for success stories like Diana and Amanda's to keep us grounded and hanging on to hope, eh?


Diana E.S. said...

We try, but it's not easy.

As much fun as I was having with Min Gi, and even though I was in love with him, the first 3/4 of a year I was pretty sure it was an in-Korea-only thing. Until I said I wanted to go teach in South America and he said, "Take me with you." After confirming that he was, in fact, completely serious, I realized it might work.

That said, I've had to compromise on where I want to be right now (or rather, where I'm going to be for the next few years). Ironically, not for him (well... I stayed one more year in Korea to get married here and sort out the visa stuff, otherwise I would have been back home this whole time... And I have promised him that we can come back and live in Korea after living abroad other places for a bit as long as our children don't attend Korean middle or high schools. He's game. But I like Korea, so it's really not that much of a compromise.).

MikejGrey said...

Smalltown's pretty much doomed, eh?

Tiffani said...

Diana...I'm ridiculously envious of you. That is all. :)

Draz said...

I completely quit leaving the house when I realized the extreme unlikeliness of meeting someone who has both a compatible personality and wants to go the same place I do next year. Both of these things are incredibly rare in Korea and to find them together, in one person? Heh. HEH. Maybe next year. Pass the ice cream, I'm stayin' home again tonight!

Amanda said...

I have to respond to this part:
That conversation being, as tired as we may all get at times of the fucking never-ending merry-go-round that is dating as an expat, it can be incredibly difficult to manage to find someone willing and/or able to make the jump off the ride with you.

I know others will disagree with me here, but honestly, I didn't find finding Good Man much different than trying to find Any Good Man back home.

In America I was looking for someone who:
* never wanted kids (and sure didn't already have them!)
* used it's/its/their/they're/there properly
* had the wanderlust I have
* didn't buy into the American dream of one job and one house in one place for twenty years
* who used money the way I think money should be used
* who shared my (non) religious views
* who wasn't obsessed with video games or The Dead (once bitten, twice shy)

In Korea, the ONLY thing that changed was the language bit--I expected enough English that we could communicate with my limited Korean.

Nothing else changed.

Being the childfree, never-going-to-have-them-ever woman that I am, I didn't date people who want kids. End of story. Even if I thought it was only going to be a temporary, ex-pay-living-in-Korea thing, I didn't date people who wanted kids. That was just asking for heartache in the end, in my opinion.

When I met Good Man, I expected him to be a temporary, just in Korea thing. But then, but then? Then I realized that he didn't want kids, had wanderlust, and wanted to live all over the world like wanted.

And so when he got into a US grad school (which he applied to before we ever met), we compromised. He put off grad school for a year to see where we'd end up. I put off staying in Korea longer to see where we'd end up. I think we're both happy with where we ended up.

Now, I do think that perhaps ex-pats who eventually want to settle down in one place for twenty years probably have a harder time finding a good man in Korea, because they have to find someone willing to leave for...well, forever.

palladin said...

Ahh the "I love you and I hate you" game the Korean girls like to play. Its a facade and he should call her out on it. She might just be that immature, but more likely she's just acting like that to keep him off balance and control him (it seems to be working no?). Lots of Korean guys like girls to act all silly and immature and sh!t, it boosts their egos and keeps the guy interested. But I think she's just taking it too far and its screwing up his vision.

He needs to just fix his work situation and tell her she needs to help him out and support him emotionally during this time. If she can't / won't hang then there it won't last and he might want to ditch her.

I'm no Picasso said...

Diana -- All of these stories seem to just come down to wandering face-first into something at the last moment you expect it. It's been the same for the foreigner/foreigner couples I know here, as well.

Mike -- Probably.

Tiffani -- Me too.

Draz -- I feel you. But I was pretty much equally disgruntled back home. I keep hoping something will change with location. Texas guys blah blah blah. I'm going to New York where like-minded people live. New York guys blah blah blah. I'm going abroad where like-minded people live.

Oh. Still no? Well, okay.

Amanda -- I certainly didn't mean to imply that our condition is the way it is because we are in Korea. Our condition is the way that it is because we are who we are. But it's something that I think most of us (with a lot of variation, of course) have in common.

palladin -- No offense, bud, but this isn't Dave's. I get a little bristly when commentary heads in that "Korean girls are/do/act _____" direction. I'd be careful there. I don't really know how I could have made a more obvious point about how this has nothing to do with "Korean girls".

Amanda said...

Oh, I know you weren't ragging on the "in Korea" part of the equation. You always write fairly. I think you were writing about a comment problem. That's all.

But a lot of ex-pats have this idea that dating and falling in love is sooooo different in Korea (evidence: Dave's). It's not. Case in point, your friend needs a girl who isn't clingy and doesn't play head games. That applies anywhere.

In short, I was agreeing with you--it's hard to know when to make the leap with someone.

MikejGrey said...

I mean, in general people probably shouldn't date ever. Everyone is neurotic and stupid and I'm awesome.

God. I'm going to be living in Portland soon, huh?

School starts Sept 24th.

I should probably guy some Patchouli..... ughhh

Kel said...

When you find the right person, you just kind of watch your wanderlust align. It's amazing and obviously happens in all kinds of couples. If you meet someone who is dead set on going somewhere else after Korea, with or without you, then it's not worth pining over, in my opinion. I got sucked into one of those situations that ended up lasting WAY too long with neither of us in the same place or planning to be for a long, long time.

This a much more fun compromise/commitment than a "landlocked" relationship situation anyway. "Ok sure, we can put off the Trans-siberian railroad for a couple years and go live in South American instead." - umm...amazing?

palladin said...

@I'm no Picasso

Sorry if I offended you, I think maybe my meaning wasn't clear. I'm not lumping all Korean females into one category or saying they are all like that. But many (and I do mean a metric fck ton) play this game where they act all cute and crazy towards the guy. It comes off as extremely immature and insecure, but its a facade (usually, sometimes they really are that immature) and goes away after the first year or so.

And please don't include me with the daves crowd .... makes me feel like I need to take a shower.