By Haydn Sennitt.
I've been living in Seoul now for the past year after moving here from Australia with my Korean wife and baby and I've found it interesting how much Koreans are trying to be like Americans.
One fine example of this is the number of coffee shops and fast food restaurants that have sprung up. When I came here in 2006 there were fewer outlets of Starbucks, McDonald's and Dominos. These days, they're everywhere in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province.
I've noticed that Koreans won't have their coffee just anywhere, it has to be in a place that's expensive, exclusive and ``Western." To be seen in Korea with a Starbucks coffee is associated with America and the Western image. To make others take notice of you, be envious of you, and stand out from all the others here with black hair and similar talent, you have to look western.
In a country like South Korea that is ``obsessed" with image, it's not all that surprising that Koreans are doing this. What surprises me is how much they want to be like the west. It's as if being Korean isn't good enough, so people watch ``quality" American shows like CSI and Sex and the City, and try to dress like Americans. Hence the hideous bow tie is reaping havoc all around the city with a fury I've not seen in a while.
The trend towards all things American, though, is not all good. America itself is not the land that it purports to be: In its Declaration of Independence, America's founding fathers announced the country to be a project of pursuing happiness. How interesting it is, though, that today happiness is one thing that fewer Americans are experiencing.
According to one study mentioned by TV network CNN, the top-selling prescription drugs in the United States in the year 2007 were anti-depressants, equating to sales for approximately 118 million people, which is up by 48 percent from 1995 to 2002. According to the study, 25 percent of adults in the US have had a major depressive episode, and 8 percent of American adolescents have experienced the same. That's not a picture of joy, happiness and satisfaction.
That's mental health alone. To make matters worse, family dysfunction, divorce, single-parent households, homosexuality, crime, drug use and other anti-social behavior are increasing in many western nations ― even Australia and Britain.
Don't mistake me: There are many things in western countries, such as multicultural diversity, respect of the individual and creativity that are noticeably missing in Asian countries such as Korea. But whenever adopting a new way of doing things, one must always be shrewd about choosing wisely. The Latin phrase, ``caveat emptor", is a helpful one: It means ``the buyer beware." Before Koreans buy into all things American, they need to find out if the big juicy apple they're about to eat is full of worms or sweetness.
Since I've lived in Seoul, I've not really gone out of my way to meet westerners here. For one thing, many of them grumble incessantly (and needlessly) about Korea and make no attempt to learn the language or meet the locals. None of them want to contribute to the country, they just want to make a buck, pay back their debts at home, have sex with as many women as they can and add them to their ``trophy" collection, and then move onto the next country.
I've had the displeasure of hearing the most vile and despicable conversations at work, where North Americans talk about all the women they've slept with in Korea. They're sleazebags who don't even have the dignity to call their ex-lovers ``women." Instead, they call them ``sluts" and believe that Asian women are loose and ``dirty." These guys are highly educated, friendly and come from both the city and the country. They're black and white and some are even ``gyomin." They have an attitude of invade, rape, and pillage that makes me embarrassed to call myself a westerner, and being alone is preferable to being friends with people like that.
I'm not suggesting here that Americans are any worse than Australians, or worse than Koreans. Most of my close friends here in Seoul are American Christians who really love and respect Korean people, but I'm finding that such people are as easy to find as pure diamonds.
Fifty years ago, Americans were very much like Korea in its ``innocence," but since the sexual revolution of the 1960s the tables turned. Countries like my homeland are saturated with American culture, and in the last 20 years it hasn't borne very good fruit.
A tree is known by its fruit: If the apples from an apple tree are rotten, then the tree is diseased. Koreans need to take that to heart before buying into something they're largely ignorant of.
The writer is an Australian English teacher and writer and lives in Seoul. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.