It’s funny living in a foreign country for so long, your once narrow-minded definition of ‘normal’ starts to unravel and you lose a sense of normality to some degree. Of course, each culture has its own set of rules and standards and it’s only natural to compare one’s foreign culture with your own. However, after time you start to forget what you used to think was ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable,’ ‘reasonable’ or ‘unreasonable’ and you find yourself questioning the random and mundane obstacles you face every day.
It’s hard to remember my first impressions of South Korea, but one of the first memories I can recall was stepping off the plane almost two years ago and seeing a couple dressed exactly the same head-to-toe. I tried to come up with an explanation for this bizarre sight, but my life’s experience just didn’t have one. After only a few months, I figured out this absurdity was really as absurd as I thought. Korean couples actually enjoy, and are somewhat praised for, dressing identically in public. Their uniform proves to others that they are ‘going steady’ and are taking their relationship to a whole new level. This cultural dress code is known as ‘couple sets.’ Clearly, a bit more in your face than exchanging rings or updating your Facebook status, as is the custom in certain western societies.
In Korea, relationships are praised and envied by others. Stores around the city sell these eminent ‘couple set’ matching outfits. There are also restaurant ‘couple-set menus’ where for one price, you can order a meal for two. It is evident that South Korea takes pride in catering to couples young and old and in a very obvious way.
Tying the knot at a young age is highly desirable in Korean culture. A handful Korean’s live with their parents until they marry and since a large number of people have settled in apartments rather than houses, sharing rooms with family members is very common. As a result, there are a variety of ‘love motels’ that surround the country. A love motel is a cheap stay for lovers to spend some alone time together, either by the hour or overnight. Love motels are a distinctive part of Korea’s ‘love’ culture and are also economically alluring for travelers.
Last summer, some friends and I travelled to the east coast of Korea, where we stumbled upon an outdoor museum called “Love Land.” I can’t recall a more bizarre theme park in all my travels. The grounds are decorated with large (and not so large) phallus statues, along with sculptures of humans, presented in erotic sexual positions. Although the idea of love is a prominent concept in the minds of Korean people, the park itself portrays a heavy focus on sex which is taboo in most Asian countries. I would highly recommend it for some awkward moments and a good laugh.
As a Westerner living in a foreign country, sometimes it’s just best to appreciate where you are, revel in the culture and learn from it, even though it may be far different from what you’ve ever experienced before.
A renowned Korean, martial arts philosopher, Master jin Kwon, in many ways summed it up best: “Remove the roadblocks when you see them, otherwise you will have to climb a high mountain.”