An Englishman in Seoul – The Korea Instances

An Englishman in Seoul – The Korea Instances


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Courtesy of Jaeyoung Geoffrey Kang

By David A. Tizzard

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“Miguk-in onda,” the Korean youngsters used to shout at me as I walked previous the comfort retailer. The mere sight of a white man on the streets of Seoul inflicting them to interrupt out in cheers and shouts, proclaiming that an American man was coming. I didn’t actually have the guts to inform them I used to be from the south of England, nor did I fancy attempting to clarify Benedict Anderson’s 1983 ebook Imagined Communities or the Struggle of 1812 to them. So, I simply smiled and performed alongside. “What’s your identify?” the loudest and most assured would yell out.

Taxi drivers have been typically no completely different. “American?” they’d ask, trying cheerfully again at me of their rearview mirror as we sped by the streets within the early hours, the home windows open and cigarette smoke dashing outdoors. “Yong-guk,” I might reply, holding again the soju and taking one other drag of the cigarettes introduced for two,000 received from a neighborhood pharmacy. “Ah! Gentleman!” he would then exclaim. What about me at 4am after 12 hours of consuming and clubbing in Hongdae appeared gentlemanly, I’m undecided. I definitely didn’t appear to be Hugh Grant or no matter picture they may have had of their thoughts. However taxi drivers had no hesitation in making such an assumption. This was probably amplified by a preferred tv commercial with Daniel Henny that includes the reasonably ambiguous and innuendo-laden query, “Are you mild?”

Even my early experiences right here instructing executives in banks and insurance coverage firms up and down the size of Jong-no, highlighted the weirdness of being English in Korea. Fairly lots of people checked out me humorous after I stated sure phrases. They didn’t perceive my accent and couldn’t comprehend why, after years of watching “Mates” and different saccharine American reveals of the time, they weren’t being taught by a blue-eyed man named Brad or Craig. The lads may say one thing about Park Ji-sung who had simply moved to Manchester United, however even this matter rapidly moved to Hiddink, the Netherlands, after which again to the 2002 World Cup which was nonetheless being proven on televisions up and down the nation, then an unimaginable (and surprising) highpoint of Korean worldwide success and nationalism.

On very uncommon events, a scholar would inform me they have been a fan of Physician Who (I by no means watched it) or favored listening to Oasis (I most popular Blur). However in day-to-day life, there was an excellent anonymity related to being British right here in South Korea. Even the American army police that used to roam the late-night streets with automated rifles of their fingers searching for troops out previous curfew needed nothing to do with me as quickly as they heard my accent. On the odd event, a Canadian good friend would signal me in to the British Embassy pub so I may have a pint, however for the remainder of the time it was principally American fare within the pubs and eating places.

Experiences and Bridges

However what did it imply to be English? It’s a query I’d by no means actually thought-about till tv and radio present hosts requested me to current English tradition on air. On one event, Mr. Lee, the excitable present producer, stated he had examine folks consuming pig’s heads for Christmas in England. Parsnips I may perceive; Yorkshire puddings I may help. However pig’s heads? They have been most likely studying Dickens or one thing. Nonetheless, a wad of money was put in an envelope after which slid over the desk, so me and a Canadian good friend placed on Franciscan robes after which proceeded to eat a chilly boar’s head on tv on the premise that we have been demonstrating British tradition to Korean folks. I nonetheless have the pictures, however the robes and the cash are lengthy gone, sadly.

This, in fact, is to not criticize Korean folks for his or her lack of understanding of Britian. Upon first leaving for Korea, my grandmother very proudly informed her buddies that I used to be off to South Croatia. Which may have been a problem of listening to reasonably than the creation of a newly-minted Chilly Struggle state nevertheless it wasn’t the one expertise. Within the early 2000s, if I spoke to folks in Kent about Korea I might be greeted with a complete host of remarks: “The place’s that?”, “Is that like North Korea? They’re a bit mad, aren’t they?”, and “I heard they eat canine there!” have been a few of the extra frequent ones. Once more, like the youngsters shouting at me in Seoul, it was extra a lack of understanding than something significantly malevolent. However the distance between the nations felt tangible to me.

That’s not to say there haven’t been these engaged in constructing bridges. On August 29, 1950, Britain despatched round 80,000 troops to the United Nations Command (UNC) to guard South Korea from a communist invasion. Andrew Salmon has spent many years chronicling Britain’s involvement in that battle, preserving the tales and recollections of those that gave their lives in addition to people who returned residence solely to seek out the brutal actuality they skilled to be unfairly labeled “The Forgotten Struggle.”

Embassies, ambassadors, and a number of diplomatic employees have additionally strengthened ties between the international locations. The British Embassy right here in Seoul, tucked away within the Metropolis Corridor space subsequent to Deoksu Palace and behind the Seoul Anglican Cathedral, will get a little bit of flak (unwarranted, in my view) from some right here for not doing sufficient to make them really feel welcome, however all year long there are a number of backyard events, occasions and events designed to carry Koreans and Britons collectively. It’s a genuinely marvelous expertise to face a British constructing in Seoul in-built 1892 whereas your youngsters run up and down the garden making a bit of an excessive amount of noise however nonetheless entertaining the company.

BLACKPINK and the Royal Palace

Watching the Coldstream Guards play BLACKPINK and Psy songs on the Buckingham Palace forecourt this week was surreal. Listening to King Charles communicate Korean as he welcomed President Yoon to Britain most likely ranks even increased on the checklist of issues I by no means thought I might see. However there it was. And whereas it definitely made me smile, the response amongst some Korean folks round me was much more pleasing. Exchanges and recognition at the moment are a real two-way avenue. Korea has pushed itself by financial, political, and cultural revolutions prior to now half century and deserves its place, not solely in British palaces, but in addition in folks’s consciousness.

My grandmother

I keep in mind sitting in our small cottage in northern Seoul in the summertime of 2012 with my grandmother. She had made the 5,000-mile journey the world over for my marriage ceremony (we made certain she didn’t go to Croatia!). As we debated learn how to discover her some slimline tonic for her nightly G&T and grapefruit for breakfast, we had the soccer on the telly. It was the London Olympics and Britian have been enjoying South Korea within the Millennium Stadium. All reasonably serendipitous, you may suppose. As Ki Sung-yeung smashed the profitable penalty excessive into the roof of the web and South Korea beat Britian in their very own yard, at their very own recreation, my nan and I checked out one another. “Effectively! I didn’t anticipate that,” she stated with a trademark chuckle. “And also you most likely didn’t anticipate to be sat right here in Seoul about to welcome your new South Korean granddaughter-in-law,” I replied.

The world is humorous like that. After 140 years of relations between London and Seoul, I’m certain there have been innumerable conversations just like the one my nan and I had that day. And, after seeing every part this week, I’m certain there can be many extra to come back.

Dr. David A. Tizzard ( has a Ph.D. in Korean Research and lectures at Seoul Ladies’s College and Hanyang College. He’s a social/cultural commentator and musician who has lived in Korea for practically 20 years. He’s additionally the host of the Korea Deconstructed podcast, which might be discovered on-line.



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