First of all, I apologise for not blogging at all for the past few months. How slack have I been! But there is good reason for this long break. I have been battling a lot of issues at the start of 2012, and I am rather taken aback by the fact that it is nearing the halfway mark of the second quarter of the year already and I still haven’t been able to get a grip on anything this year, let alone any of my specific goals and targets. I suppose the old saying of ‘the best laid schemes’ and all that jazz pops into mind.
There has been nothing but drama and challenge after challenge already this year. There was the big scholarship fight I had with the University, I came across a rather hostile professor this semester, and after all my health problems at the beginning of the year, a less than tenuous grip on my rattled nerves has recently become a new feature of my mindset. Something I don’t really enjoy having, but it is part of the ups and downs of life, and we need to take the highs and the lows with a grain of salt, pick it up and move on. That’s what I’ve always believed and have always tried to practice.
But last night something happened that did more than frazzle my nerves, I think it has quite possibly severed any emotional attachment and emptied out all my feelings of goodwill toward this country that I have called home for nearly 4 years. I write this with a heavy heart knowing that I’ve been disappointed with how my experience here will now end.
I will not protest, tell a lie or try deny that anything good has happened to me since I’ve been here. Quite the opposite actually; Korea has been sensational for me in terms of personal growth and widening my horizons. I’ve experienced things that a kid from South Auckland could never have dreamed of. I have met some of the most amazing people in the entire world who have helped me so much. To them and to this place I am most grateful and hugely thankful for those experiences.
But of course with the good comes the bad. And recently there has been more bad than good, which is disappointing. I was happy to move to Seoul, to be back in the city, and among more ‘progressive’ Koreans. What I have met has been perhaps the complete opposite. In Korea, I as well as many other people of colour have been subjected to racial discrimination, both at an institutional level and at a personal everyday level.
I once had a man come up to me randomly and pinch my nose, he said ‘it was so big’ in Korean, and asked what I was doing in their country? ‘Go back to your country’ he said in perfect English. Good for him, and I know that he wasn’t representative of his entire people. But people need to realise that the bad actions is what leaves a lasting impression on a person. That was quite humiliating actually, but I got over it.
It’s a little bit harder to get over thing like being turned down for jobs because you’re brown and not white. That’s what happened to me when I originally was meant to move to Seoul. I was told that I pretty much had the job in the bag. In fact I know that I was probably the strongest candidate for the job. I won an award in 2009 for my teaching abilities from the State government. Three years teaching experience behind me as well, and with immaculate references, the head teacher referred me to a housing agent, as I would be working for the company. I came up to Seoul and looked for an apartment, paid a deposit and started making plans to get myself ready for the move. And then I just needed to go and meet the director. On this meeting the director informed the head teacher that I would not be working for this school. And they never told me why I was turned down following that meeting. But I found out later it was because I wasn’t white, and American.
Again, this was a severe setback and I was willing to put it behind me. I got myself an even better job, better pay, better conditions. When a door closes, another one opens, I know that. Nonetheless, the experience jaded me. I guess it was a turning point for me. suddenly everything became racial. I never used to see colour in New Zealand. I suppose the racism there has always been bubbling beneath the surface. However, in New Zealand I have a voice, I can speak the language and I can stand up to injustices with the backing of an entire people. Because at it’s core, New Zealanders believe in justice, even if you’re a little xenophobic, you at least believe in that. In Korea, I am quite literally nothing. To the people here, to the government here and to the overall society. I’m ok with that, because I’m not Korean and I have no intention of settling here for good.
But when you get called a black shit by a Taxi driver, that’s where I draw the line, and this is what happened last night.
Due to the pressures of school and the imminent surgery that I had following my first semester of study, I wasn’t able to drink any alcohol for a few months, which I was fine with. In fact I enjoyed the break from booze, I didn’t have a single drop of alcohol from October 2011 to April 2012, and It was great. Last night it was a fellow classmates birthday, I thought it would be a good time to break the drought, the doctor had given me the all clear.
The night was great, I had fun, despite an altercation with the birthday girl, I was in high spirits the entire evening. I visited some of my favourite clubs, said hi to all my friends (bartenders) that I hadn’t seen in a while, even arranged a dinner date with some of them for this Wednesday, and I was in a chirpy mood as I left the clubs, it was also Easter Sunday morning, and I had given up meat for Lent, so I was gagging for some bad after clubbing food. So I lined up at KFC (how typical) with the rest of the out-all-night-long clubbers (it was 6am) ordered my bucket of chicken and went to hop in a cab to home like I always do.
It was bright and sunny by this point, it was nearly 6:30am and all I wanted to do was go home. However, a big group of taxi drivers were sitting outside their cabs on the rank waiting for fares, so I went to hop in the first cab and the taxi driver yelled out to me, where are you going? in Korean, I answered him with my address, and he told me to get out of the cab. I said why? and he answered because the fare was too short (my house is not too far from the clubs you see, about a 15-20min walk). I told him it is illegal for him to refuse a passenger. (I know my rights in this place) and he swore at me, he said to get the ‘fuck out, you black piece of shit’ in Korean, or words to that effect. I was incensed at this point. So I let him have it in Korean. Got out of his cab, I went to take a picture of it on my phone so I could report him to the authorities. But decided, enough was enough.
I realised that no amount of anti-discrimination laws in a country can stop discrimination from occurring. I was reminded once again that ‘the best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry’. That despite the best efforts of a government, if the change doesn’t come from within a society you cannot eliminate injustice. So the rhetoric and intention of the Korean government has been all positive, but still there is a huge section of the Korean population that are not ready to let go of their view that brown people are inferior.
The reason that this gripes me so much is that I’ve always been an activist. And also it is the fact that other foreigners here do not understand what it means to be at the bottom of the heap in the eyes of the majority. And if you are a Pacific Islander from New Zealand who grew up in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the transition generation I call us, you lived in the time where our people were coming out of its oppression and slowly becoming accepted in New Zealand as an integral part of its society. So I still experienced discrimination before coming of age in New Zealand and I witnessed and benefitted from the work of other Pacific People in New Zealand who laid the foundation and basis for me and my success in Niu Sila.
Non-Pacific Islanders or Non-Coloured foreigners here complain about being discriminated against. And it is true that there are big issues of discrimination of all foreigners here. But the truth of the matter is this, even if I am the most qualified person, or the best person for a position in Korea, my white friend, or my American friend will get the job ahead of me, even if they are less qualified. That is the reality. So for Non-Coloured foreigners I say this to you, your suffering of discrimination is important, but even your degree is less than mine, You are the dominant group in world society, you are already advantaged in your home countries, and even when you are discriminated against, you are still advantaged over someone like me. That is the sobering reality for people of colour. So excuse me when I’m not so enthused by your take on ‘ethnic affairs’.
So I guess my decision was made for me last night, and in someways I know that this has been brewing, but being a minority, within a minority has always been a great source of anguish and pride for me at the same time. However, living in Korea has made me realise that being a tiny minority in a place where people don’t want you because you’re not the same has been a big eye-opener for me. It has shown how it must have felt to be a Pacific Islander in New Zealand during the initial migration and especially during the time of the Dawn Raids. How our people were discarded once their used-by date expired.
I will finish this semester here, see what credits I can transfer over to a University in New Zealand and I’m coming home after I can save up a little bit of money. I have toiled with studying here, I made the sacrifices and I proved that I could succeed in a foreign country academically, but I can’t thrive in an environment that I’m unhappy in. Korea has made me so unhappy recently that I finally realise that it’s time to make plans to go back home.
I looked through some of my old photos and I realised that the thing I miss most about home is my support network. I miss my family and my friends, and most of all I miss the freedom of being me.