I Experienced Racism in Korea


It’s hard to know where to begin with this post. I know I’m tackling a very delicate topic and there will people on all sides of the argument. Let it be clear I’m not here to say anyone’s experiences are invalid. Your experiences are yours and nothing I say can change that. Similarly, I’m asking all of you reading to understand I’ve lived in Korea since 2015, and it doesn’t mean all of it has been pretty. I have also experienced racism in Korea.

Every country has their own sets of problems. Korea is no different. It’s not a magical fairytale land where oppar is going to saranghae you and you will live happily after after.

I made a promise to myself a long time ago everything I wrote on my blog would have value to my reader. In that promise, I also said that I would continue being honest with my audience. While there are many things I like about The Land of the Morning Calm, (obviously since I’ve been here awhile) I’m not immune to the dark sides of the country.

I want to add in Korea, I am considered a “lighter skinned” foreigner despite being half Mexican and half Italian. I do not have it as rough as other expats who are darker skinned. I also take this into account. Most people here can guess I’m American from the way I carry myself.

I also want to reiterate the majority of my experiences in Korea have been positive. I’ve met so many cool people who helped me when they didn’t have to. The people I highlight in this post do not represent Korea as a whole. They do; however, represent the very ugly and seedy underbelly.

The worst experiences I’ve had in Korea have mostly been in the area where I live. It is a very low income part of town. The majority of people who dwell here are very poor or very old. There is no in between.

This blog post is going to be told as a story with some typical Gina Bear humor installed into it. Sadly, there’s nothing much you can do about xenophobic assholes besides laugh at their blunt stupidity and say a grateful prayer to the lord you were educated and had the opportunity to travel.

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racism in korea

The Time I Got Chased by an Ajhumma

Yes. You read that right. I got chased by a fucking crazy ajhumma. I usually take Honey out at night because I don’t want to deal with people. As a matter of fact, I go out of my way to avoid people where I live. Hence I go out very early in the morning or when night has fallen.

Honey barks sometimes when people come out from the dark and startle her. This time was no exception. I’d like to add I follow the law here to the letter because if something happens, the less they have on me, the better. Honey was leashed as is the law. This lady then exploded in a fit of rage because Honey barked at her. At first she was yelling at me, so I just picked up Honey and put her in her bag to avoid the confrontation. When she started following me, that’s when I started yelling obscenities in Spanish.

And that’s about the time shit spectacularly hit the fan.

I almost pissed myself when she started RUNNING AT ME like a zombie ravenous for fresh meat. And that’s when I took off. Because you never know wtf crazy people will do. Plus, I wasn’t so keen on her taking a chunk of bacon from my back in case she happened to be one.

The Time Grandpa Threatened Me

The caretaker of my apartment complex is a small old man at least a foot shorter than me with a very bad temper. Judging by the length of the hair growing from his ears, I can maybe guess he was around during the Korean War (or longer).

In grandpa’s defense, at least he’s a misogynistic piece of shit to every woman, Korean or not. I can’t fault him for being consistent. What I can fault him for, is why every time the trash isn’t sorted properly, he comes knocking on my door to blame me. Even though he has no proof and there is no CCTV around the dumpster area.

I guess as a foreigner and a woman that makes me an easy target.

In any case, he came skulking around my apartment to stick on a giant piece of paper to sort the trash properly. And when I mean giant, this paper was at least three feet long. (Talk about passive aggressive.)

When I opened the door, he started shaking his finger in my face and yelling at me to sort the trash properly. This is probably the third time he’s done this shit to me. And it takes every fiber of my being not to pop him in the face because where I come from, the first time would have been message enough for him not to do it again.

King of the commotion, he caused Honey to bark, and the neighbors to complain. To diffuse the situation, I drew myself up to my full height, took a deep breath, and told him to shut up in English.

I swear this was the magic word because after he registered it, he skulked off leaving me dumbfounded.

The Time Satan Tried Me Three Times

The devil has a funny way of fucking with us and he sure tried me one Wednesday evening. While I was walking Honey, I saw my neighbor walking down the street. We sometimes stop for a bit to chat and share bits of news about what’s going on in the schools and our area.

Let me reiterate, I was on the STREET. It’s public domain and I am perfectly within my rights to be on it. Honey barked at another dog and a coffee shop owner came out to tell me to go away because we were being too noisy. To which I looked at her blankly even though I fully understand what she said. I stood my ground and stared at her until she was so uncomfortable she went back into her cafe.

Devil Trial Two: I went to the mall because I had to pick up a few things from the pet shop. So I thought I’d go get some takeout from a restaurant I like to frequent. Honey was in her bag. Other people in the food court had their dog in the bag and ordered food. Then, a cleaning lady told the cashier not to serve me because I had my dog in a bag. Honestly, it still ruffles my feathers some people can be that shitty.

Devil Trial Three: Now this is when Satan REALLY tried to get me. The rules of Korea is I’m allowed to be on the bus as long as my dog is in a bag or carrier. The bus driver looked directly into my soul and watched me get on the bus and said absolutely NOTHING. Then, halfway through the ride decided I needed to get off the bus. I make it a habit to put my headphones in so I can ignore people. Then, another woman started tapping my shoulder (as I was purposely ignoring the bus driver.) He stopped at one of the stops and told me to get off the bus.

At this point, he started YELLING at me. To which I just looked right at him, with a perfectly blank expression and said nothing. Sorry bruh, but I didn’t grow up in a collectivist culture and I was taught to think for myself. Your public shaming isn’t gonna work on me. While he was yelling, I just kept staring. Because 1) I know bus drivers have a tight schedule to keep and 2) he was the one causing a commotion while I did nothing hence turning the situation on him.

Life Hack 101 right here people. Yelling is a form of intimidation. It’s also an emotional manipulation I’ve become immune to having had to endure it in my own household. When you approach the situation calmly with no reaction, it gives you the desired affect. I refused to get off the bus and the wheels on the bus went round and round until my desired destination when I happily got off and went about my way.

The Man Through The Window

This experience will definitely go here as what happened to me was also a strange form of racism and fetishism.

To give a little back story, way back when there were many foreign prostitutes from Russia in South Korea. Sadly, the older generation still thinks this is a thing and they will approach you in shitty ways. They will also approach you if you’re not dressed the way you should be completely covering your shoulders.

As you know, I’m an advocate of dressing however tf you want, when you want. That day I was wearing a spaghetti strap dress because the weather was quite hot. What you wear should never matter, but in Korea, if you show shoulders, you’re definitely “asking for it.” While I was having a nice tea and cake with a friend at a lovely cafe in Seoul, an older man REACHED THROUGH THE FUCKING WINDOW of the open cafe window to grab my arm and tell me I’m beautiful.

Now there are a lot of things wrong with this situation.

1) The fucking AUDACITY to reach through a window just to touch me.

2) He should ALWAYS keep his hands to himself. He would NEVER have done that to a Korean girl.

Of course, I had a mini melt down of swearing and yelling because I don’t like strangers ESPECIALLY strange men reaching through windows and touching me. If he truly wanted to be a nice human, he should have acted like one and said something like, “Excuse me miss, but I just wanted to let you know, you look very nice today.” And not have even laid a FINGER on me.

Itaewon Spreader of COVID-19

While coronavirus has rocked the world in more ways than one, I have definitely felt the effects of it here. When the pandemic first started, everyone blamed Chinese. Then, patient 31 in Korea decided to attend their cult church and contributed to the biggest outbreak in the country. Then, during the weekend of May 11, 2020, a Korean man went out partying in Itaewon. Why anyone felt the need to go out and party even though we’re barely in the clear is a mystery to me.

Korean partying culture is one where you visit several bars and clubs in one night. You check the drinks and atmosphere of each one coming and going as you please.

This man was also gay and visited Homohill, known for Korea’s gay night life scene. He exposed almost 10K party goers to the virus and now Korea is bracing themselves for what might be another outbreak.

Despite a Korean man testing positive and spreading COVID-19, it makes perfect sense to blame the foreigners, amirite?

Korea is still very much conservative and a lot of people don’t care to understand or accept the LBGTQ+ community. Many are afraid to come forward and get tested. They could lose their jobs because of it.

In essence, it’s a double edged sword. Either out yourself and get rejected by everyone around you. Or kill yourself and potentially others from coronavirus.

So now that I’ve explained what happened, how does this affect me as a foreigner in Korea?

Well, Itaewon was once known as a hotspot for the international community. That has drastically changed since the American military has moved down south. Because Korean media is now scapegoating the LGBTQ+ community and foreigners, I’m really feeling the effects of it.

My friends have confided in me they are stressed out of their minds because parents are looking through their social media to see if they were anywhere near Itaewon during the dates of April 24 – May 11th. Many other foreign teachers were forced to get tested even though they were no where near the area. Now if that isn’t the most racist bull shit I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.

I would like to add my coteacher is cool af and asked me once if I was anywhere near Itaewon. To which I replied, “I hate Itaewon and I haven’t been anywhere near that shithole in ages.” And thus the matter was settled. No further questions asked.

I would also like to add that on the night the Itaewon spreader went out, it was cold, humid, and rainy af. I despise the rain and don’t like to go out during crappy weather. I was also putting together my IKEA bed for seven hours and cleaning my house because PRIORITIES. And I have time stamped Instagram stories to PROVE it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I live in a very low income area. Frankly speaking, a low income area means ignorant and uneducated people. One of the conditions of my employment was I live in the apartment my school provides and I get to keep my job. (At least I have an oven.)

While I was doing my morning walk with Honey, I took off my mask to drink my coffee. Because I’m damn well within my rights to do so.

Let me paint a picture for you. It was a fine and sunny morning. The air was cool, crisp, and clean (for once.) And while I was blissfully drinking my homemade coffee in my cherry blossom CocaCola cup, listening to some raunchy sex scene from Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, some grandma came up to me and started YELLING at me to put my mask on. She accused me of being an asshole and how dare I not wear a mask.

One of the great things about having Honey is she has a great personality and loyalty for her momma. Also, dogs know when people are intentionally being aggressive to their owners and Honey doesn’t stand for that. She started barking to keep the grandma away. Honestly, the best thing you can do during such an event is to just tell them to fuck off in English and walk away while your dog warningly barks.

Sometimes, I honestly contemplate coughing in people’s faces purposely so they stay the hell away from me.

I also see the stank eye I get from people who think all foreigners are spreaders of the virus. People now inch away from me in fear or move across the street to stay away from me. Which I can’t say I mind so much because maybe people in this ignorant city will leave me alone.

In Conclusion…

My worst and most racist experiences have been in the city where I live. The most ratchet people congregate in the part of town where I am and their ignorance and level of education truly shows. I’ve never experienced blatant racism the way I did here in this small section of Korea.

When people do that, I can only assume it’s because they think I’m an easy target because I am a woman and a foreigner. I also assume it’s because they can tell I am American and have a dislike for Americans. It’s possible they think I’m rich because I’m American and they think I look down on them.

In all honesty, I usually just try to keep away from people here and mind my own business because that’s what decent human beings do. I don’t try to tell anyone how to live their lives. From the bottom of my heart, I truly wish the people in this ratchet city would leave me alone and go to hell.

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