Kimchi and Coffee

Justin Eckl

(Brent Schwert)

Did you know that Korea is the most Christian country (percentagewise) never colonized by a Christian country? It’s true. I repeat this fact to myself every time I chance upon another piece of old-fashioned old-fashionedness here. No, I don’t think Christianity is antiquated. I do, however, think Christianity took a pretty solid hold here because traditional Korean (read: Confucian) morality so well gelled with Christianity’s.
Actually, a fairly significant percentage of Korean people are “no religion.” If you ask them, they will straight up tell you, “I don’t believe in God.” And they will say it without a hint that they might be feeling guilty they didn’t qualify it with, “but I am spiritual,” the way many people do back in the U.S. One might normally think such true nonbelievers are prime candidates for the sort of debauchery and free livin’ reserved for those who fear no higher authority. But, of course, one would be wrong.
Atheists here exhibit the same conservative values nearly all Koreans hold dear. Marriage is just about the most important thing you can do in your life before the age of 30, and after the age of 30, being loyal to your company and providing for your children (living for your kids, if you’re a woman). Many of you might not have a problem with this. Even I want to get married and have children someday. But the whole thing reeks of the 1950s, and it’s disturbing to me.
In class, talking to my students, it is rare to hear the student who dares to admit he or she does not want to get married, or that he/she does not care for a stable job. In some ways it’s ironic, because those are the same things I want, I just took a fairly circuitous route to get there. I guess what bothers me is the general lack in variation of opinion.
I know all I’m doing here is feeding the stereotype of the Asian-as-societal-robot, and I hate that. I hate that I’m doing it and I hate the stereotype. Each of my students has a personality as different as one snowflake from another – that is to say, unique. It’s what they want out of life that’s cookie-cutter predictable and that’s what gets to me. Oh well. I just teach English here. I have to keep reminding myself that.