Author: John Bocskay

Husband, father, teacher, writer, American expatriate.

Tea for One

Eating lunch alone or having a quiet beer at home on the couch doesn’t strike most Westerners as out of the ordinary; but in South Korea, a country whose culture is more oriented toward group affiliation, something as simple as having a sandwich at your desk could mark you as anti-social or an object of pity: the dreaded wangtta, or social outcast, doomed to a life of solitary meals and other lonely pursuits.

This stigma on eating and drinking alone however is rapidly changing, as a few recent articles note (here and here). In the past year or so, restaurants have embraced solo diners, and a new word, honbap (a compound derived from the words for “alone” (honja) and “rice” (bap)), has thus entered the Korean lexicon. Likewise, drinking alone no longer marks you as a bum or an alcoholic, but merely a practitioner of honsul (“alone” plus “alcohol” (sul)), which has a decidedly more sympathetic ring.

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Cheer up, Bill. It’s cool.

As many observers have pointed out, the changes in dining habits are driven in part by the rise in single households, which now account for over one-quarter of Korean households – a significant social shift that has been playing out over the past few years as property values rise while economic uncertainty and changing personal priorities impels more young people to delay or forgo marriage.

The rise in solo living arrangements may also be having other interesting effects on consumption trends. This recent article traces a recent rise in the number of convenience stores to the same single-living trend, noting that many people who live alone simply find it easier to procure most of their daily needs at a CU Mart than at a larger store, which tend to deal in larger quantities and sizes.

On a personal level, I have noticed a steep drop in the looks of pity I used to receive from Korean students and friends whenever I was sighted sipping a coffee or scarfing down a sandwich by myself. Now it appears that I was just a man ahead of his time. Who knew?

Aaaaand it’s off!

Quick update for long-neglected followers of this blog: I submitted the manuscript of Culture Shock! Korea last week, a couple of weeks ahead of my deadline, so it looks like we’re on target to meet the April/May publication target date. Watch this space for details.

The process was a lot of work but was quite enjoyable, partly because it required me to do a lot of reading and other research, and to look afresh at a country I’ve been living in for about 18 years now. As with all such projects, a lot of the stuff you end up digging up can’t find a place in the finished work, but is interesting enough to share in some other way; while some of the stuff that makes it in can only get a brief mention, when it sometimes merits a longer discussion. I hope to be bringing some of that here in the coming weeks and months.

For now, time to catch up on some discretionary reading, naps, and Civilization VI.

 

I’m Baa-aack…

How many times has the owner of a neglected blog said that before? More importantly, how many times has the owner of a neglected blog not said that before?  At any rate, I’ve decided to fire up the old blog for a few reasons.

First, a word on what I’ve been up to. Now that the ink is dry, I can say that I’ve recently been contracted to write the new edition of Culture Shock! Korea, a culture guide to my 51S2PF3V45L._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_adopted home geared toward people who are going to be living, working, or studying here (as opposed to just passing through). In other words, I’m writing the book I wish I had in my own hands 17 years ago when I moved here.

Toward that, I’ve been busy boning up on everything from rental agreements, K-Pop, the Choseon Dynasty, and what not to say at business meetings, among many, many other things – some necessarily interesting, and some interestingly necessary – as well as hammering out the first, very messy drafts of what I hope will be a useful, readable book on how to get along in Korea.

Now, the reasons I’m firing up the blog again:

I need an occasional break from rental agreements, K-Pop, the Choseon Dynasty, and what not to say at business meetings. The work and the reading has been fun, and it’s taught me a lot,  while also obliging me to look at the familiar afresh. But I need an occasional short break, and five out of five doctors agree that blogging is better for you than smoking.

Also, as a writer, the blog helps me exercise good writing habits, like forcing me to get stuff out on time, not getting too hung up on perfection, and just jogging the muscles that we use in the creation of text. This of course is in lieu of actually jogging around the block, which is no fun at all.

Another reason is that I’m reading a lot of stuff, and a lot of it is stuff that doesn’t necessarily fit with what I’m doing in the book, but is nonetheless interesting ,and I’d like to share it. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

I also want to try to tap into that other great potential of blogging which is as a sounding board and avenue for thoughtful feedback. Criticism, comments, rants, and praise are all welcome, as all of it, good, bad, and perhaps even ugly, helps the process of refining a piece of writing and getting a sense of what makes readers tick. I invite you – the sensitive, thoughtful, and clearly tasteful regular reader of this blog – to share your thoughts. And thank you!

More to come, just after I wade through today’s to do list, which includes finishing the draft of the chapter in which I condense 5,000 years of history into 5,000 words. That’s one word per year, but trust me, most of those years were not especially noteworthy and will be skipped.

Have a good day, and welcome (back?) to Outside Looking In!

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Some place in Korea, at a time when nothing important happened.

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This Week Out There – May 11th – 17th

A selection of this week’s expat-related stories


Into the Wild… of Hong Kong?

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Idiot Patrol to the rescue

A 27-year-old British expat living in Hong Kong was rescued by helicopter after somehow getting lost in the woods at Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak. The story describes him as “drunk”, which strikes me as an understatement, not only because he couldn’t find his way out to the densely populated city literally surrounding the park, but also because he claimed that he somehow got his foot tangled in a rope, as if that explains anything.

New Jersey DMV vs. Chinese Bureaucracy

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Abandon all hope, ye who enter. It helps!

Living overseas often lends perspective to the life you left, and returning home can also cast your overseas experience in a new light. Alan Paul, a former expat who once struggled to get a Chinese driver’s license, gets a large dose of perspective at the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles, when his 17-year-old son gets caught in a bureaucratic nightmare that Kafka would have appreciated.

Paul observes that it’s sometimes easier to laugh off problems like this overseas. “In China, I would have been laughing under my frustration and thinking through a column outline. In Springfield, N.J., I felt my temples pounding and my temper turning.” Expecting life overseas to be hard is certainly a helpful attitude; what I’m wondering is why he apparently expected negotiating the New Jersey DMV to be easy.

I Shoulda Been One of Them There Computer People

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The 21st century cubicle?

It was hard not to be jealous reading this piece written by a British freelance writer who fled Old Blighty to set up shop at Hubud (Hub in Ubud), a work space shared by expat professionals in Bali, Indonesia. With nothing tying them to a particular locale, these “digital nomads” live cheaply in paradise while living on a Western payscale. No word yet on how well they manage the work-beach balance.

Off With his Beard!

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I wonder what this guy did to deserve that.

Two Qataris were sentenced to a year in jail for accosting an expat driver and shaving his head and facial hair. The men went after the driver, identified only as “Asian”, because they said he was driving recklessly and almost caused them to crash by failing to signal a lane change and cutting them off. The victim was quoted as saying he was driving ‘normally’, though he neglected to say in which country his driving is considered normal.

This Week Out There – May 4th – 10th

A selection of this week’s expat-related stories


Don’t Flip Off The Philippines

deportedThai national Prasertsri Kosin earned the rare honor of being one of a small number of Southeast -Asians ever to be deported from the Philippines, when he received his walking papers on Tuesday for insulting Filipinos on facebook, tarring them as ‘stupid creatures’ and ‘low-class slum slaves’. Not least among the takeaways from this short article is the confirmation that truly stupid people, say for example those who express bigoted views on facebook, often lack a well-developed sense of irony. Western readers also may find a small measure of relief in reading about an Southeast-Asian expat playing the asshole for a change.

Expatriation Through a Child’s Eyes

When a company assigns someone to work overseas for an extended period, it often means uprooting the whole family expatkid_1875646band setting up in a new country together. In the expat blogosphere, it’s fairly easy to find the stories and reflections of the “trailing spouse” (usually the wife) whose husband’s relocation thrusts her into the role of managing the family in an unfamiliar environment. The following post by 9-year-old Arabelle Rossi is the first time I’ve read a blog post by what you might call a “trailing kid”. Forced to move to Hong Kong when her dad was assigned there, she eloquently offers a child’s take on the fear, confusion, and angst of reluctant expatriation.

Heading for the Exits

533-1108063008-Getting-out-leaving-AmericaAccording to these two recent articles, record numbers of U.S. citizens are renouncing U.S. citizenship, and more and more are considering doing so because of tax policies that they believe are unfair. U.S. expats have for a long time been obliged to pay U.S. taxes above a certain income threshold on foreign earnings, even though they are paying local taxes on the same income. Also fueling the exodus is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) enacted in 2010 to make it harder for U.S. citizens to hide money overseas but which has bedeviled expats who are merely trying to have money overseas.

Also interesting is the Forbes writer’s use of the term “expatriate” to refer to those who are renouncing citizenship. While technically correct, if the trend continues, we may need a new term to distinguish them from the more numerous group who merely live abroad.

You Can Take a Brit out of Britain…

A British expat has put together a list of Ten Weird Things Brits do in America, which spans the expected (watching old tomatoBritish TV shows) to the funny (adopting American pronunciations with the exception of “tomato”) to the odd (stalking suspected fellow countrymen in the supermarket). May strike familiar chords in expat readers. Or not. But here it is.

And how are you doing out there this week?

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Occidental Hero, or, How I Screwed Up and Inspired the Development of a Global City

Here’s my latest piece over at SweetPicklesandCorn.wordpress.com. Sometimes heroes are neither made nor born; they’re fabricated.

Enjoy!

SWEET PICKLES & CORN

By John Bocskay

When Typhoon Sanba slammed into Busan in 2012 I had my face pressed to the window of my 10th floor apartment in typhoon waveHaeundae Marine City, watching as great roiling waves crashed over the sea wall and raced up the street past my building. When the swells came at a certain angle, water surged through the manhole at the intersection and finally blew the cover off, so that subsequent swells pumped thick columns of water into the air. Gusts of wind rattled our windows hard enough to make me wonder if I should be standing near it. The question was settled a minute later when a pane fell from the 50-somethingth floor of the building across the street and smashed on the sidewalk below.

The storm blew all morning, and when it ended in the early afternoon, I went out for a look. The sun was out and the…

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This Week Out There – April 27th – May 3rd

A selection of this week’s expat-related stories


Whatever gets you through the night…

kim-kardashian-hollywood-game-revenueIt can be a little lonely out there as a stranger in a strange land, and everyone has different ways of dealing with it. To combat her loneliness and alienation in Spain, 30-year-old British expat Emma Biggins spends 30 hours a week playing the Kim Kardashian – Hollywood game, in which users (most of whom are teenage girls) “compete to get points in a bid to become Kim’s best mate.” Biggins says the game makes her feel “fabulous.” and that she thinks “Kim really is [her] best friend.” Read the story here, or decide you’ve already heard enough and move on.

Filipino Expat Spared Death (for now)

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Filipino expat Mary Jane Veloso narrowly escaped execution by firing squad in Indonesia on Wednesday when Indonesian President Joko Widodo granted her a temporary 11th-hour stay of execution after evidence surfaced that she may have been duped into drug trafficking. Time will tell if she is exonerated, granted a reduced sentence, or executed, as were eight other convicted smugglers, including seven foreign nationals whose appeals fell through. For now it appears she will be given the opportunity to testify against Maria Kristina Sergio, the daughter of Veloso’s godparents who Veloso claims set her up by giving her a bag that had over 2 kilograms of heroin sewn into the lining.

There’s no Taste Like Home

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The Battleship Burger. Oh yeah.

As U.S. troops relocate from Yongsan Garrison in Seoul to points south, a reluctant U.S. expat marks the passing of the Navy Club, “an eccentric bar-and-grill that was a vital taste of home for generations of soldiers, sailors and civilian expats,” and waxes poetic about the Battleship Burger, “a sizzling half-pound of ground Angus sirloin, topped with America.” Seoul’s changing food scene in the area around Yongsan may make the passing of the Navy Club a quiet one, but the Navy Club will no doubt be missed by many for whom it provided a crucial taste of home to smooth the transition abroad.

You Can’t Go Home Again?

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A group listens to a returned expat as he relates his overseas experience.

Repatriating after an extended stay abroad can be tough; so tough, in fact, that many expats (like yours truly) never seriously attempt it, and those who do sometimes end up bouncing back overseas.

Was Thomas Wolfe right when he wrote that you can’t go home again? The following short primer on repatriating is a bit more sanguine, and advises those heading back to treat it as they would treat a move to any foreign country. This bit of advice from one commenter stood out:

“Don’t immediately talk about all the places you’ve been, what you’ve done, etc.… This will alienate people,” she wrote. “Keep it low-key, make it like dating, dole out information very, very slowly.”

Sounds about right. I would also add that favorably comparing country X to your home country in any way should be exercised with extreme discretion, especially during Christmas dinner.

And how are you doing out there this week?