We Don’t All Have A Korean Fetish!
If I were to count the amount of times I have had someone tell me that I have a Korean fetish I would need a room built of whiteboards and a limitless supply of markers. There just seems to be something that gets to people right away as soon as I say that I have an interest in Korean culture. Automatically I can sense the thoughts that are so obviously going around in their heads, the thoughts I have become so used to hearing, ‘She must like Korea because of the men’. From my experience in this world if you happen to appreciate a culture that you do not ‘belong’ to it can be easily perceived by others that you are either treating that culture as a joke or have developed an unhealthy obsession with the people from said country. Countless times I have been stopped in both Korean restaurants and at K-pop club nights and asked why I have such a keen interest in being surrounded by Korean people. Is it their appearance? No. Their style? Not likely (no offence). No it’s simply the fact that:
A) I happen to like Korean food. I mean, who doesn’t love spicy meat and a wide variety of vegetables with their meal? (…apart from vegetarians/vegans.)
B) It is more likely that I will get to hear music that I actually like at nights designed specifically around the genre of music I listen to and,
C) I am allowed to go wherever I like!
Sometimes in restaurants I actually find myself sitting back and wondering if people expect me to jump up from my chair mid-mouthful and go up to the nearest table seating a Korean man, screaming at full volume “Future husband! Let’s get to baby making!”. But why would I? I don’t walk into food establishments or clubs looking for a husband, I’m 23. I have plenty of time for that. And even if I were younger why do people get to presume that this is how I would act? I just want some food and a drink with friends and I’m good.
I have never truly understood, or gotten along with, those people I have met that find it so easy to judge every Korean person they come across in the same way. From those people I have seen point out Koreans in the street and make statements like ‘her body is gorgeous, but you know she’s had surgery’ to those who will make presumptions simply on the way a guy looks ‘you know he has to be Korean, his face is perfect!’, every little judgemental statement hits a nerve with me. I like to think that I’m the type of person that would judge my next date or partner on a lot more than his ethnicity and face. Although, sometimes I’m not entirely surprised by the misjudgement some make towards people with a love of Korean culture. When I look online at some of the people who claim to love and enjoy it in all its forms and then spend most of their time planning out marriages to Hallyu stars and writing fanfics or shipping members of idol groups together, it does often displease me.
I don’t want to be lumped together with the people who post online about only ever wanting to marry a Korean man because they are the perfect man, thereby pushing false idealisations onto them. My fascination with the culture very clearly differs from that. But then this brings up another issue: the word fascination. Is it incorrect to say that you have a fascination with another’s culture? What some would perceive as flattery, others could just as easily call offensive. When I use the word fascination I speak of the things that have made me come to love Korean culture as a whole: the music, the culture, the food, the language, and of how I am fascinated by these things and wish to discover as much as I possibly can about them. Although what others sometimes get from this is the perception that I see the culture as something that can be mocked. I don’t. Never have and never will. I simply have a passion for a culture that is not my own. But what is wrong with this? I have simply fallen in love with the culture and not the men who I am supposedly besotted with.
It’s this passion for Korea that has led to so many wonderful opportunities that have allowed me to meet some of my closest friends. The culture, the people, everything about the country has become such a big part of my life! If it were not for my love of Korea I would never have met Lizzie, my co-founder of Beyond Hallyu, and felt that I was really able to finally express my knowledge of Korea and look at it in a more in-depth way. We work hard to ensure that we look at Korea in the most open way we can, aiming to learn as much about the culture and people as possible. But we are not alone with this open passion for it, as we know and have met many like-minded individuals who feel the same way we do. Some of these people have spent hours, as we do, looking at the country from an outsider’s perspective and shared their views and their loves with others in the hope of reaching out to more people. Others spend time studying the language in-depth, both alone and with groups, and taken the time to travel around the country to gain a more in-depth experience of it. We don’t take the culture lightly and we put our whole into teaching others about the things that have made us feel so strongly about a country we are not from.
The one thing I don’t do, and I know none of my fellow Korea loving friends do, is claim to know more about the country than a Korean person. That is impossible. Let’s just be serious for a second. Yes I love the culture, yes I do know a bit more than the average person about Korea but do I know everything? Of course not! I simply know as much as I have been able to learn and take it over this past decade and a bit. And this is exactly why I could never take Korea lightly. I may love it but I will never entirely understand it. I can travel around the country as often as I please but I will never truly know every little thing about it. But while I sit here and attempt to show others that not every person who likes Korea wants to date (or marry) a Korean and that we don’t all tokenise the culture, we must bear in mind that everyone is different. Whilst my love is truly just towards Korea’s culture, others (as I have mentioned before) will simply wish to continue to seek out the ideal they believe exists only in the land of oppas and false dreams of the ‘ideal’ happiness. In the end isn’t this all just human nature?
People judge others based on the characteristics they assume to be primarily based around the people they are or the interests they have, and it’s unlikely this is something that will ever change. However maybe there’s a chance that the more mainstream the appeal Korea suddenly has, the less focus there will be on those who idealise and more on the people who have learnt to live and love Korea, warts and all.
Have you had a similar experience? Leave us a comment below.