Friday, November 14, 2008

Seoulpodcast and Conservativsm

Out here in Korea you tend to lean towards an expat community. Whether this is your fellow coworkers or other expat bloggers, it seems there is a need to keep in touch with people from the same background.

The Seoulpodcast, created by Joe McPhereson, is a production that has given me the ability to feel like I am still in touch with what is going on around the world and the expat community here. Sometimes the show can go far off base, but when it is on target it offers well rounded opinion and analysis.

There is one recent show that I find particularly noteworthy titled: SeoulPodcast #28: Super Party Blowout

Because it centers itself on whether or not expat bloggers are mostly Conservative.

Most of the panelists on the show have been here in Korea over 2 years. With this kind of perspective they know about the blogging history here and follow closely what is verbally exchanged throughout the net.

I have yet gotten myself into every expat blog, especially the popular ones.

The Issue:
One word: Conservatism

The panelists on the show tried to grapple with the question of whether or not some of the expat blogs out there are conservative. Whether or not there are too many conservative blogs to begin with?

Is there a disproportionate conservative bias in Korea ex-pats and bloggers compared to other places?

Hmm? Compared to other places?

Ah ha!!

The link is between people and place.

Let me explain:

Korean society is conservative. Yes they walk around wearing designer handbags, designer cell phones that broadcast live TV, there are flat screen TV's blaring in the doctor's office and the youth wear miniskirts. But this is just a mirage. These modern aspects are merely a shell projected outward. Inward, Korean people are instinctively conservative.

Remember I am getting this all from observation.

How is Korea conservative?

Wikipedia's take on South Korea's Conservativism

South Korea

The liberal conservative Grand National Party is the most popular party in South Korea. Left-wing parties are unpopular among South Koreans, the largest left-wing party receiving only some 3% of votes. After decades of free market policies, free trade, and low taxation, South Korea is a major economic power and one of the wealthiest countries in Asia. It had one of the world's fastest growing economies since the 1960s, now highly developed[21] and the fourth largest[22] in Asia and 13th largest[23] in the world.

Ok, so they are liberal conservative, but what does that mean?

Libertarian conservatism

Freedom & Virtue: The Conservative Libertarian Debate, edited by George W. Carey, includes a number of essays which describe "the tension between liberty and morality" as "the main fault line dividing the two philosophies."[7] Conservatives hold that shared values, morals, standards, and traditions are necessary for social order while libertarians consider individual liberty as the highest value.

Some key words here:
  • Shared values, morals ... traditions
  • Social order
Observed examples of these conservative traits:

I. Respect your elders and those in higher power:
  • At lunch time at my school the Vice President accompanies the teachers for lunch. After we are about done eating, this guy uses his time to talk to the other teachers about classroom management.
  • He is the only man in the room, the rest are the woman teachers.
  • Everyone nods or looks down. Only a few make comments and when this is done the comments are light and not questioning.
  • The man talked for the whole lunch hour, no one was allowed to clean up and leave.
  • What I saw was one man talking in a stern way, while the woman below him nodded and went along. No thought of the "group" input was shown.
II. Woman cook and clean / Men work and drink:
  • It isn't necessary to be living with a Korean family to see this. News items and other television programming project this patriarchal concept.
  • TV dramas show a woman staying at home, while the father and son come home from work or school. Both demanding to be fed.
  • Woman have a tougher time getting a high paying / quality job at a big company. My boyfriend had interviews at some of the top companies in Seoul and whilst he was there he only saw 1 or 2 females. Yet things have changed from the past.
  • This aspect is probably not completely typical across the board, but the overall social thought that woman end up at home, while the husband is out working permeates deeply here.
Those are the two major conservative concepts I can think of that are most often observed here.

All of which brings me to the point of convergence and what the Seoulpodcast was touching on.

Expats in a Conservative world:

Logically it would go like this:

If you are deeply conservative and move to South Korea than living here may be your political and social paradise.

If you are deeply or somewhat moderately liberal / democratic than living here may your political or social nightmare.

Therefore the expat will likely end up in one of those two places. Either way, I actually think that the social issues and functions that are observed here are so conservative that no matter what area of the chopping block you come from, it all can be shocking.

I think with liberalism comes warmth and open-mindedness. Hell, I came from San Francisco! The capital of liberalism. The bums on the street would even say hello. If you stood in line at the pharmacy usually you could strike up a friendly conversation. Putting aside the fact that I don't speak Korean, in general I don't get the sense of warm friendliness here. I blame it on the conservative social framework.

Put a good 'ol American in to the mix of all this and you end up feeling alienated upon alienation. When I see other foreigners, I want to say hello and strike up a conversation. But I feel it would shatter the social code, of "keep quiet."

People like to talk, analyze and express themselves, and so they blog about it. If they like the conservative atmosphere than there is praise. If it is all too shocking than there is expression of disgust and ignorance.

Let's Conclude this Long Post:

My answer Joe for you Podcast is that I don't think the expat blogs are conservative. I think it is just that our surroundings are deeply conservative, and it affects the nature of our thought and the mechanics by which we came to Korea with.

But there are miracles within this society, as if one finds a small flower pop up out of the cement sidewalk. Because when you get to know some Korean people, you start to see that although they live by a conservative code, they are not zombies.


  1. Joy.... EXPAT or NOT...Conservative, Liberal or Radical...what kind of English is this??

    "I have yet gotten myself into.. "

    I don't even know what you're trying to say!
    Please rephrase correctly....Not what you should be teaching anyone....REMEMBER - - you're an ENGLISH TEACHER now!
    and.... as far as I can remember you were born in the 20th century..
    "whilst" = 14th century English according to
    Today we use "while"!
    Heritage, culture, patriarchal society,facades,image,respect,
    societal norms,
    tolerance, etc...
    All part of the experience.
    "When in Rome do as the Romans do"
    Is that really entirely necessary?

    The USA is a VERY NEW country settled by people(s) from all around the world. Asian countries are ancient, so you're living in an ancient culture with the trappings of the 21st century.
    No wonder the people are conflicted! Do they realize their confliction? Is it discussed as such?

    If one can make yet another blogging "generalization"'s been my observation that in patriarchal socieities, it's usually the women, the matriarch herself that is revered & holds the "strength" behind the "walls" of the family unit.
    Hey Joy....a topic to do some research about, especially about the Korean culture.... since you can't spend your free time gazing out the window for awhile!

    Basically the vp (vice pres? or vice principal) is the "Daddy" of the school & his subservient "girls" (the teachers), sit politely & listen! Same b.s. goes on in the USA even to this day in many organizations!


  2. Hi from a fellow blogger in Seoul,
    I somewhat doubt most of the bloggers in Korea are 'conservative' - in fact, our political beliefs have little to do with the reason we're here. When it comes to the workplace (the MAIN reason we're here, for better or worse), we're generally subjected to the way Korean-thought works - top-down, older to younger, man to woman, and so on and so forth. What the boss says goes, and gosh darn you if you try to fight it. I have - on more than one occasion - and have been shot down despite having an idea to save a lot of hassle and possible problems. But *that doesn't matter* to the Korean people. No, Koreans are not zombies - they're people who are stuck in a moral / ethical / societal code where they couldn't break free even if they wanted. Their only method of 'escape' is literally to leave the country, usually severing all ties with their friends and family in the process. One Korean teacher left the country because she, as a twentysomething woman, couldn't find a job that respected her abilities. Another Korean teacher may well be going through a divorce because he can't change anything about his job and / or work lifestyle.

    In summary, I suspect most waygook in Korea have a wide variety of political beliefs - though we're subjected to the same traditional Korean beliefs, we may either conform to them more easily or rebel against them in our own way.

  3. From your post:

    "Ok, so they are liberal conservative, but what does that mean?

    "Libertarian conservatism"

    Can you please make the distinction between liberal and Libertarian. In a nutshell, Liberals think they know what's good for society and take from the rich and give to the poor. Libertarians believe in personal responsibility and hate taxes and government.

    As a Libertarian I want to maximize personal liberty, follow the Constitution, and minimize federal government (state governments are ok). I wouldn't want my ideals mixed up with people that would dictate how my hard earn paycheck should be spent on someone that didn't earn it.


  4. The new Seoul Podcast is up and running with its inaugural episode Reverse Culture Shock with special guest panelist Karl from the original Seoul Survivors.
    internet marketing

  5. Ummm thanks!?

    I wonder if the show will ever have any newbies on it??


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