Last night, I rode the subway to Inchon to meet my friend Min's Japanese girlfriend. She moved to Korea with the facade of teaching, but mainly to be with Min.
ESL teachers earn twice as much as Japanese instructors. She won't make much money here, unless she tutors illegally.
In a culture concerned with blood lines, I'm pollution according to the older generation, and a commodity in the eyes of the youth. Everyone has gone out of their way to welcome me, but on a polite, surface level.
My friends here are Koreans who have traveled abroad and have a general understanding of western culture.
J. was telling me about a Jewish Canadian who married a Korean man. She spent years here-- secured a great job in Seoul, fell head over heels with Korean culture and cuisine. But the couple had to relocate to America so they could be accepted.
Given the history, there's still tension between Korea and Japan. My students have even expressed hatred. Min hasn't told parents he has a girlfriend: Hiroko, let alone that she moved here, suitcases in tow.
I'd like to visit Japan, so I asked Hiroko how it differs from Korea. The countries are in such close proximity that they can't help but influence each other. Karaoke and high fashion have infiltrated Korea through its neighbouring country.
Hiroko told me to look around the bar. "This is what Japan's like," she insisted, "It's a bit cleaner, more expensive, but basically the same." She is trying her hand at learning Hangul and making a home for herself in a country that is not her own.