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Is Korea friendly to foreigners

clock03-29-2010, 12:35 AM
Yorum: #1
From The Korea Herald (article can't be linked to, so I'll quote it all for those who can't find it).

All I'll say is that it concurs with much of what I've said.


[Kim Seong-kon] Is Korea friendly to foreigners?

Is Korea a friendly nation to foreigners? Unfortunately few foreigners residing in Korea would say Yes. Koreans, as individuals, may be affable, but Korean society, as a system, seems still far from being friendly to foreigners. It is true that Korean hospitality is traditionally acclaimed, but this hospitality is often limited to Koreans only and seldom extended to foreigners.

Korea has a long history of unfriendliness to foreigners. The story of the unfortunate Dutch sailor Hamel, the first European to discover Korea, is a good example of this. In the 17th century, a Dutch ship called The Sperwer (Sparrow Hawk), suddenly disappeared without a trace while sailing from Taiwan to Japan. Hamel and his 36 crew members were shipwrecked off the shore of an unknown territory called Joseon, todays Korea. For the next 13 years, they endured unfathomable hostility and apathy from the unsociable Korean people. Forbidden to leave the country, as the Joseon Dynasty wanted to keep its existence as a secret to the world, the Dutch sailors had to survive at times by begging and doing odd jobs. Twenty of them died in the course of 13 years of relentless adversity. Out of 16 survivors, only eight, including Hamel, succeeded in escaping to Nagasaki, Japan, where they were treated with warmth and favor.

Hamels account always makes me blush in shame. Our ancestors should have better treated those ill-fated shipwrecked foreign sailors, instead of forcing them to fall into unbearable misery for 13 long years. More than 350 years have passed since then, and yet we still do not seem to be friendly enough to foreigners. Foreigners in Korea are still denied many essential rights and privileges the Korean people comfortably enjoy. According to a recent newspaper report, Korean banks refuse to issue credit cards to foreign nationals, and mobile phone companies decline the subscriptions of foreigners. But how can one survive without a credit card or a cell phone these days? Phone companies only allow foreigners to use prepaid cell phones. In that system, each time you use up the prepaid calling time, you must reactivate your phone by visiting a local store and paying in advance. Surely this is an insult and a nuisance.

Sometimes, foreigners find it difficult to use their credit cards in a store. In a department store in Seoul, I once attempted to use a credit card issued by an American bank. The salesgirl immediately called the manager for help, who was also very reluctant to take the foreign credit card. But isnt a VISA or MasterCard an international card? Foreigners are also frustrated when they are asked to provide their residence registration number. In Korea one should enter his resident registration number in virtually all business transactions. Foreigners, therefore, are hopelessly excluded from social life in Korea, simply because they do not have the magic number. From now on, alien registration numbers should be equally honored as resident registration numbers in all transactions.

These days, the United States does not seem to be so friendly to foreigners, either. Since 9/11, American credit card companies have stopped issuing credit cards to foreigners. As Americans say, however, every rule is made to be broken. As I gradually built up a good credit history, my American bank eventually issued me a MasterCard, regardless of my nationality, during my sojourn in the United States. As for acquiring a cell phone, I had no problem whatsoever. I just walked into a mobile phone store in San Francisco, grabbed a phone, and had it activated instantly. No deposit was required. I hear foreigners can receive such service in any advanced country, including Japan and Singapore. In Korea, however, foreigners are still discriminated against and frustrated.

Foreign businessmen, too, find opening a business in Korea frustrating due to endless red tape. Unlike Hong Kong or Singapore, Seoul is not yet an attractive city for foreign investment, because of complicated rules and regulations for foreigners, not to mention antagonism. Perceiving foreign investment in Korean companies as hostile, many Koreans possess the groundless fear that foreign businessmen are out to take over Korean companies malignantly.

Quite a few foreigners also complain about the intimidating atmosphere of the Korean immigration office. Even though the service has been vastly improved, grievances remain sky high. Our immigration office should be friendlier and more flexible towards foreign visitors. So should Korean employers of migratory workers from other parts of Asia. Perhaps we should listen to the eminent French scholar Guy Sormans insightful advice. He said: In order to make Seoul a truly cosmopolitan city, Koreans should try very hard to make foreign visitors feel comfortable and treat them equally. Culturally, Korea is a closed society antagonistic to foreigners.

More than three centuries have passed since Hamel and his companions set their feet on Korean soil, unaware of their miserable fate yet to come. Embarrassingly, however, there are still many Hamels who stumble into this country and struggle in the hostile environment. Korea used to be called, a country of courteous people in the East. Its time we live up to our title and be friendlier to our foreign guests.

clock07-07-2012, 05:57 PM
Yorum: #2
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