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Are Asians Bad Drivers? My Thoughts on 10 Asian Stereotypes

After living and travelling around Asia for two years, I have a few things to say about East Asian stereotypes. But before I begin, I need to say that this is meant to be a funny portrait of the wonderful Asian people I've met and the diverse Asian culture I've experienced. I'm fully aware of the sweeping generalizations I'm about to make, and for every one of those generalizations I can think of exceptions. Generalizations, which I believe are a necessary part of the human experience, become stereotypes if they're hold too intentlyand can get one in a lot of trouble. Why am I writing about it when I know it's a dangerous topic that could get me into trouble? Because it's a learning experience. I came to Korea knowing nothing Asian culture and am leaving with a greater knowledge and admiration of the people I've met and places I've seen.

  1. All Asians are skinny. This is a personal stereotype I held before I came. I don't think I had ever seen a fat Asian before I moved here, which probably says more about my hometown (two Asian-looking kids went to my high school, brothers of Korean heritage who were so not Korean that they didn't know how to say hello in Korean) and lack of exposure to Asian culture than Asians themselves. I wish I could say it's true, but it's not. Asians, like everyone else, have the ability to get fatI just don't know where the bigger girls shop, since most clothes here are free size (one size fits all).
  2. Asians are super stylish. Another personal stereotype, one that held for about the first week I was here. I remember watching Sook-Yin Lee on MuchMusic when I was younger and being impressed with her fashion sense; she was able to mix and match things I never would have dreamed about putting together in one outfit. But something's changed: either Korean women aren't as stylish as I imagined Asian women to be, or I don't have the same fashion sense I did when I was growing up in the 90's. The final straw came when my co-teacher (whom I adore) came to school wearing an oversized yellow-and-black plaid shirt, brown vest, and navy blue sparkly leggings. Sigh.
  3. Asians are bad drivers. Nonot unless you consider consistently running red lights, passing buses in intersections, ignoring emergency vehicles, and switching lanes and turning without signalling to be "bad driving." To be fair, I wouldn't say the same thing about all Asians (the Japanese, I noticed, actually do know how to follow the rules of the road), it's just certainly true about Koreans.
  4. Asian men are effeminate and have small, well, "little guys," and Asian women are submissive. Effeminate men? Yes. Evidence: thinner body shapes, lack of body hair, and "pretty" fashion choices (think hot pink cardigans, tight-fitting shirts and pants, and "man purses"). Add to that some cutesy behaviour when in a relationship, like wearing matching "couple wear" and carrying his woman's purse as if it were his own, and yes, I'd say men here are pretty feminine. This is not a judgment call; obviously some women out there love it. Would this country be so overrun with couples if it wasn't a good thing? As for the...other thing about Asian males, I'll just say my research sample size isn't large enough for any conclusive results. I haven't dated any Asian women to get any first-hand stories about their submissiveness, but from what I've heard from my guy friends, it might even be the other way around. After all, purses don't carry themselves, and it's rarely the woman who carries it herself either. And if a guy wants to go on a date with a Korean woman, he should make sure his bank account is ready to take a hit. In all seriousness, though, submissiveness is a trait of Korean culture, where elders are to be respected at all times, no matter what.
  5. Asians are hard workers. I've written about this a lot, but here's my belief: Koreans are inefficient workers, appearing to be harder-working than they are. Or maybe, Koreans are hard workers in an inefficient system. Either way, something's not working.
  6. All Asians look alike. Yes, there's the whole everyone-has-black-hair-and-black-eyes thing. But no, it doesn't mean that everyone looks the same. Sure, I joke that everyone in Super Juniorthat 13-member Korean boy bandlooks the same, but that's because I actually haven't taken a look at their faces. When I see them, it's more of a blob of singing and dancing black-haired boys than individuals. When it comes to real people in real life, there are luckily infinite differences, even without a variety of hair and eye colours.
  7. Asians are good at math, playing musical instruments, and playing computer games. I don't teach math (that's for the benefit of all students everywhere) and I joke that math is not allowed in my classroom whenever I catch students finishing their math homework in my class. What I will say is that Koreans are good at memorizing and terrible at creative thinking, thanks to their education system, and math is one of those subjects that plays to their strengths. I don't know what to say about music and video games, though I would agree both, like in North America, are popular after-school activities.
  8. All Asians can do martial arts. Taekwondo is to Korea as what gymnastics is to North America: it's a popular sport for children. That's it.
  9. Asians can't pose for photos without the peace sign. No. Koreans have an array of poses to choose from, of which the V-sign is just the most popular. There's also hearts, horns, tears, fists, and other options. Or, if it's a professional photo, say for school or work, there's also the popular angry stare. Take your pick!
  10. Asians eat cats. Wrong. I don't know where this comes from, but I'm pretty sure it's a Chinese stereotype. My old university roomies like to ask me, "So have you eaten cat yet?" to which I always reply, "No, come on, they don't eat cat here...Koreans eat dogs." Okay, that's not true either. Dogs are available to be eaten, though many, many Koreans won't eat them, either. And if restaurants do have dog on the menu, it's hidden from foreigners since everyone is well aware about how foreigners view that practice. I, however, think it's fine. It's meat: cat, dog, chicken, beef, fish, duck, pork, pigeonit's all good. Except for that last one. Too boney.

The Star Said...

This is a story written by one of my Grade 1 (Grade 7 in North America) students for our annual English Speech Contest. I have copied it exactly as it was written, all errors included---but, impressively, there are very few. I not only liked the story and its theme of environmentalism, but she also performed it very well.

Have you ever heard a star talking? Well, I did and I want to talk about it. Are you ready? I’ll begin.

When I was six or seven, my family went to a beach for vacation. The beach was beautiful; soft sand, white waves, lovely trees nearby. We played there like anyone else. We swam and made sandcastles during the day. We ate delicious food and slept peacefully at night. It seemed a lovely and ordinary holiday.

However, it was different. My parents woke me up at midnight and piggybacked me to the shore. I didn’t realize anything except they were carrying me to some place until mom said,

“Sumin*, look up!”

Stars embroidered the sky’s black cloth. The lights dancing against the black, coal-like sky. I just stared at them in silence. The only think I could hear was the cool sound of the waves lapping.

We walked by the shore, using the star lights as our lanterns and the waves and background music. That stroll by the clean and silent beach is one of the happiest memories of my life.

After some years, my family and I visited the same beach again. I remembered the bright stars and beautiful beach. But, it had changed. The shore was dirty and even made dangerous by debris of glass bottles, Styrofoam plates and paper cups. People had thrown junk onto the beautiful pristine sand and ruined it! I cursed an hoped those people never come to that beach again.

At that moment, I heard someone say,

“Who did you blame? Look at the sky and see how beautiful it is, just as in the past, But look at that shore, all ruined and dirty. While this shore was getting dirtier, what were you doing? Look. The skies, where human hands can’t reach, are the same as ever but the place where human hands have reached has been ruined.

Who was it that said this? There was no one at the shore except me. There was only a star staring at me. Yes, it was a star that just spoken to me.

“Who did I blame? Is it wrong to blame those people? “I wanted to answer the star’s question, but I couldn’t answer. I had done nothing for the beach. Does this mean that someone who has done nothing is the same as those people who made the Earth dirty?

That was it. I am the same as them. Sometimes I littered anywhere even though there were trashcans nearby. I was a part of the mess, even a small amount on this Earth made me complicit.

Now I realized the true meaning of the star’s words and felt remorse.

I made a promise in my heart, to clean up after the places where I stayed. Even now, when I go back home from institutes late at night, I stare at the star of Seoul in silence and believe it was the star who spoke to me. I try to keep the promise I made long ago with the star.

I hope you try to listen to the stars an promise them,

“I will help too.”

-------------- * Name has been changed

N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower (known as Namsan Tower before its renovation a few years ago) is probably the most well-known landmark in Seoul. How could it not be when it's seen from just about anywhere in the city? It sits on top of Namsan, a small mountain in the middle of the city, just north of the Han River. I visited the tower once, for my 100th day in Korea celebration. The observatory has a view of the whole city. It's an amazing sight, especially at night.

Wish You Were Here

I'm writing you to
Catch you up on places I've been
And you held this letter
Probably got excited
But there's nothing else inside it

Didn't have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm In the mood to lose my way with words

Today skies are painted colors of a cowboy cliche
And strange how clouds that look like mountains in the sky
Are next to mountains anyway

Didn't have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm
In the mood to lose my way
But let me say

You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
It brought me back to life
You'll be with me next time I go outside
No more 3x5s

Guess you had to be there
Guess you had to be with me

Today I finally overcame
Tryin to fit the world inside a picture frame
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm
In the mood to lose my way
But let me say

You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
It brought me back to life
You'll be with me next time
I go outside
No more 3x5s
Just no more 3x5s

~ John Mayer, "3x5"