Monday, December 29, 2008

From Their Mouth: Adultery

One of the biggest advantages of teaching adults is that I gain a relatively more in-depth view into Korean mentality and logic. The students feel more relaxed when they're in class with me. The cultural barriers are down. They know that I'm not Korean and I won’t judge them by the same shaming criteria that their colleagues, friends and family do, so they tend to vent a lot and really articulate themselves without any restrictions. I have heard the most incongruous things in my time in front of these classes as well as some really remarkable stories as well.

"From Their Mouth" is their completely candid and unfiltered stories. It's a collection of stories, opinions, experiences and statements with a little research and my take on it. I changed the names slightly.

Kim Dong-jun, 44, is a single, successful man who loves his life. He regularly travels all over the world on both business and pleasure, but really loves to spend time in Macau. He likes to go there for one reason: sex. He loves Chinese prostitutes and takes weeklong trips down to the Southern port more than six times a year. I asked him why he didn't frequent any of the Korean brothels that blanket Seoul and he said that the Chinese girls were "less inhibited". Of course I was interested in what meant by that and he explained it to me as "strong sex". That indicated to me that he could get rough with his Chinese hookers and that was his thing.

As the exchange continued, I figured out that he was in a long-term relationship (9 years) and he plans on marrying her within the next couple years. Naturally, I was a tad perplexed since this information was discovered immediately after he revealed he frequented China for rough sex with prostitutes.

"Does your girlfriend know what you do in Macau." I asked.

"Yeah, but she can't do anything about it."

"Why not? Couldn't she leave you?" I was undoubtedly taken back by his cavalier attitude.

"Only Korean people can appreciate why a man needs more than one woman. It's our history. Women know, but ignore it."

I thought this was a great response and let him continue talking. He mentioned that all of his friends frequented all sorts of girl bars ranging from sexy, bikini bars to massage parlors and even full-blown brothels. He told me a story about a Korean-Canadian couple that he once knew who moved to Korea on business. Dong-jun took his new buddy to some of these places and his friend loved them. Together, they started going to these places several times a week. Dong-jun claims he never sleeps with any of the Korean girls who work at those places, but his new friend certainly did. Ultimately, the Canadian-Korean's wife found out what was going on and was livid. She divorced him and went back to Canada. Dong-jun almost laughed this detail off while offering this up as evidence for his outrageous "only Koreans understand" declaration.

"How many Korean men IN KOREA participate in this type of thing?"

"I'd say 90%." He replied as he casually leaned back in his chair.

"You mean 9%?"

"No, least."

"And you think that's okay?" I was hoping for him to admit that it’s a pretty shitty thing to crow about.

"It's our culture."

He claims that 90% of Korean men have been unfaithful to their wife or girlfriend. That's an enormous number for any nation and especially from a country where it's still illegal and jail-able to have an affair. There was a case that concluded recently where a Korean actress was caught having an ongoing affair for ten years with two men. Here's that story.

"A district court in Goyang, near Seoul, handed Ok a suspended eight-month jail sentence, South Korean media reported, meaning she will not have to serve time. Ok's lover received a six-month suspended term."

Her second lover was an Italian chef who has since fled the country. Any crime that involves a foreigner and a Korean woman, especially when sex is involved, is considered an aggravating factor in that crime (much like carrying or using a weapon in a robbery) and usually perused much more aggressively.

That's not the point of this post though. I wanted to know if Mr. Kim was even close to being accurate and according to Cho Joo-hee of ABC News, he was pretty damn close.

"Extra-marital affairs are nothing new in South Korea. In an online survey last year by monthly women's magazine Woman Sense, 79 percent of married men and 15.5 percent of married women in their 30s and 40s admitted adultery."

I did see another article that said the number was closer to 65% and since this survey was conducted by an online women’s magazine, some of those "male respondents" might actually be bitter wives. Still, it's a high number and even if women are pretending to be their cheating husbands which might suggest that they are at least aware of what is going on.

Cho (a Korean woman) seems to excuse this behavior though.

"But ironically having affairs is seen in a different light in Korea. In fact, my married Korean friends openly talk about girlfriends or boyfriends, moreso of "wanting" a lover rather than confessing to an ongoing relationship. But conceptually an affair is more often considered a rebelliously courageous and romantic act than a morally despicable betrayal. That is assuming that the would-be lovers in question are dutifully playing their roles as husbands and wives -- making money to support the family, taking care of the kids and spending time with the in-laws."

Cho apparently believes that marriage in Korea is not based on love, compatibility or romance, but more on the duty of being a husband or wife. Those roles, of course, are very gender-specific.
If both women and men are content with this arrangement, then Kim Dong-jun’s behavior is totally acceptable and his estimation could very well be accurate.

It’s not my place to say it’s wrong though. After all, I can’t understand.


Harriet said...

Whoa...that is a pretty scary statistic! No wonder Go is glad you are an American. We do not do that sort of thing! Right!

Mike said...

That attitude is very similar to quite a few Japanese guys I met while living in Japan so the guy is off when he says "it's our culture."

Besides that, I'd have to say I agree with the woman's interpretation in the sense that extramarital sex carries a different connotation here than it does in the US. If you watch some of the dramas here you'll often see married women having affairs or troubled by the thought of perhaps having an affair. The whole idea is romanticized if not at least painted in a sympathetic light in much the same way your female student said. For guys, I think it has more to do with boozing and wanting to get off than the pursuit of romantic love but who knows.

Though I would like to go with my base gut-instinct and call the whole "it's our culture" a crappy defense that merely allows 40 year old men to run around with their shlongs out like horny teenagers because they can't learn any discipline, I will admit the matter does deserve more probing.

This should be a conversation piece for our next bar outing.

Mike said...

Oh, and welcome back to blogging by the way.

I was gonna post some sort of demeaning comment asking you when you were going to post something again but then I realized I've only posted three times during the same period...

The Clam said...

The cultural excuse doesn't fly with me anymore. I think the root of this stems from the fact that marriages in Korea (and it seems to be a common thread of many Asian nations) are viewed as economic unions more than anything else. Of course there are elements of love and compatibility present at the time of the marriage itself, but as life presses on, they seem to fade as economic pressure takes over. Once those pressures take over it seems to manifest itself in adultery.

It also looks like men and women do it for different reasons on the surface, but when you peal all the bullshit back, it’s just the thrill of new sex. The men will claim they did it because of the stress of caring for the family, but they’re really just drunk and will f*ck anything that walks, while the women complain that life is not as exciting as they thought it would be and that their marriage is loveless. It’s the same story, no matter where you’re from.

As you said, the whole idea is romanticized and since the public, or at least spouses, tends to be sympathetic to this behavior; does that mean that numbers in America or other Western nations are actually lower than they should be? Are Koreans just unashamed to admit it? If this type of behavior was equally as acceptable in the West, would men and women be admitting it more?

Which of course brings it back to the real reasoning for the adultery law: The Supreme Court claims that if they overturned it; it would lead to the unraveling of the moral fibers of society. Who believes this shit? They paint it as if an all out f*ck fest would ensue on the streets. Yet, it’s happening in every love motel all day and night. This law equates to one thing and that’s revenge. No matter how you slice it, that’s what Ok Su-ri’s husband was going after, especially since she was sleeping with an evil foreigner.