Seoul, the Capital and the most famous city in Korea. Known for it’s nightlife and rich culture, there’s almost something for everyone here. Whether it’s a large Museum or a lively Latin night club there’s always something to do. One of the best things about Seoul, in my opinion, is the many events and festivals that always seem to be happening during the weekends and sometimes weekdays. That being said, while I do think there is no other place in the world like Seoul, it’s not my favorite city in Korea. In fact, I would much prefer a weekend in Busan, the 2nd most popular city for foreigners, than in busy Seoul.
I’ve been to Seoul a handful of times and I’ve gotten lost in the magnificent palaces, found myself in quaint kitschy coffee shops in Insadong, and unfortunately walked in the opposite direction of American military personnel. Being American myself, I find that I’m ashamed at what I see every time I go to Itaewon for a drink with my friends. I am not the only person who shares this sentiment, and it’s become a huge problem with the locals as well. Many Korean night clubs even sport signs restricting military from entering, and for good reasons. The off-duty military men are almost always trying to start fights with passerbys and at least 3 different weekends I’ve visited I’ve seen one or two of them sporting only American flag underwear. I’m not saying this defines every US Military serviceman, but it definitely pertains to many.
One thing that I love about Korea is that it’s one of the safest places you can be. I could leave my wallet in a busy cafe and it would still be there, with all of the money inside, in a few hours. The Korean people are also not so confrontational and are super polite, they are always looking to help you (Adjumma’s and adjushi’s excluded of course). That being said, the worst situations my friends, and many others, have found themselves in has happened because of someone in the military.
I hate to publicly rag on the military since I know they are here to serve and to protect, but as a friend of mine from the Air Force once said “When I was told I was going to be based in Korea, I was also warned by my superior. For some reason when people get stationed in Korea they go crazy, they cheat on their wives or create problems.” And that’s exactly what I’ve seen. I’ll give an example. My friends went on a trip to mudfest this year in the Southern region of Korea. While they were there they went out for a drink near their hotel. As they were sitting enjoying their beers, 2 military men went over and started punching my male friend for no good reason. He ended up in the hospital and they ran away. Now, I wasn’t there, but I know my friends and I know the few witnesses that said they did nothing to provoke these men nor know them. Violence is one problem, but rape is another big one.
Another example, I went to Seoul UMF, Ultra Music Festival, this summer and there were many foreigners and military present. I remember being sat down near the restrooms next to a girl that was barely conscious from drinking. I had gone to the festival alone and thought, well why not stay next to her just in case she needs help. Surely enough a guy came up to her and tried to pick her up and take her home even though he could see that she was barely responsive. Right as I was about to intervene, her boyfriend came and saved the day. They were both military and the situation was defused calmly, which is great, but the other guy continued on his quest.
Now I know this isn’t exactly helpful travel tips, but these things genuinely upset me. And as a woman who usually travels alone, it’s best to know what you’re up against before walking around Seoul alone late at night near foreigners.
When you go abroad and agree to living in someone else country, whether military, student, teacher, or anything you are being the face of your country. The native people of that country only have your actions and behavior to judge our character as a nation. Of course there is also politics and media, but how we interact is also very crucial. There is nothing worst than trying to make a new friend in a foreign country and being subjected to criticism for the actions of other people. I hope that in the future we can find a way to remedy this unfortunate stigma over our heads, because we are all in this together.
That is all I have to say on this subject. I hope I didn’t offend anyone, but merely stating my own experiences and knowledge on the subject. If you’d like to discuss further or call me “unpatriotic” then please feel free to contact me, I accept all feedback. Same goes for anyone who has also experienced this, I would love to hear your stories!