Since writing the odd article about Korean culture, writing the blogs, and generally reading more articles and following the news more closely, I have noticed that tempers tend to run rather high on the subject of Korea. It does feel like Western visitors often show, not just a dislike, but even a hatred of Korea by the time they leave. The same feelings emanate from Koreans too, of course, but are perhaps more well reported. Some of the comments I have received on my articles have shocked me and not just the anti-Western toned article on drunken foreigners http://thethreewisemonkeys.com/2012/07/12/drunk-and-stupid-how-debauched-foreigners-feed-koreans-prejudices/#comments, but also on more mild articles that are simply neutral or pro-Western. Even a mild and humorous blog, featured on Koreabridge.net, received some rather hateful comments, not so much regarding my writing but of Koreans generally http://koreabridge.net/post/mysteries-about-korea-i-havent-solved-yet-smudger81299. There were also those that went completely the other way and commented that one should never criticize another culture or that Korea is actually much better than the West. Sometimes, though, it is clear that criticisms on either side are justified and what's more important to point out.
I can fully understand where some of the frustrations with Korean culture come from as I myself went through a period of discontent in my first year here. It should also be noted that some Korean people bring a certain amount of dislike upon themselves with there sometimes vehemently pro-Korean stance on life. This can bring up some quite legitimate criticisms about their conduct, especially towards foreigners in their country. Even at the very beginning of Western involvement in Korea after the second world war the Americans found it difficult to get along with them and, much to the dismay of the Koreans, prefered the company of the Japanese.
Of course there is nothing wrong with being difficult to get along with per se. I have been reading into the history of Korea recently and it seems to me that Koreans have a history of being quite insular and wanting to be left to their own devices (much like the North is now). Foreigners have always historically been unwelcome and until the Japanese invaded and the Americans came, Korea was quite an isolated place. This originated from the late 16th to early 17th century when invasions from Japan and China nearly destroyed the Joseon Dynasty. This lead to an increasingly harsh isolationist policy and this is where the origin of the term 'The Hermit Kingdom' comes from. This may explain a lot about their current attitudes and their sometimes unique way of looking at things and indeed for North Korea. However, I think there is a nobility in wanting to conduct matters in your own way and I think explains some of the uncomfortable assimilations with Western culture in many regards.
On a recent visit to Japan, I had the fortune of bumping into some fellow English teachers who were teaching there. I brought up the subject of anti-Korean sentiment within some of the Western community and wondered if they had similar problems there. The answer I got was an almost overwhelming 'no'. A few teachers have problems but they said most just saw the differences and rolled with the punches and were generally a lot more comfortable with the culture than their counterparts in Korea.
This all seems to suggest that there are some problems in our relationships with Koreans. Are these issues down to Koreans, Westerners, or both? It feels like most native English teachers living in Korea are firmly blaming the Koreans. This could be an illusion as 'The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the most grease', and perhaps people who don't think this way just do not comment or make their voices heard. I do feel, though, that there is an air of superiority and attitude about many Westerners who come to Korea. I cannot provide any evidence but it is just a general perception I get. I know I had it in the bad times, but with increased exposure to Korea's true culture and a more intimate knowledge of it through my Korean family my opinion steadily changed.
This is not to say that I do not have criticisms about their culture, I do and I do not tend to hold back, especially because I tend to feel the sharper edge of some of their prejudices being in a relationship with a Korean. However, I do understand why some of the negative aspects of their culture exist and I think this aids me in tempering any anger that could build up. I also realise where Koreans are coming from when they criticise foreign visitors to their country. They are sometimes justified and sometimes not when it comes to their complaints about foreigners, and I do think the Western community need to handle these complaints better and learn from them. Too many visitors to Korea bull-doze their way through cultural faux pas with a complete lack of understanding and sensitivity for where they are. We cannot all be familiar with Korean culture to a large extent and their is nothing wrong with a certain amount of ignorance with it, but a little more care and thought should be taken sometimes into how we are conducting ourselves.
So the answer to who is to blame for slightly dodgy relations is obviously both, and if one side is more to blame than the other, the lesser party is certainly not blameless. Even if someone has been a victim of prejudice or bad behaviour from the other side, let us hope that with a little more work to understand each other, better relations can be achieved. If everyone were to treat every situation anew and not bring any baggage into it, people around the world would get along a lot better and would realise that the vast majority of all people, all around the world, and in all different cultures are good and kind. This is my experience of my travels, and another experience is that culture has consequences on people's behaviour. If an aspect of culture is good is should be praised and possibly embraced by other cultures, but if it is bad it has to be called out. What this doesn't entail is discriminating against the people within the culture itself.