Is HBO’s True Blood like living in Korea?

I really miss HBO. Over the years I’ve enjoyed so much the quality premium television viewing of The Soprano’s, Tenacious D, Sex and the City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Band of Brothers, Eastbound & Down, Life and Times of Tim, Real Time and Entourage, to name a few. Living in Korea, I can’t get it… legally. So, unethical or not, because I’ve kicked down so much money to HBO over the years, I don’t feel bad watching their programs online for free now that I’m doing my thing overseas.

I recently turned my girlfriend on to True Blood. After getting her up to speed on season one, we are currently watching season two together for the first time. And we have come to the realization that living as a waegook (foreigner) in Seoul, Korea is a lot like living as a vampire in Bon Temps, Louisiana on HBO’s True Blood. And it’s not all negative. After all, this is a place where many foreign English instructors live rent free and make significantly more than their Korean counterparts.

True Blood is a show in which dead, blood drinking vampires attempt to become respectable citizens in a society run by living, eating and breathing humans. This is made possible by the invention of True Blood, sold in convenience stores and bars, preferably drank at 98.6 after a quick zap in the microwave. With this synthetic blood substitute, vampires no longer have to kill and drain humans to continue their existence.

Similar to the vampires working to gain acceptance from humans, Korea is a place where foreigners may struggle to fit in. Some of them see it as a society of homogeneous, nationalistic, English challenged citizens, who for the most part, are not well traveled, have a dogmatic view of the world and an affinity for figure skating. That’s what happens when your country has been invaded repeatedly by places like Japan. You learn to take pride in racial purity and singular culture, skeptical of everything foreign.

It’s not all about indifference though, in fact, many humans on the show are fascinated by vampires. They are intrigued by them. Because many vampires have been around for ages, people seek them out for a history lesson, in search of information about their relatives. Sleeping with a vampire is supposedly an unbelievable experience, so curious humans try to get in their pants. Children are inquisitive and are interested in their fangs.

Similarly, some Koreans are warm, friendly, open and accepting. It’s a place where strangers have gone out of their way to approach me and say hi. They don’t balk at talking to me about their church. Sometimes I feel like a celebrity. My blue eyes, brownish blond hair and red facial hair gather a lot of attention in the classroom and on the street. People giggle and stare. Sometimes they are embarrassed by my presence, probably because they are shy about using their English.

At the same time, it’s not all hugs and kisses. Vampires aren’t allowed to vote. They are refused service in many establishments and many humans look at them with disgust. In Korea, I’ve been refused entry and service in a handful of bars. With help from a Korean, it took three attempts to find a telecom company willing to provide cell phone service to me as a foreigner. My first bank wouldn’t give me an ATM card. And purchasing tickets online to any event is the biggest headache imaginable. I’ve gotten used to the long, uncomfortable staring directed at me, an American, and my Canadian girlfriend in public places. I’ve also seen the look of disgust as a foreign/Korean couple walks by.

The show has Fangtasia, a vampire bar where they gather to spend time around their own kind, doing vampy things. They drink synthetic True Blood in public, and dine on humans when nobody is looking. Open minded humans in search of knowledge, sexual relations and companionship, and drugs, roll the dice and enter at their own risk.

Seoul, Korea has Itaewon, the neighborhood where you can find anything and everything foreign, objects as well as people. For a price, you can usually walk away with most of what you are looking for. Western markets, book stores, bakeries, clothing stores, doctors, travel agencies, restaurants, bars, and the well known hooker hill can all be found in Itaewon. At night you will see uniformed American MP’s patrolling the streets, breaking up the scuffles that are bound to happen.

Both have examples of extremists. The show has the Fellowship of the Sun. Rev. Steve Newlin started this church after his father was killed by a vampire. The FoS hides behind Christian values. In reality, it is an anti-vampire organization, training vampire killers at their Light of Day Institute and arming them with an arsenal of wood bullets and arrows, silver throwing crosses and chains and the traditional wood stakes.

Korea has the Anti-English Spectrum. Recently featured in a Los Angeles Times article, this organization claims to investigate complaints by Korean parents, teaming up with authorities, and turning over information for prosecution. But they have been accused of compiling personal data, stalking foreign teachers, tracking their whereabouts and habits and instigating a lot of problems. The article mentions that their website has created rumors about foreigners intentionally spreading AIDS, as well as a foreign teacher crime wave. It also says that in reality, the number of foreigners arrested for the accusations this group instigates is significantly proportionately less than the actual rate of incidents among Koreans. This whole mess has led to threats of violence and even death.

On the show, Bon Temps, Louisiana has crotchety, uppity older ladies that wear their hair short and permed, turn their nose up to the vampires and can’t stand the idea of a romantic vampire/human relationship. Korea has the ajumma. Most of them are stocky, middle-aged, angry, with permed hair and scary painted on eyebrows. They wear the most giant visors known to man. They push and shove their way to where they need to go and take cuts in lines. I’ve heard that being in a foreigner/Korean relationship can be made very difficult by these future mother in laws.

The purpose of writing this is both social commentary as well as good humor. No location is perfect. In my opinion, there is no better place to live than Portland, Oregon. But in Portland, people look at you funny if you don’t bring your own reusable shopping bag to the market. The constant drizzle and gray skies will leave you depressed. If it’s possible, the drivers are too courteous, making it difficult to get anywhere in a hurry. An inch of snow shuts the city down for a week. City governments frustrate small business owners. You can’t pump your own gas. People in their 30’s brag about living an hour from the mountain, and an hour from the coast, yet they haven’t visited either since they were in high school.

The point I’m trying to get across is my strong belief that for a period of time, we all should choose to live in places other than our “home”. The world is significantly larger than your comfort zone. And because it’s not home, society is different in these other places. They don’t look like you, eat like you, communicate like you or work the same hours you do. They spend their money on different things. Their relationships with their parents is not the same. And there is a lot to learn from those that don’t live as you do, even if at times you feel like Vampire Bill on HBO’s True Blood. But what fun is it to live your life without facing adversity, challenging yourself, and being thrown to the lions? And how good does it feel when you come out ahead?

Obviously, living in Korea is far from perfect. But it’s not all that bad either. I’m having a blast and am not planning on coming home any time soon… at least until the economy makes a drastic recovery. In the meantime, I’ll be finishing season two of True Blood and searching for more quality premium television programming that I used to pay for, to watch for free from on a beat up laptop.

Learn Korean with KoreanClass101.com

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on March 11, 2010.

7 Responses to “Is HBO’s True Blood like living in Korea?”

  1. It ‘s my first time to read your article. I think your writing is very delicate and well-formed. Thank you for me to read this kind of good article. 🙂

  2. Check out Z-Rock if you can find it. It’s a show on IFC, pretty funny stuff. Not quite Trailer Park Boys, but hilarious none the less. Neal is classic. I think they’re about to go into their third season. Also, can’t recommend Dexter enough, if you haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen season 4 yet, but can’t wait till I do.

    • Never heard of Z-Rock, but it sounds worth a look. A lot of people have good things to say about Dexter.

  3. Sarah and I are big True Blood fans, so I’m glad you and your lady friend dig it too. I think we may have watched both seasons three times by now. I’m on the hunt for a quality ‘Bon Temps Football’ t-shirt.

    “But in Portland, people look at you funny if you don’t bring your own reusable shopping bag to the market.”

    So true!

  4. Nice post! I’m a Californian in Belgium who loves True Blood. I can relate.

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