Being a foreigner in a homogeneous country like South Korea means you automatically stand out from the crowd, even more so if the colour of your skin is darker than what is known as the norm. Before coming to Korea, I read some blogs which were written by black bloggers. They shared stories of the weird things that have happened to them; to be honest, I didn’t believe most of these. I thought they were exaggerated so the writers can bait people into reading their blog posts. Little did I know some of these things would happen to me too.
Instant celebrity status- Ok.. well you’re not really a celebrity if no one knows your name, but if you’re black, you’ll get quite a bit of attention everywhere you go. While some people will only stare at you; some will talk to you. There hasn’t been a single event which I’ve attended where people haven’t asked to take pictures with my friends (who are also black), and I. We went to the Holi Hai festival and groups of strangers would come ask to take pictures with us or of us. This has happened in clubs, restaurants and during my recent trip to Seoul. I’ll admit to one thing though; I love it! Although I have no idea where our pictures end up and what stories photographers share about them, I am always happily willing to pose for them.
Skin rubbing– While some people say they’ve had their chocolate coloured skin licked, I’ve had mine rubbed about three times; mostly by old people. The first time I had my skin rubbed, it was an older woman in an elevator. The second time was an elderly lady who had offered me a seat next to her in the train only for her to grab my hand, rub it and say something in Korean. The third time was by two kids sitting next to me on the train. I never saw any of this coming, it all happened so fast that I was left speechless in all three times. While I don’t fully understand their intentions, I simply took the rubbing my skin as them being curious about why it looks they way it does and how it feels.
Hair touching- Black hair is probably the biggest mystery to Koreans who have no knowledge of the science of black hair. When I came to Korea, I had on braids. I would be on the subway, and I would catch people staring and pointing. Some would just tug it; others wanted to know if it was real. After taking off the braids I became a full-time wig wearer, meaning I change my hair more often now. Some of my Korean friends are probably short of asking me what’s going on because they sometimes break into Korean straight after complimenting my hair.
Staring and pointing- Subway rides are very awkward if you do not have a full cell phone battery and a pair of earphones. The ajummas and ajusshis (senior men and women) will have you wondering where to look with their blank stares. Ever had someone stare at you so much that you didn’t know where to look, what to do and whether to stare back at them? The staring doesn’t only happen in the subway but on the streets, restaurants, shops, everywhere. One Korean will notice you and tell another and the next thing you know you have all eyes on you.
Products for your skin and hair are close to non-existent- Your popping melanin and your gravity defying hair mean you have additional struggles as a foreigner. Korean beauty shops cater for the Korean market. If you’re light skinned, you might be lucky otherwise you have to go to the ends of the world to get makeup and hair products. I will not even get into the business of getting your hair done in a salon. If you’re in Seoul, you’ll be luckier because Itaewon has hair salons and beauty shops that are possibly owned by Koreans but might meet your needs…at a price?. Other than that, you’ll have to befriend online shops such as AliExpress, Gmarket, etc.
Disclaimer: This blog post is based on my personal experiences and encounters. It doesn’t in any way say that this happens to all black people and doesn’t happen to other foreigners. Feel free to comment with your experiences as a foreigner in South Korea or other countries ?.