So it’s time to get serious, friends. The discussion of heavy topics, as the title of this blog entry suggests – we’ll do away with the flippant rock n roll part of the trio. That certainly has no place in a country where ‘ballad’ is a genre.
One of the best things about being here is getting to know Korean people, and by extension their culture, more deeply than I could in Sydney. While tutoring a close friend of mine the other day we got it on – what – got onto the topic of Korean attitudes to sex and drugs, especially in the Korean school system. What I found was absolutely fascinating.
Drugs: Korea doesn’t have a massive problem with drugs – attitudes are conservative and penalties are tough. There is a presumably a big underground party drug scene in the club areas of Hongdae, Gangnam and the multinational cesspit cum fine dining experience that is Itaewon. But that’s just anecdotal assumption, and what I know about party drugs could probably be condensed into something the size of your average pill – whatever that is.
Drug education is not really a big thing in schools either. I guess it’s that classic conservative idea that if you teach the kids about different drugs and the various effects, they’ll only want to try them more. Actually drug education kind of made me want to try cocaine when I was 14, but I couldn’t raise the cash and wizz fizz was cheaper.
Having thus exposed myself, let’s talk about sex. This was where the conversation – with my friend from the beginning of this story who’s been somewhat sidelined man I need some wizz fizz – really got interesting. Firstly – my friend learned about the science of reproduction at school but didn’t learn about the physics and the physical side until university! We’ll unpack the ramifications of that in a second. Apparently the Korean teens – bodies bursting with exciting new hormones and physical changes – are shown videos of sperm hitting the egg, and the process thereafter. And that’s it. Pure science without a physical or emotional context. Imagine being shown that video at the ripe and horny age of 14. Surely the living, breathing definition of ‘this raises more questions than it answers.’ I mean, where and how does the miraculous sperm and egg dance take place? In a cup? In a government silo down in Daejeon? And where does the sperm come from – Family Mart (a 7/11 style convenience store, not a sperm bank franchise)?
I can’t believe a Korean could grow up without knowing anything about sex until university. Apparently parents don’t tell their kids anything about it. This is a deeply conservative culture after all, and parent-child relationships in Korea (and a lot of other places) work in a way where parents don’t want to talk about this kind of stuff, and kids just can’t ask questions about it.
So what for most of us was an awkward yet informative walk around the backyard with Mum and Dad when we were 11, becomes for many Koreans a fascinating first year university conversation with that worldly friend who’s watched a heck of a lot of porn. That’s potentially a generation of Koreans who believe sex requires stilted, scripted conversations, unrealistic scenarios and a big moustache.
I find the whole thing fascinating. But with so much ignorance and secrecy about sex, the obvious negatives arise. Ill-equipped for the wonderful, ugly world of close relationships with the opposite sex, what terrible mistakes might these kids make? And what do the poor girls do when the unthinkable does happen, and they fall pregnant in a world where teenage pregnancy is a voiceless shame, a burning, abortive secret. When your school gives you useless abstract science and you can’t even ask your parents for the truth about sex, how can you come home and tell them you’re pregnant? I’ve heard stories about what happens – we all have – and it breaks your heart.
This is what I call getting under the skin – learning about another culture in ways you just can’t while traveling. Sometimes you get a gem like this, a fascinating, funny and saddening lesson that people here think and act so differently when it comes to something as important as sex and educating young people. I’m not saying my culture is superior – how much higher is the crime rate in Sydney? But I’m thinking forward to the day when I’m walking in the backyard with my son, having that awkward conversation. Awkward, and so very important.
Here’s a real article with statistics and research. Smug bastards – http://thegrandnarrative.com/2010/02/01/sex-education-south-korea/