Recently it was announced that Haeundae beach of the beautiful coastal city of Busan, Korea is going to implement some “zoning” features this summer. Specifically, a “Korean” zone, a “kids” zone, a “foreigner” zone, and a “Chinese” zone. (Click here to read Busan Haps’ article on the subject).
Upon hearing about this, reactions in the media became (understandably) heated.
While there are those claiming to have done research about the new policy, saying that the zones are rather “themed” instead of discriminating (ex. there are swimming lessons in the kids zone, tanning spaces in the foreigner zone, and sand sculptures in the Chinese zone), the fact still remains that it is segregation based on race. Once again, Korea is obliviously racist.
Now, I don’t mean to make this more inflammatory than it warrants, but the topic of xenophobia in Korea is one that I’ve been struggling with for a while now. To read my more in-depth post about it, click here.
The way I see it is that the bottom line here is another issue of “us and them”. Korea is shockingly and embarrassingly unaware that it’s enacting its own apartheid. There are Koreans, and then there’s everyone else. And then the Chinese, apparently, because they’re a category unto themselves. Korean culture does not recognize why it’s inappropriate to separate, single out, and generally call attention to differences between races, and that is a fundamental problem.
Those in charge of the changes have tried to justify the Korean vs. foreigner sections by saying that foreigners don’t like all the sun parasols blocking up the beach, so their section is going to be umbrella-free. If this is the case, however, then instead of calling it a “foreigner zone”, it should have been named an “umbrella-free zone”. Such a simple change would make all the difference. Instead, it becomes a matter of race division instead of sun preference.
Now again, I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but the number of times this happens is astounding and enraging; hearing about this particular instance for the first time certainly made my own hackles bristle. It’s indescribably frustrating to live in a country where there is so much blatant racism that it’s made invisible by being the norm. I, like so many other expats living here, am indignant and want change, but how does one do that when a problem isn’t even recognized as being present?
And what about the fact that races are divided into “Koreans”, “foreigners”, and “Chinese”? I don’t even know how to start addressing how they make racial divides. All I can say is that the logic behind it is nothing more or less than Othering.
While I don’t see this situation becoming strictly implemented in the sense that non-Korean beach-goers will be stopped from going into the Korean or Chinese sections or vice versa (just imagine them trying to stop a Korean-American going into the “foreigner” zone), the mentality behind this will always be wrong.
I’m really disappointed in Korea that something as harmless as zoning a beach has been turned into something ugly.
Though I’ve been mostly silent in the past about these kinds of things, I’ve decided no more. No more will I protect them by classifying such actions as cultural ignorance and keeping quiet. The only way to combat this is through exposure; perhaps if enough people speak out in disgust, they might start noticing the impact their actions have.