In the Army, I've had plenty of exposure to the behaviors and sometimes thoughts of hundreds of mostly 20-something Korean men. I guess you can't help it if you live with them 24/7. One of the more interesting observations was the relationship between Korean guys and sex/women. Of course people are people and everybody is different in someway. Not everybody is like how I'll describe. But this experience also opened my eyes to some tendencies and general mentality of people as well. Things like...
K-Pop Girl Groups are Glorified Strippers
This may not come as a surprise to those who follow K-Pop or read James Turnbull's excellent blog, The Grand Narrative, as it's no secret that many female (and male) musicians and celebrities use their sexuality to sell themselves. In K-Pop, this issue may be more complicated than it appears initially. Anyway, the realization didn't really hit me until sometime during my service. I knew Korean guys, especially sexually deprived conscripts, liked female celebrities (duh, right?), but I didn't know how bad that affection was. I learned that Korean conscripts in general are obsessed with K-Pop girl groups, in particular Girls' Generation. By obsessed, I mean really obsessed. A good example of this is rapper Psy's description of his military service.
In this show, Psy says he was made to stand guard while watching the TV so he could alert senior conscripts that Girls' Generation was on it. While it wasn't that extreme in my unit, it was quite normal to see guys flock to the TV whenever GG or other good looking female celebrities were on air. Every Friday and Saturday, when the major networks have those "music" shows parading group after group, entire units would stay glued to the TV. Guys would watch the same music video or performance repeatedly so they could oggle at the girls. Their bare legs exposed, sexy dancing, and terrible music (not a secret among conscripts either), it was pretty obvious there was only one reason for these "musicians" to exist. These girls are glorified strippers, covered in the thin veil of "music" so it doesn't seem as creepy and sad as going to a strip club. For conscripts, it's usually the only form of sexual gratification they're allowed while on base.
The TV in my squad's living quarters was better though.
Prostitution is Kind of...Normal
I don't mean guys would sell their bodies on base. That'd be disgusting. What I meant was that going to visit prostitutes while on leave is normal. This probably applies to civilians as well. According to this article, 4 out of 10 Korean men have visited prostitutes last year. I can't find the article, but I also remember reading how a large portion of Korean men lose their virginity to prostitutes, especially during military service. Prostitution is a hidden yet an important part of Korean society. However, I never really knew how prevalent it was.
It wasn't uncommon to hear guys talk about the brothel they visited after returning from leave or discuss which ones they should visit before leave. What was interesting to me was how nonchalantly the matter was discussed. It wasn't some secret or an act they're ashamed of; it was rather normal. It was just something you did since you're a guy. Some guys would ask me if I ever went to one, and when I'd answer no, they would act mildly surprised.
While I'm not against prostitution myself (I think it should be legalized), it was and is still technically illegal in this country and soldiers doing illegal shit isn't something the military wants. Our commander would form us up and hold regular lectures on the dangers of prostitution. One of my COs informed us of the risk of diseases and the illegality of it. But knowing how prevalent it is, he concluded, "If you're going to pay for sex, don't use your card since it can get traced back to you!"
If a guy wants to get fucked by a hooker, that's his business, but I found it weird that how many young guys in their twenties considered it one of their go-to activities. Do they even have the money for it?
Cheating is Normal Too Apparently
This may or may not come as a surprise, but cheating on your significant other was dealt with similarly to prostitution. Next to prostitutes, the other most popular topic of leave (food and video games came next) was meeting girls. This would be normal except even guys with girlfriends indulged in this particular pastime. Guys would talk about how they went drinking with a girl and tried to get into her pants and their girlfriend wasn't there. Visiting hookers while being romantically involved isn't strange either.
I was actually exposed to this mentality before my entry to the military. In the company I briefly worked at, I was shocked the first time a married coworker in his thirties asked our boss for the company card so he and some of the other guys could go to a room salon during one of the company 회식s. The guy also egged me to go and when I refused, he asked me if I didn't like women, and when I said I have a girlfriend, he punched me in the chest, which he promptly apologized for when he remembered that I consider trading punches a fun activity. What equally surprised me was that our boss (a woman, if it makes any difference) didn't seem particularly disgusted by the guy despite knowing he was married.
So I assumed this sort of behavior was normal among older Korean guys, but I did not expect it in guys my age and younger. Once again, cheating on your significant other is your business, but it is still a shitty thing to do. Shittier than a single guy going to a brothel in my opinion. But that's my opinion. I noted how normal it seemed to everybody else and moved on.
White Chicks Are a Special Prize
The sexuality of white women in Korea is probably a well-discussed topic on the internet among expats in Korea. There's probably some debate over how much Korean guys want to bang a white chick or how white girls are considered "trophies." I don't think this is really a matter of debate as the seeming abundance of prostitution establishments specializing in "white horses" and internet posts asking "Where can I ride a white horse" attest.
Here are a few of my military experiences that served to confirm what I already suspected. One of the most common things new guys get asked when they first arrive at their unit is their sexual and romantic history. Since I lived in the States, it was almost expected when they went, "OMG! Did you date a white girl? How was it? Was it good?" Yes, I did date a white American girl during my time in the US. I must've hit the jackpot because I soon became known as "the guy who rode a white horse." Later, guys whom I have never met before would come up to me and remark, "Hey, you fucked a white girl didn't you?" Okaaay...
One of my seniors in my platoon was an expert on prostitution in Korea. The guy was a sad loser who gained his knowledge via first-hand experience. Lots of first-hand experience. Dude once talked about the time he went to a Russian prostitute like it was an accomplishment.
Superstar K, an American Idol type show, was very popular. There was a Korean-American contestant name John Park who was accompanied by a white girl during his audition. When he and the girl hugged, the guys watching the TV went, "Whoaa. Lucky bastard." This seemed to be a common response to any form of intimacy between an Asian guy and a white girl.
I've heard guys proclaim their wish to "ride a white horse" or wonder what a white girl feels like more than I can count.
This isn't really related to the topic, but once during visitation hours, I saw a white girl on base to visit what I'm assuming was her conscript boyfriend. It was memorable because everybody was glancing at her and you could totally tell they were thinking, "Look, a foreigner. What's she doing here?"
Marriage is Cool
This was a very interesting observation. It didn't seem as common as the aforementioned prostitution and cheating, but it offers a strange contrast. Especially considering some of them were the same people. On one hand cheating and fucking hookers is normal and on the other, getting married is an important goal in life.
I found it intriguing how guys in their twenties would express their desire to settle down. Watching a TV drama about marriage, some guys would exclaim, "Damn I wanna get married." They reminded me of young girls in the States day dreaming about their wedding and infatuated with fantasies of living happily ever after.
I don't know what else to add to this other than wonder why this is. At an age where sleeping around as a much as possible is biologically wired into them, and in a society where prostitution is illegal yet accepted, getting married is a desire for these guys. Is it because they're indoctrinated? I'm not sure what these guys thought went down in marriage either. Do they consider the hows and whys? What purpose are they after in getting married?
Maybe nobody bothered to share such thoughts with me but it should be noted that the military is a place where seniors use their juniors as sort of vessels to pour their thoughts and opinions on. And the lower ranking guys would have no choice but to listen.
In conclusion, the observations I've made were interesting. To me anyway. I'll add more if I think of any but I think this is pretty much it.