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Out and Proud in Korea

Out and Proud in Korea

Growing up in a very conservative Christian, very controlling home meant often hearing how revolting my parents (my mother specifically) found homosexuality. Any signs of homosexuality—whether it was from people or bumper stickers—always brought a disgusted sound and remark from my mom. I went to a small, private Christian university and didn’t realize I was gay until age 22. Because of this, I planned on being celibate for the rest of my life. I came out to my mom, my siblings, and a few close friends soon after, but kept it to a few, unless it came up in conversation with people I trusted.

It wasn’t until I came to Korea, ironically enough, that I really started living out. After a few years here, I left Christianity and started dating. I hadn’t dated anyone before, I hadn’t been kissed before, and I most certainly had never had sex before. For the first few months, I felt out of place. I can’t tell you how many guys saw me as a freak for being 25 and a virgin. It was maddening because I just wanted to find someone and no one was giving me a chance. Not to mention that I live in a country that is obsessed with image and a long-haired, hairy, fat guy was just not what anyone in or around my city was looking for (plus the whole virginity thing). I have received messages during my time here asking me to shave my body hair for a hook-up (That’s way too much work!) or telling me that I would look better without a beard and with short hair (gurl, bye).

No

It wasn’t until I went to Singapore for a short vacation that I met this amazing guy who was not only super fine but also didn’t look at me like I was a freak for never having been kissed before. We spent every day of my vacation together. The third day I was there, he took me to my first gay bar. It was amazing being there and being able to kiss and talk in a safe place. I remember a lot of things about that night and of being with him for that week. He was my first—in every sense of the word. We were sort of together for a year and he even came to visit me in Korea. Those two weeks that I spent with him were two of the best weeks I have ever had. He had his flaws and our whatever-it-was had its flaws, but he taught me that I am someone who others can be attracted to.

It was another year before I got into the gay scene in Seoul. I went to a few events where I met some amazing people and started hanging out more often in the city than I ever had before. Every queer event that I attended brought me new friends. I had only spent a little time up there because I live an hour south in Cheonan, which is close enough to visit, but far enough away that it can be annoying.

A photo posted by Nick Holmes (@nickthehottie) on

Arriving at my first Korean pride festival in 2015 was pretty intense. When we (some friends and I up from Cheonan) got to the event, the borders were surrounded by anti-LGBT “Christian” groups protesting. They were dancing, singing, shouting condemnation, crying, praying, and holding numerous signs telling us how wrong homosexuality is. Once I entered the area, though, it all melted away. There was so much love. My favorite part of the whole day was marching in the parade. It was one of the most empowering and inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of. Just days before pride, SCOTUS ruled that same-sex marriage was legal all across the US. It was so great to see how far sexual minorities have come in both Korea and the United States.

This year’s pride event was also amazing. The protesters seemed to be less in number and volume. There were still a few points around the outside where they were holding signs of hatred in Korean while spewing words of “love” in English. I spent the day with some friends drinking, walking around to some of the booths, getting free stuff, dancing, and getting rained on. I thought the rain would deter people from coming, but the square in front of city hall was packed by the time they started directing people out onto the streets for the parade. We marched around downtown Seoul (same as last year). People were holding signs, dancing, drinking, and being merry. The crowds watching the procession had varying responses. Many were joining in the celebration, some were crying/wailing/praying, others were calling down damnation, and the rest just watched in confusion.

Pride 2016

It wasn’t until last year that I realized how important pride events are. Queer rights in Korea are basically non-existent. This country has such a long way to go to get where they need to be when it comes to human rights—but I have seen some changes. It’s been wonderful watching those of the younger generations embrace their queer friends. A really good friend of mine, who is getting married to another dear friend and moving to the US, came out to all of his friends and they were all accepting of who he is and who he loves. Another friend and I just threw him a bachelor party with all of his best friends and we all had a blast together.

As a gay foreigner in this country, I have it so much easier than my gay Korean friends. I’m out to everyone I spend my time around here—Korean or foreign. I have a great support system among the friends I’ve made here and have even been able to come out to a few coworkers over the years.

In order for Korea to move forward, more Koreans need to lead that charge. I understand the hesitation to come out, though. Queer Koreans with enough courage and strength to come out to their friends and family face ridicule, exclusion, and being forced out of their homes. I feel like this is a Catch 22 (is that the right phrase?) because things won’t start changing until there are more visible queer people here, but, for Koreans, coming out can have such dire consequences.

Flag of South Korean LGBT (source: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure where I see the queer community in Korea in the future. You know that feeling when you’ve been complacent and unsure for a long time, but you just know that something is going to happen soon—for better or worse? That’s where I feel like Korea is right now in regards to queer rights. I am hoping that something wonderful will happen, but that is up to those within the community itself: those who are out of the closet and those who have yet to leave it. Both this year’s pride festival and last year’s had the highest numbers of attendees than in years past. But, there has also been a lot of pushback. May those who are fighting continue to do so, regardless of how people respond.

Thanks Nick for sharing your story. I am super honored to have you be the first person ever to guest post on my blog and so grateful to have you as a friend.

Hugs and hugs,

Peter

Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
The B in Apartment 403

The B in Apartment 403

I loved my last apartment in DC. There were some drawbacks, like my neighbors. They either talked too loud or paced back and forth nonstop or liked jumping up and down on their mattress (a.k.a. having sex). I also didn’t like being on the first floor because people walking by could see into my apartment, but it was a huge one-bedroom in a great location.

I knew to expect that the size of accommodations would most likely be much quainter in Seoul. Most schools include housing in their contracts for foreign teachers, so that means they have the power to decide where you get to stay. And, most likely, they’re going to find the cheapest possible place. When I showed up at my school one December evening after flying halfway around the world with basically no sleep, the principal took me to my apartment, which is one building away from the actual school. After taking the elevator to the fourth floor, he punched in the door code (no keys here) while I mentally repeated “Please be big. Please be big.” I can get by in a lot of living situations, but I need to have space to move around. At my DC apartment, I could alternate laying in my bed, lounging on the couch, or sitting at my dining room table. I appreciate being able to feel like I’m different places without leaving my home or having to put on pants.

from Etsy

But, when the door swung open and I stepped into my apartment for the first time, I had to quickly face the fact that this place was tiny and I would just have to suck it up while I’m here. No one explained how the heat or hot water worked, and the apartment was as barebones as possible. No plates, no utensils, not even a pair of wooden chopsticks. So my first few days in Seoul were spent trying to figure out where to buy things for my apartment with no understanding of the Korean language. I survived on plastic plates and forks for a decent amount of time until Big Sis Melanie could hook me up with some metal utensils.

In the six months I’ve lived in this building, I still do not know a lot of things. I’ve never met my neighbors and I just learned that I have a gas bill and that I’m supposed to pay it every month. However, I do know that I live in apartment 403. Four is an unlucky number in Korea (and other East Asian countries) because the same character for “four” in Chinese is very similar to the character for “death”. A lot of places don’t even have fourth floors or they put “F” instead of “4” on elevator buttons.

from “25 Ways to be Lucky and Unlucky the Korea Way”

And I live on the fourth floor. So, I was cursed from the start.

Let’s start with the bed. Korean beds don’t typically come with sheets; they just use multiple quilts. But, I wanted sheets because they are easier to clean regularly. No sheets fit this bed though! I think it must be a twin XL or something. I had my mom bring some old twin sheets when she visited. They too small! And I can feel every crease in that mattress. No thank you. Miss you, queen size pillowtop.

The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.
The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.

My contract says that my apartment will be furnished with a “table and chairs”. This is what I got. A TV tray table. It also came with a shitty office chair that I hated, so I replaced it with this dining room chair that I found on the street. Major improvement.

The bed and this chair are the only places to sit in this apartment. No couch. 🙁 That also means anyone who spends the night has to sleep on the floor. So far, that’s been Nick and me when my sister spent the night.

My desk/dining room table/couch
My desk/dining room table/couch. Cute wall though.

If you turn around, you’re in my kitchen/laundry room. It comes complete with a “stove” on top of the washing machine and a fridge that can’t figure out whether it’s a minifridge or a regular-sized fridge.

My kitchen/laundry room complete with baby fridge

There was a TV in my apartment, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work and I watch TV on my computer anyway, so I put it in “storage”.

Such a great use of space
Such a great use of space

My bathroom’s decently sized, but the downfall of that is that I don’t have a closed-off shower area. I just have a showerhead on the wall. I’m fine with that. I’ve used them before, especially when I lived in Turkey. But, it just sucks having one with a big bathroom because everything gets wet when I shower.

Where isn't the shower?
Where isn’t the shower?

So, my apartment’s pretty small. I can’t do yoga on the floor space without bumping into some piece of furniture. But, it’s been home enough and it’s free. I’ve further supplemented my meager furnishings with a cow print table, a nightstand, and some artwork, all of which I found on the street.

How much do you think this would get at Sotheby's?
How much do you think this would get at Sotheby’s?

So me disliking my apartment makes it extra fun to visit my sister’s apartment. The U.S. military apparently values its employees more than my private English academy does. Melanie has three bedrooms. My apartment IS the bedroom…and the kitchen and living room, etc. You can actually walk around the place and there is fast internet. Much better than my ethernet connection.

I can’t believe it’s already been six months since I moved into my place. But, not for much longer. Next month, I will no longer be the B—- in Apartment 403.

via GIPHY

Mamma Mia in Korea

Mamma Mia in Korea

Carol Ann is a workaholic and not one to stray far from her daily routine. After 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, my mom now works at the Pentagon as a certified bad bitch.

However, my parents and little sister live about 80 miles away from my mom’s work meaning she commutes over 150 miles each day round trip. Between waking up at 3:30 a.m., sitting in a vanpool for 2-4 hours a day depending on traffic, working, and falling asleep in the recliner during Jeopardy, my mom has a pretty tight schedule. Because of this, I didn’t have high hopes that she would make it to Korea despite her initial promise of visiting my older sister and me.

I’ve had a handful of international adventures from high school until now and my mom has made a decent effort to try and visit me, at least during the important times. She came to my high school graduation in Costa Rica and my college graduation in Oklahoma.

She never made it to Israel, Turkey, or Armenia though. I was the most bummed about her not coming to Turkey since she had lived there before. But I had to accept that my mom is a busy lady and uses her vacation days to take my little sister to the orthodontist and catch up on her crochet projects.

As soon as I knew my work schedule here in Korea, I told my mom. Every weekend when I’d call her, she would promise to look for a ticket soon. After about a month of this and still no ticket, I had pretty much decided that she wasn’t coming. I was disappointed because I thought it would be fun for her, my sister, and me to have an international adventure.

One day I woke up and found two surprising emails: one was from a Huffington Post editor about a story I had pitched (published here) and the other was my mom’s itinerary for her trip to Korea. Exciting! But, we only had about three weeks until her arrival.

My sister and I worked together to plan our time with Carol Ann and made sure to eat at places that fit my mom’s restrictive diet of highly processed foods and no vegetables.

First, we both met my mom at the airport.

Carol Ann loves a deal so visiting Korea is see one child, get to see another one for free.

A post shared by Peter Jones (@pitajones) on

Then she stayed with my sister for a few days because I had to work. Melanie kept me updated on how things were going.

Then we traded off and my mom came up to Seoul to spend time with me.

We checked a lot of things off of my Seoul bucket list, one of which was buying and mastering a selfie stick. My mom is not the biggest fan of walking but always complied with my plans. She constantly had me check the pedometer on my phone to see how far we’d gone. Our busiest day was about 25,000 steps and close to 11 miles.

Carol Ann in Korea
Resting her feet

The highlight of the trip for me was the DMZ tour we went on. My sister had organized it through the base. I didn’t like having to wake up early but I would recommend it to anyone living in or just visiting Korea. We went to observation points where we could glimpse North Korea from across the border. We also were able to walk more than 1,000 meters down an underground tunnel dug by the North Koreans.

My favorite part was going to the Dorasan train station. It is the last station in South Korea and many Koreans hope that the line will be extended to North Korea when the Korean peninsula as a whole is reunited. I love train travel, and it’s so interesting to think that one day in the future it could be possible to travel all the way from mainland Europe to South Korea by land.

I also liked going to the Joint Security Area (JSA), a very recognizable spot in the DMZ. Conan O’Brien even stopped there on his recent tour of South Korea. We were able to technically cross the border into North Korea inside the conference room used for past negotiations. Here’s a picture of Melanie and my mom in NK.

But the other tourists in our group were complete dumbos who just stood in the way. So, by the time I was ready for my pic, we were told that time was up and we had to leave.

#clusterfuck
#clusterfuck

The next day was Mother’s Day and we celebrated by…

And just like that, our trip was over. I had to go back to Seoul to work and my mom had to catch her flight back to the U.S. It was a great trip and I’m so happy that the three of us now have many more fun memories together.

But I miss my mom.

Hating Gay Dating: Korea Edition

Hating Gay Dating: Korea Edition

Dating sucks. It sucks everywhere. Having a more active love life is something that I see as a to-do item that I just keep putting aside. Many moons have passed and I still haven’t gotten around to making any progress in the dating department. I’m pretty independent at this point, so it’s cool for now. But, I constantly romanticize that I’ll eventually find the right person and everything will just fall into place with my love life.

I’ve used dating websites and apps for a while now. I much prefer meeting people organically in real life situations like parties or through mutual friends. But, when I came to Korea, I didn’t have any friends. So, I decided to try online dating once again. My sister had recommended Tinder as a way to meet friends and that’s what I did at first. My first Tinder meeting turned out to be one of the best things I could have done. I met my great friend Nick through it. On top of Tinder, I downloaded Jack’d (pronounced “Jack Dee” here) because I heard it’s the most popular gay app in Korea. It’s basically Grindr. I’ve also kept my OKCupid profile current even though not many people use it here.

I was pretty insistent on my profiles that I only was looking for friends and dates, not hookups. I thought I could meet other expats living in Korea or even Koreans who could help show me around and teach me about life in Korea. After many hours of meticulous research, I would like to share with you the things I have learned about gay dating in Korea so far. (Please cite me in all academic papers.)

1. Profile pics can be…unusual.

He allegedly has a “little big dick”. Is it little or is it big? I’ll never know.

2. Some guys are very secretive.

Being openly gay is not accepted here pretty much at all. There’s no anti-discrimination laws preventing you from being fired if you’re gay (is this the United States?), which forces many guys to avoid showing their faces on apps.

So you see a lot of profile pictures like this:

#blairwitchproject

Some guys get more creative:

This guy seems looks like the perfect match for me. And he’s only looking for friends just like me!

3. Like anywhere, chatting can be difficult.

And the language barrier adds more to that. This guy starting a conversation with me just by unlocking pictures of his dick.

4. Guys can be super impatient.

I couldn’t forget the first time I got called an asshole here. Because I didn’t respond to this guy in seven minutes, he sent me (in my opinion) a very passive aggressive message, which I was not in the mood for. And of course, like Azaelia Banks, I’m never going to shy away from calling a bitch out on social media.

5. Guys can be super intense.

I replied “What the fuck?” to this guy and then he blocked me.

And here’s one of the scariest guys I’ve met through dating apps here in Korea. “Patrick” and I first matched on Tinder. Our conversation was pretty tame to start off. Things seemed promising.

 

One Tuesday or Wednesday, he asked me if I wanted to go ice skating that weekend. I had tentative plans with my sister and he lives pretty far away, so I didn’t respond immediately. I also didn’t want to explain why I couldn’t commit to his plan because I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to go all the way across the city to meet this guy. I didn’t really know much about him. Then I started getting passive aggressive messages (this seems to be a theme here) like “I guess we won’t hang out this weekend.” “I guess we won’t ever meet…” Stuff like that. I told him he was acting very dramatic. He sent a series of utterly crazy messages that I wish I could have screenshot before he unmatched with me. He did however find me on OKCupid and wrote this rant about some (maybe imaginary) Americans who told him that I wouldn’t be a good friend blablabla.

Please notice what tabs I had open.

So, bye Patrick. I will not be your Spongebob.

I met someone a few weeks ago who showed me Patrick’s picture on his phone and warned me about him, which confirmed my suspicions. Apparently, Patrick was making fake profiles using this guy’s pictures. That’s some Catfish shit and I’m not into it.

So, no love life to speak of here in Korea. Carry on posting your couples pics on Facebook and sending me  your wedding invitations.

Not Quite

Not Quite

I kind of expected Engrish to be widespread before I came to Korea. I understand that English is not everyone’s first language, and I don’t expect everyone to speak it perfectly. But, I do think that the internet has helped the world become more connected, so you can find practically any service online. A translator, a proofreader, someone? Nope, despite having tens of thousands of native English speaking teachers (like me) and U.S. military personnel (like my sister) living in the country, there are still plenty of professionally printed and circulated signs, websites, and products that have bad English on them. (Could you ask one of us for help?) But, even more often than that, I find things that are either funny when translated into English, funny to me for other reasons, or just inappropriate for their target audience.

Here’s a list of things that I’ve seen firsthand:

Yum, I’m on the cheese sand diet.

 

Someone had to say this is a bad name for a store.

 

This is such a little mistake, but it drives me nuts.

 

We won’t reach it, but we’ll rich it.

 

This is a pack of wet wipes. Like, what?
This is a pack of wet wipes. Like, what?

 

Not grammatically incorrect, just non-sensical
Not grammatically incorrect, just non-sensical. Why is this a store name?

 

Again not wrong, but I just don't understand. I'm sure my mom would want to take me here.
Again not wrong, but I don’t understand. I’m sure my mom would want to take me here.

 

This was given to me as my lesson plan. So glad my job is helping me shape young minds.
This was given to me as my lesson plan. So glad my job is helping me shape young minds.

 

I thought of a different kind of O-Ring first.

 

This is just a funny(?) piece of art that I saw.

 

Rehoboth's the beach all the DC gays go to. Can't escape their influence.
Rehoboth’s the beach all the DC gays go to. But, there’s no beach in Seoul and gays are definitely not as welcome here as in DC.

 

Bonus:

I went to get my hair cut for the first time since I moved here. I scoured forums for the places foreigners have had the most luck. I didn’t think my hair was that different from Korean hair but apparently I was wrong. I could have gone to a local barber, but I figured that was too risky. Also, places with two barber poles signify brothels, and I really didn’t want any “extra services”. So, I found a chain of salons that some foreigners recommended. I even brought pictures of the style I wanted so that English wasn’t a requirement.

Nothing dramatic, but less ghetto
Nothing dramatic, but less ghetto

 

Here’s what I got:

Girl, no.
Girl, no.

The higher the hair, the closer to God I guess. It wasn’t the best cut of my life, but I got an awesome shampoo and head massage, so it was worth it.

The Exercist

The Exercist

Of all the things that I anticipated missing from America, I didn’t think that being fit would be one of them. Since I was plopped in my apartment in Seoul two months ago with no help from my school on adjusting to basic life (like advice on where to go to the grocery store, what’s the closest subway station, how I can make my bathroom stop smelling like cigarette smoke and vienna sausages), I had gotten super out of shape. And I felt bloated and constipated all the time. Looking back now, it was silly of me to think that my work would help me find a gym. Nope. Despite putting out lots of feelers and asking questions, I got nothing. It was super cold outside though, and I figured that I could get by doing the 7 Minute Workout app and some yoga videos in my apartment every once in a while.

I eventually realized that this wasn’t going to cut it. I noticed a significant change in my body composition and I didn’t like it. So, a gym membership was a must if I was going to avoid gaining a Buddha belly. There are forums for expats that I scoured looking for some foreigner-friendly gym that would hopefully be nearby. I found multiple Crossfit gyms that were only a short bus or subway ride away. But, I was shocked by the cost of a monthly membership at these places. The prices were comparable to those of “boxes” in DC, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. The class times didn’t really line up with my schedule either. I know in theory I could wake up early and go to Crossfit before I go to work at 1 p.m., but I know this is unlikely to happen in reality.

Two months worth of walking the streets of my neighborhood helped me realize that there were two second floor gyms super close to both my apartment and my work. One morning, I finally decided to scope these places out by myself. I was nervous because I expected no one at either place to speak English and I know nothing about discussing gym memberships in Korean. The first gym was closed, I think permanently. The second place was cheap (about $20 a month with a four-month membership) but it was really cramped and dusty. And it looked like they didn’t even have one complete weight set.

I walked out of the second gym feeling super defeated and sad (I was missing those exercise endorphins). I just wanted to work out. Was this my only option? I vowed to wander the streets everyday until I found a promising gym. A few minutes into my walk of self pity, I saw a sign that looked promising right next to an Outback Steakhouse. I followed it into the building basement where a very nice Korean guy helped me. He didn’t speak much English, but he grabbed two random people from the gym to explain the membership process to me. I came back the next day and bought a four-month membership for about $40 a month.

As part of my membership, I apparently got two free personal training sessions. I was told it was just an orientation, so I was confused when I showed up after work and got a full body composition scan complete with a polite lecture about how I should gain more muscle. “Nick”, my personal trainer according to his name tag, was super cute and did speak great English. However, I think I would have preferred an ugly person telling me to work out more.

Nick was really nice about helping me my first few times at the gym. Although I had done weight training in high school (believe it or not), he walked me through the free weight exercises and gave me pointers on how to improve. He knew a lot of body terminology although he did say “niffle” (for nipple) and “scaffula” (for scapula). Typical Korean-English mistakes, but that made him that much more endearing. He even helped me bench press one time after I had used up my two PT sessions, but I think that was more embarrassing than anything.

It’s now been about a week and a half since I’ve joined the gym. I’ve been a handful of times and things are going really well so far. Here are some things that I learned about Korean gym etiquette, which is different than my experience in the American fitness world:

  1. Koreans lack the same personal bubble that I am used to back home, and the gym is just one example of this. Nick was very up in my business while helping me. When I was bench pressing and he was spotting me, his thighs were basically squeezing my temples. And I’m 1000% ok with that. You know, cultural immersion and all. 
  2. A lot of gyms in Korea provide clothes for you wear when you work out. It might be gross to some people to wear public property clothing, but it saves me from having to do more laundry or bring more stuff to the gym. They do smell really strongly of bleach though.

    Here's what the clothes at my gym look like.
    Here’s what the clothes at my gym look like.
  3. ^^Do you see that guy walking behind me?^^ Do you see what’s on his feet? Ok, that brings me to my third point: Korean people sometimes work out in flip flops. Around those heavy weights? No thank you.

    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
  4. Everyone gets 100% nake nake in the locker rooms. And they don’t just get undressed and hide behind a towel right away. Their towels are the size of washcloths, so that’s not really an option. But, Koreans overall just seem to be way more comfortable being naked. They stand in front of the mirror and blow dry their hair for like 10 minutes naked, and no one cares. I love that. (I also love the way their blowdryers make my hair look). Sure, I’ve learned a lot about Korean anatomy (which I will cover in a later post about my first experience at a Korean bathhouse), but I also just feel confident that no one is looking at my body. And if they are, it’s because they’ve never seen a dick as pink as mine. 

So, I love how my quest to find a gym finally worked out. I love the body confidence of Korean guys. It doesn’t hurt that my gym’s close to a university so a lot of the guys are young and attractive. Many of them are also in good shape too. Thanks mandatory Korean military service!

Here are some more pics of JFIT Korea:

It’s no VIDA, but I think that’s probably a blessing.