Ovi -
we cover every issue
Μονοπάτι της Εκεχειρίας  
Ovi Bookshop - Free Ebook
Join Ovi in Facebook
Ovi Language
George Kalatzis - A Family Story 1924-1967
Stop violence against women
Murray Hunter: Opportunity, Strategy and Entrepreneurship
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
BBC News :   - 
iBite :   - 
Cultural overview: Northeast Asia Cultural overview: Northeast Asia
by Joseph Gatt
2020-02-14 08:54:11
Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author
DeliciousRedditFacebookDigg! StumbleUpon

Nations and territories discussed here are China, North and South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong SAR. Sweeping generalizations about those nations, as each territory or individual is different.


Two things. First one is, in most countries, people don't pay attention to details. Northeast Asians however have an eye for every detail. For example, in the room I am currently based in, there is wire tangled up, some of the paint work spills over the windows, the internet modem is reverse, there are a few books in disorder, some books are upside down, and there are a few cracks on the walls. Who the hell would pay attention to those things right? Well Northeast Asians do.

noreas01_400That is they will notice every single defect in your car, in your food, in the architecture and design of your house, and every mistake will be noticed. HOWEVER, that does not make Northeast Asians not prone to making mistakes. Lack of skills, lack of dexterity, and very poor communication often leads to huge mistakes, multi-million dollar mistakes in some cases.

Second thing. If you're dealing with Northeast Asians, be it in business, in politics, in a relationship, in friendship, the best advice I can give is to never reveal to them what your end-game is. If you're a BA student and reveal that your end-game is to become a professor, they will find ways to make you drop-out of your BA. If you're a business and your end-game is to be present in all major cities, they will calculate a way to get you to go out of business. If you're in a relationship with a Northeast Asian woman and that your end-game is to start a family-owned restaurant, your wife is going to find a job in real estate before you even open that restaurant.

What do Northeast Asians do? They never reveal plans. They announce their plans five minutes before the plans are executed. Business is about to open a franchise in LA? The team will find out the very day the franchise opens. Husband about to open a family restaurant? He'll rent the property, buy all the furniture and ingredients, register the business, and tell his wife he “needs help in the kitchen” the very day the restaurant opens. 


East Asia doesn't have an English problem. Here's the problem. Most Northeast Asians have one or two close friends in life they open up to, and rarely, if ever, open up to anyone else.

Here's how it works. Most Northeast Asians have something like 4 or 5 friends from school, 4 or 5 friends from college, and 1 or 2 close friends they met in life, maybe 3 or 4 family members they open up to and share everything with. Anyone else they meet, they will tend to be cold, silent, distant, shy, and restrained. So basically, Northeast Asians only open up to the few people they've known their entire life.

So, many speak English, in some cases French, in some rare cases German or Spanish, but here's how it works. You're going to sit down with them and they will refuse to answer your questions. They will ask you questions about your age and status at your company, and your age should be a number and the status at a company a one-word title. Say anything else and they'll cut you off. They will then ask you several yes-no questions, or things like how many brothers and sisters you have. The conversation can drag on and lead to a dead-end.

Furthermore, as I just discussed, Northeast Asians are convinced that you will use any information you have about them to sabotage them or their plans. So they will either lie about most things, or omit very crucial information.

So if you're doing business with them, make no plans, reveal no plans, and don't sign anything before you've had enough meetings with them. Problem is, if they sense you are trying to extract information and take informed decisions, they will tend to cut ties before any deal is signed. Note that most Northeast Asians rarely pick up phone calls, rarely answer emails, and, if you decide to go get them in their office, they will pretend to “be at a meeting.”

Stereotypes they have about foreigners

No matter where you come from, there are three things you will notice.

First, most Northeast Asians will believe that you don't like their food and can't eat their food. So they will tend to be overly cautious about how they treat you with food. Note that Northeast Asian nations have a lot of customs surrounding food, such as not playing with chopsticks, holding spoons and the tip end, taking larger quantities of food in the spoon than we would elsewhere, eating shrimp without removing the shell, tasting a little bit of every food. They will play with your nerves by constantly and obsessively observing your eating habits. Just to reassure you, most local individuals have their quirks when it comes to food, but Northeast Asians just like to point out “the backwardness” of foreigners when eating food. Bibi Netanyahu probably got so upset with this he served a “shoe cake” to PM Abe of Japan to highlight differences with this regard.

Second thing you'll notice are the non-verbal cues, which can offset anyone not used to them. They will cough to signal that you shouldn't say something or do something. If you don't get the cough signal they will “accidentally” throw a pen that lands on your desk or table. They will sit on your chair to signal that you should leave. In some cases they will leave a written note to signal something. Or, if they put a kitchen knife on your desk, you're in trouble. Unfortunately, most foreigners come and go without ever learning these cues.

Third thing you'll notice is they tend to expect foreigners to conform to the militarization of the company, school or social life. And foreigners will tend to be placed at the very bottom of the hierarchy. The CEO only talks to the vice president, the vice president only talks to the CEO or the senior manager, the senior manager only talks to the vice president or middle manager, the middle manager only talks to the senior manager or junior manager and so on. Foreigners are not immune to this, and there tends to be a lot of confusion over what to do when a foreigner “accidentally” talks to the CEO without going through the junior manager first.


Older people tend to greet with a grunt, and will reply “hi” or “hello” with a grunt. In some cases older people ignore greetings. Japan and Korea bow when they greet older people, and wave their hand when they greet friends or younger people.

Important cultural note. In China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, people rarely say “good morning” or “nihao” if they see each other every day. That is you will be completely ignored when you show up for school or work. In Japan and Korea, you are expected to greet elders every morning at work or school, even though in most cases they will look away as you greet. But in Japan and Korea if you don't greet (because they're constantly looking away) you could get reprimanded, even get formal warnings or pay cuts because you “forgot to greet.” Think of it as boot camp where you have to salute the general if he walks by, no matter whether the general's looking or not.

Small talk

First things first, if you have a complicated life story, East Asians will be irritated with you very quickly. In most cases, people grow up with two parents in one town, stay in their home town until college, move to a different town for college, and then get a job, and keep the job for life.

This means if you grew up with one parent, your reputation loses points. If you grew up in several cities, reputation loses more points. If you did not go to college, reputation suffers a blow. If you hopped from job to job, they will not do business with you, because they will think you are unreliable.

So you want to work on your life narrative a little bit. You want to have two parents, both parents still married and still alive. You want to have one or two brothers and sisters, the more boys in the family, the higher your reputation. You want to have been born and raised in once single city, and small town boys who moved to the big city for college get lots of good reputation points, big town boys are considered shrewd and in some cases unreliable. You want to have moved to a prestigious college in a big city like New York or LA, and you want to have started your job out of college and to have kept that job your entire life.

If this is not the story of your life, invent it, and tell it this way.


Sorry to be harsh, but having had thousands of meals in East Asia, I must say most meals are an irritating affair.

First off, Northeast Asians will treat you, as a foreigner, as someone who has never encountered their food, and even when you know what is being served, they will insist on you not knowing what is served.

Second of all, at restaurants, you will rarely be allowed to choose your own dish. A lot of times Northeast Asians won't allow you the time to choose your dish, won't explain what's on the menu, and will order for you.

Third of all, a lot of times, you will be excluded from the conversation. Either they will speak Chinese, Japanese or Korean the whole time, or, if you speak the local language, they will use codes for everything and you won't get what the conversation is about.

Fourth, the stereotype according to which “foreigners” don't like Korean, Chinese or Japanese food is still very much alive and they will keep making fun of you during the meal for eating their “Barbarian” food.

Meals at home are very rare. If you are invited at someone's home, they probably have you in mind for a big favor in the long run. For example, there was this Korean guy who invited me for dinner once and brought his son over. I was a “professor” back then and the Korean kept insisting that I hang out with his 15 year-old kid. When I dug deeper, I realized that somewhere down the road the Korean guy was probably making calculations to get me to guarantee his loan, or perhaps was trying to find ways to extract money in some way from me.

Finally, during meals, you will be asked a lot of questions. The trap is when they ask you about your assets and you tell the truth, as in “my house cost me 200,000 dollars” or “I have a million dollars in savings.” You could be kidnapped, forced to give up your savings, and the police and justice system will side with your kidnappers. What I always did was say “I come from a Communist country, I bought my house for 100 dollars, could sell it for 200 dollars, and I make 30 dollars a month. But we get free bread and free milk and we get a free chicken once a month.”

At home

In Northeast Asia, it tends to be extremely rare and unusual to invite people home, as most people hang out at restaurants.

Some colleagues or classmates could invite you home. Keep in mind that you will be expected to bow to their parents, that conversation will be heavily censored, and that your Northeast Asian friend can even dictate you things to say or can even claim you said things you never actually said.

Lavish meals will be served, but it's very likely that your friend, classmate or colleague is inviting you home either because he wants to show that he gets along with foreigners, or to show off his foreign language skills. A lot of foreigners get invited to homes around the holidays, and the idea in mind is as the extended family is present during the holidays, they want to show their extended family they have Western friends and speak foreign languages. Either way, expect a lot of phone calls during the holidays from colleagues you barely talk to, as most will be trying to show their families they speak good English.

Everyday life (hospitals, banks, the post office, pharmacies)

In China, Japan and Korea healthcare is universal, but only covers a limited number of ailments. Surgery for example tends not to be covered. Many procedures are not covered. And when I was looking at my insurance, I was like “so what the hell do you cover?” A friend of mine for example caught Chlamydia, and his insurance covered absolutely nothing, and he had to pay hefty fees.

In hospitals most doctors will not communicate, and you will have little information on what procedures are needed. Broken bones are treated in silence, and you won't be told what is being done or what needs to be done.

Banks can impose loans or credit cards, and can impose signatures in military fashion. So I suggest you only deal with banks via ATM and internet banking, which is what most people do. Otherwise you could end up yelling at clerks. Problem is clerks get bonuses if they get people to sign up for loans, credit cards, or other financial services, and tend to use very hard-sales approaches, and will guide you like a general guides his troops. So be careful. Banks are also notorious for collapsing, so you can do one of two things: either put your eggs in different baskets, or, do what my Western friends do, which is send their paycheck home.

Pharmacies tend to have very “Oriental” brands and you won't find a lot of “Western” generics. Pharmacists also often refuse to answer your questions, and will tell you to “get out” if you ask too many questions. Most grocery stores also sell generic medication. Note that doctors tend to over-prescribe medication.

The post-office system is probably the most efficient in the world. Your parcel has a number that you can track online, and you will get a text message saying the parcel has been received. Most parcels arrive within 24 hours or less. The post-office can also send your boxes home if you need to move, so for all your items under 20 kg or so, rather than hire a mover, you can use the post-office. This basically means if you're changing cities you can sell your furniture and TV, and send the rest to your new home in boxes, and it will usually cost you less than 100 dollars.

Shopping malls tend to be gigantic, and tend to display a ton of products. Quantity is valued, and East Asian shopping malls will try to display as many products as they can, even if that means leaving very little space between products.

Problem is: East Asian shop assistants tend to know very little about the products displayed. So if you ask for help, they will often claim that what you are looking for is not available rather than try to look for the product you are asking for.

For Westerners, sizes are incredibly difficult to find, as most East Asians tend to have shorter legs and smaller feet, and in the case of gloves, smaller hands. Breast size also tends to be smaller, so keep that in mind for underwear and lingerie.

For food, the diet is radically different. You won't find many “trademark” Western products like frozen French fries or frozen vegetables, and a lot of the sauces and condiments you are accustomed to in the West are not available in East Asian nations.

As for electronics, you could have trouble purchasing a phone as they won't be able to transcribe your name into Chinese characters or Kanji or Hangeul. Despite having the reputation of being the nations of electronics, some of the software or hardware you are accustomed to can be incredibly difficult to find.

Asking favors

I was once in Korea where I had 3 boxes I needed to ship a couple of blocks down the road. I went downstairs to my Korean neighbor who liked to chat with me. I asked him for a small favor: if he could drive me and my boxes to a couple of blocks down the road. He stared at me like I had just asked him to murder me or something. His face turned red and he was fuming. I took that as a “no.”

Strangely enough, back when I lived in a dorm room, I would often get phone calls at midnight, 1 AM or 2 AM with people asking me to “come to their room.” The second I entered their room, they would “force” me to proofread their English essay, which was full of typos. When I unplugged my phone after too many such requests, people would come banging to my dorm room asking for such favors.

All I can say is is careful. People in East Asia can be fuming with anger if you ask them for minor, insignificant favors. Because they believe small favors lead to bigger favors. Start by asking for a car ride down the road, soon enough you'll be asking for a million dollar loan.

On the other hand, East Asians can come up to you and shamelessly ask you for a million dollar loan with the same nonchalance they would have if they were asking to borrow a pencil. In sum, don't loan money, don't guarantee loans, don't sign any papers for other people.

Some East Asians also give in for favors without measuring the long-term consequences. An American friend of mine married to a Japanese woman had his wife almost force him to give up 200,000 Dollars (his entire life savings) to cover the debt of her uncle. How they would get that money back he had no idea, and that almost led to a divorce (she gave him the silent treatment for a month before acting like nothing happened and refusing to discuss the incident).


The nail that sticks gets pounded down. Be very careful when you brag in East Asia. People will listen politely when you brag, adding sarcastic comments like “isn't that wonderful” and “how perfect you are!”

But what you will get next is harassment and humiliation, because East Asians tend to be very jealous and strongly dislike bragging. In sum, if you want to brag, do so with your American friends. White people who speak Chinese, Japanese or Korean are often told to be quiet about that fact because speaking the local language draws too much attention, can lead to jealousy, more importantly, can lead to harassment and hazing and humiliation, in some cases, can get you fired or get you into fights. In sum, be humble, and the less you talk, the better.

Korea and China have radically different dating customs than Japan. So I'll discuss Japan first, then China and Korea.

In Japan, love is deliberately repressed as a feeling. When in love, Japanese women tend to wear white clothes (for some reason) and skirts that are deliberately very short, or either way dress provocatively. They will try to hint at the man that they want the man's attention, but the man can be very slow at picking up the signals.

If a Japanese man is in love, he'll do everything he can to repress his feelings, even if that means dropping out of school (in some very rare cases) or dropping out of the class, or asking for a change in work stations. This “trying to escape” behavior sometimes gets picked up by the woman, who sometimes eventually dates the man if she's interested.

Once a couple is dating in Japan, there are lots of awkward silences, and Japanese couples don't go on many dates. Conversation is not a big part of dating, and dating will mostly involve a night at the movie theater or at a book café to share comic books or at the theater or concert or anywhere no conversation can take place.

China and Korea. Chinese and Korean men tend to be romantic in a “kitsch” kind of way, that is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too overly sentimental. If they fall in love with a woman, they will tend to stalk her, by her all kinds of cheesy gifts, shower her with love letters, try to spend as much time with her as they can, and sing her cheesy romantic songs. The woman often has to mobilize her tribe of friends to prevent bad things from happening. By the way even when women claim to “have a boyfriend” those men tend not to back off.

Women in China and Korea can be quirky in their own way when trying to date someone. One trick they can perform is inviting the guy to a group meeting and then parting from the group with the guy and try to hold his hand and check for the reaction (which is what my ex-Korean girlfriend did). Others can take it to Facebook and hint at wanting a relationship with the guy, while others can use pretexts to invite the guy.

Now actual dating in China and Korea is actually no fun. Women tend to be aggressive with their boyfriends and men tend to be aggressive with their girlfriends. Bickering and fighting is frequent, and there tends to be a power struggle over who should do what in the couple. And despite bickering for all those years they do end up getting married.


Weddings in East Asia almost never involve dancing or any kind of music. Some can bring traditional bands to perform percussions. Why? Because General Sun Tzu said that you should turn the attention away from ugly buildings or ugly things with percussion music. So if there's an ugly building on the left, they will play percussions on the right.

So weddings involve a very short ceremony and a meal. Cash gifts are given by friends. This is one reason East Asians dislike having too many friends, because if you have too many friends, you will have to give too many wedding cash gifts. Meals vary from place to place. Some weddings serve very modest “cafeteria food” while others serve lavish buffets.

Some hold their weddings at churches while others opt for wedding halls. Wedding halls have their reputations, some have the reputation of being very expensive, especially provided they provide very little in return. Up to 100,000 dollars for a 1-hour ceremony and a buffet for 300 people.

Some marry women they have dated for years while others marry people introduced to them by matchmakers. Some couples introduced by matchmakers date, while others don't date before marriage.

Married couples will be hurried into having children, and many will have one child and stop right there. Many couples marry because they are pregnant, many other couples marry after giving birth to their child, which will often be their only child. Some rare women opt for 2 children, while others refuse to marry, or refuse to have children.

How they treat children

Children of all ages are treated with a big mixture of laissez-faire and micromanagement. Parents can be very, very authoritarian for a few days, impose all kinds of punishments, before gradually letting go of the child and allowing the child to do what they want.

Unlike North America where children are punished for breaking the rules (going out without permission, getting bad grades, getting in trouble in school) in East Asia children tend to be punished for making parents “lose face” as in public indecent behavior. Could be for example upsetting the grandfather or saying something that shames the family.

Note that children in East Asia tend to have a lot more liberties than in other places. They go to school alone, get lots of pocket money, and have some degree of freedom when setting up their schedules. However, parents tend to take education seriously, and children are often forced to attend all kinds of after school programs and private lessons to jack up their grades.

Pets and animals

Pet ownership only really started in the 1990s and exploded in the 2010s. Cats used to be hated in East Asia (a “cat” was even an insult of sorts) because cats used to be considered lazy and passive in East Asian culture, but in this day and age, many own a cat.

Dogs have become very popular and many families will own a dog. The trend started when soap operas would show rich families who owned a dog. The younger generation is showing interest in animals and the environment.


The Japanese tend to drive rather safely. But the Koreans and Chinese are notorious for not yielding, for zigzagging in and out of lanes, for racing as fast as they can to beat the red light, for refusing to yield to pedestrians, for tailgating, and for falling asleep while they are driving.

So when you drive in China and Korea, use defensive driving. View every car as a threat, be alert at all times, and use your reflexes to avoid aggressive drivers. Be on high alert at all times, and keep in mind that an accident can happen at any moment.

Also be careful of motorcycles, as motorcycles tend not to respect any traffic law. Watch out for motorcycles as you walk on the streets, as motorcycles often drive on pedestrian streets. Bicycles also use high speed on pedestrian streets, so when walking, you will have to be on high alert for bikes. I've lost count of the times I almost got hit by a bicycle at a turn. Finally, in Korea and China, pedestrians often bump rather violently into other pedestrians, and never apologize. Some older men and ladies can even throw you out of the way if you're on their way.


In Japan, China and Korea, over half the population is “not religiously affiliated” but that means they have no Church or temple affiliation, and doesn't mean they are Atheists in the Western sense.

East Asians tend to be flexible with religious affiliation. They can try their luck with Church, then visit a Buddhist temple, while finally opting out of religion. This is why religious institutions use all kinds of incentives to make Church members stay, including sometimes providing scholarships for children to go to college (lots of conditions, including recruiting several new members and engaging in all kinds of volunteer activities) or in some cases provide housing (in exchange for volunteering and recruiting new members and preaching) or in some cases jobs (in exchange for volunteering on the weekends).

Note that the stereotype among Westerners goes like “Buddhist monks are enlightened and “Zen” or super calm and wise.” But in my experience that is far, far, far from the truth. The Buddhist monks I met in Japan and Korea were rather aggressive, condescending, lacked empathy towards my boss who was desperate for help in the face of financial trouble, and the Buddhist monks I met were almost gangster-like, including when it came to asking for donations. In sum, in China, Japan and Korea, don't count on Buddhist monks to teach you life lessons.

Smoking, alcohol and recreational (legal and illegal) drugs

Japan, China and Korea are not the world leaders in smoking because few women smoke. But in terms of male smoker rates, they would rank in the top five. Note that men often change cigarette brands frequently, don't have smoking routines (like smoking for breakfast or after a meal) and smoke rather impulsively. Also note that co-workers tend to avoid smoking together, and during cigarette breaks will isolate themselves in a corner. Smoking is officially banned in pubs in Korea and Japan, but many pubs advertised as “adult pubs” are really smoker's pubs, and in many cases have no female entertainers.

China, Japan and Korea are also world leaders in alcohol consumption, and tend to gulp down as much liquor as they can and try to get drunk as fast as they can. In the last couple of years, companies have been avoiding drinking parties, mainly because their subordinates “talk too much” during drinking parties.

All recreational drugs are illegal in China, Japan and Korea. In China, Japan and Korea you are banned from entering if you were convicted of a drug crime in your home country, or in any country (Japan even barred entry to Paul McCartney, yes THE Paul McCartney, because he had a drug conviction in the UK.) Drugs can get you lengthy jail terms in Korea, China and Japan, the Chinese can go as far as the death penalty for minor drug offenses.

Death and funerals

China, Japan and Korea use a similar system. Most hospitals have funeral halls where a large portrait of the deceased is displayed at the center of the hall. The deceased's relatives greet mourners, and the ritual goes you shake hands with the deceased's relatives, then pause in front of the portrait for a minute of silence. You can either pray (Christians do the cross, Buddhists bow 16 times) or put a flower and burn incense next to the deceased's portrait.

Mourners and friends of the deceased donate money to the family (these are usually anonymous donations, that is a friend will collect donations, group the money, and wire it to the deceased's family) and will stay at the wake for a meal (often a meal containing no salt) and some mourners will drink all night, and yes, will play poker or other gambling games all night. Burials only involve the closest relatives, usually just the children and perhaps brothers and cousins and that's it. 

Social gatherings (conferences, cocktail parties etc.)

In China, Japan and Korea it's a conference here and a conference there. Every weekend and weekday has its share of conferences and cocktail parties. Conferences and cocktail parties tend to make formal attire mandatory, and tend to use formal approaches.

Quick note: some Chinese, Japanese and Koreans could “use” you to get to talk to someone else. That is they will come “talk” to you expecting a “Yellow” man to notice that and to come to their rescue. Also note that as a “White” or “Black” man your conversation partners will get stolen. Also note that a lot of people won't know what to talk about, and will repeat your conversation topics like parrots if you have interesting conversation topics. So choose your topics wisely.

K12 education system

Yes, China, Japan, Korea and Singapore are the world leaders in reading and math. But there are two problems.

First of all, the contents of the curriculum are loaded with ideology that has nothing to do with the realities on the ground. That is a lot of the curriculum is memorization, a lot of it is false and ridiculous. Kids are taught to memorize things like “the secret to a long life is kindness” and “the perfect age for happiness is 13” without being provided with sources or studies to back these facts up. Science for example is loaded with myths, and so is the local literature or languages.

Second big problem is the dismal quality of teachers. I've observed teachers, mostly female, and they are all over the place. Teachers don't plan their lessons, tend to improvise their lessons, fill the board with useless (and wrong and false) information, and teach with too much emotion. This means students have to get private tutors to catch the lesson.

Let me give you an example of a failed lesson. I was observing an English class in Korea, and the teacher was lecturing on the idea that the verb “to be” had three meanings in Korea “ida, itta, hada” and then the students were tested on which verb in the “to be” form corresponded to “ida”, which one to “itta” and which one to “hada”. Now you understand why East Asians fail their language education.

University education system

First off, in China, Japan and Korea almost everyone goes to college. Around 50 to 80% of an age class will go to college.

Second, colleges are way too bureaucratic. Registering for classes is bureaucratic, applying to get a dorm room is bureaucratic, applying to get a library card is bureaucratic, getting a seat at the library is bureaucratic, getting health insurance is bureaucratic, graduation requirements are super-uber bureaucratic.

Let's look at dorm room applications and graduation requirements. To get a dorm room in China, Japan and Korea, you usually have to provide a form, an application fee, a doctor's visit, an authorization slip from your parents (even when you're over 18!) along with high school transcripts and high school disciplinary records, several pictures, and a criminal background check, and a copy of the passport with the stamps of previously visited countries.

Think that's a schlep? Let's look at graduation requirements. You need your grade transcripts, you need the transcripts of several standardized tests (such as TOEIC or computer literacy standardized tests) along with a number of copies of your thesis, a letter from the person in charge of discipline that you have a good disciplinary record, an internship report, language examination records, graduation examination records, a letter from your supervising professor authorizing you to graduate, letters from the dorm, nurse and library making it clear that you don't owe them books or money, a letter from the cafeteria making it clear that you don't owe them money, a letter from parking authorities making it clear that you don't owe them money, and about a dozen other things.

How their elites behave

In 2014 I was getting interviewed by a local radio station. The executive producer was waiting for the elevator, and I had to get to the 5th floor. Executive producer gives me a killer stare. I was thinking whether I should ignore the stare and get on the elevator with her anyway. She keeps giving me the killer stare, and starts getting anxious. As I waited for the elevator with her she was getting really nervous. So I left the scene, let her take the elevator alone, and took the next elevator.

A female professor of mine was waiting for the bus. She asks me which bus I'm taking. I tell her I'm taking the 703 bus. She happens to be taking the same bus. She lectures me for 5 minutes about taking the number 2 bus and how I'll get home faster by taking the number 2 bus. I resist, saying the number 2 bus goes nowhere near where I'm going. She starts getting aggressive and forces me to take the number 2 bus. I retreat, let her take the 703 bus, and take the 703 bus that came after that one.

I was in the bus once. I had my seat, an old man comes to me in English and tells me “give up your seat, I'm a doctor.” I was thinking should I go like Rosa Parks, or should I pick up a fight with the guy, or should I give up my seat. I'm a coward and give up my seat. The “doctor” then tells me “stand up straight!” I took it to the front of the bus, and tried to avoid crossing paths with the “doctor” throughout the bus ride.

The Chinese, Japanese and Korean elite engages in small acts of abuse of power like these. They can refuse to pay a taxi because the taxi driver was “reckless” or they can refuse to pay the bill at the restaurant because the food “did not taste good.” They can slap a flight attendant because she was “too slow” or they can throw a glass of water on the face of a waiter because he was “not polite enough.” Very often, their elites take these abuses of power with them when they travel overseas, and expected to be acquitted because they are “powerful in their country.”


Entertainment in China, Japan and Korea is about the best you can get. Anything from classical music concerts to punk-rock concerts to movies, plays, classical theater, expositions, art galleries, museums and everything else. East Asians have museums for almost everything.

Sports are always fun to watch. Football games are very tidy and organized (but make sure you eat something before going to a game because food is not sold and you're not allowed to bring food or drinks) and basketball and baseball games are also fun to watch (mainland China does not have baseball, but in Japan, Korea and Taiwan baseball is a national sport).

There are all kinds of games you can play in East Asia, anywhere from video games to computer games to arcades to theme parks to everything else.

League sports and entertainment are huge in East Asia, and you can join pretty much any sports league or entertainment league you want. A couple of my friends who came to Korea just for a Master's degree ended up playing division 2 volleyball, and several of my friends created a soccer team that entered division 4, and the bureaucracy was very minimal.


East Asia is of course the land of technology. Most apartment doors don't use keys but electronic codes, many cars use electronic codes, and most things can be done by computer over the Internet.

Note that many, many websites demand that you enter your “national ID” number, and many, many websites are incredibly bureaucratic to get in. That is if you want to shop online, you're going to have to enter your ID, then pass all kinds of tests and enter all kinds of information before you do what you had to do: shop!

Same goes for administration and job applications. You have to upload and download all kinds of software and information, and it usually takes over an hour to apply for a job or get that paper downloaded.

Intellectual conversation

You're going to find intellectual conversation incredibly boring and tedious in East Asia. Most East Asians only know the big lines and big dates in the history of their country, and know next to nothing about foreign countries.

I remember introducing a friend from Spain in China and the Chinese were like “where is Spain?” This was in 2011 so I said “Spain, the soccer world cup champions!” and the Chinese had no idea what I was talking about.

I also remember trying intellectual conversation with professors and getting nowhere near intellectual conversation. I remember an “eminent” specialist on North Korea, and when I told him North Koreans had to wake up to the sound of patriotic music every morning at 7 AM, he looked confused.

How to deal with money

East Asians tend to be terrible with finances. That is they often cut the small stuff and overspend on the big stuff. For example, if it's a company, they are going to shut down the cafeteria, but maintain the million-dollar salary for their CEO.

When negotiating deals, Koreans tend to communicate with numbers. If they suggest the price is 44 million or anything with the number “4” in it, or 18 million or 19 million or anything with the number 18, or 19, those are bad numbers and that means that they don't want to get anywhere near a deal.

Numbers to watch out for: 4, 9, 14, 18, 19, 24, 28, 29 or any number that ends with 4, 8 or 9. Good numbers end with 3, or are rounded numbers that end with a zero. A 3 million dollar deal is an excellent deal. 

The legal system

Keep in mind that in East Asia taking someone to court is the equivalent of punching someone in the face real hard and publicly. So be very careful about who you take to court, and always make sure to consult with locals. If there is absolutely no other way to solve the problem, you may take it to court.

In court, the judge will have in mind that the “White guy” is taking “our Chinese brother” to court, thus punching him in the face publicly. Trials tend to be very short (less than 20 minutes, to avoid public shaming) and interpreters tend not to be reliable.

A textual approach to the law will seldom if ever be used, and sentences tend to be symbols, as in 4 months in prison for fraud (4 is pronounced the same as “death” in Chinese, Korean and Japanese) or 44 years for aggravated murder. 

Note the following legal differences:

If someone does not pay for your goods, it's considered your fault in East Asia, and the courts will rarely force the other company to pay you for your goods.

If you get into a fight with someone, in East Asia, both parties are to blame. That is if you were provoked into a fight, it's always best to back off.

In cases of divorce or legal termination of a business, judges tend to have a “this is none of my business” approach. Divorce hearings will be very quick, and you'll have no time to explain that your wife or husband abused you. Same goes for business termination, the judge won't want to hear why you are shutting down your business.

Farewells and before you leave the country

Your company or friends will organize you a farewell party. But they will mingle and discuss other stuff, and won't really be aware that the farewell party is being held in your honor. Farewells tend to be brief and devoid of emotions, hugging each other farewell is not the norm, even when you were very, very close friends.

Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author

Get it off your chest
 (comments policy)

© Copyright CHAMELEON PROJECT Tmi 2005-2008  -  Sitemap  -  Add to favourites  -  Link to Ovi
Privacy Policy  -  Contact  -  RSS Feeds  -  Search  -  Submissions  -  Subscribe  -  About Ovi