I consider myself to pretty damn manly. I mean, I do manly things like eating meat, lifting heavy things, drinking beer and growing facial hair.
Young men in Korea on the other hand can be viewed, at times, as not so manly. They often wear skinny jeans and pink shirts and can be seen holding hands with women at coffee shops.
But, in reality I still have trouble considering myself manlier. Why?
Every male in Korea has to do at least 21 months of military service, and it has to be done between the ages of 18 and 30. Everyone has to do it as well – the son’s of presidents, pop stars, even MLB baseball players have had to come home for it. It’s honourable for a man and their family to be in the military.
I was crossing the road today in a city an hour away, as were 5 soldiers. I looked over and said “Happy New Year!” They said it back and we talked for a minute, even though their English was fairly limited. Just before this I’d read the news, and North Korea said they want to have better ties with the South. I asked them about it, and as it turns out they were going to celebrate that – they said they’d been very worried since the island was shelled not long ago. We were both pretty happy about it.
These guys were all 18 years old – a year older than the students I teach. I couldn’t imagine at 18 being forced into the military for 2 years. In Canada, that’s not even a thought. Here, it’s reality. So even though Korean men at times don’t seem like men, they’re men.
Additional reading: Young Koreans head into military amid tensions