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Many of my children never realize just how close to their own demise they come as they test my patience and faith in humanity in the classroom. Having survived a dozen years in the classroom, most of the time I can let their behavior roll off my back–after all, they are just kids–but some days the urge to kill threatens to break my composure. Yesterday was one of those days.
Here, presented for your amusement, are my pedagogical frustrations in blog form. No children were harmed in the creation of this posting….yet.
If another child thrusts another paper into my face, I swear to God I will rip it into tiny pieces and force him or her to EAT every last bit of it. Is it too much to ask a child to calm down long enough to turn in work in a civilized manner?
Unfortunately, yesterday was one of those days where even this tiny amount of decorum was impossible in the hagwon classroom. No matter how many times I try to convince them otherwise, my kids have all decided that there is some kind of prize for being the first kid to hand in a paper. Even though this “prize” generally consists of having to go back and correct all their careless errors, to them finishing first is more precious than Olympic gold. For those of you who think teaching is not comprised mostly of suppressing the urge to maim and destroy, here are four behaviors I experienced YESTERDAY ALONE that nearly cost unsuspecting children their lives.
1) I like to call this the “mad dash”. It entails two or more students finishing at the same time and engaging in everything short of a UFC title fight to get to me first. No matter how many times I tell them to stop or make them sit back down, they pop up like whack-a-moles ready to duel to the death for my attention. It’s not so much their killing each other I mind, it’s the fact that they frequently shove or trip other students and step on my toes or crash into me in order to get their paper graded first. And sometimes it’s a paper that’s not even complete!
2) Those with the subtlety of , say, an ATOM BOMB employ the next and possibly my least favorite maneuver– the “thrust and wave”. This is where a student literally thrusts a paper into my line of vision–for example, in between my pen and the attendance roster I’m trying to mark–and wiggles it around expecting me to literally drop whatever I’m doing and immediately acknowledge them. This behavior is generally accompanied by a repeated chanting of the words, “Teacher, finished!” (as if I hadn’t noticed your paper wriggling like a fish on a hook perilously close to my nose). The arrogance inherent in this gesture makes me want to choke one of them, flay him or her alive, and hang the carcass from my whiteboard as a warning to future potential offenders.
3) A close second to the “thrust and wave” is the student whose need to have his paper checked is so pressing that he actually interrupts me while I’m working with another student, assuming that I will stop checking their paper so that I can gaze upon the wonder that is his scholastic endeavor. This is usually the kid who was in such a hurry to make corrections to his work that he didn’t actually bother to erase any of the wrong answers. He just scribbled through him and expects my immediate review of his wrinkled, chicken-scratch covered assignment. Yesterday, I had several children interrupt their classmates’ speaking tests expecting me to answer their questions or grade their assignments.
4) Most of the behaviors above I have observed in younger students, but this last one occurs regardless of age. It’s what I’m going to call the “mean girl”. This is when two students talk about you, literally inches from your face. They think because they’re speaking Korean that you will be unable to decipher signals such as your name being repeated, pointing in your direction, or any of the other myriad ways body language indicates someone is talking about you. Plus, words like “phone”, while not pronounced in strictly the same manner as in English, are in fact cognates. So, after two years in the country, while my Korean may not be conversational (it’s one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn), I usually know when I’m being talked about and can figure out at least a general picture of what’s being said. The frustration with this behavior is compounded by the fact that most of our co-workers also engage in the “mean girl” in our teacher’s workroom, sometimes talking about us with students. Since I’m from the South, I understand the necessity of gossip. But, please, have the courtesy to talk smack about me when I’m not in the room instead of assuming your use of Korean protects you totally from my ability to comprehend.
As I said before, most days, one or two of these behaviors are something I can let slide or even laugh at. Yesterday was NOT one of those days. Also, I find these behaviors (which exist in multiple classrooms in my school and in friends’ schools) kind of fascinating from a sociological standpoint. Since my experience with American elementary education is limited, I’m not sure if the behaviors are age-specific or culturally endemic. Are these symptoms of a digital generation so used to instant gratification that they are unable to exercise even the slightest impulse control? Are they the result of an upbringing that is too child-centric and indulgent? Or does their parents’ busy Korean work week leave them starved for any kind of adult attention? Are these behaviors the first vestiges of the cutthroat academic competition for which Korea and Japan are famous? And, if I actually should kill a child, where do I hide the body?
Dear readers, this inquiring mind wants to know.
Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Busan, frustrations, Korea, Teaching
I just published a long essay about Korea’s view of Japan for Newsweek Japan. Please contact me if you would like the Japanese version. Below is the reprint in English.
As so often when I write in this area, I immediately got hate-mail. So please, don’t bother telling how much this website sucks, that I’m a mouthpiece for whomever you dislike, that I am ‘taking sides,’ betraying Korea, and so on. I know Koreans and Japanese read critical analyses of one or the other in zero-sum terms. The essay below is not meant as a ‘Japanese win.’ It is meant to explore why Koreans exaggerate Japan so much. Why do Koreans routinely say things like Japan is run by right-wing fanatics who want to invade Dokdo with samurai? These statements are not only obviously false, they are ridiculous.
I have said before (here, here) that Koreans have legitimate grievances regarding Japan, particularly on Yasukuni and the comfort women. But Koreans don’t stop there; they go over-the-top with things like the Sea of Japan re-naming campaign, claims that Japan wants to invade Korea again, or that Dodko is worth going to war over – even though such action would eventuate a US departure from SK and dramatically reduce Korean security. Other victims of earlier Japanese imperialism don’t talk like this, and I think a lot of well-meaning Japanese, who do recognize what Japan did here, are genuinely baffled by all this.
So the puzzle, to put it in social science terms, is not why Koreans dislike Japan. There are grounds for that. But rather, why do Koreans (specifically the media) exaggerate those grievances so much that even sympathetic outlets (like this blog or American analysts more generally) feel compelled to call out the nonsense? That is actually a really good research question – but for all the hate-mail – if you are writing a PhD in this area.
Here is my primary hypothesis: ‘Japanphobia’ – the over-the-top Korean descriptions of Japan as some unrepentant imperial revanchist – serves S Korean domestic nationalist needs. Specifically Japan functions as a useful ‘other’ for the identity construction problem of a half-country (SK) facing a competitor (NK) that openly proclaims itself the real Korean national state against an imposter (SK). Trapped in who’s-more-nationalist-than-thou contest, demonizing Japan is way for South Korea to compete with North Korea for Korean nationalist imagination. NK calls SK the ‘Yankee Colony’ to delegitimize it, but beating up on NK is not so easy in SK. A sizeable minority of S Koreans agree that SK is too Americanized and not Korean enough, and NK cynically manipulates the evocative symbolism of Mt. Paektu to emotionally confuse the South. By contrast, Japan, the former colonialist, brings a convenient, black-and-white ‘moral clarity.’ As a result, Dokdo gets fetishized and Japan (not NK) becomes the state the the RoK defines itself against.
The full essay follows the jump. The framing is the recent trip by US Secretary of Defense Hagel to Tokyo and the furious grand strategy debate that touched off in Seoul. If the language seems a little ‘journalist-y,’ that’s because this was edited for readability by Newsweek.
“When US Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel and US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Japan last month, it received scant attention in Tokyo. But for South Koreans, it was a big deal. The so-called “2+2” talks and the subsequent strengthening of the US-Japan alliance has sparked a raging strategy debate in Seoul. The Japanese media gave the trip minor coverage, because the American ‘pivot’ to Asia is popular in Japan, and Tokyo shares America’s concerns about China. But South Korea does not. Hence, South Korean newspaper editors and foreign policy analysts are worried that Korea might get roped into an incipient stand-off between China on the one hand, and the US and Japan on the other. The JoongAng Daily warns of an “an emerging Cold War-type rivalry between America and China” with Korea sandwiched in the middle. Indeed given Korea’s geography, it is almost impossible for it to avoid a serious contest between Asia’s two largest economies.
But there is also a sharp edge about Japan in this debate. Koreans are more fearful of Japan than a rising China, and they feel that stronger US-Japan ties would inadvertently draw Korea closer to Japan through the US. This is anathema to Korean elites, who have consistently attempted to de-link the US alliance with Korea from that of the US and Japan. Traditional Korean distrust of Japan has risen under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Chosun Daily snapped that “Japanese rightwing fanatics are only hungry for power and short-term gratification.” A similar editorial in the Korean Herald proclaimed Japan as Korea’s “ancient foe,” with whom alliance is impossible. It argues that Korean officials are upset that they were not consulted beforehand about Washington’s intent to tighten US-Japanese relations, with its obvious focus on China. President Park Geun-Hye’s regular rebuffs of Abe suggest that Korea will persist in distancing itself politically from Japan.
This is a risky business, as Korea is an encircled middle power, despite its position in the G-20 and the nationalist media frenzy that this ‘elevated Korea’s status.’ Korea’s American ally very much wants a Korean-Japanese rapprochement, so if South Korea remains adamant in rejecting improved ties with Japan, US pressure is likely. Still, South Korea views Japan with continuing hostility. Confusedly then, this pits South Korea with Japan and the US against North Korea, but then both Koreas with China against Japan. This entangling alliance framework – specifically persistent Korean alienation from Japan – cripples the creation of collective security – an Asian NATO – by blocking the consolidation of a democratic camp in East Asia.
To a degree, this kind of attitude – insisting that Washington should seek Seoul’s “permission” before dealing with Tokyo - is rooted in South Korea’s view of American engagement in East Asia as a zero-sum game. As Stephanie Nayoung Kang, a fellow at the Pacific Forum CSIS points out, “Seoul sees Tokyo as a competitor for U.S. attention.” Tight US-Japan relations, as evidenced in Hagel’s trip, activates jealousy and resentment – the direct motivation for Park’s counter-move of a diplomatic tour of southeast Asia. The rapid growth of South Korea at the same time that Japan has slipped badly in its ‘lost decades’ has nurtured a vision of equality between Korea and Japan in the American structure in Asia. Traditionally Japan has been the American security anchor in Asia (similar to Germany in cold war NATO). Koreans resent this elevation in American attention, and this current flap with the US is an expression of that bitterness.
Furthermore, Koreans increasingly seem themselves, perhaps too much, as a major actor in Asia. Seoul refuses to be strong-armed by the U.S. into crafting a better relationship with Japan (nor vice versa), nor does Korea want to be ‘chain-ganged’ into an Asian cold war between China, and the US and Japan. In an attempt to project the image of Korea, Park subsequently went on that tour of Southeast Asia to demonstrate a counter-Japanese Korean alternative in Asia. This has been cheered in the nationalistic Korean media.
This greater Korean willingness to challenge, if not antagonize, Japan flows from its rapid economic growth. Koreans refer to their period of rapid growth from the 1960s to the 1980s as the ‘miracle on the Han’ (river). In a generation, Korea moved from third world poverty to modernity. Today, it is the world’s fifteenth largest economy, and it is in the G-20. At the same time, North Korea has been definitively eclipsed, Japan has struggled with decades of stagnation, while Soviet/Russian power in East Asia collapsed. In short, South Korea has dramatically closed the power gap with its neighbors in the last half-century. So South Korea today feels that it is much better placed to push its demands on both the US and Japan. The current strategy debate in Seoul is an expression of this greater regional equality.
The Seoul-based Asan Institute argues that this has given a ‘new nationalism’ to South Koreans. Korea today no longer feels that it has to heed to Washington’s lead on East Asian issues, and it is increasingly confident in condemning Japan on historical grievances. Koreans increasingly see Korea as equal to Japan, and they are increasingly unwilling to accept the fact of Japan being America’s primary ally in Asia. Hence, Hagel may wish Korea to reconcile with Japan and cooperate more with the US and Japan on China, but this is unlikely. There is little appetite for an open South Korean alignment with the US and Japan against China.
What’s behind South Korea’s worldview? For one, Koreans maintain some degree of historical sympathy for China. Korea held pride of place in the old Sinocentric ‘tribute system;’ Chinese dynasties did not bully Korea much, despite its small size. And of course, the Ming helped defeat the Hideyoshi invasion. Nor do present-day Koreans—contrary to many countries in the Pacific—perceive China to be a rising military threat. Instead, Koreans are more fearful about its perceived Japanese “rearmament” than China’s ascension. Further, China is Korea’s largest export destination and a substantial location of Korean direct investment. Seoul fears that the growing Korean-Chinese economic interdependence would be threatened by an explicit anti-Chinese stance by the U.S. and Japan. Finally, China is North Korea’s primary backer. South Korea cannot embrace a militarized US pivot if it is to convince China to one day give up North Korea. An anti-Chinese South Korean posture would put off any chances of reunification, because China will not give up its North Korean “buffer” if “hostile” US forces would be on its Korean border.
As the U.S. pivot to Asia tightens the environment around Korea, the debate in Seoul illustrates what will put Korea in a bind: choosing between the Chinese and US-Japanese camps. Distant states like Indonesia or Australia can slip-and-slide between the two sides. Their geography gives them some options to play for time, as well as encourage Sino-US rapprochement. Korea does not have this luxury. The demilitarized zone, right in the middle of Korea, is ground-zero for the US-China stand-off in Asia. Unless South Korea pursues a path of vigorous neutralism, including kicking out American troops and going nuclear, Korea will likely be forced to choose between the two camps.
Non-Koreans frequently assume this would be an obvious choice. China is a one-party dictatorship with a poor human rights record, weak civil liberties, and no elections. The US and Japan, by contrast, are established liberal democracies—values that South Koreans also espouse.
Here, the deep-seated Korean animosity toward Japan upends all expected political equations. Americans are perplexed how Koreans see Japan as a greater threat than China, but they do. Hagel encouraged Park to deal with Japan, which brought a sharp reply about Japan’s historical behavior in Asia. Abe’s current nationalist coalition has badly inflamed the issue. Park refuses to meet with Abe until he speaks more apologetically on the war. The differences are well-known, but in my experience in Korea, Koreans insist on four things regarding Japan:
1. Visits to the Yasukuni Shrine are an annual irritant (to the Chinese and Americans as well). It would help enormously if Japan could find a way to honor its war dead without the moral ambiguity of Yasukuni’s presentation of the war.
2. Dokdo has become a symbol to Koreans all out of proportion to its actual value. The actual geographic focal point of Korean nationalism should be Mt. Paektu, near the Chinese border, the mythological birthplace of the Korean race. Unfortunately it is under North Korean control, and Southern opinion on the North is deeply divided. Hence, Dokdo is a clearer, morally easier symbol of Korean nationalism: Japan was Korea’s colonialist, so controlling Dokdo is a way of showing Japan that Korea is sovereign, independent, and proud. All Koreans can agree on that without a confused debate on which Korea is the ‘real’ Korea.
3. The ‘comfort women’ – Korean women impressed into forced sexual service to the Japanese imperial army – is another deeply divisive issue. Korean public attitudes toward sexuality are still deeply conservative, so the ‘comfort women’ are a national humiliation. My Japanese colleagues often ask me why this issue regularly comes up, despite the 1965 Japan-Korea treaty that legally ended reparation claims. Here Korea seeks not just financial compensation, but moral recognition. Ultimately in Korea, this is not a legal or financial issue, but a moral one. Koreans want an admission of guilt from Japan, along the lines of German attitudes toward the Holocaust, and they expect contrition from Japanese politicians on this point.
4. Finally, there is regular concern in Korea about the way in which history is taught in Japan. Again, the issue is likened to Germany’s post-WWII contrition about Nazism. Koreans expect that from Japan, and expect youth education in Japan to openly reject Japanese colonialism as aggressive imperialism.
For these reasons, Korea does not want a rapprochement with Japan. Koreans perceive Abe is moving in the wrong direction on this. Hence the current deep freeze in Korean-Japanese relations. Therefore, to join a US-Japanese anti-Chinese coalition would not only antagonize its primary export destination in China, it would align Korea with its ‘unrepentant historical foe.’
Japan as the Anti-Korean ‘Other’ in the Nationalist Competition with North Korea
But considering the fact that these issues have been around for decades, they do not fully explain the logic behind Seoul’s recent behavior. What is at play here is something deeper, which ultimately does not have to do with Japan, but South Korea’s psychology as a ‘half-country’ whose national legitimacy is openly challenged by North Korea.
South Korea’s animosity toward Japan, although rooted in history, is also an outgrowth of nationalist confusion caused by the division of the Korean Peninsula. A strong sense of pride about its ethnicity and heritage runs deep in Korea—and North Korea frequently exploits this nationalism to its advantage. The North controls Mt. Paektu, the mythological birthplace of the Korean race near the Chinese border, and uses this symbolism relentlessly and manipulatively to its advantage. The North refers to itself as ‘Chosun’ (조선the traditional name of the united Korean state that preceded Japanese annexation), instead of ‘Hanguk (한국the modern republican name with far less emotional weight). And it claims to be the true defender of the Korean race (the ‘minjok’ 민족) against the globalized, racially mongrelized ‘Yankee Colony’ to the south. (A guide in North Korea actually told me that Koreans should not ‘mix’ their race.) On behalf of the ’minjok,’ Pyongyang, in their view, stands tall against everyone – China, the US, Japan, while Seoul remains obedient to America
Many outsiders may find all of this as typical North Korean bombast and propaganda–but it resonates emotionally with many Koreans in the south. This is why there are a minority of North Korea-sympathizers in the south; NK complicates political categories in Seoul. Unlike many Western countries, in South Korea the left is nationalist—dovish on North Korea—, while the right is ‘internationalist,’ or pro-American. All of this sows confusion in the mind of South Koreans about the direction of nationalist feeling—which makes Japan an easy, clarifying symbol—a lightening rod of sorts. Here, Japan—because of its colonial record— becomes an easy outlet for Koreans of all stripes to unite and prove their nationalist credentials. It presents a simplistic good/evil dichotomy, an alternative to the constant confusion North Korea and its nationalist posturing sows in the south. Even as South Korea defers to Washington on North Korea policy, the South can gain a sense of pride and self-respect by taking a tough stance with Japan. All Koreans—both south and north– can agree to dislike Japan; all can rally round the flag on this.
This is why Dokdo, rather than Mt. Paektu, is a clearer, morally easier symbol of South Korean nationalism. Paektu should be the territorial locus of Korean nationalism, but it cannot be. It is compromised by its location in North Korea and by Pyongyang’s mendacious exploitation of symbolism. Dokdo is the replacement: because Japan was Korea’s colonialist, controlling Dokdo is a way of showing Japan that South Korea, a half-country with a weak sense of ‘state-ness,’ is in fact a sovereign, independent, and proud country. All Koreans can agree on this without a confused debate on which Korea is the ‘real’ Korea.
In other words, a lot of this isn’t about Japan at all. Japan is a convenient placeholder for South Korean elites to sidestep North Korea and assert their nationalist pride while avoiding the complicating relations with Pyongyang. Japan is an ‘other’ against which South Koreans can construct a separate national identity badly compromised by the overt ‘Chosun’ nationalism of the North. Korea’s divided condition creates a unique identity crisis which ‘Japan-as-other’ helps resolve.
South Korea has a weak sense of ‘state patriotism’; Koreans are indeed ethnic nationalists, but to their blood and cultural community, including Koreans in the North. They are one people. But the actual Republic of Korea, the state itself (in the south), has weak legitimacy and roots in Korean civil society. It is a half-country politically dominated by the Americans for decades, with institutions frequently copied wholesale from the US, with no obvious lineage to the beloved Chosun dynasty, and a closed political-economic Seoul-based elite (‘Kangnam style’) that alienates much of the country. The result is a poor sense of a distinct South Korea identity and weak commitment to corrupted, distant Southern institutions. In this context, Japan is a useful other against which a Southern state identity can be constructed. Hence the exaggeration of Korea’s otherwise defendable claims against Japan.
Korea’s Grand Strategy Dilemma
Korea is caught in a tough predicament. It is an encircled middle power. Three great powers border it, as does North Korea. Koreans may perceive the ‘miracle on the Han’ to level the regional competition, but I believe this to be an exaggeration. Korea risks ‘overplaying its hand’ as the Wall Street Journal recently noted. Korean security is still highly dependent on the US. So an open split with Japan is perilous, because Japan is still the anchor state of the American alliance architecture in Asia – which point Park’s Southeast Asian sought, fruitlessly, to contest. Korean geography is immutable, and Korean demography is stagnant. In other words, Korea cannot move out the way of Sino-Japanese competition, even if it wishes to, and Korea’s economic ‘miracle’ days are over. Korea will not catch up to Japan or even Russia (a point on which the Korean media could be more helpful). Perhaps decades after unification, but for now, Korea is still ‘a shrimp among whales.’
That traditional Korean saying captures well the long-term dilemma of Korean security, what ultimately shapes its geopolitical worldview. The great historical goal of Korean strategy is autonomy, independence from its much larger neighbors. (Hence the ideological satisfactions of Park’s confrontational Southeast Asia diplomacy.) China may focus on regional supremacy, as it did in the past, and Japan may, in turn, focus on preventing Chinese hegemony. But Korea’s strategic focus is much more immediate and narrow – preventing domination by its much larger neighbors. For a millennium Korea bounced back and forth between China, Japan, and Russia in northeast Asia. A wealthier, more confident Korea is now struggling against that continuing geographic constraint, unhappy that yet another outsider, the Americans, seem to be manipulating it.
The current debate in Seoul, then, is just the latest in a long historical effort. Understandably, Korea doesn’t want to be pushed around by powerful outsiders. But I am doubtful this can change – unless Korea were willing to openly break with the US and unilaterally nuclearization to go it alone. Geography, demography, and cold war division badly cripple Korean power. Korea feels that it is strong enough for the moment to resist an easy slide into the US-Japanese ‘pivot’ tacitly aimed at China. But so long as it is a US ally, the pressure will continue, and there is no obvious way out.”
Filed under: Foreign Policy, Japan, Korea (North), Korea (South), United States
With so little time to do anything productive this month, you’d think I’d find something better to do with myself. I could have studied a language, planned my next trip around Asia, written an article, sponsored a dog, cooked a fantastic meal, exercised, or at least prepared for my day job.
Instead, I arsed around making this here pointless video… enjoy!
I stumbled onto this effervescent scene last summer whilst walking through a rammed subway station in Busan. The music was so unbearably loud that it penetrated the airtight space between my earphones. Full blown concerts are, for some reason, quite common in Busan’s subway stations and the music that emanate from them is usually unbearable (as it is here). I was about to walk on by, but thanks be to the Korean gods that I saw the men’s breathtakingly awkward dancing. It had to be captured!
I have to say that my first weekend in England feels more like a week, just because I managed to get so much done. I'm all cobwebby and dusty at the moment as I've spent today running up and down into the attic, trying to clear out some of my things! I feel insanely energised after going to bed really early last night after a long weekend! But this pile that I need to sort out makes me kind of feel exhausted!
On Friday I was still really tired from the flight, so I just ran some errands and called around to sort things out. I had breakfast with my Grandad, it was really nice to see him after so long. I think he's had a tough time these last few months but he doesn't tell me while I'm away, I guess so as not to worry me. But he did seem cheerful, which was good.
Then, in the afternoon I went to get my hair cut. It's been 9 long months since my last hair cut so it was desperate for it. Especially because of my over heating hair straightener incident, and the fact I still pick my split ends, a lot!
Friday night I went to my mum's house and we had some chinese food and went for a wander around Tesco. I know it's sad, but I really miss English supermarkets! I really miss knowing what everything is and seeing what I can do with things. It's really hard to cook in Korea when you can't read the instructions!
On Saturday, my mum and I headed into Sheffield early. We had a wander around the Christmas Market and I treated myself to a few goodies from Lush, I'll share more with you tomorrow. It's so nice to feel so Christmassy, although I'm trying not to catch the Christmas bug as we won't be at home, we'll be in Argentina by then!
Lizzie, my friend from uni, joined us at 1 and we grabbed some lunch at the Showroom Cinema before going to watch the Roller Derby. I was sad that my old team, Sheffield, lost, but it was fun to watch. Especially as the new rules mean that the whole game has changed since I last played in the UK. It looks like it's much harder work to be a jammer now. But check out how amazing Kandy's leggings are! I love her derby wardrobe!
Following that, Lizzie and I went home and met up with stacey and Lucy, we all got ready and then went for some food at Nandos before going out for some cocktails. Knowing me all too well, Lizzie bought me some Amaretto with a Moschino designed bottle. It was lovely to see them, especially drinking tasty drinks and listening to great music! I did feel old though!
On Sunday morning the girls headed off, so my Dad and I went to check out some of the gear I'm going to need for my South America trip, then went to check in on Millie as she was moving house. It feels weird that my not-so-little sister is growing up so fast! In some ways it feels like nothing has changed since I've been gone, and in others, it feels like so much has changed!
Hey readers! How are y’all? Did you have a nice weekend?
Not sure if this is good news or bad news, but it’s looking like I’ll have to move update days to Tuesdays (starting this week). Sorry for those of you that enjoy getting your updates on Mondays.
Up until very recently, I had been living in Korea without an oven. Being someone that likes to cook, it was not an easy few years. It’s actually pretty common for Korean homes to not have appliances like ovens or dryers. I feel pretty spoiled every time I complain about such things, as everyone living here seems to manage just find without luxuries I once saw as necessities. I’ve grown pretty used to hang drying my clothes and finding interesting solutions to roasting vegetables, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t all sorts of excited when my brand new oven arrived.
To all of my friends that let me abuse their baking appliances before I got my own, thank you for putting up with me. I shall continue to feed you cookies until you explode.
Got any questions, comments, or maybe even some delicious cookies you want to send through the internet? Feel free to contact us at dearkoreacomic at gmail dot com.
You can also leave comments on the comic’s Facebook Page!
This time of year is always a busy season for Makgeolli, and we are only now getting the time to collect ourselves and reflect on the past few months. Back in October we had the annual Asan Folk Village Festival weekend. MMPK teamed up with the always awesome Susubori Academy, along with their expat brewing instructors Becca Baldwin and Dan Lenaghan, to offer a weekend of open air makgeolli classes.
This year the classes were held over the course of two days, with the first class having the opportunity to stay overnight in the hanok village. It was a beautiful moonlit night, and we all enjoyed a long night of country air and plenty of fresh makgeolli.
Of course the highlight of the weekend was the Expat Brewing contest, where 8 creative makgeolli lovers came up with their own unique brew for the public to taste and rate. This year saw some stiff competition, and the flavor combinations were nothing short of inspired. The entries were as follows:
‘Jeolju’ – Becca Baldwin: A 300 year old traditional Iyangju recipe with a lot of elbow grease in the making.
‘Sunrise Liquor’ – Dan Lenaghan: An out-of-the-box Iyangju with red bean.
‘Baninja Reloaded’ – Julia Mellor: A revised (and much improved) version of last year’s entry; banana & ginger infused Iyangju.
‘Bad Seeds’ – Caroline Mahon: A fragrant Danyangju with cardamon and cloves.
‘Creamy Cocoa Memories’ – Don Edwards: A sweeter Danyangju inspiration incorporating cocoa and raisins.
‘Speckled Spice’ – Beryl Sinclair: A spicy Iyangju with vanilla beans and black pepper.
‘Serious Cider’ – Staci Gray: A carefully concocted ‘hard cider’ inspired Danyangju of apple and cinnamon.
‘Bae Saengang’ -Tyson Hanrahan: A balanced Danyangju with pear and ginger flavorings.
We had two categories for the voting. The first was the public vote, where attendees of the festival could taste and choose their favorite among the 8 brews. And then we had the Brewer’s Choice Awards, where class takers, Susubori & MMPK Staff voted for their top three brews.
All in all, we had a fabulous weekend in excellent makgeolli loving company, and we just can’t wait until next year. A big thanks as always to our hard working collaborative makgeolli team at Susubori Academy, who pulled together to make the whole thing happen. Check out the photo gallery below for a closer look at some of the action
Global Giving: Rainbow Teen Safe Space
Kimchi Monster: HIV Testing of Foreign Teachers
The Korea Herald: Is HIV testing of foreign teachers here to stay?
NK News: Ask a North Korean: Is there sex education in the DPRK?
Psyched in South Korea: Rainbow Stories
By Taryn Assaf
As expats, and as English teachers, many of us come to Korea not too long after we’ve finished university. At university, our lives are often transformed. We become familiar with the workings of the world- its histories, tragedies, victories and complexities. For some of us, it contributes to a richer understanding of our place in the world, and offers us a chance to reflect on how our lives are situated in a complex web of relationships that affects everyone. Many of us become politicized during this time, leading to our first taste of activism – a taste we may long for but cannot find once we’ve moved to Korea. The combination of new sights, smells, sounds, tastes and experiences in Korea can certainly overwhelm a new, or even seasoned, expat. In Korea, as with any place in the world, the experiences we have as expats are not separate from the history of our host nation, nor are they separate from its culture, politics, and economics. They are part of the complicated grid of relationships between events that have culminated to create everything we see and do. Understanding our place among those relationships necessarily requires us to delve into the history, culture, politics and economics of this great country.
Despite a constant overwhelming of the senses, I’ve spoken to many expats who desire a deeper, richer understanding of the country they now call home. They come here as politicized subjects and quickly realize that their social capital and access to resources have slimmed to a sliver of what they used to be back home. Without speaking the language or knowing what resources exist, accessing the knowledge to facilitate that desire becomes difficult- if not impossible. Amid many other easily accessible opportunities, the yearning to seek out opportunities in the political realm is swiftly swept under the rug- unless it conveniently presents itself.
I was in Korea for about 5 months, and despite rushing headlong into anything that came my way, that yearning remained. It was then that, through the blessing that is the internet, I came into contact with an individual from the International Strategy Center (ISC). For the past nine months, I have been lucky enough to participate with their media team as a writer and blogger, as well as to experience the culture of Korea by learning about its history, politics and economics. I’ve been humbled by the opportunity to meet and speak with activists, politicians, farmers and workers and to share stories over food and drink. I’ve been dazzled by the beauty and serenity of the Korean countryside as I traveled around the country. I’ve been inspired through demonstrations, conferences, songs and speeches to continue showing solidarity with the struggles facing the Korean people. And after the weekend of November 22nd, 2013, when I attended a workshop by the ISC titled “Korean Culture, History, Politics and Economics,” I have been able to reflect upon my place within it all.
The workshop was a three-day intensive study, with four lectures, 2 field trips, and plenty of discussions. Although I was familiar with much of the topics discussed, I was also introduced to much new information. The lectures were a unique opportunity for our new guests to analyze the topics, to reflect and to gain new insights.
Haesook Kim, Director of the ISC, guided us through 5000 years of Korean history, focusing on the struggles and uprisings that shaped Korea with a focus on modern history. She began her presentation with an important reminder. “We must make history the cornerstone of our future,” she said, and went on to enlighten us on the three kingdoms, highlighting how each legacy contributed to modern Korean culture. I began to connect how certain occurrences of the past are, indeed, very much present. For instance, she spoke of the Silla kingdom, which developed Korea’s rich culture, much of which we marvel at today; she spoke of Koryo (고려), which traded extensively with other countries resulting in the use of the name Korea; and she spoke of Chosun, founded on Confucianism, which informs the family values and gender relations of many Koreans today. History has acted as the cornerstone for countless aspects of modern Korean culture, and continues to drive its evolution. I began to think about how I got here. What historical events necessitated the development of such a robust English language sector in this county?
Min-A Kim, Chair of Policy for the Arts Collective for a New Era, explained the history of Korean economics before exploring Korea’s current economic policy under neoliberalism. How did Korea develop its technology sector? she asked. With nothing but curious eyes attending to her question, she began to explain two major events- the democracy movement of June 1987, and the general workers strike that occurred from July to September of that year. The strike saw the establishment of independent trade unions and was an enormous victory for workers who had, for decades, earned extremely low wages working in factories. Workers could no longer be exploited as they had been in the industrial era, and so the economy began shifting into the higher value added technology industries. With the success of the technology industry, Korea’s economy gradually became less dependent on the U.S, which had been supplying it with economic aid. In 1997, foreign investors pulled their money out of the country within a month and the U.S simultaneously demanded that Korea pay back all of its debts. This “tactic” has been used in many countries, including Mexico and Brazil, as a way to coerce nations into adopting a neoliberal system of economics. In Korea, it lead to a liquidity crisis. With no money to pay back its debts, Korea had no choice but to enter into agreements with the IMF and World Bank, ushering in an era of neoliberalism which guides economic policies to this day. I began to wonder, how is the Korean and world economy connected to my role as an English teacher? Am I somehow supporting neoliberalism through that role?
Yeon Wook Chung, Chairman of the YongSan Region Committee of the Justice Party, explored the last 25 years of Korean politics as a window into the lives of Koreans while highlighting the progress and regression of Korean democracy. The most poignant part of his lecture was his investigation of Korea’s social problems. Korea is top rated among all OECD countries for suicide, divorce, car crashes, work hours, poverty among the elderly, cosmetic surgery (with 1 out of 5 women having had it) intestine and stomach cancer and low birth rate. People in every age bracket are stressed, he says. As children they are pressured to study, as young adults they are stressed by a shrinking job market, as adults they become economically sandwiched between supporting their children’s and their parents’ futures, and as they grow older they must worry about retirement. He says the growing social and economic divides are exemplified by these occurrences. Ten percent of the population controls forty percent of the assets in this country. As the income gap increases, so too does social inequality. A cycle of dependency is created when people are unable to meet their economic needs, leading to a life of stress and a society filled with less than praise-worthy number ones. I paused, How has my role as an English teacher contributed to the stress of individual students and whole families? How am I implicated in the continuation of these social problems?
Jeong-Eun Hwang, Director of Communications for the ISC, discussed the role of the ISC, specifically its organization, works, vision and direction. Her message brought everything together. “It is not about what knowledge we gain,” she said, “it’s about what we do with that knowledge. How can we put our knowledge into action?” One of the ways that she and the ISC accomplish this is by “seeing things as they really are.” The world is being crushed by neoliberalism. Economies are crashing. Poverty and inequality are rising. So they engage with the issues, they create solidarity among struggling groups and they study alternatives. In February 2014, they will travel to Venezuela for the second time to further research what these alternatives can look like.
Personally, I participate, I listen, I share and I write. I’m trying to place myself within Korea’s robust history and determine the implications that English teaching may have on the future of this society. I’m continuing to think through my role as an educator in an industry necessitated by unequal global power relationships and fueled by the maintenance of that system. I’m starting to understand how I’m positioned within the totem pole of stress that contributes to the country’s suicide and cancer rates. And I don’t have the answers, nor do I know if answers are really what matter. But I know there are connections, and that to put my knowledge into action is to continue discovering the connections that bring us together and challenging those that pull us apart. To see things as they really are, as Jeong-Eun challenged us to do. I try to always be aware of my place in the vast grid of relationships that have contributed to the rich set of experiences I’ve had in Korea. And now I’d like to challenge you to better understand Korea, and through that journey, to better understand yourself.