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This blogger does not often watch Korean television shows (and only occasionally follows K-dramas or K-pop). It was thus a pleasant surprise to see Classical Chinese (漢文, 한문) in the context of modern Korean comedy show called Infinite Challenge, or Muhandojeon (無限挑戰, 무한도전). In an episode played about two weeks ago, comedian Yoo Jaeseok (劉在錫, 유재석, 1972-), who plays a member of the aristocratic Yangban class (兩班, 양반) in the episode and whom many may remember from the music video Gangnam Style, opens up a scroll and starts reciting a petition to the King in actual Classical Chinese with Korean grammatical particles, known as Hyeonto (懸吐, 현토). The relevant portion of the clip starts at about the 2:20 mark. While Yoo Jaeseok is reading, the other comedians give puzzled looks. After the petition is read, the others ask him to rap the petition and he proceeds to do accordingly. The Korean translation shown in the clip is mostly correctly, and only deviates in the last line.
Do not (不) with (以) biases (偏見) of (之) oneself (一己), declare (爲) what is right (是) and declare (爲) what is wrong (非),
But instead (而) what (所…者) all (共) in the Royal Court (朝廷) [consider as] right (是), [declare] it (之) right (是) and what (所…者) all (共) [consider as] wrong (非), [declare] it (之) wrong (非).
When there is (萌) one (一) worry (念慮) or when there arises (發) one (一) petition (言事),
Eliminate (無) even the slightest (少) of flaws (瑕翳) and afterward (然後) disperse (渙) the perspiration (汗) and make a great announcement (大號).
- This is the first time this blogger has ever read a petition to a king. Based on a quick internet search, the last two lines seem to be jargon used at the Court.
- 少無瑕翳(소무하예) – Reference to some sayings of Zhu Xi (朱子, 주자, Juja, 1130-1200):
此先王之治, 所以由內及外, 自微至著, 精粹純白, 無少瑕翳, 而其遺風餘烈, 猶可爲後世法也.
차선왕지치, 소이유내급외, 자미지저, 정순순백, 무소하예, 이기유풍여렬, 유가위후세법야.
This is the reason for which the previous King’s governance spread from inside to the outside, from obscurity to the distinct, was polished and pure, without even the slightest of flaws, and its remnant customs and remaining strength indeed was made the laws of future generations.
- 渙汗大號(환호대호) – In the petition, with these words, Yoo Jaeseok is beseeching the king to make an order according to his request. Reference to a line in the Wind and Water Dispersion (風水渙, 풍수환) Chapter of the Book of Change (易經, 역경):
九五: 渙汗其大號, 渙王居, 无咎. 象曰: 王居无咎, 正位也.
구오: 환한기대호, 환왕거, 무구. 상왈: 왕거무구, 정위야.
The Fifth-Nine: When it disperses, the perspiration is like its great announcement. When there is a dispersion, the King sits. There are no flaws. The Form (象, 상) states, “‘When the King sits, there are no flaws’ is because of his proper position.
|Image by Gage Skidmore|
The entertainment industry is an area where the subject of racism towards Asian people comes up frequently in the field of comedy. Let's first focus on Seth Macfarlane, who has come in for a fair bit of criticism recently for some of the scenes he promoted for his new sitcom "Dads" - weeks before the pilot even aired - because of its use of some Asian stereotypes as a subject for humour. Many have also argued that the show that made him famous, Family Guy, also has gone too far and stepped over the line (numerous times) into racism, not just of Asians but other races too.
Huff Post Debate
Dads on CNN
A couple of other examples also became prominent recently on Jimmy Kimmel and on the Dutch version of X-Factor when a Chinese man auditioned. Both are neatly summed-up in this article in the Atlantic.
I actually agree with the conclusion in the piece in the Atlantic that anti-Chinese (and even Asian generally) racism is a greater problem than many people realise in the West. As I wrote in a post on my own site a couple of weeks ago, I myself was shocked at how people in my own country treated my wife when I lived there for a year with her. There is a big taboo on criticising or making fun of race and culture in the UK, but it doesn't seem to be helping much in alleviating people's ignorance on the matter and making Western countries free of prejudice. I do believe the taboo on race and culture has reached the limit of its effectiveness and it is time for some honesty and open dialogue.
Jimmy Kimmel and the Dutch judge on X-Factor appear to be pretty cut and dry examples of attempted comedy that is not funny and that stepped over a line. With the Dutch judge it is easy to see why he was wrong, he simply discriminated against another human being, treated him differently, made a joke of him as an individual in front of the audience, and made him and everyone else feel mightily uncomfortable as a result. With Jimmy Kimmel, the joke was bad taste, but the fact that such a nasty thing was uttered from the mouth of a child also probably helped push the joke into being something wholly distasteful.
When it comes to comedy generally, however, I do see a great many issues and it is not clear to me how best to handle things and where to draw lines, if that's indeed what we need to do.
Being Offended by Possibly Racist (in fact any) Jokes is Almost Always Counter-Productive
The minute people become offended by something, when it is presented as comedy, they run the risk - 90 times out of 100 - of only benefiting those they are upset with. If you are the member of any sports team, you may learn to pick this up quite quickly. The producers of "Dads" played the game perfectly; they got their exposure on the news and had people talking about the new show. When the show actually aired its first episode the probability is that more people tuned-in. Of course, they ran a fine line between notoriety and a ban, but if they had agreed this plan of action to their broadcaster beforehand, there was very little risk of that actually happening.
The other reason becoming offended works in the comedian's favour is that the jokes they make only end up being funny precisely because of the potential offence they might cause. If it could be plotted on a graph, one would see a steady upward curve showing a correlation between a joke's potential hilarity and its level of offensiveness, perhaps until you hit a subject that truly isn't worthy of humour and then the line will become a sudden precipice, the Holocaust for example, although even that is not completely untouched territory. Even AIDS in Africa can be manipulated by comedians to get laughs. Now I am not supporting these kinds of jokes (especially the AIDS one!), but the reality is that if a bunch of people get offended by them, it is more than likely a comedian has done nothing more than forwarded their career.
The sad fact for those who wish to rid the world of racist, culturalist, sexist, ageist, or in fact any bad taste humour, is that there is nothing less funny than political correctness and taboo and nothing funnier than breaking it. Offence simply feeds the desire to produce more of it and if you go down the road of constantly banning and monitoring everything, we end up living in a world lacking freedom of expression, controversy, one that is devoid of a sense of humour, and the ability of people to grow their own thicker skins and defend themselves (this is arguably already happening in the West). A good way to combat it is to confront stereotypes head on and expose them, and it turns out that comedians are often some of the best qualified to do this too.
Another way to kill a subject fit for humour is to make it commonplace, dull, uncontroversial, and tired. To do this, those on the receiving end must brush it off. It sounds a pretty insensitive thing to say in this day and age when we all worry about not offending each other and just getting along, and when some people are more vulnerable than others, but it is simply being pragmatic. Offence is like a defibrillator to a flat-lining joke that brings it back to life again and again.
Many a True Word is said in Jest
Trawl through some clips of Family Guy on youtube, for example, and one can find a large number of little sketches on Asian stereotypes. Here are a few examples:
How God Made Asians
Asian Woman Driver
Asians are Good at Maths
Japanese Girls Laughing
Chinese Dry Cleaners
On all of the above clips I think I can safely say I have known many Asian people born in the UK who are nothing like this and indeed many Koreans who are not like this, but the reason they are quite funny is that I have also known a considerable amount of Asian people during my travels that have fitted each of these stereotypes rather perfectly, far more so than people of a Western background. They are generalisations about behaviour, but they are - it must be said - quite accurate when it comes to identifying patterns of behaviour in at least some Asian people, especially those who were not brought-up in a Western country, let's be honest.
What I would really love to see is a comedy program created in a non-Western part of the world that has similar themed gags about Westerners, especially White people. Perhaps I could even suggest a bit of material for them; licentiousness (especially when drinking), being over-weight, arrogance, dumb kids, reality TV shows, clinging to the past (UK in particular), bad dancers, slow runners, lazy workers, ruining beautiful parts of the world, etc. What most of these categories and the Family Guy videos on Asian stereotypes show is that the vast majority of these jokes are not about race at all, they are about culture. Asian, Black, or White racial characteristics just make people more identifiable as belonging to a certain cultural heritage. Here are a couple of specifically White racial/cultural jokes from Family Guy, but you can also find plenty of jokes based on stereotypes of other Western countries and a great many about my own:
White Guys in a Race
White Guys Scared of Other Races
Besides, much of the comedy that revolves around using stereotypes these days makes fun of the people who really believe they reflect the behaviour of everyone in a particular group and use it as a means to discriminate, as much if not more so than the group they seem to be mocking.
Western Culture Rebels against Censorship, Thrives on Disobedience, and Enjoys Disrespecting People Who Want to be Respected (at least in principle)
Of course, there is the historical and power dynamic at work here, which makes the whole situation so volatile and it should not be over-looked. Non-Whites will argue that the history of the world makes it a fair bit easier for White people to take a joke about either their race or cultural heritage and there is no doubt this is true. The scales are not balanced, it is simply not fair. The problem is that the world is not fair; how are we to balance the scales? Have an age where Black and Asian people enslave, impoverish, and belittle White people? Would this then make it fair on both sides, so we can start afresh and not worry about joking around with each other? This is not how the world works and not how it moves forward and I realise this is all very easy to say as a White guy, but you can't get around it.
It probably is true that many people from Western countries (again especially if they are White) have a slight superiority complex, particularly when it comes to non-Western cultures, so how can people of other cultures and races get past all of that? Complain to a culture that values freedom of speech and disobedience to authority that, "You can't say that", "It is not fair", "That's not funny", or "We demand you stop and be more respectful." It sounds horrible to say, but this is just not realistic when it comes to comedy. Such things will only fuel the flames and are like a red rag to a bull for many. The ironic thing is that most of the calls for censorship of sensitive material regularly come from Western far-left liberals on the other culture's behalf and it doesn't realise that it simply encourages it even further. Like a vicious circle, the more offended they get, the more they have to be offended about and the more other cultures become the butt of jokes.
Some of the Reasons for Making Fun of Others are Down to Insecurity
This is following the same line of argument as the people who make fun of and bully gay people being the most likely to be closet homosexuals. Unfortunately, race is still an issue for people in the world and culture also, so with this in mind the rise of the East may have unsettled more than a few Westerners and perhaps especially Americans, who have held the honor of belonging to the richest and most powerful nation for a while now (I have certainly noticed more Asian-dissing comedy in the US than the UK). When joking around goes too far or when racial or cultural comedy is taken too seriously, we can often expose jealousies, fears, and insecurities, which are present in many people with regard to Asians and Asian countries. A realisation that this is indeed the case in Asian communities may well help them soften the blows, provide piece of mind and indeed aid them in fighting back.
Try not to be Too Serious or Over-React
Personally, I was a little shocked at the recent reaction to a group of young people dressing-up as the Asiana pilots at Halloween. The article I have linked was so pathetic that it almost served as comedy itself, especially as the writer obviously couldn't see the irony in his little flow diagram at the end. I don't think there was really any harm in wearing what they did, but I am pretty damn sure it didn't deserve the attention and general vitriol that it got either. In a more recent example, Katy Perry's embarrassing, but harmless performance at the American Music Awards garnered a similar reaction and calls of racism, culturalism or at least disrespect. Both serve to show-up what is an over-sensitivity towards issues of race and culture. This over-exaggerated response of outrage clouds minds to more serious issues caused by a shocking level of ignorance among many people. I believe this is because of lack of dialogue about the problem of racism down to political correctness and social taboos.
When it comes to comedy at least, making fun of others is pretty much the norm, it isn't going to go away and if you really think about what makes you laugh on a day to day basis, no one should wish it to disappear. All one needs do is acknowledge it as comedy and not fact and therefore treat everyone you come across as a separate individual, without prejudice. The argument is, however, that allowing such comedy just reinforces people's stereotypes of others. What the factors above tell us though, is that getting angry and trying to ban a brand humour merely is the best way of perpetuating it, promoting it, encouraging it, making it a lot more interesting and funny, and stops people from having serious debates about it and learning from it.
"A joke is not a joke unless it is at the expense of someone else." - Unknown
For comedy to be effective, one need only pick up on patterns of behaviour in others, and generalisations of this kind can offend, but I think we are all going to have to live with it and at the end of the day.
There is however, a time and a place for the more edgy and possibly offensive kinds of comedy. Racial or cultural jokes have no place on the news for example. More responsibility and care must be taken and I do seriously wonder sometimes whether Western news media are doing a good enough job in this department, let alone other TV programs that are meant to be more family orientated like X-Factor, but we will leave that for another day. When you tune in to a show like Family Guy, you should expect that some of the material is going to be offensive to some people, when you go to watch a stand-up comedian like Ricky Gervais, Billy Connolly, or Jimmy Carr you should expect the same (sorry, I don't know many stand-up comedians of other nationalities).
To sum things up then, I think I am going to pull a quote from a previous post on stereotypes:
"I have always thought of humour as a key ingredient to getting along with anyone and I think this also applies between groups. When we can make fun of and laugh at each other, without worrying too much about offending each other, this is often a show of acceptance, respect, and generally liking someone and being friendly. In fact, jokes at other's expense are often a test and an invitation to join the group and to test the water as to whether we can trust the other person, especially in men."There will of course be examples of jokes that are genuinely insulting and done for the purpose of maintaining power or just simply being nasty. Sometimes outrage is necessary, but we don't need many of the over-blown reactions common in Western culture at the moment in matters of comedy and entertainment. It does us no favours in ridding the world of prejudice. Putting social pressure on controversial statements or words in the form of social taboos had an effect, it reduced prejudice and discrimination and raised consciousness, but now it is time to move on and be able to talk openly and honestly about race and culture to take equality and friendship between our fellow human beings to the next level. Comedy often thrives on blunt honesty and could be the best way to set us on the path to a better relationship between the races and cultures.
|빨리 엎드려봐 (Turn around quickly)|
I think I talked about this a bit on a post on safe sex back in October of 2012, but felt it was deserving of its in post in light of the popularity of my translation of the survey 'Why don't you use a condom?'
This is fairly simple. It is just like the English 'no condom'. I saw a comment on a chat board over at Ivan City that made want to write a quick post about this slang.
솔직히 노콘하는것들 너무 싫음 (Truly, I really hate condoms)
I agree, bareback feels a bit better. But not to the extent that you should throw caution to the wind and go 노콘 with a random man. Come on, guys, wrap it up.
The screenshot above is from a video on safe sex produced by iShap.
It is a pretty funny video. With a condom police fairy. 앞으로 콘돔으
Korean Phrases Ep. 12: “비행기를 태우다” & “비위를 맞추다”
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But our last couple of days in Korea were very hectic and I was relieved to get on the plane after what felt like a long week!
On Friday I said goodbye to all of my students and co teachers. It was really sad to say goodbye as it may be the last time that I see them again. They were all really cute and gave me some gifts, letters and cards.
On Monday, I went to Nick's school, which I had never been to before, to take some pictures for him. It was funny as all of the kids were very curious about me and would scream whenever I told them that I was Nick's girlfriend. The teacher asked me to come and sit in on his class so it was funny to see him in teacher mode. Afterwards, I went for my last Spanish class and then met Natasha, Amber and Ashley for one final Namsung dinner together.
Tuesday was a horrible day of getting little jobs done and still trying to finalise details of our flight. Stress!
Wednesday we tied up the last few loose ends and then went to meet all of our friends for dinner and drinks in Seomyeon. It wasn't as bad as i thought it would be to say goodbye to everyone, as I know that I will definitely see them all again! We got home by about 12:30 and was up bright and early on Thursday morning to catch our flight back to London.
So that's that chapter of our life over and done with! It's bizarre to be home!
So, last year some of us (AKA,me) maybe weren’t as grateful as we should have been. In fact, maybe some of us (AKA, me again) were a little whiny and homesick and frustrated by what our friends Trent and Caroline refer to as the “Korean Emotional Rollercoaster”.
Consider this post my remedy for that. This year, I’m gonna take a moment and share with you some things we’re grateful for. In no particular order, here they are.
1. These three children, who are surely better than we deserve.
2. Two healthy fathers who are supportive of our doing crazy things like living abroad for two years.
3. 2 mothers who loved us fiercely during the time we had with them
4. And wonderful other mothers who have loved us since then.
5. 3 little sisters who are smart, funny, talented, amazing women
6. An impossibly cute niece and nephew who love to Skype
7. An amazing extended family of people who love us
8. Good health and the ability to be physically active
9. The ability to travel and see amazing things
10. Wonderful friends in every corner of the globe who have been there for us through thick and thin
11. Facebook, Skype, email, and all those wonderful gizmos that let us keep in touch with the people we love
12. Having found a soulmate and the pleasure of getting to spend every day with them
13. The fact that we will get to spend next Thanksgiving at home with our family.
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We all make mistakes, and as long as they are not too big, and we don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over again, you should be in a better place after the experience. In business and media they often like to tell you what you should do to be “successful”. I think such tripe is redonculus. What people do better is learn from other people’s experiences (aka MISTAKES).
Don’t Don’t Care
When you run your own business, it can become tiresome. You wake up and start cursing “not again!”, before you even got your first cup of coffee. That is a dangerous place to be in when you are running your own business. Your clientele KNOWS you don’t care with that kind of an attitude. You will bleed customers. The problem with running a school is that teachers also quickly get into the “F*ck it all” mindset. In my experience the best way to avoid these situations is to create the feeling that you achieved something. As a teacher, when the kids fail, it’s your fault, when the kids succeed, it’s their doing. You don’t get a pat on the back as if you were working in sales or project management. This ungratefulness (or feeling as such) can eat your mind.
Don’t know it all
As a school you do need to position yourself, but you also need to be able to adapt to the needs of the customer. Something I am sorely lacking, mostly due to my inability to accept the “best practices” in SK. I try. I really try.
Don’t not do advertising
You stop advertising, you stop getting new students. End of the line.
Don’t spend that cash
The first three years of running a hagwon are the hardest, and if you understand the basic principles of the BCG matrix, you will understand that the first three years of operating a NEW business, you will have to reinvest every single penny you make. Every single one. No holidays, no fancy cars, no expensive dining, ….. Really. Your initial investment will never be enough to support a growing school.
Don’t Not Network
Get out there, meet people, show your face and find ways to cooperate with other small businesses. Yeap, it will cost you time, money, patience, and most of it will go wrong, but when things go right, it will keep your bottom line happy.
Don’t ignore your ignorance
Yes, you are ignorant, as am I, of certain aspects of running a business. When you can do something really good, there is something you cannot do so good. Take care of that.
Keeping it short today!!!
Although three weeks in England was still in front of me the final part of my journey through Europe would be in Barcelona, the capital city of the autonomous community of Catalunya and the home of the most successful football club in the world. I had a few days before another budget airline flight would whisk me home to Exeter and the rolling Devonshire hills of home. After taking the intercity bus and checking into one of two hostels that I would stay at in Barcelona (places had booked up and I was struggling to get last-minute rooms) I took the remainder of the day to walk around the quiet area near my hostel, Poblenou, a burgeoning technical business area with some modern buildings like the dynamic and colorful Torre Gabar skyscraper. I had an amazing burger at a pub I have forgotten the name of, before getting to sleep pretty early for a full day of exploration around Barcelona the following day.
The majestic, dynamic and colourful Torre Agbar.
I woke the next day before beginning an archaic journey across the city using the subway system and following my internal man-compass that eventually got me to the shadows of the imposing Camp Nou. Deciding to splash out on a Camp Nou Experience ticket (23 €) that included a full tour of the stadium and admittance to the impressive Camp Nou interactive experience and the club museum. I would not recommend wearing a fake Real Madrid (away) shirt in the stadium complex, or even in the city at all, as it will attract a certain questionable glare and snear on occasion (see photo at the top of the page), its only redeeming feature being that it was my Changwon Wednesday kit from Korea. I would suggest that even if you are not a football lover that you still go to the Nou Camp, it appears expensive but the attention to detail, quality and quantity of exhibits really makes you understand the importance, both political and sporting of this great club in modern Spanish history. The actual stadium is incredible, too. I was absolutely gutted to discover that the day I left Barcelona would be the first pre-season home game against Santos of Brazil and I wouldn’t be able to experience being there on a match day. I guess I will have to go back sometime; maybe for Tottenham Hotspur vs Barcelona in the Champions League…?
Gary Lineker, my childhood hero at the peak of his playing days at FC Barcelona.
The club crest adoring the touch-line, (from top-left to bottom) the St George Cross, the Catalonia colours and the club colours.
After my footballing fix, I decided to explore some of Barcelona’s famous examples of “Modernisme” (Art Nouveau). In particular this meant a self-guided tour of Gaudi’s work around the city. Antoni Gaudi was the figurehead of Catalan modernism and integrated his distinct personal artistic skills in ceramics, stained-glass, wrought-iron forgery and carpentry into his outlandish and ambitious architectural projects. I walked outside two houses that have been turned into museums (over-priced ones) that are dedicated to his life and works ( La Pedera/ Casa Mila and La Casa Batllo) before walking to Park Guell, a public garden that is accented with architectural pieces from Gaudi’s rather exuberant imagination. Later in the evening I went to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s overtly ambitious and iconic homage to his religious faith (it’s still being built 87 years after his death). The church, even when surrounded by giant cranes and building-works is one of the most bewildering and astonishingly impressive man-made objects I have seen.
Gaudi using one of his trademark techniques of using reclaimed ceramics in his architecture (trencadis) to mark the entrance to Park Guell.
Looking up to the main terrace of Park Guell and the zombie like mob of tourists.
Gettng a brief space from the tourist throng to take a picture from the roof terrace of Park Guell across Barcelona to the Mediterranean Sea.
La Sagrada Familia lit up at night.
Outside the now redundant Monumental Bullring of Barcelona, the Catalan government passed a bill banning bullfighting in 2010.
Casa Batllo with its decorative ceramic facade.
The next day was dedicated to a hostel transfer and a rather lazy ambling walk around the Ciutat Vuelta and the area that surrounds the popular Las Ramblas. Ciutat Vuelta (Catalan for Old City) is composed of four districts: The immediate coastal area of Barceloneta with its narrow streets and delis that hover behind a sandy beach. Barri Gotic, an area built on Roman foundations with imposing and sometimes leaning architecture and the inspiration for many artists and writers. La Ribera, an area of boutique shops, thriving nightlife a vibrant city park and the mandatory, ‘big city’, Arc de Triomf. Finally, there is the once notorious El Raval, an area to the west of the famous Las Ramblas, once a den of drugs and prostitution and other seedy happenings that has now been revitalised (following the 1992 Olympics) into a lightened, artistic and predominantly immigrant area.
The vibrant colours and smell from La Boqueria Mercat, a perfect stop for some refreshing juices and fruits on a hot day walking the streets of Ciutat Vuelta.
Some of the architectural styling that can be found in the Barri Gotic.
The Cathedral at the northern tip of the Barri Gotic.
La Ribera, the Arc de Triomf. I returned here later that evening on a run that encompassed several laps of the extremely social Parc de la Ciutadella. Both on the parade leading to the Arc and in the park, various groups of people were enjoying the idyllic summer evenings. In the increasingly long shadow of the Arc there was a group of Asian women practicing T’ai Chi, a team of rollerblading youths weaving a slalom course and a cluster of Capoeira dancers. As I lapped the park I was witness to numerous groups practicing various fitness techniques, extreme yoga, boxercise and circuit training. I don’t think I have ever seen such a diverse and vibrant dynamic anywhere else in the world.
On my final day in Barcelona I crossed the city and headed to Mount Montjuic. Mount Montjuic provides stunning views over the coastal city below and really gives you an idea about the diversity that Barcelona has to offer its residents and visitors. From the medieval fort that tops it you can see out across the beach lined coast, over to the mountains heading towards Montserrat, down into the busy container riddled port and over the Celta Vuitat.
The 100m track where Linford Christie raced to gold for Team GBR.
Not only a steep hill with a moated medieval fort atop, Mount Montjuic is also home to the 1992 Olympic Park. Unbeknown to me I arrived when the FINA World Championjships were taking place and many of the facilities were being used for the swimming gala. This meant I could almost appreciate what it would have been like to attend the Olympics. There were plenty of broad-shouldered athletes milling around (although I didn’t recognise a single one, it was swimming after all…), news agency vans, tented entertainment areas and event promotional material. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a ticket as they were only available online. I’m not sure water polo was really my thing either. Instead I looked at the impressive stadium, which was free to enter, and admired the sky-piercing Olympic torch monument.
The view up to the stadium from the Placa d’Europa and through the FINA tented village.
After wandering around Mount Montjuic I headed back towards EL Raval and towards the Museu d’Art Comtemporani de Barcelona. Outside a gaggle of youthful skateboarders were testing the concrete structures of Placa dels Angels, inside there was a comprehensive and impressive collection of contemporary art. Barcelona may be synonymous with Antoni Gaudi but I much preferred the talents displayed within MACBA. I took a few photos inside as they actively encouraged people to use their cameras, there was even an interactive photo booth that you could take a photo of yourself, before and after you viewed the galleries, to see the lasting impression of the works on show, I went for a moderately confused look after.
My unforgettable journey through Barcelona, Spain and Europe was at an end. Although I had been out of work over the summer it had presented me with a unique opportunity to travel for an extended period of time, with a secure job always lined-up to return to, it turned out to be a most welcome opportunity and one that will stay with me for a long time; hell, I’m still writing about it three months later! The following day I boarded my final flight and landed safely back in Devon. Three weeks enjoying the comforts of home, seeing family and catching up with old friends was ahead of me.
If you haven’t yet seen the zone’s geography, here it is to the left, complete with its overlap with the Korean and Japanese zones. The most important conflict of course is over Senkaku, but Korea watchers will also note that the Ieodo submerged reef, which Korea claims, is also in the zone. Gotta wonder what the Chinese were thinking by giving Korea and Japan common cause over anything. Foolish.
I got called about this by my friend Sam Kim at Bloomberg. Needless to say, all my comments didn’t make into the story, so here is an edit of my email comments with Sam on why the Chinese seemed to just do this out of the blue.
SK/BB: Why are the Chinese doing this?
Me: “I see 4 possible explanations:
1. Belligerence: the Chinese really are picking a fight with Japan. This is the worst possible reason. They may figure that the Hagel visit to Japan a couple months ago has made Japan into an open challenger to China now. And that is kinda true. America is hedging China, ducking and weaving, trying hard to avoid an open confrontation with it. But Japan is increasingly unabashed that is it balancing China directly as a threat. Abe is increasingly willing to call out China openly. So Asia is becoming a serious bipolar contest, and maybe the Chinese are thinking: ‘to hell with it; Abe’s playing tough; we have too also.’ Certainly my Japanese colleagues in this area increasingly talk about China this way.
2. Blowback: the CCP is doing this for domestic legitimacy purposes. CCP ideology since Tiananmen is nationalism, not communism. And Japan is the great foreign enemy in that narrative. The CCP may not want a conflict with Japan, but it’s been telling Chinese youth for 20+ years that Japan is greatly responsible for the ’100 years of humiliation.’ So now the CCP is stuck; they have to be tough on Japan – even if they don’t want to be – because their citizens demand it. The CCP has created an anti-Japanese frankenstein at home that has to be placated. They have to ride the anti-Japanese tiger their education/propaganda has created, or risk a domestic backlash.
3. Incompetence: the CCP and PLA didn’t really realize just how sharply locals and the US would react. Maybe they’re reading too many of these books claiming that China is about to ‘eclipse’ the US and ‘rule the world’ and all that. lol. Maybe they’re starting to believe their own hype and got overconfident. Chinese bullying in the SCS has worked out reasonably well so far, so maybe they felt they were on a roll and could do the same in the ECS. But China’s NEA neighbors are much more capable than in SEA.
4. The Transition: Xi Jinping wants to make a splash as the new boss. Our knowledge of CCP factions is weak (coastal Shanghai princelings vs hinterland populists is the usual breakdown, with Xi being from the Shanghai clique), but we know Xi was not a shoe-in. There was an internal contest, so Xi might be consolidating power with a flashy foreign crisis. Khrushchev did this sorta thing, and the NK leadership too frequently expresses internal splits by provoking foreign crises.
The problem is that Chinese foreign policy decision-making is so opaque, that we have almost no idea which of these options is most accurate – or if it’s something else entirely. My guess is #2, because the Chinese have always struck me as pretty cautious, even crafty, in managing their rise. It’s true that they’re a lot more aggressive since 2009, but I don’t see them suddenly becoming reckless. The post-Mao oligarchy system that runs China is designed to avoid exactly that. And I always found that factoid that the PRC spends more on internal than external security to be indicative that CCP is, in fact, very insecure at the top. It’s gotta have an ideology with foreign enemies, otherwise the Chinese people might see the real enemy: the CCP’s corruption, rejection of democracy, and unwillingness to admit the horrors of Maoism.”
SK/BB: Is China’s Blowing the Opportunity of South Korean-Japanese Tension?
“I do think this will alienate South Korea, and it makes me wonder once again, as I said to Andrew last night, what is going on inside China. My sense has always been the PLA and CCP are much smarter than the Kremlin of Soviet days ever was. Sun Tzu said, “When your enemy is in the process of destroying himself, stay out of his way.” So if you’re China, just stay out of the way while SK and Japan tear at each other. But now, China has given cause for Japan, SK and the US to come together. Very foolish. And for what? Are the Chinese really go to force down or shoot down civilian airliners in the zone? That would be madness. It would alienate everyone in Asia, and China really needs local friends to avoid isolation by a coalition of the US, Japan, and India. I would imagine then that the US will play up this Chinese move to Japan and SK to suggest what US analysts have been saying for a long time – that Japan and Korea have a lot more in common than they admit and face much greater external threats than each other. Koreans take Ieodo pretty serious. They built that research facility on top of it and even made a monster movie about it. I don’t think China gets that, as throwing Ieodo and Senkaku in the zone together gave Japan and South Korea common cause overnight. And in fact, the Korean response on Ieodo was swift and entirely predictable. The Chinese need to hire some Korea experts, I think.”
SK/BB: Will This Escalate?
Me: “I am actually surprised the US challenged it so fast. The US has been hedging rising China for awhile now, but Japan is increasingly openly balancing against China. So I expected Japan, especially under Abe, to do something like this. But not the Americans. It makes me wonder who authorized that. Did it go all the way to POTUS? But challenging the zone early is a way to prevent it from sinking in. So from a brinksmanship perspective, it makes sense to respond immediately.
It is so hard to say if it will escalate. I will hazard a guesstimate and say no. China is still not capable of winning an air and/or maritime conflict in East Asia. Indeed, even without the US, I still think Japan would win a major skirmish around Senkaku. China is still mostly a land-power, while Japan has focused on air and sea power since WWII. Also, if China forces Japan’s hand, it will burn bridges throughout Asia and provoke an encircling coalition, possibly running from India all the way around up to Japan: . I don’t think Beijing is that foolish or the PLA that reckless. If I had to guess, this air-zone was declared, not to provoke a conflict with Japan, but to bolster the nationalist credentials of the CCP at home.
On the airlines, yes, I did hear that now they are not going to tell China anything after all. Wow. I wonder if the Chinese realized that they would be in a position where they might have to force down civilian airliners in order to back up their claim! Again, I just can’t imagine the PLA is that out of control. So my sense is, it’s a bluff and nothing will happen to those airliners. But if China were to repeat a KAL-007 resolution, it would vindicate Japan overnight and alienate Southeast Asian states, whom China needs to prevent encirclement, for years.”