Monday, December 31, 2007

이번역은, 율촌, 율촌역 입니다 ~ Yulchon Station

Front of Yulchon Station.

While looking for an article I read years ago about the remotest train station in South Korea, I came across a little mention of Yulchon Station in Yeosu city. Built in 1930 it was one of 12 small train stations designated as cultural properties in 2006. According to the Joongang Ilbo:
Further south in the countryside is Yulchon Station (1930) in Yeosu, South Jeolla, which was built during the Japanese colonial period and is a wooden facility typical of those commonly found in the Japanese countryside.

During an interim study on the project, researchers faced complaints that the government was trying to preserve a “leftover from the Japanese colonial era” but they decided the facility had value culturally and from a architectural perspective, so it was included on the list.

I visited Yulchon Station back in September, back when I was doing write-ups of defunct Jeollanam-do train stations for Galbijim, and because I had compiled those since-deleted profiles is the only reason the name jumped out at me. I'm not sure if the station is open to passengers these days. There were two employees inside, manning electrical contraptions, although there was nobody at the ticket window and no recent train schedule. I was able to spend a few minutes wandering through it and snapping pictures on both sides of the platform, something unthinkable back home.

Back of Yulchon Station.

The station is located in Yulchon-myeon (map), an administrative division of under 10,000 people in western Yeosu. It borders Suncheon on the west, and is one of many expanses of rural, undeveloped land that would fill in between the urban centers of Suncheon, Yeosu, and Gwangyang, should the merger take place. Also a reminder that village life and its various charms---not being facetious---is never too far away from anything in Jeollanam-do. Not sure too many people needed that reminder, as there are vegetable gardens growing across the street from Gwangju City Hall.

Field overlooking the village center.

"No, no, no, I said PRAY with Jesus."

By the way, I never found the article about the remotest train station in Korea. If I remember correctly it's somewhere in Gangwon-do, and the article talked with two guys who had to man this station way up in the mountains. If anyone knows what I'm talking about, could you please pass it along?

U.S. Embassy addresses misinformation about the E-2 regulations.

A recent e-mail from the U.S. Embassy addressed the new E-2 visa regulations. Although they were to have taken effect over two weeks ago, apparently the Korean government still has no idea what it's doing. Two amusing/frustrating paragraphs (emphasis mine):
Regrettably, the Korea Immigration Service (KIS) has placed incorrect information on its website concerning services U.S. embassies can and cannot perform. As of this writing the "New Release: Mandatory Requirements of Criminal Background Check and Health Certificate" on the KIS website contains incorrect information about the length of time it can take to get a criminal records check in the U.S. and also states erroneously that the U.S. Embassy can notarize or certify background checks. We have asked that the incorrect information be removed from the KIS website and we regret any inconvenience or misunderstanding that has resulted from their explanation of our services.

As we receive updated information on the Korean visa requirements, we will post it on our website. The U.S. Embassy website will also continue to be the best source of information about the services that we are able to provide under U.S. law and regulation.

You can find more information from the U.S. Embassy on its website. There is still disinformation and confusion all around, including from the newspapers and from my provincial education office. Seems the best course of action for now is to wait it out, rather than jumping through all kinds of hoops that may be unnecessary or impossible. I still find all these measures reactionary, discriminatory, and xenophobic, but that should go without saying.

새해 복 많이 받으세요. Happy New Year.

Excellent fireworks from an excellent city. Shot of Taipei 101, Taiwan, from 2006, stolen from here.

I decided---or my laziness decided for me---to watch 12:00 am roll around on the television. I flipped around the networks to catch a countdown or party or something, and landed on one on KBS. Turns out it was the Gwangju feed and they were doing something in front of the old Provincial Hall. The other networks were running the award shows for their dramas. For the last minute they put the time on the screen, although there was no countdown, and the MCs actually talked over the entrance of the New Year, and about a half-minute later some people (rather hastily, it looked) sent up bottle rockets and cheers. For the next few minutes some government officials rang the big bell at the pavillion across from the Provincial Hall, and a few minutes later it was back to the song and dance. Rather anticlimactic, but I guess more sensible than waiting for Carson Daly to tell us when to clap. The New Year was rung in by cable channels CGV and Story On with softcore porn.

I figured there'd be a big countdown in Seoul, or something, but for some reason I didn't get the feed on any of my channels. The significant bell-ringing takes place not in Gwangju but at Bosingak Pavillion in downtown Seoul. Not as cool as Taipei.

Well, it's an arbitrary day as any for me to decide to exercise more, eat healthier, study Korean lots more, and stop being such a dumb-ass. I should be in town for Seollal, the Lunar New Year, when the more authentic celebrations begin. Anyway, Happy Korean New Year to me, to mine, to you, and to yours.

Edit: Arirang is showing people playing a video hockey game. LMFAO.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

첫눈 First Snow

We had our first snow of the year in Suncheon on Sunday, and there's about a quarter-inch on the ground right now. The Korea Times tells us:
The weather agency forecast up to 30 centimeters of additional snow in the region by Monday.

The article, "Heavy Snow Hits Southwest," also tells us:
A heavy snow alert was issued for about 20 cities and counties in the North and South Jeolla provinces. Jeongeup had 22.5 centimeters of snow, with Gochang having 19 centimeters, Gwangju 18 centimeters, Imsil 12.5 centimeters and Gunsan 10 centimeters.

Some 70 ferries remained anchored in port, and dozens of flights were grounded at airports in Gwangju, Muan and Yeosu.

and is accompanied by this picture:

From what I hear it's customary here to send a text message to your boyfriend or girlfriend when the 첫눈 arrives. Having neither, I didn't notice until I ventured out this evening. As I hate cold weather it's a shame, because it was in the 50s for Christmas.

Also from the Korea Times, Korea and China are fighting about Taekwondo (grow up you two), and an actress's suicide is the most shocking news item of the year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chosun Ilbo: "How Manga Reflect Resurgent Japanese Chauvinism"

Park Soon-ae, a professor of Japanese at Gwangju's Honam University is troubled by a trend she sees in Japanese comics. From the Chosun Ilbo:
“Postwar Japanese comics have been through several stages -- fear of war, nihilism and otaku-like obsession. Now, they directly analyze the war and even support imperialism.” So says Prof. Park Soon-ae at the department of Japanese Language and Literature at Honam University. Prof. Park's paper about how manga deal with war, was published in the latest issue of the biannual magazine Japan Space.

I don't know anything about that, but Wikipedia tells us that both On War, a recent comic mentioned in the Chosun Ilbo article, and its author Yoshinori Kobayashi are pretty out there.

As an aside, I wonder if anyone over at Honam U. is aware that, among the letter blocks they've used to represent "English" on the English Language Department webpage is a number 4. Funny/sad. I would suggest that one of six the foreigners there fix it, but they are designated as lecturers, not professors, and are thus probably not qualified to make such an executive decision.

Friday, December 28, 2007

김효진 is Annoying.

Meet Kim Hyojin. She stars with 남궁선 and others on the TV show "Talk and City" (토크&시티)" which too frequently comes between me and entertainment on an otherwise good channel, "Story On."

The entire show is pretty irritating, but Hyojin especially annoys me to no end. I can't quite put my finger on it. I guess I just find her extremely loud, brutish and out of place in the fashionable or sophisticated locations she and her cohost are disturbing in that particular episode. "Talk and City" is probably a Korean equivalent of Dave Attell and his show Insomniac, and perhaps as the ugly one her job is to provide a comic foil to the only-slightly-less obnoxious 궁선. However, I do find that Hyojin looks about as natural in the latest high-fashion trends of 1987 as a spaniel in a Halloween costume, and, whether she's gnawing on some baguettes or forcing mangled Engrish words into her observations, the 31-year-old comports herself with the grace and elegance of a middle school girl at a Super Junior concert. I reckon the show is not about the places they visit but rather the stars' reactions to them, though we might expect a little more from a fashion designer and an actress. The presence of loud tourists and overbearing talkshow hosts---who, if you watch the program, spend a lot of time talking over their "foreign" interviewees---doesn't exactly provide counterbalance to the reputation Korean travellers have earned.

Normally I don't mind people that end up annoying Europeans, but her show is a bit much. Since I can't get the video to embed for some reason, go here instead to see a little clip of the show. See, I don't know exactly what it is . . . but her and 김원희 just annoy me to no end.


There are evidentally three notable 김효진s. One is a model and one is an actress who likes to play with African kids and who jumped on the trend a year before Lee Hyori. Thus, an image search will produce some interesting photos, but will mercifully not turn up many shots of the host pictured atop this entry.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

"What are you doing? We are listening to Arabic music."

There are times like this when I'm not as upset about never getting invited to any parties.

2007: In case you missed it.

Nobody can deny that foreigners in Korea are a despicable bunch and must be stopped. Thankfully there are new regulations in place that will send most foreigners to the countries that most deserve an influx of barbarians: China and Japan. We can honestly pin most of South Korea's social ills on white people, who spend most of their time touching children, smoking dope, harassing Korean women, eating hamburgers, punching cab drivers, and forging degrees. Some of these godless monstrosities even teach private lessons. Immigration is quite right to "eradicate illegal activities of native English teachers who are causing social problems such as ineligible lectures, taking drugs and sex crimes." I believe immigration is targeting the correct demographic, for improperly documented foreign teachers and their penchant for tutoring and cunnilingus pose an enormous threat to the survival of Korean society. As I've said before, you can never have too many documentaries, exposes, and columns about white people and their cheating ways.

But for the sake of balance I thought I'd share a few news stories of 2007 you might have missed. The headlines were dominated by foreigners behaving badly, so you might not have seen some other interesting developments. The in-demand pitcher of 2001 Chan-ho Park has bravely and selflessly decided to put his MLB career on hold in order to pitch for the national team, for example. With regard to criminal foreigners, to defend our good name against this xenophobic, race-baitng witch hunt add balance I've linked a few stories about the Korean frauds, perverts, and shitty teachers left unchecked, if only to show the negative influence these intruders have had.

Academic fraud

** Shin Jeong-ah - professor pegged as art director for the 2008 Gwangju Bienalle said she earned a Ph.D. from Yale University. The most high-profile story in the forgery scandal, her man on the side was a government official who helped conceal her forgery and funnel money into her projects.
** Venerable Jigwang - notable Buddhist monk who said he had a degree from Seoul National University.
** Lee Ji-young - radio host of KBS's "Good Morning Pops," Gwangyang native and former Suncheon National University student who built her reputation on her impressive overseas education that never took place.
** Lee Pil-sang - President of Korea University plagarized his students' theses.
** Ma Kwang-soo - poet, novelist, and Yonsei University professor plagarized her students' works.
** Ahn Yoo-jin (안유진) - bellydancer, used forged documents to get a part-time gig at Kwangju Women's University in 2006.
** Jeong Deok-hui (정덕희) - professor, author, actor
** Jun Yeong-hun (준영훈) - singer
** Lee Chang-ha - architect and professor who claimed to have a degree from New Bridge University's non-existant school of fine arts.
** Kim Ock-rang - professor and owner of a "performing arts space" who admitted to buying her degree from a California diploma mill.
** Daniel Henney - actor, model. Some online sources erroneously reported that he graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago. According to his manager, as quoted in the Korea Times, “With the recent issue about academic records, we avoided correcting the problem because we were afraid it would reflect badly.”
** Choi Soo-jung - popular actor, humanitarian, good husband. Some of his official biographies erroneously claimed he graduated from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and from an American university.
** Jang Mi-hee - singer
** "Fake degree scandal hits sports figures"
** Fake foreign degrees were popular in the military as well.
** "Deception" 2007 Word of the Year

Damn, too bad this is only about 2007. Otherwise I could have included Kim Byong-joon, the former fucking Minister of Education who resigned in 2006 after he admitted he plagarized his students. (HT to The Wanderer)

Teachers behaving badly

** Field trip to China and prostitutes
** Teacher beats students with a bamboo sword, gets a warning (HT to Gusts of Popular Feeling)
** Teacher who molests students gets a suspension and a transfer.
** Teacher leaks standardized test questions to students, parents, and cram schools
** Leaked questions feared to be widespread in Gyeonggi-do
** "Netizens Claim Teachers Helped Students Cheat on SATs."
** 5 Suncheon middle school students killed in bus crash on field trip
** Teacher bakes, beats students.
** "Children to Bear the Brunt if Parents Bribe Teachers." The Korea Federation of Teacher's Associations of course criticized this policy.
** If U R YOUNG & WHITE, U R ALRIGHT @ Bundang Kids Club!!!
** Teacher causes student to pass out over haircut.
** Suncheon teacher humilates high school class for being late.
** "Korean Teachers Wrong on FTA Facts."
** "Gov’t Warns Teachers Union Off Anti-FTA Classes"
** "Entrusting Our Children to Dangerous Lunatics."
** "One in five male high school students have had their hair chopped off by a teacher, a study has found."

Sexual misconduct

** Gwangju middle school girl held captive in motel and raped by 800 men.
** I'm gonna go ahead and say that again. Gwangju middle school girl held captive in motel and raped by 800 men.
** Man molests 11-year-old stepdaughter, found not guilty by reason of liquor.
** Government gives gifts to people who don't fuck whores on New Year's
** Hampyeong county police lieutentant puts cameras in bathrooms.
** Taxi driver rapes and kills two women in Seoul.
** Korea a "danger country" for women.
** Goyang detective kidnaps, rapes, robs women.
** "Chatting with the Beauties" star reveals her professor offered good grades in return for sex.
** "Teenage Sex Crimes Tripled in 8 Years"
** "Alleged South Korean Rape Cult Leader Arrested in China"

Just a reminder to any foreign teachers out there . . . please prepare your academic transcripts and your criminal background checks. Matter of fact I was just reminded again today about having a criminal check, two health exams, and my original degree. We can never be too careful when Korea's children are at stake. If you get too stressed out about these new visa and need to go running for the shelter of your mother's little helper, you'd better know that you're more likely to find drugs on a Korean than on a foreigner.

Apartment story.

No, not the Konglishy name of a new furniture store. Inspired by a thread on Dave's, I thought I'd share this little story.

Apparently the housing market in my old county was tight, because they didn't procure an apartment for me until the day before I moved in. The county, of course, waited until the last minute and couldn't find one through the usual channels, so somebody at the Office of Education called in a favor to a friend, who let me stay above his bookstore rent-free. It had three rooms---three times the number as my officetel in Bundang---although the bathroom was atrocious, had no windows and no fan, and the mold was so bad that you could make an indentation in the tiles by pushing in on them. A fair number along one of the walls had fallen off. Anyway, I guess that was a good enough arrangement for a while, but a few days after Christmas---about a year ago today, actually---my coteacher got a call at 9:30 am that said I had to be packed and ready to move at 2:00 pm. The county had to show documentation to the province of how much they were paying for my accomodations. Since my county wasn't paying anything---and pocketing that money, I assume---the arrangement couldn't last, and thus I had to move into a different place in a hurry. A common occurrence, apparently.

That was one of the many frustrations of small-town life. They knew they were importing a foreigner, yet they didn't make the appropriate arrangements, and knowing the rules they didn't seek to correct the situation for the four months prior to my last-minute move. When I got to my new place a few blocks away after a few hours of moving there was no hot water, gas, or heat, so I spent the night in the male teachers' rest house connected to the school. In days gone by a male teacher would spend the night to guard the school, but nowadays it is used for drinking and resting. It was comfortable enough, but still . . . That, plus the fact that they delayed the opening of my contracted school---an English Town---by 16 months and counting, made me think that the disorganization and halfassedness of a rural area outweighed the positive aspects of a quiet, secluded year as one of the few foreigners to pass through that part of the country.

A previous tenant had drawn faces on the exposed plaster in the bathroom. An interesting decoration at first, until the surrounding tiles later fell off.

Well after moving in I found that the light in the bedroom of my old place would turn red if I pulled the string. I did not give any massages, though, and felt quite lonely.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Would you like to spend a month in Damyang?

I didn't think so. But yesterday was the start of the bi-yearly, month long immersion camp for Korean and foreign English teachers at the Jeollanam-do Educational Training Institute in Nam-myeon (map), Damyang county, Jeollanam-do. I am thankfully exempt from having to participate in such nonsense, but some public school teachers are forced to do it, depending on which of three programs they were hired under. So while my winter vacation consists of winter vacation, some teachers will be in a language bukkake party with tons of people who these days not speaking the English so well.

While I don't like the idea of being dormed up with strangers, people have said it's a decent time and a good chance to meet people and learn some things. You can find blog entries about it here and here. The Korean teachers have said they enjoy it as well, and you can read some of their comments on the JETI site here. They even got to meet Isaac Durst, the face of English, the embodiment of English education, and an embarassment to all foreigners:

Actually, the Jeollanam-do Office of Education will no longer pimp its teachers to the 연수원 during vacations. They have hired teachers to permanently staff JETI. According to one blogger there are eight foreigners there, and according to an old advertisement they were hiring for November with salaries of 2.6 and 3.0 million per month.

Anyway, one of my coteachers started there yesterday, and she will be away for a month. That seems a bit jarring, and I certainly wonder how a husband and children will survive without a wife to cook and clean. (The Metropolitician tells us of Cheju-do's way around this problem.) I forsee four weeks of ramyeon, beer, and computer games, while the children run around in potato sacks. Actually sounds like a nice vacation for a husband.

According to the scholars on Dave's ESL Cafe, and to another one of my coteachers, Korean English teachers now have a number of training options to choose from. They can go to camp at Damyang, or can spend a semester at the Korea National University of Education in Chungcheongbuk-do. My coteacher even said that Korean English teachers can choose to do a stint overseas in order to provide an immersion experience.

Any effort to better qualify Korean English teachers for all facets of English education should be welcomed. Part of me wishes I had an opportunity to meet attractive twentysomething Koreans mingle with more teachers, pick up teaching tips, share experiences, and perhaps meet others who speak English, but I wish there were a better way than spending a few weeks locked down on the JETI compound.

People just need to get their shit together when it comes to English. I mean, a Korean teacher my age will have had nine years of English in grade school, four years in college while taking courses through the education department, plus four years of on-the-job training. That's not accounting for extra hours spent at a hagwon, the extracurricular exposure to English almost from birth, and the countless opportunities to study, use, and speak English that present themselves on a daily basis. Turn on the TV right now and there are five different English-language programs, plus a few English-teaching ones. Look around the office and there are a half-dozen colleagues who have all had a lifetime of exposure to English. Put a few keystrokes into google and you have billions of English-language webpages at your disposal, plus countless Korean pages devoted to teaching English. And you know that white guy who used to visit your hagwon every day and talk? The one you vaguely remember telling you to open your book, or to answer a question? The one who you ignored while you tried to memorize lists of vocabulary from your Korean teacher? Yeah, maybe you should have taken advantage of his classes, rather than bitching ten years later about the lack of opportunity to talk with native speakers. And you know the white guy who sits by himself in the language lab? The one who eats lunch alone and who, a few times a semester, does a little class, or something, in front of students? They guy who is costing you a few thousand dollars a month? Yeah, maybe you should put him to good use, and include him in the fabric of your school's English department, rather than complaining later about how white people are a waste of money.

I'm for anything that improves the quality of teachers, but when there's a combined effort of thing like JETI, English Towns in every county, and trips overseas, this policy smacks of just throwing money at the problem. Or this policy smacks of no policy whatsoever. Remarkable how one of the most important, and expensive, subjects for Koreans gets no serious consideration about its study or implementation, especially with regards to foreign teachers. The apologists who fill the pages of academic journals and boring books will say that the aggressive nature of English and its spread have made students too intimidated and too ostracized to adequately learn the language. You don't find much that talks about how the presentation of foreigners and the interpretation of foreign cultures and the English language here might condition people against English.

Anyway, I'll close with a surprisingly astute observation from another Jeolla blogger:
So my last week of school and first week of holidays, I was at a camp teaching Korean English teachers how to teach English. Rather ironic considering they have had 4 years of Uni to learn how to do this and I have had none... but anyway.

Korea Times: Let's Take Pride in Korean Language

Here's a column in yesterday's Korea Times encouraging Koreans to take pride in their language and culture, even/especially while learning English or going abroad.

Ordinarily you'd use "let's" to suggest doing something you're not currently doing now. I have yet to meet a Korean who does not gush over their scientific alphabet, and the thought of a Korean woman going overseas and teaching her foreign friends her great language and culture doesn't strike me as uncommon at all.

I've met plenty, though, who confuse language with alphabet. King Sejong did not invent Korean, as many say, he invented Hangeul. I doubt there are many who confuse 한글 with 한국어, but it happens in English.

I also wonder where they get "scientific." I'm not being (too) skeptical, I'm just curious. Is it because the letters were designed to resemble speech organs? Is it because some think the language was designed by committee? Because it was simply an attempt at writing Korean without Chinese characters? When my former students were writing essays about their favorite person in history, those who didn't choose Yi Sun-shin and his Japanese-killing ways chose King Sejong, and they all mentioned how scientific Korean is. In fact, many of their opening paragraphs were nearly identical, so they clearly memorized the tract from somewhere else, and I suspect that nowadays it's a hollow phrase Koreans repeat, like "we have four distinct seasons" or "Korean food is so spicy." I'll have to ask about that, though I wonder if they think "scientific" is a synonym for "easy" or "efficient."

The author of the article, Ms. An, could very well be a nice young lady, and her alphabet could very well be a nice young alphabet. I've met plenty several a few nice, well-adjusted Koreans back home who didn't seem to have visions of language imperialism dancing through their heads. Hell, Ms. An's article looks more fantasy than fact . . . most Koreans I've associated with back home were too shy or too stuck-up to hang out with any barbarians, and this article's message strikes me as a way of kiling two birds with one stone: practicing English and spreading Korea's glory (not a euphamism). Or perhaps the stress of using English is dulled when used to talk about Korea, so mightn't that be admirable?

But I'll bet a lot of folks groaned when seeing the article's theme, something we come across just about all the time in a country plagued by both superiority and inferiority complexes. Every culture has its own ethnocentric beliefs, and I'm sure there are Koreans or Canadians who get pissed off with our Thanksgiving, WW2, or 9/11 myths. A big difference, though, is that one of our primary aims of learning foreign languages isn't to spread these cultural facts to others. Forget about the Jesuits, I mean that you don't have little kids studying Korean and, right off the bat, learning how to say "America is an industrial might," "The atomic bomb is a great deterrent," and "English is the global language."

Maybe hangeul lessons for Ms. An might be nothing more sinister than an ice-breaker, but the episode does reveal a bizarre attitude toward outsiders and outside things that are already pretty well exoticized. Notice how she even used "foreign friends" while refering to people she met overseas? Taken a little bit further you'll have books for learning Korean that operate on the following premise:
Language is the first precious intangible cultural properties in this world.
Writing is the first valuable tangible cultural propertie in this world.
Amog the rest, The Korean Language and Korean Writing are the greatest cultural inheritance of everything in the world.
Of course, there are only their language and writing in other country, too.
But their language and writing cannot express perfectly each and every.
The Korean Language and Korean Writing can express perfectly everything, everysound, all of thinking, and all of feeling of this world.
Like this, The Korean superior culture be Known to the general public, the foreigners are learning The Korean Language and writing, is getting more and more many.
This book is wrote for the sake of them.

You can see the scan and the rest of the post on Occidentalism.

So, yeah, maybe Ms. An just figured she'd teach the world a little about her little country. And maybe her intentions were just to convey something about South Korea beyond the War and the Olympics. But it's bizarre to be met so consistently with dual feelings of inferiority and superiority, and anymore I can't tell if people want to teach us about Korea or pity us for not knowing.


From Lee Dong-wook in the Korea Times today, responding to an article I did a few weeks ago:
If Mr. Deutschland is still skeptical simply because of his ``impression,'' please feel free to contact my colleagues or myself and we are willing to provide more detailed information and explanation.

Really, really, really need an editor over there.

Yeosu's greens.

I apologize for a lack of hard facts in this entry. When I saw a post on Dave's mention a new golf course for Yeosu I thought the accompanying picture was interesting, and I've tried to Naver around for some information as best I could.

Yeosu resident kiwiduncan brings up an easily-missed point in all this hype about Yeosu's 2012 Expo. The idea of a "green" Expo is a goal as much as it is a theme. There are some projections about greening up the area, and you can find plenty of awkward English vaguely describing some aims on the Expo website, but I've seen little evidence of a commitment to the environment.

For instance there's the City Park Resort, an 18-hole golf course set for construction. According to this article, the 1,163,458-square-meter site will also include a clubhouse and a 52-room tourist hotel, and will cost 90 billion won. And if I'm reading that article correctly---given my poor Korean that's unlikely---Yeosu wants to build 5 or 6 golf courses in town?

Drawing of the proposed 18-hole course, stolen from here.

Golf courses can be attractive, and some folks will turn on a golf tournament just to see the landscaping. But Yeosu and that area of the country prides itself on its natural scenery, so I don't think a new golf course---or five of them---will serve any great cosmetic purpose. And in a country like South Korea where open space is scarce, access to golf courses is a luxury, and an addition that won't serve the greater good.

Based on the following photograph, some homes and forest will be sacrificed for the new course.

Future location, perhaps, stolen from here.

I haven't been able to pinpoint exactly where this will go, but a couple of articles have said 봉계동, a small administrative division northwest of Chonnam University in old Yeocheon County. There have been protests against the displacement of homes and forests, but they were evidentally ineffective.

I don't live in Yeosu, and can't attest to these numbers, but based on Naver it looks like there are two golf courses in Yeosu already. Off the top of my head I know that nearby Suncheon has three country clubs and they're working on at least one more. And one of the article mentions a protester as saying, basically, that they're already putting in the 해양관광레저단지 (Haeyang Tourist Leisure Complex, roughly) in Hwayang-myeon, Yeosu, so why make more?

I have to guess that these additions are coinciding with Yeosu getting the 2012 Expo. But other parts of Jeollanam-do are developing as well. There's the Namak New City initiative going on in Muan, the Tourism and Leisure City in Haenam, the Gwangyang FEZ, and the Formula One tracks going into Haenam and Yeongam counties. The "Tourism and Leisure City" in Haenam, though, seems like it will be self-contained: people won't be visiting Haenam, they'll be visiting the resort. Same for other lesser-known resorts and waterparks in Naju and Jangheung. In Yeosu's case, these golf courses will have to complement the over developments coming over the next half-decade if the town will really become a popular tourist attraction. I mean, as the Yeosu Expo site says,
It is also an international marine resort tourism city in the new marine era of 21st century, developing into a beautiful port of Yeosu which is venturing into the world.

So there you go. But, as everybody knows, Yeosu doesn't have any attractions save for its quote-unquote natural beauty, and so while passing out construction contracts left and right will make some folks happy, I have to wonder if these plans aren't a bit . . . fucked up.

As kiwiduncan points out on that Dave's thread, it's unusual that, despite all the muddled Engrish about blue sea this and green environment that, all the upcoming developments thus far have been about expressways, airports, light rails, and distinctive landmarks. Given South Korea's track record on environmental issues---their reforestation efforts aside---I think that trend ought not to continue.

Future look of Yeosu? Stolen from here.

The Expo's theme deals with preserving the marine environment, so that's an easy excuse to build build build on land. So long as the golf balls aren't killing dolphins, I guess we're all right. I guess the only thing that could really screw up "The Massive Economic and Culture Event for Human" that is the Yeosu Expo would be if, like, a ship full of nitric acid crashed off the coast, or some shit like that. Oh, wait . . .

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas.

Christmas decorations on display in front of Seoul City Hall, with Namdaemun in the background. Stolen from here.

Lights at Shinsegye Department Store, one block from Seoul City Hall. Stolen from here.

Christmas is a bizarre holiday in Korea, and I find it pretty depressing. It's a holiday for couples, apparently, a day when lovers go to the movies. Chain bakeries like Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours sell a lot of Christmas cakes, and Baskin Robbins sells Christmas ice cream cakes. A lot of stores will put up lights, decorations, and trees, but I know of at least a few cases where they just leave them up all year. Christmas music blares from speakers, and the most popular songs seem to be "Last Christmas" and "Feliz Navidad."

I have no idea how Christmas came to be what it is in Korea. It doesn't seem to be big with children, and Santa is more like a mascot. Korea already has Valentine's Day and White Day set up for lovers, and I guess you could throw Pepero Day and New Year's in there, too. Back home the holiday season between Halloween and Christmas has gotten way out of control, but at least it once had meaning and, if it makes you feel any better, is at least a perversion of tradition. It doesn't seem to be a celebration of anything here. To me, it's like Korean pizza, instant coffee, sugared garlic bread, and Konglish: it's something that's similar enough to appear familiar at a glance, but it's different enough to ultimately be repulsive. I'm sure there are books out there about such a cultural phenomenon, but the first thing that came to mind is the "Uncanny Valley," a hypothesis addressing human response to humanoids. Wikipedia says:

The phenomenon can be explained by the notion that, if an entity is sufficiently non-humanlike, then the humanlike characteristics will tend to stand out and be noticed easily, generating empathy. On the other hand, if the entity is "almost human", then the non-human characteristics will be the ones that stand out, leading to a feeling of "strangeness" in the human viewer.

Haha, no, I'm not suggesting Koreans are androids. I admit I'm grumpy lately, and am probably not in my right mind, but I'm getting tired of hearing 메리크리스마스 on commercials, on websites, from microphones, and from the goddamn Wondergirls, who believe the meaning of Christmas is found in ice cream cakes. I wonder how Koreans would feel if we started celebrating Chuseok in the States with ice cream shaped like burial mounds and colorful yangban hats. Oh well, every culture has its own Christmas celebrations, and most of them probably seem weird to outsiders.

Well, at least it's a day off work. And I did put up a cute little tree. There are some Christmas-y movies on, and in Korea the commercial breaks are way more sporadic.

People in and around Seoul ought to visit the area around Seoul City Hall to take in some light displays. Hell, it's a small enough country that just about anyone can get there easily. There are a lot of impressive lights in front of the nearby Lotte Department Store and Lotte Hotel, so use 을지로입구 station on the green line. From there, head west to Seoul City Hall to see the big tree, the skating rink, and the "Crown of Light," then head north (passing City Hall on your left) a few blocks to Cheonggyecheon, the stream with light displays running along both sides. It's 2 kilometers from that starting point to Dongdaemun, although lights only line a portion of it. But, when you get to Dongdaemun you'll find a pyramid, a couple of stages, a mall, and a market. And, if you're like me you'll also find a motel with Russian TV channels. The lights around Seoul City Hall will be up until January 6th.

I recommended that my friend go there yesterday, because she was bored, but she declined, saying that there'd be too many couples. She's single. If I become president of South Korea, I'm going to make a holiday that doesn't involve buying something for your partner, or having a partner, or eating black noodles because you don't have a partner, or spending three days preparing food, or making an 8-hour car trip, or voting.

Pyramid near Dongdaemun Market.

Singing and dancing to the Pussycat Dolls. Seriously.

* Edit: Here's a recent article from the Korea Times' Jeffery Miller, "Christmas in Korea."

A mistake, a frustrating day, and a rant.

In celebration of Christmas I'm having some pizza, listening to some Christmas music, and will probably watch Love, Actually. I've been sitting on this post for a bit, and have been unsure whether to post it. I cut a lot of it out because it was getting quite rambling, as rants are wont to do. It does kill the holiday cheer, and it is a little weak in spots, but it's been on my mind for the last few days. Thank you kindly for not pointing out the holes in my argument, but for instead emphathizing with a shitty day and with a frustration I'm sure a lot of foreigners feel from time to time.

The other day I made a stupid rookie mistake: I got into a political conversation with a couple of Korean friends. They are Jeollanam-do residents currently living in Seoul, and they asked me my opinion of Chung Dong-young, the candidate who took 78.7% of the vote in Jeonnam. I said that I didn't like him and that I didn't like the way some South Korean politicians had cozied up to the North.

I was surprised by how riled up that got them. In an exchange over the next few minutes they said a number of things I really didn't expect to hear from them: they really liked North Korea; they considered the US the main obstacle to unification; they were glad North Korea had a nuclear weapons program in order to stand up to the US; North Korea was not responsible for the 1950 invasion; that they hated Japan and would never visit there because of the 1910-1945 occupation; they reiterated the importance of 민족 (race) and that the most important thing was to have "their own country," free of outside interference. To counter some of the 민족 talk I brought up the huge influence China has had on Korea over the past few millenia, and the very visible influence the US has had over the past century, although I think that just strengthened their belief that Korea needed its own country. And when I brought up starvation and prison camps in the North, they said that it was because the US was antagonizing the country and forcing it into isolation and poverty. Finally, they trotted out the stand-by of practically all discussions with Koreans: that I couldn't understand because I'm not Korean.

These are all opinions found with varying regularity among Koreans, and nothing I hadn't heard before from papers, books, and students. I was just really surprised to hear these opinions coming in a flurry from two well-educated, well-travelled adults.

I usually don't talk politics with Koreans because I'm sure they find musings from foreigners about as welcome as Americans find Koreans' takes on US policy. I'm also aware of how rigid groupthink has made such conversations painfully impossible, and that Koreans do have some pretty ugly opinions that I'd rather not hear in person. But I felt comfortable being honest because these are two people I'd known for over a year, and I had spent several holidays and vacations with them, their friends, and their families. One makes her living as an interpreter for an international trading company, and the other works in the traditional Korean industry of computer animation. They were good friends to me during a fairly lonely stretch out in the countryside, practically the only friendly faces I saw for a while, and I felt comfortable answering a question I figured harmless among friends. This wasn't some cab driver going off about mixed-race couples, or some bitter woman blaming prostitution on white people. These were people who, at least superficially, had expressed interest in foreign cultures and languages, had travelled around four continents, could converse on a surprising number of topics, were friendly with a number of foreigners of many nationalities, and who prefered coffee to soju, musicals to pansori, and t-shirts to hanbok.

I really hate the "you're not Korean, you can't understand" line that is considered a proper conclusion by many folks here. It is a rather dismissive sentence that, unfortunately, reveals what seems to be the pretty widely-held belief in the incompatability between Koreans and everyone else. When I was back in school and just starting to learn about Korea, I kept running into a problem while thinking about getting into Asian Studies. Foreign scholars who wrote on Asia had no credibility with the people they were writing about. A writer who might be considered insightful back home is brushed aside as an outsider in Asia. You'll find jabs like that all the time in the papers, and even in academic literature that values native opinions over those of outsiders. (Of course, there are foreign scholars who have made serious contributions to the collective knowledge on Korea . . . I just think credibility goes so far, because even these people get pestered by children, get asked if they can use chopsticks, and get asked---by Koreans in t-shirts and blue jeans---why they're wearing Korean clothing). And I don't think I'd be too dismissive of this white guy's opinion because he, unlike 78.7% of Jeonnam residents, didn't pick the wrong guy.

I guess I was surprised, too, by the ease with which all of these opinions came out, prompted by a comment about a presidential candidate most Koreans don't like. I'm not upset that people hold opinions different than mine, or that two people would dare disagree with me. Just that by answering a fucking question on a topic they fucking brought up in the first place, I feel like I played into a trap and was hit with lots of well-rehearsed lines about 민족 this and America that.

The encounter has contributed to an already rough couple of months. I've written elsewhere about the paradoxical relationship Koreans have with English and its speakers. I've written that I don't understand how Koreans can be so obsessed in a language but be so resentful of its speakers. The positions seem mutually exclusive, but when English is viewed as an economic commodity and not as a cultural artifact it becomes a little easier to understand. The unease I feel on that point continues onto political topics, and I find it really incomprehensible for people to so unabashadly embrace foreign cultures yet revile them and hold them responsible for a nation's shortcomings. (How many American WW2 vets drive Toyotas?) I don't think they found it all ironic that this rant came as we were enjoying light displays set up for Christmas, along a stream constructed by their arch-enemy Lee Myung-bak, all while wearing sneakers and earrings, talking on cell phones, passing by buses, cars, skyscrapers and neon lights on our way to a rock concert and dance contest at a shopping mall in 東大門市場.

What gets me is I don't feel particularly welcome in a place when even some of the smart folks think I'm the enemy and maintain a fairly warped and unflattering view of history. And, what must vex ambassadors and military folks is the knowledge that the bazillions of dollars and priceless know-how given to the South over the past half-century will eventually end up with the Dear Leader. On a personal level, I couldn't believe that these opinions were right under the surface, and I felt disappointed by two people I had considered my friends.

I'm curious to know how widespread these opinions are. I do remember back to a tabloidish survey conducted in 2005 that asked South Koreans what they would do if the US attacked North Korea. 47.6% said they would support the North, 31.2% would support the US. Here's a different take, and you can find others online, though I think such surveys are a little limited. Based on the mainstream English-media, I estimate that South Korea receives a more white-washed version of North Korea than Westerners are perhaps used to. South Korean politicians have consistently pledged their support of investment projects in North Korea, and have tried to avoid angering their brothers and sisters above the DMZ. President Noh Moo-hyun said he would not press North Korea for an apology regarding past aggression. Chung Dong-young, the candidate I mentioned above and former Unification Minister, and his predecesor have done much to exempt the North from any accountability. Anyway, this isn't meant to be a link dump, and you can easily find enough news reports to support whichever opinion you want.

Anyway, the whole exchange that night rubbed me the wrong way, and I left with a disbelief-induced headache. My cynicism had been festering over the past few months based on the whole xenophobic moral panic and I had been wondering how welcome foreigners really are.

I'm going to wrap up this unwieldy entry now, for the sake of brevity, because I can't seem to go in a direction without unloading a few paragraphs onto each point. I'm still too upset and disappointed to really write coherently on everything I'd like to say, and I don't have the knowledge to pull together the million different ideas running through my head. I know I'm not making sense . . . I hope I just have bad luck with meeting people, but part of me doubts that.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Be a MBitious.

If you didn't know, Lee Myung-bak was elected president of South Korea two days ago. There were twelve candidates, and Lee won with about 48% of the vote. He's the former mayor of Seoul and former head of Hyundai, and he seems all right. There are lots of scandals around about him, and I find this paragraph from a pre-election Korea Times column hilarious:
Lee Myung-bak, a former business executive and mayor of Seoul, is certainly the most scandal-plagued candidate in the field. Since he started preparing for his presidential last year Lee has been hit with scandals involving free use of tennis courts, having fake addresses to get his children into the right schools, real estate speculation, using proxies to hide his wealth, fake jobs for his children and investment fraud.

South Korea is a pretty corrupt country anyway, so I don't think his behavior is too out of the ordinary. It's just funny because any of the above scandals would kill a campaign back home, and public figures and politicians have resigned over much less.

I do find it odd that my students, almost to a (wo)man, call Lee a thief. I guess it's not that odd, since he's pretty unpopular among voters around here. According to a Korea Times article, Lee won in all provinces and cities save for the two Jeollas and Gwangju. It continues:
[Lee] also received single-digit support in Gwangju and North and South Jeolla provinces, which poll experts said is a sign of lingering regionalism.

The Jeolla area likes Sunchang-native and former North Korean lackey Unification Minister Chung Dong-young because all of my neighbors are communists he is handsome.

Anyway, you can read about the election on Marmot's Hole, even though Mr. Koehler doesn't mention how cool it is that his number was 2. Get it . . . 2 . . . 이 . . . 명박. *cough*

I just wanted to bring back an Ohmynews piece from May, translated by Koreabeat, that talks about one of Lee's campaign stops and that gives us this picture (click to enlarge):

The Koreabeat piece also includes a quotation by Lee on the topic of abortion:
“Basically, I’m against it, but you know, there are inevitable cases. For instance, if a child is to be born as disabled, it seems this inevitable abortion should be accepted. However, fundamentally I’m against abortion. It may sound conservative.”

Koreabeat doesn't have a stellar reputation for translating, so no guarantees the quotation is right. But still, speaking of things that'd kill a campaign back home . . .

edit: Thanks to a Marmot's reader I can now see a regional break-down of votes. In Jeollanam-do, Chung Dong-young got 78.7% of the vote. Lee Myung-bak came in second with 9.2%. If you can navigate Korean, browse the maps on the National Election Commissiion (sic) site here.

School festival.

As a teacher it's about that time for me to give my obligatory school festival post. My one school had theirs over two days earlier this week, and my other school is preparing for theirs on Christmas Eve. This year's festival had arts and crafts displays, theme rooms, tons of snacks, a talent show, and of course, song and dance.

My students are good kids, and I had a nice time watching them perform and I was impressed by their pottery, paintings, and model homes on display on the first floor. It must be said, though, that in spite of weeks of practice, a lot of these performances were about as organized as a lesbian clusterfuck.

Students had weeks, maybe longer, to practice and they were dancing to songs they'd seen choreographed on TV or on the internet hundreds of times. Yet you see there's a chunk of students into it, a chunk of students not, and a chunk of students totally lost.

I bring that up because it's interesting to think about what goes on in the classroom in light of what goes on at a school festival. At the festival the MC---a teacher on a mic---spent about ten minutes getting all the students to a reasonably quiet level before proceeding. If a Korean teacher, with microphone, giving directions in Korean, is largely ineffective against chattering Korean students, it makes me less ashamed at the rowdiness of some of my own classes. Hell, during the principal's opening speech there was a noticable chatter in the background, and even teachers were chatting and playing on their phones.

It's also put some of my efforts in perspective. I sometimes get frustrated when my students seem incapable of doing the simplest of tasks. With their Korean English teachers they're reading stories, writing letters, learning pretty complicated grammar, and taking difficult standardized exams. In my class trying to get through a basic question-and-answer session is a chore. But watching the performances and the rehearsals made me rethink my expectations a little bit. A lot of students struggled with their dance moves---what an absurd sentence---even after all that preparation, a lot of the students just weren't into it, and a lot of students just made arbitrary movements with no regard to coordination or rhythm. So maybe it's asking a little much to expect students to come into English class and perform the language, and maybe I'm expecting too much when I want them to do a role play or something after a 30-minute lesson. I don't think it's a coincidence that the sharpest students and the most enthusiastic English learners were also the best dancers---what an absurd sentence. Seeing that at least half of each class was equally indifferent toward English as toward dancing---what an absurd sentence---makes me feel a little better.

Anyway, here's another clip from one of my more enjoyable classes.

The miniskirts weren't brought out until the second day. There was a fashion show and a dance number to Destiny Child's "Lose My Breath." Even the boys showed some leg.

If it seems ridiculous to wear miniskirts in winter, it's not, and if it sems ridiculous to wear miniskirts in middle school, it's not.

Today I watched classes at my other school prepare for their festival coming up on Christmas Eve. Like every other classroom in South Korea, they will be dancing to the Wondergirls' "Tell Me." Three boys in the class are dancing to Hyeon Jin-yeong's "흐린 기억 속의 그대," Destiny Child's "Lose My Breath" and Ivy's "Ah-ha," and were dancing along to internet videos. (I couldn't find the video they used for the first one, but the other two are linked.) To a Westerner it seems very bizarre for eighth graders to watch and copy this, which is how one of my second grade (8th grade US) classes is spending the day:

No foreigner in Korea will find anything uncommon or unusual about seeing dancing girls, young dancing girls, underclothed young dancing girls, or crossdressing dancing boys. What they might find unusual is that Koreans don't find it unusual.

There are tons of blog entries and home videos out there on the topic of "sexy dances" (their words, not mine) at Korean school festivals, but I won't link to them. They're easy enough to find on your own, and for the majority of users they will be a silly and entertaining look at a particular aspect of Korean school culture. Should you and your friends want to be a dance troupe comprised of high school students next Halloween, you have tons of reference material. However, on an earlier blog I posted pictures of a dance team from a local high school performing in Gwangju, a post that immediately attracted creepy visitors and their creepy comments. I'd rather this post not get into that. The students seem to enjoy themselves, and that's the most important thing.

So yeah, anyway, I was happy to learn a few things about my students and pick up a few tips for the classroom next year. I was also really impressed that everyone participated. Nobody had the too cool for school attitude that accompanies 86% of North American students. Even if they did it poorly, everyone---the smart kids, the dumb kids, the short kids, the fat kids, the shy kids, the bubbly kids, the nevertalktoanyone kids----got up and did their dance. It was cute that nobody was embarassed to get up there and embarass themselves, because everyone was embarassing themselves, hence nobody was embarassed.

You'll find similar logic behind the popularity of karaoke rooms throughout this part of the world, and such shared experiences are important in reinforcing the bonds that hold peer groups together. I think that's also why "dances" are popular. I mean, there's a "Tell Me" dance, an "Ah-ha" dance, a "Lose My Breath" dance, etc. I stole that idea from the Iceberg, who writes in this post about the Gangnam club scene circa 1997:
You’ll notice in the video that things weren’t too much different from what they are like nowadays. One thing that was different was that there was a specific dance that accompanied each Korean song. It was kind of fun…and funny…to watch everyone performing the same moves. Also, whenever a foreign song came on, many dancers sat down because they didn’t know how to dance to it.

In the States we have endzone celebrations and Achy Breaky Heart.

. . . really REALLY need an editor over there . . .

"The United States tapped Kathleen Stephens . . .," from the Korea Times article "US Taps Female Ambassador to Seoul."

Atticus Finch weighs in on English education.

The Korea Times ran another article about English teaching, keeping up the four-per-week average. The latest one comes from Atticus Finch. Today Mr. Finch is an English teacher in Seoul, though he is best known for his appearance in Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird.

They could really use an editor over there.

It's not as good/bad as the cartoon I saw on EBS a few weeks ago with the fictional character "Mike Vick." Last year a bunch of the dialogues they planned to use for the English Town had "Lonnie Smith," a former Pittsburgh Pirates baseball player and cokehead.

Anyway, the article sucks and doesn't really give any facts or new ideas. It just throws "held accountable" around a lot. I suspect it, in turn, will spawn about 12 more replies in that paper.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A lot of people don't like Chae-yeon.

According to a survey whose methodology I don't understand, Gwangyang's own Chae-yeon (채연) had the most number of registered antis, or people who don't like her. Her 8,630 antis are way more than the second- and third-place people combined. I like her, if that counts for anything.

The Chosun Ilbo tells us what makes her sexy, though it apparently works to make lots people jealous:
Chae Yeon has a lovely nose as well as overall sex appeal. It is the mole, or beauty spot, that makes her nose look so cute. Her sexy choreography is as hot as Lee Hyo-lee’s.

The same article also tells us what makes Seo In-young so special:
Seo In-young maximizes her strong point with a fashion style that highlights her waist, hips and crotch. At 1.62 m tall, she is the smallest of the four, but like IVY’s, her legs make up for it on stage.

LMFAO. Seo In-young, who I hadn't even heard of until about four minutes ago, is the third-place person I alluded to above. She and Chae-yeon appeared together in April on a show called "Musicbank." They used lots of rain in their performance, and had to do it because apparently the original version was too risque for prudish South Korean sensibilities. Pop Seoul has the pics here, but they're not really safe for work.

Seo In-young is also famous for pole dancing.

* Edit: Now I remember Seo In-young. She came out with this irritating song a year or two ago.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

You look nervous.

According to some reports, one component of the new E-2 visa regulations will be a face-to-face interview at the Korean consulate nearest the applicant's hometown. For some reason I anticipate it will go something like this:

The Brian.

Introductory classes usually go pretty well because, in lieu of teaching skill, I have a ready-made ice breaker. I share my name with "브라이언," one half of the singing duo "Fly to the Sky." My first year my hagwon students would always write "I love Brian" on their desks, and I was afraid that the bosses would think I was compelling them to do that. The students, it turns out, did not love me at all but were actually writing about the crooner of the month.

While looking around for something else I found a video of Brian speaking English. I was surprised to see that he's fluent.

Turns out he was born in Los Angeles and raised in New Jersey. There are a few Korean pop stars who spent significant time overseas, including members of hip-hop groups like Epik High, Dynamic Duo, and Drunken Tiger. It also turns out that, like all Korean-Americans from Los Angeles, Brian speaks English like Rosie Perez.

Wikipedia tells us that he is only 21 days older than me and that, in 2006, he released an album titled The Brian.

I definitely have to work that into my lessons at every possible opportunity.

In October I read a little article wondering whether Brian was gay. The Chosun Ilbo's tabloid sports insert has the scoop on the incident, which stemmed from an appearance on a popular MBC comedy show:
During the broadcast on Thursday, the 16th, where Lee Sang-won participated as the guest performer in “Fire Engine”, Lee asked to Brian of “Fly to the Sky”, “you wear women’s clothes and made friends with the singer Eru, so what’s going on?” Brian was unable to hide his puzzled appearance and explained. He said, “I’m just good friends with Eru so you’ve misunderstood it. And yes, Eru sometimes comes to my house to hang out, goes to sleep and then leaves." (translated by Korea Beat)
The article continues:
In the end, Lee asked Brian to do push-ups to prove that he is a real man.

I guess the rumors that Brian was gay and dating his new singing partner were big news in 2007 among talk shows and 16-year-olds.

Brian's Wikipedia page also has a "controversy" section, which I found hilarious at first, but now seems timely in light of a recent post. He got himself into some trouble over the US military incident in 2002 in which two middle school girls were accidentally killed. Wikipedia tells us:
Joo's ties to the United States stirred controversy in 2002, when Fly to the Sky was the host of the radio show "1010 Club." At that time, the murder of two teenage Korean girls by an American soldier stationed in South Korea caused a surge in anti-American sentiment. Because of Joo's American citizenship, guest Hyun Jin Young asked for his opinion regarding this matter. In response, Joo stated that while the American soldier must be brought to justice, he did not want relations between Korea and the United States, his home country, to become strained. His comments were reported as "You can't talk badly about the United States in front of me.. I'm an American. Please only hate the American soldiers (responsible for the incident)." (내앞에서 미국에 대해 나쁘게 얘기하면 안된다...나는 미국인이다..(사건을 일으킨) 미군 부대만 싫어해달라).

I don't have too many facts about this controversy. Both links given on the Wikipedia page are broken. Googling around turns up different dates, different quotations, and interpretations like:
In 2003, Brian stirred up controversy when he was misquoted during a radio interview. At that time, anti-American sentiments were high because an American soldier had murdered two teenage girls.

I'm a little surprised that a guy could get misquoted so badly, but given the media bias here and the political expediency of fanning the flames of anti-Americanism, it's not surprising that a guy could get knocked around like that. I'm a little tempted to bring up the 2002 controversy in a teachers' workshop, just out of curiosity.

You can tell I have a day off today because I also want to bring up another little controversy that stems from Brian's dual identity as a Korean and an American. According to one K-pop site, Brian and other pop stars chose American citizenship over Korean for one reason:
The Koreans think that they gave up their Korean nationality to escape from the compulsory military service and that they should not make a fortune in Korea.

I don't know how widespread that belief is, but I do know the issue of dual-citizneship is a tricky one. According to the US Embassy in Korea's site, "[t]he Government of the Republic of Korea does not permit dual citizenship after the age of 21." It continues:
In addition, South Korean men over the age of 18, including American citizens of Korean descent, are subject to compulsory military service. A dual national may not be allowed to abandon his ROK nationality until he finishes his military service, or has received a special exemption from military service. There have been several instances in which young American men of Korean descent, who were born and lived all of their lives in the United States, arrived in the ROK for a tourist visit only to find themselves drafted into the South Korean army.

Internet searches will bring up examples and more information. I'm pretty ignorant on that topic. It does seem absurd that a Korean-American, who was born in the US and lived there until about age 16, and who acquired fluent English would choose American citizenship just to dodge compulsory military service. The idea isn't out of the ordinary, though, and Korea Times columnist managed to put together a decent article when he wrote about Yoo Seung-joon, the Korean singer who in 2002 was barred from entering Korea after taking US citizenship in order to skip military service. Lim also brings up golfer Christina Kim (김초롱), the Korean-American who invited some fan scorn here when she was seen cheering for the American team at a tournament. It's also worth remembering a quotation by golfer Michelle Wie's father, made while pandering to Korean audiences in a 2006 interview:
I’m well aware there that some say, since Michelle Wie is an American why is she making such a fuss. But you know what, the only thing about her that’s American is her passport, she is “definitely” Korean.

I tire pretty quickly of such Korean-American, American-Korean squabbles, and I normally skip any message board threads with "gyopo" in the title. It is interesting to think about Brian's case, though, because unlike Michelle Wie and Christina Kim (I guess), Brian Joo is entirely unknown in the U.S. I'm sure he's popular here for his looks and his voice, but I'll bet a huge part of his gimmick is his ability to speak English. That's what shows up on the talk show clips, anyway. I can understand how Koreans feel compelled to claim him as their own, given his bloodline and his fanbase here. But if you look at Brian's media miscue from a few years ago, and his statement that his Korean skills aren't 100%, it's easy to wonder how Korean he really can be.

Batman, "The Dark Knight" trailer

Officially released on Monday. Awesome.

Degree by committee.

Last week one of my coteachers asked me to proofread a few pages she had written. It was an abstract for a thesis she was writing for her Masters' program at Suncheon National University. She had surveyed teachers in the area about the differences between their attitudes toward their students and toward their children. Interesting that only 25% responded that they favor their own children more than their students. Anyway, there were a few small problems with it---mostly with collocations and ambiguity---and though the four-paragraph abstract was a little weak compared to American dissertations I've read, it was fine.

She also attached another abstract to hers, written by one of her colleagues. Maybe she didn't think I'd notice, I dunno. I don't recall the exact title of it---it did contain the word "applicability"---and it was summarizing the "applicability" of Yin-Yang and 5 Elements Theory to psychiatry. Sounds a little confusing, and it was. I did a quick read-through of the one page abstract before I attempted to fix grammar and spelling, but I just had to stop. The first paragraph or two wasn't that bad; it was fairly typical of what you get from Korean adults. However, it then came time to address what his study had found. His two conclusions were (1) yin-yang governed everything in the universe, and (2) according to five elements theory, the face is the most important indicator of personality. The abstract didn't say how he arrived at these conclusions or what implications such findings had for the field. These are pretty vague, and widely held, philosophical tenets that, as beliefs, cannot really be proven or disproven. (And, I don't think we can really credit Mr. Kim on the 3rd floor for concluding that yin and yang govern all things.) One could certainly argue about how applicable they might be to psychiatry, but my amateur mind cannot grasp how to do anything more than review the literature and speculate. And, really, these two ideas have been expounded in all kinds of New Age and McBuddhist books for the past decade or two, so it's not like such a position is out of the ordinary. In my mind, his two points should have inspired his study, not have concluded it.

After thinking about it for a few minutes I told my coteacher that I couldn't proofread that paper. She wanted me to just fix up the grammar---which would have been a chore in and of itself that, by Western standards, would be considered appropriation and plagiarism---but to me that'd be like repapering the walls of a bombed-out building. Academic writing in English is quite a difficult skill for people to acquire---my time in a university writing center showed me exactly how many native speakers suck at it---and something that takes years of development and thousands of dollars of tuition. I didn't think I could give a lesson on successful academic writing and linear discourse in my 45-minute break time. I didn't see the sense in cleaning up a thesis like that, although I think my coteacher told her colleague---another teacher at our school---that it was kinda beneath me, because he seemed upset at me, wouldn't talk to me, and eventually gave the paper to another (Korean) English teacher to fix.

Before I finally said that I wouldn't proofread the paper, I told her my problems with it, and gave her a few suggestions to pass along to her colleague. I also said that he ought to meet with his academic advisor in order to strengthen his abstract and frame his research properly. I said that if he makes the changes I'll be able to reread his abstract. She said that he was very busy and didn't want to take the time to do any more changes.

The strange thing about all this is that these papers are being written in English. In fact, my coteacher translated her colleague's paper (which was now on its way to be proofread by another Korean English teacher, with disastrous results I'm sure). That seemed bizarre to me since neither was being written for a language program or the education department. I asked another coteacher later why they were writing in English, and he told me that all theses and dissertations had to be written in Korean and English.

That knowledge makes things a little more tricky. First of all, there are different styles of writing and argumentation between English and Korean. (Yeah, I know some people hate idea of culture-bound discourse patterns, and I'm not suggesting I agree with the rigidity of Kaplan, but if you have a look at the opinion pages of the Korea Times or Herald, you'll notice a difference.) A paper that might make perfect sense in Korean would, when translated into English, be pretty weak.

Moreover, a topic like his would have different implications for Korean and American audiences, and a review of each language's literature would likely take you in two different directions, assuming the author is even skilled enough to intelligently read in both languages.

There are also different ideas about ownership of text, so in Korean it might be perfectly reasonable to conclude that yin and yang govern all things, as such a position has millenia of roots in this part of the world. As readers are assumed to agree with it, even before Mr. Kim comes along, is there any need to prove it, and is there any reason to attribute it to a particular world view?

Likewise, quote-unquote English words that make little sense to native speakers might convey a lot of meaning to a Korean audience. This is one of the pillars of Konglish. Words that seem out of place or inappropriate to native speakers convey a certain feeling or meaning to Koreans. Just look at words like "wonderfull" (sic), "ubiquitous," "bravo," and "gentle(man)."

It brings into quesiton who the audience really is. Ostensibly the bilingual approach is to appeal to an international standard, and to increase potential readership. But I have to wonder who spends their time sifting through the English-language theses at lil' ol' Suncheon National University. Oh, I'm sure that any half-decent academic at Suncheon University would spend some time looking through the research already compiled there, but I also suspect that they'd be searching among the Korean versions, not the English ones. Who's to say that the two are even the same? Are they? If one writes a paper in Korean, following Korean standards and patterns, and another paper in English following academic English standards, wouldn't they be considered two papers anyway?

And who's judging the English content anyway? Would an academic advisor outside the English department be able to understand what's written? Hell, would an academic advisor inside the English department understand it? Would an academic advisor understand it in a different way than a native speaker would? To which standards should a thesis written in English in Korea be held? Would a shitty English thesis prevent anybody from earning his/her post-graduate degree?

As somebody who likes writing---but despises academic writing and its authors who have no trouble writing a lot of words without saying anything at all---I was a little upset to see so little thought given to the sanctity of the written word. I was a little amused at the perversity of this "degree by committee" process: one person writes a paper, another person translates it, and a third proofreads it. I guess it's not too different than having an overbearing advisor back home who would love nothing more than to see his name all up in every internal citation. But, still, if getting a Master's from Suncheon National University is so easy, I think I'ma pick mine up next week.

Anybody else have any insight into proofreading papers or the degree-awarding process at universities here?

* Edit: I guess it's not too different than having a team of research assistants, and I think the Western academic world puts a little too much stock in the pursuit of originality. I know if I were writing in a foreign language I'd run my paper past anybody who would read it before I submitted it. Just found the whole situation weird, that's all.