Tuesday, 30 March 2010

YAARGH! YES, stupid: in Korea, marijuana IS a big deal. Stop being Dumbasses, English Teachers.

Hey there, everybody. Popular Gusts reports on another arrest of foreign-born Korean English teachers, for growing marijuana. Now, yeah, I'm glad they were Korean-American instead of straight-up WASPs, because it means English teachers catch a little less heat... but every time English teacher, Marijuana, and Arrest are in the news, no matter if the English teacher was White, Korean, Filipino, Chinese or Martian, a little guilt by association goes around.
So I just want to fire off a short rant:

OK. I know that because of the high turnover rate of English teachers, maybe it has to be repeated, over and over.

According to the article, "Said grower also said that in America smoking pot isn't considered to be a big problem." And this is something I've heard before, in other places, as if this is why they expect the police to follow Alaskan marijuana law instead of Korean law, when dealing with a foreigner arrested for possession in Korea.

OK, dear readers, here's the thing. First of all, we foreigners have all had the discussion where we've said that in general, Koreans don't have much concept of there being a spectrum of drug severity -- that is, marijuana is not that dangerous a drug, while things like heroin or meth are the real life-wreckers that Korea should be fighting against, and lending headline space. I'm from the Vancouver area, so I might have had "the marijuana talk" more often than others, thanks to discussing it with the hometown pals, even though I've never been a user myself. Going to a Christian university meant that it was available if I went looking for it, but I couldn't really be bothered to.

We can all agree that there isn't a lot of nuance in the idea that all illegal drugs are equal, in the same way that there isn't a lot of nuance in the idea that all mental illnesses are tantamount to being f*#^ing crazy - that all-or-nothing thing has been extensively discussed in different places.

And my dear readers, I'm sure all of you are fine, upstanding citizens who'd never think about using drugs while you're teaching English, or living in Korea... But maybe, some people will drift across this post while googling for information about drug use in Korea, so it's time for me to say it.

It doesn't matter if we think Korean thinking about different kinds of drugs is un-nuanced... because we're not the ones who write Korean law! It's not our job to introduce the Koreans we meet to the argument that alcohol is a more dangerous drug than marijuana... even though some say it is. And frankly, given the amount of stigma against drug use, and the way that illegal drugs have been presented to Koreans by the Korean media, we're butting our heads against a wall if we take it upon ourselves to enlighten every Korean we meet with that little pearl.

Rather than open Koreans' minds to a whole new world of grey areas and "soft drugs," what having that conversation most often does, is serve to reinforce the stereotype of "Morally unqualified, drug-addled English teacher, who in his/her arrogance, thinks they should change Korea to be exactly like their own country" that we've been trying to live down for half a decade or more.
(from here)

So here's what papa Roboseyo suggests, as per "the drugs discussion" in Korea. I would be happy if these ideas circulated widely, and that every first year English teacher, during their first month, were emphatically advised by a colleague that:

1. At this point, between the risks and penalties and the way Koreans think about drug use, combined with the way drug use is so often associated with English teachers, it just isn't worth it to use drugs while you're in Korea. Don't do it, don't look for it, just stay out of that mess. I've actually met people who came to Korea to successfully clean up, and get off the ganj, and they succeeded. Korea's good for that. Korea's NOT a good place to get high, unless your drug of choice is either alcohol, or really spicy food. Pot IS a big problem here, and if you resent that pot's legally or practically decriminalized in parts of North America and in the Netherlands, but it's still very illegal here, then go back to Portland, Denver, Amsterdam, or Vancouver Island.

2. Rather than try to add ambiguity and nuance to the discussion, when Koreans who don't know you very well, and whom you don't know very well, bring up the topic of drug use, stick with "I respect Korean laws, so I don't do drugs while I'm in Korea." If they pursue it, "Whatever I did back home, in a different culture, doesn't matter much to my life in Korea, because while I'm in Korea, I respect the local laws." If they still pursue it, gently change the topic.

3. Add "nuanced discussion of the relative severity of different illegal drugs" and "alcohol is the drug that should really be illegal, and Korean workaholics would benefit more from smoking marijuana after working their 12 hour shifts, than they do from getting shit-faced" to the list of topics to be brought up delicately and probably infrequently, and only with Korean friends who know you quite well, and whom you know well enough to read whether they're growing uncomfortable with the conversation, along with "complaining about Korea" "ugly nationalism" "views deviating from the Korean norm regarding Dokdo, the Japanese colonial era, war crimes, apologies, and comfort women," "Korea's sex industry" "corruption" "Korea's not actually sexually conservative" "racism in Korea" and "open discussion about sex."

Can we all agree to follow those principles, and ask our new co-teachers to get on board? Pretty please?

27 comments:

John from Daejeon said...

The really ironic part of illegal drug use in South Korea is that the North is a supplier of a lot of the really hard stuff (not that marijuana isn't a destructive force in many lives as well), but you rarely hear/see that story here in the South.

The Expat said...

I'll agree with #1 and #2, but not with #3. I have a feeling you're more or less tired of expats and first-year teachers who discover these issues and attempt to educate Koreans, rather than discuss them.

As a long-termer here, I not only discuss these issues in a professional and educational manner to my students, but I also do it with gov't officials and policy makers in informal settings as well.

It's not that we shouldn't discuss them -we should be, it's more that we should consider our roles in Korean society before discussing them.

No one wants to be lectured; not Koreans or English teachers.

kushibo said...

Hmm... It's quite interesting about "educating" people about soft drugs. It seems to me that most of the population of North America lives in places where marijuana possession or distribution is still a jailable offense, depending on the amount.

So tell me again why Koreans should be educated about this stuff when many Americans and Canadians don't feel all that differently about it? And the Japanese authorities are just as rigid about pot as Koreans are. In California, we will be able to vote in November to legalize pot, and "M" is adamant that I must vote NO!

Roboseyo, I think you took the right tack here, and I wish more people would recognize that, especially if they're coming to teach.

It all comes down to this: If you can't go without pot for the duration of your contract, don't come.

Alex said...

Agreed. I'm also really tired of hearing: "man what I wouldn't do for a joint" or "I would KILL to get high."

If you want it so badly...maybe going to a country with strict drug laws isn't for you!

John said...

When I visited Bali last year I was struck (well, not literally) by the immense signs proclaiming the Death Penalty for bringing drugs into Indonesia. Of course there were posted as you entered Customs, so I guess by then it would be too late if you happened to be a mule.

My point (such as it is) is that the recruiters/schools should be at the forefront of warning folks before the even board the plane for Korea.

Are they?

BuckyHermit said...

Hey, a fellow Vanouverite!

Imagine what the Koreans would feel if we showed them the art gallery... ;)

Roboseyo said...

kushibo: thanks

the expat: yeah, by including 2 AND 3, and listing qualifiers on 3, the basic thing I was getting at was to use tact and judgement in choosing when and how to discuss them... which many people don't. All the other items on that list can also be discussed, if they are approached with tact, objectivity, and judiciousness... but that's exactly where I regularly fail.

The Korean said...

Marijuana users might be the most self-righteous criminals in the world.

Roboseyo said...

Maybe the most self-righteous who don't strap bombs to themselves. 'cause religious terrorists have got "self-righteous criminal" in a walk. Marijuana users are certainly the cutest self-righteous criminals I've come across, though the occasional music downloader who sees him/herself as a freedom of information activist is fun as well.

kushibo said...

TheKorean, I'm going to quote that over and over again.

John wrote:
My point (such as it is) is that the recruiters/schools should be at the forefront of warning folks before the even board the plane for Korea.

Are they?


Oh, I can see that going over well. It would seem patronizing and I imagine no small number of people would go online and complain about the intrinsic xenophobia of being singled out for the "no drugs" lecture.

Really, why should your boss/manager have to hold your hand and remind you that drugs are illegal, just like back home, and they are treated seriously here? If that's not a take-home message they take from back home, what would stop them in Korea anyway?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I find the attitude that "if it is illegal, it should be illegal" completely senseless and self-defeating- which seems to be the case here. I, for one, believe mature adults should have the right to put whatever they want into their bodies- and to pay the consequences.

However, I do not trumpet this opinion in Korea, nor do I lecture my students. If asked, I simply explain the difference between cultures and what is considered acceptable, despite its questionable legality.

I respect the laws of Korea as a guest worker. I would expect the same of Koreans living in Canada.

Charles Montgomery said...

#1 Follow the damned rules of the country you are in

#2) Wow, I never thought I'd hear Kushibo say:
"So tell me again why Koreans should be educated about this stuff when many Americans and Canadians don't feel all that differently about it?"

It's cultural imperialism of the worst sort to claim that because Americans and Canadians feel a certain way, that Koreans shouldn't hear about the other point of view.

Another point of view, I would note, many US/Canadians also feel.

LOL - It's gonna be tough to navigate this one...

kushibo said...

Charles, I'm a bit confused what you're getting at. What, if anything, is your beef with what I wrote?

bahz said...

@ TheKorean: "Marijuana users might be the most self-righteous criminals in the world."

I thought that award went to adulterers in Korea.

Bob said...

Smoke pot in Korea as much as you can, it's the only thing that makes the place tolerable. Never smoke with Koreans, don't sleep with Koreans and don't let them into your house. Korea has no laws, don't let squarehead foreigners tell you how to live. Koreans don't follow their own laws, so you can ignore them too.

Roboseyo, The New Korean said...

gonna have to disagree with you there, Bob.

the Korean said...

I thought that award went to adulterers in Korea.

Adulterers in Korea do flaunt the law, but they never try to make a huge intellectual justification for what they do.

Bob said...

I know, Robo. But it was my credo for many years, and I learned it from some of the old-school expats. It served me well.

bahz said...

"Adulterers in Korea do flaunt the law, but they never try to make a huge intellectual justification for what they do."

Sorry The Korean I'm gonna have to call bullshit on you.

Koreans' have indeed made "huge intellectual justifications" for violating the crackpot adultery laws in Korea - including going all the way to the Constituional Court over them buddy. You're a lawyer aren't you? You should know this stuff...

As Korean attorney Lim Sung bin put it in her argument: "The state meddling in which sex partner we should have - that's too much. . . . Such a time is gone."
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/15/world/asia/15iht-adultery.3.12924039.html

The same article explains that some Koreans "ridicule [the law as] 'an anachronistic joke' in a country where 'love motels' - common places for adulterous liaisons - are spreading everywhere and divorce is on the rise."

I'd say start by legalizing the pot and then you'd have the married couples more chill and in a better chance of staying together. Everyone knows Korea needs more pot, not less.

How's that for an intellectual justification.

As Peter Tosh put it:

Singer smoke it
And players of instruments too
Legalize it, yeah, yeah
That's the best thing you can do
Doctors smoke it
Nurses smoke it
Judges smoke it
Even the lawyers too

Legalize it - don't criticize it
Legalize it and i will advertise it

Spot Miller said...

bahz, one person going to the Supreme Court is not the same as the minions of tokers who take it upon themselves to tell people how uncreative, backward, square, etc., if they don't do it.

In this discussion on the same issue, King Baeksu (writing as "Scott") harps on those very points, chastising me as less creative and aware for not having smoked pot, adding that "if you've never gotten high and watched the local sunset [in Hawaii], you simply haven't live." Funny, I enjoy them quite a lot with a clear head.

Here's some more self-righteousness on the subject.

Really, I've never heard a pro-adultery person make that kind of push for it. And isn't adultery now legal anyway? The only way to make marijuana users "not the most self-righteous criminals in the world" would be for California to vote yes on Proposition 420 and them all moving there.

bahz said...

kushibo or whatever you are calling yourself thesedays - sorry but ive just never found what you have to say relevant or at all interesting (no matter how loquacious you become). so whatevas to you bro

Roboseyo, The New Korean said...

1. Koreans don't flaunt their adultery-commiting the way some tokers flaunt the anti-marijuana laws, nor do they make big justifications for it: they quietly do it, and quietly hope nobody calls them on it, and quietly hope they don't get caught, and abashedly change the topic as quickly as possible. This is very different than getting cornered by someone hitting their stride on the topic of why Marijuana should be legalized - which, regardless of whether I agree or not, can be tiresome when it's the same arguments again.

2. Bahz or whatever you call yourself these days, please follow the rules of civil discourse and respond to ideas, not people, thanks.

kushibo said...

kushibo or whatever you are calling yourself thesedays - sorry but ive just never found what you have to say relevant or at all interesting (no matter how loquacious you become). so whatevas to you bro

Oh, no. I've been insulted as boring, irrelevant, and long-winded by a drug-adled mind. How ever will I recover my self-esteem?

Dude, what's the longest you've gone without smoking pot? Have you gone your entire time in Korea without smoking pot? Did you smoke pot in Korea? Your profile is not even attached to a blog, so you can answer with total immunity without fear of repercussions.

I'm just curious, and I think this would help inform the discussion further.

HiExpat said...

"Korean workaholics would benefit more from smoking marijuana after working their 12 hour shifts, than they do from getting shit-faced"
HAHA
I do believe, though, it is tactful to follow the customs and culture of another country, for the most part, especially when something is illegal and deemed very rightly so illegal. You can talk about how you feel about the subject manner, but doing something that's considered a very serious offense and risking deportation just sounds...well...risky and a bit tacky.

brp said...

You do a decent job at reminder, but I think you could do a stronger job at explaining the cultural fores behind this -- and why you, as a lone foreigner, don't want to go against them.

The word for "hard drugs" in Korean was coined during the Opium Wars, when drugs were sold in the East to create a market for Western goods. In Eastern cultures, drugs are more than just illegal.. they are demonic.

Anonymous said...

bahz, one person going to the Supreme Court is not the same as the minions of tokers who take it upon themselves to tell people how uncreative, backward, square, etc., if they don't do it.

I'm in a middle ground. Smoking too much marijuana makes you very much uncreative and generally unmotivated in life. But never having smoked it at all does make you a bit square. Not the worst thing in the world, but the way it is.

In this discussion on the same issue, King Baeksu (writing as "Scott") harps on those very points, chastising me as less creative and aware for not having smoked pot, adding that "if you've never gotten high and watched the local sunset [in Hawaii], you simply haven't live." Funny, I enjoy them quite a lot with a clear head.

"A+B is awesome!"
"Huh. I find A perfectly good enough on it's own."

A valid position? Of course it is. But it seems a little...obnoxious? Too strong a word, but thats the vibe it puts out.

Roboseyo said...

Law allows prostitution any one can sell their mum get stds but cant puff a joint. Dick head law. But as for the weed aint jack shit here. I love dennis rodman. Peace to the north. Weed central