Tuesday, March 30, 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?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner Part 4

This is part 4 of a series on forming friendships between Koreans and expats. It sure isn't the final word on the subject, but maybe it's a start.

In some kind of search for balance, because I can only represent the expat's side of the equation, I asked a few of my "Korean Korean" readers to contribute some advice and insights from the other side. Those posts will alternate with these ones, in an effort to redress the imbalance.

Tip 11: Be careful. Don't ask any question where the answer might upset you, and don't expect me to answer questions the same way most Koreans would.

For example, let's take the question "How do you like Korean women?" - a somewhat common question. When somebody asks this, it seems like a trap to me, because there's only one answer I can give: praise. It’s like the stereotyped girlfriend who says, "Do I look fat in this dress?" - she doesn't want an honest answer. She wants a compliment. Fishing for compliments is insincere and a sign of insecurity. Why is it my job to make you feel better about your country's women?

Next problem: what if I give an answer you didn't expect, or won't like? What if I had some bad experiences with Korean women, so I say something really nasty? Are you ready to accept that answer, and talk about it, without getting defensive? If not, don't ask the question. This is why I usually refuse to answer the question "What do you dislike the most about Korea" -- because too often, the person who asked the question got upset when I answered honestly. Clearly, they didn’t think about whether they really wanted to know my answer to their question. This kind of awkward situation will kill any chance of a developing friendship.

Tip 11.1: Don't be surprised if I give a different kind of answer than you'd expect, either. I probably won't repeat the talking points covered in the Korean media, because I don't read Korean newspapers or watch Korean news, and I don't always share the opinions that are common among Koreans. Basically: be aware of what you're getting into if you ask about controversial or hot topics, particularly ones that involve nationalism, China, America, Japan, and especially Dokdo.

Tip 12: Be considerate. Don't introduce me to the stranger parts of Korean culture unless I ask you to, or please prepare me for what's coming. A student once told me about taking his new foreign coworker out for Korean food, and suggesting he try Fermented Skate (홍어/Hongeo), without telling him what it was.

It’s not really surprising that the new coworker lost all interest in trying Korean food, and ate sandwiches and western foods for the rest of his time in Korea. By introducing his partner to the weirdest parts of Korean cuisine first, and treating parts of Korean culture as a practical joke to humiliate a colleague, he caused the coworker to completely close his mind to other Korean foods that he might have liked.

Introducing the weirdest parts of Korea first will usually have three effects on a foreigner experiencing culture shock: 1. it'll make her lose interest in learning more, and 2. it'll make her feel like an outsider who could never fit in, and 3. it'll make her resent you for using her to show off that you ARE an insider, while she isn't. It’s disrespectful to a person to make them feel like an outsider (this is why it’s also impolite to talk about me in Korean while I’m sitting at the table with you, especially if everyone present can speak English.) It’s also a terrible recipe for a friendship.

Some foreigners DO want to try boshintang, bundaegi, sea squirt, and hongeo, some DO want to go to a full-length pansori performance, or see the bullfighting in Cheongdo, and look around the dog market in Moran. If I want to do those things, and you've agreed to introduce me to Korean culture, I'll ask. However, many of us would rather experience the side that's easier to handle, and if you introduce the weird stuff to me without context, without preparing me, or explaining that most Koreans don't like hongeo, either, that dog meat is less popular than it used to be, or if you play the "do you know what you just ate?" game, I'll start thinking of Korea as a weird, backwards place full of strange people who eat and do strange things, and who certainly enjoy rubbing my face in the fact I’m not one of them. Is that the impression you actually want me to have? Moreover, is creating that impression worth the cheap laugh you got when I bit down on that sea squirt and made that funny face? (That actually happened to me, and it was very embarrassing.) Korean culture is not a prank to be played on outsiders, and treating it that way is a disservice to foreigners, and to your own culture.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner Part 3: Questions and Comments

This is part 3 of a series on forming friendships between Koreans and expats. It sure isn't the final word on the subject, but maybe it's a start.

In some kind of search for balance, because I can only represent the expat's side of the equation, I asked a few of my "Korean Korean" readers to contribute some advice and insights from the other side. Those posts will alternate with these ones, in an effort to redress the imbalance. Here we go...

Tip 10: Be different. Almost every time a Korean approaches me to start a conversation, they start off with the same questions:

Where are you from? How long have you been in Korea? Can you speak Korean? Are you married? Why did you come to Korea? Do you like Korean food? What's your job? ... and so on. Honestly, it gets boring answering the same questions every time... which means that if you ask all the same questions as everybody else asks me in the first five minutes after you meet me, my first impression will be that you're terribly boring: a bad start for a friendship.

Repetitiveness is bad. And sometimes frightening. (gif from here)

Most of the common questions are perfectly good ones, so feel free to ask them later in the conversation, but not all at once right after you meet me, OK? If you ask more interesting, and more varied questions, I'll be more interested in talking to you again.

Tip 10.1 Here are some questions that are too personal for the first five minutes after you meet someone. Save them for later, if you ask them at all.

How old are you? How tall are you? Is your hair naturally blonde/curly/red? (How would you feel if I asked, “Are your eyelids are real or surgical?”) "Tell me about your family" is always better than "Are you married?"

Tip 10.2 These comments are strange or uncomfortable in my culture:

Any comment about someone's personal appearance, even positive things, too early in a conversation. "You are very handsome" or "You are very beautiful" is a strange thing to say to a person right after you meet them: it sounds like a pretty strong come-on. It is especially uncommon for men to compliment another man's looks in North America.

"You have a small face" and "Your skin is so pale!" -- these are not considered compliments to me. Nobody pays attention to big or small faces where I’m from, and "You have pale skin," to many white people, is like saying, "You're looking a bit sick."

"Your skin is pale" makes most white folks think of something like this: (source)
not something like this:

"You have nice eyes" is better than "you have big eyes".

"You look like (famous western person)." This one reminds us of that stereotyped and racist saying "they all look the same to me" -- especially when every curly-haired man looks like Tom Hanks, every blonde woman looks like Nicole Kidman, and every bald man looks like Bruce Willis. Don't say this one unless I really, really, really do look like the person. Imagine traveling in Europe and having people tell you that you look like Jackie Chan or Lucy Liu. Again and again and again.

Tip 10.3 Just Annoying:

"Are you from America?" (non-Americans HATE when people assume they're American. Imagine if everybody said "Konichiwa" to you during your tour of Europe.) "Where are you from?" is better.

"What do you think about Korean women/men?" (basically means: "I want you to flatter the people of my country.")

"Can you eat spicy food?" (unless we're about to order a meal together, this one is strange, especially because the stereotype that foreigners can't eat spicy food isn't always true.)

Not. Always. True.

Tip 10.5 Very rude in our culture:
Any comment about somebody's weight, any negative comment about someone's looks.

I've heard so many expats in Korea complain about well-meaning people saying things like "Are you sick? You look really terrible!" Once I was giving level tests at my adult language school, and the first words the student said when he sat down for the interview were "you look terrible!" He wanted to show concern, or interest in me. Instead, he offended me, and made me immediately dislike him. Just sincerely ask "How are you doing" or "You don't seem well...is everything ok?"

One last thing: if you ask "Is your girlfriend Korean?" and your tone sounds like you don't care if she is or not, I don't mind answering, but if you make the question into a big deal, I wonder why you care about it: you're talking to ME, not her, and if interracial dating is a big deal to you, I start thinking you might be a little bit racist.

OK! I hope that was fun for you. Have a great day, and stay tuned for part 4!

Back to the table of contents.

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner: Equivocations

OK. I realize that the portrait that is slowly forming, by listing all the different ways these discussions go wrong, doesn't look good. Yes, these bits and pieces of awkward situations somehow collect together, and form a false image of some kind of "FrankenKorean" - a mix of all the worst parts of every Korean every expat has ever met. I've written before about how that kind of stereotyping and judgement is harmful, and it goes both ways, and it gets ugly.

So before the Keyboard warriors get going, hear me out. I want to be clear that these tips, held all together, creates a composite image of a Korean who does not exist. I know that. You know that. And now you know that I know that. These social blunders are not a description of my entire experience with Koreans, and nobody's socially clumsy enough to make every one of these mistakes in a single conversation. I've met many Koreans who are very socially adept (many more so than I am), and some, many, with manners that put me to shame.

However, in the course of meeting several hundred, maybe even a few thousand Koreans in the last seven years, I've seen a great variety of people, and while most of them are very socially adept, not all of them are. And while most of them don't commit these blunders, some have. In fact, enough have, and continue to do so, that these items were worth mentioning.

And the best thing is: most of these errors are easy to correct: a little awareness, and a little consideration of foreigners as fully functioning, feeling human beings, will take care of most of it. So before anybody gets in a snit, bear in mind what I'm trying to do here, and why I'm trying to do it, and as I said right at the beginning: if this stuff doesn't apply to you, ignore it!

Conversely, the same thing applies to we foreigners: so far, most of the advice I've heard directed towards foreigners boils down to being considerate. . . but why deliver a message in those two words, when I could deliver them in several thousand, eh? So, on with the series...

Back to the table of contents.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Link Dump

Some articles that caught my eye last time I combed through all my favorite news sites:

Coincidentally, it's a little "Chosun Ilbo" heavy, but that wasn't intentional.

The most important link of the day: Read about North Korea's Worst Concentration Camp -
The Jeungsan Reeducation Center in South Pyongan Province has a reputation for cruelty and the saying goes that even healthy people leave as cripples.
This camp is especially for women's reeducation, and everyone in the world should be reminded, between Paris Hilton videos and Kim Kardashian scandal rumors, that this is happening, too.

While this doesn't mean Foreigners and Koreans can never understand each other or be friends, articles like this are good starting points for trying to find a middle-ground of understanding, when foreigners and Koreans try to make friends. On the other hand, you have to question a survey that surveys "foreigners" rather than, say, groups from distinct countries.

"Improving Korea's Status takes More than Cosmetic Measures" - an editorial saying something similar to my rant about branding.

Korean Women Reject 'Drink or Be Fired' Culture - looking at the way women fit into Korea's alcohol-soaked "if the boss says, you MUST drink" business culture. (ht Brian's twitter)

26 Reasons What you Think is Right is Wrong - a bit of critical thinking (ht James Turnbull's twitter)

"For Koreans, the Spicier the Food the Better" - Koreans like spicy food. Nothing special there... but the picture, with its "Blonde hair bignoses can't eat spicy food" stereotype-reinforcer, is a bit... condescending?

Maybe the blonde haired bignose is now simply cartoonist shorthand for "Non-Koreans" but being a blonde haired bignose myself, well, I still resent it.

Wanna Chat with Korean Buddies? How not to make an Ass of Yourself: Part 2

This is part two of the companion piece to Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner. While getting on my high horse and explaining how Koreans can be friends with me, I thought it appropriate to return the favor, by instructing foreigners in how to avoid being "that foreigner" to the Koreans around them. Last time, we mentioned being appreciative of the Koreans who are willing to help us out, and making the effort to learn about Korea, and pick up some Korean along the way.  Here's the table of contents for the series.

If you're a Korea-Korean (born and raised in Korea) who hangs out with a lot of foreigners, and you have something you'd like to add to this list, please let me know, and I'll add it. I'll write it up in my Roboseyo style, so don't worry about your English writing ability, but if there's something you want me to share, please let me know!

For one: Pay for stuff from time to time. That's right. Yeah, you've seen the highly ritualized arguments over who's going to pay, and some of us have happily put up a token fight, only to roll over and let the Korean half pay... time and time again. Make sure you take the chance to pay for things, even if you have to be sneaky about it: get your wallet ready before dinner's over, so you'll be quickest to the draw, or pretend you're going to the bathroom and pay on your way back. My correspondent says, "You can't be a guest here indefinitely" and that's true.

The tip this time, and it's a biggie, is: Be Inclusive.

Read what Gord Sellar has to say on this.

Truth be told, this is one where I've fallen epically on my face... in fact, I'm still waiting for an opportunity to make amends with one of my Korean friends. That full story is between me and my friend, but readers, a world of hurt has come out of it, and on the list of "things I'd change if I had a time machine," it's not far from the top.

One of the e-mails I got focuses on the exclusion from joking aspect: you know the feeling when you know your Korean friends are talking about you, and you can follow along with most of what's said, and then suddenly everybody laughs, and you ask "what's so funny?" and they say "It's hard to explain. Forget it."

That sucks, doesn't it?

Well, it sucks both ways, wouldn't you know? Take a moment to explain those kinds of jokes, and don't talk over the heads of people who are right there next to you. The reverse admonishment shall certainly be made on the Korean side, but let's make sure that we're not guilty of it ourselves, when we know how frustrating it is to have a few Koreans at the table talk around, above, or through us, because we can't follow their conversation.

At a deeper level, let's talk for a moment about the tendency I've seen for some foreigners to treat their foreign friends' Korean partners or friends basically like accessories: "Did you bring your Korean with you today?" "No. My Korean stayed home. How's your Korean?" "He started a new job!" I sharply remember a moment, early last year, when I bumped into another Canadian in my neighborhood; he was out walking around with his Korean significant other, and after a bit of light chatting, I asked what her name was, and what she did, and she actually thanked me for not ignoring her, like a lot of other foreigners do when they talk with her guy.

Are we really so bad at this, that her expectations had gotten so low, that the mere time of day was enough for her to express appreciation? Holy Pariahs, Batman! That's some low-down treatment! I know I've been guilty of this myself, and I've seen it happen and sometimes done too little, or nothing at all about it, but readers, you want to know why a lot of the Korean significant others seem not to enjoy joining the foreigner get-togethers? It's because they tire of being treated like furniture, yah?

being the outsider sucks. (image source)

Now, some of you are going to mention that when these big mixed groups happen at parties and such, the Koreans tend to clump together and form a "mini-tribe" in a corner of the room or something... but instead of shifting the blame to the other side, let's acknowledge that "Ignoring the Koreans because they clump together/Koreans clumping together because the foreigners ignore them" is a chicken/egg vicious cycle if I've ever seen one. We can agree about that, can't we? I hope so.

Some of you are also going to mention that, especially for those of us who spend all week repeating "See the car. The car is red. Do you like the car?" to seven-year-olds WANT to talk about complex topics, really fast, on the weekend, and in our sheer excitement over meeting another foreigner, we might skip over the social graces and niceties. I know how that goes, and I've done the same thing, even with fianceoseyo, and discussed humanities topics at length and speed with a friend, while she (highly trained in the sciences area) kind of got the eyes-glazed-over look... but fact is, my excitement aside, I don't want to make a person I care about, feel that way. Finally, to stretch the argument a bit farther, if we're treating the Koreans we meet like furniture, how dare we get outraged when the Korean media does the same to us, with crooked reports about unqualified teachers and the like?

This one is simply a matter of respect and politeness, in the end, but if we're not dividing our attention at least somewhat proportionally between the Koreans in the room, and the foreigners, how can we hold it against them to clump together, and how can we be surprised when they get a negative impression from us and our exclusivity?

So yeah, let's make a little more effort to include the Koreans at the party, to chat up the significant others and guests and plus one's, with the standard courtesies, so that they don't develop that aversion to meeting our other friends, and coming to our parties, and helping us enjoy our lives in Korea a little more.

Part 3 is here!

Table of contents for the series 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Arbor Day Update

I've been alerted that, because this week has been miserably wet and snow/rain/sleety, and the weather service says it will continue that way, the Arbor Day event I mentioned that was going to be on Inwang mountain has been relocated.

All that rain will make it impossible to plant trees in the squishy soil, so the event will be at Bukhan Mountain instead, with the meeting place at the gates of Gookmin (Kookmin) University at 10:30 AM on the 27th.

Post #800

Roboseyo hereby marks its 800th post.

I started blogging in October 2006, and have since written 800 different posts, ranging from personal confessional to social commentary to viral video. I hope you've enjoyed it: it's definitely had its ups and downs, and it's been really rewarding learning from the other bloggers and commenters who have joined the discussions here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner Part 2

This is part 2 of a series on forming friendships between Koreans and expats. It sure isn't the final word on the subject, but maybe it's a start.

In some kind of search for balance, because I can only represent the expat's side of the equation, I asked a few of my "Korean Korean" readers to contribute some advice and insights from the other side. Those posts will alternate with these ones, in an effort to redress the imbalance.

Tip 4: Be open. My favorite line in Avatar was when the Navi told Jake why they couldn't explain their culture to the human scientists: "You can't fill a cup that's already full." This is true of foreigners, too. If your mind is already full of ideas about foreigners, you'll miss the chance to get to know ME. My name is Rob, not Foreigners, not Canadians, not English Teachers. Even if your friends know a lot of foreigners, it's better to forget everything you've heard about foreigners. Even the positive stuff. Not all Canadians are polite, not all African-Americans are athletic. Not all Koreans are good at math, are they?

Tip 5: Be ready (to speak Korean). If I speak to you in Korean, answer me in Korean, especially if your English level is lower than my Korean level.

[UPDATE]: I forgot to mention this, but I don't want to make it into its own point: If I DO try to speak to you in Korean, please respond to me as an adult communicating in your language. Being told "You're cute when you speak Korean" is frustrating and patronizing.

I'm speaking Korean to communicate with you, not to entertain you: your language is a language, not a party trick, so please stop responding to my attempts to speak your language as if I'd just performed a really great party trick. Listen to what I say, and answer. Don't congratulate me as if I were a six-year-old who just tied his shoes for the first time.

"Good boy! You speak Korean SO WELL!"  (that's how it feels)

Go ahead and praise my Korean if I'm doing well... actually doing well. Giving commands to a taxi driver after living here for four years doesn't count as doing well, and doesn't warrant a "You speak Korean very well!" If I've been here for a month, it does.

Tip 6: Be confident. It makes a big difference. Don't focus on your English mistakes, and never apologize for your English ability. A lack of confidence leaves a bad impression. Saying, "Sorry about my poor English" is like saying "please ignore the zit on my forehead" - you're only drawing attention to it!

If you're nervous about approaching foreigners, don't forget that most foreigners in Korea are excellent listeners, because we talk to second-language English speakers every day. Just relax, and talk, and focus on the person, not yourself, and especially not your grammar. Try your best, have a good attitude, and I’ll do the same.

Tip 7: Be brave: for a long time, I never started conversations with the Koreans around me because I was worried I'd embarrass someone who didn't speak English well. You’ll probably have to start the conversation, because I can't tell if you can or can't speak English by looking at you. Getting out your English study book when you're sitting next to me on the subway usually isn't enough, either, unless you're a very attractive member of the opposite sex (if that’s true, all these tips are more flexible). If I gave you my phone number, send me a message or phone me: that's why I gave it to you!

Tip 7.1: If the English book you are reading on the subway is about a topic that interests you (say, travel photography), rather than something that gives no hint about your character ("TOEIC Vocabulary Level 4" "Tuesdays With Morrie") I’ll be much more interested in a chat with you, if I have the same interest.

Tip 7.2: Either talk to me, or ignore me, but please please please don't stare at me. Making eye contact three times is about the limit: after that, you have to either talk to me, or stop looking. This is especially true for men staring at female foreigners, and triple-especially-super-true for staring at female foreigners' body parts. They know you're staring at their breasts. They always know. Just trust me on this one.

Tip 7.3: Also, please don't talk about me in Korean where I can hear you: most foreigners know the word for "foreigner," and we can tell by people's voices and body language when somebody's talking about us. Almost all my most uncomfortable moments in Korea involve staring, or people talking about me in Korean, not realizing that I can understand them.

Tip 8: Be more than an English speaker. By itself, speaking the same language is not reason enough to be friends with someone. Think about your Korean friends: you like them because you share some interests, or some experiences in life, not just because you can practice your Korean together. Foreigners are the same: we prefer being around people who have something in common with us. If English is the only thing we share, it's probably not enough for a good friendship, unless we live in a place where there are very few English speakers in town.

This is especially true in cities with large foreign populations. Instead, as I described before, develop some interests, and look for facebook events related to them.

Tip 9: Be honest. We're smart, and we can tell who's sincerely interested in being friends, and who actually just wants free English practice. It shows in your body language, your voice, your eye-contact: everything. If you want English lessons, be honest about it, and negotiate a fee. Don't pretend you want to be friends, when you really just want English practice.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wanna Chat with Korean Buddies? How not to make an Ass of Yourself: Part 1

Ooh, dear expat readers:

You thought I was going to let you off the hook, didn't you? You thought I was going to put all of the onus on the Koreans who approach us, to defer to our cultural uniqueness, to be the one who comes to us, to adapt to our special situation.

No flippin' way!

Halfway through preparing this series, I realized just how high-handed, and totally unbalanced, the series was coming out to be... due to the fact I can really only present one expat's point of view, and generalize from there, it's not surprising the viewpoint was one-sided, really...

but I wasn't going to be satisfied with that: maybe you remember this post, where I requested some of my Korea born-and-raised readers to contact me... the reason I did was for this series, so that I could ask some of my Korean readers and friends: "What are the things that foreigners do, that annoy or frustrate you?" and present the opposite side of the equation when a Korean and an expat meet, and unintentionally annoy each other.

So interspersed between posts with tips for Koreans trying to be friends with foreigners, are posts with tips for westerners to avoid being "that foreigner" to your Korean friends.

A lot of common complaints were connected to that awkward and (let's admit it) needy situation where one is asking one's Korean friend to speak Korean on his/her behalf.

[Update: Kimchi Ice Cream has a great post that basically takes this exact theme, and applies it to the school situation. If you want to endear yourself to your coteachers, read Jason's rundown of the 14 behaviors that will quickly have the exact OPPOSITE effect.]

Tip 1: Be Appreciative

See, good expat, you're lucky to have a Korea friend who has the forbearance to do this for you, and you really should be appreciative and grateful to the friend who's helping you out. Seriously.

Yeah, I know it's frustrating living in a country where suddenly I can't pay my phone bills on my own anymore... but if you have a Korean friend who is HELPING you pay those phone bills, it's the barest of good manners to take a break from resenting Korea for not being an English speaking nation, and to show some gratitude toward the people who are helping you navigate the ins and outs.

And before whatever objection comes into your head, ask yourself: when was the last time back in your home country, that YOU helped that Bangladeshi family that moved in down the street, sort out a dispute with their landlord? Yeah that's what I thought. Bear that in mind next time you're thinking about making yet another needy call to your Korean buddy.

If your Korean friend has agreed to help you out by speaking Korean on your behalf, that's great, and you're lucky... but it's also helpful to be a bit thoughtful about what you're asking them to translate.

If you give them a speech like this one to translate:

recognize that you're being a bit of a douche, and very definitely a high-maintenance person, and don't be too surprised if that well runs dry kind of fast. If you really must order that way, learn how to explain what you want yourself... but also recognize that that's usually not how folks roll in Korealand, and you might find yourself butting your head against a wall, not because of the language, but because NOBODY orders takeaway food... but also an extra serving divided in half and packed evenly, with one of the halves not spicy, but the other half spicy but vegetarian, and with extra side dishes double-wrapped in saran wrap (for the smell) and can you deliver the spicy half to a different address than the plain half, and do you have a frequent customer card? Seriously, keep it simple, you clown!

If you do have complex things to cover, make sure everybody's clear before heading into the electronics shop or whatever: draw a picture, make a checklist, talk about it beforehand, and get your ducks in a row.

Tip 2: Make an Effort: If it's your first month in Korea, and you don't speak a lick of Korean, your generous-hearted Korean friend will probably let it slide, yah? But if you've been here for six or ten or twenty months, and you're still looking to your Korean buddy to help you order a tuna kimbap ("Sorry: I always forget the word for tuna!") then you're being a bit helpless now, aren't you?

Learn to read hangul before the end of your second month in Korea. It's not hard. Learn the names of your favorite foods, and if you have predilections for or against certain things, learn how to explain it yourself. Learn the word for "vegetarian" or "milk allergy" or "I die if I eat peanuts" or "I don't like tomatoes" and know how to talk to the cabby.

Even better: instead of looking to your Korea friend to speak for you, ask him/her to teach you the phrases you keep not knowing how to use. Seriously: make at least the effort to pick up survival Korean as quickly as you can, if only so people don't keep looking at your Korean friend and wondering why she/he is hangs out with mentally challenged foreigners.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Busan Weekend: Jagalchi Market

It's all Hwangsa-ey out there today - the Yellow Dust is as bad as I've ever seen it. This photo has not been altered in any way.

K. 'Nuff about that.

Went down to Busan with Girlfriendoseyo and my mother-in-law-to-be. We had a great old time, bopping around Busan for a weekend, and at the end of it, eating heap good food. I took about a bazillion pictures, and visited three main spots; here are the best photos from the first of the three: Jagalchi Fish Market, one of the best and most famous seafood markets in Korea. It was great, the fish never looked healthier, richer, and more colorful, and gosh, I like traveling around with Girlfriendoseyo... and her mom's a great travel partner, too, because, in typical ajumma style, she sees to it that we get nothing but the best of the food and service the restaurant has to offer.

The Market

Beautifully silver fish. Never saw them so bright at the fish-markets in Seoul.





sea penises.









Other stuff:

You could pick your food out front, and then have it prepared and eat it in the back.



I liked this guy.

Indoors: there was a whole other market indoors, but the weather outdoors was so nice we didn't really look around in there.

This guy was manually sharpening knives. An interesting effect of Korea's super-fast development is that the older generation still partakes in many "developing country/poor population" money-saving acts, like sharpening knives, re-soling shoes, and so forth, while the younger generation just buys new shoes and knives. When the older generation dies away, the nifty knife-sharpeners and solitary shoe-re-solers will disappear... but then, they'll be dying away at the same time, and nobody'll miss them, really, because everybody'll be buying new shoes and knives, anyway.


This is what we ate at Jalgalchi market

Future Mom-in-law-oseyo found this restaurant by reputation. Love the back-alley experience.

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner Part 1

This is part 1 of a series on forming friendships between Koreans and expats. It sure isn't the final word on the subject, but maybe it's a start.  The table of contents is here.

In some kind of search for balance, because I can only represent the expat's side of the equation, I asked a few of my "Korean Korean" readers to contribute some advice and insights from the other side. Those posts will alternate with these ones, in an effort to redress the imbalance.

Hello to my (imaginary?) Korean readers. Nice to meet you. I'd like to give you some advice today. Maybe it fits your situation. Maybe it doesn’t. If my advice doesn't apply to you, don't get upset: be proud of yourself, and kindly ignore me.

For the rest of you: many Koreans I know want to have more foreign friends. That's great! But when some of you meet foreigners, the friendships you hoped for never develop. This can be frustrating for you, and meetings like this can be frustrating for us foreigners, too. This series will talk about some common mistakes which might be stopping you from making a good impression, and making a friend, when you talk to foreigners. Most people don't make ALL these mistakes at the same time, but if you want to become friends with foreigners, you must learn to avoid these common turn-off behaviors. I very carefully chose the word tips for this advice, because it's softer than rules: none of these tips are inflexible laws, because every conversation between two people is different. Think of them instead as suggestions, and things to remember

First things first:

Tip 1. Be Connected. Before you start talking to foreigners, get ready to connect in the ways foreigners connect. Most foreigners you meet won't know much about Korean networking websites like Cyworld. All the Korean on those sites is too much for most of us. However, almost every English-speaking foreigner in Korea under age 40 is on Facebook. If you're not on Facebook, you're missing a great way to make first connections, or to strengthen connections you've already made.

So get on facebook. Then, search Korea-based facebook groups for meetings and events related to your interests: these are the best places to meet foreigners, because if you went to the same event, you must share an interest. Later, you can connect with the people you met at those events on facebook, and plan to meet again at the next similar event. Looking in your areas of interest really increases your chance of making a better connection - it's way better than the subway, bars, or the street.

(Also: once you're on facebook, actually use it. Signing up for it, but never using it, won't help you.)

Tip 2: Be helpful, or generous. Give a little. I'll be friendlier if you buy me a drink, or a snack, or offer to help me when I'm lost, or something. More than that, if you're willing to use your Korean ability to help me buy a phone, call a repair person, or plan a weekend trip, or teach me some useful Korean phrases (not too many at one time, though) you might just become my favorite Korean in the world!

Tip 3: Be sensitive: Some days, I'm in an outgoing mood, and I'd love to talk with a stranger. Other days, I'm unhappy, sick, or tired, and I really DON'T want to. Before you approach me, look at my body language, and figure out if it's saying "approach me!" or "leave me alone." This will save us both from an uncomfortable situation.

Please leave me alone...
...Any time I'm not dressed: the gym changeroom, the sauna or jimjilbang, the bathroom.
...When I have headphones on.
...When I'm focused on a book, a conversation, a journal, a drink, etc..
...When it looks like I might be on a date.
...When I'm walking quickly.

Feel free to approach me:
...If I seem lost.
...If I'm looking around, and making eye contact with people.
...If I'm climbing a mountain.
...If we’re both in line, or commuting, and I look bored.
...If I'm reading a book or doing an activity that is also a hobby or interest of yours. "I see you're reading a book about pancake art. That is a hobby of mine," is the best way to start... if it's true.

...If your kids don't want to talk to me, don't make them.
...Don't shout "hello!" at me from a distance, or out your car window as you drive by
...Don't say "Hello nice to meet you" every time you see a white face, and especially don't say it and then run back to your group of friends.
...Don't greet me if you don't even have the English ability for a simple conversation.

These things make me feel like an animal in a zoo.

OK, that's part one. Stay tuned for part two, as well as part one of "How to make friends with Koreans" for my non-Korean readers.

Here's part 2.

Back to the Table of Contents for the series.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jockey Suicide: Good For Man's Health Tells it Like It Is

Good For Man's Health, commenting on the story of a 28-year-old jockey who recently committed suicide, has had it with reports blaming suicides on peripheral factors.

Maybe I've just become a jerk (very likely), but I'm tired of reading these stories and seeing blame placed on everything except for the society of acceptance toward suicide that exists here.

Read the whole article.

There's a whole lot of different factors that come to bear on Korea's suicide rate, but the fact remains that netizen comments, job strife, competition, debt, accusations of crime, are constantly presented as reasons why somebody chose to commit suicide, when any and all of those problems have other solutions. That suicides are presented as if suicide were the only, or at least one legitimate response to these factors, perpetuates the cycle. In my opinion, the other three biggest factors in perpetuating the tragic suicide culture here are the media's disturbingly attentive coverage of suicides and suicide funerals, ignorance about depression and other mental illnesses, and the fear of being stigmatized for seeking help.

Korea's suicide rate is a tragedy in slow motion.

That's all for now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In Honor of St Patrick's Day: How to Really Improve Korea's Brand

So here's the idea.

St. Patrick's Day is coming, and everybody knows what that means.

For the uninitiated, here's a great 30 second history of St. Patrick's Day.

So here's the thing.


Not a lot of people know a whole lot more about Ireland than U2, sheep, Guinness, and all the symbols and images associated with St. Patrick's day. That's not a whole lot, really... and if you trot out those stereotypes as all you know, you'll get the verbal smackdown from your Irish friend just as quickly as if you make another f*#&ing 51st State/Exchange Rate joke to a Canadian. So yeah, it's unacceptable to wallow in ignorance about this awesome country, and unique culture, but the fact remains: a lot of people don't know all that much about Ireland.

But then, let's look again:

Yeah, the world doesn't know that much about Ireland... but what they DO know about Ireland is pretty darn positive. Cute Leprechauns, Guinness beer, four-leaf clovers, and a holiday that, while not observed in Ireland itself, has been popularized expressly as an excuse to have another day of the year to get smashed. And as Halloween has demonstrated, any excuse to get drunk will do. Who doesn't smile when the person they just met tells them they're Irish? Nobody, that's who, because everybody's had a great time at a St. Pafter's day party sometime in their life. Unless you've got a rugby or a football (that's soccer) rivalry somewhere in the background, that's most of what a lot of people know about Ireland. Not a bad start, frankly. Even I find myself predisposed to liking the Irish I meet because of those associations.

Along with that, St. Patrick's day means that, to be honest, I know a swack more about Ireland than I know about the Czech Republic, because there's no day when everybody dresses in blue and yellow and drinks pilsners. There are a whole ton of countries about which I know less than I know about Ireland, thanks to that silly drunk holiday which isn't even observed as a party day in Ireland (it was the Irish-Americans/Americans who really picked up on St. Patrick's day and started getting smashed - [fact check update] in Ireland, St Patrick's day is a week long religious holiday, where getting smashed might be part of the festivities; that's different from in Canada, where it's just a one-night drink-off.)

And here's what Korea can learn from this: with all that stress and anxiety about becoming better known around the world, here's all they really have to do: get the millions of Koreans living overseas to ...

1. Pick a random Korean holiday. I recommend Hangeul Day... but call it Sejong Day because that's easier to pronounce.
2. Dress all in red.
3. Invite Non-Koreans to the party. As many as you can, and make them part of the fun.
4. Everybody get royally smashed.

I recommend making it a mixer drinking party, as a tribute to soju -- soju might be hard to get around the world, but there are lots of other alcohols that are as fun as soju to mix with other drinks -- everybody dresses in red (this gives the party a recognizable visual identity, just as the drink-mixing theme helps people remember what to do) and it's only natural for it to turn into a bar crawl, because Koreans always hit up two or three places on their epic drinking binges. If at all possible, the party should end at a karaoke bar of some kind, another nod to Korean drinking culture, but that's by no means necessary.

And seriously, if Koreans abroad invited all their non-Korean friends to the party, and acted un-clannish for one night, so that everybody could join the fun, how long would it take for this to catch on? Exactly as long as it took for American frat-boys to go "HEY! ANOTHER DRINKING HOLIDAY SWEET!" and that's it. And within fifteen or twenty years, every university in sight would be dressing up in red, oiling up the karaoke machines, hitting up the barbeque restaurants, and mixing juices and liquors with other things, until the cows came home. It would have none of the pretension of trying to get Hanshik institutes established all around the world (that's never going to work, anyway), it'd make learning about Korea fun, there WOULD be an origin story -- people could learn about Hangul and Sejong, which in my opinion is the highest achievement of Korean culture -- but that would by no means kill the joy-buzz of having another night of the year when everybody gets happily sloshed.

So all my Kyopo readers, and Korean friends abroad: this is all you have to do to make Korea more famous worldwide, to make people like Koreans abroad, to lash some positive associations onto the Korean diaspora. Start planning your parties on Sejong Day, bring along as many non-Koreans as you can, and wait for the magic to spread. And dress in red.

You don't think this:


Will improve Korea's global image more than this?

Then you're just wrong, buddy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Arbor Day, March 27th

Arbor Day is an awesome day: what a great idea it is to make a holiday just for planting trees! Sure, Korea's not the only place that observes Arbor day, but here in Korea it's on April 5th. Now, Korea's accomplishment in reforesting pretty much their entire country, after it had been razed by the Korean war, is an environmental side of Korea's post-war history that rarely gets told, next to the oft-trumpeted economic "miracle," but it's part of the story, folks.

Arbor Day is no longer a national red-letter day, but people still remember it, and this year, there's a sweet event happening near downtown Seoul. On March 27, near Gwanghwamun Station (line 3) there's a tree planting event on Inwang Mountain (one of my favorites). This is the kind of community event that I think expats should be finding out about, and joining.

So readers, I'm planning to go there on the 27th, and plant some trees. If you want to join me, let me know! I'll be writing about it on the 2S2 Blog as well, and you can let me know if you want to come from the 2S2 Facebook Group. Click on the picture for the full-size version.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

2S2 This Saturday!

Great news, readers: first, Foreigner Joy and some friends have started a 2S2 chapter in Bundang, so if you live over there, you no longer need to trek up to Insa-dong to connect. Sweet!

However, the really exciting news is this: as per every month, 2S2 Seoul will be meeting as well.

Now, just as last Saturday, the awesome Chris in South Korea and the lovely Jo (short for Jehosaphattina) hosted a great swing dance + ice sculpture-o-rama, this weekend, the amazing Paul Ajosshi, from the great site, Paul Ajosshi, will be hosting the next one, Saturday at 2pm, at the same place as usual: the second floor of the Twosome Place near Exit 1 of Anguk station, at the North end of Insadong. The full run-down for the day is here, and it involves two neighborhoods, lots of good food, and a subtitled performance of the classic play, "The Cherry Orchard" complete with a way to reserve tickets in advance and save money, and you should go, dear readers!

If you want to reserve tickets for the play

Me on Exploring Seoul

KoreaBridge.net is a mostly Busan-based website that's trying to become a useful Korea info forum for the rest of the nation. I was asked to do an interview about getting around and seeing Seoul for them. It was fun talking about my favorite city, though every time I have to talk about it, I realize both how much, and in the end, how little I really know about this place.

Anyway, if you want to hear my take on some of the different famous districts of Seoul, or if you're looking for a basic scouting report on traveling around Seoul, it's a good place to start.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Do Make Say Think in Seoul


Do Make Say Think is one of my favorite bands, and they played in Seoul a couple Sundays ago. They play what is often labeled "Post-rock instrumental" - longer compositions, usually without vocals (save a few la la choruses), almost like Jazz, but with more of the dynamic contrast you hear in some kinds of rock music -- lots of loud/soft, and atmospherics. It's the perfect band for me, because I'm all about the bliss-out, wherever it can be found... and dear readers, it can be found here.


So after a bit of searching to find the exact location of the venue, my buddy Evan and I headed down about twelve flights of stairs to the concert space, which was a big ol' cavernous room in the basement of a building not far from Hongik University's main gate. Evan and I grabbed seats on the risers at the back of the room, and watched On Sparrow Hills - an expat band, who reminded me of Frightened Rabbit, and did a good job of warming up the crowd, and then Vidulgi Ooyoo, a Korean bliss-out/shoegaze band with a female lead singer who didn't sing often enough, and who sounded, as Evan said, "Like the Cranberries got as high as f$*#" - especially when the singer was singing. I concur.

Here's a little of what the first two bands sounded like.

a picture of vidulgi ooyoo

Then, after very long break between sets, Do Make Say Think came on. They didn't talk to the crowd much, other than a few "I see a lot of English teachers here today" kinds of cracks. Here's a bit of their sound -- note the loud/soft shifts, and sudden changes in arrangement - from their patented everybodyplaysatonce to a soloist and back, etc..


But the problem, as always, is that live music is like nothing else. So watch this clip, but if you want to get a feel for what the show was really like, then play it as loud as possible, and project it life-size against a wall in your house, and then turn the projected life-size people into real people. That's what it was actually like to see.

I'm happy I went. I had a great time, and I'm thrilled that some of my favorite bands are finally coming to Korea: most of my favorite bands are not the arena-filling-type bands, so while Guns'n'Roses might will stop in here, Seoul is often skipped by smaller bands. It's not really my place to theorize why, but there you have it.
But great show! It was also my goodbye hang-out with my man Evan, who's gone back to Canada now. More on him later.

Problem: beyond a certain point, unless it's Lady Gaga or something, concert photos look the same for pretty much every band.



They have horns.


The crowd was really into it. Most of them seemed to be very familiar with DMST, particularly the girl who was next to us on the bleachers, who nearly exploded in her seat once the headliners came on.


Link Rundown

I've been leaving pages open on my internets for a while now, planning to write about them and not getting around to it. Sometimes cleaning my desktop takes as much time as cleaning my room.

1. Get a load of this article. It's my (Western? English? North American?) training in the five paragraph essay that makes me think this article looks like my first step of writing - the freewrite - after which I'd encourage my students to take that writing, throw away most of it, and find a main point. Brian in JND pointed this article out, and mentions that one rhetorical form in Korean writing seems to be to circle around a topic, and then deliver the main point as late in the article as possible; someone raised on thesis statements and topic sentences spends the entire time reading such an article going "give me a freaking statement of purpose already!" I'm sure it could be very effective if done well -- jokes are told that way, aren't they? -- but let's just say, either because of translation, or because of the original article, or cultural rhetorical forms, this one doesn't come of quite that well.

2. This article says that Koreans are the most materialistic country in the world. What does that mean? It means of all the countries surveyed, more Koreans said money was the main indicator of success than other factors.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Some Stuff that Made Me Smile...

The blog's been ranty and gripey lately, and one of my big upcoming posts will be similar... but in order to enjoy life, I encourage anybody who asks to pay attention to the things that made them smile, and talk about them, and draw attention to them - write them down in a notebook, or take pictures of them, or whatever it takes.

So here are some of the things that have made me smile lately:


the wacky statues near deoksu palace, which, no matter how low you squat, look like you're looking down at them from above. Korean conscripts shoveling snow. Dumb people who don't know how to drive in snow. A bucket of eels. Light shows by Seoul Square, and the cool film ads that play outside the car on the subway between Gwanghwamun Station and Jongno 3-ga station, and the tea blossom that opens. Oh yeah: and tickling Chris in South Korea.
Music from The Eels.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Got a Beef with Immigration?

According to this blurb in the Korea Herald, the Prime Minister's office has opened a suggestion box for the month of March.

Are there rules or regulations that are gumming up your groove, in areas like "immigration, personal identification, status change, economic activities or daily lives of non-Koreans, foreign spouses of Koreans or overseas Koreans"? Can you think of regulations or systems that are discriminatory?

Drop a line to sangsan@pmo.go.kr or send a fax to (02) 2100-2323 sometime this month, and if they like your ideas, you might even win some gift certificates.

Tell your friends. Tell all your friends.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Life as a Banana

Interesting article at London Korea Links about the lives of adult Korean adoptees.

Go read.

Enough with the Sports Victimhood Already

Had a conversation with Girlfriendoseyo about bad sportsmanship on the third last day of the Olympics: she mentioned how the Russian team officials were so disappointed at their poor showing these Olympics that team officials and government members left before the games were done, and even the president is calling for heads to roll. Figure saking silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko bitched about not winning gold rather than giving credit to Evan Lysacek. I came back with my memory of the 2002 winter games, when team Russia was so dissatisfied with their bronze medal finish in hockey that they didn't even show up for the medal ceremony. No class.

Then I mentioned the death threats against Jim Hewish, the referee who disqualified the Korean skater and gave Apolo Ohno the gold in 2002, and this year called back the Korean women's team speed skating gold medal for crowding a Chinese skater. (It's interesting that the hate this time is for the referee instead of for the Chinese skaters... but something I've noticed recently is that Korea will get all noisy and outraged in hate for America or Japan, but Korea doesn't mess with China. When the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay ended with the embarrassment of Seoul being unable to control the crowd of Chinese boosters, who violently quelled any protests around city hall, and darn near mauled a fella in the Soul Plaza Hotel lobby, the Chinese students arrested weren't even deported, and the whole thing disappeared from the media in two days, unlike the trumped up story against US Beef, which was a pure fiction, but sparked street protests for months, to say nothing of all of 2002 except the World Cup.)

So Jim Hewish had to be put under police protection in Vancouver. Brian cited a comment at Marmot, that these netizen outbursts can, and WILL undermine Korean attempts to host huge events like Olympics and World Cups - is the IOC really going to hold a Winter Games in a country where they might be unable to guarantee the safety of referees or players, if a call or a close game goes against Korea? Do they want to risk 200, or 1000 of THOSE kinds of people waiting outside the venue every time the hated ref of the day comes and goes?

In Korea's defense, Girlfriendoseyo said that she read that Jim Hewish had a history of other calls against Korea, and that he'd been suspended for two years for one such call (possibly the one in favor of Ohno?)... but I, with my extensive research skills (googling "Jim Hewish Suspended") haven't been able to find any confirmation of this from news sites. And yeah, the 3000 meter thing sucked. Sure.

But one commenter I read pointed out: Korea's own bad sportsmanship may well have caused Jim Hewish to make more calls against Korea. You see, Kushibo explains:

South Korea's hardcore netizenry may be entirely to blame for this one. The call was one that, according to the link The Marmot provided, could have gone either way, but the orgy of hate unleashed by the hardcore super comment tribe and their hacker buddies in 2002 forced his hand in Vancouver: Were Mr Hewish to have sided with the ROK team this time, he would have left himself open to accusations of caving in against his judgement.

The Joongang Daily has an editorial (HT Brian's twitter) about how bad calls are poor sportsmanship... which conveniently fails to mention that planting flags on pitching mounds and death threats are poor sportsmanship, too...

I don't really care to get into a back and forth about who's right and who's wrong, so all I want to say to Korean sports fans is this:

Folks, here's the thing. Sports Karma exists. The sporting gods, who determine who gets good luck and who gets bad luck, watch the behavior of athletes and fans, to decide who gets the lucky bounces, and who gets the bad calls.

Here's how sports Karma works - and I've seen this best by following Canadian hockey for quite a long time:

Basically: what goes around comes around. Send out bad sports Karma and it'll haunt you later. Send out good sports karma, and you'll benefit. Seriously.

Being a sore loser = bad sports karma - if you bitch and moan when bad things happen, more bad things will happen. Seriously. Russia's sore losership in the past is, in the Sports karma way of things, the direct cause of their poor showing in these Olympics.

Being an ungracious winner = bad sports karma - if players gloat when good things happen, bad things happen in the future. (cf: Flag planting, Korean audiences getting up and leaving after Kim Yuna skates instead of watching the whole show, gold medalists talking shit about runners-up)

And here's the big thing about sports Karma: if you remain competitive, keep trying, and respect the game and the other players, what goes around comes around. Seriously. In Canadian Hockey, a few bad referee calls have robbed Canada when they should have done better... but for every disallowed goal or bogus call that went against Canada, there's one that went our way, that benefited us, at some other time. If Canada lost this gold medal game because of a bad bounce, or an unlucky play, or a bit of bad refereeing at the wrong time, or if they just ran into a hot goalie, like they did in 2006, I'd be a bit upset, sure, but I'd also know that buddy, that doesn't change too much: Canada played hard, and next Olympics, they'd be in the mix again. Dear South Korean sports fans: it's the same for you! If you try your best, and lose with grace, that's good sports Karma, which improves your chances next time around. Losing a heartbreaker? That's good sports Karma, too, and it just makes it more satisfying when things finally DO go right (cf: 2004 Red Sox World Series). Getting the women's 3000 relay gold next Olympics will be way more satisfying if you win it back after being robbed this year, than it would have been if you'd just kept winning.

Korea's last two Olympics were, as far as I can tell, its best showings ever... so enjoy that, and be happy about it, support your athletes, learn to enjoy the awesomeness that is sporting excellence, no matter who's playing and winning, and seriously, back off with the victim thing - two Korea stories were in the nominations for the most controversial moments of the Olympics, and that's bad Karma - and go enjoy another Kim Yuna replay. The bad sports fan thing is tired, and it's building up bad sports karma which will hurt your teams and players in the future.

Thank you for listen my essay.

Olympic Wrap-up

The Olympics are finished, and even though I couldn't see any of them in person, living in Korea and all, it's been a pretty satisfying run.

Here are the three things I was rooting for during these olympics:

1. Canadian Men's Hockey gold.
2. Kim Yuna gold
3. (I'm a petty old codger, but...) Canada finishes ahead of Korea in the medal standings.

And squee with glee, dear readers: I got all three!

So Canada won 14 Gold medals (an Olympic record), including the one we would have traded the other 13 for: Men's Hockey Gold. Way to go, Canada. I watched the game on tape delay (it aired live here at 5am), and got to enjoy it. And holy crap, what a great game that was.

Sidney Crosby is officially Canada's new national hero, and Joannie Rochette is not far behind. Plus, he was assisted by Jerome Iginla, one of those prototypical Canadian hockey players who can throw his weight around, or dupe you with a swift move. Now if only Sidney were playing for a Canadian team, too, and Toronto didn't suck, everything would be right in the hockey world.

Kim Yuna has achieved goddess status in Korea -- seriously, she could run for president right now and win, she could read the phone book and people would watch the telecast, she could become a pitch lady for Toyota and they'd hit #1 here. You could make money selling empty jars of air labled "Yuna Farts" (I stole that joke... but girlfriendoseyo's friend's mother said almost the same thing - "I bet even her poo is pretty", which is about the equivalent of "she pisses perfume" I suppose.)

That's all for now.