Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Native Teacher or Not To Native Teacher? And tests.

So... the old question is getting asked again, at Asian Correspondent about whether Native Teachers are actually needed or not (this time in the context of Hong Kong and Singapore). A YonHap news editorial from a few days ago discusses a new English test being developed by the Korean Education Ministry.

It fails to answer the question, "How will this test not be subject to the same phenomenon other English tests experience, where hagwons teaching that test appear, and drive up the price of education?"

Yet the motivation for creating this test is to make it so that students don't feel compelled to go to hagwons that teach to the test: "The new test is judged to be desirable as it aims to reduce students' financial burdens for private tutoring and it will have writing and speaking tests."

The editorial suggests making the test easier, or even pass-fail, to help ease the competition and pressure...

rendering the test useless as a measure of English ability.

In point form, then, because I'm tired of this conversation, and avoid it when I can. I could talk for twenty minutes on each of these, but instead I'm just going to throw them out there as food for thought:

Native teachers:

Good teachers are more important than native or non-native teachers.

Native or not native teachers is a false dichotomy: different types are better in different situations, different types of classes, and especially for different ages.

Materials designed to be used by the least-qualified sector of the English teaching population are insulting to the good teachers, as are other manifestations of such low expectations.

People tend to live down to low expectations, if that's all you offer them, after a while, don't they?

It's all in how they're used, not in their skin color... but we all know that, too, don't we?

A "native accent" is only something people should be concerned about at medium levels and up.

Idioms and idiom usage are overrated English skills, and in and of themselves, not worth the extra cost and stress of bringing in and dealing with native teachers. Idiom and Idiom usage should be quite low on the list of priorities for things to be taught.

Koreans should be exposed to a variety of English speakers' accents to improve their listening (bring in some Egyptian English teachers, I say)

Non-Koreans who speak English well are great at teaching some aspects of English, because they had to go through the learning process themselves. Any good English training program should see significant contributions from native and non-native speakers.

Good native teachers.  Lots of native teachers.  Native teachers at the low end of the pay scale.  Choose two of those three.

There are highly qualified native English teachers in Nigeria, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, and other places, who would be excellent teachers in Korea. Many of them probably take much lower salaries than first world (usually white) Native English teachers. The idea has been toyed with... if those teachers are not acceptable to parents, then there are other issues at work than just the desire for a "qualified native" teacher, and that discourse is a smokescreen for what's really going on.

If having white faces on the poster is what it's about, then we're dealing with issues of prestige. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, so long as we're calling a spade a spade, and in the same way you can't convince that gal that she's just as qualified for the job with or without a nose job, and that her handbag is no better or worse than another custom made handbag without the Louis Vuitton logo on it, you'll never convince her that the school with white people pressing play and pause isn't actually any better than the school with Korean people pressing play and pause. And if that's the case, the cheapest white face (unqualified? You can't tell that from a photo... until the hongdae paparazzi put some shit on the internet) will do, just like a low-end rolex is still a rolex.

My clue that it IS about prestige and aspiration, more than practical considerations: If it were about practical considerations, there would be almost as many Japanese and Chinese hagwons as English hagwons, and there would also be Arabic, Russian, Spanish, French, and German hagwons here and there.

What many Koreans get wrong about English education, or how many of my Korean students seem to want their English classes to work:

English is not like a driver's license, where you get your license and you don't have to worry about it again... but too many Koreans treat it that way. It's more like fitness, where you can go to the gym and get in shape, but once you achieve that sixpack, if you repsond by reverting to couch-potato ways, you'll go back to your couch-potato build. Koreans who stop studying and using English once they hit 900 will never speak English well. .... and they don't want to. English is a 'spec' for them.

('spec' - Konglish for credentials and qualifications of the kind that are listed on a resume - kind of like the 'specs' you check on the box of the computer you're thinking of buying, to check out its speed, storage, power, etc..  The fact the Konglish word is 'specs' is telling, if you ask me.)

[Update: oh by the way] If English is a spec, all that high-minded stuff about language as access to a different culture, and a different way of thinking, is moot. Just get your English teaching robot and heave away.

English is also not like other subjects in school, where you can close the book and shut off that part of your brain until the beginning of the next class, but too many Koreans treat it that way, and avoid English (other than the delightful nonsense of Kpop lyrics and advertising catch-phrases) as much as possible until it's time to open the textbook again. This will never work for learning a language. If a language is segmented and segregated from the rest of one's life, it won't "take."

The advice I give to people who ask:
If you go overseas, avoid hanging out with other Koreans in your class, and stay the hell out of Koreatown.

Speak English at home with your family. Start with an hour once a week, and as you get used to that, expand.

Turn off the subtitles. (Also: you absorb more English from watching one episode of a show ten times, than from watching ten different episodes.)

Read books a little below your actual reading level, instead of above: reading above your actual reading level is slow and frustrating. Reading a little below your level is fast, fun, and confidence-building.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Am A Singer 나는 가수다 Has Won Me Over

A while ago I asked whether that show, "I am a Singer" is a ghastly spectacle, trotting out great old singers and making a spectacle of them competing in a "survivor" type show.

Some people argued that it wasn't like that at all: more of a celebration of music.

Well... I'm convinced. I've been converted, I've jumped the bandwagon, and I'm on board with both feet. The show is not only topping the ratings charts since it came back from a one-month break, but my wife's been watching it in the other room while I study, and at least once per episode, I've overheard a song I've liked quite a lot.

Here's Yoon Do-hyeon (윤도현) (famous for singing the 2002 World Cup Song) doing an AWESOME version of SNSD's most melodic song:

Thanks to copyright claims, this is the best video I can embed of the song:

And if other videos on this post get taken down... go to Google or Naver.com and search them. Keeping up with videos pulled by Korean network copyright claims is like a game of whack-a-mole, and if the networks don't want me giving their show and artists free publicity, I guess I won't.

임재범 (Lim Jae-Beom) - 빈잔 Binjan - he went straight to the hospital after singing this song, because he was so sick when he sang... but not before delivering an inside-the-park homerun.

(Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering about the musicianship of these guys, have a listen to the original song: these singers are really bringing it.)

This show is, sez Wifeoseyo, giving us a look at these artists, and these songs, that we've never seen before... I saw an 이소라 (Lee Sora) concert a while ago (review coming, if I can bear to write about something so lovely).. and she spent the whole time seated, which is usually how she does things.  But in today's episode, she actually danced!  (if somebody has a link to that video, I haven't been able to find it yet: just drop it in the comments, thanks).

It's also really satisfying to hear these songs - these celebrations of song - in coffee shops, and other public places, where one used to be able to count on hearing bubblegum pop songs from interchangable girl or boy-bands.

Here's another one. The original song: "Number One" by Boa - a perfectly good song.
By the amazingly-voiced Lee Sora: --it's like Neko Case taking a song by Wilson Philips and breaking your heart.

So... if you see it while you're channel surfing, check out what's good about Korean pop music. 나는가수다 means "I am a singer" and if you search it on Naver.com's front page, you'll get a bunch of video results as well. Most of which aren't embeddable (grumble grumble).

Friday, May 27, 2011

How To Avoid Getting Forced To Drink, Without Becoming a Social Pariah With Your Korean Friends

After taking issue with "12 Rules for Expats," and disagreeing with the assertion that you NEED to drink like a fish to survive in Korea, I've been asked in the comments to specify: what ARE the strategies that can be used to avoid drinking like a fish, without ending up socially stunted?

Good question. I've put the question out on Twitter, Facebook, and at AFEK, and as answers come in, I'll add them to the post here.

If you have a good strategy, let me know in the comments, or by e-mail roboseyo at gmail.

A. Drinking culture in Korea is, like every other part of the culture, constantly changing, and it's starting to become a little easier to decline, or say no, than it used to be. It's still easy to find anecdotes and articles saying that things are really bad... but (anecdotally, I once heard) it used to be impossible, back in the '80s, to decline if your boss said "I'm gonna buy a girl for you tonight!" whereas now, it's socially awkward to decline another shot. Group coercion is getting easier.

B. If you're not born and raised Korean, you have the golden ticket: the foreigner card. It's SO much easier for you if you haven't grown up pickled in Korea-juice, to utilize one of these escape-routes. Be grateful for it.

C. While I do like getting a bit tipsy from time to time, I'm not crazy about getting bombed. The day-after cost has steadily increased for me as I get farther from my 24-year-old prime. That's life.

D. Going along with it and getting bombed with everyone else, if you don't mind the hangover, IS a valid option, and it'll get you a rep as a fun one to be around. Even as I ask around about this one, some peoples' response is "Don't be a baby. Just enjoy the ride." On the other hand, if Bad Things happen when you get drunk, be they medical, vomit or hangover-related, or bad decision-related, or if you just don't feel safe when you're out of control, it's time to explore other options.

So. Here are the strategies I use, or have seen used, to avoid getting overly drunk in social, and office dinner settings. If I'm off base, tell me in the comments. If you have better advice than I've given here, let me know, and I'll thank you and add it to the list.

The best tip I've seen so far, which I'm giving pole position, is this one, from Twitter:
Be proactive, and be the "drink giver" pouring drinks for everyone else, and people won't notice you aren't drinking yourself. (follow @Jurimyoo)

For all of these: learn, and practice, expressing yourself with tact and grace. Avoid making it into a "thing" or a scene if you can.
Also: All of these strategies will be easier to execute in a group that has mixed males and females, mixed Koreans and non-Koreans, than a group that is all-Korean and all-male. I can't speak for an all-female group. Duh. Also, the bigger the age gap between you and the person telling you to drink (if they're older), the harder it is to pull these off. An all-male group where the ringleader is much older than you (and old-school) is your worst possible situation. If the group is moving to the "next place" and you see that all the females and/or all the other non-Koreans are going home, bear in mind the kind of hard-drinking situation you're probably heading into.

Korean drinking manners. More. Further reading. Article from 2002. Yes, it's a problem.

Roboseyo's Tips:
(image source)
1. Be up-front. For all of the tips that follow, if you level with your colleagues or friends and explain to them honestly that you are susceptible to really bad hangovers, or that you don't like getting drunk, that you're not a strong drinker, or that your husband/wife hates it when you come home drunk, if your friends respect you, they'll respect that. For the most part.

You might catch a little ribbing for it (after all, you're hanging out with drunk people) but you're man/woman enough not to take that bait, aren't you?

or conversely:

2. Lie through your teeth. Tell them you have an allergy to alcohol (it happens), that you're driving home, or that you get red-face, or that you projectile vomit uncontrollably when you drink, or that you are very religious and that your religion forbids any alcohol consumption. Be aware that this means you can NEVER drink with these people, and you have to keep your lie straight. Religions that do not allow drinking: (from wikipedia) some Hindus, some Buddhists, Islam, Jainism, Rastafari, Baha'i, some Methodists, most Latter-day Saints, and Seventh Day Adventists. Be able to answer three or four basic questions about the faith if it's your reason not to drink.

Or just lie that your tolerance is way lower than it actually is. Or that you're on medication, or that you have an early appointment the next day, or that you need to take the subway home. 

If you've said you can't drink, don't be a wet blanket, though. Participate in the fun, sing some songs at the noraebang, do a toast, play the games (drinking cider) and be ready to help carry some people to their taxis if need be. You can also watch the restaurant owners and count the soju bottles, to make sure your bill doesn't get overcharged, as some restauranteurs have been known to do, once everyone at the table is sloshed.

3. Respect their choice to drink. Don't make them feel judged for choosing to tipple.

4. Drink something different than everybody else. This is where the foreigner card comes in handy. Explain politely that you can't drink boilermakers, or somec, or soju, and ask to just drink beer. 

5. Don't finish your glass. Somebody will refill it. That's the custom in Korea. Once it gets less than a third full, people will start wanting to refill your glass, so nurse your drink.

6. Alternate alcohol with cider or cola. You need to have something in your glass to partake in the toasts, but it doesn't necessarily NEED to be alcoholic, as long as you're clinking your glass with everyone else.

7. Pretend (or just let it be known) that you REALLY hate mixed drinks. (this is my most common strategy, because I do) - make a big deal out of somebody trying to put a little soju or whiskey in your beer, or in your cider, because you prefer it straight. This gives you a little more control of what you're consuming.

8. When it's time to go home, go while everybody's moving between places - don't leave in the middle of the proceedings at one watering hole, because then (thanks to the group feeling thing), everybody will feel like it's time to go. Part of the reason Koreans go to a second and third and fourth place when they drink is so that people have a time when they can leave the party without wrecking the vibe.

9. Plan an escape route - set your phone alarm for 10:30, pretend it's a phone call and you have to go. Say you have to take the subway home before it closes. Say you have an early appointment.

10. Even if YOU don't drink, know a thing or two about Korean drinking customs, so that you know when to fill people's glasses, how to pour a drink, how full to fill a beer mug, what to say during a toast, and things like that, and basically how to fit in, even if you aren't imbibing. Fitting in with the group is important in Korea, even if you aren't participating in the one-shot showdown.

(image source)

For tips from others, I've bolded the ones I think are particularly helpful.

Funniest suggestion from AFEK goes first:

"Event 1: Drink as much as you can until you puke - on the table, preferably. Be sure to insult a few people, challenge the boss to a wrestling match, ogle women shamelessly. Talk about the joys of interracial sex.

Event 2: Don't worry about it at all because no one will be pressuring you to drink this time."

More advice from the long-term and lifers on AFEK (where you can ask your own questions on the open board):

1. buy your own drinks.

2. excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, and disappear into the night.

3. if it's not family, I hide a bottle of cider and fill my glass under the table. My family understands that I don't drink much.

4. If you think the beer is crap here, just say "I don't like beer"... but be warned that you might then get pushed to drink soju.

5. My wife says some Korean women use (hide behind) the fact they're Christians to get out of drinking at work gatherings. I used to try to sit with the non-drinking Ajumma teachers at school dinners.

6. I kept a small package of b-complex to consume before I started drinking. It kept my body flushed with vitamins and water during the beer/soju ordeal.

7. As a non-drinker (recovering, dry for XX years), I tell the truth to those I trust, and with those I don't, I pretend to be Mormon. My mormon co-worker gives me tips on how to appear Mormon (don't drink coffee at work, etc). Convoluted? Yes. Effective? Undoubtedly.

8. I usually do a few one-shots at the beginning, and then slow down to sipping. When I feel it go to my head, I revert to pretend-sipping, and let it slosh out of my glass so that they refill me from time to time. Usually everybody's too wasted to notice.

9. I'd also drink a liter or two of water while at the table to help stay hydrated.

10. Tell them alcoholism is in my family, so I avoid it to be safe.

11. These are good, but I don't like the cider-under-the-table. That has the potential for being extremely embarrassing. Honesty is just the best policy all around. People might kid around at you not drinking but if you are being social they won't care. If you try to "pull a fast one" on people, they WILL care.

12. Gain some weight... being a giant helps me hold my own against any Korean dude.... Honestly though, drink water between shots.

13. Play up being 'Western,' take a shot of soju and then stick with beer.

14. Slosh some out of your glass when you set it down, and only take shots when you're directly toasted.

15. Eat a lot while you drink, and chug some gatorade if you've drunk too much.

16. Establish your out in advance - "I have to get home by __ because of __." -it's easier to cancel an 'out' because you want to stay longer, than to create one on the fly.

17. Say you're on antibiotics, or stick with beer. It's weak as vicar's piss, anyway.
image source

From Twitter:
"Best way is to be a proactive "drink giver" - move around seats to keep giving drinks to people"
"I rely on weekly 'build your tolerance' binge sessions to keep my cool at 희식."
"I'm going back to work after this." 
"My condition is bad." 
"I have 몸살" (I'm sick.)
Stealthily pour the makkeolli back into the bowl.
Keep a bottle of water in your bag.
Excuse yourself to make a phone-call to replenish your water supply if need be.
Avoid hoe-shik. Don't drink soju.

(btw: you should totally follow @soniassi, @DTZ247, @HubofErik and @ChrisinSeoulSK on Twitter)

From Facebook:
Don't finish the glass.
Tell them I'm pregnant.
I'm taking medicine.
I have an allergy to drinking.
Bring a dongsaeng (younger friend) to drink for you.
Most effective is claiming the genetic condition which leads to flushed skin and is common for Asians (aka Redface). It's actually dangerous for them to drink because their bodies literally can't process alcohol. Lawsuits have been known to work as well.
With students/friends I just say I don't like getting drunk. It ruins the following day. With a boss, I would frame it as being for religious/spiritual reasons.
Have a partner-in-crime at the table who can, upon receiving the secret signal, distract the goup while you pour your drink out/on the ground/back into the pitcher/into someone else's glass/somewhere.
Sit near a potted plant and dump your soju there (don't worry: the plant's probably used to it)...refill your glass with water, and make a big show of downing it in one shot.
Be an optimist: leave your cup half full.
Always go out with a friend who knows your feelings about over-drinking, and will have your back when you need to activate one of these strategies.

If none of these strategies work, and they're your friends...
reconsider your choice of friends, if they're so thoughtless that they don't care about how you feel, or if getting you drunk is their way of exercising social power over you.

If they're your coworkers...I'm sorry. People have won lawsuits where their boss forced them to drink... but then you've clearly made yourself the office social pariah. Better to dodge before that headbutt comes along.

Thanks to everyone who contributed on Facebook, at AFEK, and on Twitter.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

CNNgo Trolls Bloggers; 12 ACTUALLY useful tips for Expat life

OK. Chris in South Korea wrote about this, and I heard about it from @MikeonTBS's Twitter feed. David Wills weighs in, too, as does Paul Ajosshi and Kiss My Kimchi.

CNNgo just published an embarrassing article dripping with white bias and loaded with outdated stereotypes about expats, Koreans, and life in Korea. You can read it here.  Or just go there to leave a comment that the article's off the mark. A lot. And even a little insulting.  It's titled 12 Rules for Expat Life in Korea, and it's entering Jon Huer territory (Who's Jon Huer? For those of you who are new, or have short memories...)

And while this is clearly a troll by CNNgo to attract blogger outrage and steer traffic toward their site, (I can't imagine any other reason they'd run an article THIS off-base), I'll bite, in order to suggest my own 12 rules that actually make sense.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lee Myung-Bak, Blue House Lawn, World Friends Korea... SELCA!

SELCA is when people take a picture of themselves, while holding the camera. It's a Konglish contraction of self-camera.  I took two pretty legendary selcas on Monday... but you have to read the post to find out with whom.

OK then.

World Friends Korea is the name of a group of government-run volunteer programs. There used to be overseas volunteer programs run by three government ministries, but they've been combined as "World Friends Korea" to provide a more coherent image of Korean overseas volunteers. It includes some internet volunteer programs, some peace corps volunteer programs, some expert adviser-type programs, and Taekwondo peace corps. (event coverage at Korea.net)

Now, volunteering is great, and volunteering overseas or outside one's home country can be a life-changing, horizon-expanding experience: I'm glad there are Korean programs doing this.

Well, on Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency organized an event on the Blue House lawn... because, I suppose, I write about Korea in English, and almost half of my readership is international, I fit into the "branding korea" box, and my buddy Mike, who's on the Presidential Council on Nation Branding recommended me for an invitation.

When I got the invitation, I realized I would have to miss a lecture for me "Introduction to International Economics" class, so I hesitated for about .0032 of a second, and then decided, "I think I can swing it."

I dropped off my bag somewhere (no electronic devices except cellphones: hence my cellphone pics later), and they bussed us into the blue house.  This was actually the first time I'd been in the blue house -- visited the area a lot, but never took the tour.

It was nice.  Really nice. Volunteers, organization leaders, and a huge number of diplomats, including some high-ranking ones, were here. There were also a half-dozen other foreign bloggers there. (Picture below,) including The Chosun Bimbo and The Marmot.

Click for pictures (it's worth it) and more explanations.

All these pictures are courtesy of Michael Hurt (The Metropolitician)... unless otherwise indicated. You can see more of his photography work here, and his writing here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

In Studying the '88 Olympics

a few things I've learned that might not make it into the papers, but were interesting to learn nonetheless.

from "The Games Within The Games" by Vincent J Ricquart (Hantong Books 1988)

1. The Olympic Museum in Jamsil is an awesome encapsulation of the Olympic narrative as told by the Korean government, and that narrative is followed by people who have talked with me about the Olympics with surprising consistency.

2. Before the '88 Olympics, South Korea didn't have diplomatic relations with many socialist countries.  After the Olympics many of those countries established diplomatic relations with Seoul.  That they committed to attending may or may not have been because Seoul was at least engaged in talks with Pyongyang about holding some events in the North, though that didn't pan out.

It didn't pan out because North Korea was being over-demanding, intransigent, and arrogant.  They wanted to host either the opening or closing ceremonies (pretty damn big deal) and started building a stadium before having confirmed shared hosting duties. NK also assumed the North Korean team soccer would be granted an automatic berth in the Olympic tournament, as a host country, so didn't even bother to send their team to a qualifying tournament in (I think it was) Malaysia. FIFA, miffed at the arrogance, disqualified them from the Olympics.

Ever since the humiliation of that disqualification, North Korea has been a humbled state, and has engaged in international discussions with much less pride, willing to be flexible, and compromise.  It's been impressive to see them back off from that off-putting, screeching brinksmanship they used to do.



3. My own thoughts, in regards to the "'88 Olympics made Seoul an advanced nation" meme:

IF we accept the eurocentric model of "development into an advanced nation" and the eurocentric definition of what an "advanced nation" is... (after all, the IOC and FIFA and the like are western institutions - it's no surprise they use Western criteria to determine which nations are "advanced" and award them hosting rights)

Landing an event like this DOES require a certain level of achievement/skill in two main areas: infrastructure development (to build facilities and handle logistics) and diplomacy (to 'sell' my country to the committees that choose the next host).  That's all that hosting rights proves for SURE about a country.

But my own analogy is this:

Hosting the olympics for a developing country is like an adolescent buying a car with his/her own money. It doesn't CAUSE them to become an adult, and it doesn't automatically make them an adult, nor is it a prerequisite: another kid who never buys their own car isn't thereby disqualified from becoming an adult...

The official Olympic poster: 

but it certainly can be a powerful sign of a kid's intentions to act, and probably also desire to be treated like an adult, and it makes a strong statement of that to everyone around.  Sure, uncle Vernon might grumble that little Annie's not mature enough to own a car, and there might be a family discussion about Annie's shortcomings along the way (just as people grumbled about Korea's dictatorial political culture, and street protests, and North Korea stuff, just like they grumbled about Tibet and political prisoners in 2008), and young Annie might wrap the thing around a telephone pole... but the way she pays for, maintains, and uses her car might also be a way for all the adults around her to note, and recognize, that she's an adult, and for some adults, and many of Annie's peers, and maybe for Annie herself, that'll be a sure sign she's crossed the threshhold.

If you want to learn, literally EVERYTHING about the '88 games, you can go here, and download the two-volume, 1500+ page official report written by the Korean Olympic Organizing Committee, in .pdf form. Pictures in this post are screenshots taken from the .pdf.

I like these versions of "Hodori" the Seoul Olympic mascot.

Korea did an interesting job of presenting itself as a modern, developing, and also ancient culture, all at the same time, during the Olympics.

The Olympics have had a pretty troubled history of scandals, boycotts, tragedies, dumb moves, more scandals, and the like... but the fact that countries on both sides of the Cold War attended the Seoul Games (only Cuba, Ethiopia, and North Korea boycotted) might have been the beginning of the era we now experience, where Olympic attendance is pretty much taken as a given.

It used to be that who hosts the olympics was the stage for national rivalries (hence the cold war boycotts) but now, it seems that rather than hosting and boycotting the olympics, the main arena for international competition and bragging comes from who wins the most medals.  At least that's how it looks from here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Let me tell you about Mansplaining. I'll lay it all out for you in simple terms.

Before we get into the REAL topic... some word play.
The two longest one-syllable words:
screeched - screeched is one I found when I searched.
strengths - I came up with this one on my own in University.

Next: these words are fun to say, but their meanings are kind of gross. I just don't know what to do.

1. syphilis
2. gonorrhea
3. mansplaining

I'd never heard of mansplaining (more here) until I started reading some of the articles linked by various blog friends on various feminist topics... but I think it's an awesome word for the not-awesome practice of a man condescendingly explaining gender relations with the kind of attitude that screams, "Because I am male, and therefore logical, unlike you emotional females, I understand everything about your situation, and I'd like to set you straight on a few things while revealing my prejudices and ignorance of the topics you're trying to discuss."
(privilege-denying dude)

Is there an equivalent for when the privileged one begins explaining, condescendingly, the details of the not-privileged one's life to him/her? (WASPsplaining? oppressorsplaining?)

Or the neocolonial one explaining people's cultures to them? (Colonialisplaining?) My first three years of conversations with Koreans in Korea were mostly the story of me explaining the easy ways Korea could fix itself, if people would ONLY listen to me.

Of course... the WAY one discusses one's ideas is as important as the content...

I think I actually said this, or something close to it, to someone at one point:

You can make your own "Privilege denying dude" at memegenerator.net - one of the greatest websites ever.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Obangsaek and Royal Asiatic Society Events on Wednesday

Two events going down this Wednesday that you might like to know about:

1. "Project Obangsaek" at 7:30 is having a launch party... the lovely Nanoomi people are making a few presentations about building cultural bridges between expats, non-Koreans, and Koreans.  Obangsaek is a group dedicated to presenting the modern, actually interesting world of Korean culture and life to the world outside, lest the old men making tourism policy convince the world that there's nothing to Korea except bronze dishes, hanbok, overpriced fermented side dishes, and four-hour long spoken-word performances drum accompaniment. It's led by Benson Lee, whose latest film you may have heard of: Planet Friggin' B-Boy! (on IMDB) (Trailer)

2. The Royal Asiatic Society (a super-cool group of super-long-term scholars, koreaphiles, and other such People Who Know A Lot About Korea And Have Been Here A Bloody Long Time (also known as the highest concentration of advanced Korean Studies degrees in one room outside of an academic conference) is having a talk about a topic of much interest to many of us: Korean film!  The Topic is

Before the Korean Wave: Treasures of Classic Korean Cinema and a fella named Dr. Earl Jackson Jr., will be giving brief overviews of three of the very important Korean film directors who laid the foundation for the excellence in film that led the first swoosh of the Korean wave.

It's on the second floor of the Somerset Hotel, near the north end of Insa-dong, at 7:30pm.  More information here.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Performing Nation-ness... Google Scholar Brings It!

So... with my grad school courses, I have access to all kinds of badass academic databases like EbscoHost (which generally rocks) and Jstor and whatnot... they don't quite pool EVERY journal and article, but they cover most of the bases between them, and the journal stuff is fun. You know: for nerds like me.

Well... the topic I'd like to write on for one of my classes is this:

During mega-events like the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, host nations get a huge stage on which to present their cultures.  That's all well and good... but especially when those countries aren't part of the commonly accepted "West" (and sometimes even then), such events are also seen as opportunities for those countries to demonstrate that they're a "major player" and to prove their nation's level of "advancement" (whatever that means) -- think about how Beijing used the Olympics as much as a showcase of "rising China" as it was a showcase for athletes and sports and stuff.  Part of Seoul 1988 was the Seoul "Look How Far We've Come" Olympics, and such a practice goes all the way back to Mexico (1968) (where folks were trying to get Mexicans to behave to "international standards" as well "Teaching Mexicans How To Behave: Public Education on the Eve of the Olympics").

Add to that the way sports are a GREAT arena to generate nationalist feeling, and to put together nationalist stories, and a country hosting a big event like the olympics is in a unique situation where the leaders/event organizers can work on changing the behavior of their citizens in order to meet "international standards" -- I'm working on digging up material about China's attempts to curb "rude" behaviors during the Beijing olympics, so as not to offend international guests, and I'd like to talk about Korea's own attempts to "meet international standards" (whatever that means, and whatever those are), in order to put Korea's best foot forward to the world, in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and the 2002 Korea/Japan world cup. I think it's interesting that part of creating one's own national story can (in the case of such a mega-event) be a kind of performance for an imagined audience (not all of it was, but part of it was)... and that the performance of one's own culture can, at the same time, change one's own culture.

For my paper, one of the articles I really wanted to look up was titled "Performing Nation-ness in South Korea During the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup"... for obvious reasons.

But Ebscohost didn't have the full text available.  Crap.

...but Google Scholar did!  I never expected in a decade that Google Scholar would have, for free, something the very extensive (and expensive, university sponsored) database didn't have.

So... cool.  And you can read it yourself here.

And these are the things that make me excited these days.  Also, the dog farted yesterday. It was funny.

The comments are open. You're free to call me a nerd.

Or even better, if you have links to Korean editorials, video clips of PSA's about "representing Korea to the world" during the 2002 World Cup or 1988 Olympics, or buzzwords, key phrases or slogans that'll bring them up for me while I search, you know, you can tell me about them, too.  I'll find them on my own if you don't, but if you have that stuff at your fingertips/in your memory anyway... cool.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Seoul is ASKMEN.com's 6th Best City to Visit

ASKMEN.com, the website equivalent to Maxim magazine, just listed Seoul as the 6th best city in the world to visit. Also: the top city in Asia, beating out Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai (none of which ranked, and all of which were also beaten by Beijing and Bangkok)

So... eat your heart out, lonely planet. And maybe next time another website says "Seoul Sucks," City friggin' Hall won't feel the need to act as if it's the end of the world.

Seoul's score was 80.2/100, and here were the criteria:

I like Seoul, too.  :)

Saturday, May 07, 2011

MinJeong Kwak (민정곽) at KCC Switzen All That Skate (Yuna was there too)

Last night I saw Kim Yuna at the KCC Switzen "All That Skate" Ice Show.  Wifeoseyo somehow scored tickets, and it as a seriously awesome show.

I'll put up more video when I have time to post it -- I didn't get everything, because readers, I love you all, but there are times when I'd rather focus on experiencing something, than focus on recording the experience in order to share it with you.  

However, a pleasant surprise, for me, were the performances of the two other Korean skaters at the show: Hae jin Kim  is a young up-and-comer who was quite good at using her movements to tell a story - she was cute as anything - and Minjeong Kwak 민정곽 has the chops, folks.  She, too, is very expressive, and really fired the crowd up with her charisma.

She was also at the center of two of the best moments of spontaneous fun: 1. after her show, her interaction with the cameraman on skates was the beginning of a kind of a running gag where skaters had different interactions with him - avoiding him or turning their back on him, or skating in the opposite direction, etc., each time drawing a laugh from the crowd.

2. After taking her bows, she headed for the offstage exit... at the wrong end of the ice.  Cracked herself, and the audience up.  So... she's cute.  In that "tell me about your cute niece" way.  Really cute.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Steve Earle... Seriously?

I like lots of music that my snobby friends consider "cool" and I am well capable of dropping the right band names to establish my "cred" (whatever that's worth), and I totally liked Sixpence None The Richer back when they were underground.

But sometimes I'm also a sentimental old crow, and buddy, you've got a heart of stone if this song doesn't turn you into butter. It's about the only Steve Earle song I like, but I sure like it.  It's also one of the better melodies I've come across: there are tons of songs that are great, but absolutely unhummable, because the music's awesome, but the melody... isn't. (In Mumford & Sons' defense... MELODY!) And other songs are nice, but the melody's so repetitive that it'd boring to hum. (coughPianoMancough)

Anyway: a lovely melody, and heartbreaking lyrics: get goopy with me.  Steve Earle, Goodbye.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A Goldmine for Teacher Resources

Really, I should post this link once a month, just for good measure.

Jason is a former K-blogger, and KOTESOL member, now living in China.  While in Korea, he worked in Korea's public school system, and in his spare time (??? I hope he got paid for everything he did), he compiled the most extensive one-man compilation of living in Korea materials you can find.

His blog contains upwards of 300 pages worth of instructions, links, and suggestions that a first-time public school teacher might need.

It covers coteacher issues, lesson planning, survival in Korea, dealing with students, websites you should visit, books you should buy, handouts, pedagogy tips -- seriously, almost anything (a public school teacher) can think of.

Most of it's relevant for teachers at different levels, too.

So go read. Explore.  Benefit from the work Jason did.  And maybe leave a thank-you comment.

Here's the link. The work is under creative commons copyright, so give him credit, but share it widely.  Poke around his site. It's a goldmine.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Been taking things too seriously lately.

But I finished midterms today!  Wrote three huge pages, double-sided, on modernity, theoretical discussions of construction of history, narrative methods, sources of meaning, and various human interactions with dominant and peripheral cultures.

Hella fun.

My favorite articles from the first half of the semester:
Stephen Tambiah Transnationalism, Diaspora and Multiple Modernities (subscription needed to access the full articles. sorry) -- summary: though we think of diasporic communities as moving to the "developed" world and becoming assimilated, often that is not the case.  Diasporic communities find really interesting ways to connect with their homelands, with each other, with their host cultures, and with other diasporic communities, in ways that can redraw their new home landscapes.  Their flows of affinity, connection, and resources can also greatly benefit the home land, as community members abroad use their new talents connections and resources to help preserve the way of life of those who remained in their ancestral homes.  Modernity does not take the shapes we expect it to.

Isn't this a Korea blog?  Tie it in, Roboseyo!
The disaporic communities of Koreans around the world add an interesting dimension to Korea here, in the "center" of Korean culture: the worldwide network provides an interesting variety of relations with the home culture, and each inform and add life to each other.

Michel de Certeau: The Practice of Everday Life -- Though dominant cultural forces are indeed impressing their will on populations and cultures outside of the main power/influence centers, those "receiving" cultures do not find themselves disenfranchised, or with their cultures suddenly co-opted, subverted, or vanished.  Rather, the technologies ideas, etc. of the dominant cultures and power centers are taken into the local cultural matrices in unique ways, and are adapted to the ways of life already practiced by people.

Isn't this a Korea blog?  Tie it in, Roboseyo!
Korean Culture Is Not Disappearing.  It's taking new forms, and it's re-forming the cultural elements that come to it, in order to fit them into the systems and ways Koreans already live.


So. Osama's dead.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Moderation off

A few people have reported having trouble leaving comments on the site.

I've turned moderation off.

Please continue to observe the terms of engagement for various posts.

Sincere apologies to anyone who's had trouble getting a comment through.

Here's a song that makes me happy.  And also a wish: