Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happy Holidays from Roboseyo 2012

Hi, all.

I hope you all had a merry christmas (or whatever you prefer to call it), and that you're gearing up for a great 2013. My Christmas was full of sick -- the baby, the wife, the mom-in-law and I all took turns on the toilet/change table this christmas. So the best I can say is that most of us are now on the mend, and I hope your Christmas was better than ours.

And new-years is coming, with the new-year reviews...

and of course a 2012 pop music mash-up (along with year-end best of lists, one of my favorite things about the winding down of an old year)

2012 has not been as prolific as previous years at Roboseyo... but I'd like to hope that (for the most part) the quality has increased while the quantity decreases.  Does that make up for SUCH a decrease? Well, dear readers, I sure hope you've done something else with your time than sit by the computer hitting "refresh refresh refresh" waiting for new Roboseyo... maybe get some exercise.

Anyway, as a look back on the year... here are the most popular Roboseyo posts of 2012, in order:

Most popular... by a TON, and one of the five most popular posts on the blog ever:
The Blackface post

Also WAY above the others... thanks, I think, to the love/hate on tumblr:
Hyuna + Ajosshi fans are bullshit

Remember that racist MBC ad?

the Stupid, Sexist Adoption Law (very interesting comments below it... including one VERY recent one)

The one about K-boys... for which I still owe a retraction

SNSD on Letterman

perhaps anachronistic now but.... American kids hate Kpop

continue being excited about... CLASSIC KOREAN MOVIES ON YOUTUBE!

this year's April Fools' prank... which I'm still answering for

my announcement of All The Korea Blogs: the new big K-blog aggregator

ho-hum another North Korean missile launch.  (cut and paste it for the one this december as well)

And a few that didn't make the years' top ten, but of which I'm proud:

Ahn Cheol-su shouldn't (have) run for president.
my return from exile: "How (president elect) Park Geun-hye can Revitalize Korean Politics"
Seoul Sucks for Bike Commuters
Now that ATEK is dead, what kind of organization should replace it?

Old stuff also popular this year:

that dumb Visit Korea Ad

my mom's eulogy

don't do pot in Korea. Stupid.

the Ni-ga post that ruffled feathers.

the classic complaining expat post

Monday, December 24, 2012

Some Love for BoA...

And Maurice Sendak...

The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind...

and another...

his mother called him "Wild thing!"
and Max said

so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

That's all I could think the first time I saw this video.

(my kid loves that book)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How Park Geun-hye can Revitalize Korea's Politics

So Park Geun-hye, if the news tells it right, just won the Korean presidency, and we get five years of her in the iron throne.

I wrote earlier about my misgivings about her being held up as a female role-model actually being good for Korean women, because in her (an unmarried woman) the career/family dichotomy remains dichotomized, but now the I-Think-Women-Have-Come-Far-Enough-Thanks Koreans get to say "Look! We've got a female president! What more do you want?"

I also have misgivings about her being the daughter of a dictator... so I'm going to try to keep this short, but the context matters to the point I want to make in the title.

Her father was Park Chung-hee, perhaps the most polarizing personality in Korea. You've heard the story by now: he set the table for Korea's spectacular economic growth in the 80s and 90s by investing heavily in infrastructure and heavy industry in the 60s and 70s. While sure, he (like all the presidents in Korea so far) was corrupt... but unlike other presidents, he attached his favors to activities that fit with his long-term plans. He controlled the foreign aid money that came into Korea, by controlling the banks, meaning that he could give favorable terms to companies that cooperated with his master plan, when they applied for business loans.

Through this, the industries and business leaders Park hand-picked became mega-rich, but they also set up businesses and industries that helped Korea become wealthy.

To accomplish this, Park and his business leader buddies did a lot of union busting and suppression of workers' rights, in order to reap the benefits (nationally and personally) of a cheap labor force.

To make it easier to keep the little man as little as possible, Park is well known for using torture, kidnapping, and... let's call it... suspicious deaths of key people (a euphemism as sharp as calling sex slaves comfort women).

His legacy now is mixed: for those along the Seoul Busan Highway (where most of the industrialization took place) he's the genius whose long vision led to Korea's success today. For those whose parents and uncles and aunts were kidnapped from their homes and had their fingernails pulled out, he's kinda beastly.

and in a lot of ways, this election was, in part, a referendum on Park Chung-hee's legacy: if Ahn Cheol-su didn't do his tease act, it would have been the main narrative of the election... and perhaps the reason Ahn held on for so long was specifically so that the issues the Left wanted to bring to the table would get some play.

So that's the background.

Now, two things you may not know:
1. Park Chunghee was not a beastly military goon for his entire presidency. He was at the beginning, after the takeover, when he kept the elected president in office for a while as a puppet until he resigned in frustration. (that'd be Yun Bo-seon). But then, in the 60s, he ran for president and managed to win three elections in order to stay in power. He won elections in 1963 (by a hair) and 1967 (by a lot)... and maybe those elections were rigged, but they weren't as rigged as Rhee Syngman's, whose opponents had a way of dying. (see here... one of his other opponents was later executed under Korea's national security law). Park had three elections where the other guy might have won, and the last one (1971, where he barely beat Kim Dae-jung) was what pushed him around the corner and led to the "Yushin" era, when he declared a national emergency, suspended the constitution and basically concentrated all power to himself, and his enemies and threats started mysteriously disappearing.

2. The economic growth that came through Park Chunghee's efforts nearly didn't happen. After securing foreign funds with the (very unpopular) normalization treaty with Japan (the 1965 one that Japan points to as absolving their responsibility for war crimes) and by sending troops to Vietnam (earning aid from the US), Park saw the US pull out of Vietnam completely... well, if US pulls out of Vietnam when it's no longer politically useful, what's to stop US from pulling out of Korea? The next step in that logic is, "Korea'd better have a self-sustaining industrial background and military before that" -- so he invested in six heavy industries: shipbuilding, industrial machinery, automotive, heavy chemicals (oil refineries etc.), electronics, and steel, (also known as the six most necessary ingredients for developing your own military). But after investing SO FRIGGIN' MUCH in these industries, the world economy slowed down in the late 70s, and suddenly heavy industry was a bad place to have sunk your nation's entire wealth! To stir up capital, Park sent construction crews abroad, to build things in the middle-east (those oil rich OPEC countries that were undermining the other industries he'd invested in), and this barely kept Korea afloat until the economic boom of the Reagan-era 80s, when that heavy industry infrastructure suddenly led to MASSIVE economic growth for Korea when Chun Doo Hwan presided over the payoff of Park's investment.

This is more my opinion than clear fact, but here's a third thing about Park Chung-hee's legacy: being assassinated and followed by Chun Doo-hwan did more good for his legacy than anyone can account for.


Well... when you're assassinated, when you die mid-stride, your legacy gets a bump from what we might call "dead rockstar syndrome" -- if Axl Rose had died one week after releasing "Use Your Illusion I and II," we'd rank him with Kurt Cobain, instead of being sad about his "Fat Recluse" phase. Ditto if Michael Jackson had died in 1988. If Jimi Hendrix were still alive, the amazing things he did in 1968-70 would be diluted by those two albums in the 80s when he experimented with synthesizers, his religious phase in the early 90s, and his Grammy sweeping 2011 duet album with Taylor Swift. Park Chung-hee died... so he never had to spend time in jail, never saw the humiliation Korea's other ex-presidents suffered when later presidents jailed them to make themselves look cleaner, never had his corruption publicly revealed by whistleblowers or whatnot during a trial.

Second: the ugly parts of his dictatorship got smoothed over, because he was immediately followed by someone who was even worse. If M. Night Shyamalan had retired after The Happening, we'd all still be howling about what a bad movie it was. Instead, he went us one worse, and made The Last Airbender, and it was SO bad that all our The Happening jokes were no longer relevant. Chun Doo hwan managed the difficult accomplishment of making Park Chung-hee look like the GOOD strongman, which gave people the ability to gloss over that part of his legacy, and made it way easier to get nostalgic about him.

You don't see Chun Doo-hwan's kids in politics, do you?

So... all of that is in play, when you look at where Park Geun-hye came from.

Now, to wrap this up, I have one prediction, and one suggestion, which, as mentioned above, could revitalize Korea's politics...

The prediction is gross.
Opposition rhetoric during this presidency could be... has the potential to be... and therefore probably WILL be the shrillest, harshest, most polarizing, and most infantile, we've heard in Korean politics so far. Because every single time President Park introduces a policy the left doesn't like, they're going to play the dictator card, tell her how much she resembles her father... and that name calling will further polarize an already polarized political scene.

All the young people who were excited about Ahn Chul-soo's promise for a new kind of politics that doesn't involve brinksmanship and name-calling will get further jaded, and the broken system will get more broken. And even if you didn't like Park Chunghee... it'll be bloody annoying to hear the left jibjab about how the apple doesn't fall far from the tree... Park Geunhye at least should get a chance to show her own colors.

But here's the suggestion... Park Geun-hye could do something that would not only nip all those ad hominems in the bud, but completely change Korean civil society, meanwhile also showing that she is not simply riding her father's legacy, but that she'll be a new kind of leader appropriate for modern Korea. By doing two things:

1. Severing government ties to Korea's mass media. The fact that the government owns large stakes in most of Korea's major media entities is ridiculous... especially because the previous president actually had been interfering in the way government-owned media are run. Canada manages to keep the CBC run by government funds, without conflict of interest accusations coming out every month. BBC is generally seen as above reproach in that regard. These government run institutions are allowed to criticize their governments. And that's healthy.

2. And this is the biggie:
Striking the National Security Law from the books... or severely and specifically limiting it. The National Security Law has been the law that every president has used to stifle their critics or opponents. It's a vaguely worded catch-all law that allows a president to pretty much arrest or harass anyone who is doing something they don't like. It's been around since the cold war (1948)... when maybe vaguely worded catch-alls were needed, and "anti-state acts" could have meant a lot of things... but when retweeting a pro-north Korea tweet got somebody arrested? When an unemployed blogger gets called in by the national police? That's just ridiculous. Either a group of lawyers from both sides needs to get in there and add enough specific language that the National Security Law only catches North Korean spies... or it needs to be abolished entirely. Amnesty International and international human rights groups have been encouraging Korea to abolish the National Security Law for years, and the (mis)use of the National Security Law is one of the reasons that during Lee Myung-bak's presidency, South Korea went from "Free" to "Mostly free" on international press freedom indexes. (more at Amnesty International)

If Park Geun-hye does these two things, especially early in her presidency, she'll cut the umbilical cord, so to speak, from her father. She'll clearly distance herself from the kinds of behaviors that have plagued the Korean right for a long time, and open space for a healthier, less polarized civil society to develop more strongly in Korea. She'll also pull the rug from her opposition, so that the "dictator card" is unplayable, because she'll be able to toss back at them, "I abolished those laws, and removed the president's influence on the media. What are you talking about, I resemble my father? Take another look." She'd have the space to create her own legacy.

It'd be a genius move. Absolute genius.

Maybe the amount of name-calling in the national assembly would finally decrease... which might give more hope to those disenchanted voters who wanted Ahn Chul-soo to run for president. Maybe Korea's civil society would get a little less screechy, and we'd be able to have a conversation about issues without somebody calling someone else a dictator sympathiser or a communist. Maybe.

Too bad it won't happen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Since I'm not writing a lot these days...

Well, since I'm not writing a lot these days, let me direct you to Scroozle, whose "State of Public English Education In Korea" is pretty spot-on, and suggests a set of reforms I could get behind.

TL:DR: (as a Marmot commenter once wrote:)
1. Good foreign English teachers
2. Many foreign English teachers
3. Cheap foreign English teachers

Choose 2.

(Right now Korea is choosing 2 and 3, and forgoing 1)

Go read the whole article... and argue with him if you like.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ali, Shin Joong-hyun, and new Korean artists doing old Korean music...

It's no secret that I REALLY like Shin Joong-hyun, one of Korea's original rock'n'roll badasses.

And I LOVE his signature song 미인, which takes the sounds of that majestic Korean chanting and call-and-response sound that you hear in traditional performances, and lays a blistering guitar lick over it... and makes it really, really work...

I generally like what I've seen of Ali (알리), the singer who does this version. She can actually sing, and she's sexy in the way real people are sexy, not in the way Kpop stars or cardboard cutouts are sexy.

Ali does a version of Shin's song here - I saw it on TV this weekend... and I liked it.

It goes in three movements, laying out, in a way, three of the features of Shin Joong-hyun's original song -- the primal wail of sexual energy turns into a slinky come-on in the first part, the messy fun of Korean folk culture (which animates the vocals of Shin's original version) somes out (to varying degrees of effectiveness) in the second part [in my opinion, the rap section could have been dropped], but I liked the samulnori bit (the part with ribbons on hats and Korean drums) and then flying with the energy charge of psychadelic rock and roll at the end.

I like that young Korean artists are listening to older Korean music, and bringing it to a new generation.

The Wondergirls also did a version of Mi-in as well, with the (slightly dirty sounding) name "Me, In"

And let's not forget Big Bang doing Lee Mun Sae: Sunset Glow

the original

Oh, BTW... in 2006, Shin Joong-hyun still had it... I mean, REALLY had it:

Enjoy the music, readers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Park Geun-hye: Female President, Patriarchal Society?

I had a short conversation today with someone who wanted to convince me to vote for Park Geun-hye

(If, that is, I had a vote.)

Now, I haven't studied too deeply into the politics and policies of the candidates for Korea's upcoming presidential election.  I expressed my skepticism about Ahn Cheol-su's candidacy a while back, and I usually list to the left politically, but I just have a few things to say about Park Geun-hye and her pop... because it's impossible to talk about Park Geun-hye without referencing her late father. And that works both for her (with one group of people) and also against her (with another group, at least a few of whom have to vote for her, unless Ahn Cheol-su continues splitting the vote on the left, gift-wrapping the presidency for her).

These are my scattershot thoughts -- I just don't have it in me these days to string together long and coherent arguments on teh blarg these days (hell, I can barely be arsed to write a post a month)... but here are a few things about Park Geun-hye's candidacy, and her pop's legacy.

1. Park Chung-hee's legacy will always be mixed. I visited his museum, not far from the World Cup Stadium, last spring, and it was pretty much a hagiography, glossing over things like his training and experience in the Japanese military, or the sketchier parts of his story. The emphasis was economy economy economy. What he set out to do? He did in spades, spectacularly... but at a hell of a cost.

2. What he did was really good for the time when he came along. A leader cast in his mold coming along now, when the world is a very, very different place, just doesn't fly. Remember LMB's grand canal plan? Korea doesn't need a grand canal anymore, because it ain't 1965 anymore. In the infrastructure area... we're good, thanks. Nor does Korea need another president who puts economic growth above everything --Korea's mostly in a good place right now, but some of the other components of democracy, like civil society and social welfare and equality, have a ways to go--, or plays nationalist cards in order to score points in favor of their economic projects, or who continues to stifle civil society and go on with the old tradition of appointing buddies in high government positions, or having two cabinet graft scandals per month, or hobbling civil society, free speech, and human rights organizations. International communication is too good, too instant, and too fast, to try and pull that kind of shit anymore.

3. I hate the way talking about Korea's history is so politicized -- that vast tracts of President PCH's story go ignored according to one's political stripe, and the same goes for many other characters events and entities in Korea's history. It's depressing, because it means people don't listen to each other. Then again, looking at the way different countries talk about the history of the region, it's no surprise there's such a sharp contrast between the stories domestically, along political lines as well.

4. The narrative my conversation partner gave me was this one: That Park Geun-hye didn't get married and start a family, because "Korea is her husband" or something like that. And with that kind of narrative, suddenly it becomes possible for an ultra-patriarchal country to have a female president, but still be ultra-patriarchal. Because clearly, the norm -- what a woman is SUPPOSED to do... is have a husband. To get married and make babies. As if the only way to be a successful female politician is to remove herself from the roles she's "supposed" to do... and just so, even as Korea moves toward possibly having its first female president, even the memes around that woman's becoming president, point a big finger back to the kitchen for women who don't want to become president-- women remain faced with the false choice of either starting a family or chasing success in some other (read: men's) realms.

Now I'm not saying every person in Korea's patriarchal or sexist, or that gender roles are as rigid as they used to be, or that no progress has been made...

but it makes me sad that the narratives surrounding the woman who might become Korea's first female president actually reinforce traditional gender norms, and that along with that, all the "well women in Korea have come far enough, thanks" (mostly) men will be able to pull out the Park Geun-hye trump card as "proof" that Korea is now an equal society, so we don't need to have wacky things like a whole government ministry just for women's equality anymore, and we clearly don't need to develop laws and social programs protecting working or unmarried or migrant mothers, because if we have a female president, clearly women have come far enough!

This might not be the case. This may not be how the narratives around PGH go. I'm almost 100% sure I'm missing something, because I've been busy, and my Korean ain't that hot. Probably, things will continue getting better, faster than the old men in power would like (out come the hospital gowns!) but slower than I'd like to see... but I just really really dislike the "Korea is my husband" meme, because of what follows from it. That is all.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Dokdo Flag, The Olympics and Antagonistic Nationalism

The Olympics came and went. And all the flag waving with it. I've been busy -- I got a very unexpected promotion at work, and between doing the "Blog Buzz" section at TBS This Morning every week for quite a while, and also writing a "Blog Of The Month" thingy for 10 Magazine, I seem to have gotten blogged out... more on that later, perhaps. So I didn't comment on the Olympics as they were happening. Tough nuts.

And that Korean soccer player may or may not get his bronze medal after holding up a sign that said "Dokdo Is Our Land," and there's been buzz that he may even still have to do his military service, which would happen in Korea's soccer or olympic organizations don't want the IOC or FIFA to be mad. Or maybe he still won't, because now that the Korean media's picked this up, he may come out of this a minor hero.

Sigh. Grumble grumble grumble.

The whole news story is pretty much stupid from top to bottom.

To begin, the idea that the Olympics are not political is just stupid from the start. The Olympics always have been. After World War II, cities from all the major Axis nations were each awarded Olympics games, partly to symbolize normalization with the rest of the world (Munich, Rome and Tokyo), but not before London crowed in 1948 (Who won the war? Fuck yeah! We did!). Those city selections were political choices, no doubt about it. Apartheid and cold war politics saw mass boycotts of the Olympics through the 70s and 80s.

The awarding of the games to a particular host city has ALWAYS been a huge granting of status, and a form of validation in the international arena that is all the more powerful for its rarity -- after all, there's only one Summer and one Winter games every four years - that scarcity makes it a much bigger deal than if, say, the Superbowl, which happens EVERY year, went to a different city worldwide each year. And you can't award the Olympics to Beijing, but not the political prisons. The games go to the host city, baggage and all.

And the Olympics have turned a blind eye to some awful shit in their day, hiding behind "The Olympics are not political" when their hypocrisy becomes too glaring -- a few year after the Tiananmen Square massacre, the president of the IOC was encouraging china to make an Olympic hosting bid for the 2000 games that went to Sydney. Seoul got the 1988 games in 1981, only about a year after Korea's military massacred democracy protesters in Gwangju.

But while the International Olympic Committee goes through the paces of not being about politics, it's always been about politics. And money. And prestige. The countries being awarded the games have always been western countries, or countries that can put on a mask of appearing similar enough to the West to make the high-up mucky-mucks feel assured of their superiority.

So the idea that the Olympics are not political is rubbish. They're intensely, intrinsically political, and you only get smacked for being political if your politics don't agree with theirs.

And in fact, I'd rather they were MORE political, if it meant they were a little less commercial. Banning logos and making it illegal for companies that weren't official sponsors of the Olympics to use the word "London" and "2012" too close together -- and the amount of resources spent policing the above -- let everyone know what the Olympics are about now. And it made me pine a little for some political showboating, if only because the black power fist doesn't translate onto a Wheaties box.

At the more "mass" level, the Olympics are about nationalist chest-thumping and flag waving. I realize I'm not saying anything new. The Olympics have also always been about nationalist chest-thumping and flag-waving. Leading up to the 1908 Olympics (also in London), the Olympic project was in trouble. A handful of other potential host cities had balked at the cost, and Rome actually cancelled after repairs from Mt. Vesuvius' eruption drained public coffers. The Olympics had no home, and London became the host on short notice, because it was hosting the World Expo at the time. Can't even find a host city? The Olympics were in rough shape.

But then the guy carrying the American Flag refused to dip the US flag as the US contingent passed in front of the British King's box (all the other nations had), and that insult, followed by some misunderstandings about the rules for a few sports, led to an acrimonious rivalry developing between British and American athletes. These territorial controversies made the olympics much more interesting than some high-minded nobles prancing their horses around, and the Olympics started down a path it would not be able to return from.

Olympics have always been about nationalism -- all the way from that fifth Olympiad. Before that, the Olympics mostly ran as afterthoughts concurrent with and overshadowed by a few world fairs, in Paris and St. Louis. In fact, I'm gonna say that if nationalism hadn't gotten tied into the Olympics, the whole project would have sputtered, and the world would give about as much a damn about the Olympics as the world gave about  the 2011 World Athletics Championships (who hosted them? Quick! Without google! Betcha nobody outside the host country can tell you) or the 1986 World Expo (Betcha nobody outside the host city can tell you were that was). For what it's worth, cheering for a country helps people get excited about the Olympics -- it gives us a hook to hang our interest on, when otherwise nobody'd give a damn about mixed pairs badminton or synchronized diving.

I don't think nationalism is going anywhere regardless, just because a nation is a large enough unit for human beings to feel aggrandized by connecting their identity to it, but a small enough unit that we can remain provincial and prejudiced toward outsiders, and wrap our minds around that morsel of identity in a way that sets up an ingroup and outgroup. That ingroup-outgroup shit seems to matter with us homo sapiens.

And what of Park Jong-woo?

Well, to begin with, he didn't make the sign himself. But he could read it. But he had just won a medal by beating his country's (percieved) nastiest rival. But he had to expect what was coming.

Honestly, I'd do some dumb shit too if I'd just won an Olympic medal. The people I blame are the Korean fans who handed him the sign.

I hope they really feel like shit.

Not just for getting a guy stripped of his medal, but in the larger picture, for making, and bringing, such a shithead sign to an event that (despite my descriptions of the IOC's hypocrisy above) is supposed to be a celebration of excellence, and is described as an opportunity to resolve, or at least suspend, national differences through competition. Resolving rivalries through competition is ass-backwards thinking... but then, would a billion people world wide turn their TVs on to watch the open ceremonies of the "International Leadership and Team Building Activitiad"?  "Bulgaria won a gold medal in the trust fall on Tuesday, but their representative placed dead last in the 'Back-pat and Multi-step Handshake' event."

They're kinda dumbasses... but I can hardly blame them, because if THEY missed the point of the Olympics, then EVERYBODY's been missing the point of the Olympics since 1908.

I've been reading about nationalism for some of the papers I wrote last semester, and this Dokdo sign stupidity is just another iteration of other historical real and perceived grievances in the arena... as for Dokdo itself, go read this article. I like it.

But as for antagonistic nationalism in East Asia?

Well, you know how the basketball or soccer team where the players are making the extra pass and sacrificing their own stats for the sake of team success, are usually the teams that win the big games? And how the teams where players are trying to run up their statistical totals for the sake of their next payday... usually don't win the big game?

And you know how in the long run, history is kinder to the athletes who pass on individual glory for the sake of the team, and those guys who score lots of points for the last-place team get forgotten, while everybody remembers the folks who lift the trophies?

Well right now, all the countries in East Asia are the players gunning for individual stats, rather than trying to figure out how to win the effing game.

The USA and China will benefit from this, because if the smaller countries can't get their shit together, they'll keep setting up the pieces to dominate the pacific rim, and the Asian continent, by continuing to pitch smaller countries against each other.

The smaller countries in Asia will either be forced to choose between USA or China, or allowed to keep vacillating, which renders their influence in the region pretty much impotent.

I mean... Europe's not doing so hot right now economically... but if you look a little closer, the idea that "We're in this together, and we've got to help each other out of this" underpins most of the debates about what comes next for the EU... and that shared experience of mutual support is going to pay dividends in the future, when nations begin to trust the institution of the EU more.

And Korea and Japan and China will probably still be screeching at each other about this island, and that mountain, and the truth about some historical events.

And that's just stupid. That's all.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Hi there all.

In case you haven't heard, first of all, congratulations to Seoul-->Suburban, on their upcoming book publication (link), and also, if you're a Seoul-based street photographer looking to get involved in a really cool project, you might be interested to know the Seoul-->Suburban photographer, Elizabeth, is moving away from Seoul, and this leaves the site in need of a new photographer. More info here.

Oh yeah... an in their latest post, they cover one of my favorite stretches of the Cheonggyecheon, and the surrounding area. Check it out.

Monday, August 06, 2012

High Street Low Street: Seoul Photography by Dayv Mattt

Dayv Mattt, also known as Chiam, is a photographer I've admired for quite a while now- he's had a handful of different blogs, and can currently be found at

Disclosure: he contacted me and offered to send me a copy of his book for free, in exchange for a review. I insisted on paying for it, because I admire his photography and want to support it, and because I still don't want my readers to feel like they have to doubt my writing because I've used my blog to get free stuff.

But more to the point... I simply love his photography. The man seems to wander around the same parts of Seoul that I do -- not to say the same parts geographically, but the same types of corners and  neighborhoods seem to attract his camera's eye. The search for a good subject leads him up hillsides and into alleyways instead of down the main streets - the grittier and more crumbled, the better, so his photos end up showing a Seoul that City Officials and Official Guidebooks rarely highlight in their urgent attempt to dazzle visitors with shiny lights and huge displays of pointless technology: places that pretend war in the long past, dictators in the nearer past, and poverty and class strife right goddamn now have never touched Seoul, which is a well-meant, but an outright lie.

Mattt's camera's eye also gives clear evidence that he has lived in Seoul for a long time, paid his dues: the tourist would not notice from their hotel room, or not realize how important and common an element of Seoul life they are, to include uniformed school kids swarming into the streets when the hogwans close, or the way people react when a pigeon explodes into flight. It takes a long time living here, and an observant eye, to know that some of the things documented in his book, actually are important parts of living in Seoul: more so, even, than touchscreen thingies on streetsides in Kangnam, or the ornate corners of austere hanok buildings against blue skies - which you have to go looking for, rather than walking by them on the way to the subway stop every day, and which even tourists can  catch in a point-and-click, and feel like they've captured something about Seoul that matters.

The crumbling stoop where somebody's grandmother is husking garlic cloves, the side-alley where middle-school kids linger between hogwan classes, or taxi drivers pull over for a smoke and a piss, where even the chicken delivery guy gets lost; random stoops decorated with drunken salarymen and graffiti-covered police buses get perceptive, and even loving treatment here, and this is why High Street Low Street is a new favorite book of Seoul photography.

The book is huge - A3 size, for those of you who feed paper into photocopiers, and beautiful, glossy and rich in color, with around a hundred full color, heavy paper pages. Mattt has self-published these beautiful editions, and is selling them independently, to help himself buy a replacement for his old camera.

Maybe the best thing I can say about the book is this: after spending some time with it, I feel like DayvMattt lives in the same Seoul I live in, and I bow to him for capturing in images the feelings of the Seoul I've lived in, and loved, cracks, uneven cobblestones, blind corners with sudden night views, pig faces and foul-mouthed middle-schoolers and night streetlights making old houses magical, and all.

I highly recommend this beautiful book of Seoul street photography. I will protect it from my baby for as long as I can, and I recommend you buy a copy at his website, through bank transfer or paypal, to support an artist trying to make something beautiful on his own terms.

The "buy my book" link. You won't regret it. I might order two more copies for my dad and step-mom when they come to Seoul.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Addition to the Sidebar Links

I just added "" to the links on the sidebar.

It's a site I like, for posts like this, just in the last week, reporting on the Asian Human Rights Commission's criticism of Korea's National Human Rights Commission's leadership and evaluation criteria. Or this one, arguing children shouldn't be taught TOEFL or TOEIC in school.

I first noticed the blog and put it into my "big blog list," "All The Korea Blogs," which tries to be as comprehensive as possible.

From there, it impressed me quite a bit with its reporting, so here it is, linked on the main blog.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

North Korea. Lankov. Royal Asiatic Society. YouTube. Wow.

This is just one of the best ideas I've come across, and I have to share it.

The Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch is a group I like a lot, whose events I wish I could attend more often.

Andrei Lankov is one of the North Korea experts whose word I respect the most.

YouTube is a place where you can watch videos for free.

If you put them together, you get this:
A Youtube lecture of Andrei Lankov on the topic "What does China Want with North Korea and What Can be Done About It?" --this is a fantastic topic that's intrigued me for a while. The lecture's a bit over an hour, so square away some free time to watch it, if you're interested in this topic. If the Royal Asiatic Society is going to do this more often, they might want to look into finding ways to improve the sound quality of the speaker's voice - it sounds like they're using the camera microphone, so there's a bit of ambient noise and the speaker's voice doesn't come across beautifully. However... I DO think it's a GREAT idea for the Royal Asiatic Society to put their lectures - or at least a few of their lectures - online.

Anyway... watch it! And maybe join the Royal Asiatic Society.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Groove Magazine on MBC stuff

Groove Magazine has a multi-page spread response to the MBC racist video thingy. It's a pretty great set. You can also spot an article I contributed to it.

I was talking with a friend the other day about this magazine thingy, and she was cynical about it all. "Like the Groove piece is going to change anything."

And she's right. But she's also wrong.

See, if my Korea life time horizon is two years (longer than the average English teacher's stay), then no, this isn't going to change everything. It'll make me feel vindicated, and that's nice, but that's about it. But responses like this to race-baiting media? On a two-year time horizon, no change will likely be observable. So my friend is totally right.

But my friend is also totally wrong, because that isn't -- can't be -- why we launch responses like this, on the blogs, with youtube videos, on the it's not a blog it's totally different I swear's, and elsewhere. The reason we put forward a response like this isn't because racism in Korea can be fixed in one single media news cycle. Of course not. After all, the latest Oscar opening ceremony STILL got dinged for making a blackface joke, at least two generations after American people of color started saying "hey. We actually don't like it when you do this."

The reason we do this is because we are here, and we have a voice, and this is part of how we demonstrate to the homogeneous part of Korean society that we aren't going anywhere, and that we ARE stakeholders, and that it MATTERS to us, and to Korea at large, how the "other" is treated in Korea, in the long run. So has this changed anything? Nah. No change that'll be observable from the way things were in 2011 to the way things will be in 2013. But the game we're playing has to be a long game, not a short one. And we have to be ready next time (hopefully a little more ready than this time) and we have to have resources ready to activate (hopefully more, and more easily activated than this time) and we have to have allies among Korea's own citizenry (hopefully more, better connected, and more vocal than this time), because social change isn't like flicking a light switch, and some watershed moment happens, and then everybody pats each other on the back for fixing Korean racism. It's a slow, ongoing, frustrating conversation, where a new idea, or a new identity, or a new group, or a new version of what it means to be Korean, starts on the far outside fringe of mainstream thought, and slowly slowly, the mainstream first becomes aware of it at all, then decides it's not quite so bad as they initially thought, then decides it'd be OK to coexist with it -for other people to hold those values or be that way, but not me - before they finally decide it's time to embrace it.

There are other conversations going on -- let's remember among ourselves that...

1. the cure for racism isn't more racism (Korean men made this video because of their tiny penises and because some whitey stole their girlfriend; Korean women choose western men because western men are just superior in some way)
2. the cure for racism isn't sexism (we made this video because Korean women are out of control!)
3. the cure for racism isn't racism PLUS sexism (Korean women can't resist foreign men because we don't hit them or make them quit their jobs to make babies)
4. it isn't just about Korean women and western men. And the more western women's voices, and Korean men's voices, are welcomed into these conversations, the more useful this conversation will become.
I'm sure there are more of these, but for now, I'm going to hit "publish" now.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I finished my finals and my papers last week, including a mammoth sit-in to finish my final paper. I'm 95% proud of one, 90% proud of the next, and 75-80% proud of my all-nighter paper -- I'd done the reading and planning beforehand, but then typing it ended up being more time consuming than I'd expected.

Partly because, over the last two months, my computer had been slowly getting slower and slower, until by the time of my all-nighter paper blusterschlutz, it was running somewhere around 20% of its normal speed, and I had to switch between the internetz, where I was searching places like the CIA factbook, the OECD library, KOCIS and NationMaster, for comparative statistics on Korea's performance in various metrics like educational achievement and Gender Inequality Measure (I can't accurately remember what it's called right now -- the old one, the "gender empowerment measure" was easier to remember). I can't be arsed to look it up right now either, because flipping around on an ipad is a little more of a pain than flipping around on a laptop. Funny thing about them is that Korea went from 68th in the world on the Gender Empowerment Measure (which had more emphasis on women reaching elite positions like CEO-type and government representative type roles), Korea took a leap to 15th in the Gender Inequality Thingy, which has more emphasis on access to education and adequate health care. I'm not sure how reproductive freedom measures in, given that it just became possible to get morning-after pills without a prescription in Korea...but at the cost of birth control pills being prescription now... which would be OK, maybe, if we didn't still hear stories about doctors lecturing women on the choices they make with their bodies...

So while a Facebook friend kindly offered to help me out with my computer's failure to restart after I reformatted it (Thanks, David. I appreciate your offer, and I'll buy you a beer sometime even though I didn't take you up on it), I brought it into the authorized service people at Yongsan Electronics Market, because I'm hoping they can see to it that the little bastard is running at 1000% speed again by the time I get it back, and that's a little more touchy than the boot record thingy. And if you need service done on your maccy stuff, the authorized service people are not in the main iPark building, but the older market area behind it, where you can find a cinema that ALWAYS has tickets available, and better prices on electronics than anywhere else in Seoul. If memory serves, the Macbook Air there was around 200 000 won cheaper than it was at the Frisbee store in Myeongdong... but memory might not serve. I might be comparing the slow model and the fast model or something, so don't quote me on that, and then get back to me with angry butthurt "you led me on a bum steer" type comments. But I WILL be buying my next mac product at the Daihwan Computer Shop in the Yongsan market, next door to Twosome Place in the Jeonja Land building.

Anyway, Mac also has a new macbook pro coming out with a fancy high-definition screen, but after carrying a 15 inch macbook pro around in my backpack for a whole semester, I'm leaning toward an air (I played around with one at the store, and I think I have a technology crush) for my out-and-aboutsies, and a desktoppy thing (maybe a mini-mac) for home and video editing and that kind of business.

Blogging with an i-pad and a (nifty) wireless keyboard is a bit of a hassle compared to laptoppy work, so expect mostly bits and pieces until it's easier for me to cut and paste things, and embed things, and return to the full glory of blogoseyo... I owe some people an apology and a retraction for the "Gendered Spaces" post, in which I stepped in it, big time... and that deserves a proper write up. Once I have MacBookOseyo back.

but I'm back, in a sense... and I'm glad to be.


Saturday, June 09, 2012

A tad More on the MBC Video

I got linked in the Wall Street Journal's Korea blog, Korea Real Time. And at The Marmot's Hole. And Three Wise Monkeys (in a piece written by The Bobster, one of my favorite writers who contributes to that site). And Scroozle and Expat Abundance and a handful of others. So that's all cool. Thanks, all. Now that I'm famous and all, it's time for a change in style.

because that's how I heard teh famousz people dress. all of them. (source)

Seriously, though, if you're interested in a little heavier reading, here are two things you should read -- I've been researching multiculturalism and racist scapegoating for a few papers, and these two papers are very interesting, especially in light of the MBC video, and the xenophobia and sexism therein.

1. "The Political Economy Of Hatred" by Edward Glaeser (warning: links open to a .pdf download of the working paper) - Hate does not appear out of a vacuum. Hatred of a minority appears in a society when there are strategic incentives for political contenders to promote hate, and conditions which incentivize the population to accept messages of hate. Edward Glaeser breaks down the conditions that make it more or less likely that messages of hate will be generated, and accepted, by political players and populations. I'll be writing more about this one later, because I think it's important.

2. "Popularizing Purity" Full title "Popularizing Purity: Gender, Sexuality and Nationalism in HIV/AIDS Prevention for South Korean Youths" by Sealing Cheng (Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 46.1, April  2005, p 7-20) -- turns out, this conflation of HIV with teh furriners, has been connected with activating nationalist emotions about "purity" and "corrupting foreign  influences" at least since the 90s, and probably earlier. Did you know some Koreans wanted to test every visitor to the 1988 Seoul Olympics for HIV? Didn't happen, but some were pushing for it. The article also highlights how misogyny/sexism has been part of the "foreign corruption" "cultural purity" and "HIV threat" narratives in Korea pretty much since the beginning, as women shouldered most of the blame/responsibility to carry the flag of Korean cultural purity and moral virtue in the old "Purity" campaigns, just as women are blamed for being "open minded" (euphemism for other openings) to foreigners now.

Click. Read. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

June 9 Event: Military Camptown Prostitution Workshop

I got this message from my excellent friend Shannon the other day, and wanted to share it with you.

As you may or may not know, the House of Sharing International Outreach Team has recently regrouped under the name, Women's Global Solidarty Action Network. Our new expanded goals include focusing on issues of sexual slavery, trafficking women and the "comfort women" issue. This Saturday (June 9th), we will be hosting a workshop under the title "U.S. Military Camptown Prostitution in Korea: 1945-Present". The workshop will be given by Professor Nah Young Lee.

The Women's Global Solidarity Action Network (WGSAN) will be hosting a free workshop under the title "U.S. Military Camptown Prostitution in Korea: 1945-Present". The workshop will be given by Professor Nah Young Lee. 

The workshop will be on Saturday, June 9th from 2-5 at the Columban Mission Center. To get to the center, take line 4 to the Sungshin Women's University Entrance 성신여자대학교입구) stop. Go out exit 4 and a building with a traditional Korean roof (hanok) will be in front of you. Go into the building and up to the second floor. Please note the center is very close to exit 4, and not on the University's campus.

For more information email:

For the facebook event page:

From another source: 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Racist MBC Video: Some Perspective and Marching Orders

Scroozle has posted a subtitled (translated) version of a video made by MBC, one of Korea's major broadcasting corporations, about "The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners."

The video is exploding on Facebook, and I dare not open my twitter stream...

I have a few thoughts about this piece, and a few ideas about how to respond effectively. I'll try to be as brief as I can.

But first...
Meet Babyseyo. I don't want him to grow up in a country that tells him his mother was a victim of his father.

1. Things are getting better.
As upset as we all are, things are getting better here in Korea, when it comes to this kind of race-baiting.

In 2005, SBS ran an episode of a show based on a controversial post at a website called "English Spectrum" (that post) (that episode)
And this happened. (Chosun Ilbo)

Immediately after the broadcast, the bulletin board on the program's website was flooded with over 1,000 furious posts. "I was so infuriated after the broadcast that I couldn't sleep," one read. "I'm frightened to send my children to an English academy," read another. "Foreign language institutes must do some soul-searching," said a user giving their name as Han Seon-yeong. "We must quickly deport all those low-quality foreign English teachers who try to pick up girls near Hongik University or Apgujeong." 
The extreme nature of some of the attacks has led to concerns for the safety of foreign residents in Korea. "After watching the broadcast, I began to look differently at the native English speaker who teaches in the elementary school where I work and the Korean English teacher who works in the same classroom," a user giving her name as Yun Eun-hwa said.
This time, when MBC does another hit piece, according to Busan Haps, "The video has spawned thousands of comments, overwhelmingly negative, against the broadcaster, with thousands of views and over 600 video shares in a matter of hours."

Comparing the release of photos from 2005's "Playboy Party," which inspired the Anti-English Spectrum, and for example, the appearance of the "See These Rocks" video, which got a week or so of coverage, maximum, and then kind of faded from memory as After School released a new video or something... things are getting a LOT better. Let's remember that, and be willing to mention that when we talk with people about this video.

When the awful awful Suwon rape/murder/dismemberment story was in the news, we got "Half of Foreigners Still Not Fingerprinted" (Chosun), but we also got "Don't Paint All Foreign Workers With Same Brush"

That said... a video like this is still bad, and wrong, and DOES merit a response, every time, until MBC and other outlets figure out that "Korea doesn't roll that way anymore."

Interestingly, a quick scan of headlines shows that the Chosun (the conservative paper) is more likely to  race-bait than the Hankyoreh, the most influential progressive paper.

Oh... and Scroozle mentions the 2018 Olympics, as in "Korea's on the global stage now... this kind of thing won't wash anymore" ... sorry to say it, but the 1988 Olympics were awarded to Seoul barely more than a year after Chun Doo-hwan had massacred hundreds and maybe thousands of democracy protesters in Gwangju, and a mere two years after Tiannanmen Square, the head of the IOC was encouraging China to put in a bid for the 2000 Olympic games that went to Sydney. As blind eyes go, the IOC clearly knows where their bread is buttered, and will cheerfully turn a blind eye to this, and secretly high-five each-other if this is the worst thing they have to ignore in the build-up to Pyeongchang 2018.

2. Let's not forget foreign men are not the only victim of this video...
Along with the old "Korea throwing Foreigners under the bus" thing, let's not forget, and let's be quite loud in voicing the other major problem with this video: the way it treats Korean women as if they are idiots with no self-agency, ripe and passive victims to the blue-eyed voodoo of white males. 

Because this video is just as much about women being easily duped and victimized, as it is about foreign men, and the idea that Korean women are helpless, faced with foreign men, is insulting to the intelligence and freedom of Korean women. It also has hints of possessiveness -- "they're OUR women..." which is also insulting and degrading to Korea's smart, dynamic, diverse, well-educated and self-determining females.

3. The ideal response (to this video)
There's a facebook group that appeared really suddenly, and has amassed over 4500 members as of this writing. They are talking about different ways foreigners could respond to this video. There aren't enough of us to make a boycott matter. E-visa holders run the risk of deportation if they protest something openly. Crashing MBC's website won't do much good in the long run.

So what IS needed?

Well, to begin with, it'd be awesome if there were a civic group in Korea, composed of expats and migrants, who basically acted as a watchdog for stuff like this. An anti-defamation league of language-savvy expats keeping an eye on media in general, publicizing cases, and making sure that racism in Korean media doesn't pass unchecked. But that doesn't exist yet.

I think the most powerful response to a video like this would be another video. A video that reminds MBC of the impact of spreading hateful messages. A video of long-term expats who speak Korean. Or who have families: multicultural families with kids who are Korean citizens, who attend Korean schools, who speak Korean, who have Korean grandmothers and grandfathers who adore them. Speaking to a MBC, and the rest, in Korean, saying, "Don't tell Koreans my father has HIV. Don't tell Koreans my mother is probably a criminal. Don't tell Koreans my wife is a victim. I CHOSE to marry my foreign wife. I CHOSE to marry my foreign husband, because we love each other. Pretending foreigners are all criminals hurts Korean families. It hurts your kid's teacher. It hurts the fathers and mothers of Korea's next generation. It teaches children to hate people, and hate hurts Korea."

Cue slideshow of cute biracial kids playing with their fathers, mothers, and grandparents.

It wouldn't take that much to put together such a video: the cooperation of a handful of multicultural families, a photo editor, a video editor, and someone who's bilingual and has a nice narrator's voice. That's it. If you're interested in being one of those people, e-mail me.

3.1 The ideal long-term response

The long-term response has to be two-pronged, because there are two main ways Koreans decide what they think about foreigners: the foreigners they hear about from politicians or TV shows (the macro level), and the foreigners they meet (the micro level).

3.1.1 At the macro-level (policy, laws, and media representations), here's what we need:

A. A group of expats, migrants and sympathetic Koreans who...
B. form an "anti-defamation league" or something like it, that... 
C. watches, and responds, to things like this. Every time. And... 
D. sends out press releases and communications in Korean,...
E. builds ongoing connections and relationships with the bureaucrats and politicians making policy choices about Korea's expat populations...
E. informs the expat community (in their languages) about what's going on, and...
F. perhaps also stages events or...
G. produces materials (classroom lessons, instructional videos, awareness PSAs) that...
H. raise awareness that expats in Korea have a voice, and are stakeholders in Korea, too.

It would be good if some members or allies of this group were long-term, well-connected expats. People who have published books about Korea, or who have sat across from government ministers or top policy makers to talk about these things.
If there were enough, nobody would have to carry the main part of the work load. And when the group is starting out, it wouldn't have to perform ALL those tasks: some would be for a future time when the group is better established. 
It would be good if this group were connected with the embassies of the various countries that send expats and migrants to Korea.

It is CRUCIAL that this group comprise members from EVERY country that sends a lot of expats to Korea. Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand? Yeah sure. Also Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, China, Russia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. First world expats often forget our migrant/expat status makes gives us more in common with citizens of these other countries than we realize. Our voices are stronger if we're unified.

These kinds of organizations and movements will probably have to be organized and powered by long-term Korea residents: people with families here, for whom it's WORTH fighting the good fight. People with the language skill to complain in the language of the land, so it gets heard. Short-term residents will, I'm sure, be welcome to lend their energy to this kind of cause, but the stability needed to build the kinds of relationships that will lead to an expat anti-defamation league having a legitimate voice will be provided by long-termers.

3.1.2 At the micro level:

There have been other times I've written long lists of things that are good to do, or things that are bad to do, and ways to avoid alienating potential Korean friends (who are also potential allies). 

So have others. (best one by Paul Ajosshi: "Don't be a wanker")

Also: a quick reminder, especially for non-Asian males: NEVER talk about Korean women to a journalist. They won't necessarily identify themselves as a journalist, if crap as shady as this video gets made (it looks like they were holding the camera at their side, perhaps pretending it wasn't on, when interviewing a few of these people), so watch for hidden cameras and intrusive questions, and remember: in Korea, it's OK to do all kinds of fun stuff, as long as you don't talk about it.

So for now, I'll encourage you to check links, and just say again, that we're all ambassadors, wherever we go. For our home countries, and for the idea of multiculturalism and change in Korea in general. Just, kinda, remember that, maybe?
4. Who are our allies?

We have tons of potential allies, and the sooner we can get organized enough to start reaching out to these different groups, the better off it will be for us.

Among our potential allies:

Parents of english students.

Hogwan owners.

Members of the conservative party who are advocating for multiculturalism and globalization - multiculturalism policy is part of LMB's big plan for "Korea Branding."

Non-first-world expats and migrants living in Korea

The progressives who are arguing the social welfare and social support side of the multiculturalism issue, in terms of marriage migrants.

The ministry of gender equality and family (both on the scapegoating Korean women side, and the multicultural families side)

Chambers of Commerce from countries trying to run or establish foreign owned companies in Korea, or trying to employ foreign experts and professionals in Korea

The Canadian, American, South African, Australian, New Zealand, British, Irish, Indonesian, Philippine, Thai, Cambodian, Chinese, and Vietnamese embassies (all countries that send expats to Korea, and have to deal with expats who end up in bad situations because of racist acts or laws)

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea.

And more, I'm sure.

In closing

My views on Korea's expat community have changed over the years. I'm not as optimistic as I was before I joined ATEK, and before ATEK crapped the bed. 

We're a fractious and diffuse community, in a lot of ways, and too many of us are transient. I've written about expat community here, and here: I stand by most of my points in these two community self-assessment-ish posts.  The first one.  The second one.

But it doesn't take THAT many people to form an anti-defamation league, if the right skills (language, writing) are present. And if such a group turned out to have the moral support of tens of thousands of first and second-world migrant workers... that'd be a pretty powerful thing. And a useful thing. And a thing Korea needs, if Korea is to continue down the same road towards being an increasingly diverse society.

Friday, May 25, 2012

K-girls, K-boys... both in the wrong?

(Update 2: August 2013: This post is a mess. There is a correction/update/clarification here.)

[Update] I'm No Picasso has written a very good response to this post. You should read it. I'm going to write my reply, which will be shorter, in the comments.

Music: this is a long post, with lots of words, so hit play and start reading:
Goin' Against Your Mind, by Built To Spill, who I'm loving these days: I may write a post about them. After finals.

I'm No Picasso has a really important post out, and I'm quite disappointed that there's been so little commentary on it so far. Has it been discussed on Tumblr and I missed it? No. There hasn't. I even asked INP and she said there's been nary a tumbleweed in reply.


Four years ago, the K-blogs were overwhelmingly male, as were the online forums. Topics like
"Yo Korean bichez are da shit poor western fat hoes aint gettin any play at da HBC bro!"
were... well... that's an exaggeration (mostly). But the fact is, there was enough casual sexism and stereotyping, and enough knee-jerk response, that I'm utterly unsurprised when I hear from my female online friends that they usually just don't read comments, or avoid certain blogs or discussion forums.

Fair enough.

With the arrival of I'm No Picasso and a handful of other blogs written by expat women in Korea, there was a welcome change, where first of all, Korean women were no longer just K-girls, and western women started discuss things themselves, rather than just having things said about them, or maybe explained to them.

That was a really good development.

Now, INP is concerned that things have gone too far the other way.

Used to be, the menz were writing about K-girls - a term that is often quite reductionist and disrespectful, reducing a whole culture and heritage into the dateability (or let's be honest, the fuckability) of one subgroup of their females. Now, I love that people can be misogynist dickheads, ignorant racists, screeching axe-grinders or pompous asshats on the internet as much as the next guy -- it makes it easier to spot people I'd like or dislike to hang out with, when they're letting all their asshattery color up the interwebs. But as fun as those flavors can be, it's a little tiresome when it's the only flavor available. And as gender balance goes, only one flavor was getting major representation. As much as dickweed icecream might hit the spot for certain folks in a certain mood, one hopes there are more flavors available at the ice cream bar.

Then there was another flavor, and that was cool.

But now that other flavor is using the term K-boys, talking in the opposite gender direction, but with similarly dismissive or reductive attitudes, and that's disappointing to INP because the shoe so very recently was exactly on the other foot, and hopefully this new community can do better than the community against which its first formation was partially a reaction (not all: it's not all about men, you know... but partly).

You should go read her piece.

Mostly, I'm OK with there being gendered spaces on the internet -- as long as they're clear that's what they are (that is, not pretending they're representative of something other than their gendered space). And one of the hardest things about conversations on the internet is that there are very, very many cases where people head into conversations following different rules of engagement, and therefore have distressing or frustrating conversations where everyone's talking past each other. I've seen some very very smart and interesting people who, if they met each other, I think would like each other a lot, get into some nasty back-and-forths online, because they entered the conversation expecting dissimilar terms of engagement to be followed.

As I mentioned above: I'm OK with men being idiots online about women, and about Korean women, because if people flash their ignorance around that way, I know to avoid them before I even waste time meeting them. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, so if women want to be idiots online about men, and Korean men, by the same token, have fun! Same for white people, people of color, racists, politically correct sensitivitybots, randy raunchsters and the rest. I think that ignorant, sexist,  racist, and just stupid people will generally eventually attract the readers and commenters they deserve, or none at all, which is OK too.

There are a few times when writing on the internet disappoints me, and maybe these are some of the things that are bothering I'm No Picasso as well...

When writers don't develop as they go, that disappoints me:

I'd hope that anyone who's writing about Korea and trying to contribute meaningfully, who notices most of their writing is getting overwhelmingly negative feedback, or "Yea your rite bro thatz totally how it iz them bichez just don unberstand you hurff durff" or ignored entirely, would take that fact as a suggestion to try a different approach: not everybody needs to do this (not everybody has the same reason for writing), but when I write, I think about the ten most thoughtful commenters who regularly visit here, and basically write for them, and that helps me feel good about how I write, and who I'm writing for.

Sometimes there's no escape on Tumblr

Part of the problem here might be the nature of Tumblr, where female bloggers have cleared up a significant discussion space - on my blog sidebar (where I check to see what my favorite writers are up to) I can be really choosy, but on Tumblr, when somebody I like responds to somebody I DON'T like, the thoughts of the person I don't like appear on my page as well-- to put things crassly, Tumblr simply makes it harder to avoid the dipshits. On blogger and wordpress, if I delete the sidebar link, I can stay clear of dipshits. On Tumblr, I not only have to unfollow the dipshit, I ALSO have to unfollow everyone who interacts with the dipshit, before I can be sure my Tumblring is dipshit-free. And there are some dipshits out there. I'm not naming names. I'm sure you've got your own list, and maybe I'm on it. That's OK, because the internet's a wonderfully big place. But the great thing about the internet being so big is that you don't have to abide dipshits unless you want to... Tumblr, a little bit less so.

(On the other hand, on the good side, the brilliant thing about tumblr is that sometimes the random stuff your friends find is illuminating, brilliant, and totally new -- something I would never have found if I didn't have tumblr friends who search for inspiration in different places than I do).

It's good that the internet takes all kinds, even dipshits, but...

It's not healthy to start blocking, deleting, or censoring other commenters. I'd never advocate that. I think that it's healthier for everybody to put their thoughts online, in the appropriate venues, and for thinking people to sort through and choose the things they read and the things they ignore. Society is richer and discussions are more robust if EVERYBODY feels safe posting comments. Even dipshits.

But for that to happen, there have to be enough spaces out there that people who are offended by republican dipshits have places to go without finding them, and that people who are offended by democrat dipshits have places to go without finding them. Ditto for every other category of disagreeable dipshit. Hopefully, I can find a place where I won't come across "Lol im gunna go out and bone three hawt K-girls this weekend" comments. And people who post comments like that should have a place where they won't get lectured for posting that way. It's not the internet's job, or my job, to make them not be dipshits, and if they ever stop being dipshits, it'll probably be because of people they know in person, or things they actually experience, and not because of strangers on the internet, frankly. But the internet should be able to help them be dipshits only around other dipshits of their particular dipshit stripe.

And there should be a place where people can rant, "man, the sexist dipshittery of Forum X is totally unacceptable" and find agreement, without dipshits answering "You just say that because you're a fat bitter white chick who can't get laid in Korea" or conversely, "You just say that because you're a tubby burger-flipping loser-back-home with b.o. and back hair who couldn't even get a sympathy fuck from geek-bangers"-- because the dipshits commenting at Forum X don't visit that other forum, and if they did, they'd learn that kind of dipshittery is unwelcome there. Or they already got banned there four months ago.

As it stands, are there enough venues that everybody can find the kinds of discussions they're looking for, and not have to be subjected to stuff they don't, while still having a handle on the meaningful, important conversations happening? Almost, but not quite, it seems.

Imagine a friday night when there are a few parties going on at different venues. I'd like to think that there's a frat party going on somewhere -- where people can rant and be noisy and get stuff off their chests. That's healthy. I'd like to think there are a couple of coffee shops, where dudes, ladies, long-termers, and non-teachers can each say their part and feel understood, too.

And I hope the community's big and robust enough that I never have to feel like I'd like to go to an open mike, but the only thing available is a frat party. I don't want somebody to spill beer on my moleskin notebook during a keg stand, nor to be pulled into a congo line when I'm looking for a live cool jazz combo. Perhaps that's what's happening to I'm No Picasso, perhaps not. I know I've felt that way numerous times -- like the guy at a party wanting to talk about books while some group is drunkenly singing "SWEET CAROLINE!  WAH WAH WAH!" nearby.

Yeah Yeah Yeah. Zero. Shiny.

Most of all... self-awareness

my favorite forums and communities are the ones that pause from time to time and talk, or think, about what they're doing, and where they're going, as a community. Who stop and ask, "Hey. Are we just turning into another iteration of [forum we left, in order to join this one]?" They are a community, these groups of people who talk to each other often on the internet. Not necessarily the way ye olde homesteade was: internet communities are pretty loose and amorphous (that was one of the mistakes I made in my earlier writings about expat community: not accounting for that nebulousness), but they are communities, and communities that don't stop and think about who they are and where they're headed might zig or zag into unexpected and unfortunate places, or start losing members who are no longer finding what they're looking for there.

And if a community is losing members because they've made a choice to be this way instead of that way, and that's a calculated cost, well that's a choice the community has made as a collective. But if a community suddenly looks around and goes "hey. where the f*** did those five really interesting contributors go?" maybe a little self-reflection, and the development of a little self-awareness, IS in order, even if the end result is "well, we're going to keep going as we were.. but at least now we've talked about it." (A perfectly legitimate conclusion, and sometimes the only possible conclusion, but one that honors community members who ask these kinds of questions: better than ignoring them.)

Comments are open, here and at I'm No Picasso.

Because part of this topic is about forming communities on the internet, and freedom of expression, I'll be fielding comments like that.

Because part of this topic is about the way females are talking to females on the internet, I feel like that's mostly a conversation females need to have with females, so comments to that effect from males are generally unwelcome, unless you regularly add your voice to the female-dominated discourses... and if you do, I'll probably recognize your id name. Comments from known male commenters who DON'T fit that criteria, especially ones with a tone of accusation or righteousness in their comment, will be edited, disemvoweled, or deleted. If you'd like to explain why things are this way, because you're a logical man and these emotional women need to understand how it is, go ahead. Elsewhere.

It's up to the female spaces to keep their own spaces tidy, and enough women have been told to f*** off when calling male-dominated forums out on their sexist tone, that we don't need that going the other way.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Get Excited about This: Korean Movies on Youtube

The Korean Film Archive has done us a serious, serious solid:

In the same way Gold Korea Vinyl is bringing us classic Korean music from the vinyl archives,  (a project for which I am very grateful, along with their work as SuperColorSuper), now we have an amazing resource available for free on Youtube.

Ever wondered about Korean film before Oldboy? The Korean FIlm Archive has just put SEVENTY - that's right, SEVENTY classic Korean films on Youtube for free, with English subtitles to boot.

Modern Korean Cinema has a title list.

Here's the page so far.

They also have sets for some of Korea's most important filmmakers and eras.

To read reviews on many of these films, and hear more about the history of Korean cinema, and perhaps guess which films might be next on the list, is another awesome resource worth a visit, and Paul Ajosshi has some suggestions for other places to track down classic Korean cinema.

So... enjoy those films, and I'll see you back here in a month.

Oh yeah... and in case you think the list is too south-centric, here's part one of Pulgasari, North Korea's giant monster-in-a-rubber-suit epic.

and subsequent parts are linked.

And if that's not enough North Korean film for you, here's's "Five Craziest Children's Cartoons From North Korea (that they could find online)"

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Google Glasses parody...

So we're still taking responses on the survey - if you are a Korean overseas adoptee, a multiracial Korean, a second or third (or whatever) generation Korea, or a Korean who lived overseas for a long time, and have come back to Korea, please do fill it out!

Korea Bang is a new blog I found, which I like quite a bit - they do translation of stuff that's popular on the Korean internets, and most interestingly, they translate netizen comments as well. Give it a look.

From them, I saw this Google Glasses ad, 

and then its Korean parody -- taking some digs at ActiveX and popup ads.

(Other countries have come up with other google glasses parodies as well)
This one is very funny... but has potty mouth.

It reminded me of this parody from Scotland about problems with SIRI's voice recognition. Potty mouth.

There's been a bunch of posting on Tumblr lately that's gotten quite harsh... and I'll talk at some point about arguing, racebaiting, and privilege on the internet... but I'll certainly wait until things have cooled down a bit first.

Monday, May 07, 2012

So why has posting been so sparse, Roboseyo? A SURVEY!

Hi, readers.

This is the first of a handful of surveys I’ll be running for research papers this semester.

If you’ve been wondering why my blog has been light on posting lately, this is part of it.

We’re studying Korean identity and multiculturalism, and looking for responses from people who have Korean ethnic background (a little or a lot), who have lived overseas, who were born overseas, who were adopted overseas… and who then had the experience of returning to Korea.

If that includes you, please do the survey! If it doesn’t, share it, and hang on: there’ll be more coming.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Papers midterms hate.

Posting's been... nonexistent lately...

I'm sorry readers. I have a midterm on friday and a presentation later today and so on and so forth...

but here are some links you should read, some culled from the radio feature I've been doing on TBS Radio:

Adventures in the 4077th, on tutoring North Koreans... and links where you can get involved!

Stupid Ugly Foreigner, on personal space (why I never go to lotte department store on a weekend).

I really liked this story about Tablo. Tablo seems cool. I'd buy him a beer and chat, if he had the free time. (if I had the free time)

If I Had a Minute To Spare has a well-written piece about the simple pleasures that help him enjoy his life.

Michelle Lee became a sympathetic character for being eliminated on K-pop Star, and JYP's comment was kinda cool. I'm currently researching multiculturalism (or lack thereof) in Korea for a couple of my research papers - I'll fill you in more on that soon... there are surveys!

But I'm not thrilled with Hong Suk-cheon wanting to buy Michelle Lee lunch out of some sympathy impulse...if his reason is because she's multiracial-Korean. Here's what I said on air, more or less:

If we recognize her for her talent, that’s great, but if we single her out for special attention, or treat her as a helpless victim because she’s multiracial, that sets a pattern of patronizing treatment toward multiracial kids that I don’t like, because I don’t want MY multiracial child to be patronized or treated as some kind of weirdo who needs special attention or sympathy. I want him to be treated as a normal part of a healthy Korean society.

Ms. Lee To Be's must-read "What About The Fathers?" is response to a Joongang Ilbo editorial that, rightly, suggests workplaces should be more family friendly. However, JI misses the point by saying these things should be done for mothers who work, (or SO mothers can work AND raise the babies) when part of the reason Korean women don't seem to want to have kids, is because moms still feel like ALL responsibility for child-rearing will land in their lap if they have a kid. Let's get the fathers involved too, folks!

Going back a little...

And, the most academic, philosophical discussion on K-pop you'll ever read... followed by a mix-tape that actually does a pretty good job of summing up what's great, what's important, and what's coming up, in K-pop.

A response in kind (but not as good) that boils down to - Kpop is fascist because it's popular, and it doesn't do it for me, and I resent you for giving reasons I might like it, or should give it a chance... a bunch of critiques that could be applied equally to any pop, from someone who clearly doesn't know much about K-pop, if s/he doesn't know where to strike. It's not hard to find, if you know where to look.  (my comment on this blog outlines most of how I feel on the topic)

The reply, from the original article's author. Which disappointingly, sounds like s/he's apologizing for loving K-pop, at points. There's no need to be apologetic for liking something that's been designed to give pleasure. My relationships with chocolate, beer, boobs and really fresh ddeok are love-love: there's no need to add guilt or shame.

K-pop is corporate... it's for-profit, sometimes cynically so... it's also really, really, really good at what it does, and the sheer skill with which it's accomplished, whether you like it or not, is admirable. But don't hate Justin Bieber because he's not Radiohead: Biebs isn't trying to BE radiohead, and it's disingenuous to think there's only one kind of good music. Don't hate Sistar for not being Shin Joong-hyun or Kim Kwang-seok. Hate Sistar if/because they're not good at what they're trying to do, which is make catchy, marketable kpop. And if catchy, marketable pop isn't for you, don't consume it.  Me? I like a little squee pop from time to time, when I get droned-out on art rock.

Meanwhile, I found this great theoretical article titled "The Political Economy of Hate" which you may have seen linked if you follow me on Twitter... it's a great article and I'm thinking of making it the basis for a series here, as well as a research paper. It asks the question "Why do politicians and other groups stir up hate of other groups? What's the benefit, and how do they choose groups to scapegoat?" And then formulates an answer.

Some of the points are very, very relevant - hell, observable, in South Korea's multiculturalism debates. Others take interesting sideways spins. But I'll save that for another post.

And if you want to hear from me more often, follow me on twitter (see sidebar) -- I'm more active there, because it takes twelve seconds instead of an hour to write a post on Twitter, so that's easier to justify when I have lots of homework or research to do.