Monday, May 13, 2013

One politician's take on foreign English teachers in 1997

On May 21, 1997, the Kookmin Ilbo (which recently published this editorial about foreign English teachers) published the following column:
Nude model and white men

A young Korean-American woman famous for appearing as a nude model in the American magazine Playboy returned to her homeland yesterday and received 'red carpet' treatment. [Yet] when global artists visit our country, there isn't this kind of fuss. From the time when she entered the country at the airport a desperate spectacle broke out as hundreds of reporters scuffled over who would be able negotiate television appearances [with the woman].

The realities of this country [which is highly conservative] is such that when an actress [recently] took off her clothes on stage she was arrested; and there is a talented author named Jang Jeong-il* who was nevertheless punished by the court [for his writing] because it was considered pornographic - neither of them profited from their works [in contrast to this woman, the nude model].

At any rate, this woman proudly said, "I'm proud that men see me as sexy." And likewise our society - especially the women - also feels proud of her.

Was she proud of herself for being found sexy by tall white men who speak English well even though she is a Korean with short legs? On a TV show she said that when she was 21 she was frugal with living expenses and saved up money for breast implants. She also said, "To tell you the truth, I also wanted to get a nose job, but I didn't want to change the face my parents gave me."

These days, meanwhile, unemployed people in English speaking countries are flocking to Korea. It's similar to how throngs of unemployed people throughout the US headed west after rumors spread that gold had been discovered in San Francisco in 1849. This land is being targeted as a paradise for white good-for-nothings according to newspapers like the Washington Post.**

The number of white English instructors is increasing because 'listening and speaking' has come into fashion when studying English. Currently there are 7,800 foreigners with formal English instructor qualifications, a number that has doubled in the last two years. Among them are a good many with things like fake diplomas, and the discovery of the truth about their qualifications has stirred up public criticism. Moreover, the number of foreigners who have entered the country on tourist visas and teach English illegally is estimated to be 40,000-80,000. Among white instructors who are charged with training our elementary school English teachers there are also those who are unqualified; at one school 7 unqualified white instructors were uncovered all at once.

It's normal for white people to make a fortune teaching private lessons in Korea, earning around 50 million to 80 million won a year. There are signs for lectures at places like hagwons, but the real money is in visiting homes to teach groups. Not only that, the reason white men really like Korea is to chase after Korean women. Not long ago, it came out that an unqualified English instructor who was arrested had fooled around with around 20 women, angering the sincere men of this land. To be frank, most unqualified native speaking English instructors are people who had not found a place in their own country and felt left out. As they enter the country on tourist visas, they do not have to take AIDS or drug tests. A famous entertainer caught for a drug offense confessed that he obtained the drugs through a white English conversation teacher. If you go to yogwans in Gwanghwamun where white English instructors live together, the smell of marijuana is not hard to find. While there are also lots of workers from Southeast Asia here, they have a lot less impact upon our society. The seriousness of the problem with unqualified white English instructors, however, is that they are personally penetrating each home of our society's middle class under the pretext of English conversation study. The thought that the low quality culture of English speaking countries is penetrating into living rooms is very serious. This is a big deal. (The author is a national assembly member).
I omitted part of the title of this column; the full title was "Nude model and white men (Kim Han-gil's column)." For those who don't know, Rep. Kim Han-gil was elected head of the Democratic Party last weekend:
A high-profile former aide to President Kim Dae-jung became the chairman of the nation’s largest opposition party and he promised reform to restore luster to the party after last year’s defeat in the presidential election.

Kim Han-gill, a writer-turned-politician and four-term lawmaker, won the chairmanship election Saturday by a large margin. [...]

Kim, 60, is a well-known novelist and was a reporter for the Hankook Ilbo and also San Francisco bureau chief for the JoongAng Ilbo.

He became famous in 1991 when he released a romance novel titled “The Woman’s Man,” a story of a romance between a daughter of a president and an ordinary man. It became a best seller. He became more popular in 1995 as he married Choi Myoung-gill, a top actress at the time.
Kim entered the political arena in 1996 with the support of then-presidential candidate Kim Dae-jung. He took a variety of high-ranking posts in the Kim administration. He was the youngest presidential secretary for policy-making ever and also culture minister.

Perhaps, if we want to get a better grasp of what he wrote back in 1997, his first marriage, to Lee Min-ah, first daughter of former Culture Minster Lee O-young - which is not mentioned above - should be noted. As is described here,
After graduating from Ewha Womans University’s English Literature Department, Lee married [...] Kim Han-gil and moved to the United States. She graduated from law school there and served as the California state public prosecutor in Los Angeles [from 1989 to 2002].
From what I have heard elsewhere, despite his becoming San Francisco bureau chief for the JoongAng Ilbo, he wasn't as successful as his wife, who became a public prosecutor. It should also be noted that after they divorced she married someone named Jeff Spencer Buchanan (she unfortunately died of cancer last year). Perhaps I'm making too much out of this information, but it's hard for me to read some of the what he wrote in the column above - where he constantly harps on about 'white men' - and not wonder if the former influenced the latter.

As for his column, what a tour de force it is. Starting off by talking about a Korean American nude model (clearly Sung-hi Lee) who was "found sexy by tall white men who speak English well," he suddenly segues into talking about foreign English teachers, a correlation that seems rather similar to how the 2005 English Spectrum Incident unfolded (in which the ire of netizens was raised by photos of a 'sexy costume' party involving underdressed Korean women and foreign English teachers).

Much of what Rep. Kim writes about, however, harkens back to the French foreign language teacher scandal of 1984. Referring to Korea as being seen as "a paradise for white good-for-nothing" recalls the Joongang Ilbo article "Korea is "Ali Baba's" Cave," while "unemployed people in English speaking countries are flocking to Korea" sounds rather similar to the article "'I Want to Strike it Rich in Seoul Too' - Continuous Job Inquiries by the French," or this article, in which it's said "Parisians are flocking" to Korea. This Joongang Ilbo editorial from that time lays out a blueprint for much of Rep. Kim would write 13 years later:
The true educational effect of foreign language learning is that when learning to speak and write a foreign country’s language, to some degree one learns its culture and 'spirit' as well. Attaching importance to conversation, [learners] can't distinguish a teacher's or instructor's standard of refinement and mistake them for nothing but a 'tape recorder.' Ultimately there's a worry that when learning conversation students will imitate that country's vulgar culture, vulgar living language, and vulgar values. 
Rep. Kim's comment, "The thought that the low quality culture of English speaking countries is penetrating into living rooms is very serious" echoes the editorial above, though he makes a valid point when he notes that "unqualified white English instructors [...] personally penetrat[e] each home of our society's middle class under the pretext of English conversation study."[And yes, while other words could have been used, I thought 'penetrate' an apt translation.]

Other sections of Rep. Kim's column, however, point toward the future. "Among them are a good many with things like fake diplomas, and the discovery of the truth about their qualifications has stirred up public criticism." That certainly sounds familiar, as does the term "unqualified native speaking English instructors." He also says that "the number of foreigners who have entered the country on tourist visas and teach English illegally is estimated to be 40,000-80,000," showing that reports like this one from a month ago overestimating the number of foreign teachers on tourist visas have something of a pedigree. He also states that "there are 7,800 foreigners with formal English instructor qualifications, a number that has doubled in the last two years." Looking at the statistics of E-2s here (which only go back to 2,000, mind you), makes me very skeptical of that statistic. He also ridiculously overestimates the amount of money being made by foreign teachers ("50 million to 80 million won a year"). While there was a lot of money being spent on English lessons prior to the 1997 monetary crisis, one of the reasons teaching in Korea was popular with foreigners was the favourable exchange rate (800 won to the dollar or so), not the high salaries.

As we near the end of his column, then we start to see attitudes that become mainstream in the media after the English Spectrum Incident in 2005. We're told
the reason white men really like Korea is to chase after Korean women. Not long ago, it came out that an unqualified English instructor who was arrested had fooled around with around 20 women, angering the sincere men of this land.
This is reminiscent of the message on the front page of Anti-English Spectrum's site between 2007 and 2009:
One day, our anger overflowed, as we felt unendurable humiliation through reading of the debasement of Korean women by the arrogant, infamous English Spectrum.
Rep. Kim also makes the foreign teacher - drug connection:
A famous entertainer caught for a drug offense confessed that he obtained the drugs through a white English conversation teacher. If you go to yogwans in Gwanghwamun where white English instructors live together, the smell of marijuana is not hard to find.
I'm kind of curious about how Rep. Kim knew what marijuana smells like. On the other hand, he did live in San Francisco for quite a while. Perhaps the most notable part of Rep. Kim's column is when he states this:
As they enter the country on tourist visas, they do not have to take AIDS or drug tests.
Actually, even if the foreign teachers had entered the country on E-2 visas, they would not have had to take AIDS or drug tests (only entertainers and migrant workers had to take HIV tests, and no one took drug tests). Rep. Kim's spiritual heirs in this regard, Anti-English Spectrum, would take up this cause and find success ten years later, in 2007. This would be after Rep. Kim tried to bring attention to this 'problem' within the national assembly himself, however. I'll (hopefully) post an article about that tomorrow.



* Jang Jeong-il's fourth novel 'Lies' "was banned, recalled and pulped less than a month after it was published in 1996, and the author subsequently had to serve two months in jail as a "pornographer." Jang was the first Korean writer to be so convicted. More about this book and the movie based on it can be read here.

**I've searched for this supposed Washington Post article in its archives but can't find any such article.

2 comments:

Yule said...

Is it possible that it was the Washington Times?

jjj_alltheway said...

I wondered whether that San Francisco article was real too. I think it's safe to assume Kim, Han-gil isn't too keen on the white man or Eng. teachers. It's scary to think the DUP is the liberal party, he should get along well with the conservatives. ESL teachers should expect the worst in the future from politicians in the S. Korean National Assembly unless Park, Geun,hye can do something about it. Since she has some job openings on her cabinet maybe Kim, Han-gil would be too busy to bother with Eng. teachers if she chose him as something.