Sunday, February 28, 2010

Favorite Korea Blog Poll

10 Magazine is running a poll regarding expats' favorite English blogs in Korea. If you want to vote for me, go there now. If not, forget what you just read, as you're probably better off checking out the Joongang Ilbo's series "Old Seoul: frame by frame." There are lots of great articles and photos about Seoul's history there.

[Hat tip (and thanks) to Roboseyo.]

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gold for Kim Yuna

Go read Roboseyo's post about Kim Yuna.

I was thinking about how in my last post about Kim Yuna that the people watching had clearly never seen her James Bond program before, and realized that the women in Dunkin' Donuts didn't realize that Kim had clearly won - Asada would have had to give birth to baby Jesus on the ice to beat her - so I guess that explains their gloating over Asada flubbing the landing on one of her jumps. Explains it, but doesn't excuse it, it my eyes.

Kim Yuna's reaction after skating a clean program.

Kim Yuna not just won, she shattered her own previous records for long program and combined total, scoring 228.56 points (18 points more than her previous record). An outstanding performance on her part for both of her programs. You had to feel for Mao Asada, who must have known it would be impossible to top Kim's score (she came right after Kim). I watched them skating at the local Dunkin' Donuts, where half dozen customers (all young women) cheered in delight when Asada flubbed a landing. Nice, especially when it was clear Kim had already won. Asada still did well, at 205.50 she got the best combined score of her career, but it was just not good enough to beat Kim. At any rate it was nice to see Joannie Rochette overcome the personal tragedy of the past week to get bronze, and odd that the final top three were the same as the top three in the short program.


That's what the Google results for "Kim Yuna" are at the moment, and the top right picture of Kim and Asada links to my blog (here), resulting in some 6,800 hits Wednesday, and 4000 hits in the last hour. Fun.

[Update - 13604 hits in one day - Go Yuna!]

English teachers to be wiped out by robot revolution

By that I meant "Foreign English teachers to be wiped out by robot revolution." Just to clarify. It might look something like this:


 A nefarious plot been in the works for over a year now. Last February, this article appeared, about the English education robot 'Vani' (바니 in Korean, eerily similar to 'Barney') and its use in a Goyang, Gyeonggi-do classroom, utilizing the 'confirm English' video conferencing solution. Solution to what, you may ask? The same robot turned up last September as well:
  A new batch of higher tech robots were introduced at Happo Elementary School in Masan on December 23 last year, with even the mayor in attendance. A video of the mayor interacting with the robot can be seen at the bottom of this page.
  As noted in the Busan Ilbo, the robots were to be demonstrated at Happo Elementary School in Masan for eight weeks, and would also be promoted at Hogye Elementary School in Masan and Naedong Elementary School in Daejeon.
  I'm sure you're dying to know their names. The one above fixing an unsettling stare upon the little girl is Ingki, and the one below is Mero.
  The photo above and below are from this January 31 article about the use of the robots, and is - wait - what the --??
  Umm... do people really think having a robot that gets a big blue bulge between its legs when it's standing between two young girls work as a teacher is really a good idea? I mean, it really looks happy, even delirious, in that photo. Disturbing. I hope someone emails that photo to Anti English Spectrum. Oh, wait, I think the robot was made in Korea, so there's probably no point. At any rate, the article relates that according to ten year-old Hwang Yun-ji, learning from the robot is more comfortable and there is less pressure than learning from a native speaking teacher at a hagwon, and that it’s easier to concentrate on learning English when practicing and repeating with the robot. A (clearly long-practiced for) video showing one of the poor girls above interacting with the robot (nah, it's nothing like Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo) is here (found it here): [It's long since gone, I'm afraid.]

Now, even though these articles that I looked at mentioned nothing about 'replacing' native speakers, that's what a Korea Times article titled, er, "Robots to Replace Native English Teachers," is about:
During the second decade of the New Millennium, robots are expected to replace a number of English-speaking teachers here, who come from such countries as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. At a robotics forum, which brought together 150 experts from across the country late last week in Seoul, participants predicted that English-speaking robots would fill the shoes of native speakers in the future. "By around 2015, robots should be able to help teachers in English classes. By 2018, they should be able to teach on their own while communicating with students," said Kim Shin-hwan, an economist at the Hyundai Research Institute.
So who's making these robots, anyways? Hyundai? (One hopes a Westworld moment doesn't lead to a large recall for Hyundai, in that case).
"Robots have a part to play in education. The consensus is that research will be conducted in various areas to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching," Kim said. [...] Many participants in the forum projected that robots will be able to provide customized education suited to personal abilities and interests, which is difficult in today's schools where dozens of students pack a class.
I'm sure that's an unbiased opinion about the need for robots in a classroom. And the only way "robots will be able to provide customized education suited to personal abilities and interests" is if there's one for every (or a handful of) students. The article goes on to say that
Over the long haul machines are predicted to reduce the discrimination suffered by the underprivileged, who currently cannot experience quality education services.
Hmmm. Perhaps I misjudged that bulge between the legs of the blue robot ('Ingki', if you remember). Perhaps it's actually a nozzle for a nitrous oxide dispenser, because whoever wrote that last quoted sentence was huffing something. A commenter at this site offers another point of view:
"I'm currently teaching in South Korea (and yes, there are always job openings... though less than usual, with the recession on). I teach at two public elementary schools, one of which is on the extreme outskirts of the city and only has 46 students. For some reason, this tiny school got an English robot called the Cybertalker, which uses voice recognition and some kind of face recognition to tailor pre-made conversations to students. The only time I've seen the thing turned on was in the frantic lead up to a school inspection, when my English classes were cancelled in favour of registering all the students in the system and trying to make it perform for the school board officials. Even with days of practice, the students couldn't make it respond - even the almost fluent teachers couldn't make it recognize their English. These are the crappiest teaching robots in existence. A Speak and Spell would be more useful."
Another Korea Times article asks foreign teachers and recruiters for their thoughts:
Jason Cresswell, president of ASK Now-ETO, a recruitment agency which finds English teachers for Korean schools, dismisses the idea of robots completely. "I think it is funny,'' the Canadian said. "I don't think it is realistic, I don't think people's jobs are at risk. Personal interaction is a lot more important than just repeating things over and over again ― if you want that then you can just use a tape recorder,'' he said. "It has got a lot of people talking, a lot of people feel insulted, because (it shows that Koreans) think teachers are just machines,'' Cresswell said.[...] The idea of robots teaching English is comical, says Dann Gaymer, spokesperson for the Association for Teachers of English in Korea. "I find it amusing. We can make a robot to do anything in the world and Koreans chose to make it teach English,'' he said. "Robots replacing teachers is not one of our major concerns.'' Patricia Tamless, from Texas, who teaches at an institute, believes that technology may get to a stage where robots could teach, but thinks they could not replace Western teachers' cultural values. While technology may eventually evolve to a point where robots could teach grammar and vocabulary, they will never be a viable replacement for foreign English teachers because they will not be able to offer the window into Western culture that we provide,'' the 24-year-old said.
I really hate to break this to her, but a "window into Western culture" is precisely what some Koreans (of whom some are in the media and government) don't want. A person who can teach a children to speak with the 'correct' accent? Yes.
  It's this part of the equation these people don't want:
  For awhile, about a year ago, when you typed in 'Native English teacher' and did a picture search on Naver, these turned up first (it features the same teacher). The first Korea Times article makes clear that they would like to get some distance between foreign teachers and Koreans:
"Before such sophisticated English-speaking robots debut, teaching by native English speakers will be conducted by video-conferencing with teachers in their home countries," he said. Kim said that the numerous native English speakers at Korea's language institutes - estimated in the vicinity of 30,000 - will lose their jobs in the not-so-distant future. "At first, the English-speaking robots will be used in a similar fashion to e-learning, or study via the Internet because the robots would be controlled by humans across the Pacific," Kim said. [Emphasis added.]
They seem to be referring to this kind of robot:
This idea of separating Western technology (in this case, English language) from Western culture (ie, foreigners who bring their degenerate drug/music/sexual culture and date our women) is not a new one, as this quote reveals:
Supposing, for instance, there were to be some stupid fellow, some uneducated lout, secretly attempting to diffuse his teachings [in our country]; then we have the law of our state, by which all such shall be exterminated and destroyed without mercy; what reason, then is there for sorrow on account of our (alleged) inability to deal with such abuses? [...] If the [foreign] doctrine is to be regarded as a doctrine of lechery and sensuality, then it can be kept at a distance; if foreign mechanism is advantageous, then we can reap advantage from it and use it to increase our wealth. . . . Let us repel their doctrines, but learn to use or imitate their machinery; both these courses of policy can be carried out, and thus no outrage will be done to propriety.
The essay is titled "Treaties, Extraterritorial Rights,and American Protestant Missions in Late Joseon Korea," by Ryu Dae Young [search here for the title or look for Volume 43-1, 2003 03], and those words were spoken by none other than King Gojong in 1882 as he tried to convince naysayers that they could allow Americans to come to Korea and help in its modernization without spreading their religion. It was Benjamin Wagner who discovered this essay, and who offered this take on the robots:
The whole concept is the same, stripping the person and the ideology from the technology. Step one is a remote operation system, Step two is complete separation of the "technology" from the "doctrine" of the native speaker.
To add to this, the cultural baggage attached to Western foreigners has often been seen as a problem, though in the case of Christianity, despite misgivings the missionaries were quite successful in both spreading schools and hospitals as well as Christianity. US soldiers were wanted in Korea to protect it (and be a means of injecting cash into the economy), but also spread other things (original link lost):
The U.S. military in South Korea spreads “Yankee culture and all sorts of social ills,” North Korea's state-controlled Pyongyang Broadcasting has claimed. In a program on Wednesday, the broadcaster ... blasted the USFK for spreading "decadent music," citing the corrupting influence of blues and rock and roll in the 1960s, soul in the 1970s, disco in the 1980s and rap in the 1990s.
It was on the US army bases that Korean musicians like Patty Kim and Shin Jung-hyun got their start and, in Shin's case, spread rock and roll throughout Korea. In the end, however, Park Chung-hee was just as critical of “Yankee culture and all sorts of social ills” as Kim Il-sung, and made marijuana illegal in order to arrest numerous musicians and other celebrities, essentially killing the rock and folk scene. Here's Shin at his trial, from the March 10, 1976 Kyunghyang Shinmun: Korean B-Boys (and the entire blueprint of K-pop) were influenced by Seo Taeji and the Boys, but 'the Boys' learned their dancing from soldiers in Itaewon (see POP GOES KOREA for more on this). This influence is no longer crushed, as it was under President Park, but instead the contribution is willfully forgotten, much as an English teacher's opening of the "first-ever salsa club on the Korean peninsula" has been (as noted by Scott Burgeson, whose Bug 5 featured an interview with a DJ who I believe worked as an English teacher and helped enlarge the club/electronic music scene in Hongdae). Hongdae has been a place to go out for quite awhile, as this 1992 rendering from Ilgan Sports reprinted in Seoul, Twentieth Century: Growth and Change of the Last 100 Years shows: Foreigners have made many contributions to Hongdae, but these days, Hongdae and foreigners - especially English teachers - have rather negative connotations due to the way it has been represented in the media since the English Spectrum incident five years ago, when photos like these made clear to some (like the founders of Anti English Spectrum) that the "doctrine of lechery and sensuality", was not being kept at a distance, and that the price of the advantageous "foreign mechanism" (a native speaker-like English accent) was too high. Hongdae was indeed associated with foreigners, but not in a positive way; it was instead called a "hook-up paradise for foreign men and Korean women" (not meant in a good way!) in mid 2006, and in January 2007, YTN reported that foreigners and US soldiers running amok in Hongdae were turning it into a "lawless zone". After USFK declared Hongdae off limits to US soldiers, YTN reported that “Since the ban, the area in front of Hongik University has maintained a state of very serene public order." Of course, "a state of very serene public order" in places like Hongdae may be one of the things those pushing the English teaching robots would like to see. In that case they'll serve two purposes, as they'll not only be teaching English, but keeping classrooms and places like Hongdae cleansed and pure.

The Wild Women's Performing Arts Festival

The Korea Herald has an article about The Wild Women’s Performing Arts Festival this Saturday. As it says at their site:
The Wild Women’s Performing Arts Festival is back to raise more money for the Korean Women’s Association United! This year the event will take place on Saturday February 27th as part of the run-up to International Women’s Day on March 8th. The night will feature a fresh list of performers, poets and dancers, as well as a silent photography auction, raffle and much more! So make sure to clear some space in those busy calendars to show your support for gender equality in South Korea.
It's being held at Monghwan in Sincheon - a map is at their site, and there's also a call for volunteers there.

The site also has a list of performers (links to the performers' homepages can be found there):


* Vidulgi OoyoO [Psychedelic/Shoegaze]
* 3rd Line Butterfly [Indie rock]
* Oriental Lucy
* Jennifer Waescher [Acoustic]
* Zee Kang of The Pines
* Dringe Augh (label: Electric Muse)
* Orgeltanz (label: Electric Muse)
* Brick Slipper (indie rock)
* Bigbabydriver (folk pop)


* Eshe Yildiz (Bellydance)
* Paula Wilson and Kim Juyoung (tango)
* Carlita Ector (re:verb dance – West African/modern)
* May Tribal Fusion (Tribal bellydance)
* Navah (Bellydance)

Spoken Word

* Charlene Jones
* Lauren Bedard
* Carys Jones
* Chloe Lee
* Heather Hong
* Jyoung-Ah Kim

I know (and like) Vidulgi OoyoO, Oriental Lucy, Orgeltanz, and 3rd Line Butterfly (though I've never seen the latter play live), so right there there are some great acts. The site even has this Oriental Lucy video I've never seen before (I've posted some before):

Do check the festival out (or volunteer) if you get the chance. And if you want to know more about what's going regarding live shows, do check out the Korea Gig Guide.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kim Yuna currently in first place

According to, Japanese netizens are accusing Koreans of 'buying off judges' in regards to Kim Yuna's victory. Oh, and there's a cool photo here.

From here.

[Regarding the title of this post,] That's what it said at the top of the tv screen after her performance, as all the other skaters took their turns. I was in Nolboo eating lunch today when Kim and Mao, performed, but was sitting at an angle which made it hard to see the TV screen, and missed Mao's performance (I didn't realize her score or how phenomenal she'd been, though in retrospect it explained why the whole restaurant was silent during Kim's performance). At any rate, she set a new world record, something she's been doing with regularity, and just a moment ago (as it's warm today and a lot of restaurants' doors are open) I could hear the music from her program waft up from a nearby restaurant. One wonders how many replays will be broadcast over the next few hours. I do wonder if I'm detecting some gloating in some of the articles I've seen, and all I can say that it's not over yet.

Kim's performance can be seen here, and Asada's can be seen here.

As this look at the competition mentions,
While the 1-2 battle was pure athletic drama, the sport's two stars over the past four years finally meeting on Olympic ice to duel it out, the emotional story belonged to Canadian Joannie Rochette, whose 55-year-old mother died of a heart attack here last weekend.
I couldn't figure out why she was crying after a third place finish (so far) until I read that and remembered that a (Korean) friend had told me about her mother dying (some Canadian nationalist I turned out to be).

By the way, does anyone find Kim's expression in this ad to be, uh, ecstatic?

Perhaps there's a reason the left hand side was cut off where it was. Just do it, indeed.

No more anonymous commenting

So to speak. Everyone can thank the person posting comments about the sex industry in Canada in different posts utterly unrelated to it.

You can use a Google account, Blogger account, or Open ID to leave a comment. Sorry for the inconvenience, but even before the appearance of these comments dropped like little digital turds, it was getting confusing reading 4 worthwhile comments in a row from 4 different 'anonymous's, if you know what I mean. Hopefully it doesn't encourage anyone from commenting, and allows for a more transparent discussion.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bandhobi: The Good, The Bad, and The Minor

Back in June I wrote about the movie Bandhobi and the fact that it was going to focus on a migrant worker living in Korea (and his relationship with a teenage girl). I watched it the other night, and it was interesting, for reasons both good and bad. The good is that the film does a fair enough job of humanizing migrant workers in general as the audience gets to know Karim, a Bangladeshi migrant worker.

Min-seo, in her second year of high school, tries to make off with a wallet she found on the bus, but is caught by its owner - Karim. He tries to drag her to a police station, but she offers to do him a favor in return for being let go and kisses him, startling him into letting her go.

Later that night, they both end up at the police station for different reasons (in her case, working at a gas station, she sprayed gasoline into the car of a man who was essentially propositioning her). It should seem pretty obvious that Min-seo isn't the kind of girl 'typically' portrayed in Korean movies or TV. At any rate, she asks him to buy her some food, and he gets her to help him find the address of his former employer, who went strategically bankrupt and owes him a year's worth of wages.

Minseo has a strained relationship with her mom and her mom's unemployed boyfriend, wants to go to an English hagwon, and gets a part time night-job to pay for it. She's depicted working:

Let's just say that I'm sure after her first shift finished, her right arm was sore. And who does she meet there? Her homeroom teacher, who she essentially guilts into buying her dinner.

Minseo invites Karim over to her house, and he makes her Bangladeshi food for dinner.

This is followed by Minseo inviting him into her bedroom where, with no romance even hinted at yet, she proceeds bring her work home, so to speak, much to his chagrin (his wife is at home in Bangladesh, though she wants to leave him because he hasn't sent enough money home). Though he abruptly leaves, from then on they gradually grow closer, until they have a fight after meeting this fellow:

Here we're introduced to a foreigner quite different from Karim, who is most certainly depicted as a kind, patient, wise person. And here, one of the film's purported goals - of humanizing foreigners - takes a detour. As this review at Twitch Film notes:
What is truly interesting is the number of recent features (mostly independent) devoted to this subject matter - from this film to Kim Dong-Hyun's curious 처음 만난 사람들 (Hello Stranger), in which a North Korean defector meets a Vietnamese migrant worker; but also Shim Sang-Guk's 로니를 찾아서 (Where is Ronny), which happens to star Bangladeshi film activist and broadcaster Mahbub Alam just like Bandhobi. Interesting not only because of the novelty factor, but for the new and improved (?) outlook on the subject. If you look at TV's reaction to this matter, we're still firmly planted in the 80s, what with insufferable abominations like 미녀들의 수다 (Chit-chat of Beautiful Ladies), or even the insanely pretty 탐나는 도다 (Tamna The Island), which might be diverting but still oozes those annoying "lookee here, it's a blue-eyed blond monster from the planet weguk" vibes from the sweet old Fifth Republic (although, well, being set in the mid Joseon dynasty, the idea would be quite realistic). [Note: Roboseyo's post on this topic is worth reading]. But then I wonder, is what we see in Bandhobi really that progressive?
In its portrayal of Karim and his friends, perhaps, but not so much in its portrayal of Haines (sounds like 'Heinz'), the native English teacher at the hagwon Min-seo attends. Or perhaps I should say 'native,' seeing as he speaks with a German accent. Back in June, James at the Grand Narrative wondered about the portrayal of the English teacher as what was described as the "occasional rotten apple" and wrote that, "Given that [the film] aims to transcend and/or educate viewers about such issues as racism, illegal immigration, and possibly even teenage sexuality, then it would be both ironic and quite a pity if it resorted to gross stereotypes of foreign male English teachers in the process."

Worth noting is that almost all of the characters in the film have redeemable qualities. We learn a fair amount about Karim, his culture, religion, friends, and his job and position in Korean society. The jobless boyfriend of Min-seo's mother eventually finds a job. Even her teacher who she 'meets' at her night job seems concerned for her future. There are only two unredeemable characters in the movie: The rich factory owner who owes Karim money, and the foreign English teacher.

When Karim goes to meet Haines, at Min-seo's request, Haines is a smug ass who thinks he knows more about Korea than Karim, and shows off to his female students.

Here's the conversation:

Haines: Nice to meet you.
Karim: You too.
Haines: How is it going (sounds like: How eez eet goweeng?)
Karim: Well, everything’s okay.
Haines: I heard you’re from…
Karim: Bangladesh
Haines: Right. And you’re Muslim too?
Karim: Yeah. You’re an English teacher? Are you Christian?
Haines: [Apparently too dumb to see that Karim is making fun of his "You're Muslim?" question] Yes. But I’m also a taekkyeon teacher. Do you taekkyeon?
Karim: Sure. I know taekwondo.
Haines: No, not taekwondo, I’m talking about taekkyeon.

He puts on a display, much to the wide-eyed adoration of his female students:

It was only the second time watching this scene that I noticed Haines leering at his student as he sits down after his display and they clap.

Haines: Pretty amazing huh?
Karim: You look like you’re enjoying to living here.
Haines: Yeah. I love kimchi more than hamburgers. By the way, do you have a Korean girlfriend?
Karim: [looks at Min-seo for a moment, then answers]: No.
Haines: You don’t? Korean girls are so sweet! Right? [Looking at Min-seo]
Min-seo: [Looks confused, then smiles] Yes.
Haines: What about the Korean drinking culture. Do you like soju?
Karim: No, I don’t drink alcohol.
Haines: You don’t drink soju? Everyone drinks it in Korea.
Karim: But Muslims don’t drink alcohol.
Haines: Ah, I see.

"I love kimchi more than hamburgers." Nice to see VANK (or the KTO?) is moving into the screenwriting business. Meeting Haines prompts this conversation between Karim and Minseo:

Minseo: What's wrong with you? Look at Haines. He's enjoying life in Korea. [Is the reason you aren’t because] you are from a poor country?

Karim: Yeah, I'm from a poor country. So, I don't know how to enjoy myself. And I have no time either. But how ridiculous are you people? You brown-nose white people, and look down on us with contempt. You’re hypocrites. Want some more? You know how dirty [Koreans] are? You all screw girls in Southeast Asia and bring them to tears.

Minseo: What?

Karim: How can I explain... You know what that white guy said? ''Sweet.'' He meant you looked like whores.

Minseo: So? Why don't spit it all out while you're at it? Why'd you come here? You came here for money, right? You came here to be rich, didn't you? Just admit you're envious! Don't talk about people behind their backs.

She walks off in a huff, and they part for some time until they're reunited again. While the points Karim makes are valid, I don't know if I'd explain 'sweet' to mean 'like whores.' While 'sweet' in the way Haines used it meant more than "gentle, kind, cute" (I suppose Karim wasn't going to start talking about the intersection of orientalist and occidentalist assumptions), "like whores" is the worst case interpretation, and one that sends Minseo to the English hagwon to see Haines, who (of course!) walks out of class leering at his students (I'm trying to imagine the director in those scenes - "Come on, get into character more! You are a foreign English teacher. More leering!").

Then they have the following conversation:

Min-seo: Hi Haines.
Haines: Oh, Min-seo. How is it going?
Min-seo: You said the Korean girls are sweet, uh?
Haines: Yeah.
Min-seo: What’s the meaning?
Haines: Well, they are gentle, kind, cute
Min-seo: and?
Haines: …and…?
Min-seo: Easy to handle [have?], like a whore?
Haines: No! I didn’t mean that --

It's difficult to see in this photo, but what Minseo is doing (perhaps using skills she learned at her night-job) is grabbing Haines by the balls and squeezing them. I kid you not.

Min-seo: Do you feel sweet?
Haines: No! -arrgh!

So, in opposition to the noble Karim, we have an English teacher who is a smug ass who leers at his students and says he likes "kimchi better than hamburgers" [perhaps to facilitate picking up girls, or perhaps that's what the writer wants to believe foreigners who love Korea (and its women!) would say, though the equivalent in North America would be a Korean who says, "I like ketchup better than bibimbap!"]. But not only do we have the leering foreign teacher, we get to see him grabbed by the balls by a 17 year-old girl who is, perhaps, avenging the foreign English teacher's insult to Korean womanhood (and her hurt pride). The scene is, I imagine, a wet dream for the likes of Anti-English Spectrum, as what she did to Haines is symbolic of AES's goal, which is to prevent interracial sex to avenge the insult to Korean women and their 'unendurable humiliation,' as their front page used to say.

In fact, this poster on their site makes it quite clear:

The caption next to the person being kicked is 'Foreign teacher molester', and the girl is delivering the then popular Hectopascal Kick. As to what that was (I had no idea), I searched and found this blog post, which explains the origins of this internet meme (and provides many examples - scroll down to see them), which originated from this image:

The name hectopascal kick came from the fact that (in the MBC drama '단팥빵', or 'Sweet Bean Bread') as the girl kicked the boy, scrolling along the bottom of the screen was information about typhoon mindeulle, which described the air pressure as 985 hectopascal and windspeed as 23 meters per second, and netizens quickly passed the image around, amused by the accidental correlation. The image of the girl as she kicked the boy was photoshopped into numerous backgrounds, and the final image above was the source of this image (again):

As to why the scenes featuring Karim play out as if written by the Migrants Trade Union (who advocate for migrant workers' rights), and the scenes featuring the English teacher play out as written by Anti English Spectrum, Robert Koehler's description of "Korean-style political correctness" may provide some insight (from about 44 minutes into this Seoul Podcast, which I previously looked at here):
there is, at least within certain segments of the media, the feeling that guest workers, because they’re coming from Asia, because they’re coming from third world countries, are a disadvantaged class, while G.I.s and English teachers are a privileged class because they’re white and coming from western countries.
If this is "Korean-style political correctness," then it's interesting how the Twitch Film review puts it:
On one hand, the film might be accused of being politically correct. After all, Karim is portrayed as the all too mature, gentle and well meaning foreign migrant worker who crosses valleys and oceans to fulfill his Korean dream and find happiness, meeting a hostile and repressive social reality instead.
Well, seeing as Karim is portrayed in that manner, and Haines, the foreign English teacher, is portrayed in the way he is, it would seem that the film is indeed following the dictates of Korean-style political correctness. The description Robert gives above was highlighted when a illegal Filipino migrant worker in Yangju tried to rape a 13 year-old girl two years ago and when she resisted, stabbed her 13 times. The mainstream media barely touched it, giving it coverage only after local media reports stirred netizens and turned it into an "internet sensation" which made clear the biases of the mainstream media (though when Daum posted this Yonhap article, it also provided links to an petition at Agora). The video at the final link shows the man re-enacting the murder.

To be sure, had 13 year old Gang Su-hyeon, above (who had only been a middle school student for less than a week), had been killed by a foreign English teacher or GI, I have serious doubts that mainstream media would have given the case similar treatment. To be sure, some anti-illegal immigrant groups have tried to use her face (and the face of her distraught mother) to gain sympathy for their cause, but the media hasn't been very supportive - nowhere near as supportive as they have been of Anti-English Spectrum, for example. Then again, official treatment of English teachers could never devolve into the way in which migrant workers have been (and often still are) treated. Though improvements have been made over the years - the EPS, though flawed, was an improvement over the ITS, and if extended to five year visas, is much better than three year visas - migrant workers will always have a harder time in Korea than foreign English teachers or GIs (unless, er, a war breaks out). And if the media absolutely must blow off xenophobic steam to sell papers and draw viewers, then I'd rather see foreign English teachers, who have an easier time of it, take the brunt than migrant workers. Of course, it would be nice if no foreign group was unduly targeted by the media, but that seems to be asking too much.

As for the way the rest of the film plays out, these two recent articles should give you some clue. On that note, it's interesting that police saying they were going to a Nepali restaurant (in Changshin-dong, where several Nepali restaurants are located, though only one is big enough to hold 'dozens' of people) to look for a gambling ring, and that immigration officers decided to 'tag along' to 'help,' allowing immigration to circumvent the rules, which state that permission must be asked from the owner of the premises. Police found no gambling ring (really? shocking!), but immigration just happened to arrest an illegal worker they were looking for, and checked passports and found eight more. How lucky for them! It seems they've found a way to get around laws that are in place, but I'll have to wait and see if this method is used again before deciding if immigration is going to make this common practice.

In Bandhobi, Minseo, as the Twitch Film review notes in detail, is very much a representative of the candlelight generation, as she reads the Kyunghyang Shinmun, calls the Chosun Ilbo 'trash', and the film takes potshots at Lee Myung-bak. The leftism championed by both the Kyunghyang Shinmun (which, while sympathetic to migrant workers has interviewed and even published articles by AES's Yie Eun-woong) is reflected in the film in its equally biased portrayal of migrant workers and English teachers. Also fascinating is the lack of comment made on the fact that Karim has a[n almost sexual] relationship with a minor, something that would set off alarm bells (and play to negative stereotypes) had it been a foreign English teacher. In the end, I can't help wondering if Bandhobi distorts reality in its portrayal of foreigners in a way similar to the historical films which played as simplistic, often nationalist or anti-American myths which were released during the Roh Moo-hyeon administration - it certainly comes from the same end of the political spectrum.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Yie Eun-woong spotted in Itaewon

I'll have to check which day it was, but the teacher who replaced me at my former place of employment told me that she's read my blog and that she saw Yie Eun-woong in Itaewon on the weekend, during the afternoon, following a drunken, stumbling foreigner down some stairs (forgot to ask which ones, but I have a hunch). She also told me that several foreigners were standing around watching him, well aware of who he was. Kudos to the author of that LA Times article - he deserves a beer or two (but not in Itaewon - who knows who could be watching?).

I was aware of the T-shirt made of him (and other riffs on it), but not that someone had figured out where the photo of him was taken. Good work, all around.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Korean wins gold in speed skating

Nice to see the Korean media in top form regarding U.S. speed skater/great satan Apolo Anton Ohno. You'd be forgiven for overlooking, in this article (via Brian), that Korea had won the gold medal.
For South Koreans, the name Apolo Anton Ohno doesn’t ring the most pleasant memories. And Ohno made a comment that made South Koreans bristle.

Ohno won a silver medal at the men's 1,500-meter short-track final at the Winter Olympics on Saturday in local time in Vancouver as two South Korean gold favorites -- Sung Si-bak and Lee Ho-suk -- crashed into each other in their final stretch toward the finish.

The incident made Ohno, who was trailing behind them, grab the silver medal.

Ohno’s rough manner of playing the match, pointed out by South Korean short track skater Lee Jung-soo, who won the gold in the same event, incensed Koreans.
You have to wait awhile for that piece of information, though. Which strikes me as odd, considering Ohno won silver, a medal - along with bronze - which when won by a Korean is usually followed by an apology to the nation for not winning the gold and being the best. But then, if we remember what happened in 2002, we shouldn't be surprised, considering the damage done to the nation the way in which the Korean media ignored the fact that it was Korean skater Ahn Hyun-soo who caused the four-skater wipeout that cost Ohno a gold medal in the 1000m race three days before the more (in)famous 1500m race.

Shocking that the US commentators above didn't engage in histrionics and compare Ahn to Osama Bin Laden or something like that. Or like this:

You're dead!!

Another example is here. Intelligent, thought provoking stuff, to be sure. Another article mentions that, regarding the 2002 incident:
The incident so enraged Koreans that some say he contributed to instigating anti-American sentiment in South Korea.
I'd like to say that it was more likely the Korean media's biased coverage that contributed to it, but then considering the reliance of the media on what netizens (who could all be the same person, for all we know - that's not really an exaggeration of how the internet panic that fanned the 2008 Mad Cow protests came to be) have to say, I guess it's a bit of a chicken-egg proposition (it did seem to influence this happy sunshine(policy) little tune). At any rate, such Olympic-related go back further than 2002. As Ian Baruma described the Seoul Olympics,
Korean chauvinism was often hysterical, particularly when it involved Americans or Japanese. During the games, many ordinary Koreans went out of their way to be polite and helpful to foreign visitors. But there was a mean-spirited edge to comments in the Korean press. When the Japanese brought over for the first time since the end of the war an entire Kabuki theater troupe, the Korea Herald ran a headline saying: "Coarse Kabuki Show Fails to Impress." The play, the story went on to say, "stirred up bitter memories of the Japanese samurai culture, or Japanese militarism…which clashes with Korea's time-nurtured consciousness of literati." I thought of the images I had seen in the papers of Korean athletes being drilled in boot camp, wearing full military gear, and screaming "Fight, fight, fight!"
As I noted in more detail before, the New York Times also had an interesting article:
The uproar began after American television audiences watched a Korean crowd explode Thursday night after a referee's decision to penalize a Korean boxer. Enraged Korean boxing officials punched the referee, some threw chairs into the ring, and a disconsolate boxer staged an hourlong sit-in to protest the decision.

Koreans' shame at the incident has turned to rage at NBC and other foreign news organizations' coverage both of the boxing imbroglio and of South Korea itself.
As Baruma put it:
NBC was accused by, among others, members of the ruling Democratic Justice Party of being anti-Korean, even of insulting the "Korean identity." One wonders whether Bryant Gumbel even knows what the Korean identity is, let alone desires to insult it.
According to a man running a law office interviewed by the NYT,
''I heard that NBC repeated the boxing scene for an hour,'' Mr. Chung said. ''It was news, but it was not something to be picked over like that.''
I'm sure the same could be said regarding this latest Ohno episode.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A cautionary tale


Fixed the link - sorry about that. Also, according to this Yonhap article I just found, the arrests took place in Cheongju on September 7, 2004. The writer of the article linked below, Jason Storbakken, is mentioned in the Yonhap article as 스토바겐(27.미국)씨. In his story, he mentions that he and his three friends were part of a group of 15 teachers who were arrested, though the Yonhap story mentions only 12 people who were arrested. At any rate, it's interesting to have the story behind the story of this Yonhap article, though it's certainly not the first piece of writing about being arrested for drug use in Korea.

Original post:

While looking for something else I stumbled across this story from 2005 by an English teacher who was arrested for testing positive for THC. As a result, he spent two months in jail waiting for his trial, and had to pay a fine before being deported. I found this interesting:
We were returned to our cells at the Sondong Detention Center and a week later brought back to court for sentencing. The judges said Adam and I had to pay $3,400 (reduced from $5,000 because we had served two months), and be deported. Our sentence was slightly harsher than Felix’s, because he had not yet acquired his educator’s visa, while we were officially teachers.[Emphasis added.]
You'd think there would have been more repercussions due to teaching illegally, though perhaps the police did not realize this (it does note that 'Felix' had to serve out his sentence because he couldn't pay a fine, and it seemed to be more than 6 months). It's interesting that those who were 'officially teachers' got a stiffer punishment than someone who was not, perhaps commenting on the higher expectations of teachers in Korea (note that this took place before the English Spectrum incident).

On another note, the slow police reaction to the 'riot' he describes at Hwaseong Detention Center isn't very encouraging.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bits and Pieces

Roboseyo has a post well worth reading about the portrayal of foreigners on Korean television. If you haven't already, go read it.

Mark at the Jeonju Hub sent me a link to this article titled "The ‘Foreign English Teacher’ - A Necessary “Danger” in South Korea." There are some interesting points there, but the author seems to take the 'unqualified teacher' idea a bit far considering that during the fallout of the English Spectrum incident five years ago the main issue surrounding "unqualified" teachers was not their academic qualifications but their 'moral' qualifications (ie - teachers who had sex with Korean women and bragged about it were not 'qualified'). Some of the larger points about the disconnect between crime statistics and the media and government's description of foreign teacher crime, and the need to accept qualified teachers from countries other than the 7 E-2 native speaking countries I can agree with, though the change in mindset needed for such acceptance will likely not be happening any time soon. Also worth noting, as Brian has many times, is that even if teachers with the proper academic qualifications were brought in to teach English, it's quite likely they wouldn't be used properly anyway.

A few weeks ago the Korea Herald asked "Is volunteer work illegal for expats?". The answer seems to be 'perhaps not,' but also 'it depends on the whims of immigration.' A description of some of the organizations one can volunteer for is here. The Herald also has an article on ATEK's first year. Related to volunteering is this:

On that front, the group recently scored a major victory when its Seoul chapter announced a partnership with the hagwon chain ChungDahm Learning to provide more opportunities for teachers to volunteer.

In September, ChungDahm launched its Nanum ("Sharing") Campaign, a corporate responsibility program that gives its teachers the opportunity to volunteers as teachers and mentors for the Ten Children Centers, a home for underprivileged children.

Through the Nanum Campaign, the volunteers help at eight children's centers, committing one hour per week to providing English education and cultural exchange. Teachers are expected to make a three-month commitment to the volunteer activities

Bernstein, who was heading the Seoul PMA when the deal was announced, said the agreement allows members of the association that are not ChungDahm teachers to take part in the Nanum Campaign and help at Ten Children Centers.

It's nice to see progress like this being made.

Brian also looks at Kang Shin-who's latest broadside against foreign English speakers and their illegal tutoring, and proves that there is a problem by providing this statement: "No foreign tutors have been caught by the authorities for violation of the Private Education Law, the ministry said." It reminds me of a Saturday Night Live sketch years ago showing a news broadcast about a hurricane and an anchor standing next to a 'hurricane deaths' counter which reads zero, with the anchor assuring viewers that, "The number is about to shoot up any minute now!" While that may be the author's hope, a crackdown on foreign English tutors would be more likely to happen if the article were published in Korean.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Anti English Spectrum in the Donga Ilbo

Update 2:

The shorter Donga Ilbo article is translated at Korea Beat, while a few lines and some comments to the longer piece are translated at the Marmot's Hole.


Brian notes in the comments that Global Post also has a piece on Anti-English Spectrum. I hadn't noticed that they'd changed their front page and now, instead of having this as an introduction, they call themselves (in English, no less) Citizens of Right English Education. They've called themselves this (올바른 영어교육을 위한 시민모임) in Korean since late 2005, along with the 'Citizen's movement to expel illegal teachers of foreign languages,' which itself was an 'improvement' over the rather limiting name Anti-English Spectrum. I'll put up a translation of their new mission statement (which goes on about doing it all for the children and its desire to introduce good English teachers) another time.

Original Post:

The Donga Ilbo has two articles about Anti English Spectrum being in the LA Times and other papers. One is short and titled "'Stalkers' vs 'Protection of Korean Students,'" while the other is longer, features an interview with Lee Eun-ung and screenshots of articles about AES in the LA Times, Vancouver Sun, and National Post, and is titled "Is the "Movement to expel bad English teachers" stalking?" Both are written by Kim Hyeon-jin, and while she does put forward foreign teacher positions, doesn't actually interview any of them.

Friday, February 05, 2010

'I Want to Strike it Rich in Seoul Too'

The French foreign language teacher scandal of 1984

Prelude 1: The 1983 Law "Limiting Aliens' Residence Period" and banning "unqualified" foreigners from working.

Part 1: Le Monde and what came before
Part 2: Korea is "Ali Baba's" Cave
Part 3: Seoul Should not be a Workplace for Parisians
Part 4: In private foreign language classes, there are a lot of ‘fraud teachers’
Part 5: Jibberish
Part 6: 'I Want to Strike it Rich in Seoul Too' - Continuous Job Inquiries by the French
Part 7: Foreigners Enjoy Better Life With Mother Tongues
Part 8: Foreigners and Foreign Languages
Part 9: Sickening Face

Part 10: Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Part 11: The First Sanctions on Foreigners Working Illegally
Part 12: All Private Lessons by Foreigners Prohibited
Part 13: Institutes Asked to Hire Eligible Foreign Teachers
Part 14: "Seoul Wind"
Part 15: Foreign Language Teacher Shortage
Part 16: Troublemaking vagabond foreigner story finally airs

Part 6: "'I Want to Strike it Rich in Seoul Too' - Continuous Job Inquiries by the French"

I'm doing things out of order again, as part five still needs a sentence or two translated. Here is the article that appeared in the Joongang Ilbo on August 22, 1984, on page 7. The Joongang Ilbo is the paper that really pushed this story along - note that it was written by Joo Won-saeng, the Joongang Ilbo's Paris correspondent who first broke the Le Monde story in Korea. Many thanks to Song Joosub and Benjamin Wagner for help with the translation.

"'I Want to Strike it Rich in Seoul Too' - Continuous Job Inquiries by the French"

Places in Paris like the Korean Embassy have been flooded with job inquiries by French people hoping to work in Seoul after reading a recent article in Le Monde about the many French people easily making a fortune and enjoying a swanky lifestyle in Korea, which is in the midst of a French language boom.

A sociology professor working at the Pompidou Center asked a Paris Korean Cultural Center official for job placement in Korea, and five Parisians qualified to teach French language and wanting to work as French teachers in Seoul left resumes at the embassy education office.

At places like the Paris branches of Korean broadcasters and the Korea Exchange Bank, phone inquires from French people hoping to find work in Seoul were constant, and on the 20th the embassy received continuous phone inquiries from areas outside Paris such as Lyon.

Paris – Ju Won-sang, special correspondent

As I said, the Joongang Ilbo, and especially this correspondent, have really pushed this along, starting by reporting on the Le Monde ('Foreigners are making money and living a dream life in Korea language teaching, and even marry Korean women!'), then reported on the 'fraud teachers' in Korea ('They're unqualified vagabonds who are shifty and get lots of girls!'), and now on the interest (likely exaggerated to a great degree) of such vagabonds in France in coming to Korea ('We will soon be flooded with them!'), even though the article mentions that the teachers leaving resumes are actually all qualified...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Please swipe your card

Y'know... that's just plain weird.

Monday, February 01, 2010

LA Times on Anti-English Spectrum

People seem to think that this is the first picture of Yie made available:

It's not; he previously was interviewed by the Seoul Shinmun which posted a video of part of the interview with him (though I can't find the video at the moment).

Original post:

Brian has a good post about this LA Times article about Anti-English Spectrum, which tells us a bit about Yie Eun-woong and his "investigative work."
Yie, a slender 40-year-old who owns a temporary employment agency, says he is only attempting to weed out troublemakers who have no business teaching students in South Korea, or anywhere else. [...]

Yie says he has nothing against foreigners. Growing up near the city of Osan, he often rode with his taxi driver father and encountered foreigners who served at the U.S. military base there. "I learned to pick out the good guys from the bad guys," he says.[...]

The volunteer manager of a controversial group known as the Anti-English Spectrum, Yie investigates complaints by South Korean parents, often teaming up with authorities, and turns over information from his efforts for possible prosecution.
I'd always had the impression it was mostly Korean hagwon and school teachers who were leaving tips, along with jilted ex-girlfriends. I would have liked to have seen this quote expanded on:
"This has nothing to do with race. It is all about teaching," said Kim Young-Lan, a sociology professor at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul.
Actually, I think it has a lot to do with race - and gender - seeing as photos like the one seen below led to the creation of AES in the first place.

The English Spectrum incident five years ago is something that could stand a more closer look (but I'm too busy to do it at the moment). I'd noticed that Yie's online ID 'M2' was not present when AES first formed; this seems to suggest that he joined a bit later: "In 2005, by then living in Seoul, he joined the fledgling activist group after seeing an upsetting posting on a website: claims by foreign teachers that they had slept with Korean students."

It also notes that ATEK's "[Dann] Gaymer says he doubts that such a posting ever existed." Well, it did, and it can be seen here. What's not translated are the angry comments by the foreign English teachers that saw the post (which the poster said he cut and pasted from elsewhere to test the 'no censorship' policy of the website, Korean ESL (now long gone), much as reports about Christopher Paul Neil failed to mention that at least one of the people who reported him to Interpol was a foreign English teacher in Korea.

Lillias Underwood's book "Fifteen years among the top-knots; or, Life in Korea" describes the 'baby riots' she witnessed not long after her arrival in 1888:
Some person or persons, with malicious intent, started a rumor which spread like wild-fire, that foreigners were paying wicked Koreans to steal native children, in order to cut out their hearts and eyes, to be used for medicine. This crime was imputed chiefly to the Japanese, and it was supposed the story had been originated by Chinese or others especially inimical to the large numbers of Japanese residents in the capital. Mr. Underwood acquainted the Japanese minister with the rumors, in order that he might protect himself and his people ; which he promptly did by issuing, and causing to be issued by the government, proclamations entirely clearing his countrymen of all blame in the matter, which it was left to be understood was an acknowledged fact, and consequently the work of other "vile foreigners," namely, ourselves and the Europeans.

The excitement and fury grew hourly. Large crowds of angry people congregated, scowling, muttering, and threatening. Koreans carrying their own children were attacked, beaten, and even killed, on the supposition that they were kidnapping the children of others ; and a high Korean official, who tried to protect one of these men, was pulled from his chair, and narrowly escaped with his life, although he was surrounded by a crowd of retainers and servants. It was considered unsafe for foreigners to be seen in the street. Marines were called up from Chemulpo to guard the different legations, and some Americans even packed away their most necessary clothing and valuables, preparatory to fleeing to the port. The wildest stories were told. Babies, it was said, had been eaten at the German, English, and American legations, and the hospital, of course, was considered by all the headquarters of this bloodthirsty work, for there, where medicine was manufactured and diseases treated, the babies must certainly be butchered.
These days such rumours of foreigners targeting Korean children are spread in other, more widespread and sophisticated ways:

While the baby riots of 1888 were more threatening, at least the rumours they spread didn't continue for five years... or did they?

By the way, Robert Neff tells me that he gives the baby riots thorough coverage in his new book Korea Through Western Eyes.