Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Foreign English teachers in the news


Our favourite Korea Times reporter is now on the case.

[Original Post]

AP (Via the Joongang Ilbo) reports on Aijalon Mahli Gomes, the most recent American to be arrested for entering North Korea illegally (one hopes he is better treated than Robert Park was).
A spokeswoman for the man’s family in Boston, Thaleia Schlesinger, said that Gomes had been teaching English in South Korea for about two years and that it was unclear why he would have gone to North Korea.[...]

Authorities at Sinbong Elementary School in Pocheon, north of Seoul, said he taught English there from April 2008 to March last year.

“All the memories we have of Gomes are only good. Everyone here liked him,” school headmaster Cho Kyoo-Sig told AFP. “I remember him as a very mellow and calm person. He was very kind to everybody and all the children liked him so much.”

Gomes left the school, saying he would find a better-paying job in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi.

“If he wants to return to this school, he would always be welcome. It’s hard to find a native English teacher as good as Gomes,” Cho said.
Leaving out the possibility of the last sentence being a back-handed compliment, it's nice to see a media report in which a school official compliments a good English teacher (even one who is as wacky as to make an unauthorized visit to the DPRK). I was curious to see how these comments were reported in the Korean media but - brace yourself, this is shocking - they weren't. Some nice things about him said by a former co-worker in another AP article were translated by Yonhap (via the Chosun Ilbo), but not the principal's remarks.

Meanwhile, a search at Naver turns up 39 articles about this story of the arrests of former Korean American gangsters teaching English in hagwons - one wanted in the U.S. on murder charges and another who has been importing and dealing drugs. Nine other unqualified teachers have also been arrested for drug use. As the Marmot's Hole notes,
The Segye Ilbo has more if you care to read it, including this quote by a police official, “Language hagwon, getting on the English education boom bandwagon, have recently been indiscriminately hiring native speaking teachers. We must strengthen screening of educations and career histories when hiring English teachers.”
Police often seem to give the media such great quotes, which sound more like editorializing by crusading journalists or editors than quotes from police officials. Here's another example from 2007:
A source at the foreign affairs division of the Seoul Police Department said, "American and Canadian English teachers think Korea is a 'land of opportunity.'" They become hagwon teachers not only because there is no country which has much desire to learn English as Korea but because they believe they can make up to 1,000,000 won per month through illegal private lessons. The source also said, "the majority of them find it easy to seduce Korean women and do drugs with them." Foreign English teachers see Korea not only as a 'land of opportunity' but also as a 'perverted heaven'.
On a related note, the Korea Herald reports today that
Police sought an arrest warrant for a Korean-American English instructor Wednesday on charges of growing and selling marijuana worth 20 million won ($17,000), according to Yonhap News. The suspect, 27, allegedly cultivated marijuana at his home since January and sold it to foreign residents, according to the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency.
YTN might not have reported on the nice things the principal said about Aijalon Mahli Gomes, but they did end another report by tell us this:
The reality is that as long as they are good at English, violent criminals and habitual drug users can easily become English teachers.

The anxiety of parents of young children is growing.
Allow me to fix the first sentence:
The reality is that as long as they are good at English, violent criminals and habitual drug users can easily be hired by unscrupulous hagwon owners and become English teachers.
I'm not sure if anything has been said about the visa status of these former gang members. No doubt if they are F-visa holders, then it's much easier for them to get jobs here than E-2 visa holders. As for the final sentence, to assess that the anxiety of parents is growing... wait, they did nothing to assess that. Well, if you're going to report this case in that way, I'm sure that last sentence will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Especially if you report it, as the Donga Ilbo did, with a title (in English, despite it being a Korean language article) like this:

He is a killer, drug dealer… and your teacher

It helps to have this cartoon to illustrate the dire situation:

I'm not sure why he has a tail. I believe South Korean propaganda used to depict North Koreans with tails and horns, and North Korean propaganda has depicted Americans with bestial characteristics, so I'm not sure what it's supposed to mean. A wolf in foreign English teacher's clothing, perhaps, but since foreign English teachers are routinely depicted as wolves, so to speak, that metaphor makes little sense. Not that I expect any of this to make sense, mind you.

[Update] Having read this Korea Times article, I think I understand the tail now:
Both immigration and education authorities have long turned a blind eye to loopholes in screening "unqualified" foreign English teachers. That inattention occasionally horrifies parents and students when such teachers show their true colors.
I see. 'unqualified' teachers (which seems to mean teachers who do drugs, commit crimes, or who 'paint the Han River black') are wolves, and the teacher in the cartoon is showing his 'true colors.' Alternately, it could mean "We thought you were Korean, like Hines Ward, but it turns out you're foreign, like Cho Seung-hui."

I think this cartoon, from the last time former Korean American gang members teaching English in Korea were arrested (in October 2006), was better:

English instructor

Still, the Donga Ilbo has done better cartoons of this sort before, and it's always just wonderful to have more of this 'art' to add to the collection.


Jason said...

I found this quite interesting:

The source also said, "the majority of them find it easy to seduce Korean women and do drugs with them."

I thought no Korean ever did drugs ever. But now it's easy to do drugs with them? This contradiction is confusing me.

Anonymous said...

no, the evil foreigners are leading virtuous Korean maidens astray.

Have you seen the customs cartoons at the airport? Happy scene of cattle grazing on a pleasant day is interrupted by a red devil spreading foreign diseases and killing all of Korea's intangible cultural assets.

The connotations are unmistakeable

louve9 said...

In the article you mention that you are not sure why the illustration of the teacher has a tail.

It is an allegorical reference to kumiho (구미호), a nine tailed fox. In Korean folklore, the Fox is the epitome of evil. A Fox aspires to become human and attempts to do so by consuming human beings. The way the folklore goes, by consuming human livers a Fox lives for hundreds of years. For every hundred years a Fox lives it grows another tail. The oldest Foxes have nine tails. Foxes are essentially trickster figures that thrive on human misery and are able to facilitate said misery by taking the form of human beings. The Fox then disrupts the natural Neo-Confucian harmony of Korean society for its own selfish ends.

The illustration essentially is making the statement that non-Korean English teachers are not only evil, but that they are also not even human and seek to destroy Korean culture and lives. It is also tacitly saying that non-Korean English teachers are not fully developed, and consequently can easily be dealt with since the Fox only has one tail. Furthermore, it is a way of saying that Koreans are better than non-Koreans by expounding the propaganda that Koreans are human via Neo-Confucian self-cultivation and that South Korean Neo-Confucian culture needs to be protected from the external cultural influences.

K said...

Wow, louve. Thank you.

Kamiza said...

I'm not quite so sure about your suggestion that this cartoon is depicting the 구미호, particularly since this legendary monster is a female figure who preys on men for their livers and/or gall bladder--the two organs where male "용 기" ("Ki" energy that is related directly to courage) resides. The Gumiho can be interpretted as the "femme fatale" or even the "vagina dentata"; something which would be a bit more scary in patriarchal "남존여비" societies.
Further, I think if the cartoonist wanted his viewers to connect his drawing with the Gumiho, he would have drawn in the extra tails.

I just figured it was a poor allusion to a "wolf in sheep's clothing" or a wolf in disguise--even though wolves and sheep have never figured prominently in Korean folklore.

Either way, it is a lame-ass drawing, and the fact that we are debating what the heck it is trying to portray is testament to the fact that it is crap on the artistic level as well as on many other higher ideological levels.

louve9 said...


Speaking in the archetypal sense, there is little difference between the function of the fox in Eastern folklore and the wolf as a Western equivalent. Similarly, whether it is a one tailed fox or a nine tailed fox does not change the fact that the character of the fox (one-tailed or more) is an incarnation of evil in Korean folklore. Not to mention that I did point out that the image did only have one tail, which suggests that it is a young, undeveloped fox, rather than a fully developed nine-tailed kumiho version. Also, the fox itself may be female taking on the image of a male, which would not change the idea of it being a fox. Indeed, it would further explicate the trickster function of the fox caricature. Besides, the point that the image is male does not diminish its fox-like connotations in the Korean mindset because gender-bending is not something new to Korean society. Boy catamites called midong (미동) dressed attractively, often in girls clothes, and worked as homosexual prostitutes, and were even kept by sŏnbi during the Chosŏn dynasty. Such acts of pederasty were, in point of fact, particularly practiced by young widowers. Consequently, I do not think it is a stretch to say that the image necessarily needs to be female to portray it as a fox in the Korean mind.

In any case, I do agree that the intended meaning of the image is in exceedingly bad taste and is little more than another poor example of the government sanctioned, yellow journalistic, propaganda machine that the Korean media (North or South) is known for.

Kamiza said...

Good points Louve9.
Out of curiosity, where might I find more information on the 미동 you were talking about? I have never run across this phenomenon in my studies--since, as we all know, homosexuality never has and never ever will exist in either of the Koreas--but would love to learn more about these male prostitutes of old Korea.
Any books, essays, (informed) internet sites you might recommend?

(More for the arsenal in my personal war against the dip-shitery that is South Korean nationalist historiography.)

Thanks for the info!

Anonymous said...

Anyone know the name of the Korean-American teacher who the articles mention is wanted on murder charges in the US?

We had DAVID NAM last year, and he has now been found guilty of murder. (Not that the press here took much interest.) Nam was from Philly, not sure what gang if any he was with.

and there is also DANIEL MIN SUH, who is currently wanted by the FBI for murder and still at large apparently.

Anyone out there is familiar with the various Korean gangs and their connection to Korea. It seems that Suh was connected with "Korean Power" (aka "KP") out of Chicago. Korean Power seems to be East Coast based (base in New York?). (NYT story here).

The Korean Americans who turn out in the press here tend to be LA based gangs, usually the Korean Playboys (aka "KPB"). The (Last Generation) Korean Killers are also out of LA but haven't seen their name in the papers here. There's also the KTG and the KTM. (Korea Town Gangsters and Korea Town Mobsters).

Is there anyone better informed who can explain who is who as to the wanted, the caught, and their gangs and affiliations?

louve9 said...


Here are a few paragraphs from my thesis I just published a couple of months ago. I lightly discuss the matter of homosexuality in Korea in them. I hope they help you with your endeavors. I'm sure there is more out there.

In older Korean vocabularies, there were many different terms that denoted male homosexuality, but the three with most interest to this discussion are namsadang, midongaji, and kkoktu kaksi. As explained earlier, namsadang were itinerate entertainers. More specifically, the term namsadang was used to describe theatrical or dramatic performers whose main function was to make money through homosexual prostitution. Traveling male prostitutes were a normal aspect of rural Korean life, at least from the middle of the Chosŏn dynasty (Y.G. Kim and Hahn 62). Similarly, the term midongaji was used to describe a good-looking boy who regularly engaged in pederasty. The term midong, a derivative of midongaji, was normally used to describe boy catamites who dressed attractively, often in girl’s clothes (Y.G. Kim and Hahn 65).

According to Kim and Hahn, in the late Chosŏn dynasty male homosexuality began to be considered immoral by the Neo-Confucian upper-middle classes despite the fact that homosexual practices were common among those same upper-middle classes as well as the lower classes in the rural communities. Similarly, in his discussion of namsadang and midong in his book, Homosexualities, Stephen O. Murray explains that “Buddhism in Korea was conducive to the development of a homosexual cadre that later disappeared under the influence of Confucianism imposed from above” (165).

And, …[I]n his work Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan, Gary Leupp touches on the history of Korean homosexuality during the same era, stating that:

…references to “beautiful boys” [or “midong”] in puppet plays and collections of humor from the seventeenth century suggest that many men in the gentry (yangban) class retained boys for sexual purposes. Homosexuality seems to have been especially associated with provincial gentlemen. Some of these men (like the literati of Fujian in China) even kept boy-wives whose status was publicly acknowledged in the village. Upon reaching adulthood, such boys would normally enter into a heterosexual marriage. (19)

Works Cited

Kim Young-Gwan and Sook-Ja Hahn. “Homosexuality in Ancient and Modern Korea.” Culture, Health & Sexuality. 8.1 (Jan.–Feb. 2006): 59–65.

Leupp, Gary P. Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995.

Murray, Stephen O. Pacific Homosexualities. New York: Writers Club Press, 2002.

Kamiza said...

Thanks a million for the info and sources. I have always wondered about this much-hidden part of Korean history. Highly patriarchal, male-dominated societies tend to have very high rates of homosexuality/homosexual relations/man-boy relations (ancient Greece and Rome being the biggies that spring to mind.) Knowing that the Chosun dynasty was similarly as phallo-centric, I had always been looking for info on
this, but have come up empty-handed. Now I can learn a bit more.
Thanks again!