Friday, September 03, 2010

A Response to the Donga Ilbo interview with AES

Yesterday I posted a translation of a February 5, 2010 Donga Ilbo interview with Anti English Spectrum's Lee Eun-ung. A response to the claims made in the article follows. Here are links to the original foreign media articles (National Post, Vancouver Sun, LA Times (Feb. 2009, Jan. 2010)) referred to in the Donga Ilbo article.

At the beginning of the article, it asks “Why are foreign media “attacking the citizen’s group?”” and “attacking” is in quotes; not so a few sentences later: “Why are you receiving such attacks?” The reporter decided to turn the debate into "us vs. them" - "malicious foreign press reports are distorting things Korean." This is amusing when you realize that in reality, one of the most critical statements made about Anti English Spectrum came from an ROK diplomat, Younggoog Park, Minister-Counsellor of Public Affairs at the Korea Embassy in Ottawa:
"Their reactionary views and opinions do not represent the sentiment of Koreans toward Canadians or other foreign teachers," Park told the CBC’s The Current.

Lee then takes the chance to once again reiterate the reason for forming AES - the English Spectrum incident: “During this incident, postings like “Picking up Korean women is easy… I had sex with a middle school girl” enraged Koreans.” He fails to mention, as always, that the “How to mollest[sic] your students” post on Korean ESL (from which the “I had sex with a middle school girl” quote came) also enraged the foreign English teachers who read it when it was first posted a year and a half before it was discovered by Koreans. For once, due only to the criticism brought up in foreign media reports, Lee does actually admit something he never has before: “[A]mong the people who first joined our group, some concentrated only on attacking and degrading women who date foreigners.”

The women who appeared in photos with western men taken at a sexy costume party (which were posted at English Spectrum and discovered by netizens in January 2005) received threats via phone and email at the time, such as
'Why don't whores like you just die quietly.'
'Foreigners' whore! Why don't you shut down your club?'
"Whores, are Western bastards that good?"
According to the Chosun Ilbo,
A 27-year old also in the pictures said, "It's true that I enjoy dancing to relieve stress, but isn't it going overboard to treat me like a whore?" Fighting back tears, she said, "My co-workers point at me behind my back. "I don't know how they got my email address, but I get tons of emails with frightening titles, so I don't even turn on my computer these days."
Ohmynews interviewed the women in the photos and the owner of Mary Jane bar, who told them, “It wasn’t a secret obscene party” and “In some online articles and at the Anti English Spectrum cafe it was said that we were prostitutes, yanggongju and brothel keepers.”

More damning is a screen shot of Anti English Spectrum's main page taken by Dalian for this article at the time of the English Spectrum incident:

It's difficult to read, but post 366 from 2005.01.14 is entitled "미친년들 이번 기회에 망신한번 당혜봘아," or "This is the chance to humiliate those crazy bitches," first-hand evidence of the type of venom the "citizens' group" was spewing.

So it went, though Lee tells us that
After this, through efforts at self-purification, it was settled on that our group would have the educational purpose of protecting our children from unqualified native-speaking teachers. However, foreign teacher organizations and foreign media still focus (only) on the issue of foreign men dating Korean women, which stood out at that time.”
Perhaps the focus on that is due to the fact that it was only early in 2010 that they removed their original statement of purpose from their site, a statement which included such things as
Until the degradation of Korean women by English Spectrum stirred an uproar, we were just common citizens of the republic of Korea. … one day, we witnessed English Spectrum’s arrogant and base statements degrading Korean women and we felt something beyond rage, a feeling of unendurable humiliation. And so, because of our burning consciences, our ‘active consciences,’ that we just could not ignore, we are gathered here together.

They also say that they are “waging a wearisome and very difficult fight against English Spectrum, a group that has debased the image of Korean women in such a dirty and humiliating way that is enough to have soiled the country’s national brand, and also against illegal, low quality English instructors who prevent proper English education from happening in this land!”
In fact it was in late October 2005 that they changed their name to “Citizen’s group for upright English education,” though posts thoroughly criticizing baekbba ("white groupies," or women interested in sleeping with white men) continued into late 2007 (with discussions using the term taking place at least as late as mid 2009). I’ll save a closer look at how AES members identified, targeted and shut down site they deemed a baekbba site for another day.

Also, after Anti English Spectrum tried to get Scott Burgeson fired from his teaching position at Hongik University in 2007 after taking offense at things they read about his book Daehanminguk Sayonghugi, in July 2009 a member of Anti English Spectrum posted personal information about him and a quote taken selectively from this conversation at Dave's ESL Cafe about dating in Korea, suggesting their "efforts at self-purification" (supposedly aimed at putting a stop to focusing on relationships between foreign teachers and Korean women) were not particularly strenuous. Also, in an email Scott noted to me that at that point he had stopped teaching a year-and-a-half earlier, "so why they even mentioned my post, when I was a non-teacher at the time, underscores the fact that their rhetoric about 'championing quality teaching' is often more of a smokescreen."

Then the Donga Ilbo claims that "They [ATEK and foreign media] also claim that the compulsory criminal record checks and medical certificates instituted as native speaker conversation instruction (E2) visa requirements in late 2007 discriminate against foreigners."

No, ATEK claimed the drug and AIDS tests were discriminatory – they did not say that medical certificates were in and of themselves were problematic. As for criminal record checks, in his report to the NHRCK, Ben Wagner in fact wrote that "Teachers of children, however, should be required to submit criminal background checks of sufficient scrutiny and authenticity rather than the current pro forma requirements." That same opinion had already been offered in January 2008, when Kookmin University law professor Sean Hayes wrote in a Korea Times article that requiring only a “local police station” criminal background check would allow a “smarter than immigration ‘pedophile’ [to] simply request a record check from a town police department in a state where he has no criminal record and [he] would then receive a clean ‘no record’ statement.” So in fact you had the report to the NHRCK - which ATEK cited - arguing for stricter criminal record checks (put in place this July), which is the opposite of what the Donga Ilbo stated. Anything to make things easier for AES to explain away, I guess – or just plain laziness on the part of the Donga Ilbo reporter – or both.

Lee then says he doesn't understand why teachers consider the health exams to be discriminatory, saying that,
Our (Korean) physical examination includes tests for sexually transmitted diseases including syphilis, and teachers are even fingerprinted. Also in the case of hagwon teachers, it’s necessary to verify that there are no sex crimes against children in their past.
Since syphilis (매독) tests often are a part of of government employee tests, including public school teachers (on this form, above where it says "기타" and you will see "매독"), it is fair to say that "public school teachers are tested for syphilis". However saying they are tested for "sexually transmitted diseases including syphilis" is being disingenuous, as syphilis is the only STD tested for (The government used to test for hepatitis-B (간염), but this was a human rights issue and in 2003 the NHRCK recommended to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security that they alter this policy, and in 2005 the hepatitis B test was removed). Also, the Deputy Director of the NHRCK’s Human Rights Division, who was quoted in this article in June, said, “I am positive that immigration authorities would be advised to revise the controversial visa regulations regarding the AIDS check-up.”

In response to the accusation that “ATEK says the members of the citizen’s group engage in stalking by roaming around foreign teachers’ homes and workplaces,” Lee replies that:
When a tip about an illegal teacher comes in through the cafe, to verify if it is true, the managing members only inquire with the hagwon to see if the ESL teacher works there. Then we relay the tip to law enforcement. In fact, it is likely that whoever teachers claim is following them are actually members of law enforcement.
First of all, this contradicts what was said about Lee in the L.A. Times story about Anti English Spectrum, an article that "reflects much of our position," as Lee put it. One wonders if the reporter even read it:
He uses the Internet and other means to track personal data and home addresses of foreign English teachers across South Korea.Then he follows them, often for weeks at a time, staking out their apartments, taking notes on their contacts and habits. He wants to know whether they're doing drugs or molesting children. [...] Yie waves off the criticism. "It's not stalking, it's following," he said. "There's no law against that."
Lee's response to the Donga Ilbo also contradicts the “150 day stakeout” described in this 2008 Seoul Shinmun interview (in fact, it’s mentioned in the title):
To track down the locations of foreign teachers using drugs he spent 150 days in bitterly cold weather, outworking the police, not going home. [emphasis added]
In an article he wrote for the Monthly Chosun last August, Lee wrote that “Last May… members of our community set out to track down a “native speaker teacher who habitually engaged in drug use [and] conduct[ed] a stakeout for five months at one hagwon[.]”

Or, as this No Cut News article from November 2009 put it,
If members discover problem foreign instructors, they use their cafe pseudonym to leave a tip for the manager or send him a note, who then tracks the teachers with others for two to three months on average. The cafe’s method involves relentlessly pursuing them and finally when evidence is secured and the location of the crimes confirmed the police are called. [emphasis added]
“Relentlessly” is paired with “pursue” twice in that article.

Also, as far as I know, no one actually complained about being followed – ATEK’s complaint about stalking came from the images and descriptions of stakeouts on AES’s own site. While they routinely would post images of teachers they were after (with eyes or other defining features blotted out), they also took photos of the buildings these people lived in, such as these:

"The photo below is of a drug teacher's residence."

They also took photos of these people from a distance, and from behind, suggesting they were following them, such as these (with the first one appearing in a Lee Eun-ung-penned 2009 op-ed article in the Kyunghyang Shinmun (translated here)):

They would sometimes go further and photograph themselves doing things like skulking around dark hallways.

Lee also declared in the November 2008 Seoul Sinmun interview that he would “pursue an illegal foreign lecturer, braving fire and water and working until past midnight.” Most of these photos are accompanied by text explaining that Lee had been out until 1 am, or 2 am, or 4 am on a stakeout.

1:00am, [waiting for] an illegal teacher to come home
to discover [where he lives].

And who can forget the post where they said they were on a stakeout due to a tip that a female teacher was using drugs, and said “No drugs turned up, but a used condom did,” suggesting they went through her garbage.

As for the accusation that Anti English Spectrum was related to the death threat against English teachers (which used ATEK president Greg Dolezal’s name and phone and accused him of having AIDS and being a sex criminal), Lee said,
"In December of last year, ATEK representatives even accused and sued me for spreading false rumors that 'an (ATEK representative) contracted HIV by having sex with a minor. They claimed it was defamation. Someone cleverly edited a site capture of a piece of writing regarding foreign teachers that I posted on our cafe and disseminated it. Everything about the threatening e-mail and this case is a fabrication by someone to denigrate our group. When the police investigation ends in 2 to 3 months, the entire truth will be revealed."
More about the death threat can be found here and here. As for the outcome of the investigation, according to ATEK president Greg Dolezal,
I filed against Lee Eun-ung for cyber libel and making a death threat because of a doctored image of me along with an note that called for my death along with other English teachers. I reported the incident to the Gimhae police (where I was living at the time). I submitted a 4-page detailed document in Korean explaining the nature of the threats and the history of AES along with an explanation of ATEK and how we might have attracted their attention. I focused not only on the threats of violence but also the damage to my reputation.

The Cyber Crimes Unit investigated this case and was behind me at the start. Then everything changed suddenly. The Gimhae police called Lee Eun-ung to come to Gimhae to be interviewed and when he arrived they found him to be a respectable and likable guy. After the interview they told me he seemed decent and wouldn't have done something like this and that clearly I was making the whole thing up. The police gave my personal phone number to Mr. Lee and then they called me to come to the station to accept an apology from him for the 'misunderstanding'.

I rejected that because I knew if I accepted the apology then I would be expected to drop my complaint. I was not prepared to do that. Also, I feel it was unprofessional of the Gimhae police to share the contact information of a victim with an assailant. It's clear to me that nationalism trumped justice in my case, but I felt helpless to do anything more about it.
Dolezal makes clear, however, that while he was disappointed with the way the Gimhae police handled the case, ATEK currently has a good relationship with the Seoul and Busan police, and is confident ATEK would be treated fairly in the future.

In response to the statement by ATEK that “The crime rate for teachers with E-2 visas is less than 0.5%, which is much less than the overall South Korean crime rate,” Lee said that “the crime rate of 0.5% is in fact a statistical trap. In truth, the majority of problems are caused by teachers who have not legally obtained E2 visas. Statistics do not catch these."

In truth, no one ever said those statistics were specifically for E-2 visa holders. When I used the number of E-2 visa holders as a comparison, it was because they were the only sure stats available, and because the results would in fact be the highest possible crime rate (using a larger sample, saying guessing at an extra ten or fifteen thousand F-4 and F-2 visa holders would have resulted in an even lower crime rate). No one actually knows how Rep. Lee Gun-hyeon got his statistics for English teacher crime, but it is not for certain that it only applied to E-2 visa holders, meaning those statistics may well have ‘caught’ the non E-2 visa holders Lee seems most concerned about. Lee also notes that major hagwons and kindergartens have seen few problems; the main source of problems are “cases of illegal employment at so-called “Education facilities that mimic English-teaching establishments” such as day cares, general kindergartens and English play rooms,” especially in the provinces. Left unsaid is that the problem then lies with the Korean owners of such establishments hiring these teachers illegally.

Lee also mentions that he felt sorry that good teachers got a bad reputation due to the actions of the bad teachers, and says, “We even persuaded and sent back one reporter who wanted to do a story on our group with just the goal of degrading foreign teachers.” I take it he’s not referring to the series of articles which AES contributed to by Break News in 2006 talking about the “damage beyond imagination” caused by foreign English teachers (such as this one), or the "Beware the 'Ugly White Teacher'" Sports Chosun article from 2007 about the white teacher threatening his girlfriend with AIDS, or the five articles last July, including the first one - which was featured at the top of Naver's homepage - where Lee was quoted as saying
“Foreign instructors of low character frequently toss women away without compunction after attaining their goal of meeting them for money and sexual relations, so many of the women have their lives ruined by abortion or, of course, sexually transmitted diseases.”
Lee has made statements like this on many occasions, such as describing "foreign teachers who make a hobby out of having sex at knifepoint" in this interview, or posting rumors on the Anti English Spectrum website that "foreigners who are infected with AIDS have been deliberately approaching other foreigners or Koreans in places such as nightclubs with the goal of spreading the AIDS virus," as well as saying, "Koreans who have had sexual contact with a foreigner will almost all contract AIDs." Fliers posted on their site said illegal foreign teachers "are targeting your children" and listed the attributes of such teachers: "Illegal drugs and sexual molestation, various diseases, AIDS, violence and seduction by promise of marriage, fake academic qualifications." And when they weren't contributing to TV shows which sported captions such as "Illegal foreign instructors are violating Korean women!!!", they - Lee in particular - were taking credit for articles with titles like these:

"To foreign English teachers, Korea is a depraved heaven." [Link]
"Korean society is too easy on white people." [Link]
"Faked backgrounds, molestation...'Wonderful native-speaking teachers.'" [Link]
"From molestation to AIDS threats - Shocking perversion of some English teachers" [Link]

While Lee has tried to portray "some members" as having caused problems in the past by doing things like "attacking and degrading women who date foreigners," it's been Lee himself - with the comments he has made in interviews and the things he has posted on the site - who has acted as a chief instigator in "degrading foreign teachers" and spreading anti-foreign teacher sentiment. Eliminating 'misunderstandings' about the group can hardly come about without acknowledging some of the more inflammatory and disparaging statements he has made.

He also has the nerve to say,
"I’m most concerned that a movement started for educational purposes has been distorted and is deteriorating into a collision between Koreans and foreigners".
If we remember correctly, “the movement” was not started for educational purposes, but because of “arrogant and base statements degrading Korean women [that caused them to feel] something beyond rage, a feeling of unendurable humiliation [because of] English Spectrum, a group that has debased the image of Korean women in such a dirty and humiliating way that is enough to have soiled the country’s national brand”. And as Lee put it, “[A]mong the people who first joined our group, some concentrated only on attacking and degrading women who date foreigners. After this, through efforts at self-purification, it was settled on that our group would have the educational purpose of protecting our children from unqualified native-speaking teachers.” As he himself had said elsewhere in the very same interview, it was hardly "a movement started for educational purposes"

Lee also said, "Among our members are foreign teachers who have joined who want to cooperate as a foreign teachers' “purification movement." I doubt there are many (any?) foreign teacher members of AES, though foreign teachers have certainly sent them tips before. And when Lee says they are "making an "introducing good foreign teachers" corner at our site," what this means is that once or twice a year he asks members, "Do you know any good teachers?" and does a quick post about them. You have to appreciate how the final paragraph was set up:
How long will the conflict between the citizen’s group and ATEK continue? Lee said, “It would be good to at least get into the open and clear up misperceptions about our group.”
As long as the media takes at face value everything Lee says, I doubt any misperceptions in the Korean media about what the group really stands for will ever get cleared up, especially when papers like the Donga Ilbo take a knee-jerk, circle-the-wagons stance of painting the situation as a "conflict" and an “attack” on a Korean “citizen’s group.”


MrSwirlChristopher said...

So, you are "stalking"--joining their online group, reading through all their messages, etc.--AES, too? Hah, hah.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

It's not stalking. It's following. Following is not illegal. Mr.Lee says so, so it must be true.

MrSwirlChristopher said...


So, Lee and Matt are doing the same thing--whether "stalking" or "following."

I think it is funny (and makes little sense) that one condemns someone for doing something to him... by doing the very same thing to that person. Sorry this seems like a lose-lose case.

matt said...

As long as we're going to use hyperbole and bad comparisons, why not got hog-wild? Let's just admit that what I'm doing isn't "the very same thing" as stalking - what it is, in fact, is terrorism.

Whose sock are you, anyway?

Darth Babaganoosh said...

Uh, how exactly is Matt stalking the guy?

Lee has shown himself to be right prick, and if the Korean press isn't going to call the asshole on his xenophobic and race-hate bullshit, it falls on people like Matt to do so (and he isn't the only blogger to do so, either).

Everytime Lee tells a lie, there SHOULD be someone there to say "Bullshit!"

Lee, on the other hand, participates and encourages the stalking of foreign teachers (and ONLY foreign teachers) without the authority to do so, nor the "evidence" with which all his suspicions hinge on.

Anyone can find dirt on anyone given enough time. Shit, if I stalked and staked out Lee for three months at a time and went through his garbage (tried and true Lee-approved "following" techniques), I can find dirt on him too.

brent said...

Lee also could be considered a public figure since he is quoted so much and in the public eye willingly. Matt also hasn't gone through his garbage ^^

Unknown said...

Clearly MrSwirlChristopher has a vested interest in standing up for Lee Eun-ung. If Lee were to actually focus on teacher qualifications, then those unable to define simple English words would be among the first to be targeted.

matt said...

I'd actually responded to Mr. Swirl before checking out his blog...

Andrea Vandom said...

The statement by Lee that foreign English teachers claimed the criminal background check requirement was discriminatory is completely bogus.

Not only were there complaints filed by foreign English teachers with the Human Right Commission that criticized the criminal checks as symbolic, perfunctory and inadequate, but when I refused to submit to the HIV and drugs tests I made a point of submitting an official FBI criminal background check in addition to the "local police station" checks they required.

While the Korean media and the mouthpiece at AES may not be interested in knowing the truth, the Constitutional Court of Korea does. It was made clear to the Constitutional Court in my complaint that I had no objections whatsoever to thorough criminal background checks. In fact, my only objection to the criminal checks in place at the time was that they weren't thorough enough.

-Andrea Vandom

Former English teacher in Korea
PhD student, Political Science, University of Califonia (Irvine)
(currently on internship with the WHO (Geneva))