Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Blue eyed Santas galore

Last week there were reports of foreign teachers in Daegu donating and distributing gifts to children at welfare facilities:  "Blue eyed santas in Daegu donate and share gifts":

 "'Blue eyed santas' convey sweet love":

There are a few more from 2008 here and here. (And even the president of GM Korea is dressing up.)

And as I mentioned recently, James Wade wrote in 1965 a fictional piece about a USFK Christmas party for orphans which is well worth reading.

I'd like to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Journal of Korean Law article about HIV testing of foreign teachers

An article by Benjamin Wagner and myself titled HIV/AIDS Tests as a Proxy for Racial Discrimination? A Preliminary Investigation of South Korea’s Policy of Mandatory In-Country HIV/AIDS Tests for its Foreign English Teachers was published in the Journal of Korean Law Vol.11 No.2 in June of this year, and is now available on the internet. It can be read as a pdf here. Here is the abstract:
Over the past five years South Korea has enthusiastically recruited tens of thousands of foreign English teachers as part of its globalization efforts. Demanding parents and government promises of “a native speaker in every school” have seen the number of foreign teachers in public schools more than triple in that time. During the same period, however, there have been several notable incidents of xenophobia and discriminatory animus. Increased social contact, especially between foreign English teachers and Korean women, has triggered traditional fears of cultural contamination and miscegenation. The resulting hostility and suspicion, in their most extreme forms, have been expressed through the metaphor of AIDS. An influential citizens’ group has claimed that foreign teachers are infecting Koreans with HIV. Concomitantly, the South Korean government has instituted discriminatory HIV restrictions for foreign teachers that it claims are necessary to “ease the anxiety of citizens” and “assure the parents” of schoolchildren being taught by non-Koreans. The HIV restrictions against foreign teachers are both the most recent as well as the final remaining HIV restrictions against foreigners in South Korea, which has a history of HIV restrictions against foreigners dating back to the late 1980s. This Article traces the origins of the mandatory in-country HIV/AIDS tests for foreign teachers within this genealogy of restrictions and attempts to explain why the current measures were introduced and why they have remained in place even after all other HIV restrictions against foreigners have been removed.

Native speaking teacher cuts in Mokpo

After native speaking teacher cutbacks in Gyeonggi-do, Seoul, and Busan, it would seem elementary school teachers in Mokpo will not have their contracts renewed in 2013, as related in an email I received from a reader of this blog:
I'm an English teacher in Mokpo and a long-time reader of your blog.  You've written about English teacher cutbacks and layoffs in the past, so you might be interested in some related news from Mokpo.  No elementary school contracts will be renewed for native speaker instructors starting next year.  Teachers in Mokpo were hired in two waves, one in April and the other one in August, so the first teachers to be let go will be those whose contracts started in April this year, followed by the ones who signed in August.  I belong in the latter group.  About 30 teachers will be let go in all.

As for how the news was broken to us, I think we were told about it in a 2 minute announcement before a teaching workshop this past Thursday.  I can't be sure because it was all said in Korean and my grasp of the local language isn't good enough to understand it spoken that quickly.  I also teach without the benefit of a co-teacher, so there wasn't anyone to translate what was said to me.  The workshop continued for another hour after that which is a little odd in retrospect.  Why have a workshop for teachers when you're going to let them go in a few months?  We were also asked to cheer "Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!" at the end of the workshop, which again in retrospect seems bizarre and in somewhat poor taste.  Like I mentioned earlier though, I didn't find out about the cutbacks until I got home and checked my email where a message was waiting from our program coordinator (sent at 3:00 PM, the starting time of the workshop).

Please don't feel obligated to blog about this unless you think it's something worthwhile to write about.  Whether your blog's readership knows about this or not probably won't change anything for us here in Mokpo but writing someone about this news was cathartic for me.
That's certainly a classy, well timed way to break the news, but then Seoul's cuts last year were also in December. And the cheering part is just... typically clueless. Perhaps a more apt would be the "misquot[e] from somewhere or other" mentioned in this James Wade Christmas story from 1965: "God help us, every one."

Worth noting, however, is that apparently native speaking teacher number are rising in Jeollanam-do. According to these statistics (posted here), in 2010 there were 365 teachers, or 742 students per teacher and a 74.7% placement rate (623 out of 834 schools) in Jeollanam-do. According to stats here, this year the number of students per native speaking teacher in Jeollanam-do was 567, which, if the number of students is about the same as in 2010, would suggest that there are around 477 NSETs, an increase of over 100 from 365 in 2010. (In the Seoul-Gyeonggi area, the numbers peaked in 2010.)

It's certainly interesting that NSETs are being removed from elementary schools in Mokpo but being kept in middle and high schools, which is the reverse of what has happened in Seoul, but apparently these cuts have been carried out by the Mokpo Office of Education, and not by the Jeollanam-do Language Program, which oversees many of the NSET positions in the province, and which is in a position to offer alternative positions to those teachers affected by the cuts.

In other news, Gangnam Elementary School now has two Filipino native speaking teachers as part of its "determination to cultivate world class talent." One wonders if we'll see more moves in that direction.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Confrontation maniacs!

Who would have thought Korea would be colder than Canada right now? (We'll ignore the fact that it's supposed to drop down to -18 at night on Christmas Day here (northeast of Toronto).) At any rate, being abroad means I don't need a proxy to read North Korean news, and interestingly they have actually commented on the election fairly promptly (unlike how they failed to report Lee Myung-bak's election for quite some time). There's nothing at KCNA's English site, but in Korean there's this short article:
According to domestic and foreign journalists, after a fierce contest, the Saenuri party candidate was narrowly elected in the south Korean presidential election on the 19th.
Not exactly a comprehensive report, but better than nothing, I suppose. More enjoyable is this piece of invective published in English on the day of the election:
KCNA Denounces "Saenuri Party" for Its Invectives against DPRK

Pyongyang, December 19 (KCNA) -- The "the Saenuri Party" of south Korea has become more undisguised in its moves to escalate the confrontation with compatriots in the north.

"The Saenuri Party" in its recent "election campaign" at the plaza of Kwanghwamun in Seoul seriously defamed the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK while criticizing the candidate from the opposition party.

Vicious elements of the "committee for great unity of people," an organization for "presidential election" of "the Saenuri Party," made no scruple of letting loose a string of unspeakable vituperation as regards the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the DPRK.

This was a desperate propaganda for fanning up extreme repugnance towards the fellow countrymen in the north among the south Korean people, another unpardonable hideous provocation against the DPRK.

The gentries of "the Saenuri Party" have been loud-mouthed about "contingency" and "unstable social system" in the DPRK since the great loss to the nation. However, the rapid progress made by the DPRK quite contrary to their day-dream and the south Korean public admiring it upset them very much.

As the atmosphere of commemorating the anniversary of demise of leader Kim Jong Il is running high among all Koreans from the beginning of December, the "the Saenuri Party" is much afraid that this atmosphere may have a certain impact on the "presidential election."

That is why the conservative group is deliberately linking opposition forces with the DPRK and going mad with false propaganda to dare hurt even the dignity of its supreme leadership.

Confrontation maniacs' mud-slinging is touching off towering indignation and denunciation among all Koreans as it is an unpardonable insult to the noble revolutionary careers and exploits of the peerlessly great men of Mt. Paektu who devoted themselves to the prosperity of the country and the nation.

All facts prove that "the Saenuri Party" is a group of traitors who stoop to any infamy to realize its ambition to seize power.

It is a bitter lesson drawn from the five-year office of traitor Lee Myung Bak that confrontation is bound to escalate the tension and increase the danger of war, driving the people's living to destitution.

All Koreans will never pardon the confrontation maniacs of "the Saenuri Party" putting Lee into the shade.

The army and people of the DPRK will deal resolute and merciless sledge-hammer blows at those who hurt the sacred dignity of the supreme leadership even a bit.

Good-for-nothings in south Korea should stop at once the reckless moves for confrontation with fellow countrymen, facing up to the situation. 
Considering rhetoric like that above, and the fact that North Korea tried on several occasions to kill her father, and did kill her mother, I doubt relations between north and south under the future president Park will improve any time soon.

Monday, December 17, 2012

'A Slow Walk through Jeong-dong' and 'Korean Straight Lines'

[Update: there's more about 'Korean Straight Lines' here.] 

Anyone who has studied early modern Korean history knows well that many key events took place in and institutions were located in Jeong-dong. For an accounting of the historic buildings in the area which still stand, Robert Koehler's post here is a must-read. A map included in that post shows a 'Temple' northwest of Deoksugung (marked as 'New palace'), which was once actually a part of Deoksugung; the part of the wall around the temple that was next to the Russian legation can be seen in a photo here). In fact, the U.S. legation, 'Imperial library' and presumably 'customs' were also part of the palace, which is now quite a bit smaller than it once was (in part, as I argued here, because it was not considered an important palace and bits of it were sold off to foreigners, but their presence there eventually led King Gojong to choose Deoksugung as his main palace in 1897).

Covering all of this history is Michael Gibbs' book 'A Slow Walk through Jeong-dong.'

The book is a paean to 'slow travel,' spending a day walking around a single neighbourhood and soaking in all of its sights and history. While some of the area's sights - such as Deoksugung, the restored Appenzeller Hall, Simpson Memorial Hall, the Salvation Army, the Seoul Museum of Art, and many others - are well known, others are not. I'd had no idea that Yi Hwang (who is on the 1000 won bill) lived in a house that is memorialized in front of the Seoul Museum of Art, for example, or that there was an Overseas Chinese Christian Church with 100 years of history tucked away in an alley.

The stories related in the book range from recent events like the death of Roh Moo-hyun, back through the closing of the Kyunghyang Sinmun by president Syngman Rhee in 1959, the death of Ehwa student Yu Gwan-sun during the 1919 Samil protests, to the burial of Joseon Dynasty founder Taejo's wife, Queen Sindeok, in the area in 1397, which gave the neighbourhood its name. But I quite liked the starting point, both geographically and historically, of the book - at the more than 550 year old pagoda tree in front of the Canadian embassy:

The book touches on the history of, and stories associated with, each location as the narrator-traveler comes upon it, approaching the area's history in a more geographical manner. In some ways, it almost functions as a tour guide (and I've used it in that manner), but rather than photos, it's full of illustrations, some of which are more evocative or abstract rather than photo-like renditions. All in all, it's an enjoyable book which languidly explores a neighbourhood of Seoul which is steeped in history and allows the reader to soak it all in.

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review. It's available at Amazon, though for those in Korea Seoul Selection is probably a better choice (what with the postage cost being slightly more than the cost of actually taking the subway to a store and back).

As well, long term Korea resident and reader of this blog NB Armstrong asked me if I could mention the book he'd written 'Korean Straight Lines, joke lessons in South Korea,' "a humble Amazon upload. It's a short, humorously intended little introduction to a few aspects of life in Korea, including some tips on language and everyday culture." The introduction and first chapter can be read at Amazon, and the stories end with definitions of terms such as '친구,' or 'friend':
Friendship is rarely randomly struck up in Korea; it develops through affiliation and introduction and is formalized, after years of mistrust, by want of a loan.
That just one of the many humourous descriptions in the available chapter; the book looks like a fun read.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Celadon and postcard exhibitions

There are a couple of interesting exhibitions on this month I thought I'd point out.
It was mentioned to me awhile ago that the National Museum in Yongsan was holding a large exhibition of Goryeo era celadon - its first in 20 years -  and I sort of stumbled upon it this week. Here's some information on it:
This special exhibition is based on the research achievements on the peninsula's long ceramic tradition which have undergone a remarkable development since the 1990s. The purpose of the exhibition lies in outlining the development of Goryeo celadon wares such as its birth, and origin and application of inlay techniques. Furthermore, it is put together to take a closer look into the role, production, and circulation of the celadon, and its relationship with other metal crafts and lacquer wares during Goryeo Dynasty.

The exhibition presents 350 intact celadon wares. They have been carefully selected from the collection in Korea and other countries in regards to the importance and quality. In terms of the scale, the exhibition is the largest of a kind in history. It includes 29 nation's designated cultural heritage(18 National Treasures and 11 Treasures) and two Japan's designated important cultural assets, making the exhibition an unprecedented case of bringing together top quality celadon wares.
It's well worth seeing, though this Sunday (December 16) is the last day. There's also a book with photos of the entire collection available for purchase.

Down at the Independence Hall in Cheonan is another exhibition, this one of colonial era postcards. If you like old photos and views of Korea's major cities (and of the countryside and daily life) from the 1910s to the 1930s, there are 150 postcards of such scenes on display there, and more collected in a slideshow. There's almost no information about this exhibition (in the media) in English, and though it's noted on the Korean language site, there's no information on the English language site (though there's useful information on how to get there). This page (I hope that link works) has links to a few examples, including this street scene and this postcard (one of ten or so which shows both sides at the exhibition) written by Ahn Chang-ho to his daughter while in the U.S. Rather annoyingly, that page has a link to a photo of the book on display there which collects all of the postcards, but it's not available to buy.

The exhibition is in Hall #7, to the right behind the large main hall. From Seoul, taking a train down to Cheonan and a ~30 minute bus ride to the hall, you could probably spend all day there. I only saw the exhibition, the remains of the old government general building (I'll put up photos of it another day) and the first two of seven halls and that took over three hours. The exhibition is on until the end of the year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

E-2 population by region

In looking at the statistics released by Immigration for this post (regarding number of foreigners by visa type and region; look for 등록외국인 지역별 현황 on this page, released every June and December, and use the 지역별 및 체류자격별 tab at the bottom of the excel file), I also looked up the E-2 figures from June 2012. Here are the number of E-2s by region:

Total 22,005
Seoul 5,364
Gyeonggi-do 4,645
Incheon 873
Gangwon-do 645
Gyeongsangnam-do 1,148
Busan 1,578
Ulsan 548
Gyeongsangbuk-do 1,143
Daegu 1,203
Gwangju 652
Jeollanam-do 714
Jeollabuk-do 638
Daejeon 860
Chungcheongnam-do 996
Chungcheongbuk-do 647
Jeju 351

It'd be interesting to compare these figures to the more recent past to see which areas have been gaining and which losing (the number of E-2s peaked in 2010 at more than 23,000), though obviously the big decreases would be in Seoul and Gyeonggi. I'll save that for another day.

No mention of Amanda Todd's ethnic background?

Last week I read an interview with Amanda Todd's mother somewhere and was surprised by her photo (see here, for example). Why? Because she looked Asian. In all the discussion of her suicide (Gord Sellar wrote a good piece here), I had heard nothing about her being mixed race. I only managed to find mention of it here (it says she was of mixed Chinese and European heritage), where the writer also expressed surprise at how the media hasn't focused on this at all. While I know that in Korea someone's mixed race identity would be overemphasized and brought up in the first paragraph of a news story, the complete lack of mention of race in the case of a girl who committed suicide due to bullying strikes me as more than a little odd.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Psy, slowly and painfully

I had to weigh in on this eventually, right? If you haven't already, it's worth reading the articles at Busan Haps, the Washington Post and Gord Sellar.

This isn't the first time Psy has attracted criticism, as this November 16, 2001 Hanguk Ilbo article notes:
Singer Psy being investigated on suspicion of 'marijuana'

[...] Psy, the singer famous for his peculiar dancing and singing has been caught by police on suspicion of smoking marijuana. Seoul Yongsan Police caught singer Psy (real name Park Jae-sang, 25) on the 15th for violating the Cannabis Control Act, and he is currently being investigated.

According to police, Psy is suspected of smoking marijuana with a composer several times since September at a friend's house in Bangbae-dong.

Psy, who studied overseas, stated to police, "In the US I smoked marijuana all the time, and earlier this year, after becoming popular my popularity ended, and in May while working on a new album I was unable to overcome stress and smoked marijuana."
This would result in much criticism and his being banned from television for awhile, as well as apparently missing his grandfather's funeral, but in the end he escaped jail time. On January 11, 2002, the Segye Ilbo reported that Psy had been fined five million won, and quoted the judge: "Fans do not want to hear music made by relying on drugs." "Considering that the defendant is a young, first-time offender, I issued a  fine."

A Kukmin Ilbo editorial spoke of the responsibilities entertainers have:
Of course, since entertainers are regarded as 'public figures,' there are many that demand a higher morality or sense of ethics, or social responsibility, in comparison to ordinary people.
At which point I'll point you in the direction of the Metropolitician's post.

I'd tend to imagine that Psy's past anti-American performances will eventually disappear down the memory hole (President Obama eventually shook his hand the other night, though not everyone is happy), and this blast from Psy's past certainly isn't going to stop Gangnam Style from hitting a billion views (it's at 922 million, currently). In Korea, most people would hold his pot bust or his skipping out on his military service against him rather than what he sang in 2004 - unless, of course, this did become a kerfuffle in the US, in which case I can see people holding it against him for making Korea look 'bad.' Otherwise, I imagine a good many people here would agree with his views, since there are still people out there who believe a lot of dumb things about 2002 and 2008. And hey, if people could get over him skipping out on military service - and a drug bust -  I don't think there's much he could do to turn the public here against him.

As for what he sang in 2004, I can't say I personally care all that much, though I have smiled at people saying that his apology is not "sincere enough," and at the idea of Lee Myung-bak having to call the White House to express regret. And what a particularly ironic tale of comeuppance it would be if the unlikely singer who achieved the long sought-after Korean dream of success in America was undone by his past participation in the periodically fashionable nationalist frenzies that lashed out at that very same country. And all in time for Christmas! Ho Ho Ho.

There is, however, more to say about the lyrics Psy sang in the N.E.X.T. song 'Dear America,' which he performed in 2004 (and can be listened to here). The thing is, the lyrics have been translated (and widely disseminated) as seen below:
싸이 rap : 이라크 포로를 고문해 댄 씨발양년놈들과
고문 하라고 시킨 개 씨발 양년놈들에
딸래미 애미 며느리 애비 코쟁이 모두 죽여
아주 천천히 죽여 고통스럽게 죽여

Kill those —— Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those —— Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
The problem is, though, some things have been left out in that translation. While there's lots of profanity in the description '씨발양년놈들,' there's no outright '양키'('Yankee') to be seen (though it can certainly be argued that its implied). Literally, though, 양놈 could mean either western (서양) bastard or foreign bastard (see definition of the hanja 洋 here). Now, perhaps 양놈 would be taken by a great many Koreans to refer to Americans, like a reversal of how '미국인' often applies to all westerners - but if it refers to westerners in general, then '씨발양년놈들' would be 'fucking western bitches and bastards.' Also left out of the translation is the '코쟁이,' a derogatory term for white people referring to their noses (think of 'big nosed' as a cousin of 'slant eyed'). Not that Koreans think westerners all have big noses or anything like that.

(From here)

So if we put this all together and take into account the fact that, in Korean, the verb 'kill' is at the end of the 3rd sentence, perhaps this works better:
The fucking western bitches and bastards who torture Iraqi prisoners,
the fucking western bitches and bastards who ordered them to torture,
their big-nosed daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers - kill them all.
Kill them very slowly and painfully.
Put it that way, and suddenly it doesn't seem to be about death wishes aimed at 'F--- Yankees' who torture (and their families) but rather more about death wishes aimed at racially defined big nosed westerners (who torture) and their families. And you know, when I think of propaganda which sees big nosed westerners - particularly Americans - as torturers (probably NSFW) and makes no distinctions between those who do wrong and all other members of their race, and I can't help but think of the Korea north of the 38th parallel. As B.R. Myers has pointed out, the beloved North Korean anti-American novella 'The Jackals,' by Han Sorya (translated in Myers' book Han Sorya and North Korean Literature) portrays even the child of the American missionary family as being evil.

And thinking of killing all "their big-nosed daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers [...] very slowly and painfully," that sounds quite a lot like taking rather brutal revenge against an enemy and all of their relatives:

Let's take revenge a hundred thousand times on
the U.S. imperialist jackals!

Today's Korea Times has an article titled "Psy, Samsung push 'brand Korea' in 2012"; one wonders which Korea's brand is being pushed (and the KT reports that "Psy rapped lyrics calling for American soldiers to be killed "slowly and painfully," leaving out the big nosed family members). But I digress. It's not like the relationship between North and South Korean anti-Americanism is particularly obscure. As for the translation, the existing one probably serves the purpose of the person who did it well enough (ie. to make Americans angry). I'm pretty sure painting Psy (and Koreans) as 'anti-American' or 'anti US foreign policy' is likely something that communicates easily and clearly to Americans, rather than having to explain to (white) people that Koreans perceive them in a racist light as big nosers or lump all westerners together as one group (this Washington Post article does a pretty good job of discussing the political aspects of Korean anti-Americanism, but doesn't bring up racial or moral perceptions). Confronting Americans with a mirror image of 'typical' contemporary US (and western) perceptions of Asians might complicate things a little too much - better to stick with 'he hates America!'

Something else worth mentioning is that there seems to be confusion over the N.E.X.T. song and Psy's antics in 2002.

According to this Chosun Ilbo article (linked to at Busan Haps), Psy and Shin Hae-chul (frontman of N.E.X.T.) performed together at the 2002 MNET Music Video Festival where he smashed a tank (as seen in the photo at the top of this post). I can't find anything saying that Psy ever performed live with N.E.X.T. in 2004, only that he recorded his now infamous rap on the song 'Dear American' on the album they released that year. The article does mistakenly claim that 'Dear America' mentions the girls killed in the 2002 Yangju incident, however, which perhaps contributed to the confusion.

As for Shin Hae-chul, he's been recording music for more than 20 years (an interview with him is here)(and he has a pot bust in common with Psy, too), though he might be better known among English speaking foreigners in Korea for his hosting of the show Damage, one episode of which in 2009 portrayed foreign English teachers as gang rapists (the show can be watched here):

Their shocking barbarity without conscience! 

 The woman in her 20s who was gang raped!

 The criminals were her foreign boyfriend's friends!

Funny how that mention of 'barbarity' by white men against a Korean woman reminds me of this:

"The entire world accuses the US Army of unpardonable barbarity
against south Korean women."

The aforementioned Chosun Ilbo article also notes that "American netizens who don't know much about the 'Hyo-sun-Mi-seon incident' are expressing anger at the song Psy sang." Forgetting the fact that the song isn't about that incident, even if it was, would an even-handed (though from the Korean point of view, probably "incorrect") perspective on the incident - that Koreans overreacted to a vehicle accident which left two middle school girls dead - help stop Americans from expressing their anger? Would reports like this and the images below help?
They also sang obscenity-laced anti-American songs and tore several huge U.S. flags to bits before unfurling a Korean flag to shouts of "We will recover our national pride."

(From here.)

Really now, trying to calmly explain anti-Americanism in Korea to Americans is just going to dig stuff up ('Fucking USA' and its ranting over a 'stolen' Olympic medal, anyone?) that will just make things worse. Perhaps the same is true the other way around. As James Wade put it in 1964:
Koreans today seem materialistic and greedy, highly factional and inclined towards nepotism and violence. Yet they cherish an inflated notion of their national morality, and a somewhat mystical attitude about their racial superiority. This makes them very sensitive and thin-skinned about accepting either criticism or advice.

Yes, the fact must be faced: the Koreans are actually "the Americans of the Orient." Perhaps this explains in part some of the frictions between the two countries, as well as their inextricably linked destinies.
In other words, never mind the bollocks; this kerfuffle will blow over soon enough, even if the sentiments which fed those lyrics in the first place still lie dormant.

Monday, December 10, 2012

CERD (and other) updates

It was 5 months ago today that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination accepted the complaint from a foreign teacher who refused to take an HIV test to renew her contract at a public school in Ulsan in 2009 and lost her job. The Korean media did not respond to a press release about the case in both English and Korean (a blog or two picked it up), though it did get vaguely mentioned in the NYT last week. Not only did the Korean media ignore the release, but one has to wonder if the ROK goverment is ignoring the CERD case as well. The deadline for Korea to respond (they had 3 months) is, as of today, 2 months past. Now, in truth, the 3 month deadline for Korea to reply is discretionary and the Committee could extend it for up to 4 months (a month at a time) before deciding to proceed and consider the case without a reply from the ROK. This seems to be what is happening, though perhaps it is understandable, considering the CERD has never had a case where the state failed to reply.

From the teacher's point of view, she has already been waiting for three years, and the ROK has already failed to address international concerns over the E-2 HIV testing on two occasions (mentioned at the end of this post). On the bright side, at the most recent Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council (in which the domestic human rights records of all 192 UN Member States are reviewed every four years), the Canadian government "raised concerns about HIV and drug testing for E2 visa non-citizens," but since it was raised as an observation and not a recommendation, it is unlikely to get an official response when the ROK replies in March. (If I remember correctly, each country had one minute to raise its concerns.)

But then, on the down side, the ROK managed to somehow convince UNAIDS to place it on its 2012 list of 132 countries, territories and areas which "have no HIV-specific restriction on entry, stay and residence." One wonders how the ROK managed to get something that is untrue put on that list.

Also, when drug testing was expanded from E-2 visa holders to non-professional Employment (E-9), ship crew employment (E-10), or Working Visit (H-2) in August, I wondered if they would also be tested for HIV. Well, the form below for both E-2 and E-10 visa heath exams includes an HIV test:

I've assumed ever since Korea's 'removal of HIV restrictions [right before we host an international conference on AIDS in 2011 which would be embarrassing if we ban presenters from attending]' that other visa groups were also quietly being tested. This would suggest this suspicion is true, and is even more reason to be rather disappointed with the ROK's incorrect categorization on that UNAIDS list.

Mind you, no one should think for a moment should think this playing fast and easy with HIV regulations is limited to foreigners. This Hankyoreh article details some of the difficulties Koreans who live with HIV face in finding (and keeping) jobs due to health checks which either shouldn't include HIV tests or to companies who (incorrectly) claim that they're entitled to see such results.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Daejeon foreign instructor figures revisited

 As I reported last week, the Daejeon City Journal reported that, according to a survey by the Daejeon Seobu Education Office, as of November there were 375 foreign instructors working at 105 hagwons there, up from 169 at the end of 2011, and 105 at the end of 2010. In the comments, John from Daejeon called bullshit on these figures, so I decided to take a look at the statistics released by the Korean Immigration Service to see what was going on (look for 등록외국인 지역별 현황, released every June and December, and use the 지역별 및 체류자격별 tab at the bottom of the excel file). What I found was that in December 2010, there were 818 E-2 visa holders in Daejeon, which increased to 851 in December 2011 and 860 in June 2012. So, unless a massive decrease in the number of foreign public school teachers in Daejeon has been masked by this great increase in foreign instructors (or the increase is due to F-2 and F-4 visa holders moving into hagwon jobs in Daejeon in droves), I'll have to agree with John.

It's good to know E-2 visa holders get drug tested and not local journalists...

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The state of beer in Korea

The other day, the Marmot's Hole posted about an article by the Economist which criticized [South] Korea's boring beer and stated that North Korea's Taeddonggang beer was better (something I said 6 years ago, though it's not easily available here now). As noted in the Marmot's Hole post and comments, the Donga Ilbo took issue with the Economist (because, of course, a tenet of the nationalist religion here is that all Economist articles dealing with Korea must be criticized), though netizens seemed to agree with the Economist. In the end, much like control of [pick an industry] by just a handful of jaebeol, Korea's beer remains bland due to Hite and OB dominating the industry. To be sure, in Canada things aren't so different when looking at domination of the industry by two companies (according to this article, Molson Coors and Labatt Breweries (owned by A-B InBev) control around 80% of the market), but a trip to the Beer Store, even in a small town of 1,300 people, offers at least 60 beers, most of them from smaller Canadian breweries.
It's too bad the Economist article chose not to focus on the new kid on the block, beer company-wise, in Korea: 7brau. As a Korea Herald headline in October, read, "Korea’s first production-licensed craft beer company launches its canned IPA in Homeplus."
Until now, ale in the can or bottle was a niche market restricted to imported brews. India pale ale ― that hopped-up brew hailing from 18th and 19th century England ― even more so. Then one South Korean brewery changed the course of history last Thursday with the launch of its very own IPA in cans.
It goes on to note that ales in general, and IPAs in particular, are not so popular in Korea, which is ironic, considering the first beer ever tasted in Korea may have been IPA, as reported by Cyprian Bridge when the Audacious, the flagship of Britain's China Fleet, visited Geomundo in 1875.

HMS Audacious

Some of the Korean officials on the island boarded the ship:
Hospitality was thrust upon them in the English manner by the offer of the national beverage. They expected their hosts to taste first, and then they themselves took long sips of the ale. The glasses were put down, and no sign of pleasure or of disgust appeared upon the face of either; but, after a decent interval, the tall Korean called again for paper and pencil, and this time wrote a request that the pale-ale — not, it is true, improved by a voyage half round the world — might be given to his low-born countrymen who worked the boat in which he came on board.
It's nice to see an IPA finally being made here. As the Herald continued,
7brau (also known as Sevenbrau) ― a craft beer company that first made a name for itself with draft beers sold throughout bars in Seoul ― is a pioneer in more ways than one.

Not only did has it released its domestically-produced IPA in Homeplus stores throughout Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, it is the nation’s first mid-to-small-sized beer company to nab a standard beer production license that allows it to brew beer that can be sold in more than one establishment. From a larger perspective that essentially means domestic craft beer is no longer a brew that can only be primarily enjoyed at a microbrewery or brewpub.

7brau launched its India pale ale canned last Thursday. [...] The IPA is currently sold in 30 Homeplus outlets throughout Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, with plans for expansion to stores nationwide by next year.
The article also notes that 7brau is only the "third beer company to come into being in Korea," with the other two being "domestic beer goliaths Oriental Brewery and Hite Jinro, whose history goes as far back as the 1920s and 1930s."

The Korea Times, Joongang Daily, 10, Groove, and Homebrew Korea have also spilled ink on 7brau's IPA. At the latter link I learned that 7brau has been, under its new guise as a brewery, distributing a few draft beers:
They offer a porter, pilsner, and pale ale. The beers are unpasteurized. If you go to Hollywood you can get the unfiltered pale ale, at all the other bars its filtered. I strongly recommend going for the unfiltered version, there really is no comparison. They don't use any adjuncts and import all their ingredients from Europe and the US.
I haven't tried any of the draft beers the brewery has been distributing, but I have tried the canned IPA. While it's certainly not as favourful as Indica or Alley Kat, it's not bad, and a step above other Korean beers. It's not surprising it's not as bitter as imported IPAs - Koreans generally don't like their beer bitter. A friend ordered Alley Kat for a bar he was working at a few years ago and had to mix it with Cass (creating Alley Cass - the horror) in order to sell it off. The canned IPA, at any rate, is distributed more widely; a list of the
Homeplus locations in Seoul is here and countrywide, here. The one downside is that it certainly isn't placed with other Korean beer at the Homeplus locations I've been to - it's set off on its own.

I've actually been drinking 7brau's beer for awhile; the company is associated with the Carib brewpubs, the first of which opened in Balsan in 1998. A handful more followed (I went to the one in Bucheon back in 2001) before it opened two '7brau' brew pubs, the second of which opened in Balsan, which is pretty close to where I live, in 2005. To attract customers, they spent their first year running a daily buffet, open 6-10 weekdays and 6-9 weekends, which gave you all you could eat - and drink of the house beer - for 15,000 won. Which was pretty sweet. The beer at Balsan is the typical triumvirate of pilsner, wheat, and dark, but it's usually pretty good. Anyways, it's nice to see something good come out of the Balsan area (other than Lim Soo-jung, who went to high school nearby). Hopefully 7brau finds success and paves the way for other small companies to find a niche.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Guerrillas in the snow

While running errands yesterday, I remembered that I'd received a nice pair of thinsulate leather gloves last year for Christmas, and when I got home I dug them out and put them in my bag so they'd be on hand if I needed them. Good timing!

While the snowfall was only three inches, for Seoul that's quite a lot (an apparently has been for a long time). And it was certainly enough for the students to enjoy:

While I'd worn the gloves while hiking before, they'd never been in contact with snow much. As it turns out, after throwing 100+ snowballs and making a couple snowmen, they were still dry inside. I don't imagine the kids without gloves would have been very comfortable when they got inside and their hands began to thaw, though the more creative ones made due with dustpans which they used to scoop up and throw snow. I was impressed by the guerrilla tactics of a quartet of grade 3 girls who would wait until I had my back turned and then would close in and send off a volley of snowballs all together before running off in different directions, only to regroup for another sneak attack once my back was turned. Not bad for a bunch of 9 year olds, but then, considering the quasi-military drilling a gym class involves (and all the marching that is flawlessly executed at sports festivals), perhaps not so surprising, either. Give them the training these girls got and they'd be a formidable force...

Monday, December 03, 2012

The scramble

A perceptive observation by Kevin Kim:
Koreans are infamously zigzaggy: Korea is the land of last-minute changes in plan, as well as last-minute accomplishments of plans. But despite having lived in Korea for eight years, I've never gotten used to this flexible relationship with punctuality, and often marvel at how such an efficiency-averse culture has managed to succeed as well as it has, both economically and technologically. The answer can only be the scramble: Koreans are famously hard workers, and I suppose much of their effort is devoted to (wasted on, more like) compensating quickly for all the zigzagging from Point A to Point B. This vicious cycle of plan-change-replan reinforces the peninsula's headache-inducing "Hurry! Hurry!" mentality. While the scramble does make Koreans more flexible and open-minded than many of us planning-happy Westerners, it produces a great deal of unnecessary stress and chaos along the way. Korean culture, far from being Swiss-linear, is a drunkard's aimless stumble.
On the other hand, Westerners of the procrastinating type tend to force the scramble upon ourselves, instead of letting other people do it for (to?) us. I'm not sure if that's better or worse...

Use of old, incorrect statistics shows that foreign teachers no longer consider public schools a 'part time job'

On November 28 News1 published the following article:
Native speaking teachers: "From now on it's not a part time job for us"
At schools in Chungcheongbuk-do, the rate of contract renewal greatly increases

While only two years ago there were many cases of 'native speaking assistant English teachers' not finishing their one year contracts and quitting halfway through, which caused many disruptions to school English conversation education, these days not only do most finish their contracts, they also renew their contracts at a higher rate.

According to the Chungcheongbuk-do office of education on the 28th, out of 474 elementary, middle and high schools in the province, native speaking assistant English teachers were placed in 408 schools, with 256 in elementary schools, 125 in middle schools, and 27 in high schools, making for a 86.1% placement rate.

This placement rate is tenth nationwide, following Jeju-do (100%), Daegu (99.5%), Chungcheongnam-do (97.2%), Gyeongsangbuk-do (96.8%), Daejeon (91.4%), Busan (90.4%), Guangju (89.1%), Seoul (87.3%), and Ulsan (87.1%).

Chungcheongbuk-do is in somewhat better circumstances when looking at  the number of students per native speaking teacher, and comes in sixth nationwide with 649 students per teacher, following Gyeongsangbuk-do (475), Chungcheongnam-do (482), Jeju Island (500), Gangwon-so (506), Jeollanam-do (567).

However, different from this placement rate, the recently released 'rate of dismissal before the contract period (1 year) expires' has greatly decreased, and the it's known that they've gradually broken away from thinking of it as a 'part time job.'

According to data from the provincial Office of Education and the National Assembly's Education, Science and Technology Committee, from 2008 to 2010, the rate of native speaking teachers in Chungcheongbuk-do breaking their cotracts halfway through was 75%, or 7.5 out of 10 people failed to complete their one year contract and quit halfway through.

In Chungcheongbuk-do last year, however, not only did only 4 out of 300 native speaking teachers quit early, around 50% wanted to re-sign their contract and to work for one or two more years.

Furthermore, with the reasons given for breaking contracts in the past (2008-2010) being to go back to school or a new job (22% nationwide) or going AWOL (15.4% nationwide), the sense that it was a 'part-time job' to stay a short while and make money rather than a 'job' was stronger, but now its known to be special circumstances such as unavoidable family problems or sickness, not dismissal.

An office of education official said, "Native speaking assistant teachers can make a contract if they are a citizen of one of the 7 countries which uses English as its native tongue such as the US or UK, and with the improvement of treatment (such as providing lodging and furnishing on top of their base pay) [the job] has gradually become more competitive." "The climate in which it was considered a part time job is already in the past."
Well, nothing condescending in the title or body of that article, is there? Especially considering that the "climate in which it was considered a part time job" never actually existed anywhere close to the extent that it's painted in the article. This fantasy of '75% of native speaking teachers breaking their contracts' was concocted through the misuse of statistics by either Yonhap or National Assembly Education, Science and Technology Committee members Kim Se-yeon and Park Young-a (GNP) in September, 2010. The Yonhap article's headline and sub-headline were "Half of native speaking English teachers are '6 month part-time workers'" and "This year 66% broke their contract halfway through... regional polarization is increasing." Some of the claims made in the article were:
[M]ost of the native speaking English teachers teaching in Korea break their contracts after six months, causing the disruption of school conversation classes.

In particular, outside the Seoul metropolitan area, the rate of native speaking teachers quitting halfway through their contract reaches 70-80%, and is a key factor intensifying regional disparities in English education.[...]
Foreigners living in Korea are realizing that the native speaking assistant teacher system is a “path to a part time job” and the trend is growing stronger.
The article criticized the foreign teachers who took advantage of the Korean education system to be "six month part time workers"and described the rate of attrition as follows:
The places where rates of native speaking English teachers breaking their contracts after six months were the highest include Ulsan, at 90%, Jeollanam-do at 84.6%, Daejeon at 83.3%, Chungcheongbuk-do at 75%, and Daegu at 72.2%. Alternately, rates in the capital area are lower than the average, with Seoul at 57.8%, Gyeonggi-do at 49.8%, and Incheon at 60.4%.
That's clearly where the News1 article got its '75%' figure from. The Korea Times article about this included this quote:
"Many Koreans have to get through very hard training if they want to be a teacher. It is a kind of privilege for native English speakers to be invited here as teachers. So I earnestly ask them to be more responsible in their jobs," said Oh Seok-hwan, a director at the [education] ministry.
The KT article, however, actually included all the statistics needed to figure out that only an average of 4.7% of native speaking teachers had quit early over the past two and a half years (5.53% in 2008, 5.57% in 2009, and 2.92% in the first half of 2010). The larger figures referred to the percentage of those teachers who quit early who quit at the six month mark. Yonhap did post corrected articles, but never removed or amended its original article and never admitted any mistake (whether their mistake or the national assembly representatives'). The incorrect stats were reported in many of the English language papers; only the Hankyoreh published an apology and correction.

And now we see what happens when incorrect articles aren't corrected or scrubbed - they're used to paint false pictures - even if in this case, it's perhaps not a particularly negative picture, what with it arguing that things are getting better and that "they've gradually broken away from thinking of it as a 'part time job.'" Still, that thinking never existed to the extent those incorrect statistics suggest, and one has to wonder if anyone involved in this or the 2010 articles used even a tiny bit of brainpower when swallowing those statistics whole. I mean, who would run a system in which, for years on end, over half of the (overpaid, we're told) foreign teachers flown to Korea broke their contracts and fled their jobs? How could their have been such an improvement in just two short years? It certainly was not, as the education office official is quoted, because of an "improvement of treatment (such as providing lodging and furnishing on top of their base pay)" and the job "gradually becom[ing] more competitive," because those same benefits were already provided years ago.

In the end, you could say that in the media and the minds of politicians, native speaking teachers seem to exist in some alternate reality, but then, seeing as most of the hopes and goals of English education in Korea are also obscured in the fog of some fantasy land, I suppose the discourse on foreign teachers has placed them right where they belong.