Thursday, November 23, 2023

Wooing your lover and modernizing the fatherland with Goldstar radios

I found this Goldstar portable radio ad in the Seoul Women's University (서울여대) newspaper from the summer of 1972. While the images initially caught my eye, the text proved to be rather interesting:

A symbol of prosperity and modernization of the fatherland

A radio for love, friendship, and active people, RM-707

The mini-transistor radio RM-707 for active people and friends and lovers amid overflowing youth is ideal for...

  • Campus singing groups where friendship grows
  • Enjoying go-go rhythms while picnicking
  • Conveying the thrill of being at sporting events
  • Background music while with your lover

The RM-707 is a high-performance portable radio uniquely designed by Goldstar for the styles of active youths.

Clear sound, sophisticated design

Goldstar transistor radios

Sold at Goldstar specialty stores nationwide.

Battery-powered transistor radios gave one the freedom to roam and integrate music or other broadcasts into your activities as never before (with such activities including singing groups on campus, picnics, sporting events, or even romantic escapades). I also couldn't help but note the phrase at top left: "A symbol of prosperity and modernization of the fatherland." While advertising a product that allowed young people to take part in frivolous activities, name-checking the authoritarian state's development drive was probably a good idea. Note the price of the featured product: 2,980 won. This inflation counter suggests that would be around 60,000 won today, but I suspect it felt like a lot more at the time.

I should note that in 1966, anthropologist Vincent Brandt, who was doing ethnography in a remote village on Korea’s west coast, described "the sudden development of a new youth culture" facilitated by the growth in the number of transistor radios and the resulting exposure of young people to broadcasts from Seoul. As Brandt described it,

the constant expression on the radio of romantic love as an ideal through popular songs and radio dramas seemed to have substantially undermined the repressive force of Confucian puritanism and made a severe dent in parental authority within an extraordinarily short time. The influence of Seoul broadcasts was also evident in the outspoken determination of many young people to make their own decisions with regard to occupation, place of residence, and choice of spouse.*

Brandt also described the consumer goods which appealed to the young: "A transistor radio, dark glasses, new clothes, trips to town, and for some a guitar, have an immediate fascination that may conflict with the requirement that individual interests be subordinated to those of the family."*

There's a certain irony here, since in the early 1960s the military junta that took power in 1961 oversaw the distribution of thousands of radios to towns and villages throughout the country so as to disseminate official news and propaganda, but the commercial broadcasts (such as TBC and MBC) that were also available provided "counter-examples" that could also undermine authority.

*Vincent Brandt, A Korean Village Between Farm and Sea (Harvard University Press, 1971), 16, 102.

(I should note that I was initially left scratching my head figuring out what 빅게임의 드릴에 찬 중계도 referred to, but was later clued into the fact that 드릴 was 'thrill' and not 'drill' as I'd thought, since I was imagining practicing for the mass gymnastics or card sections of university sports competitions at the time.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Foreign English teacher received constant verbal abuse and even assault at hands of Yeosu hagwon owner

MBC reported last week on the egregious abuse of a foreign English teacher taking place at an English hagwon in Yeosu:

Hearing the level of abuse left me shocked until I realized the teacher was from South Africa, which then led to me think, "Gee, I wonder what colour their skin is?" (For a backgrounder on Korean attitudes toward Africans, see this post.) 

Yesterday the site laborplus (참여와 혁신) published this report on a press conference held in Seoul by the KCTU in regard to this case, which featured two of the teachers involved (hat tip to Mike C):

Verbal abuse and assault against native speaker instructor continued at a language school in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do

KCTU: "What is the Ministry of Employment and Labor doing---all workplaces should be investigated"

Comforted by a fellow instructor, an native-speaking instructor speaks through tears at the 'Emergency Press Conference of the National Democratic General Labor Union on the Incidents of Racial Discrimination, Verbal Abuse and Assault of Native Speaking instructors and Migrant Workers' held in front of the Seoul Regional Employment and Labor Office in Jung-gu, Seoul, on Thursday morning. Reporter Gang Hang-nim 

The director of a language school in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, has been accused of verbally abusing and assaulting native speaking English instructors, prompting calls for the Ministry of Employment and Labor to take active measures to protect migrant workers.

The KCTU’s Democratic General Federation’s National Democratic General Labor Union (co-chair Kim I-hoe) held a press conference with native speaker instructors in front of the Seoul Regional Employment and Labor Office at 10 a.m. on November 14, saying, "What is the Ministry of Employment and Labor doing when verbal abuse and violence against migrant workers is widespread in Korean society?" and demanded from the Ministry a full investigation into and special labor supervision over migrant worker discrimination, verbal abuse, and assault.

On November 9 it was revealed through media reports that the director of a language school in Yeosu, Jeollanam-do, had been verbally abusing native speaking instructors, saying things such as, "Servile people should be beaten," "Those kids should be killed," and "Tell me, you’re stupid, tell me." The native speaker who shared a recording had to repeat the phrase "I'm stupid" in response to his rant. The reason given by the director was that he didn't like the way she was correcting students’ English journals, among other things.

The harassment continued in other ways. At the press conference, the native instructors disclosed that the harassment was chronic, including assaults and unannounced visits to their lodgings from the owner. "He tried to enter my home unannounced, and I had to stop him. I felt like my life was in danger and was afraid to go to work out of panic and anxiety after that day," said Ms. A, a native speaking instructor who worked at the hagwon. "He locked me in the teachers’ office, made me memorize the teaching instructions word by word, and didn't allow me to bring lunch." 

However, the South Korean government did not help her. Ms. A said, "I asked the Yeosu Labor Office for help twice, but the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence. I even asked the National Human Rights Commission for help, but no one thought my case was valid." "I thought filing a civil lawsuit would at least help, but my employer provided false testimonies from other teachers to frame me as a perpetrator of workplace harassment. When my case was dismissed, I lost faith in all legal systems."

Ms. B, who also worked at the same place, said, "I couldn't even expect common courtesy from people, and without intervention, these problems will continue." "The main obstacle for most foreigners is not language, but policies that exclude us and treat us as commodities," she said.

At the press conference, Kim I-hoe, co-chairperson of the Democratic General Union, said, "How can there be a hagwon in South Korea owner in 2023 who makes such senseless remarks?" "The Ministry of Employment and Labor should not dismiss this as the shamelessness of a single individual, but should immediately investigate the treatment and conditions of foreign workers and take appropriate measures," he demanded.

Ms. A left the hagwon and is working in another area. Ms. B also left and is looking for a job. The process hasn’t been easy. Under the current law, native speaking instructors who entered the country on an E2 (conversation instruction) visa and work at foreign language hagwons, language institutes, and continuing education institutions must obtain a transfer letter from their employer if they want to change jobs.

Participants in the press conference said, "It is the state’s structural violence caused by the current immigration law which allows employers to limit workers’ ability to change jobs.” "Workers on (not only E2 visas but also) E-9 visas are not allowed to change companies without their employers' consent. It is an institutional problem that creates structural violence."

"The government is increasing the number of migrant workers, but it gives all the rights to the employers and asks migrant workers to become their machines," said Udaya Rai, head of the Migrant Trade Union. Even if the employer assaults, verbally abuses, and sexually harasses them, the employer has all the rights, so we can only watch." "Korean society cannot run without migrant workers now. Migrant workers must be accepted into the fabric of Korean society. To do so, we need to create laws and systems that allow them to change workplaces freely," he said.

Lee Hyeon-mi, acting head of the KCTU’s Seoul headquarters, also said, "By restricting workers from changing jobs, the government shackles them so that they cannot escape if they are exposed to violence and discrimination in the workplace." "The government should establish laws and systems against racism and abuse of power and actively enforce them," she urged.

Meanwhile, the Yeosu language hagwon in question has reportedly been unable to operate normally due to a sharp drop in students after the verbal abuse and assault of the native speaking instructor became known to the local community. The press conference concluded with the participants conveying a request for a meeting to officials from the Seoul Regional Employment and Labor Office.

MTU's head, Udaya Rai, makes a good point about Korea's need for migrant workers, particularly as Korea's demographic implosion continues apace, and for the need to ease up on rules tying foreign workers to one employer. It should be remembered that this system was implemented in 1984 after the news media here flew into a tizzy after Le Monde published an article talking about how easy it was for travelers to find language teaching jobs in Seoul, where one even managed to marry a local girl from a "good family"; in response, the government changed the law. As David Mason remembered it:
I left back to America in the fall of 1983, the French scandal happened in 1984, and when I returned in early 1986 there were these new rules. No teaching at all on a tourist visa, and when a school or company sponsored your teaching visa they became your "owner" -- you couldn't have any other jobs unless they officially approved it. And if you stopped that job for any reason you just had to leave the country within five days, returning if you had another job that would sponsor your visa, or if not, not. Reentering on a tourist visa to find a new job, if you hadn't found one before your left, would be your only option. I remember some good quality longtime teachers who left in disgust and protest between 1985 and 1987, because they felt disrespected by all this.
Considering the role foreign workers will play moving ahead, maybe visa portability is something not to aspire to, but to return to?

On a somewhat-related topic, perhaps foreigners hoping for better treatment and representation could ask the Chosun Ilbo for help? But then (in comparison to the Joongang Daily's take on the bedbug problem, which pointed out that at least one Korean had been exposed to them while travelling abroad) considering Chosun Ilbo's report on the spread of bedbugs in Korea, which might as well be titled "Dirty foreigners bring bedbugs to Korea," perhaps not:

A mysterious bedbug infestation that first made headlines in Paris earlier this year seems to have made its way to Korea, traveling in the luggage or clothes of foreigners.

A dormitory at Keimyung University in Daegu and a public sauna in Incheon where bedbugs were sighted recently are believed to be inhabited or visited to foreigners, although it is still too early to make definitive conclusions. [… (Oh, they're making conclusions, all right)]

An official at the National Institute of Biological Resources said, "Hygiene standards are very high in Korea, so even simple maintenance can prevent a major spread. But bedbugs could continue to be spotted in areas frequented by foreigners." [...(who by inference must have very low hygiene standards)]

In Korea, bedbugs are often traced to areas with high numbers of foreign laborers. "There was even a case where bedbugs arrived here still attached to the body of a foreigner and spread in his room," the official said.

Maybe this is not the best way - in your English-language edition, of all things - to speak about the people who may well be ensuring you receive your pension in the future. 

Oh, and maybe put systems in place (and enforce them) to try to protect foreign workers from abuse, so that they don't give up after being failed in so many way by officialdom here?