Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Privacy? Getting Personal in Korea

"Do you mind if I ask a personal question?"
"Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Can we talk privately?"
"Do you mind a personal talk?"

I arrived in Korea in late August 2008 with no idea what to expect from my school or new students and colleagues. I quickly discovered most of the information on the web from blogs and ESL web sites was exaggerated, improper, or horribly skewed. I was prepared for more work, more expectation, no preparation, a poor school district, a language barrier, and a rather radical change in my diet. Two things affected me more than anything else: Koreans are not as good at English as everyone insists they are (yet they are better than they think they are) and Koreans have no real expectation of privacy in their daily lives and don't do much to extend that to their privacy-obsessed western guests. The language thing doesn't bother me at all. But I had to quickly learn how to handle the lack of privacy.

I really did fear the above questions about private matters more than anything because they always dealt with what are the most taboo subjects for polite conversation in the United States. Generally, I enjoy conversations most when the discourse gets personal. I abhor small talk and prefer uncomfortable silences to meaningless chats. I like digging into issues and concerns no matter how trivial. I love watching people talk, especially when they get to personal matters. I'm a voyeur; I enjoy causing trouble; I like being engaged with others.

I discovered on only my second day in Korea that a personal question or private discussion here has to do with matters Koreans know Westerners like to keep private: there is no sense of shame or prohibition about bluntly asking a person to be frank about private matters. During my first few weeks in Seoul, these discussions were often wickedly personal interviews with me providing intimate details about myself to a relative stranger who appeared no more than momentarily interested. I often explained a personal detail in a hallway in between classes.

My new colleagues and students weren't trying to be provocative. They were satisfying a curiosity. This curiosity and satisfying it are what Westerners here often criticize as a rude or mean Korean behavior. The stares, the questions, the quick conversations can often seem like interrogations. I have commented on dagSeoul about this. White folks trek across Korea pointing, staring, teasing, laughing, and sometimes interrogating Koreans and yet are shocked when a Korean returns the favor with a comment about stocky or overweight white bodies, blonde hair, blue eyes, strange accents, drinking, sexuality, among other things. There are dozens of popular, Korea blogs written by white folks. Each of them has posts about rude Koreans. Yet each blog has within its archives many posts observing Korea and Koreans as if it's nothing at all. I think it's apparent people don't get irony.

Within my first 72 hours in Seoul, I was asked about my religion, my politics, my body shape, my lack of hair. I can only imagine what many of the foreigners I've met while living here did when confronted with similar questions. I got a weird kick of it, I must admit, but did become a little indignant with some particularly intrusive questions. I think I was shocked because I was taken from the airport directly to my school to work. I had no orientation period, nor time to sit and consider where I was, what I was getting myself into, what my fellow foreigners were like, and what Koreans thought about us.

I learned very quickly that my new Korean friends ask the personal or privacy question because they have learned that what they will ask next may offend me--US, actually. However, they aren't asking because they don't want to offend us; they are asking to warn us what's coming next. They are going to ask regardless of your answer. I think this is what some westerners find rude. As if to ask, Why seek my permission if you're going to dig into my personal affairs anyway?

No matter what you think of the question, you'll eventually hear it. It's better to be prepared. If you answer No, you're safe. Unfortunately, answer No several times and you'll always be kept at a safe distance. If you answer Yes, you must be ready for what will follow. Answer Yes several times, and everybody will assume it's permissible to continue personal discussions. Things got very personal with me. I'm very comfortable being a public individual here. So, I frankly answer all sorts of questions I know most people wouldn't.

Here's the tricky part about navigating these questions. I was asked about my background. Most Koreans want to know a foreigner's heritage. I mentioned Irish and Swedish and spoke about my family's focus on Irish culture. Koreans believe they have an affinity with Irish people, so that turned out well. Nevertheless, the conversation quickly became about religion because the teacher I was speaking with is Catholic.

Are you Catholic? I was raised Catholic.
Do you go to church ever Sunday? No.
Why not? I have some real problems with the Church.

That's how I decided to answer realizing I couldn't really explain to her in my native language the complex relationship I have with Catholicism. I just said, I don't feel I can go anymore. The response I got was something I've never heard from a Catholic and likely never would in the United States. The woman talking to me said, I'm worried for your soul. Please let me take you to church. I beg you to come.

I politely declined. I smiled. And we went to teach. I still remember walking down the hall and thinking "You've got to be kidding me." Here I was at my job and being cornered to discuss religion. My American self was ready to cry harassment. But these are not extraordinary discussions here. Iㅜ addition, this happened between periods, in that ten minute break between classes. Basically, I was being introduced to Korean scolding as caring. But the lesson I learned that day was that I had to be willing to both truthfully answer the question and politely accept the response if I was going to participate in these personal discussions.

Here's another example. I was asked, Why are you fat? Talk about awkward. I had serious health problems with intestinal bleeding before coming to Korea. I was considering an operation to remove a Meckel's Diverticulum that doctor's had diagnosed after a series of various tests. And I worked my ass off getting into shape and healthy to come here. I was running 40k a week and working out everyday. I was in the best shape I have been in since high school. When I was asked if I was fat, I just about lost it. But I am a barrel-chested and stocky man living in a country of thin, sinewy Korean men. If you're not thin here, you're fat. It's that simple.

I absolutely hated the fat discussions. Your fat. Your big. Are you healthy? Do you exercise? Why don't you lose weight? What do you eat? I had been overweight. I had been unhealthy. I have to stay healthy and keep an eye on things because it's likely that one day sooner than later, I will need an operation to fix what appears to be a congenital defect in my intestines. You'll likely sympathize when I complain that I hate thinking about it. But what was I supposed to do? Getting upset and complaining about it wouldn't change anything. Telling the person asking the question how rude that sounds to an American certainly wouldn't work. I had to decide to continue saying Yes or to begin saying No.

The fat discussions ended when I began playing soccer with the college students in my neighborhood and knocked the living crap out of them while outrunning them. Now, I am "strong Gary". They were amazed that I'm fast and in shape. An uncomfortable question turned into a nice accomplishment for me: I was able to feel wonderful about me and my body for the first time in a while. But I had to endure being put on the spot and that was hard.

Actually, they still call me fat from time to time. And that's another point worth considering: you really do have to be willing to sacrifice tact when have a discussion in English with most Koreans. Their vocabulary is understandably limited to a popular set of ordinary English words. For body type, the vocabulary is quite limited. Words like beautiful, pretty, ugly, fat, thin, tall, small, old, young, cute, healthy, not healthy, sick, and good are as much as most people will be able to use in any given conversation. Folks often know more words but rarely use them to be able to recall them while talking. I think it's very important to realize this, to admit it, and to allow for the problems that will occur as a result of the limitation.

To talk about health here often means directly addressing your body or their bodies. I turned what I saw as an unfortunate obsession into a benefit for my language classes. We had lessons about vocabulary to describe people. It was refreshing not to have to focus on political correctness and politeness. I was able to run through a whole set of vocabulary in a basic and honest way. As a result, I learned a few things about the horrifying ways the kids describe each other. I write "horrifying" because the teachers do nothing to challenge some of the hurtful ways Koreans classify each other by face shape, height, width, gender and age. I'd say the classification is enabled if not actually encouraged. I had a female student exclaim in response to being called a grandfather by her classmates, "Well, it's OK; I am ugly."

The noun phrase "personal question" means one thing for westerners: for me and my friends, we try not to get too personal because it's considered impolite in many social situations. A personal discussion is for friends. We permit people to volunteer such information. The more friendly, the more personal. If a friend confronts us about personal matters, it usually because what they see has become problematic and/or worrisome. For Koreans, it's a phrase that can be used before talking about private matters of personal significance. More than any folks I have met, Koreans will withhold judgments about a person until they know about you. A good first-impression is paramount, yet it's the discussions after that impression that will be used to classify you in some manner. I found within two months living here, people were quickly deciding whether or not they could be friends with me based on my likes, dislikes, personality, family history, spirituality, politics, et al. And not as they got to know me, but as they had a short and personal discussion about me.

So, the best way to think about personal questions is they are warnings about what is likely to happen if you answer Yes. Namely, I may offend you with my curiosity about you, your body, your politics, your religion, and/or your family. I write "personal" not to be sarcastic. It's just that we don't typically talk about personal matters when getting personal with each other. When getting personal, we purposefully relate a claim and reasons for making that claim to a person and his or her behavior and beliefs. And it's a difficult thing to do with strangers because we don't know them very well and must base our claims on assumptions that are likely not entirely the case. And it's a difficult thing to do with our friends because we more or less objectify them in some way to address a matter of disagreement. Getting personal often has a pejorative sense.

If a Korean wants to talk to you about personal matters that involve you, you'll likely be addressing marriage or your body. Why aren't you married; why don't you date; why are you fat; why do you die your hair; why are you always mad; why are you tired; why don't you dress well; do you drink; why do you live with your girlfriend; do you like Korean women/men? These are simply annoying questions that nobody wants to answer in front of strangers.

In a worst case scenario, you'll be talking about your lifestyle. As in, you came to work smelling of 담배 & 소주 (dambae/cigarettes and soju) and toothpaste and they want to know if you drink too much. Or, more innocent but still invasive, you called in sick on a Monday and your coworkers all assume you were hungover. It's an uncomfortable discussion many foreigners have with their Korean coworkers at some point.

(to be continued...I have a nasty cold and it's hard to write and keep a focus. I'll add to this post and develop some of the ideas as I get well.)
DagSeoul has been dark and I have been busy with my future father-in-law. I lived with him in my one room flat for the last ten days. He insisted Praise, him and I live together for the week he spent in Seoul. He was great. It was his first visit to Korea since he emigrated to the United States in 1978. I felt honored to spend his return home with him. I can't wait to write a little about it.

Next up, though, is a continuation of my "Modified Pictionary" post. Later today. When I'm finished teaching.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Long? Not Long. (March 25, 1965. Montgomery, Alabama.)

It's the 45th anniversary of this speech and I've been thinking about it. I was digging around for footage of MLK talking about picking up the check in Washington as part of the rising Poor People's Movement, and I found the famous footage from the coda to the speech when he tells us that the moral arc of the universe is long but that it bends towards justice and so how long, not long. It's such a wonderful bit of verse.

I was excited today to watch Rachel Maddow's March 22 show and see that she begins her "Clarifying Moment" segment with this speech. Her editorial is very strong and worth watching. It's what I'd want to say. The video is below the speech.

Republicans are working hard right now to take Americans back to the cultural landscape prior to the Civil Right's Act. The entire party is using the same scare tactics conservatives used to rile people and their resentment against Civil Rights and early attempts at health care reform.

If somebody you know uses the rhetoric of paranoia and fear, maybe remind them of this speech and of what it meant for it to be given where it was given. Ask them why conservatives have consistently opposed reforms aimed at helping the poor, the oppressed and the sick. And why they would seek to continue opposing any such reform. The reform is passed. The Senate, barring strange occurrences, will pass the revisions via reconciliation. So, why not insist on a real conversation now that the politicking is pointless.

Insist that they not stand behind bullshit rhetoric and pointless propaganda about the free market. Take their bile and return it with hope. Really, do not permit somebody to say, "It's a government take over of health care" or whine about people looking for handouts or mention the US has the best health care in the world. It's nonsense. It's not valuable to the discourse. If they believe it, they need to hear why they are wrong. It's not rude to tell them; it's necessary and important.

Our government continually fails to live up to its promise: to promote and protect our happiness and equality. And it consistently fails because we permit the wealthy to shit on the poor and oppressed. It's pretty much that simple.

Our God Is Marching On!
March 25, 1965. Montgomery, Ala.

My dear and abiding friends, Ralph Abernathy, and to all of the distinguished Americans seated here on the rostrum, my friends and co-workers of the state of Alabama, and to all of the freedom-loving people who have assembled here this afternoon from all over our nation and from all over the world: Last Sunday, more than eight thousand of us started on a mighty walk from Selma, Alabama. We have walked through desolate valleys and across the trying hills. We have walked on meandering highways and rested our bodies on rocky byways. Some of our faces are burned from the outpourings of the sweltering sun. Some have literally slept in the mud. We have been drenched by the rains. [Audience:] (Speak) Our bodies are tired and our feet are somewhat sore.

But today as I stand before you and think back over that great march, I can say, as Sister Pollard said—a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott—and one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, "No," the person said, "Well, aren’t you tired?" And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, "My feets is tired, but my soul is rested." (Yes, sir. All right) And in a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, (Yes, sir) but our souls are rested.

They told us we wouldn’t get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies, (Well. Yes, sir. Talk) but all the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama saying, "We ain’t goin’ let nobody turn us around." (Yes, sir. Speak) [Applause]

Now it is not an accident that one of the great marches of American history should terminate in Montgomery, Alabama. (Yes, sir) Just ten years ago, in this very city, a new philosophy was born of the Negro struggle. Montgomery was the first city in the South in which the entire Negro community united and squarely faced its age-old oppressors. (Yes, sir. Well) Out of this struggle, more than bus [de]segregation was won; a new idea, more powerful than guns or clubs was born. Negroes took it and carried it across the South in epic battles (Yes, sir. Speak) that electrified the nation (Well) and the world.

Yet, strangely, the climactic conflicts always were fought and won on Alabama soil. After Montgomery’s, heroic confrontations loomed up in Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and elsewhere. But not until the colossus of segregation was challenged in Birmingham did the conscience of America begin to bleed. White America was profoundly aroused by Birmingham because it witnessed the whole community of Negroes facing terror and brutality with majestic scorn and heroic courage. And from the wells of this democratic spirit, the nation finally forced Congress (Well) to write legislation (Yes, sir) in the hope that it would eradicate the stain of Birmingham. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave Negroes some part of their rightful dignity, (Speak, sir) but without the vote it was dignity without strength. (Yes, sir)

Once more the method of nonviolent resistance (Yes) was unsheathed from its scabbard, and once again an entire community was mobilized to confront the adversary. (Yes, sir) And again the brutality of a dying order shrieks across the land. Yet, Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. (Yes, sir. Speak) There never was a moment in American history (Yes, sir) more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger (Yes) at the side of its embattled Negroes.

The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma (Speak, speak) generated the massive power (Yes, sir. Yes, sir) to turn the whole nation to a new course. A president born in the South (Well) had the sensitivity to feel the will of the country, (Speak, sir) and in an address that will live in history as one of the most passionate pleas for human rights ever made by a president of our nation, he pledged the might of the federal government to cast off the centuries-old blight. President Johnson rightly praised the courage of the Negro for awakening the conscience of the nation. (Yes, sir)

On our part we must pay our profound respects to the white Americans who cherish their democratic traditions over the ugly customs and privileges of generations and come forth boldly to join hands with us. (Yes, sir) From Montgomery to Birmingham, (Yes, sir) from Birmingham to Selma, (Yes, sir) from Selma back to Montgomery, (Yes) a trail wound in a circle long and often bloody, yet it has become a highway up from darkness. (Yes, sir) Alabama has tried to nurture and defend evil, but evil is choking to death in the dusty roads and streets of this state. (Yes, sir. Speak, sir) So I stand before you this afternoon (Speak, sir. Well) with the conviction that segregation is on its deathbed in Alabama, and the only thing uncertain about it is how costly the segregationists and Wallace will make the funeral. (Go ahead. Yes, sir) [Applause]

Our whole campaign in Alabama has been centered around the right to vote. In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland. Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.

Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. (Listen to him) That is what was known as the Populist Movement. (Speak, sir) The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses (Yes, sir) and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses (Yeah) into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. (Right) I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, (Yes) thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. (Yes, sir) And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)

Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike (Uh huh) resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; (Yes, sir) they segregated southern churches from Christianity (Yes, sir); they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; (Yes, sir) and they segregated the Negro from everything. (Yes, sir) That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would pray upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality. (Yes, sir)

We’ve come a long way since that travesty of justice was perpetrated upon the American mind. James Weldon Johnson put it eloquently. He said:

We have come over a way

That with tears hath been watered. (Yes, sir)

We have come treading our paths

Through the blood of the slaughtered. (Yes, sir)

Out of the gloomy past, (Yes, sir)

Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam

Of our bright star is cast. (Speak, sir)

Today I want to tell the city of Selma, (Tell them, Doctor) today I want to say to the state of Alabama, (Yes, sir) today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir)

Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. (Yes, sir) The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) Like an idea whose time has come, (Yes, sir) not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. (Yes, sir) We are moving to the land of freedom. (Yes, sir)

Let us therefore continue our triumphant march (Uh huh) to the realization of the American dream. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated housing (Yes, sir) until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated schools (Let us march, Tell it) until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past, and Negroes and whites study side-by-side in the socially-healing context of the classroom.

Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. (Yes, sir) March on poverty (Let us march) until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns (Yes, sir) in search of jobs that do not exist. (Yes, sir) Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, (That's right) and the idle industries of Appalachia are realized and revitalized, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.

Let us march on ballot boxes, (Let’s march) march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yes, sir) will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. (Speak, Doctor)

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until we send to our city councils (Yes, sir), state legislatures, (Yes, sir) and the United States Congress, (Yes, sir) men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march. March) until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Yes) until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.

There is nothing wrong with marching in this sense. (Yes, sir) The Bible tells us that the mighty men of Joshua merely walked about the walled city of Jericho (Yes) and the barriers to freedom came tumbling down. (Yes, sir) I like that old Negro spiritual, (Yes, sir) "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho." In its simple, yet colorful, depiction (Yes, sir) of that great moment in biblical history, it tells us that:

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Tell it)

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Yes, sir)

And the walls come tumbling down. (Yes, sir. Tell it)

Up to the walls of Jericho they marched, spear in hand. (Yes, sir)

"Go blow them ramhorns," Joshua cried,

"‘Cause the battle am in my hand." (Yes, sir)

These words I have given you just as they were given us by the unknown, long-dead, dark-skinned originator. (Yes, sir) Some now long-gone black bard bequeathed to posterity these words in ungrammatical form, (Yes, sir) yet with emphatic pertinence for all of us today. (Uh huh)

The battle is in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. (Yes, sir) The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. (No) There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.

In the glow of the lamplight on my desk a few nights ago, I gazed again upon the wondrous sign of our times, full of hope and promise of the future. (Uh huh) And I smiled to see in the newspaper photographs of many a decade ago, the faces so bright, so solemn, of our valiant heroes, the people of Montgomery. To this list may be added the names of all those (Yes) who have fought and, yes, died in the nonviolent army of our day: Medgar Evers, (Speak) three civil rights workers in Mississippi last summer, (Uh huh) William Moore, as has already been mentioned, (Yes, sir) the Reverend James Reeb, (Yes, sir) Jimmy Lee Jackson, (Yes, sir) and four little girls in the church of God in Birmingham on Sunday morning. (Yes, sir) But in spite of this, we must go on and be sure that they did not die in vain. (Yes, sir) The pattern of their feet as they walked through Jim Crow barriers in the great stride toward freedom is the thunder of the marching men of Joshua, (Yes, sir) and the world rocks beneath their tread. (Yes, sir)

My people, my people, listen. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands in Mississippi and Alabama and all over the United States. (Yes, sir) I know there is a cry today in Alabama, (Uh huh) we see it in numerous editorials: "When will Martin Luther King, SCLC, SNCC, and all of these civil rights agitators and all of the white clergymen and labor leaders and students and others get out of our community and let Alabama return to normalcy?"

But I have a message that I would like to leave with Alabama this evening. (Tell it) That is exactly what we don’t want, and we will not allow it to happen, (Yes, sir) for we know that it was normalcy in Marion (Yes, sir) that led to the brutal murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson. (Speak) It was normalcy in Birmingham (Yes) that led to the murder on Sunday morning of four beautiful, unoffending, innocent girls. It was normalcy on Highway 80 (Yes, sir) that led state troopers to use tear gas and horses and billy clubs against unarmed human beings who were simply marching for justice. (Speak, sir) It was normalcy by a cafe in Selma, Alabama, that led to the brutal beating of Reverend James Reeb.

It is normalcy all over our country (Yes, sir) which leaves the Negro perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of vast ocean of material prosperity. It is normalcy all over Alabama (Yeah) that prevents the Negro from becoming a registered voter. (Yes) No, we will not allow Alabama (Go ahead) to return to normalcy. [Applause]

The only normalcy that we will settle for (Yes, sir) is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all of God’s children. The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that allows judgment to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes, sir) The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace, the normalcy of justice.

And so as we go away this afternoon, let us go away more than ever before committed to this struggle and committed to nonviolence. I must admit to you that there are still some difficult days ahead. We are still in for a season of suffering in many of the black belt counties of Alabama, many areas of Mississippi, many areas of Louisiana. I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments. But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions.

And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. (Yes)

I know you are asking today, "How long will it take?" (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, "How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?" Somebody’s asking, "When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?" Somebody’s asking, "When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?" (Yes, sir)

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because "truth crushed to earth will rise again." (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because "no lie can live forever." (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because "you shall reap what you sow." (Yes, sir)

How long? (How long?) Not long: (Not long)

Truth forever on the scaffold, (Speak)

Wrong forever on the throne, (Yes, sir)

Yet that scaffold sways the future, (Yes, sir)

And, behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow,

Keeping watch above his own.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Not long) because:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)

He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)

His truth is marching on. (Yes, sir)

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (Speak, sir)

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. (That’s right)

O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!

Our God is marching on. (Yeah)

Glory, hallelujah! (Yes, sir) Glory, hallelujah! (All right)

Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on. [Applause]

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Useful Games: Modified Pictionary

If you are like me and teaching at a school where the students are at a lower level than they are expected to be, you might find yourself in the uncomfortable position of teaching lesson plans the students struggle to understand. Some days the lessons are too hard. And on others, the lessons are so incredibly basic you risk boring everyone.

Creating activities that reinforce the basic skills and vocabulary is a must in these situations because, like it or not, the students will be tested and the tests will be skewed to the standards and not to their level.

I teach at a high school that is losing its better students because of school choice. Many of the students who choose my high school are simply waiting for their parents to permit them to drop out or for the appropriate time to enter vocational schools. The students who are focused on study are middle performers--their grades were not competitive enough to get them into the best schools.

Korean students love games. So, I try to find two weeks before midterms and two weeks before finals to play games. When I first arrived, I shunned games because the games students and Korean teachers like transport them back to late elementary and early middle school. I felt games were being used to make my classroom fun for me. I'm a good teacher and am comfortable in the classroom, so I decided to experiment on more complex games that would insist that learning occur in order for students to participate yet would insist on the students' enjoyment as well.

I like to use games that reinforce the English lessons they receive from their EFL teachers. This is a type of learning that is ignored at my school. The drilling and memorization through repetition that Korean students of English participate in as a matter of daily life in the English language classroom does not serve the average students and completely ignores the struggling students. Moreover, the high-performing students may be so well-accustomed to the practice of recitation or repetition (my phrase) that they, too, may be excellent at responding correctly without really understanding what they are saying.

Modified Pictionary is a game that requires each student, regardless of English proficiency, to exercise skills in speaking, listening, and critical thinking. It requires abstract thinking as well. Yet, it's completely visual and Korean students are very much visual learners. It's also entertaining and has a good pace: two minutes a turn. In a 50 minute class, you can get each group to complete three turns.

I'll explain more about the game in additions to this post. I make my own word cards. I use words they are expected to know; the words are presented on cards in both English and Korean; difficult words present an image that describes the concept. My four, modified categories contain three parts of speech categories and an animal category. I let them make their own game pieces. I use the Pictionary game board, timer, and a 6-sided die. I make my own cards using notecards and laminate. I use groups with no more than 6 members. (The more members in a group, the more likely low-performing students will simply not play.)

I have to run to class. But I think this is a good subject for ESL teachers. What games do you use in the classroom and why? When I arrived students were accustomed to playing bingo, hangman, crossword puzzles, among other games that simply do not do much at all to reinforce English lessons. Well, any learning at all. In my opinion, those types of games permit teachers to opt out from creative solutions to finding entertaining methods to teach difficult students. I know I'm not the only NSET with a fun game or two up my sleeve that actually teaches, yet I'm aware that many teachers struggle to find entertaining but intellectual activities. Even if you think you're not the best teacher, finding a good game to play with your Korean students will help improve your relationship with them and their desire to learn in your presence and work with you. I had to really struggle to change my Korean co-teachers' minds about just how capable my students are, even the low-performers, of performing more complicated and challenging tasks. Honestly, I swore I'd never play another game of Bingo with high school students again.

If you want to, share your games with us. I've got to teach right now and will post more about my game later.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Angry White Male 101

All the high points of white guy hysteria are covered in this comment. 1) The promise that it's the last you'll hear from him, which is never true; 2) Mocking people who disagree with him; 3) Claiming that people are jealous of him; 4) Claiming he knows so many nonwhite people that it has to prove he's not a pig; 5) Making everything anyone says that he disagrees with soley about making him look like an idiot.

My favorite part, though, is all the bragging about living in the Bronx. Classic stuff.

Cheers, Brian. Come back anytime. The six of us will cherish the memories of that time you showed everybody just what's what.

Brian From The Bronx
Glitter Graphics

Brian from the Bronx:


this is my last post, cuz I know by getting pissy on your forum its only benefiting you and the 5 disgruntled gyopo haters who read it.

jinbahgi & praise : boo fucking hoo, you got ripped on in high school for be asian. Get a fucking grip.

Jinbahji : All that shit about white people coming to korea for women, or whatever.... ummmm... look at your boy Gary? what race is his hypersensitive girlfriend? Trust me, nobody needs to move to korea to get a korean girlfriend, how do i know u ask? I met my girl, who happens to be asian, 5 blocks from my apt here in NY. So shut the fuck up and dont hate people cuz they get laid. ALSO, Praise,...Don't tell me that cuz Im white i know what its like to be the majority or whatever the fuck that shit is you(whoever the fuck u r) was babbling about. Comes to Kingsbridge road in the Bronx, nyc, and tell me im a majority here. yea, ur retarded. Shut up.

Gary, I dont know who the fuck u think u are, "making an example of me" but in reality, your a spineless tit. Continue trying to reveal the "oppressive" and "racist" nature of white people. You're making urself look like a fucking clown.

If u had any fucking consideration for anyone, namely me, who did absolutely nothing wrong to anyone you would take this video down because its very demeaning, and very poisonous.

aite, morons, peace

James and Ross, im sorry i went off like this, but seriously, even tho i know im probably not the first to tell them. theyre fucking complete wankers.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

dagTopics: On Foreigners Treating Korea Like a Zoo

about "dagTopics" Through controversy and conflict and good debate, we learn from each other. I post something about my life here in Seoul. I add a little commentary that presents my point of view. Though I'm always trying to be clear and focused, I'm not always settled about how I feel about the issues. Those issues that bug me and that I think are profound enough to share, I'll post as open topics under the title "dagTopics". My hope is that I can discuss the issues with friends and strangers. As long as the comments aren't from trolls or flamers, all will be welcome.

In comedy, there's a significant difference between laughing at someone and laughing with them. The problem is magnified when the way we classify people--sex/gender, class, and/or race--is foregrounded within comic situations. Comedy can be oppressive, even when we're just out to get a laugh. The foreigner-authored video below, from Seoul, shows exactly how oppression works in humor: if the man is the joke, and he is in this example, it's oppressive. And I'd say, in this case, racist. And that will likely piss off the people who are a part of the video because it's more than apparent that they're absolutely unaware about how offensive it actually is. And I'd say, tough, because they should be more aware and they should care about it.

I've had it with people who are incapable (because they don't care to be more responsible) of understanding how offensive and bigoted some of their behavior ends up being. There is a two-fold response from my foreign friends in these situations. First, they like to point out how they are with Koreans. "You know, we were with Koreans and they didn't have a problem with it" is a typical argument. Second, folks will point out that they weren't intending to be oppressive. (In addition, somebody is sure to write about how bigoted Koreans are in the comments following this post. So, a third response is always that the subjects are bigots, too.)

I'm tired of hearing foreigners defend offensive behavior; saying "I'm with Koreans" is just as dumb as saying "Some of my best friends are black/gay/Mexican/[insert commonly oppressed person's class.]" My UK and US friends know better: they would never be permitted to make that bullshit claim at home. Why is it permissible here?

It's embarrassing for me to watch this video and think that these folks felt that filming an old man enjoying himself in a park near his home and mocking him is funny. I say they think it was worth doing because they published the video for everyone to see. That it was something that might make people laugh, well that annoys me even more.

What is it in this video that we are supposed to laugh at or with? Why laugh at or laugh with? Well, try this. Watch the video with the sound off and then with the sound on. With the sound off, there's nothing much to find offensive. The video might seem a little intrusive. But the old guy is dancing in public. We don't know the author's intention and, I'd argue, it's not worth it to guess. With the sound on, however, the whole purpose and intent of the video become part of the viewing experience: from the exaggerated laughing and filming the people laughing to the sexual quip at the end about being turned on, the entire narrative is framed at the expense of the man. The joke is him. Not the dancing. Not something happening around him. Nothing coincidental. It's staged to show the white people laughing at and mocking the Korean man. In addition, I know that Koreans were present at this scene and with the foreigners making the video. Where are they? Why are they not shown mocking the man? (I can answer that but I don't think you need me to.)

The fact is, the folks aren't sharing a moment with the old man that is genuinely humorous; they are mocking him in order to actively and aggressively create a comic moment. And this is where racism becomes an issue. And what 할아버지 (harabeoji: grandfather) is doing isn't by any stretch of the imagination odd. It is humorous, I suppose. I'd smile and laugh, for sure. So, don't get me wrong.

I'm trying hard to make the point that the audio does something to what we're supposed to find funny, changes the innocent humor in an old man dancing in a park to a more critical humor that examines the man himself, and it laughs at his expense because of who he is.

Quite frankly, I find the video rather disturbing and unfunny. I never have been comfortable with using a video camera in this manner. Nevertheless, without the banter, the video is funny and rather candid. It captures something real, possibly poignant. The video is engaging because of what somebody did with a mundane moment. It's a 28 second primer in how photography is never innocent.

I think you'd have to be naive and precious not to understand that this clip is offensive. Yet, I see foreigners in Korea acting like this all the time: turning on a camera to capture a Korean doing something while pointing and laughing at the Korean. I have to admit that my knee-jerk reaction is to beat the shit out of the dumb white person. In the US, I'm surrounded by unconscious bigotry everyday. Not your institutionalized and structural problems that people ignore, but your outright racist behavior that your friends insist you ignore. I never have ignored it and I'm not about to start now. Fortunately, I can write. I'd hate to put my future in jeopardy simply because a couple of my foreign friends are haters.

I realize all foreigners in Korea aren't white. But it'll come as no surprise to my readers that the yelling, screaming and mocking groups of foreigners are usually white. Will it?

Here's the video. If you haven't watched it and want to, I can show it to you offline. I removed the video per the authors' request. Continue to use the comments to discuss.

Friday, March 12, 2010

2,000 Atheists Attend Church In Australia

Well, the church of atheism. It's surely a slow news day for the BBC when they're reporting on who's gathering where. The atheists met to draft a statement about the negative effects of religion on the world, among other things.

...theists will likely continue drafting statements about the negative effects of non-believers on the world. The conversation will never move ahead because neither group is at all interested in permitting differences in beliefs.

Happy, Happy. Joy, Joy.

Trouble Finds Me

Good thing I'm not 14, or Hongdae would be wrapped in plastic tonight.

Plastic Wrap Door Trick - More DIY How To Projects

Be sure to select "view all on one page" so you can watch the prank in action.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Grassroots Politics in Seoul: Free School Lunches Movement

Free school lunches movement becoming a key issue of June 2 regional elections : National : Home
Lee Chang-rim, a 33-year-old candidate for Seoul’s Dobong District Council who has decided to run in the June regional elections, is a ‘citizens’ candidate.’ Lee does not belong to any political party. His support base consists of grassroots groups like Korean Womenlink, Hansalim, the National Association of Parents for True Education, the Saenggeul Jageun Library and the Dobong Citizens‘ Association. Lee said, “In Dobong, grassroots groups have maintained a tradition of staying active in their own areas and then running a ‘citizens’ candidate’ in every local election.”

This is Lee’s second attempt at a regional election. In 2006, he ran for district council, emphasizing the issue of free school lunches. The response from the community was enthusiastic. Middle and high school students without the right to vote took pictures of menu boards with their cell phones and sent text massages saying, “Chang-rim, please change this.” Student parents patted his shoulders and said, “It is a really great thing that you are doing.” But in the end, he was unable to overcome the Grand National Party’s forceful wind. Lee said, “In the regional elections over the years, we have constantly seen the wind of centralized politics sweeping through, contrary to the intention behind introducing the local government system, which was to spread grassroots democracy.”

The year I arrived in Korea, the free school lunches movement was in full swing. I haven't heard much about it again until this story from today's 한겨래 (Hankyoreh). I don't know what it's like at most schools, but the student meals were awful stuff at my high school. The food cooked for faculty and staff was not much better. This year, because of the popularity of the issue and parents and students complaining, the school has hired one of its own faculty members to be the nutritionist and plan meals. So families and employees have had their say, and the nutritionist has a rather significant obligation to do well.

We have healthier (smaller) portion sizes, less 반찬 (banchan: side dishes which are an important part to Korean food culture and a good meal must have them) and higher quality food. This should result in less waste and less expense while creating better health. A win all around. Believe it or not, some teachers are complaining because of the healthier portions. That's old school Korean thinking: more food is better. I don't get it, but it's part of the food culture and tied to feelings about food and wealth. But you can't really argue with better, healthier food. For now, the new system is working. I hope they adopt it permanently.

Anyway, it appears as if the Grand National Party is losing its popularity here. It's hard to tell because Koreans don't talk politics like Americans do. So, I don't ask. And the mainstream English newspapers' coverage of political news is lacking. Well, The Hankyoreh is very political, but it's a left wing paper. It's hard to judge what moderate Koreans think about these things. But conservatives are not popular here except with the oldest generations who remain rather staunchly conservative on principle. (Meaning they hate everything equally.) Korea's conservative movement, like the one in the US, suffers from a lack of new ideas and lack of desire to treat younger generations and their explicit progressive spirit with any visible public respect.

Hopefully, Lee Chang Rim can get elected. A young, progressive candidate fighting for students' rights (by proxy, parents' rights) is pretty cool grassroots politics here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Kicking Against the Pricks

Reports: SKorean Internet addicts let baby starve - Boston.com

Posted using ShareThis

When something awful happens in Korea, awful enough to make the news--police killing protesters, sexual predation, parents killing their children, a President committing suicide--the entire culture seems to participate in a collective and public embarrassment and dread regarding answering what it means that something that awful could happen in Korea. They don't want to talk about it; it puts everyone into a real funk. It's an entirely different response to similar and more common incidents in the United States, where I feel Americans expect such spectacles and especially on the evening news. I was about to ask a Korean colleague about the Internet Addict story the other day and found myself pausing suddenly and changing the subject. I realized that I was only asking because I wanted to make her uncomfortable. I was a little shocked at my motivation.

When considering the seedy United States, Koreans hear old and new stories about lynchings, rapes, fathers killing their families then killing themselves, an increasing number of convicted sex offenders, and rampant drug addiction. Anything spectacular happens in the US, and I will be asked about it over lunch. My interviewer will study my response with a subtle yet shocked expression as if to say, Really, you seem all right but what's wrong with you guys? (Lately, the questions have been about health care. Why don't you want everybody to have health care?)

Not that I'm bothered for a moment that Koreans believe Americans are perverts. So much of this is based on naive acceptance of gossip as fact, and I'm kind of the example that proves otherwise. On the other hand, the history of Americans in Asia, and Korea in particular, is far from exemplary. Sure many of us are doing good work here, but that's not enough to change the overall perception of the US and American culture. And judging from the activity I've witnessed here, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that my Korean friends think we're childish and self-centered snobs. I've heard as much, but with an apology because I'm not that way but America seems like it is. Add to the suspicions that we are, in fact, the most militaristic nation, consistently driven to protect economic interest through participation in foreign wars and maintaining a militarized presence in many countries, and you know it's safe to say that you'd have to be a jingoistic prick to not sympathize with their lack of trust and faith.

Anyway, I have to admit that Americans are often treated like the perverted 14 year old down the street who the parents tolerate but keep at a distance because they think he's been humping their dogs while they work. Or, at least that's how I sometimes feel about the stares I get from women, grandmas, and old men while I'm walking around town. Many of my friends complain about how we're perceived, but it's going to take a long time for Koreans to collectively decide there's true value in global multiculturalism and to learn to reform the nationalist spirit with which it shelters its racism and racists.

I would be a little more interested in my fellow expats' complaints if included in them were, for example, any compassion for other workers, other immigrant laborers who live here and are truly oppressed, like say the thousands of Chinese who live in close to abject poverty in my Gu, who slave away in Seoul's restaurants. But this is representative of a general disconnect white Americans have from the reality of oppression. White folks love to complain about how they are treated while ignoring the horrible oppression of others. Throw them an orphan to cuddle or an old comfort woman to cry about on weekends and they're back to complaining about racism at Monday night dinner. The excuse for complaining ad nauseam being that nobody should be treated this way. I hate the "least of all me" mentality most: the notion that we are to be treated well because we are here habit.

I don't buy it. I think it's easy to look at Koreans in Korea and criticize their failures at understanding what multiculturalism is all about. It's easy, not because Korean society is so monolithic, but because Americans fail at achieving the benefits true multiculturalism can provide a diverse society. We fail at it, yet we expect Korea to open it arms to us and provide with access to its culture without expecting us to assimilate and while permitting us to appropriate.

This story about the baby who starved while her parents were playing a video game where they were raising a virtual child has scandalized Korea and Koreans. They abhor stories like this and are extremely embarrassed by them. I was in a devilish mood the other day and thought about going around asking folks about it, teasing them I guess, like they ask me about American embarrassments. But I checked that little devil and let the temptation pass. Who needs another white guy telling them that their country has problems? Especially when I am one their problems.

Shoe Story

From The New York Times:
SEOUL, South Korea — In South Korea, where people often remove their shoes before entering homes, restaurants or funeral parlors, it is a nagging problem: people walking off with others’ shoes, either by mistake or, sometimes, intentionally.

Still, Detective Kim Jeong-gu’s jaw dropped recently when he opened the warehouse of an ex-convict in Seoul and found 170 apple boxes packed with 1,700 pairs of expensive designer shoes, sorted by size and brand, and all believed to have been stolen.

“Shoe theft is not unusual here,” Detective Kim, 28, said. “But we gasped at this one.”
Many of my colleagues have stories of lost shoes. After soccer games, I keep my nice pair of Adidas in my bag.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Motivated Grammar's National Grammar Day Post

While you're waiting for me to get my act together and post about my first week back at classes, you should be reading this: National Grammar Day 2010: Ten More Common Grammar Myths, Debunked

From the post:
Every time National Grammar Day comes around, I’m struck with a spot of dread. Any of my friends or acquaintances might, at any moment, spring upon me and shout “Hey! It’s totally your day! So don’t you hate when people use the passive voice, since you’re all into grammar?” And then I will be forced, as the crabby old coot I am, to meet their well-meaning inquiry with the level of vitriol normally reserved for a hairdresser who’s decided to treat your head as a testing ground for a new theory of hair design. “No,” I’ll shout, “that’s not it at all! I love the passive, I love variation! Grammar isn’t about telling people what they can’t say; it’s about finding out what people do say, and why they say it!” And through that outburst, my Facebook friend count will be reduced by one.

My problem with National Grammar Day (and most popular grammarians in general) is that it suggests that the best part of studying language is the heady rush of telling people that they shouldn’t say something. But if you really study language, you know that there’s so much more to it than that. Each time March 4th comes and goes, we’re missing an opportunity to show people how wonderful the field of linguistics is. So if you’ll permit me to steal a moment, let me show you the two papers that really made me fall in love with the field.

My favorite part is MG's note that Strunk & White is NOT a grammar reference and should NOT be used as one. Nothing irks me more than style guide geeks using their guides as a grammar reference.

Though I have to say I hate the passive in composition. I don't see it as people writing like they speak but people not knowing how to focus on their subjects acting and, worse, not comprehending what actions they are describing. But that's a small beef.

Anyway, I'm a fan of Motivated Grammar. Good Blog.

See you soon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010