Friday, December 23, 2011

dagNotes: on privilege and white power in Korea

[from my tumblr blog, posted earlier today]

In my last post, I talked about the problem with white people coming to Korea and suddenly becoming conscious of race. Except, they don’t see white power and privilege, which is everywhere on display. They see racist Koreans.

Then, I received an anonymous ask shouting at me for being white and calling out white supremacists and racism. An obvious troll, but one who provides me with an opportunity to discuss why white people experiencing racism like the young woman in the former post are so misinformed.

I’m white. I argue I have a responsibility to betray my inherited privilege and unearned ambition. And not for any reward either. Simply because I, like everyone else, have an ethical obligation to fight the white power structure that constructs individuals as white subjects. White people don’t exist. Whiteness is constructed and protected and inherited. I may be able to benefit most from this racist ideological apparatus that shapes capitalist society, but I should reject it. It’s a moral obligation, in my opinion.

And as some folks are claiming, I’m not doing this to point the finger at white privilege. I’m actually trying to examine how it works for myself and in my life, and I’m writing about it. DagSeoul isn’t a “white people are privileged” blog. So, please stop sending me stupid shit in my ask-box about that.


I don’t go around claiming I’ve experienced racism in the manner most white people do. Most talk about angry black people, hateful hispanics, crazy Koreans—jealous others whose envy for power causes them to hate their whiteness so much that they act in a racist manner. Of course, that’s utter nonsense. It’s bullshit. That’s not racism. Yelling at whiteness, hating whiteness, having a problem with white people isn’t always racist. It’s a sign of white power. It’s a response to white supremacy.

I play football almost every Saturday in Korea. I live in a Korean neighborhood, so all my teammates are Koreans. They’re all men. They’re almost all younger than me. I’m bigger than all of them. Stronger than many. I’m not the most skilled footballer, but I’ve played since 1978. I’ve got skill. I can score. I’m fast. I know and love the game. And, I can run all day. When a bald (I shave my head) and bearded white guy is booking down the field with the ball, it’s intimidating. A lot of Korean guys are super-fit and strong, but smaller than me. When I run into them at full speed, I feel it, but they really feel it. And I play a much more physical style of football than Koreans do. Fans of the game will understand this. Most guys love it when I show up with my Korean teammates to play. They talk to me on the field. It’s fun. But it’s not always fun.

When I first arrived, a colleague took me around to meet various clubs in the area. Word got around rather quickly that there was a foreigner who wanted to play and he was good. I got asked to play by my team. I was invited. I considered myself lucky. I really figured I’d have to find foreigners to play with, but I wanted so much to play with Koreans. It’s one of the reasons I was excited about coming here. Anyway, I felt accepted. In a few months, I had twenty-five younger brothers. It was a wonderful feeling.

One of the teams we regularly played often got very mad at my teammates that I was playing so well. It appeared that way to me. I didn’t get it. I’ve since learned that some Korean players think its unfair that they should have to play a foreigner. I’m big and strong and can hurt them. I don’t hurt them, but we’re talking intimidation here. I had so intimidated a couple of players that they couldn’t contain their frustrations any longer. After a day of playing together, they confronted me and my team. We almost had a brawl. My teammates were standing up for me. I was pulling guys away from one another. And one player on the other team yelled, “Yankee, Go home!” Some of us laughed. Some of my teammates wanted to fight. The oldest players stepped in and yelled at everyone. My wife had showed up to watch. She was very upset.

Simple story, right? I play. I play with Koreans. I play well. A little physical, but nothing dirty. I score goals. My team wins a lot. The frustrated players on the other team blame the foreigner for fucking up the peace. One guy says something insulting. Many white people would call it racist. Dude’s a hater. It’s not even racist.

Once, I parked my scooter in front of a cafe and the owner told me to move it somewhere else. She didn’t want it in front of her shop. I told her it was legal. She yelled at me for being a spoiled foreigner. Many white people would call it racist. But. It’s not even racist.

I’ve been involved in pushy moments in the crowded subway where I’ve been yelled at in Korean, called out as a rude foreigner. Many white people would call it racist. But. It’s not even racist.

Koreans who call me out for doing things Koreans often do and explicitly scolding me as a foreigner are often referred to by white people in Korea as racist Koreans. They’re not racists.

White people love to see racism against them. And why not. White power works that way. White people are raised to feel precious and deserving of good treatment. They deserve respect. Why would anybody pick on them because of who they are?

Fact is, there are haters in Korea. The longer I live here, on the other hand, the more I recognize my white privilege is in full effect here. And the rudeness with which I’m treated at times simply requires a little patience and understanding. This might sound patronizing, but it’s not. After all, I was brought here and treated well because of who I am, treated well in a manner that the majority of Koreans will never experience.

I’m often asked, Why would you come to Korea? Koreans talk about their country being no bigger than a booger (우리나라는 코딱지 만큼…)  or no bigger than a palm (우리나라는 손바닥 만큼…). Why would I come to a place most Koreans can’t leave? Well, the answer is because I’m privileged. That’s the answer. The humiliating aspect of that answer is its correlation: I can leave whenever I want to. In other words, I can go home. I have a place to go other than here. I can return. That’s what Koreans see me as sometimes, but especially when they’re annoyed at me. They are confronted with privilege. And they sometimes take it out on me. It’s not racism. Try telling that to many white people in Korea, though.

I’d have to be a real dick to deny this privilege. That guy yelling “Yankee, go home” at me is reaching for something to say at all in the face of my belligerent presence in his life. He was being a dick, but he can’t speak English and he yelled the one insult in English he knew might hurt my feelings. The power he feels that oppresses him in a daily manner is a problem with Korean culture, centuries of oppression. Shit I don’t get. But I’ve added another element. Now he has to play soccer, on his day off, with a white guy who reminds him of a specific and painful lack of privilege and I’m going to knock him down, too. I’d be a dick not to expect some sort of response.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


well, i have been writing and reading and working towards my short return to the states next year
when i'll attempt to defend my dissertation and wrap up my business at university of denver before returning to korea.
until then, posting here will be sparse.

i post daily on my dagseoul tumblr blog. i have a large community of readers there. if you're on tumblr, follow me.

i'll likely pick up posting on this blog when i return to writing about pedagogy and begin teaching again.

right now, i'm a jobless writer. writing.

Monday, November 7, 2011

DagSound: Burn Out Session, No5

DagSound: Burn Out Session, No5 
Download it or stream it after the jump.


  • DJ Pantshead “The Good, the Bad, the Freak”
  • Evolution Control Committee “No Time for Yes”
  • Beastie Boys “Cooky Puss”
  • UTFO “Split Personality”
  • Jungle Brothers “Because I Got It Like That”
  • Boogie Down Productions “My Philosophy”
  • Erik B & Rakim “Follow the Leader”
  • MC Lyte “Lyte as a Rock”
  • 3rd Bass “The Gas Face (feat Zev Luv X)”
  • A Tribe Called Quest “Excursions”
  • De La Soul “Bitties in the BK Lounge”
  • DJ Quick “Loked Out Hood”
  • Biz Markie “Just a Friend”
  • Big Daddy Kane “Smooth Operator”
  • Steady B “I Got Cha”
  • Salt N Peppa “My Mic Sounds Nice”
  • UTFO “Roxanne Roxanne”
  • Techmaster P.E.B. “Bassgasm”
  • GZA “0% Finance”
  • King Geedorah “Krazy World (Feat Gigan)”
  • Mos Def “Mathematics”
  • Wu-Tang Clan “Shame On a Nigga”
  • Dalek “Blessed are they who bash your children’s heads against a rock”
  • Dalek “No question”
  • De La Soul “Stakes is High”
  • DJ Pantshead “D’oh Yeah The Slurp”
  • Evolution Control Committee “Star Spangled Bologna”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Social inequality worsening in South Korea

Social inequality worsening in South Korea

Ben McGrath's great article reminds us about Korea's a particularly cruel austerity measure for Korean workers called "job sharing" that, as it turns out, has done nothing to relieve unemployment problems here. It's not hurting corporate profits, though. Check it out.

Job sharing can be advantageous for employees. It's not hard to think of the reasons for it working well for certain kinds of workers and the challenges it presents a employers and employees. However, job sharing is not good for Korean workers. It's used here to produce increased profit in corporations during a weak economic cycle. Employee wages do not increase, employment apparently increases, productivity increases, profits increase. It's a way to make employees bear the burden of austerity on behalf of their employers who bear little if any at all.

Like American workers, South Korean workers have been forced to take on more and more debt due to declining wages. According to figures from the National Tax Service last August, per capita earnings for the lowest 20 percent of workers liable for general income tax decreased by 35 percent between 1999 and 2009.

In no small part, this decline in wages came from casualisation of employment. The number of irregular workers—workers without contracts—has risen sharply since 1998. Today, more than half of the workforce, or 17 million people, are considered irregular, earning an average of just 1.35 million won a month ($1,145), or 57 percent of the regular average wage. Irregular workers are also subjected to workplace discrimination and firing at the whim of employers.

The chief architect of this “labour flexibility” was Democrat President Kim Dae-jung, elected in 1998, who imposed the conditions set by the International Monetary Fund for a $10 billion bailout in the midst of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Kim’s successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued to develop the Democratic Party’s anti-working class policy, introducing the falsely named Irregular Worker Protection Act in 2007. Employers were required to offer contracts to workers who remained for two years. However, companies exploited loopholes that allowed them to fire their irregular workers before the completion of their two years. After Lee came to power in 2008, he maintained the loopholes.

The result has been a rapid expansion of cheap labour. International Labour Organisation statistics show that workers earning two-thirds less than median wage comprise 25.6 percent of the workforce, compared to 24.8 percent in the US and 15 percent in Japan.

The so-called “poor class”—defined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development as households earning less than 50 percent of the median income—increased to 3.52 million or over 20 percent of the total in 2009, double the OECD average of 10.6 percent. The so-called middle classes, earning 50-150 percent of the median income, declined from 60.4 percent in 2003 to 55.5 percent in 2009, according to Statistics Korea.

By sharp contrast, the top corporate executives—including President Lee, a former Hyundai CEO—have made extraordinary fortunes. The 2011 list of the 40 richest individuals in South Korea saw a record of 21 US dollar billionaires, up from 11 in 2010 and 5 in 2009. Last year, they added more than $20 billion to their collective wealth, now worth $65.6 billion.

Samsung’s Lee Kun-hee is No.1, with net wealth of $9.3 billion, ahead of Hyundai Motor’s Chung Mong-koo, whose fortune jumped 80 percent to $7.4 billion last year. That was not the most dramatic rise. Nexon online gaming owner Kim Jung-ju leapt 260 percent to $2.06 billion, while Mirae Asset Management Group’s Park Hyeon-joo tripled his worth to $1.5 billion.

Sections of the ruling elite are warning about the explosive consequences of this sharp polarisation between the powerful corporate elite and millions of poorly-paid workers. Former Premier Chung Un-chan warned in July that the gap between rich and poor had reached such a “grave level” that there was a “possibility of our society collapsing.” This was “a more serious matter than relations with North Korea,” he said.

Friday, October 21, 2011

dagSound: Burn Out Sessions, No4

I've just uploaded Burn Out No4: Bombed Out Lovers to dropbox. You can find it on my tumblr or on dagSound. Download it or stream it (if you have the most recent browsers.)

Enjoy And Play It Loud.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Something Rachel Maddow Doesn't Know

While talking about Korean President Lee Myung Bak, fucking Rachel Maddow said the Korean language is “written in the most part using Chinese characters" during the last segment of her show while making a stupid point about pronouncing the President's name.

Apparently, Maddow’s writers didn’t even bother typing “korean and language” into Google. Hangul Day was just last week, for crying out loud. 565 years ago, Korea created its own alphabet. Hangul should not be confused with Hanja, the Chinese characters Koreans use that Maddow seems to be thinking about but knows nothing about. Maybe she was thinking about 19th Century Korea when Chinese was still prevalent here? I don’t know. Maybe she was trying to refer to the fact that many Korean personal names are based on Hanja? I don’t know. She certainly wasn’t thinking about a good portion of the 20th Century when Japan occupied Korea and outlawed Hangukmal forcing Koreans to take Japanese names and to learn Japanese.

It doesn’t matter. Korean is most certainly not “written in the most part using Chinese characters.” It wouldn’t have taken more than a minute of work to figure this out so that Maddow could make her stupid point about how we spell his name, Lee, is not how we pronounce his name in Korea, “eee”.

FTW. Americans are such idiots when it comes to Korea. Maddow should know better because she’s got an army of fans that hang on her every word. We’re still engaged in war in Korea. We have had our American hands involved with shaping this peninsula for over 100 years, often causing intense suffering and harm because of our actions: turning our backs on Korea when Japan occupied, waging war in their country, turning our backs on democracy fighters in Gwangju in 1980. We should know about Korea.

If she wanted to say something cute, nerdy and interesting about the surname 이 (most commonly pronounced “Lee” in English and pronounced “eee” in Korean) she could have talked about all the variations Chinese and Korean immigrants used.  For example: Lee, Li, Yee, Yi, Rhee are all the same name.

Here's the segment:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Pessimistic Whiteness: It's your privilege catching up to you

Life is getting hard for white people in the United States, and they’re not happy about it. The government is to blame, right? Not so fast.

What happens when white people become class conscious? In other words, what happens when a white family wakes up from the dream of upward mobility to find that they, like all the non-white families around them, aren’t quickly moving up the social ladder?

Apparently, they give up hope for a better life while their nonwhite neighbors believe, with a little time, they’ll be better off than they are today. In my opinion, what we see in this story is a desire for whites to hang on to their whiteness. In order to cling to whiteness, they give up their optimistic looking forward to wealth and general, social upward-mobility. They say, At least I’m white. That statement embodies white pessimism.

The research is proving Lillian Smith’s claim about the bargain poor whites make with wealthy whites about wealth and whiteness. She published Killers of the Dream in 1949. Guess it takes the popular culture 63 years or so to wake up to the reality that when white people realize they aren’t “getting rich,” they become satisfied with their social and economic status and begin relying on whiteness itself to provide its unique and unearned privileges. Others must look forward to the potential for upward mobility in spite of its difficult achievement because they aren’t born privileged, and they know it. They’ve didn’t inherit access to privilege and they realize they must work hard if they’re to have any opportunity to achieve. They can remain, or be seen to remain, hopeful. White people feel it’s owed to them. When they don’t get success, they become (get) pessimistic.

Check out this article from The Atlantic, “Why Whites Are More Pessimistic About Their Future Than Minorities”. The Atlantic doesn’t put it like I did above, but that’s not surprising. I think it’s an operation of white power: we’re encouraged to look at non-white families to see what’s different about white families. Such narratives provide us, as a culture, with the notion that we are integrated. Of course, white people are pessimistic. We are taught to expect (to inherit) privilege. I’m not saying The Atlantic article is racist, so don’t get me wrong. I’m just pointing out that an article (that examines white pessimism) is mostly written about non-white people. White is always in contrast with others. It’s always non-essential to the narratives that describe it. Dig?

Why do white people blame the government? Because the bargain they make with white privilege is that they will never blame wealthy white Capitalists, the actual culprits. SEE ALSO, crass libertarianism, capitalist libertarians, Ron Paul dittoheads. These people have a radical certainty that they, too, have a natural right to achieve the wealth rich folks merely inherit.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ignore my crappy Hangukmal, but not my privilege.

I'm working hard at being a better Korean speaker and reader. I'm trying to learn. I'm in my fourth year here and I've lived in the same neighborhood for three years. I feel at home here.

I'm trying to learn. I'm in my fourth year. I've lived in my neighborhood for three years. It's very hard to go from knowing beginning Korean to knowing complex Korean--what we call intermediate Korean here. So difficult. Especially out of school. The learning curve for beginning Korean is not too high. If you speak Korean as often as possible and practice with friends, you can do well because Korean has strict rules that once learned and understood help instruct more than confuse. And the longer you live here, you learn to mask your foreign accent and sound a little more Korean. But once you've mastered small talk in Hangukmal, the learning curve becomes difficult.

I'm excited, though. Next year, I'll be in school full-time, five days a week at Sungkyunkwan University. I get a family discount on tuition--thanks wife!--and am going to take advantage of it while I'm unemployed. Goal is to be at a good level of spoken Korean next Summer. I want to be able to use Korean and resort to English. That's not as easy as it sounds.

It's hard because I feel super-guilty the longer I stay. I want to talk to my friends with more than small talk. It's my responsibility. I feel obligated. This obligation-feeling, the impulse to be obligated, is very Korean. It's not something we learn in the US. I feel obligated to the folks in my neighborhood to learn Korean. I could reject the obligation, as most of the foreigners who live here do. To be fair, most do try to learn survival Korean and some learn the next level, small-talk Korean. And many succeed. But it takes dedication to be good (intermediate,) even a little schooling. So, it takes investment and dedication.

I just went for a drink to the corner store and the clerk wanted to know why it's been a while since he saw me. I told him I've been studying. He asked where. I told him, no I'm writing at home. He then asked me what exactly I was doing. He didn't understand because I confused him. Studying at home? For what? Well, that's hard to explain because it's technical. And I can do it with Korean and English, which he can't understand because he can't use English. Now, I feel obligated to learn so I can tell him.

I'd never have felt this way in the US, for example, felt obligated to learn Spanish to speak with my neighbors in West Denver. I had twenty years to do that and not once did I say it with a sense of obligation, I should learn Spanish. And not one native English speaker would ever feel obligated. It's a choice. I wanted to learn Spanish, but I studied Latin. (Why the fuck did I study Latin. What a dork.)

That I still have the option to invest and dedicate myself to learning Korean language while living and working in Korea while my Korean neighbors are obligated to learn English is a sign of my privilege. And this is something many foreigners simply don't care to understand.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Annoying things white people do when they get to Korea

Arrive in Korea and insist they're an oppressed minority and discover prejudice, bigotry, exaggeration, hatred, and inequality everywhere around them. Fucking Korea!

Then, they start blogging about how bad Korea is: they post on ESL forums; they post on expat forums. The time spent is Korea becomes an examination of popular culture and media--the way Koreans see and represent foreigners. When you search for theses authors on the google, you will learn that their activism only developed after they arrived in Korea. And the ones who've left, well, they stopped their vital work informing against hate and oppression as soon as they got home.

White Power Douchebaggery, even in Korea. This shit is what I call the privilege of being able to leave minority status behind enables and emboldens thousands of privileged white mother-fuckers to speak out against non-white haters. It's Safe Activism: thousands of white people each year finding a place, like Korea, to displace their own privilege and to project their own guilt and shame.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

dagSounds: Burn Out No3 "Live Fast Love Hard Die Young"

Just posted the latest Burn Out over on my Tumblr blog and dagSound. Check it out. Can download it from my Dropbox or stream it in your browser.

Burn Out No3 Playlist:
Eat “Communist Radio”
Classic Ruins “1+1<2”
Anti-Nowhere League “I Hate People”
Trodskids “Gueule d’Enfer”
Red Kross “Everyday There’s Someone New”
New Bomb Turks “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young”
The Cramps “The Crusher”
The Compulsive Gamblers “Pepper Spray Boogie”
April March & The Makers “I Just MIght Crack”
Thee Headcoats “I Don’t Like the Man I Am”
The Pretty Things “Buzz the Jerk”
Scientists “Human Jukebox”
The Birthday Party “Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)”
Foetus “The Throne of Agony”
Radio Birdman “Murder City Nights”
The Flamin Groovies “Teenage Head”
Elf Power “Drug Store” (live @ WFMU)
Neats “6”
Nick Lowe “So It Goes”
Kenny “I Don’t Miss You”
Smoke “My Friend Jack”
The Dirty Shames “I Don’t Care”
The Drones “I’m Down Today”
Elvis Ph’o’ng “Bai Ca Ngong” (The Crazy Song)
Dara Pusrita “To Love Somebody”
P.P. Arnold “God Only Knows”
펄 시스터즈  ”커피한잔” (The Pearl Sisters “A Cup of Coffee”)
산울림 - “나 어떡해” (Sanullim “What am I going to do?”)
Michel Polnareff “Time will Tell”
Mary Weiss with The Reigning Sound “Don’t Come Back”
The Equals “Baby Come Back”
The Equals “Police on My Back”
King Kahn & The Shrines “No Regrets”
The Ponys “Let’s Kill Ourselves”

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Alien Registration Transformation & Changed My Address

Happily was E-2;
am now F-1.

It's good for two years and multi-entry.

Worth noting is that the old address system is not used by government offices any longer. Even though I gave the address I've used for three years, the one printed on the back of my ARC card corresponds to the new street name and building number. My villa number remains the same.

Last year Korea standardized addresses nationwide, affording each street a name. Before that, Koreans relied on building numbers assigned to places within neighborhoods, within districts, within cities to find people. It could be difficult. Blue street signs and blue building placards appeared almost overnight. It appears we can begin using them for official things like mail. Probably always could, but you never know.

So my address is now:

[Street Name]로26가길 70-0 B3호 (Street Name +Street# +Building# + Unit#)
관악구 (District)
서울특별시 (City)

It's simpler. I like it. Easy to find people anywhere in this maze of a city.

With an appointment and all the paperwork handy, the Visa process isn't too difficult here. I stress appointment. My replacement at my high school spent what sounds like a few hours at immigration without an appointment. And the school made him go the day all his fellow newbies to Korea were certain to show up with their new colleagues to wait. Bad idea.

Other great thing about this F-1. No testing. None.

Friday, August 19, 2011


So, I hear somebody's raking in the points and publicly airing his dirty laundry. I'm not surprised;

I wonder if she got pissed that he made her sign a contract in triplicate.

Thee Dreaded Sojourn to Korean Immigration

This post is for anyone coming to or new to Korea.

I was fortunate to have a Vice Principal at my high school back in 2008 who had lived in Europe and Saudi Arabia prior to returning to Korea to work at my school before leaving again to work in Russia. He expected how I’d react to Korean bureaucracy and made sure to accompany me to immigration and teach me how to maneuver through the system. In addition, he foreshadowed many of the conflicts I’d have with Korean co-teachers, and though he was strict with me, he didn’t permit my stubborn colleagues to blame everything on me either.

What many foreigners fail to realize when working the immigration system—well, any Korean bureaucracy—is that to get what you want, especially if your request is at all different and/or strange, you must be pushy. In addition, you must have followed all the rules. If you miss a step, there’s no mercy and no help.

You really don’t have a choice. I have to admit that it took me a while to figure it out. Being pushy is not something I like doing as it was culturally drilled into my head to not be pushy because being pushy is always rude. It’s a necessity here. In fact, the more Hangukmal I learn, the more I realize that it often works to my benefit to be pushy in Hangukmal. In English, pushiness always sounds abusive. In Korean, it often sounds desperate. I think we can call it earnest pushiness. It’s more than demanding insistence. Earnest pushiness permits a speaker to share his or her frustration without blaming the listener(s).

And I’ve discovered that when I’m polite and pushy—in other words, desperate—I begin to receive sympathy from the Koreans who are tasked to help me and who work customer service. Hangukmal permits being polite and pushy at the same time. English doesn’t. Especially to Koreans who might not speak English well. Pushiness in English always sounds shrill and is always unwelcome.

So, you have to be pushy. In addition, you have to recognize when something begins to happen for you, when things start to go your way, it’s best to thank the person helping you and tell them you appreciate their working for you. Even if you’re annoyed at the help, thank them both for helping you and for understanding your confusion. It’s worth it.

Today, I had to go to immigration for two reasons. My annual visa is set to expire in less than 7 days. Because I will remain in Korea as an unemployed guest, my current alien registration ID is worthless. As of the 25th, I’d be here illegally without a new contract from my school or another educational institution. I needed to apply for an extension of stay, which gives me 30 additional days simply for showing up to apply. In addition, I needed to apply for a Visiting Spouse Visa, which will permit me to come and go from Korea at my leisure and for as long as my wife is employed here.

The first step is a common one for foreigners between jobs. With the most recent immigration regulations, Immigration expects me to show up at the end of my legal stay and request an extension. They’ll automatically give me 30 days for applying. The second request, however, is strange—not strange that I’m married and want to stay in Korea, but strange because my wife is a gyopo and American citizen and not a Korean citizen. Gyopos are one kind of persons with Korean ancestry who aren’t Korean citizens. My wife is a second generation American. Her parents left Korea in the late 70s. She gets special visa status in Korea that other people with Korean ancestry, say third generation Korean-Americans, would not get. My request is strange because most of the people requesting Visiting Spouse visas are not Americans married to Americans, they’re Americans married to Koreans.

As I explained above, strange requests lead to problems. It’s a rule. We spent an hour insisting that our request be processed and, in the end, it was. If we weren’t pushy, we would have left and would have had to return with unnecessary documents and our instructions from other agencies who’d have to have corrected the initial Immigration Officer’s mistake. But you simply cannot tell somebody they’re not correct without encountering problems.

Korean skepticism can be a tough nut to crack. The Immigration Officer we worked with was a kind, older man who was genuinely interested in solving what he thought was a real problem with my request, but the problem really was in his mind. He simply didn’t understand why we were making that specific request. When we got him to help us rather than attempt to brush us off, he lightened up in spite of all we had to do to convince him of our worthy and legal request.

First, we had to be pushy. Pushy to get the ball rolling on our request. Pushy to make sure he didn’t ignore our legal marriage certificate. Pushy to get him to understand my wife really is a Gyopo. There comes a time in these complex social situations in Korea, when the person one works with relents—not because he or she gives up or admits being incorrect but because one has proven genuine interest, concern and effort. When the Immigration Officer began working with us instead of trying to get us to go away, we knew everything would work out to our benefit.

This is similar to what happened when we worked with real estate agents to find an apartment to rent. The people we worked with insisted that we’d have to accept high fees and high prices for what we wanted. Basically, we were told we’d never find what we wanted. We insisted otherwise and politely debated for about fifteen minutes. We were insistent, then pushy, then demanding. We wanted to try, dammit. Amazingly, after the debate, we received many wonderful offers, eventually finding a new landlord who is kind to foreigners in a part of town without many foreign residents and at a very reasonable rent and deposit. If we were new to Korea, we’d never had made it that far. We’d have left and likely headed to the expat ghettos around Itaewon. Exactly where we didn’t want to live. You have to be pushy.

When the Immigration Officer sent my wife to pay the tax for my VISA request, I was elated. Having been to the office twice before, I knew this meant my request would be processed. I took advantage of time alone with him to insist that I apologize for my confusion and am grateful for his effort to successfully help us. I said it properly and in Korean, and even went so far to explain that I needed his help because I’m still new around here. Three years in Korea seems like a long time, but it isn’t. He was positively charmed and blew my apology off. He didn’t need it except he did. He smiled through the rest of the process, even filling out our paperwork. He asked about my hometown, my university, if we’re having children. I’d made a friend.

I hate this process. It’s stressful. And I often forget my role in it, getting unnecessarily anxious at the start of the process and then fulfilling my role both linguistically and socially. But if I’m unwilling to participate in it, I have a much more difficult time successfully navigating Korean bureaucracy. Last year, the process was easy: I had a new contract; I needed a new VISA. Pay my taxes. Get my VISA.

Korean Immigration can be difficult. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s best on your first visit to bring a Korean citizen along and preferrably one who works at your job and is your superior. The office treated me like gold when I was being ushered around with the Vice Principal of my school. We were in and out in twenty minutes.

Always go with a reservation. This means making a reservation maybe a two to four weeks prior, so you can get the time and day you want. When you have a reservation, you can simply step up the Online Reservation Window For Foreigners. There’s never a long wait. Walking in to Immigration is asking for stress you don’t need.

If you notice a free window and you have a question, go up and ask. You might get instant help. Step up and be pushy. Today, I arrived an hour early. My agent was not busy. I went to him, sat down, told him I had a reservation and was early and wanted to get the process over with. He helped me. There were several other foreigners looking helpless, waiting in the background, not sure what to do. That hesitance stresses Koreans out. Never assume that the Immigration Officers speak enough English and comfortably enough to approach you and ask if you need help. You have to ask. And you have to know how to ask. A Korean friend or coworker can write the requests down for you if you’re brand new. Simply give the written note to the Immigration Officer.

Have cash. 50,000 to 80,000 in manwon notes. You’ll have to pay taxes (30-50,000) and you may have to pay for delivery of documents and/or photos. You have to pay with cash at Immigration. They will not accept bank cards of any kind. Same goes for the Department of Motor Vehicles and when you want to get registration for a vehicle at a District Office. Business like this is always handled in cash.

If you’re alone, bring the instructions with you. If an Officer insists you don’t have proper paperwork, you can illustrate that you do.

PS: do not visit the ESL Cafes like Dave’s ESL to learn what to do in these difficult situations. Those forums are full of haters who will often mislead you because they are misinformed and have an agenda. If you’re reading this and need help, ask me. I’ll make sure you get accurate information and the help you need. And I won’t shit on Korea while doing it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Recent Comments. Response Soon.

Sept 1 is almost here. I'll be writing from my flat in Sillim. No more teaching for a while. And back to blogging. Summers are always slow.

I noticed a couple of comments that I want to respond to. I'll get to them very soon. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Korean Wave is Corporate Corruption

I'm no fan of K-Pop. It's all shitty lyrics, stolen measures, awful samples, horrid dancing, insipid fashion, and happens to be strictly for children and pedophiles. I know, I hate it, right?!

Provocative rants aside, K-Pop is actually very Korean Wave, which is the idealized representation of nationalist sentiment in Korea as represented in the free market. If you could turn Korean culture into a transparent commodity that could be consumed by purchasing any object made in Korea to be distributed off-peninsula, then you'd have the ideal 한류 (Hallyu) Object. I'd say, K-Pop is an attempt at producing and distributing such an object. Korean Wave is stocked with corporations intent on exploiting markets, often via intentional and direct corruption of the market. In the music scene in Korea, it's called 증회. English speakers will know it as payola.

The Korean economy is often hailed by Koreans as strong as if by law they must say that it is strong. If we don't say it is strong, then it can't be strong. It's the thing I dislike most about life here. Sometimes it's as if there's no real world of consequence away from the peninsula. There's a grand delusional vision of The World that I don't understand in spite of witnessing its regulated distribution to citizens here. Although it's undoubtedly growing, the economy's strength is incredibly inflated. The fact is, much of its touted strengths are artificial and controlled. And part of that control exists in corruption.

I'm not going to delve into this too much, but it's rather obvious that the Korean government has its hands full regulating corporate corruption on the peninsula.

Here's a new story in The Economist:
Corruption in Korean pop music 
WITH its over-reliance on manufactured teen pop, and a leave-nothing-to-chance managerial style reminiscent of Phil Spector (minus the murder), there are obvious parallels between “K-Pop” and the American music industry of the 1950s and 60s. And perhaps now another box can be checked: the practice of bribing one’s way onto the charts. That's payola, or 증회 in Korean. 
Twenty-nine people, mainly radio and cable-TV staff, have been arrested on suspicion of accepting cash payments in return for airplay or fraudulent chart positions. New artists and their managers, keen to start their careers off with a hit, were the most frequent customers: Incheon Metropolitan Police believe that between April 2009 and May of this year, around a hundred wannabe singers paid a total of 150m won ($143,000) to several producers and the chairman of a cable-TV company. Such sums are dwarfed by the 400m won or so allegedly collected by the operator of a website that compiles a chart based on the number of radio plays each single receives. According to police, the unnamed 60-year-old took the money from singers and pop managers, promising six-month stays in his dubious top ten, for a price of 38m won each. (Read the rest of the article on The Economist's site.)

Don't get the wrong idea. I love it here. I hate nationalism. Even the left wing in Korea is awash in nationalist sentiment. I hate that. To be clear: K-Pop, for me, represents the pinnacle of corporate-driven, nationalist, commercial music--vacuous, meaningless, talentless, over-produced bullshit. In other words, all hype, all image. I'll shut up about it because it'll ruin my day. There's a ton of talent in Korea's various underground scenes and popular music history. You'd never know it, though.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nobody creates jobs. That's Mr. Nobody to you, Mr. Wittgenstein

Stop using the term "job-creators" to address capitalists and entrepreneurs. People don't own businesses because they want to create jobs. They own businesses because business owners are permitted to profit through the exploitation of labor when and only when employees cooperate in their exploitation in exchange for agreed upon benefits such as safe working conditions and health insurance that they might not otherwise be able to afford. Cooperating employers and employees create jobs.

So let's get this straight. Let's begin using language properly. Let's think about what we say. And when you hear somebody say this, let's appropriately respond.

1. The Free Market, not as we want it to be, but as it is. We should insist that family, friends, teachers, media, and politicians properly talk about the market. As it stands, in our market, we don't--some would say, we should not--do things for others, we do with others, as in alongside others. When capitalists tell you something that clearly goes against their own principles, it's OK to admit they're lying for a reason. After all, Capitalists believe that a free market works best when people act according to their own desires without interest in others, in society, in anything actually. Capitalists believe that through this self-interested behavior and the liberty it establishes that the most happiness for a greatest number of people will result. The market, then, is said to promote a liberal social order that cultivates and nurtures our free society without the demand for much regulation. In this neoclassical framework, this Austrian dream of capitalism, there is no such person as a job creator. Thus, we live in a society where people cooperate with one another for their own benefit, not the benefit of their partners.

2. Ethics. It's unethical to permit a wealthy minority to insist that employment and labor is a measure of their magnanimity. As I've already noted, it's a lie. But it's an especially damaging lie because it's meant to manipulate the cooperation between employers and employees. It insists that the wealthy are the elite and the sine qua non for democratic culture. In other words, it's a veiled threat. It's anti-democratic. It recalls feudalism.

3. Unearned Ambition. Moreover, no one would think to call laborers "profit-creators" and distribute propaganda via popular media that states taxing workers disencourages their desire to work. And we know why. We heap unearned praise on the wealthiest and unearned scorn on the poorest without much critical thought. I have two things to say about this. The working classes--and middle class, whatever that means nowadays--do pay a greater share of their profit in taxes than do their employers. We know this because wealthy people have many more ways to create more wealth. Working class folks have their labor and that's pretty much it. When we permit discussions about taxation to become discussions about value and labor, we're cheating the poor. And we're being patently unfair. Wealthy people should pay more taxes. They make more money. It's no accident that talk about the job creators is always parallel to the discussion about how much more in taxes wealthy people pay compared to poorer people and how unfair that is.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rain Rain Go Away

Just saying: since June 22, Korea has received approximately 87% of the anticipated annual perception. And quite a bit of that has fallen in the last 48 hours.

Floods, sewage, power outages, landslides, crippled public transportions, and drownings are as expected. What's different in Seoul (than the expected list of tragedies and incidences in the wake of a massive storm,) is that millions of commuters still struggle to get to work and school. When people should be looking after their families and property, helping their neighbors, they're all trying to get to work and study.

In Seoul, this means people stranded on expressways on top of their cars and in flooded subways. One of my students, yesterday, waded through her flooded neighborhood, from her flooded home, to get to school only to cry and apologize for missing my class and ask for my phone number. Afterwards, she returned to home. No kidding. What stupid parent sent her through the sewage to get my phone number and apologize?

It's upsetting to think that thousands and thousands of people are expected to put their lives on the line to beat their bosses to work and teachers to the classrooms in these circumstances.

Of course, I'm addressing students and business men and women. I'm not criticizing the thousands of business owners all over Korea for whom storms like this are potentially permanently financially devastating, who cannot afford to close for even one day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Rain

So, this is what the last week of the rainy season looks like this year. Crazy storm hit yesterday and is still raging.

It reportedly rained over 70mm, around 3 inches, during a two-hour storm late yesterday afternoon. We were stuck in Hyehwa waiting for the rain to stop enough for us to ride the scooter home. But yesterday's sudden downpour is nothing compared to the early morning storm.

The storm that began in the earliest hours today and thrashed us with early morning lightning and thunder for 90 minutes has almost certainly dumped yesterday's rain two times over.

I put on my swimming trunks and cleaned the walls and windows outside the apartment that were filthy from Seoul's daily dirt, and beginning to mold and mildew from the two months of rainy season weather. That kind of green is not welcome.

According to estimates, it'll have rained somewhere around 600-700mm by Thursday when the storm is supposed to begin to clear out. That's around a foot of rain in 48 hours. I think those estimates were made at the beginning of the storm and may increase.

Three o'clock yesterday afternoon, the humidity was intense and as the sun set it cooled off quick producing intense storms. The picture above is typical of what happened around the city. It's the heaviest rainstorm in Seoul since I moved here in 2008.

We live on a hill, so no flooding here. I'm sure Dorimcheon--the river down the street--is swollen, if not dumping its excess into the lowest streets

It's a fitting storm for my birthday, I think. It's like a long-waning wail against the oppressive summer heat.

See 장마

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Keli Goff, Hater

I don’t know what Keli Goff did to earn her right to be a US citizen other than be born in the US, live in the US, use natural resources in the US—you know, eat, breathe, shit in the US. She’s privileged though and apparently privileged enough to believe that she has the right to tell all of us who is more American than others—privileged enough to make very lazy arguments about immigration reform and people that incorporate conservative, racist tropes to make an emotional rather than intellectual point.

In making an emotional appeal for a friend, she reduces immigrants to a stupid, insensitive binary: those who are in the US illegally yet have proven their legitimacy and those who are in the US illegally and are illegitimate. Apparently, Goff believes two things: 1)that The Dream Act would be a great way to sort who belongs from who doesn’t and 2)that knowing somebody is as simple as hearing stories about them.

Goff believes a Pulitzer Prize winner has earned his stay more than a mother of three because he’s not a burden on tax payers and she is. PATENT HORSESHIT. (Of course, Goff is talking about media darling and liberal pet cause of the moment Jose Antonia Vargas, who I should mention does say a little bit about how everybody deserves equal treatment not just fortunate educated people. I give the guy credit, but his appearance now is much safer than it would have been when he was sixteen.) The problem is that her comparison is flawed and unjust. I think it’s relatively clear why we do not want to compare these two based upon their appearances and CVs. People have stories, just like Goff’s friend. Tthe law purposefully fails to distinguish between people based on their experiences. A broken law for whatever reason is a broken law nonetheless. Herein lies the problem with crappy, half-assed reform.

Goff’s concept Having Earned A Privilege may be improper, but it has a long history. Adam Smith worried about unearned ambition a long time ago in his Theory of Moral Sentiments. The poor mother who continues to have babies is less desirable than the man who is more successful. Open a Horatio Alger, Jr., novel—any of them—and the most apparent lesson is that the smarter and more physically attractive a poor person is, the more likely they are to be patronized by society’s most privileged people. In addition, men are more desirable than women.

In her editorial, she almost dares us to call her out for her explicit bigotry. Dig the clip MSNBC, or Goff, chose to show of the mother of three. It’s disgraceful. She gleefully praises her friend, showing a nice head shot of him smiling. He’s almost defiantly heroic and smiles in spite of his travail. She uses the worst possible footage of the unknown mother of three, though, to gain another kind of emotional response entirely. She can barely hold the one child in her fat arms never mind care for three. It’s a nasty set-up. “Who would you want?” Goff asks. The Pulitzer Prize winner who Goff’s mother loves or the unattractive mother who continues to have children that eat up all our resources.

And need I remind you of Goff’s sly hint at the racist “anchor baby” claim? She implies it without mentioning it, but she’s using it nonetheless. It’s bigoted. It’s bullshit. It should make you mad.

If you want to say citizens must prove they value the privilege of being an American before they deserve to become an American, you are a bigot. Not one of us born in the US need prove anything. We get our privileges unearned. It’s an unreasonable demand that should be vociferously rebuked. Moreover, Goff believes she knows who belongs and who doesn’t. Where did she get this power? Her mother? Fuck you, Keli, and fuck your mother.

Here’s Keli Goff’s profile at I think everyone should drop her a note about her bullshit and tell her to pull her head out of her ass. We don’t need to cater to conservative, racist tropes in discourse about immigrants to gain ground and promote reform. The mother of three has as much stake in her citizenship as the Pulitzer Prize winner does, whether or not Keli Goff likes it. I need not like a person to welcome them into my home. I do it because it’s right.

Goff titled her segment “In Defense of Illegal Immigrants”. She’s not defending anything other than her petty notions about who does and doesn’t belong. She’s a hater.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Friday, June 24, 2011

dagNotes: On Whiteness, White Power, Capitalism & Anti-Capitalism

Bear with me fleshing out some language.

This is the mistake they* make: that whiteness is a quality we can sense, that it’s in some significant way material. That we can examine it and eradicate it without transforming society. It’s talked about like it’s a simple sin, a mistake, a form of revisionism, or an act, sometimes rising to a crime. We use words like transparent and opaque. We excuse its appearance as careless at best, mistaken at worse. We outline it as if it were a structure, like an organized cell.

Whiteness and White Power are now you see it now you don’t like part of a tacky magician’s act: white power is the reappearing thing itself, whiteness the object pulled out of a hat. Or, the result of birth. As in, I was born this way. What can I do about it.? A matter of rhetoric. Or worse, I’m not white. I’m free from guilt. I can do no wrong. Or, the not-white other who can actually claim he’s the hope himself for change simply for being not-that and nothing else.

White power isn’t material. It’s culture. It’s in the spirit of place: Great Britain, America, Europe. It hovers above the wreck of The Enlightenment. It infuses western religion with a sense of dominion over human being. It’s power is an idea that people have faith in but cannot utter. It’s a refusal as much as it is testimony or plan. It resists its own narrative but calls on the narrative of its individual constituents for proof of their allegiance to a man-made purpose. Seek self-help. Confess your sins. Do it alone.

Whiteness is powerful in the same manner Capital is self-valorizing. It’s the result of doing being. We let it happen because it’s how we tell the story of Nature organizing human action. It’s History itself. We shouldn’t romanticize it, manipulate it, look at it as a tragic formation of ideas. It’s not the debris in the rear-view mirror. It’s always already forgotten. It’s essential to character and habit.

Yet, it’s a wreck after all. A mess. On the other hand, it’s an order of being that instills within individuals a sense of duty to individualism that profits community regardless of location and direction. It’s purpose without purpose. It’s a dumb notion of Freedom based in the liberty to freely exploit. Dumb because it ignores the essential goal of its labor: to destroy everything first and then myself. It’s dumb because it ignores all science that it relies on in favor of the imaginary representations of reality in fanciful ideological formations. One wouldn’t be too mistaken to infer that individuals’ labor in white capitalist societies is to prove the value of its ideological assumptions about individual labor in white capitalist society.
White power is the will to expend everything first at the expense of Myself. (It’s always My Self in relation to others.) Forget the stupid medieval notions of the sin in the king’s hoard—the old king who takes everything for himself condemning his realm to rot and ruin and finally becoming the festering dragon protecting its useless treasure. The capitalist’s goal is nothing less than a barren landscape heaped with useless gold coin. (Ron Paul, I’m thinking of you.) The white power mad capitalist has nothing to protect. His goal is nothing less than the purposeful extinguishing of all natural resources for nobody but himself.

I often wonder how anyone would think it’s possible for me to do everything I want for myself and benefit others by so doing. The notion that such human action is possible must be based in the idea the Nature as it organizes us will infinitely provide resources to expend. It’s patently stupid thought.
This is the end of Ron Paul’s notion of Liberty, of Hayek’s Liberal Social Order. It’s the Republican reason for stalling government to promote corporatism. It’s the hope behind Obama’s neoliberalism. It’s not “Yes We Can” after all, it’s “Yes You Should Have Some, Too”.

Fleshing out the character and habit of whiteness is one manner to better understand white power. We can see it, in a way. White power, on the other hand, is a part of the practice of contemporary capitalism. No matter where you find it, what’s most conspicuous about it is its whiteness-for-itself. Capitalism uses white power as a kind of warrant for the free market (like I’m a free man,) as if its promotion were the point all along, and by simply doing things in the free market is to not be a slave.

I suppose this is why to be anti-white power, to be anti-fascist, to be an environmentalist, to be anti-racist, to be feminist, is necessarily to be anti-capitalist. To say otherwise is to accept white power, to embrace white ideology and its absurd ideological framing of societies.

*”They” are capitalists: liberals, progressives, activists. Of course, conservatives, corporatists and fascists.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Censorship in Korea

The Republic of Korea is under surveillance. All the time. In many ways. From snitches to cctv to censorship, there's not much that can't be censored for almost any reason.

My readers outside of Korea won't notice, but now the Korean government has decided to censor the gadget on Google's Blogger platform that displays Google Followers. That gadget is a box titled "Followers" on my blog's left-hand sidebar. In Korea, it now appears with a portion of the blue, black and white KCSC-Warning that the content is deemed offensive.

Proving once again that the Korean government has no clue what it's censoring on a daily basis. As my wife says, That's so Korean. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Testing, Testing (Part Three)

(Edited 22.6.11: for grammos, typos; deleted two, pointless parenthetical statements; added content for clarity; updated related links.)

Related Reading:

My complaint: I’m a literature and theory guy. I focused on practical linguistics and ESL/EFL during my MA because I was teaching composition and rhetoric and working in two writing centers attended by many foreign students. I wanted to learn how to better address their needs. And I’m a nerd who likes thinking about language and thought. My practicum was a chance to study the science of language rather than the philosophy of language.

I’ve yet to see much practical linguistics put into practice in classrooms, in curriculum. In Korea, contemporary English education fails the majority of students. I know that students at my school could study a little harder, but when I look at them and my work, I have had to conclude that I have no support and they have little. It’s my opinion that because wealthy and privileged Korean elites continue to succeed in spite of the poor English education policies, the failure is ignored.

As we know, public education is criminally underfunded. The Seoul agency managing enough English teachers to populate a small town is operated by a small and overworked staff. What can they actually do but manage? Training is non-existent. Peer evaluation forbidden. Teacher development restricted to a chosen few. That there are thousands of teachers in Korea and no conferences, no retreats, is shameful and a sign that most of the teachers aren’t professionals, but travelers using Korea for one of two things: a break from life back home or to gain a year of experience before entering the job market back home.(I’m always willing to criticize lazy teachers, but it’s mostly the self-promoting idiots who so often pretend to represent teachers in Korea who I’m really pissed at—the scheming white capitalists. The link is only one example. A horrible writer with a horrible blog who often and naively writes horrible things about teaching and teachers.)

Many professional NSETs in Korea appear only too happy to aid the Korean government to further ghettoize english education in support of their careers, leaving Korean students of English in the lurch. When I call my peers unthinking, scheming capitalists, I’m being provocative. Many of my colleagues care, but we’re in the minority here. It’s the same everywhere: many teachers find it easier to be cronies for corruption in exchange for job security. No matter how awful the teaching conditions, the treatment of students, or how low the quality of education become, these folks will find a way to be satisfied to be working in the front of a classroom telling people how to think and what they should know. They aren’t teachers, they’re possessors of knowledge. They don’t teach, they teacher. It’s doing something without action. They’re not teaching, they’re teachering.

I should stay on focus: The successful students are privileged, the ones who have lived in English-speaking countries, or the ones who have a knack for language. The students who need the most help, the kids who struggle, are ignored. I suppose if we look at the problem from an economic perspective, Koreans can argue (President Obama and his administration do) that their education system is successful because the education business is booming, the standards appear high, the competition is tough, and consumers have many highly valued choices. None of that has anything to do with languages and learning, of course, but it’s nonetheless true. Objectively speaking, Korea’s rigorous public and private educational system should be a success.

Education, in Korea as in the USA, is more easily accessible for the most privileged students. Students at my school are poor and don’t get nice classrooms, nice labs, a well-maintained school, good food, access to the best hagwons—nor do they get to travel. English, for them, is something they learn about in Korean and it’s confined to Korean culture. As a result, English is a cultural mechanism that more or less oppresses each of them. This is in direct opposition to how English language is sold to the students: as a means of future liberation.

Koreans do not really understand English language culture and are consciously stubborn about learning how to incorporate that culture in its English classes and wider society. Or is it Korean culture? There is something called 한류 (hanryu) that illustrates how Koreans see the world via their own culture and its distribution and representation around the world, and it might serve us well to think about that when talking about complex cultural problems Koreans and their foreign colleagues confront. Anyway, the text books here are a joke. They are boring and meaningless and very poor approximations of white English-language culture. I’m not a prescriptivist, but no real attempt is made on a daily basis to properly implement English language, even in a Korean manner. The attempt is to use English in Korean—that’s very different.

In spite of these difficulties I think there must be something we can do as teachers to improve a bad situation. Moreover, it’s likely from the teachers and students where the most useful and meaningful innovation in classrooms and curricula will erupt into the wider discourse. The governments and industry professionals are nothing more than market forces. Administrators are aspiring capitalists. They aren’t teachers.

I was thinking about all this while testing my students for the second time this year.

What the students do know about English: In three years, I’ve learned that students know how to take cues form their Korean teachers about English, know how to speak about English in Korean using English vocabulary pronounced in Korean, know how to read English texts and answer multiple choice questions about what they’ve read, know how to listen to English and guess correctly what’s spoken and what it means. That’s what they learn in their regular classes. In other words, that’s what they learn without my presence in the classroom. The students know what it means to have English explained to them and this helps them recognize patterns they’ve studied when they take standardized tests, more often than not, yet be unable to hold a regular conversation. It’s a common complaint among English teachers: Why can they perform well on tests yet are unable to participate in simple conversations?

Students learn to successfully take English exams; they do not learn everyday English. If you go to YouTube, you can see that what many teachers think is useful everyday English education is teaching idioms in an entertaining manner. This would be useful education if the average student understood the basics of English syntax and usage, but the average student does not. Even the most advanced Korean students often lack an ability to use simple transitional elements in their speech and writing. Why? Because students learn English through repetition and memorization. It’s all very thoughtless. They memorize lists of words and patterns for phrases by repeating lists and patterns over and over. I do believe the idea is to get English to as many people at once in as short a time as possible. The result is a country using English in Korean. The result is awful English, awkward English, too-complicated English.

I try to teach my most advanced students to study English differently and to learn to use it by owning it. I developed my method as a writing teacher, but found that when tutoring Korean and Japanese students, it worked for addressing their speech as well as their writing. “Owning it” is rather vague, I know, but this is a blog after all. Allow me the space to flesh it out. My students are not only uncomfortable with English because it’s difficult and oppressive and tied to their futures like an anchor. English is difficult because they use it as a foreign instrument. They are taught that This does not belong to me.

I’ll put it into a Korean classroom context. They way we teach English promotes difference and denies that English and Hangukmal do the same thing, are used for the same purposes. The way we teach English promotes information over meaning, based on a standard of correctness. Nothing in English, in Korean classrooms, is in context with everyday life. That's a problem. We know we’re not doing right by our students because we know understanding how to present ideas in English means understanding that English speakers and Hangukmal speakers differently represent similar ideas with language. It’s not a simple matter of translation. The arrangement of the languages is different. To speak English well is to understand the languages and their different arrangements as much as it about knowing vocabulary and the parts of speech.

It’s more complicated when we consider how teachers talk to students. One of the most common instances occurs when a teacher attempts to solicit a response from students. Foreign teachers often resist—I have witnessed this—representing their requests in English in a manner most common to their Korean students. (As I said, it's always out of context.) This is the most significant aspect of my teaching experience that I wish to explore. The failure for the teachers, coteachers, schools, administrators to work on encouraging Koreans to be bilingual (I don’t know a better way to put it right now) is a real problem. The other-ing of English alienates English students and instills a power relationship in the classroom that alienates both teachers and students and cultivates an oppressive hierarchy in the classroom that favors the most privileged students and those fortunate enough to have a natural knack for languages.

The resistance teachers encounter and implement in classrooms cultivates a distance from the students and produces a vertically organized classroom with the teacher located at the top and with the most, if not all, power. I’m strictly opposed to this classroom formation. Confronting my resistance, embracing a bit of discomfort, and attempting (in my case) to find a way to use English in the classroom in a way my students can understand it, that is presenting my students with useful English that a Korean can comfortably use as well begins to produce a space where English conversation can occur without the oppressive, insistent force of The Test or A Grade. (I’m not only modeling, I’m leading while inviting as my comments invite an attempt. I am attempting as I want them to attempt. This disturbs the traditional power structure in the classroom as well and destabilizes the students’ safe distance from their teacher.)

The Speaking Test: The following is just a quick example of one way I’m approaching thinking about teaching according to my experiences proctoring conversation tests. In my test, I’m asking students simple questions like: “What happened at the beginning of the story?” They can often answer in strings of nouns and verbs. If the story is about a tired boy who refuses to get out of bed, for example, most of my students can say without too much effort, “Boy…bed…annoyed…sleep…alarm…off.” If I insist, “Try making a simple sentence. Use a noun and a verb. I know you can do it.” If they have studied, they can often say something like, “Boy is sleep. (Long pause.) He is turn off alarm. (Long pause.) He is annoyed.” Only a small minority of students can organize ideas and events into useful sentences.

There are many interesting things about the students’ answers that illustrate how a Korean student sees the English language itself and how the students think English should be used. Or, students consider how to say something in English and they navigate the known differences between English and Korean and then add words they think are necessary. This is a problem for NSET (Native Speaking English Teachers) who know nothing about Hangukmal, Korean language culture and everyday Korean speech. The English-only approach to language education is a failure for many reasons, but for this reason it’s most useless. We do not encourage students to understand both their languages, Korean then English, in relation to each other. It limits learning.

If a student wants to talk about the table with the computer and apple on it on the other side of the classroom, they will quickly translate “computer,” “apple” and “table”. They will make use of the verb “To be” and often as a linking verb, whether or not it is required. My students have the most trouble using prepositions and adverbs. As a result, the simply don’t use them at all. As in my example above, I get a lot of sentences similar to “Boy is sleep” and “He is turn off alarm”.

The problem for me, their teacher, is not that I must now create a lesson where I get them to repeat sentence patterns over and over until they get it right. The problem is to resist teaching as their benevolent leader who insists upon correctness and to help them find a comfortable and logical, a meaningful approach to English usage that they can understand well enough to begin using at an intermediate level that, with practice in conversation, will lead towards mastery.

I’m beginning to learn how to do that. But as I implement my method in classrooms, I’m confronted with two problems: lazy and fearful teachers who’d rather stick to the traditional plans in spite of the literature they read in school that supports my approach, and oppressed students who insist that education means receiving deposits of information from their teacher each day that are organized into lists and bullets and that come with directions explaining exactly how to think about the work to be completed.

On testing culture: Students can score high on TOEIC but can’t use basic English to answer a simple question about daily life and/or simple opinion. For the teacher, it’s frustrating. For the student, it’s humiliating. For the education programs in Korea, it should be embarrassing. But it’s not. Why? Hagwons are set up to teach to tests. In the three years I’ve been here, it’s obvious that hagwons are used in conjunction with the traditional education to such an extent that Koreans seem to believe one can’t exist without the other. This is, in fact, the effective privatization of public education. It’s already happened here.

The better students do on tests, the more profit for everyone. It’s a very simple model. Public schools are set up to form a ranking for potential college entrance. I don’t really see any other focus from junior high school to graduation.  Americans wondering where they stand on the standardization of public education in the United States should get to know Korean public education. It’s enough to make you want to kick Arne Duncan in the nuts and tar and feather Michelle Rhee.

The students who perform well on my two-minute conversation test are not really much smarter than the other students. But they know how to use English to say things. I don’t know where they get that knowledge, but with research I’m sure I could find out. I’ll tell you one thing: they didn’t get it at their expensive hagwon and the skill was likely not attained in English class. Show me two kids who excel at a hagwon, I’ll show you ten who don’t. Remember, I’m not talking about test scores. Hagwon and public schools have shown they can consistently produce high scores on standardized exams. Schools have to use vicious, future-determining curves in order to rank students because too many can consistently achieve the highest scores in each class, even at the lowest ranked schools.

So what’s the point of my two-minute conversation test when, no matter my critique, the ranking is much more important? This is why I’m suffering the issue so much, at such a length. There can be no other goal for me than to help individual students recognize that they have the capability to use English for themselves regardless of their scores on tests and rankings in school, regardless of their hagwon experiences. When I return to teaching after I defend my dissertation, I’m going to figure out a more focused manner to address the problems I’ve raised. Maybe I can find funding to conduct real research?

Friday, June 3, 2011

밤섬해적단 : 20 minutes that'll make Saturday night great.

Heading out to Club Spot tomorrow night to catch a show. Excited most to see 밤섬해적단 (Bamseom Haejeokdan or Bamseom Pirates.) We saw them last at 두리반 (Duriban).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Whiteness in Liberalism: Down With Tyranny! on Natural Corruption in Asia

Generally, my posts about whiteness tend to address people we'd typically refer to as conservative, white and Christian. Sad fact that may be for some readers, it's true that this demographic loves, more than any other, to speak from the corrupt heart of whiteness.

I have a treat for you, today. A Change of Pace Post. I was reading my news feeds when I came across a post on Down With Tyranny! A little left of liberal, this blog is a daily reader for me. Some of the political analysis is very sharp and I generally agree with the cynical wit in its tone.

Today, one of its bloggers published a piece entitled "Is it safe to eat or drink anything in China?" The title was enough to make me cringe. Turns out, the stupid title is the best part of the post. Framing the body of text about the Chinese government wanting the judicial system to crack down on food safety regulations violators, even suggesting the death penalty be applied to some violators, and a quick summary of famous food problems, is a very problematic intro and conclusion. The post is below my commentary in its entirety.

Look, I loathe the Republican Party. I hate American Conservativism. I'm a strident anti-capitalist. But the post is bad even though it's directed at Republicans I love to hate. In my opinion, the author wants to convey three things: 1) He or She will be as vegan as can be, whatever that means; 2) He or She is frightened to eat or drink anything in China; 3) He or She doesn't like Republicans. That's fine, I suppose. It's not necessarily interesting, but nothing wrong with the desire to convey these truths. Unless, you decide to convey them with a claim that Asia is so fundamentally corrupt that the Republicans who want to emulate Chinese business models must be worse.

You should not do this. It's a racist claim. In this post, the Republicans aren't bad because the US economy is corrupt and our government is corrupt, too. In this post, the Republicans are bad because all of Asia is corrupt. Here's how I'd summarize the blog: "Chinese business is very corrupt; well, Asian business is naturally corrupt, don't you know. We've already proved that in other posts. Trust us. Anyway, you might be served dog meat at any moment in place of other meat in China, and you can't be sure the bottled water is safe. Oh, well, I'm a vegan so at least I don't have to worry about the dog meat part of the problem over there. Anyway, because the Chinese are handing out the death penalty, maybe in the future some time, for food safety regulation violations and the Republicans want to snuff out most regulation in the US, the Republicans are super bad because Chinese business practices are, as we've already shown, naturally corrupt." That's the fucking post. I'm not kidding. The tags for the blog are: China and Regulation. No mention of Republicans, the immensity and immediacy of US food problems. Instead, the author rolls out the infamous stories we already know about Chinese food poisoning and lax regulation.

I'm really pissed about two things:

  • So, it's not corrupt capitalist practice in Asia that is at fault for the horrifying business practices in China. No, it's the "nature of commerce" in all of Asia that is corrupt. What a claim! It's the nature of commerce. If you don't see the problem, let me explain. The point of the blog is to shame Republicans. All the stories about food safety in the middle of the post can be dumped because the blog is about the first several paragraphs and the last line. The real concern for the author is that commerce in North America is corrupt and becoming more corrupt and in China it's already very corrupt. Therefore, it's a problem that Republicans want to emulate Chinese business and regulatory practices. OK. We get it. But the nature comment is way out of line. It offers our corrupt commerce then, now and in the future a pass, in that a reader can infer by the initial claim that we have a different commerce in nature. Namely, one that is not naturally corrupt. As in, we are better than them. It's a fucking nationalist, exceptionalist swipe at Republicans by a progressive blogger. This, more than anything else in the post, deserves condemnation. They are bad because they are like The Chinese, the people who do naturally corrupt things.
  • Dog meat references. What point do they serve? It's a racist dog whistle. Mix it with the smug reference to the author's veganism and we have proof that the post is nothing more than a hysterical and neurotic grunt: a half-assed attack on Republicans. It's lazy stuff. And it's smug.

The post follows with all emboldened text my added emphasis:

This morning we tried to make the point that the very nature of commerce in China-- in Asia really-- is built on fraud and corruption. Reactionary American politicians like Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and John Boehner (R-OH) admire China so much-- Communism or not-- because their financial and commercial system embodies the very depths of caveat emptor taken to the extreme. In two weeks I'll be back in China and, I have to admit, I know I have to be warier than in most places about what I consume. What's in the bottled water? How safe is it to eat in a restaurant, even a highly rated one?

So it was with some interest that I noted yesterday that China will be handing out the death penalty for food safety violators. An announcement like that presupposes some real problems that need to be addressed. Their highest court has ordered lower court judges to toughen up the sentences for people violating food safety standards "amid deepening public concerns over the country's food safety following a wave of recent scandals." If someone dies because of food safety violations, the death penalty is now in order-- and government officials taking bribes to protect the criminals will also be facing harsher penalties.

From milk laced with melamine, pigs fed with performance-enhancing drugs to watermelons juiced up with growth-stimulating chemicals, a series of recent scandals have outraged Chinese consumers, despite ramped-up government crackdown and state media campaign against food safety violations.

From last September to April this year, Chinese courts have tried and convicted 106 people accused of violating food safety, including two who received life imprisonment last month in a "melamine milk" case, Xinhua reported.

As vegan as I can be-- especially when traveling in dodgy countries-- I'm not worried about being fed dog meat disguised as something else. But I am interested in the new organic food movement started to sprout up in China's cities. Can it be trusted? Maybe...

In recent years China has been hit by a number of food scandals and fears about safety have lingered. In 2008, 300,000 babies became seriously ill and six babies died after being given formula contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. In April this year, police seized 40 tons of beansprouts which had been treated with dangerous growth promoting chemicals and hormones, while this month, watermelons started exploding in the fields because they had been treated with too much accelerant.

In March health officials discovered pork that glowed and iridescent blue in the dark because it had been contaminated by a bacteria.

Amid the scares it was reported that China's government departments were running their own organic farms to feed staff, sparking criticism that officials were putting their own safety before that of the people. ... [O]rganic farmers and a host of co-operative schemes that lease small parcels of land to urbanites who want to feel the soil under their fingernails-- not unlike British allotment schemes-- report business is suddenly booming.

Peng Xunan, the founder of the "Farmlander" allotment scheme that has 200 sites across China said the plots were being rented in ever-growing numbers, and no longer just be pensioners looking to occupy their time.

"I'd say it was split three ways between families who want to teach their children where food comes from, older people in their retirement, but in recent months definitely a growing number worried about food safety concerns after all these reports of lax food safety," he said.

Interestingly, the other China-- Taiwan-- is having a similar situation, with legislators urging tougher penalties for tainted food and better regulations for factories manufacturing food products, particularly sports drinks, juices, tea drinks, fruit jam or syrups, tablets or powders, all of which have been found to be poisoned with plasticizers.

A legislator of the ruling Kuomintang proposed yesterday to revise regulations to levy stiffer penalties on suppliers of food products that threaten consumers' health, establish an information system for all products, and change the listing of plasticizers in the second category of toxic chemical products.

...Chang pointed out that the current law only stipulates fines between NT$60,000 and NT$300,000 for using plasticizers like carcinogen di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or other toxic substances in food and beverages, not enough to deter unconscionable food processors and suppliers from harming consumers.

An integrated registration mechanism should be set up to record all information concerning raw materials, components, additives, manufacturing and packaging to help manage every step of the food and beverage supply chain, Chang said.

Such a product identity system will also help to track products, he added.

Oh-- and the crackdown and regulations... that's not what Toomey, Johnson and Boehner admire about China.
 (source: Down With Tyranny! Here's the post on their site.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Got 눈치?

눈치 (nunchi, pronounced noon-chee,) is a complex concept inextricably woven into the Korean everyday. You can go here to read a little about it. I like that somebody mentioned paralinguistics in the post. However, I had to remove an idiot's product placement in the first paragraph and citing himself from a stupid book about Korean culture. I hate when people do that--and, go figure, the link was dead anyway. I'm only going to discuss my experience with nunchi in this post. I'm not going to go into tone of voice or social status and attempt to be objective about it. That would be impossible. I like to leave that sort of cultural anthropology for the colonialist social critics and tourists. There's blogs-a-plenty of haters and fetishists out there who love to oversimplify the Korean everyday. I try not to. Moreover, there's no need to address such things. When it comes to nunchi, some people have it and some people don't.

When I first arrived in Sillimdong (신림동,) Seoul, I lived in a neighborhood with few foreigners. That's not true. Very few native-English-speaking foreigners lived near me. My neighborhood has a diverse group of foreigners because of Seoul National University and a large Asian immigrant community. I spent most of the first two-months with my colleagues and the neighborhood friends I played soccer with on Saturdays. I think I was so fed up with the United States I only ventured out for social interaction with other foreigners once or twice. I hadn't studied the language before moving here, so I relied on my wits and desire to fit in to get by. Many days were lonely trials.

One of the concepts I learned about was nunchi because I was praised for having it. That's a good thing: you don't want to hear nunchi eopda (눈치 없다) used to describe you and your behavior. Unfortunately, you either have this or you don't. I know many foreigners believe you can learn it. If you don't have good nunchi, you can learn how to perform it, but we all know the difference. And my Korean friends seem to recognize the people who possess it as part of their ethos (habit and character). If you have to perform it at the right times, you're faking it.

I first learned about what this meant after going out on my first five or six weekends with my soccer team--I play with an all Korean team on Saturdays and nobody speaks English--and with teachers to hike and to learn about the neighborhood. To be honest, I had a blast figuring out who to sit with, how to play with, how to eat and drink with my new friends. I first thought this was nunch: doing the right things at the right times. Iquickly learned that was not it at all.

I think I first heard about my nunchi after a younger teammate who takes care of the club's money insisted I need not contribute because I was a guest. I told him I wanted to be a member and shouldn't receive special treatment. He didn't understand me and simply left me with my money. I had to out-insist him. I succeeded a little later after we were all good and drunk. I have paid dues ever since. It's important to note that I decided to pay without them hinting that maybe I should. I believe to this day they'd permit me to play as a guest and without paying dues. I had to make the decision and be consistent. But to do that only would be a performance, wouldn't it? There's something about the way I communicated wanting to be with them that they appreciate in addition to my decision to pay dues, and that's much more difficult to convey right now.

The insistence to pay is one thing I think many foreigners simply do not understand and find easy to oversimplify, as is the obligation to go out with colleagues. There's a lot of literature out there, many videos, many blogs about how to know when to pay and when to attend, but they're almost every one of them over-generalized and stereotypical nonsense. I suppose this misinterpretation of complex social fabric is understandable. People want some concrete statements about what to do and what not to do. Yet, I wonder.
Westerners love to understand others. Understanding others is part of our bigoted colonialist character. It's part of manifest destiny for US citizens, for sure. I hate it. I disavow it. We get a kick out of saying that we know what something means. We get a super-kick out of dominating foreign scenes as expats. I find it rather obscene, to be honest. I think this disavowal in connection with the way I want to participate is the key to my nunchi. I don't have to think about it.

I'll give you an example of what I mean. I was the first Native Speaking English Teacher (NSET) to teach at my school. I was brought here because the school wanted an experienced teacher. I was all-but-dissertationed from University of Denver and had been teaching since 1999. So, they got me. Nobody at my school was good at speaking English. (That's changed now, the younger English teachers are quite apt and, frankly, I'm no longer needed here.) The first year, my co-teachers were substitute teachers who'd never co-taught before. However, I had one helpful, permanent co-teacher who went out of her way to try to accommodate me and advise me about learning to fit into the faculty and culture of the school.

My school is tough. It's a poor school with poorly performing students many of whom will not attend university out of high school. They'll go to open university, I suppose, but that's not a very respectable thing here. The students are not happy and not interested in my class. I don't blame them. My school is proof that Korea is hurting for educational reform. My conversation class and speaking tests only add to students' English-language study load. They're already frightened about the future. I'd say 60% of the students like me but feel oppressed when I enter their classroom.

When I first arrived at school, the English faculty held many meetings to figure out my role here and our roles together. Nobody spoke English, so everything had to be translated. When we disagreed, the translation could cause trouble because comments were often accidentally and, sometimes, willfully misinterpreted. I once said, "Let's put the students' needs before teachers' desires" when referring to use of the only room with functioning technology and it was translated, I'm not kidding, as "Gary says we're incompetent."

I had to be patient. I had to be willing to take some abuse. (That willfully awful translation of my critique is what I'd call stubborn abuse, but after a little reflection, I recalled my experience as a faculty member in college and university English departments where such complaint is common, sometimes insulting, yet permitted as a way for colleagues to vent. It's permitted there. Why should it not be permitted in Korea?) My closest co-teacher and I came up with an idea that we called "Korean Time". We'd have our meetings. I'd appear in the first part and speak about my classes, lessons, complaints and/or questions. They'd respond. Then I'd leave and permit them Korean Time: time to talk according to their style about work and scheduling without my presence, which can be oppressive. Imagine having to explain yourself all the time to a person who thinks differently about your tasks than you and your colleagues do. Why it's like the government placed a white person in your school just to insist you justify your underpaid and overworked presence each and every day. I understand the contempt. I don't like it, but I get it.

It might sound silly, but it worked. And that's possessing nunchi. They needed not for me to go away or take unearned criticism but for me to understand that my presence really alters their working environment and, though it might pain me to admit, it wasn't necessary and it wasn't useful. It's sounds simple, but being able to publicly acknowledge that I'm not the center of their universe worked wonders. And many NSETs insist as a rule that they are the center of Korea's universe.

I know a lot of NSETs who'd disagree with my interpretation. I worked with a woman at a junior high school summer camp who routinely screamed at our Korean colleagues after common confusions. She didn't and still doesn't, I'm sure, possess nunchi. But she does have (as do her partner and their friends, yes I'm dishing,) plenty to say about Korea and Koreans. By the way, there is a time and a place for screaming in Korea. And I've had my fair share of tirades. You just have to do it properly. But that's for another post.

I don't know why I'm thinking about this right now. Maybe it's because I resigned from my position and will leave my school in August. I'm taking a year off to finish my novel and defend my dissertation before attempting to locate work in an English department at a university here, well anywhere. (Though I'm happy to say that Korean university folks have already shown interest. With a little patience, I'll have a nice position here and I continue to study the language and live in the US when I'm not teaching. Home for vacation and Away for work is a nice proposition.)

I think I'm going to miss my school and my neighborhood, too. We'll be moving to a different part of Seoul. Sillimdong and my high school were very good to me. It's not the hip part of Seoul. It's gritty and dirty. The working people around here are pushy, but I love it. They permitted me to fit in, which is more than I can say for the segregated neighborhoods I lived in back home where difference is shunned and severely beaten down as a rule of citizenship. For all the cries of nationalism I hear in foreigner discussions about Korea and Koreans, I've been welcomed much more sincerely here than in most place in the United States.

Of course, the reason I'm welcomed is that, for some unknown reason, I've got nunchi. I know how to act without having to perform. I know: I'm bragging. Fuck it. I've earned it.