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 Loop21.net. 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 msnbc.com 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.