Monthly Archives: March 2008

Bitch Slapping North Korea

North Korea expels South Korean diplomats. They fly fighter jets within ten miles of South Korean airspace. They threaten to “not merely plunge everything into flames, but reduce it (the South) to ashes.” Just another week in North vs. South Korean politics. Really, I don’t care.

As an American I’m used to being threatened. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t want to smite me in some sort of Jihadist hell storm. I’m over it. I’ve even gotten over the fact that I most likely am not eligible for those 77 virgins I would get if I were a good Muslim boy.

This is the first time, however, that I’ve been threatened in such a way and also happen to be within mid-range striking distance of said threatener. You could see how the circumstances of this situation are different. I am not worried.

Countries that typically make demands have two ways of getting what they want: guns and money.

North Korea has no money. South Korea does. North Korea is upset that South Korea has stopped giving them money. Hence the recent flap. North Korea has threatened to attack South Korea if they do not start giving them money again. This sounds like old fashioned bank robbing to me, but with bigger guns. This brings us to guns.

North Korea has guns, which is the only reason they have any relevance in the world. Maybe North Korea will attack the South, but I’d doubt it; at least, not until the next Summer Olympics when China would be more likely to back them. For all their human rights violations I think even China realizes that while the West might not care about some dead monks enough to boycott the games a nuclear war right on it’s doorstep might be enough to warrant a phone call or something.

“President Hu! The Americans are calling. I think they want to cancel the games!”

“Don’t pick up, pretend we are not here.”

People keep saying this is a delicate political issue, but it feels like a case of the trees blocking the forest.

I guess I just don’t understand what North Korea has to gain by all it’s posturing. It’s not like Iran or other Middle Eastern countries that at least have oil and religion to protect. North Korea literally has nothing. They don’t even have the saying “beggars can’t be choosers.” I know this, because they are choosy ass beggars. Supposedly, that’s what makes them so dangerous. They’re the beggar with the gun. Not only that, they’re a crazy beggar with a gun. A sane beggar would take the hand outs given to them, drop their gun and shut their mouth. You can’t deal with crazy people, guns or not. So why try? What have we accomplished or changed so far?

What does the South, or anybody, have to gain by helping them? Couldn’t everybody just collectively decide to ignore North Korea until they give in send us all fruit baskets and apologies? That makes much more sense to me than anything else that has happened. If China wants to take care of them, then let them. They can have North Korea, we’ll take Palestine. At least Palestine makes some sort of sense to me.

While I appreciate the new South Korean Presidents hard line against North Korea, I really think that no line would be better. It’s like when my little sister was bothering me as a child. If I responded in any way, good or bad, she continued to bother me but if I ignored her all together then she left and I could get onto more important things, such as who would win in a giant war between my GI Joe figures and my Ninja Turtles? A mystery that is unsolved to this day.

Everything I need to know about North Korea, I learned in Kindergarten.

I suppose there’s more to it than just that, but what? Reunification? Nuclear War? Human Rights Abuses? Nothing anybody has been doing for the past 50 years has changed any of these issues in regards to North Korea. So can we please try something new? Ignore them, let me know if the war starts and, until then, let me get back to my Ninja Turtles.

 

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Weekly Blog Roundup

Your weekly links, while I recover from a tequila hangover and wait for Rachel to bring me a sandwich from Paris Baguette. In other words, this might be a work in progress, but I wanted to get something up before we are on to another week. Check back for more links.

– First off, Michigan State lost pretty bad to Memphis. I thought we had a chance but, as he’s been doing all season long, Neitzilla fell apart at the most unideal moment. Last year I thought he could play in the big league…now…not so sure. 6 foot streak shooters with few other skills rarely make the league. You have to be able to do at least 1 thing really well, and he didn’t do the 1 thing he’s good at that well this past season. Moving on…

– Seoul Steve throws out some opportunities to volunteer. I’m surprised “stuffwhitepeoplelike.com” hasn’t already covered ‘volunteering’ as a topic, but I suppose that they eventually will. (sidenote: while I’m not the only person to think that “stuffwhitepeoplelike.com” isn’t funny…I’m definitely in a pretty small minority…apparently, saying that white people like ‘t-shirts’ and ‘st. patty’s day’ is considered genius.)

– A Geek in Korea talks about the virtues of sleep. This is as good a time as ever to relate this anecdote Rachel told me about high school. She went to a special school for foreign languages. She had ten separate classes she had to study for, none of which included English. She told me that she would routinely study till 1 in the morning and wake up at 6 to get ready for school. She says she did this every night and that was hardly alone.

– Not Korea related, but pretty cool. You know those pictures that are taken at just the right time that wouldn’t be good if they were taken at any other moment? He’s a good collection of them. Photoshop or not?

– I forgot about this happening. Kind of old, but interesting none the less.

– Continuing the ongoing saga of North vs. South Korea. South Korea has started a job training program for North Korean defectors.

– Speaking of North vs. South. The rhetoric and actions are heating up with North Korea expelling South Korean officials from a joint venture industrial park. A day later North Korea tests some short range missiles. Doesn’t it feel like a lifetime ago, we were all so excited over the Royal Philharmonic playing in North Korea?

– Students are punished for having different hair. If you look at older picture of Korean classrooms you’ll find that it was a requirement for all girls to have exactly shoulder length hair or that it should be French braided. This is an observation confirmed by many of the co-teachers in my school.

– Seouls tag of “Most Wired City in the World” is becoming more and more ominous with each passing day. Yes, there are lots of wires…but no wireless…and an outdated encryption system that keeps Koreans from joining global computer trends and foreigners from buying things online.

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Korea is simple when you put it this way

The fundamental difference between Koreans and westerners? I finally figured it out. Now, in retrospect, it all seems so simple.

The fundamental difference between Koreans and westerners is this:

While standing on a subway with friends, westerners will typically form a circle and talk with one another. Koreans on the other hand will generally keep quiet on a subway, usually standing in a way that does not reveal who is part of their group of friends.

However, on a sidewalk Koreans will form circles with their friends, take up the entire sidewalk and block my path to the subway where I will stand in a circle with my friends. Westerners tend to walk on sidewalks. At least until they are blocked by said Koreans.

My theory can be explained simply, as such

Korean Views:

Subway = transportation

Sidewalk = gathering place

Western Views:

Subway = gathering place that happens to transport you somewhere

Sidewalk = transportation

I feel that if someone extrapolated this singular difference enough they could use it to explain many more differences. The same way the argument could be made that all modern pop music can somehow trace it’s roots to The Beatles – “Revolver” album, I would make a similar claim that all of the cultural differences between Koreans and westerners spew forth from this simple observation.

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Filed under Culture, Korea: the grand discussion

Things I would say if I spoke Korean

Let’s take it to be a good thing then that I do not yet speak Korean. I secretly believe that every Korean person is out to get me.

I wish I knew what they were saying. In this way I could call them out when they discuss their secret plots to get me. In my dreams I am a mythically calm figure. I forge through the perils of reality and redefine life as I see it. In other words I’m a rapper in the middle of his own rap video. Making rain is only one of my god like powers…observe.

I day dream that I am sitting outside at a restaurant/bar establishment. An elderly man walks up to me and begins to speak. He does not know that I speak Korean and so he begins to tell me terrible things.

“You should speak Korean if you are in Korea. You foreigners do not know anything about Korea. You asshole don’t even understand that I cam calling you an idiot…blah blah blah.”

Everybody there stares at him in disbelief. How could this old man be so rude like this? This foreigner must have done something to deserve this.

I act calmly. I know exactly what he is saying but I let him finish. When he finishes I would make some intelligently calm remark. This remark would immediately disarm him and he would slowly stutter “you…you speak Korean.”

To this I would reply:

“Yes, I do. But I choose not to because it might force me to speak to a person such as your self who would be so excited that an outsider learned your language that you wouldn’t even notice when I dropped all honorifics. But seriously, what kind of culture gives its elderly a free pass to be drunken assholes.”

At this the man would slowly walk off. Everybody in the restaurant would slightly bow their heads, ashamed that they allowed this old man to act this way without repercussion. Being the grand, foreign dignitary Don Cartagena that I am I would probably say something at this moment to lighten the mood. Everybody buys me a drink, good times ensue in slow motion frames.

Sometimes I also imagine that I am walking down the street. I would pass through a crowd of college aged students. Immediately they would begin commenting on the Miguk. Someone might say something derogatory about how we can’t get jobs or women in our own country so we come to Korea.

To this, I would turn around and tell him:

“We can get jobs in our own country, but some of us like to have the opportunity to see the world. I realize that you will never have this opportunity and I’m sorry, but this does not make me a terrible person. We all make our own choices regardless of culture or country. As for your women, well, I’m not forcing them to call me handsome.”

At this, all the girls around me would instantly argue over who got to give me a back rub. The losers have soju poured on them by the other losers. Somehow my apartment becomes much nicer as well.

Lastly, I am on the subway. Again, an elderly man walks past me. He grabs my arm and moves me out of his way. I of course protest. Of course I protest in English. He tells me that as a foreigner and as someone younger than him he has the right to put me wherever he wants and that I should respect him.

I look him in the eyes and say:

“I do not need to respect you old man. Confucian law is based around the give and take of respect. If you were a person who deserved respect of course I would give it to you, but you are not.”

At that I would help an elderly woman to her seat.

Suddenly, everybody in the subway would burst into an uncontrollable applause at my wisdom regarding Confucian teachings. Mothers would drop their babies in their applause and babies would drop their candy. I would steal it.

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I do not know how well my rants would translate into Korean but for the time being I am limited by my novice abilities and my imagination. I imagine that whatever I say would be so eloquent and poetic that the very nature of people’s lives would be altered. Obviously, what I wrote here does not really capture all of that.

Additionally, I know that these are all negative circumstances but for some reason these are what I think of. If I have day dreams of any positive interactions in the future I will let you know.

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Filed under Narratives, The foreigner experience

Paul is the title of my story – A series in non-sequential events: entry 1

I first met Paul after getting out of a taxi.  I was walking down the street with a few friends.  Out of between the 4 foot space between two buildings he jumped, literally, over a short wall.  A bathroom is a bathroom is a bathroom I suppose.

Long stories are boring, so let’s make this a shorter one.  We ended up at a Noraebang; my friends, Paul and I.  I think it was around the third rendition of “New York, New York” that I looked over and finally noticed a passed out Paul.  A bottle of soju slowly draining into his slightly gaped mouth.  That was the first night.

“Cigarettes and drinking make people too much interesting.” – Paul

Keep in mind that everything quoted by Paul will be transcribed by my intoxicated memories since I only see him when I go out.  I can’t imagine hanging out with him without drinking.  He’s probably pretty boring.  He probably knows that too.  Additionally, I will try to maintain all of his Konglish glory.

Every so often my phone will ring and it will be Paul on the other end.  He will typically be excited and tell me something along the lines of “did you know that 45 percent of all Koreans are very unhappy with their jobs?”  He didn’t read this in a book somewhere, he tells me he calculated this himself.  I suppose he probably asked 10 to 15 people on the street one day and decided this.  I have decided never to question his numbers.

One time I did question him.  He got angry.  He told me that he was a math major and that I didn’t know the first thing about math.  Asian people are inherently better at math he said.  Who am I to argue with stereotypes upheld by the very people they are stereotyping.  Besides, I’ve always had a liking for off the cuff, unproven statements.  Facts are for losers and people who look down on calculators as low class.  Paul loves his calculator.  I doubt he can even multiply simple numbers anymore.

I suppose he might be one of those 45 percent.  Odds are he probably asked himself this question.  Odds are he’s probably turning this into a lab report for one of his classes. 

“I am jealous of Americans and their travels” – Paul

“Why don’t you travel?” – Me

“I can not, I have to study.  Someday I will travel many places” – Paul

             I’ve always enjoyed the notion of someday.  Specific dates are unattainable.  Give me a deadline and I will break it.  Someday is an idea that I can usually pick up on.  Besides, the Star Wars trilogy is on TV and I haven’t seen it in a while.  Someday I’ll do something.  Someday Paul might get rid of his calculator.

Paul is his English name.  He told me he picked it because it was the only name presented to him in middle school that he felt he could pronounce correctly.  He can’t. 

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Weekly Blog Roundup

– First things first, the NCAA tournament is going on. If you want to check out the games you can do that at cbs.com. Not only can you watch the games streaming but you can watch the recordings of every game so far. My recommendations: Mayo vs. Beasley (otherwise known as USC vs. Kansas State); the Kevin Love “welcome to the NBA lottery” block party against Texas A&M; and of course Michigan State making it’s 7th Sweet Sixteen in the past 11 years.

– In other online television related news check out the new season of South Park at allsp.com. You can also watch every South Park episode ever made here.

– I’m going to continue linking to this until I’m confident everybody has clicked on it. It’s that cool.

– Big Bang is once again ruining my life. First they dropped this gem on me. Then they ruined Maroon 5 (not like it was that hard). And now I find myself singing this song in between classes and creeping out my co-teachers. Damn you Big Bang and your catchy English lyrics!

– Chan Ho Park and a small hoard of Koreans almost start an international incident.

– After a tough week in the Asian financial markets, that saw the dollar = 1,000 won for the first time since like 2002, finally some Good Friday Calm. Despite all South Korea never really seems to take that big of a hit.

– Rising Chinese labor costs are causing a mild exodus of South Korean businesses away from our Olympic hosts.

– Speaking of China, will we even get to the Olympics in one piece? The violence is becoming overwhelming. Too much to ignore.

– You know, I eat these things. One more reason to hate China.

– An informative look at foreigners in Korea and crime rates.

– President Lee calls Kim Jong-Il his bitch. Kind of.

– This picture is just silly.

– A riddle wrapped in a question and blanketed with an enigma and deeply shrouded in mystery…such is Korean English Education.

– This weeks award for “alienating everybody you’ve ever known for negligible impact.” Nothing to do with Korea but…yah.

– Then finally, not a link but interesting none the less. I was talking to Rachel the other day and the subject of dentistry came up. She commented that she is glad her brother is studying to become a dentist because they make a ton of cash. Apparently insurance doesn’t cover lots of dental work. Last winter Rachel went in for a routine check up/cleaning. Guess how much it cost. Did you guess 600,000 won? Then you were correct. That’s right, 600 dollars for a check up.

A filling cost somewhere around 2,000 dollars, otherwise known as 95 percent of my pay check. Her mom chipped some teeth when she was younger and now has to pay 15,000 dollars every ten years to get them updated.

If I was a dentist here I would set up shop and simply charge like a hundred dollars less than the competition. Apparently the dentists associations pay off the government in order to keep the prices high.

In other news, I really like eating chocolate. Damn.

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There’s a Chair in the Middle of the Parking Lot and Other Existential Dilemmas

There was a chair in the middle of a parking lot and for a brief second I wanted to sit down. Absurdity held it’s breath until an elderly gentleman sauntered to the chair and beat me to the spot. My legs were tired.

A car wheeled around the corner and swerved to avoid the old man sitting in the chair. I wonder, would they be so courteous if I was sitting there?

Faced with unfamiliar cultural circumstances I have taken to simply saying “Korea,” and leaving it at that. Existential quandaries, like a chair in the middle of a parking lot, have no place here in Korea and similar to a drunken Greek oracle that word explains all. The mind of the foreigner can not safely harbor randomness.

Some friends of mine have a hobby of lying face down in the middle of odd places. Places such as subways, or palaces or whatever. They call this “Assin out” or something like that. I don’t get it but they seem amused by it so who really cares. I suppose that there are Koreans walking by saying things like “Foreigners” as though my friends’ actions were representative of the entire foreigner population. I mean, it’s not as culturally revealing as a chair in the middle of a parking lot or anything, is it?

At what point does one stop questioning a culture and simply deciding it’s impossible to understand? Is it when they first step off the plane or do we at least wait a day or so?

Why is there a chair in the middle of the parking lot you ask? Why shouldn’t there be a chair in the middle of the parking lot? I suppose the second answer has many more potential answers than the first question, but that’s not the point.  “Why” and “Why Not” are natural enemies the same way Tom doesn’t really like Jerry.

As I walked past the chair in the middle of the parking lot I gazed through a window to my right. Inside were people eating and laughing. Further down the road I could hear the sound of a soccer match. I closed my eyes and imagined I was home. Had there been a second chair in the middle of the parking lot I might have bumped into it.

Why is there a chair in the middle of the parking lot?

“Korea”

And that was that

Once Tom thought he had killed Jerry and he was sad. I doubt the series would have continued without Jerry. He was important.

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Filed under Culture, Narratives, The foreigner experience