Saturday, March 31, 2007

Can Michael Breen Understand Normal Thinking?

Over at Korea Times, Michael Breen gives time to possibly the most offensive word in the English language inoffensively and tops it off by using the most commonly used vulgarity no less than 5 times; again without being offensive about it. I guess it just goes to show that 'intent' behind the word is just as important (or more so) as the word itself (an fact that seems lost on some people). Unfortunately, he may have just taught the word to a few Korean students who will now walk around saying the word as if it is a natural part of their vocabulary.Those of you who teach in Korean classrooms out there can just imagine the day that you walk into a classroom and hear one student scream Mr. Breen's "C-word" across the room at another student.

God forbid that these words should somehow find their way into the common everyday Korean vocabulary like another marginally offensive phrase that I hear all to often and all too inappropriately. Case in point: the other day in class, one particularly noisy student in the front row responded to my announcement of next weeks homework with a hearty "Oh, My God!" (More like "O, Mah-ee, Gaht"). Normally, I wouldn't have flinched but he was sitting next to a NUN! I know that she probably was not as offended by its use as the Mother Superior at your local Catholic school back home would have been but I still felt the urge to whip out my ruler and give his palms a good firm public whacking. I tried to politely advise him (in Korean, to be sure he would understand) that this expression is really a 'vulgarity' and should not be used in polite speech, particularly when you are sitting next to a nun! The other students around him smacked him in the arm and used an expression that I mistakenly taught the students in jest one day:
The sister just smiled and nodded approvingly.
And I realized that at least something was getting through in my classes.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

For Those Who Miss TV Back Home

And for those who want to watch a movie for free from time to time. Don't ask me how in the world they get away with this but TVLinks has links to several videos of TV shows, cartoons, anime and even movies and sports programs; a pretty good assortment of stuff. They even have some links for current series that havn't hit Korea yet like Season 7 of CSI and the new 24 season. So if you've got lots of extra time on your hands and want to watch some old episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9...knock yourself out. I just watched "Babel" in streaming low quality....oh happy day!

Monday, March 19, 2007

On words and racism

Jodi over at the Asia Pages had a lively discussion about Ted Turner's use of the word "chinaman" in a public setting. I guess I came off as defending Mr. Turner and I certainly did not mean to do that. I started writing this response to some of the other conversation and in particular to one troll who just seems to pop up everywhere these days and I got to thinking that if I am going to write such a piece, I should at least post it myself here too. There is an interesting little anecdote near the end that I hope you all take the time to reflect on and let me know what you think.

Now, I am starting to think that nobody is reading my blog because I don't get any comments these days. If you are a regular reader. Please, at least drop a comment or two just to let me know you are out there. I don't have a counter, so I don't even know if anyone is reading me.

Pasted from Asia Pages
Ok, I don't blog on weekends, so i'm just a little late here.Jodi, I get your point about just admitting ingnorance and promising not to use the term. Probably that would have been best in this situation rather than appearing to defend the use of the term by a media mogul. Believe me, it was not my intention to defend Turner...he SHOULD know better in theory but obviously in practice he does not; hence the suggestion of a spindoctor and largetype teleprompter next time he speaks publicly. Look how they have helped improve Bush's image since before 9/11. He was known far and wide for his linguistic ineptitude, but I digress.Honestly though, and not to defend Turner, am I misunderstanding something here or are people trying to say that the use of the pejorative "chinaman" is linguistically equivalent to the use of "nigger" in today's vernacular? They are both just words and as with any word in any language can have multiple meanings, nuances, usages, etc. based on context, inflection and tone. Certainly, to the people of the early 1800's the coining of the term was hardly different than our use of the words black and white. Nigger was a derivative of European meanings for 'black,' a term we still use (though tenuously) to refer to those with the darkest of skin pigment and a "Chinaman" was just the way that people of asian decent were denoted in the time.However, language has evolved as it always does and the meanings, nuances, usages, etc. of these words and many other formerly non-pejorative expressions have changed because we (as Americans) have a problem with how to discuss the differences between people's race or skin color and have become overly concious of words themselves instead of the context in which they are used and without considering the source.Allow me an example. In the part of the country where I grew up and in the time in which I grew up there was scarcly any more than biraciality. And while I have traveled and lived in other parts of the country, I have learned about how certain references can be offensive. Many of my friends and family have not had that experience and continue to live in a world in which they are likely to never know an Asian person except at the Chinese restaurant or the laundromat (stereotypes, I know, but where i grew up they were EXACTLY true) If they were trying to be 'sensitive' they would have refered to these Asian businessmen and women as 'oriental' which is also a term for which Asian-Americans have distain. It is unlikely that people I know would use the word Chinaman as far as I know but if they heard the word used by another person, it is likely they would understand and, less likely they would be offended by it because it means (to them) nothing more than a person from China. Are they racist because they accepted the usage and connotation of the word based on its context and their own personal experience? Unlikely, as they are simply ignorant of its pejorative meaning. What about the person using it? If they simply used it to refer to a persons race without any ill-will should they be labled a racist? Mr. Kim makes my point for me. To him, the use of the word 'redneck' among people he knows is unoffensive. He is obvioulsy unaware of its pejorative connotations and though I personally take no offence at the word itself; only in the context in which it is used, I know plenty of people that would hear the term used by an Asian and give him the same treatment that I might receive if I used the "N" word in the middle of Harlem, Compton, or Watts.Just about any word can be made pejorative in the right context and with the right nuance. I could use the word "Korean" in a certain tone, inflection and context and have it to be pejorative even though the word itself is not and never has been.

Why do I care, really? When I was in Elementary School (early 70"s) I recall spacing out in class and looking at the map of the world, in particular, Africa. I noticed a country called "Niger" and suddenly it dawned on my 2nd grade mind that this must be where my friend Jimmy came from since he was black and other people called him "a nigger" (the only one in the class, sadly). Suddenly, the teacher called my attention and asked me a question. I can't remember the exact question but I do recall my answer to the question pretty well. "People call Jimmy a nigger because he is from Niger (pronounced the same as with 2 g's)." My teacher became incensced and dragged me to the principle's office where my parents were summoned and it appeared I was in for the lashing of my life all because I made a deduction that was incorrect based on my experience at the time . I am sure the Mr. Kim will revel in this little redneck tale and claim proof of the true color of my neck and ignorance. However, I learned an important lesson from that situation as I think back on it; one which I can hardly forget even as I have passed 40. The funny part of this story is that Jimmy never got angry at me and was my friend all the way through the 6th grade. He understood that I didn't mean it "like the others" and forgave my ignorance; "out of the mouths of babes" If I had had the same experience with an Asian classmate (never had one till college) and used the word 'chinaman' would the result have been different?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What a freaking apologies

This will be the last one today I promise. I changed the titles of all of my archives too and some of them wound up on Marmot's aggregator. WOW!! am I ever embarrassed....if anybody actually reads any of these old posts before they realize the SINCEREST apologies to you and to Marmot for the snafu. Live and learn eh?

Fixed the Title Problem

I'm a blogging newbie and didn't know i have to 'turn on' the title field in my blogger. So, all of my aggregator posts to Marmot's Hole come out with the title and the part of the first line. Sorry about that. It's fixed now...enjoy.

Teaching English for Free

I recently walked into my local "Dong" office and told the guy at the biggest desk in the office that I was interested in volunteering my English teaching services for the community. He seemed, at first, a bit confused but eager to listen to my ideas and take my information so he could get back to me. He asked me several questions about my availability and for how long I would be willing to teach the classes and we parted ways with an enthusiastic handshake.

A few days later, it was a done deal. We worked out a time schedule and the class was advertised around the community via posters, signs and fliers (even one on the bulletin board next to the elevator in my apartment). This week, on Tuesday, I began teaching a group of 31 people, mostly housewives and all were women, save 2 elderly gentlemen. They are all rank beginners but seem eager enough to learn and I assume that since they only have to pay for the book they are quite pleased with themselves for finding out about this class.

Really, I knew what to expect for a class that begins at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I got exactly what I expected. I know that there are a few out there who either think I am nuts for teaching for free and still others who question my motives. Admittedly, my motives are not completely altruistic, but a good sense of volunteerism and community spirit are at the heart of it. Volunteerism is growing in Korea but I believe that in a land where everything is centered on the family and close acquaintances there is not near enough of it and the foreign community in Korea really needs to be able to step up and do it not only for the sake of their individual communities but for the future of the foreign community at large. I may be waxing a bit optimistic on this but isn’t volunteerism an excellent way to show our Korean hosts that we care about being a part of the community and not apart from it? Maybe volunteering to teach a once-a-week English class at your local neighborhood office isn’t exactly feeding the poor or even (like some of the US military volunteers do) teaching at an orphanage but it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Maybe some people who would never dream of paying for a hagwon or a private teacher will try it out and learn to love English and discover that it is really worth it. At the very least it is something new and I know that it is something that the "Dong-Jang" (the Korean equivalent of a local district councilman) assured me he had never heard of. And after the first meeting, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at pioneering such an idea in my neighborhood.

What was my motivation? Not too long ago, I saw an advertisement on the bulletin board next to my elevator advertising Chinese, Yoga, Jazz dance and other lessons available at the local ‘dong’ office. I recall wondering why English was not one of the offerings on their plate and then thinking that they probably would have a hard time finding someone who could teach for free (keeping visa restrictions in mind, very difficult for the average E2 holder but with my F visa, no problem.) I really did not think about it too much after that but I have been meeting from time to time with a retired professor from a local university for language exchange (he learns English and I learn Korean) and he and I were discussing the things that a “full-time instructor” (전임강사) would normally be doing to obtain tenure and make the step to “assistant professor” (조교수). Among the things he mentioned was community service, publications, on-campus service for student clubs and organizations, etc; basically, the same things that would be expected for tenure almost anywhere in the world. One of the things he emphasized was that the universities want to see how the professor is “spreading his brainpower and increasing the profile of the school.” So, I thought, “why not?”

My college is one of the few in Korea where the foreign staff is treated with a good deal of respect and a higher than normal level of equality. I even understand that one of the former foreign teachers was offered the professor position but had to decline it and leave Korea due to family matters. So, if there are ulterior motives for my free class then that is it. The school is aware of my volunteering for the community and it has received a good deal of publicity around this area. My name as well as the school I teach for has been well advertised in the community and that hopefully makes everyone giddy.

On the opening day, I was treated to a brief shindig for the inauguration of the class. With the new students looking on and a local public television crew on hand to film the presentation, a big sign lined the back of the stage announcing the inception of the class and a beautiful bouquet of flowers was presented to me in appreciation. I made an all too brief, impromptu speech in Korean in which I humbly promised to do my best and the councilman said a few words of appreciation and introduction and then it was off to the classroom. After it was all said and done, I felt pretty good about it.

Keep checking back to find out how continue to feel about it as it progresses. If you are interested in starting something similar in your neighborhood but are not conversant in Korean, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can help you.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Up with mini-skirts

Something about a svelte, nice-legged woman wearing high heels, knee-high stockings and a short plaid skirt that just makes a man feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

That is, until he realizes that the bones in his right hand are being crushed by his wife or that he has been locked in an ocular death grip – you know the one…that’s the look in your wife’s eyes when she catches you leering; the one that sort of makes you feel like that guy Darth Vader mind strangled in “Return of the Jedi.”

My dad always used to say on the subject “Just because you’ve ordered don’t mean you can’t look at the menu.” While some will argue that only an insecure or overly jealous woman would make a big deal out of a glance at a pretty girl walking by in a short skirt, others would argue that it is a matter of respect. If you are like me then you realize clearly that you are too old and fat to be even slightly interesting to that girl walking down the street showing off her gams anyway. So is there harm in looking? If it makes my wife or girlfriend feel uncomfortable or even just plain angry when I look at other women, shouldn’t I do my best to respect her wish? Well….shouldn’t I?

To be honest, I really envy those guys out there who seem to have the stoicism to not look (same gender preference notwithstanding). How DO they do it? I’m not talking about the guys who try to pretend they are not looking. Even when they are busted they try to make like it wasn’t the girls legs; it was her ensemble, “Ugh, how tacky!” Trying desperately to pretend they are not interested or that they think that short skirts are somehow a blight on the earth. I’m talking about the guys that just seem to be able to either see only the one they are with or even when in a room surrounded with mini-skirt wearing hotties would seem to be looking at absolutely nothing.

So, being the card-carrying fence rider that I am, I am somewhere directly between mini-skirts are a sign of the decadent influence of western society that should be banned and a great big Austin Powersesque “YEAH BABY!!!” This conflicted mindset comes from the fact that I am married and though I wish I could respect the feelings and desires of my wife by not ever looking at another woman, I feel a certain angst every time an attractive woman walks by in a short something. I know I probably shouldn’t but I also know there is a high possibility that I will; however unintentionally J. This begs the question about men in general: Do we CHOOSE to look or not? Is it an animal instinct that uncontrollably draws our eyes to the irresistible flesh?

And another thing: I don’t want to sound too rhetorical here because I am really confused about this matter, so for the women readers out there who wish to comment please answer the following: Do you do it on purpose? Are you trying to test my will? Which is it: you WANT to be looked at or you don’t? And finally, do Korean women somehow think differently about this than western women?

Somehow, I have a suspicion that not all women really WANT to be looked at ‘like that.’ But a woman who is walking down the street with a butt cheek hugging shorts or skirt and high heels MUST want to be looked at by someone. At the very least, she must be aware that she WILL be looked at and with that awareness at the time she is getting dressed does not do what is necessary to avoid being looked at “like that.” So, we must assume that she is complicit and should at least expect to be looked at. Whether or not she wants to just doesn’t matter. But somehow it seems they expect that they can CHOOSE who should look at them. They may be hoping some “Rain” or Dong-Gun Jang look-alike will pay attention but if some balding 40-something, a zit-faced drooling teen or even an old geezer coughing up his lungs in the subway entrance stops expectorating long enough to take a good hard look then that’s the breaks sweetcheeks. If you are gonna wear it, you better bear it.

For any red-blooded, heterosexual male on the planet, this spring in Korea is shaping up to be the largest eye candy store in history. The weather hasn’t even really warmed up yet and already the numbers are increasing exponentially with each passing day. The newspapers are reporting that we will be assaulted with not only the usual short skirts but also the ‘minidress’. For those of you who still remain single and/or unattached, happy vistas to you. For those of you on the other side of the fence, well…good luck anyway. Here's a parting thought: