4.28.2010

Race traitor.

I've been doing some thinking today. You'll all mostly be aware that there's been a lot of intellectual (and some slightly less than) intercourse floating around today about the subject of 'negative' vs. 'positive' K blogs. A lot of this is due to Roboseyo's thoughtful article and responsive post on the issue of That Blog.

Let me just say upfront that I think that this is a really personal issue for people on both sides -- we all feel as though we've had certain experiences, and it's natural to feel to some extent like our experiences are the right ones, and like we've seen something that the people on the other side (whatever the other side may be) have not. Which is why this issue gets so damn messy.

I guess, recently, I've been placed in the category of Korea 'defender'. I, apparently, have an extremely sunny disposition and am able to stay positive in the face of great adversity. But I feel like that judgment of me and what I write is short-sighted, to be honest. I don't overlook bullshit. I'm very nearly almost famous amongst my nearest and dearest for not being able to overlook bullshit, almost (or just flat out) to a fault. It's not that I am floating through life on a cloud of ignorance, humming a happy tune to myself to block out anything negative I might experience as a foreigner in Korea. I've had my fair share of complaints and struggles, some extremely legitimate and some just down right petty. I've even had some that have moved from one category to the other.

In my opinion, what I do have, however, is perspective. A big part of this perspective, as I've mentioned many times before, comes not from an obvious knowledge that racism and xenophobia and general dumbassery exists in my home country, but from the fact that from the time I was young, a large portion of the group of people I've been close to were either immigrants themselves in my home country, or the first generation born of immigrant parents. And, specifically, I dealt intimately with a huge number of Korean university students at my job just directly prior to moving to Korea.

Before I ever even considered the possibility of what being foreign would mean within my own personal context, I was exposed repeatedly and in great detail to what being foreign meant for others around me. I didn't read about it in newspapers, or experience it that one time when I was out with my one immigrant friend -- I heard about it for absolute fucking hours. I had close friends for years who had lived through it.

Now. I'm not saying this to make the usual point that the condition exists around the world. We all (should) know that. My knowledge of racism and xenophobia in my home country doesn't lead me toward excusing Korea for her own issues in this area, but rather helps me to remember that a country's culture is not a country's people. A nation's ugly side is not its dominant trait. And my negative experiences as a foreigner in Korea are not unique to Korea (at all... even a little bit... trust me), nor are they something that I should allow to dictate my life in or experience of this country and her people.

Sometimes I still find myself in awe of the Koreans I've known and their ability to completely overlook the horrendous experiences they've had with racism in my home country, and go on to explain their time there as valuable and overwhelmingly positive. How my co-teacher can look me in the face and, as a sidenote to an unrelated story about her Korean roommate during her time there, casually mention how the Koreans were all put in rooms together because the other students didn't want to live with them. Or how one of my students back in New York could gush on about how fantastic I was, because I didn't care at all about her bad English and didn't think she was stupid or frustrating, unlike the cashier at the fastfood restaurant earlier that day who had, as she was ordering in English, refused to let her finish and screamed in her face in front of dozens of other customers that she needed to speak fucking English when she was in America, and how she didn't have time for this shit. Or how a Korean I met after I arrived described the reason he wanted to start a cultural exchange as related to his time spent serving with the US army, where his commanding officer perpetually berated him for eating kimchi and having a disgusting odor, and how he wanted to make sure he gave foreigners a place to meet kind Koreans while they were living in Korea, because he didn't want them to ever feel as alone as he did, at that time.

Again. Not trying to prove that these situations happen everywhere. You should know that. And if you don't, nothing I can ever write will help you. I'm trying to make the point that I've been influenced by these people deeply on a personal level, to work the very hardest that I can to not place people into categories based on the negative experiences that I have, and to not allow them to take over and become everything. To get to know people, to work past initial ignorances, to find the people who get it. To not become obsessed with the one bad thing that happens in any given day and decide that that one bad thing overrides the dozens of positive.

So. I'd like to put forth my own definition of 'negative' vs. 'positive' K blog. Because, to me, an acknowledgment of positive or negative things is not what dictates this definition. Just as being fair in your judgments of negative or positive experiences is not what dictates what makes a negative or positive person. I mentioned in a comment this week how I had always thought it was odd that Brian was labeled the "angriest blogger in Korea". To me, Brian never seemed angry. Did he mention a whole hell of a lot of negative aspects of Korean culture and society? You betcha. But. He did it with thoughtfulness. And perspective. He never made things about how awful Koreans are, or how unbearable Korea is. He took each incident and logically dissected it, without bringing it down to the bottom line of race or nation. He deals with culture, yes. He deals with national identity, yes. He even deals with Koreans. But he doesn't place anything across the board. And he is never unfair or dismissive.

To me, Brian does not author a 'negative' K blog -- he authors a positive one. He takes all things into consideration and deals with the subject at hand, however negative or positive that subject may be. To me, that's an example of a positive person. Or rather, just a normal one.

That other blog that's got everyone up in arms at the moment was definitely, to me, a negative blog. Whatever it was -- satire, humor, therapeutic -- it made no attempt to demonstrate perspective. It made no attempt to observe the good, as well as the bad. It made no attempt to sort out the difference between what some people of one kind did from what these people do.

Now. If that's what floats your boat, that's cool. If that serves a purpose for you, then more power to you. But I just don't have any time for it. I don't find it humorous, cute or original. I don't find it interesting or intellectually valuable. I find it rather fucking dull. Just as I find negative people to be rather fucking dull. To me, complaining is the lowest possible form of human discourse. That's why children are famous for it. And this is my life. I get around 70 years on this globe, if I'm lucky. And I have no intentions of wasting them, wherever I may find myself, or in whatever circumstances, putting all my time and effort into making it known, in a completely unproductive manner, that something is bothering me. Instigating conversations is different. Offering solutions is even more different. Trying to be a part of those solutions is 180 degrees worth of difference. And to me, that blog, was the antithesis of being a part of the solution. And that, to me, is what makes a negative K blog.

Futher more. As a personal aside. K bloggers, when dealing with this issue, would do well to note that some of us do not live completely outside of Korean society. Some of us have extremely dear friends who are Korean. Some of us have spouses who are Korean. Some of us have children who are half Korean. For me, personally, the fucking tipping point on the scales on this one is that my students are Korean. My students -- these darling little people who, quite literally, have made my life worth living for the last year and a half. These people who make me smile and laugh almost continually throughout every single day. These people who have led my mother to comment on how she's never, in her life, heard my voice sound so happy as she has continuously since I've been here.

I don't know you from fucking adam. Just because we're from the same part of the world doesn't mean that I have any fucking connection to you whatsoever. You mean nothing to me, anymore than you would otherwise. But I do know my students. I know my Korean friends. I know my Korean co-workers. And I love them. So, if you (whoever you may be) are deadset on making your mantra a 'me vs. all Koreans everywhere' chant, you can be sure which side I'm going to end up on everytime. If you want to have a shot at me seeing your point, you'd do best to drop the 'all' and 'every' fucking childish nonsense. That's just my view on things.

Look. What it comes down to is this. I've been through actual shit in my life. You don't need to read about it here, but just trust that it's true. Now, I have a roof over my head. I'm able to pay my bills. I'm even able to eat properly and see a movie if I'd like to. I don't have anyone putting their hands on me in an abusive manner. I'm not literally sick with anxiety every morning when I wake up. Furthermore, I have a job (one job) that not only actually meets the basic financial requirements for existence, but which I am actually madly, ridiculously in love with. Which was something I never thought would be possible for me, at one point (or several) in my life. The way I look at it, if I didn't feel the need to bitch and moan continuously back when times were harder, and make that about absolutely everyone else around me (and I didn't), then I have no need to do that now.

So, no. I'm not glossing over anything. I'm not in denial about my life here in Korea, or how I'm treated or considered by Koreans. I'm being honest. My life here is happy, the happiest it's ever been. I'm sorry that not everyone is having that same experience -- not sarcastically, well and truly sorry. Because I do wish that every single foreigner in Korea could experience what I have. It's changed my life. For the better.

12 comments:

Burndog said...

Who decides if a blog is positive or negative? My blog isn't either really. It's a lot like me...sitting somewhere between positive and negative...some days shiny and happy...and some days shitty...just like life.

If a blog is honest, then it's going to be a little bit of both. If a blog is just blowing smoke up peoples arses...then it's all negative or all positive.

A lot of the people who complain the loudest about how 'lousy' Korea is, seem to have come from sheltered, happy, upper-middle class family homes straight to Korea. Like you, I've had a life...good things, bad things, and other things...and I've worked shitty jobs. Oh yes. I've worked good jobs too. I've developed...perspective.

Nice blog...traitor!

Sidney said...

i am in love with you, marry me?

but really, you are amazing at putting abstract thoughts i have floating around my head into coherent and good writing, as well as give me new ones (probably more of the latter than former).

Diana E.S. said...

You're exactly right. In that same "Angriest Blogger" thing (which you're totally right, Brian is thoughtful not angry--he rarely complained about Korean culture, mostly the problems with English education in the country), I was labelled a "Happy Korea" blogger... which is so funny because I guess I'm overall positive about Korea, but I have many critical posts as well.

I avoid "negative" blogs. Especially ones that build their support by calling all of Korea "racist" and then post some of the most racist bullshit I've ever read about Korea and Koreans and call it "the truth"!!! (There is one in particular I'm thinking of who recently called me an "idiot" for missing his BRILLIANT humor.) I'm sorry you don't see it, but intelligent Koreans see the problems in their society and many are actively working to change it. Is it easy? No. But neither was it to change any country's attitudes ever.

Honestly? At least 50% (if we counted internet experience as "real, then it would be more like 95%) of my "bad" experiences in Korea have come from interactions with other expats (memorably, rescuing a drunk Korean woman from getting date raped and being told I was "cock-blocking"). The other 50% has been from drunk ajosshis who annoy the locals as much as they annoy me (the sheer number of times that one of my Korean friends has apologized--profusely--to me for the behavior of one of her less than polite countrymen is kind of surprising). And the number of each incident is a handful. I could choose to focus on these things.

It wouldn't be hard to just complain constantly about Korean people, food, and culture. But in the end, just like back home, I'd rather spend my time and energy with the thoughtful, interesting, and mostly positive people of the world.

Kel said...

Brilliantly said, as always... although I must say your "sunny disposition" comes through much more IRL ^_~

t-hype said...

haters hate to hate alone.

perspective is good.

the end.

Anonymous said...

All things aside, you must never apologize for your opinion -- especially if your opinion of people is positive. Shall you apologize for meeting, connecting with, and understanding people? Should youa pologize for circumspect thinking and compassion?

No, certainly not. If for nothing else (and there is plenty else) I respect you for your empathy. Why else should I read your blog if not for your ability to comprehend your students and co-workers? As a teacher you are interesting insofar as you are conscientious of those whom you endeavor to educate.

I apologize if I gave any other indication. Honestly, I read one entry by Lousy (the monkeys in make-up entry) and thought it was total garbage. I read you yet. Let that speak for no sufficient words.

-- .38

I'm no Picasso said...

Spesh -- Kel there above you knows me quite well "in real life" and her comment about my "sunny disposition" is... haha.

I don't really view this blog as a place to vent any old thing. Usually some thought goes into what I say here. Amongst close friends, I'm a lot more.... just kind of a lot more, really. I crack politically incorrect jokes and bitch and moan with the best of them, really. When the situation calls for it and it's all light-hearted.

I also get really, really angry sometimes. Like, scary angry.

Usually I try to keep that out of this blog. But I think a bit of creeped in the other day, and you ended up being the target of it, a bit. I get emotional, too. And I'm not always an angel of rationalism. I know that. So. That was what it was.

And before anyone (other than you, of course) starts in, my controlling my temper and watching my mouth before I post something on the internet for all the world to see is not me censoring myself -- it's just the result of good social training. In my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Ahh...haters. Every time I encounter one, I just remember Jewel's "Pieces of You."

"Do you hate him/her, 'cause he/she's pieces of you?"

youseok said...

I have dealt with your long winded statement of essentially saying, "It is worse in (What ever country you say here.) Say you have a 13 year-old and you tell him to clean up his room. He tells you no, because his friend Minsu's room is worse. That still leaves you with two messy rooms. You can do something about the messy room in your house. You can do something about the racism in Korea, by speaking up about it.

I'm no Picasso said...

Thanks for making the argument against the argument I clearly stated I wasn't making at least twice. Reading comprehension fail.

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guy293482 said...

I think migrant workers and english teachers who are offered a job in korea with good pay should be thankful and work hard here. But too many of them take the job they couldn't find back home, then come to Korea, and bash korea and korean culture and korean people calling them racists and other judgmental names. This is korea. This is not America. Don't try and change korea to become american. Don't try and judge Korea based on american cultural standards. Koreans are not racist, they are prideful and nationalistic and have worked their asses of to get from KENYA 6 years ago to one of the top countries today. So it is only natural when foreigners come to korea and try to undermine them and pressure them to change this and change that for their own benefit. If you don't like korea, nobody is holding a gun to your head. You can just go home and try your luck there. Don't call korea a racist country or using slavery on africans and migrant workers. These people came from shit hole conditions so they should not complain and be grateful. If you don't like korea, then just go home. I certainly hope that korea will NOT become an interracial ethnic cesspool of immigrants and foreigners who feel they are the most important people in the country and use the "race" card to always get what they want and bully korea. Multiculturalism doesn't work for every society. It's a lie and deception. It works great in Canada or Singapore , or Dubai, but that doesn't mean we have to force it on Korea or else call them racists for not wanting to becoming a minority in their own land. I hate the shit the western countries try to bring to korea. It seems to be human nature to always want to go someplace that has some beauty and than trash it up for your pleasure.