Apparently, our new first grade 짱 is not a character to be fucked with. I just met him for the first time last week, and he's not that big yet, but last Friday he had an altercation with one of our third (THIRD) graders at a PC bang. The third grader is now in the hospital.
It's going to be an interesting 2.5 years, with this character on the scene. I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of him.
And that is, I don't buy this 니가 story really. And I'm frustrated at the moment at my inability to check out the Korean media for myself to follow up on it, although I have a feeling that wouldn't really help. What I do buy is a story I saw posted up on one of the video links early on which sounded almost like someone who was linked directly to the situation, who said that the foreigner had been on the phone, talking supposedly loudly, and the Korean man had either told him to "be quiet" or to "shut up please". That, to me, sounds like a much more likely story, and here's why:
I don't believe that a Korean man who was polite enough to offer a seat to a foreigner would use the word 니가 to refer to that foreigner. To put that word in context, nobody from my closest older friends on to my boyfriend to people out in public speaking to me in 반말 for whatever reason, has ever referred to me as 니가. Ever. It just isn't natural for a Korean to look at a grown man -- any grown man -- who they don't know and come out with that word. Especially not someone who is trying to do something as kind as offer a seat. It would have been way more likely that the man, even if he was speaking in low form, to just say, "여기 앉아." There would be no need to even bring a subject into it, and, from what I know at least, very unnatural to, as well.
What I have heard time and again, and even seen for myself in the case of two women speaking Chinese on a bus, are accounts of Koreans telling people speaking in a foreign language to be quiet. I don't find that story hard to buy at all.
The other thing is that, if you watch the video, it's clear that this man is not fresh off the boat. He speaks several phrases in Korean to the man which make it extremely clear that he is not completely ignorant of the language. And, especially if he is a teacher around the students on a daily basis, he would be used to hearing the word 니가 all the time. Once you are in tune enough with the sound of Korean to be speaking some of it correctly in context, you are in tune enough to notice the sound of such a common recurring word as that. There's no way he hasn't already noticed it.
I believe the Korean media is trying to fall back on the idea that this kind man was just trying to offer a seat to a foreigner, and he misunderstood, took it completely out of context and flipped his shit. I'm much more inclined to believe the phone story. And I'm also not so quick to condemn the man's reaction, for reasons that The Metropolitician has already outlined much better than I am able to. Is it acceptable behavior? Fuck no. Not b a long shot. But it's easy for white foreigners to tsk tsk about it without taking into consideration just how often this man may have been told to shut up on public transport before. Or any other number of forms of harassment, offensive statements, staring the likes of which even we can't imagine and ignorant questions he has already faced just in this one example day alone.
That's it, really. I don't buy the 니가 thing. And I don't think any critically thinking Koreans would, either. Because it doesn't make sense to me, and it shouldn't make sense to them, if they didn't really want it to.
So I got a nice coffee today before I caught the bus. And, as I was sitting there on the bus in a window seat waiting for my caffeine second wind to kick in, I spotted a herd of old students on the sidewalk, including Minwoo and Daeseok. If no one remembers, Minwoo was my golden boy from last year who stole a bike when he was in first grade and then had the audacity to smile and make a V for the CCTV while he did so. Daeseok was the one who broke into another student's apartment and used it to drink soju and order expensive porn on their cable. They used to intimidate Seokhee (my fluent South African student) into writing notes for them in English to me, because they didn't speak a lick of it themselves. There were a few other old favorites in the mix, there on the sidewalk, but no one as memorable as Minwoo and Daeseok.
We were stopped at a red light and, to the complete and utter confusion of everyone on the bus, the whole fucking herd of them came charging toward the window. First there was bowing, then waving, then a slow progression into bigger and bigger hearts formed with various parts of the body. The bus was silent and everyone was watching, but I still couldn't help laughing out loud. Then I pointed to Minwoo and mouthed the words, "잘 살고 있는거니?"
I saw him mouth back, "네?"
I guess my accent is still pretty visible. I tried again: "행--복?"
I saw, "아~! 넹~! 선생님...?"
"네. 정말 방가방가!" I knew he would catch that one, because he used to die laughing when I would say it when I passed him outside of school last year.
The light turned green and they all waved and bowed as we drove away. Then, a few stops later I got up in order to give my seat to a grandmother and some cocky young asshole stole it instead. The mood was pretty much ruined, but I tried to remember that even my favorite students have had their not-so-shining moments.
That gives that comment a whole new light. Maybe she was genuinely trying to confide in me or something. But she's not new? She's been a teacher for several years. They're just first graders. They're not even life-sized yet.
Two of the second grade teachers have also already begged off, and I have a feeling a fourth first grade teacher is going to by the end of this week.
When is my district going to stop calling me an "assistant"? Just curious.
The last two posts were just kind of precursors to what I really have to say about this whole thing, and why I feel the need to say it. Which is that, I'm dead tired of having men speak for me and other women. And this is not the first time this theme has appeared in this blog. And it probably won't be the last. I've already addressed my issues with how Korean Sentry itself just completely ignores the Western female presence or perspective. Now, unfortunately, I'm having to go back over it from the other side.
At the end of this entire melodramatic rant, The Expat finishes off by claiming that he thinks the men at Korean Sentry actually crave "this kind" of abuse -- that they're probably used to it. Maybe they do and maybe they are. Who am I to say? What I can say for sure is that I don't crave it, although I should probably be used to it by now.
This was more difficult for me to read than some of the posts on Korean Sentry itself, actually, which is not a place I'm fond of, as I've clearly stated before. It's one thing for someone to attack the basis of my relationship based on nationalistic rambling about pure blood. It's another thing entirely for someone to slam my relationship by attacking the very nature of my partner, and my choices for being with him.
My boyfriend is not Westernized. He has spent, all total, about three years living abroad, but only nine months of that time was spent in a Western country. During his time there, he spoke very little English. He spent most of that time working as a night janitor for an Indian boss and living with a Thai roommate, and hanging out with other foreigners from various Asian countries. He has some "Western" sensibilities at times, but those come from him -- from him, as a Korean raised in Korean culture and society and with Korean values. There is nothing about him that makes him the exception to the rule. He is the rule. And I am American. And I love him. And I can give you another dozen examples, if mine is not enough.
I get where this man was coming from. I really do. And I see what he was trying to do. But he needs to understand that when he speaks in categories about other people, he's encompassing a hell of a lot of people in his summary as collateral damage. And I'm kind of sick of being that collateral damage, on all sides. If you don't understand my relationship, or why I would want to be with the person I'm with, that's fine. You don't need to understand it. Just like I don't need to understand why you're with the person you're with. Although, that's not even an issue -- because I don't assume that all of the Korean women I know and love are somehow the exception the rule. I can see plainly why a man -- any man -- would love a Korean woman.
The point is, the day is never coming when a Western man will visit I'm No Picasso and find a long-winded post rehashing stereotypes about his partner, and about him for being with his partner. For any reason. In defense against anything. I'm going to show you that much respect. And I have a hard time understanding why it's so often not shown in return.
We are all living in this world with Korean Sentry and other people like the ones who post there. What Korean Sentry does is this: attacks foreigners in Korea, attacks Koreans who associate with or accept foreigners, and classifies all of the children born from any combination of these marriages as an abomination. That's enough. And that touches all of us. So, I really think the smart thing for us to do is not to fall into the trap that they've set for us, which means throwing any of these other groups under the bus in order to defend our category, or attack in return. We have enough shit to deal with here, without piling more on top of each other. Or each other's partners.
I don't know. Maybe I've missed the point. Maybe The Expat isn't interested in making things better. Maybe his only intention was to strike out at Korean Sentry, and the rest be damned. That's fine. But I'm not going to just ignore it, as he suggests in this response to someone who was critical of the post in the comments:
If it bothers you so much, you know where the door is. Given the choice, sometimes it’s best to just ignore writing that offends you. For example, I don’t visit the Korean Sentry site. I only noticed it because it was sending me a massive amount of traffic.
I mean.... I don't think I need to go back over my previous points about the fact that The Expat is having some trouble with basic logic, which I think aptly apply here, as well. And, for the record, I've been linked on Korean Sentry before, as have a few of my fellow bloggers, and "massive amounts of traffic" would be quite extreme as a classification for the traffic we all received as a result. At least comparatively speaking. But the fact of the matter is, I'm not going to just ignore it, because it's not just The Expat who is busy speaking loud and proud about my perspective as a woman, and as a Western woman. It's all over the internet, oozing out of the Korean blogosphere, and following me around in restaurants and bars -- anywhere where other foreigners are present and happen to fall on the subjects of Western women or Korean men or Western women and Korean men. And I've really just had enough of just ignoring it. Because you don't get to speak about me, and then turn around and tell me there's no point in me speaking for myself.
And as for the argument that this post was some how meant to be just a "joke".... "It was just a joke!" for me is a refuge of weak minds. Saying anything you want, and following it up with, "It was just a joke!" doesn't cut it for me. A joke is funny. A good joke, usually, is witty or clever. A good joke is fresh or somehow encompassing of an unexpressed perspective.
Spitting out tired old stereotypes that we've all heard thousands of times before, despite having lived within a culture and society for nearly a decade, is not a "joke". Unless the funny part is supposed to be investing a good chunk of your life in a place and still making the same comments as the people who climbed off the plane yesterday. That part might be funny. But it still isn't very clever, is it?
The other place where you see his stereotypes creep on in, despite his protestations that he has Korean male friends who are not like this!!! is in his characterization of the position and values of Korean men. Apparently, they are momma's boys who have everything handed to them, who Korean women only put up with because they have to. The Westernization, and therefore impending dateability of a Korean man depends on his ability to change this fact about himself. That's what his super special male Korean friends have done. Which is why they succeed with Western women.
The only thing I have to say about that, is that I don't know where this person lives or what Korean men he has been associating with to leave him with the impression that any part of that is true. Again, he claims that the people he actually knows aren't like that. So why it's become a banner for The Way That Things Just Are for him is a little puzzling to me.
But it's kind of just his word against mine, I guess, for those who haven't had the experience to know firsthand. But let me just talk about what I've seen, in general, to be my idea and impression of The Way That Things Just Are:
Korean men are, generally speaking, very close to their mothers. And, usually, their entire family is important to them. They value family, and family obligation. Their parents do sacrifice a lot for them when they are growing up. Which is why, at some point in their lives, it becomes time for them to step up to the plate and pay it back. Korean men are under a lot of pressure to secure high paying, stable jobs in an extremely competitive society, so that they can not only provide for their future families, but also because, at some point, they will be providing for their parents in their old age as well. Korean men go through a grueling high school experience that often involves returning home past midnight most nights, only to stay up for a few more hours studying even longer. They wear uniforms every day and have to keep their hair cut to strict standards. After high school, they enter the army, where they face a brutal masculine hierarchy the likes of which most Western men will never encounter in their lifetime. They shave their heads and wear nothing but army fatigues for the better part of two years. They live on a small allowance that provides for little more than cigarettes, snacks and train fare for their trips home.
The brief years surrounding their army service, which are spent in university, are a very valued time in their lives, when they can wear their hair and clothes however they want, enjoy some amount of free time and lounging around, and date girls for fun without having to think about the high standards of marriageablity requirements on either end. They make the most of it -- you better believe they do. Hence the flowerboy phenomenon -- the flashy outfits and wild hair. The, at times, childish behavior.
The second they finish university, the fun and games are over. It's back to a strict regimen of suits and ties, short and neat haircuts, and grueling working hours. With the added pressure of having women now sizing them up for their potential to provide for a family in a society where living, housing and education costs are certainly nothing to sniff at.
I would actually like to see the reaction of a panel of dead average Korean men to the characterization of them having women practically handed to them with no effort, and Korean women not having a choice in their marriage partners. I imagine it would be something akin to hysterical laughter.
But that's beside the point. My point is, I don't see anything about those values and experiences that put me off an un-Westernized, Korean-Korean man as a potential dating and marriage partner. What I see when I look at the average, stereotypical Korean man is not a lazy, spoiled momma's boy -- it's a man who values family and is accustomed to responsibility and living up to expectations. It's a man who is used to putting others before himself, when the situation calls for it, and not doing everything that he wants to all of the time. A man who understand that sometimes what you want to be doing is not what you should be doing.
But that's just me. I've only dated a few dozen of them, been friends with a couple dozen more, worked with probably close to a hundred, and been in a relationship with one for nine months. My closest friends in this country are Western women who date and are married to Korean men, and Korean women who date and are married to Korean men. What do I know, compared the The Expat, about what Western women, or any women, look for in Korean men? Probably nothing.
Okay. So. Where do I even begin with this? Someone recently referred to this blogger as the "Charles Bukowski of the Korean blogosphere" and I'm just going to go ahead and disagree on that one. Because Bukowski was.... well, he was a writer.
I think my favorite part about this entire situation this man has going on here is the desperate attempt to cobble together obvious racist vitriol with common sense and decency, resulting in basically some of the poorest argumentative writing I've ever seen in my life. Have a look at the opening paragraph, compared to one toward the middle, here:
Exhibit A: Do you know why the world dislikes Korean males? Simple: No balls. Do you know why women in other countries only marry Korean males out of economic necessity? Simple: No balls. Whiny, crying, Korean momma’s boys don’t appeal to anyone except females of economically disadvantaged backgrounds and of course (from a cultural standpoint) Korean females themselves.
Exhibit B: Is it that Korean males in general lack the social skills and confidence required to succeed with Western women? Not at all. I know plenty of Korean males who succeed regularly with Western females. You know what they have that the morons at Korean Sentry don’t have? Confidence and self esteem.
So. I mean. That's kind of basically two completely opposing statements we have here, within the span of a few paragraphs from each other. They literally cancel each other out. Which is a little confusing to me. Writers usually (not always!) need to be able to make a point of some kind. And you really can't make a point when you are stating that two mutually exclusive things are true within the same article when trying to make the same argument.
Now. I'm not a fucking idiot. I understand the concept of reversing a theme to a comical extent to prove a point about the theme being falsified. One of the key points of this tactic, however, is realizing that, if you are trying to argue that the way your opponent reasons is ridiculous, then when you flip his method to apply it to your argument, the results should also be considered ridiculous. I'll give you an example, from the very text we are concerning ourselves with at the moment, just to make myself more clear.
So of course when you morons go abroad and are continually REJECTED by females in EVERY SINGLE country you go to, you want blame someone. And of course the person you want to blame is the person whose situation is the OPPOSITE of yours. Hence the reason you continually criticize White people, foreigners in Korea, and Korean women who make a conscious decision that they are NOT THE PROPERTY of Korean males. It’s only natural that you lash out at the people who have everything that you DON’T. Hey dude, you know what happens when women all of the sudden have access to more and more options? They start choosing the BETTER of all options presented to them. Duh.Now, watch this:
So of course when you morons go abroad and are continually REJECTED by females in EVERY SINGLE country you go to, you want blame someone. And of course the person you want to blame is the person whose situation is the OPPOSITE of yours. Hence the reason you continually criticize Koreans, Korean men and Western women who make a conscious decision that they are NOT THE PROPERTY of Western males. It’s only natural that you lash out at the people who have everything that you DON’T. Hey dude, you know what happens when women all of the sudden have access to more and more options? They start choosing the BETTER of all options presented to them. Duh.Now. I have used the exact same tactics The Expat used to make the opposite point. The point I am making, however, is not that my point is right and his point is wrong. Logic dictates that, since we are using the same brand of reasoning, either both points must be right, or both must be wrong. The point I'm making is that the very method of reasoning itself is ridiculous.
The Expat, however, seems to be basically engaging in a kind of "Nuh uh you're stupid!" kind of debate, here. Which. Well. Bukowski, it's not.
He's trying, I think, at some points to technically say that he doesn't believe this is all Korean men. He is at least trying. But he is more strongly failing. And I don't even mean the places where he makes blatant direct statements about "Korean men" not having balls, when "The posters at Korean Sentry don't have any balls," would have suited just fine. His contempt for Korean men comes seeping through in other places where he doesn't even seem to be aware that he should be watching.
Like the part where he says that Western women would absolutely love to date Korean men, so long as they have gone abroad and have "adapted to the culture". Which I can only assume means, so long as the Korean men are Westernized. Like Western men. With Western values. I guess The Expat has never met a Western woman who has succeeded in adapting to Korean culture, and who has become Koreanized. Or maybe he doesn't even realize that's an option. Which is weird, because he's actually living as a foreigner, which should mean, according to his own argument, that he should be adapting himself to Korean culture.
Which I would agree with. I actually do agree that the main fuckwit over at Korean Sentry has failed to adapt, and is blaming everyone else for his failure, and taking his anger out on foreigners in his own "homeland" as a result. But. Well. I'm kind of.... seeing two people doing that.
I'll get into what I mean by that a bit later.
What is standard and expected behavior is the introduction to the foreign teacher of all of the student nicknames. Which, it has to be said, are hardly ever nice. Squid Nose (compliments of "Spongebob's friend"). King Kong. Skin Dust (???). And at least half a dozen Aliens. I do my best to play these moments off perfectly. It's a rough balancing act -- you have to let them know that being rude to their friends is not going to be funny in your class, but you also can't just crack down on them about it, or else it's damaging to the victim's pride. It's like having Mommy defend you -- it just makes the situation worse. Usually, when nothing else comes to mind, my standard response is just to say, "And what are you?" The culprit then usually laughs, but shrinks a bit into himself and glances around cautiously, hoping no one else decides to pipe up and answer the question. Point made.
But with the Aliens, it's also a chance to head off another common problem that tends to crop up as the year goes on, which is "E.T." jokes -- E.T. obviously meaning alien, and also English teacher. And also foreigner, by way of alien. The students are still new to me, and still pretty nervous about the idea of cracking any jokes at my expense, or the perception of bad behavior. No one wants to get pigeonholed as the asshole by the foreign teacher right off the bat. In fact, I have to be a little careful not to call anyone out for talking or goofing around too strongly in the first couple of weeks, because they will get way too upset about it. At this point, before I've become just another teacher who they are comfortable with, it can really hurt their feelings and cause a grudge that may not be dropped for the next three years.
So. Every time I've had an Alien this week, this is how it has gone down:
"Teacher he alien! Face alien! Big head!"
"I'm an alien."
"아니-- no no! Not Teacher! He! Alien!"
"I'm an alien."
"No no not Teacher saying! He!"
"No, I am. I'm an alien in Korea."
"No no not saying Teacher! HE! HE! HE ALIEN! TEACHER NOT ALIEN SAYING!"
".... I'm an alien."
Haha. They think that I'm misunderstanding them as calling me an alien and they get pretty upset about it. But it just goes to show.... if it's not nice to say it to one person, it's not nice to say it to another, either, boys.
Tonight, it happened again. We said goodbye near his place after dinner, and I headed back to the bus station by taxi on my own. As soon as I got in the cab, the taxi driver started carrying on, which was fine. I've rarely had a taxi driver make me feel actually threatened -- more times than not, even if they are being a bit randy, it stays within the bounds of respectful distance and good nature. I texted Busan about it, jokingly.
About ten minutes later, he got another text, which was not so funny. Almost as soon as I got to the bus stop, a slightly older business man decided to step uncomfortably close to me and peer over my shoulder at my phone. I was gazing at the electronic subway map, simply trying to work out if there wasn't a cheaper, faster route to get from Busan's neighborhood to my bus. Nothing immediately important. When he saw what I was looking at, he asked me, in Korean, where I was trying to go. Obviously, I assumed he was just a kind soul who spotted a foreigner who looked like she was trying to work out a transit route and was offering to help. I informed him that I was already taking the XXXX bus, and was just looking at the subway map incidentally.
"The XXXX bus? You'll have to wait a long time for that one. The subway will get you there faster."
I pointed up at the sign, which said the bus would be by in 20 minutes, but it was worth the wait, because the subway would take me an hour and a half to get home, but the bus would take only 40 minutes. And that, besides, the bus had empty seats, whereas the subway was crowded. Obviously, it wasn't quite that eloquent, given that I was doing my best to patch all of that together in Korean, but he was still impressed that I'd managed to get all of that across. He complimented my Korean and I said thank you, and then started to get a bit uncomfortable, as he lingered at my side a bit closer than I would have liked for him to have been in the first place. Still not a tangible threat, however. And he didn't appear to have been drinking, which is the nonsense you really have to look out for.
However. He then slowly raised his index finger up to the tattoo on my bicep and began to trace the outline. Who the fuck just touches a stranger like that? I took a massive step away and put my earphones back in to make it clear that we were finished. He moved closer again and began to shout, to be sure that I could hear him. He said that 20 minutes was a long time to wait, and that it was just enough time to grab a quick drink together.
I pulled out my earphones and employed a technique that has worked in diffusing these kinds of situations before, which was to inform him that I was a teacher, using the word 교사 instead of 선생님, which usually gets across the point that I'm a public school teacher, rather than hagwon. For some reason, that sometimes has the effect of seeming more respectable. I've had taxi drivers start in on me before about coming to Korea to make money and whatnot, but once they realize I work at a public school, rather than a hagwon, they usually come out with, "아~! 교사!" Obviously, it doesn't actually make a difference, but in the majority Korean mind, it seems to, in perception. Usually, when I mention this to a man who is behaving out of turn, he seems to suddenly get a bit embarrassed. Not the case, tonight.
I informed him that I was a teacher, and so I had to be up early in the morning to go to school, and could not drink alcohol anyway, and then stepped several paces away again. Again, he followed. I pulled out my phone and started to send another text to Busan. He peered over my shoulder at the screen. I wrote, in Korean, that there was a strange ajeosshi talking to me and that he had touched me and was trying to make me go drink alcohol with him. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was sending a text to my boyfriend. His response, although he had plainly seen exactly what I was writing? "Ah! I'm envious!"
At this point, I stepped away once again. The man made to follow me, when suddenly, another ajeosshi who had been standing behind us watching this entire exchange stepped in between us. He didn't say a word, or even make eye contact with either of us, but just stood like a silent barrier between myself and the man. The man tried to move around the second ajeosshi, and the second ajeosshi again adjusted himself so that he stayed between us.
I don't know what bus he was waiting for, if he let one go by in the meantime or not. But the man stood there for the rest of the time I was waiting, and watched as I climbed safely onto my bus, without further incident.
I still kinda don't, to be honest. But the school year usually brings about issues and conversations and happenings which are blog-relevant, so we'll just give it a minute, eh?
Basically, I'm back and work and dead happy about that. I'm pathetic during vacation. My mood has increased ten-fold since being back in a regular teaching environment with all of my coworkers around to banter with throughout the day. HT managed to call me on the last day of my vacation and completely ruin everything, only for me to be a bit cheerfully passive aggressive and get everything put back to right yet again.
The way I've come to think of her is.... there's this Dorothy Parker short story, right? It's called "Too Bad" and it's about a seemingly perfect couple's marriage falling apart, to the dismay of their peers who can't understand what could have possibly gone wrong. But what went wrong was that they were so ordinarily happy on the surface, with all kinds of boredom and restrained resentment boiling under the surface. Pretty standard suburban subject matter. But the point is, there's this scene near the opening where the wife is wandering around the house trying to give it "feminine touches". She's moving things from the mantel to the coffee table, adjusting the angle of flowers and lamps. She's trying to make a difference in something that isn't even a problem to begin with, just to feel as though she has the talent to do so. Just to feel somehow useful. But what she realizes, in the end, is that everything already looks best the way that it is (the way that the maid has it arranged).
Do you see where I'm going with this?
It's annoying. But so far it's been manageable. And getting a lot easier now that I've realized that she is, at least, not stubborn about it.
Anyway. That's all I've got for you right now. Obviously I spent a large chunk of my vacation time reading in cafes. What a crashing bore, eh? Fuck you anyhow. At least I didn't blog about it....