Jeremy Lin: I guess I'll weigh in.

Busan's crazy about basketball. Everyone who actually gives a good goddamn about what I write on these blogs should know that by now. And, as a result, of course I've been hearing about Jeremy Lin. That's to be expected. What I didn't expect was to hear so damn much about him every where else, from loads and loads of people who don't care about basketball in the slightest.

I don't like talking about sports, or caring about sports, and I'm not Asian-American, or Asian, or male, so I wanted to take a good long while to sit back and see what everyone else had to say. I assume everyone's pretty up to date on all of the shenanigans with public figures or news outlets engaging in atrociously racist behavior and "hilarious" commentary. I'm not even going to get into that, that much, because.... well, if you found it surprising, at least now you know. There's no big theory, for me, as to what's behind it -- it's just old school blatant disgusting racism disguised as humor at its best, and there's nothing about Asians, or the Asian male, that's brought it about. It just is.

I am seriously interested in the conversations amongst Asian-Americans about what Jeremy Lin has meant for them, but again, that's not my court to play. So to speak. So I won't.

But I am intensely interested in all debates surrounding masculinity, and Asian masculinity in particular. Because gender is interesting, the way we classify gender is interesting, and the way we classify gender based on race and foreignness is really fucking interesting. And it affects all of us. Even if we think that it doesn't, because even if we don't fall into one category or another, we are all sized up for our relative femininity, masculinity, in relation to our gender (biological or identified), our sexuality and our race. And so are all of our partners. And it has an effect on our self-identity, as well as the definition of our "preferences".

It's fucking intricate and inescapable, see?

So. Enough rambling. Onto Jeremy Lin.

Sitting at dinner with Stupid Ugly Foreigner last night, and he says, "I want to hear your opinion about something...."

The guy's Canadian, so I can't blame him for being a little appalled. He knows I generally view Canadians as more dignified in just about every possible realm of social development than Americans, as a category. But am I surprised by the grossness Jeremy Lin has brought out into the public eye? No. I'm fucking not.

This post is going to include some links to Tumblr blogs, because if you haven't already, you people need to get it together and stop making stupid comments about females and their feeble anti-computer minds and how Tumblr is like, for kittens and little lady bloggers, and realize that some of the most intelligent commentary in the Korean blogosphere is going on over there. So here we go.

As this piece linked to by hanguknamja points out, we gotta be careful when we talk about this shit. Like, really fucking careful. So careful that your mind might start to spin.

Here's a good place to start: alectointhunderland recently discussed how obnoxious it is when her friends pronounce her Taiwanese boyfriend as the "good" kind of Asian man, or reject the notion that he could be fully Asian-raised Asian at all, I've bristled at similar commentary for years, and this Jeremy Lin thing is bringing a lot of it to the forefront again. As I see it, there are a few core issues going on here:

  1. That Asian-raised Asian men cannot fit the mold of Western masculinity.
  2. That ethnically Asian men in general cannot fit the mold of Western masculinity, regardless of where they were raised.
  3. That there is no such thing as Asian masculinity.
  4. That Asian masculinity is inferior to Western masculinity.
  5. That masculinity in general is superior to femininity, or perceived femininity.
  6. And where Jeremy Lin in particular is concerned, you have the added bonus of the notion that athleticism is somehow inherently masculine.
False. All false. But when you get caught up arguing against nearly any of the things on that list, you're at risk at somehow ending up promoting one or more of the other things on that list. In many ways, it's a lose-lose. Or a matter of choosing whichever you find to be the lesser of all evils. Which is why discussing this subject is so difficult.

I don't want to, for example, defend my boyfriend by claiming he's not a girly man. He's not -- he's very masculine, by both Western and Korean standards. But that's not the point -- the point is, it doesn't matter if he's a girly man or not, because being feminine, as a man, does not make you inferior. So what am I supposed to say?

I guess you just have to try to stick to the truth. Stripping down as many biases as possible and observing what's really there, as opposed to what's being perceived as being there.


Basically, this is what it comes down to: when I look at Jeremy Lin -- if you had just shown me a photo of this man I had never seen before, and whom I knew nothing about -- there would be no doubt in my mind that this guy was a jock. Would it have been that way before I moved to Korea? I can't honestly say. I can hardly compare what I know now and what my views are to biases I may not have even realized I had when I lived back in the US. I would like to think that I would have said the same thing, but I can't honestly answer that way for sure.

What I do know is that when you move to an Asian country and especially when you start working at an all boys' school in that Asian country, any preconceived, distanced notions of Asian masculinity (should?) go quickly out the window. I'm imbued with Korean masculinity on a daily basis. Some people may argue that this has shifted my point of view unfairly, but it should go without saying that having more information and experiences never makes you more biased.

What Jeremy Lin has done is provided America with an example they are incapable of ignoring. Some of the reactions to this are to rebel against it, in the form of emasculating jokes about penis size or the word "chink" and all of the weight that it carries. Another kind of reaction is the "exception" argument -- Jeremy Lin is a freak incident. And one final kind is the kind the above article discusses: that Jeremy Lin is validation.

What do I see Jeremy Lin as?

A conversation starter. An ordinary man with an extraordinary talent in the right place at the right time, who just happens to be Asian. A symbol not so much of Asians and Asian manhood, but of America's troubled and complicated views of Asians and Asian manhood.

I live my life for these Asian males every day, now. I'm here to tell you there is nothing strange about Jeremy Lin. There's nothing strange about an Asian male being tall or strong or athletic or obsessed with basketball. What is strange is seeing it on American television.

You all know what confirmation bias is, right? Well. I'm predicting at least a few defensive comments (or at least inner monologues from readers) about how, but, the Asian guys I always knew, the Asian guys I always saw, the Asian guys I know in real life.....

Listen. When you're looking for something, you see it. When you're not, you don't. That's the way that things work. Unless something really strongly confronts your biases to the contrary, you're very likely to overlook it. And even when something does rub against your prejudices, your instinct is to dismiss it as an exception.

It happens all the time. The most prominent example that I can think of, obviously, is the Western-women-don't-like-Asian-men meme. Every time, every time this subject comes up, the fact that I like Asian men serves as no excuse to debate the issue. The fact that three or four or all of the other Western women in this person's immediate vicinity or social circle like Asian men also serves as no excuse to argue. This person has heard all of their life that Western women don't like Asian men. Every woman who does, regardless of how many of them there are, is the exception.

Jeremy Lin is the exception. Because you want to see him that way. Because he's all over the TV and the newspapers and the magazines, and you have no choice but to see him. But you can still control how he makes you see Asian men. And, by god, he's an exception. Whereas that one nerdy, socially awkward, skinny Asian guy in your math class in high school? He's the rule. You saw him with your own eyes, and he's the one you remember, and he's the one who supports what you always thought, what you are comfortable believing. And so he's the rule.

There are no rules, and there are no exceptions. If you live in Asia, if you live amongst Asian people, and you don't see it, then you are choosing not to. You're not digging in deeply enough. I know, because I see it every day with my own eyes. And it doesn't mean that Asian men are better or worse than you thought, more or less masculine than you thought, more or less conforming to Western ideals about masculinity than you thought. It's just true.


The great gender divide: lunch time edition.

I've got a pretty solid internet (and otherwise) reputation for being a feminist, which more times than not just means I don't want to put up with extra bullshit just because female. In fact, if I were in charge of the world, that would actually be the official definition. But I have to say.... there are times when I notice the differences between the genders. Not because anything is genetic, but because of socialization. Or. Whatever it is. I notice.

And probably the biggest example of when I notice is lunch time during vacation periods at work.

When there are primarily male teachers in the office for the day, this is how lunch goes:

One teacher comes over to my desk at precisely 12 on the dot and says one word (or two, depending on the language he uses): lunch. I stand up, put on my shoes and coat and follow them out to someone's car. There are maybe fifteen words exchanged all around during this walking period. At the restaurant, we are immediately seated in our reserved area and all served the exact same meal. There are a few words passed back and forth for the next 20 minutes, but mostly everyone just puts their heads down and eats. We're back in our individual offices by 12:30, 12: 40 at the very latest.

With the female teachers, it goes a little differently.

Around 10:30, the first person will start to complain about being hungry. This will start a trickle-down effect that will have everyone in the office making suggestions about what we could do for lunch by 11. We will spend the next hour debating the various advantages and disadvantages of the following categories:
  • Ordering in or going out.
  • Making a reservation or just dropping in.
  • The kind of food.
  • Which restaurant serves the best of that kind of food.
  • Which restaurant has the best prices for that kind of food.
  • Which restaurant has the best side dishes for that kind of food.
  • Which restaurant that serves that kind of food is closest to a coffee shop, where we can drop by afterward, should we decide we want coffee.
  • Which coffee shop is the best.

Once we have all of that worked out, it's time to start the next round of debate, which includes:

  • Who all is in the building who might like to go.
  • Who all is outside of the building but in the neighborhood and might like to go.
  • Who will call who to find out the above information.
  • Literally dozens of phone calls.
  • Counting people once the final decisions are made -- there are five. No, there are six. No, there are five. No, there are definitely six. But there might be seven.
  • Who will call to get the number for the restaurant.
  • Who will call the restaurant.
  • Should we walk or drive?
  • Who will drive? Who will ride?
  • Who will ride in what car?
  • Who will split off from the restaurant, not returning to the school, and how can the return car rides be rearranged to fit these needs?
  • Dozens more phone calls.
By then, it's past 12:30 and time to go, so:
  • Do I need to take my bag?
  • Who will go down to which office to collect who?
  • Elevator or stairs?
  • Back door or front?
  • Who will sit in the back seat and who will sit in the front?
  • Did I lock that door and unplug that electronic device?
  • I don't think I did. I better go back and check.
  • Which road is the best one to take to the restaurant?
If we're lucky, we're eating by 1:30. Then there's coffee, which is another round of ordeals about who's in what car, who's having what, where's the best place to sit, etc. etc. etc. We might make it back to school by three.

Four hours versus thirty minutes. And chances are good that I won't even get any meat in the meantime. What a headache.


On 제사, INP style and translating love.

Busan's work schedule has been causing us some problems lately. I've been as patient as I can manage, but it's an adjustment for me, not just to the culture, but also to a part of life, and a part of being a supportive significant other. Suffice it to say, it's been a lesson of all three kinds for Busan as well. Over the course of the past month, three of the four weekends, Busan has ended up having to cancel our dates. His product was scheduled to launch on Valentine's Day, and after the disappointment of yet another canceled weekend, I made the executive decision to just cancel the holiday altogether. He swore he could get away from work on time, but I wasn't convinced I could handle the blow if I prepared something (as it is the custom for the woman to do for the man here, on Valentine's Day), only to have to sit there and stare at it alone on Valentine's evening, while he pulled yet another late night shift.

There was another reason why I didn't feel prepared to face that little potential bump this week, which is that February 16th is my late grandfather's birthday. I knew it was going to be a hard week already.

Things were tense between Busan and myself all week. When Tuesday rolled around, I was let off work early and feeling rather blue. I decided that I needed to do something both to occupy my time, and to help me feel a little better about my grandfather's impending birthday.

In our family, the traditional birthday custom is my grandmother's red velvet cake. So, on Tuesday afternoon, I set about baking red velvet cupcakes.

It might seem like an odd thing to do, but it can't be that odd, because I found out that last night, my family back in Texas decided to go out to eat at my grandfather's favorite restaurant, in honor of his birthday as well. There must be something instinctual about it, then.

In Korea, they have a word for it -- 제사, or a customary meal prepared and offered to ancestors and relatives who have passed along with a ceremony that involves bowing, traditionally performed on the death anniversary.

But I don't want to remember the day my grandfather died. I don't want to remember anything about that time.

I'd rather remember the happy times -- his birthday seems so much better. My grandfather's birthday falls exactly a month before mine, and I somehow always grew up imagining that formed some kind of psychic link between us. I can't think of my birthday without thinking of his. I can't think of him without thinking of his birthday.

On Valentine's Day evening, I was in the midst of cleaning up after the baking and talking to a friend on the phone, when my doorbell rang. Busan was standing outside wrapped up to his ears in his scarf and cradling a box of Valentine's cakes in his gloved hands. He looked down when I opened the door, and his eyes showed the big fake nervous smile he does when he's afraid I'll be angry. He pushed the cakes toward me and announced that he had only come to drop them off (an hour and a half from work, an hour and a half commute back to his home) and not to be mad, and that he would go.

Of course, I invited him in. He spied the cupcakes still cooling on the table and looked a little confused. "For my grandfather," I explained. "His birthday is on Thursday. We make this kind of cake for birthdays in my family."

He unwrapped his scarf and nodded as he sat down at the table and said, "아, 제사...."

When my grandmother came to visit, it's fair to say Busan made a pretty big mess of things. She's still far from having forgiven him, and she can't resist making comparisons between him and my grandfather. They don't think of others enough, they don't realize the impact their actions have. They don't pay enough attention, or understand quickly enough, or empathize enough. I think the darker parts of her mind are afraid I'm going to waste my life with him, the way she sometimes must feel she wasted her life with my grandfather. But what she can't have entirely forgotten are all of the reasons she fell in love with my grandfather to begin with.

My grandfather had his faults -- we all do. And I know my grandmother tried her best, and loved him in a way that I don't even have the capability to understand, at this early age in life. But he loved her, too. He had a clumsy way of loving, and it didn't always come out right, but up until the day he died, he would retell the story of how he had met her dragging on the strip in their small town, and how he had told his friend that very night that that was going to be the woman he would marry. His eyes would fucking shine the way you read about in stories, but don't fully understand until that rare chance life provides you with to see it for yourself. He loved her with all of his heart.

For my grandmother and me, love is a practical thing. An action. A way of life. For men like my grandfather and Busan, it's an incommunicable emotion that you feel to your very core, even if you don't always act the way my grandmother and I believe love demands you should. Our eyes may never shine, but we show our love through daily tasks. They may always fall short on that end, but they will always light up when they stop to think.

In a way, it's a different language. And what I've learned from my grandparents, if not also from the very real language differences that Busan and I have, is that you have to take the time to translate, or you'll never make it.

So I sat at that table that night with Busan, a bottle of makgeolli and those cupcakes between us, and I translated.

For me, love is an action.

And that's why 제사 ultimately does make sense. What do you do when you love someone? You take care of them. When they are gone, and you love them, and you miss them, you miss taking care of them. What's the very basest action that displays care for another human being? Providing nourishment -- sustenance. Be it emotional, spiritual or physical.

I'll work on lighting up. Busan will work on the proofs of love. And we will both work on understanding that our languages are not the same. But the nice thing about languages is, they can be learned, with patience, persistence and time.

I heard that the S. Korean president has made some deal with the US. The two countries can buy anything from one another tax free. My Korean friend is afraid SK will become like Mexico within two years. Any houghts?

Someone has really overestimated me with this one. You all do know I studied poetry at university, right?

No. Here's the thing -- economics, and especially global economics, have never been a strong point of mine. I've read book after book about the IMF and the FTA and Mexico and Asia and South America, and I even took a graduate level course on globalization at university (the result of which being one of those high B exams I mentioned before) to try to educate myself, and to some extent it has worked, but not to the point where I would feel comfortable speaking as any kind of authority on the subject. I always end up getting too wrapped up in the social issues involved, and spent most of that grad course turning purple with rage at the back of the class as a room full of college educated artists made tacky comment after tacky comment in regards to poor people, the category.

On the one hand, I love the idea of the transportation and mixing of cultures across the globe -- the more exposure we all have as human beings, the more human we will become. On the other, much bigger and stronger hand, Neocolonialism -- the destruction of small, homegrown businesses and agriculture, the Westernization of entire cultures.... and the people at the bottom who always seem to end up the losers.... I don't know.

This is not an easy question. And I'm far from educated enough to answer it properly. So instead, I'd like to open the comments, because it's something I've also been wondering about. So... what have you got to say about this? Let me know.

Ask me anything


Quality time with the PE teacher and tutoring dread.

Have spent the morning explaining American style disciplinary systems within schools to the PE teacher of my dreams/학생부장님 and it's been interesting. They're pretty desperate to get something sorted here before the new school year starts, because of all the fairly serious problems we had last year, which pretty much everyone is attributing to the lack of corporal punishment (not a complete lack, mind you, but a serious reduction). He was in awe of the 40 page handbook I printed out, and spent a lot of time asking general questions about how it all works. He said next week he will need more help with the specifics.

The fact of the matter is, a turn away from corporal punishment means a turn away from the more personal relationship between teachers and students. When you're dealing with sheer numbers, and you take away the fear of god, so to speak, all that's left to turn to, really, is the fear of institution. For the teachers, it might be simpler. For the students, I'm not so sure.

At any rate, they've all just been gaping at me about how I'm here every day at 8:30 on the dot for no actual reason whatsoever, while they've all been wandering in and out, so the official word is that I should just "go home when [I] feel ready". Which will obviously be just after lunch. I'll go to Homeplus to pick up a few things for something I'll get into later, and then probably head back home to study and fret for a few hours before I go back out to meet my tutor for the first time at 8.

Basically, I really don't want to do that. I don't want to meet a new person and I don't want to speak Korean and I don't want to show him my writing, which I'm sure has numerous embarrassing mistakes and I don't want any part of the whole mess. But it's got to be done.

Suck it up. Right? Right.


What's going on.

Real quick now, a little morning mash-up of what's been going on lately. I'm back in that god forsaken studentless desert, which always brings about it an air of existential despair. What do I do with my life other than attempt to teach? Apparently, I attempt to learn. Korean, that is.

My coworkers finally gathered around in a herd to ask me what in the fuck was going on yesterday. They always see me faffing about with this book or that text in Korean, perpetually on the sidelines, but they have never seen me with my head down like this before. I explained that it's becoming more and more blatantly obvious that we foreign teachers in public schools in Korea are not long for this world. They claim Korea will always keep a few good chosen ones around, but I'm frankly not arrogant enough to imagine that I, with my non-existent education degree, will be among them. Not enough to bank my future in Korea on it, without a backup plan, anyway. And everyone already knows I'd practically prefer to chew my own arm off than enter the hagwon world, if for no other reason than I involuntarily wake up at 5 or 6 am, and I simply couldn't hack it with an afternoon-to-evening work schedule.

The only thing I can think to do is prepare myself as well as possible for vague plans of getting my Masters, and becoming a professor of one sort or another. Or whatever else a Masters might allow for. I know. I always swore I would never go back to school, but the more I think about trying to hack in the long run here, the more it seems like the most sensible option. In order to do that, I've got to know Korean. And know it in a different way than I was aiming for before. I've got to know it by the book and on exams. Hence the TOPIK chatter.

Now the thing is, I'm a lazy little shit when it comes to vague goals in my personal life. But if there's one thing anyone who's known me from the time I was in school can tell you, it's that I can take exams like a bastard. I've never scored below a high B on any exam in my entire life (and even the high B's can be counted on one hand, or if I remember correctly, two fingers -- they were considered minor tragedies in their time). And what is it Koreans like to constantly tell complaining foreigners? When in Rome....

Well. But I don't want to go too far past myself in the realm of reading and writing in comparison to speaking. And also, the new textbook I have has reduced itself only to the odd sprinkling of irrelevant English explanation, which has left me gaping at the page in confusion with some new grammar forms, I have to say. I can do all of the self-study I want, but those questions are not going to answer themselves, and I refuse to be fluent on paper and mute in action. So the only reasonable thing to do was to sort out a tutor for a couple of hours a week, to fill in the gaps.

Which has got Busan beside himself, frankly. I've finally managed to find a guy who seems genuine about his intentions to improve his own English by using it to teach Korean, and who -- even better -- is right around my area and willingly to come to my little old neighborhood to do it. It doesn't get more convenient than that. But Busan is convinced that for him to have a foreign girlfriend who goes to another Korean guy to learn is a "humiliate" for him, and that guys who want to teach foreign girls Korean only have one real intention, and education isn't it.

I'd like to think with more than three years of experience in the area under my belt that I'm able to tell the jokers from the real deal, but he's not convinced. I'm less willingly to waste my time with flirty little ridiculous coffee dates masquerading as study sessions than he thinks, however. I'm sure it will be fine, and if it's not, I'll ditch this guy and start over from scratch. Just before he finally came through, I'd realized that, after all, I live literally next door to a university, and there have got to be kids there looking for an easy way to make a bit of pocket money. Right?

So. That's where things stand. And also I may be well on my way to having a new little cat around. Which is also somehow making Busan a bit jealous. Hardly anything doesn't.

I just hope that, once the boys are back and school life is in full swing, I won't lift my head up to find I've waded into the water well above it. But I can handle it, I think. Time will tell.


Koreans take the TOPIK, too.

Today my third graders were in my office during lunch digging through my Korean study materials, as they usually are, when they came across a copy of last year's TOPIK exam. There was a lot of general hubub about when and why and how, as well as a scan through to see whether or not they could answer all of the questions (no, they couldn't, but they did quiz me on the ones they could).

And then I heard a side conversation break off in Korean. One student was explaining to another that Korean people also take the TOPIK exam. I broke in out of sheer curiosity and asked him to explain what he meant. He explained it once in words I couldn't catch, and then broke it down into baby Korean for me: People whose bodies are Korean, but who don't speak Korean.

Ah. You mean 교포.

Yes, they said, 교포.

At this point I just laughed and faltered a little, as they wanted to know what I found amusing about that, but I was having a hard time finding the words to explain it. What I wanted to say was, of course Koreans who didn't grow up in Korea don't always speak Korean, and therefore they would take the TOPIK. But that's not quite the same thing as saying that Koreans also take the TOPIK, is it? The race is not so extremely tied to the language....

But what I managed to get across was this: I think most Americans don't consider Korean-Americans to be Korean -- they consider them to be American.

Now, that's not purely true, obviously. Korean-Americans are Korean, but only an American with a very shallow puddle of a mind would claim that they are not also American. Fully American.

This concept was shocking to the students, and I, frankly, wasn't surprised by that.

But Teacher, why do Americans think 교포 are American? They don't look American. They look Korean.

Kiddos, give this some thought: What does an American look like?

Ahhhh. They got my point.

But a 교포's ancestors are from Korea!

Where are an American's ancestors from?

They mostly got it, I think, but it was obviously still amusing them that Americans think that American-born Koreans are American. Hopefully that's something that will change, as more and more foreign and half-foreign children are born and raised in Korea, and there is more of a home-base frame of reference. It was definitely an interesting exchange, though.


The weight of it all.

So. It is the last week of school, and the third graders are clearly acting out. A strange combination of feelings -- the freedom of escaping from one school, the pressure of facing down three more even harder, uncertain years at another.

I didn't get a chance to see Mingi today, but I happened to be coming downstairs at the same time Joonghyeon was finally released today. At first I hung back a bit, because I never know with Joonghyeon. Sometimes he wants to talk, and sometimes he wants to be left alone. But as I padded along behind him, his pace slowed and, without looking up to acknowledge me, he fell into step beside me.

So we walked a bit of the way home together. He looked like shit. When I asked him if something bad happened to him today, he visibly winced, realizing news of it had already spread even to the fucking foreign teacher.

What I hope the VP took into account is, Joonghyeon's mother has brain cancer, and in addition to the personality disorder that I'm certain Joonghyeon has, which he's been working very hard all year to control, he's going through something horrible at home. And at a very awkward time to be going through it as well.

He didn't even look angry -- just sad. I just said the only thing I could think of, which was, "Two more days..." He nodded and didn't even say goodbye before he veered off as we parted directions.

As I rounded the corner, I saw the student whose mother killed herself this year across the street at the bus stop and waved.

Fucking hell.

Now I'm sitting here while Busan is trying to explain that, for the first time in Korea, a teacher is going to jail for neglecting a student who was being severely bullied and who eventually killed herself. Apparently the student's parents begged the teacher to intervene, but the teacher just scolded the students a bit and didn't take enough care to stop the bullying.

They're under a lot of pressure, our coworkers, and they're carrying a lot more responsibility than we realize sometimes. I only hope that these sad stories will slow down soon, although I don't believe that they will. Being alive in this world is tough for anyone, but it's especially tough as a kid. God bless them all, and the people who take care of them.

Regarding the Master Letters.

And to whoever is googling "master letters emily dickinson sparknotes", YOU DON'T DESERVE TO EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT IS! Your teacher/professor goes out of their way to give you this incredible assignment, and you need Sparknotes? THERE ARE THREE OF THEM. And they will change your life.

Read them, and read everything you can find that was ever written about them. Trust me.

And if you're just reading them and confused about the meaning, then kudos to you for trying to sort it out, but -- trust me -- there are much better sources. Although not nearly enough of them, I know (this blog being the fourth result on Google for the text is evidence enough of that). But here's a good place to start.

The paper I've written is little more than undergrad drivel (albeit very passionate drivel -- my entire thesis, which I was finishing at the time, centered around letter writing and poetry). The professor presiding over the I.S. I wrote it for wanted me to put it up for publication, but I didn't really see the point in that. Anyway, given how little there was available to me when I was researching the letters, I thought throwing the paper up on the internet couldn't hurt, if other people were looking.

Better yet, embrace the fact that no one's given the proper amount of shit either about Dickinson or the letters to pulverize the meaning of them with academia yet, and make of it whatever it is you feel you should.

The Final Throes.

Today, Joonghyeon shouted in the VP's face, and when the VP grabbed him by the collar and shouted back, he responded with the Korean equivalent of, "Why the hell are you spitting in my face?"

Mingi stabbed a classmate in the back of the head with a chopstick.

Two more days. I hope we all make it out alive.


Do you believe that the Korean wave will successfully make its way to the US? If so, will Korean culture be further exoticized and objectified as "Asian", or will it stand on its own with individuality?

I'm going to be honest, here -- the Korean wave is not really of much concern to me in either direction. I mean, "successfully" is kind of subjective here, because Girls Generation were just on David Letterman. I would personally consider that to be pretty successful, as far as American exposure goes. And it seems that the number of foreign girls coming over to Korea, either to work or to study, because they fell in love with Kpop at some point in their adolescence is increasing exponentially every year.

Do I think it will ever be a common occurrence to turn on the radio in Idaho and hear Big Bang? No. I really don't. But I can't think of more than a handful of bands from any non-English speaking country with which that is a common occurrence. So what can you expect?

Do you know what? Fuck Korean wave, actually. Kpop is not the best that Korea has to offer. What I would really like to see is an explosion in American exposure to Korean food. That, to me, is the real gold that Korea has to offer the world.

As for Americans somehow giving Korea the individual recognition it deserves in regards to its position apart from Asia, again, how many Americans do you know who know the individual nuances which differentiate, say, Norway from Sweden? Or Brazil from Argentina? I'm guessing the ones you know who can tell you the differences there, can also tell you the differences between Korea and Japan or China.

And as for exoticizing and objectifying, unfortunately that's just part and parcel of the importation of foreign cultures. No chance it won't happen, ever, with any culture within any other culture.

But yeah. Korean food is the way forward for Korea I think. I love Big Bang (so netizens and fangirls -- I don't really mean it when I say, "Fuck Korean wave," -- please don't stalk me and ruin my life). But I love an evening of 갈비 and 소주 more.

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I really enjoy your blog and your attitude toward your teaching and your students- you have a great mindset that I hope to emulate. I was just wondering if you'd be willing to write more about the students who asked you about your opinion of gays. Thanks!

I've been meaning to finish that story, yes. I'm sorry. I may even get to it tonight, but it's been one of those things where my relationship with these guys is ongoing, and every day something changes a bit. Anyway, what made me just remember I had this question waiting was this text exchange with one of the boys this afternoon:

Student [out of nowhere]: a..my girl friend today is birthday
INP: oh, really? did you buy a present?
Student: um?? im not gay ㅠㅠㅠㅠ
INP: haha it's okay. why are you crying?
INP: present = 선물
INP: buy = 사다
INP: did you? = 했니?
INP: did you buy a present?
Student: a~hahahahahaha...쑥쓰럽네요ㅜㅜㅜㅜㅜㅜㅜㅜㅜㅜㅜ
Student: buy남자여자 둘다 좋아하냐고 하는 건줄알앗어요ㅜㅠ
INP: haha no. that's "bi".
INP: "bi" means two. remember? we studied that.

Weird. Is "bi" a word they commonly know? I don't even know. But I will come back to this later. I promise.

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Clearing something up: 28 = 15 cont.

The author of the previous question has been so kind as to stop by and explain what she meant a little more in full. As she said, the space in the formspring box is quite limited and sometimes people aren't able to make themselves clear. To note for future questions from others, I'm always reachable by email at imnopicasso@gmail.com, although I can be bad or slow at responding sometimes.... I try to do my best. If you do email me, though, be sure to clarify whether or not you want the question posted in public or not! Usually I respond privately, but if it's a question I've gotten a lot of different emails about, sometimes I'll post the response. Never will do, if you ask me not to, however.

Here was her response:

The space to ask questions was limited, so I didn't get to explain further. My friend is actually my daughter's friend and she didn't mean anything negitive. She was trying to explain to me the difference in the dating culture between Americans and Koreans. It was just from her experiance. She grew up in American but had to move to Korea with her family when her father was stationed in Korea. She spent 3 years there. What she meant was that the young people in Korea don't move as quickly into relationships as Americans.

For example, teens start dating so young here and the relationship can quickly move from kissing on the first date to being more physical within a week. In Korea, she found that most people start dating later and it could take knowing someone a couple of months before the guy would attempt to even hold her hand.

She was trying to explain that she was having issues with American guys trying to move so quickly from saying "Hey, I like you" to "Hey, let's sleep together."

The example of subtracting the age was just trying to show that the Koreans she knew didn't jump into serious relationships as early as Americans.

I didn't mean to offend you or imply that your boyfriend wasn't mature. I was just trying to ask your opinion about the pace at which relationships move when dating a Korean man vs. an American man.

I have read your blog from the beginning and admire your dedication to teaching. I can understand, looking back on how I phrased the question, why you would have taken it the way you did. I apologize if I offended you or anyone else with the way I worded my question.

To begin with, I would say that even by thinking of it in terms of age (which I don't think is the best way to explain it -- it's a little more complicated than that), thirteen years is quite extreme. My boyfriend does happen to actually be 28, and when I imagine dating a fifteen year old, I think more of giddy behavior, petty fighting and general flightiness -- irresponsibility and a childish mindset. The timestamps on appropriate timing of physical aspects of the relationship is one of the last things I think of, which is perhaps why I took the question in the wrong way to begin with. And no, the idea that Koreans are "childish" is not a new one, unfortunately. It's something I've heard (I think we've all heard) pretty often before. Which is why I don't think imagining it in terms of age is very helpful in general. Like I said, my boyfriend works and works hard, contributes to his family and is very responsible.

Your daughter's friend, I would imagine, may have been dealing with university aged men. Or, at least, that is where I notice this "lag" in maturity. It's generally known amongst Koreans that there is a huge difference between a pre-army service and post-army service man, and there's another big gap between university student and company worker. But that's all pretty normal, and in line with what goes on in the West, right? The difference is that American university students tend to have a bigger gap between themselves and American high school students than the Korean counterparts, for the simple reason that most Americans leave home for university. They live in dorms or apartments, do their own laundry, usually work some form of part time job, possibly pay their own bills, cook for themselves and generally have all of the freedoms that come along with that kind of responsibility. Korean university students, on the other hand, tend to live at home. And a (decreasing) number of Koreans continue to live at home, even after university graduation, until marriage.

So, naturally, there is a lag in maturity there, in that regard. But not always. As with everything, it depends on the person.

As far as a gap in the timing of a physical relationship.... I mean, that's a hard question to answer. I could give you a line around the block of women (both foreign and Korean) who would definitely beg to differ. Men are men, and people are people, -- desire is desire, and things will happen, as they are wont to do, regardless of culture. If you catch my drift.

I think where the difference lies is not so much in the across-the-board "rules" of physical relationships, so much as in the disparity between a "conservative" American and a "conservative" Korean.

Korea has been modernizing and Westernizing at a break-neck pace, and the young people are becoming more independent and more rebellious toward the traditional ways of life in a pattern that naturally follows -- the difference between a 30 year old Korean man and a 20 year old Korean man, and the ideals that each holds in regards to dating is pretty astounding. And the gap between a conservative Korean and a liberal Korean, in regards to such things, is pretty big. Whereas a conservative American man may wait ten dates to sleep with a woman for the first time, a conservative Korean man is more likely to push it up into the months-to-years territory. And probably won't touch you at all for several dates. Both of their liberal counterparts, however, are likely to grab your hand straight away, and try it on by the first or second date. The funny thing is, within the frame of the original question, in my experience, the ones who try it on the quickest have usually been the least responsible, most childish of the bunch.

Skinship (or non-sexual physical affection) is also in and of itself a different ballgame. I've had girlfriends who slept (or who were intending to sleep) with a man on the first date turn right around and complain about how he tried to kiss, hold hands, or otherwise touch them far too early in the evening. That will sound strange to someone who hasn't been living or dating in Korea very long, but to me (and to them), it makes perfect sense. A man trying to casually touch you too soon, and especially in public, generally gives the feeling of being too aggressive and possibly of having the wrong intentions, in a manner which is completely unrelated to whether or not he is invited up at the end of the night.

The long and the short of it is, the rules are not just on a different scale or in a different order -- they're completely different. And that's why trying to create a /=/ relationship between them is so difficult -- because, as far as I can tell, there is no such relationship. It's just a matter of relearning your "instincts". Which, oddly enough, myself and most of my friends have found to be most difficult in reverse. As in, we find it more difficult to shift back to the Western way of thinking than we did adjusting to the Korean way to begin with. I assume that's what your daughter's friend is going through, as well.

It's something that's very difficult to explain (at least for me), and I don't know if I've done it much justice, so I can understand why your daughter's friend may have resorted to putting it into such terms. Because, in truth, it's very difficult to verbalize to someone who doesn't already know.

A friend who recently moved back to the US from Seoul said that when trying to figure out Korean men, just subtract 13 from their age and that is their "US dating age". So a guy 28 there is like dating a 15 year old here. What's your opinion?

Okay. As per usual, when I get these questions, I have a lot of questions in return.

Like, first of all, why do you need to figure out Korean men? I'm assuming you live in the US. Are you planning to move to Korea? Bottom line, people who need to "figure out" other races without living within a culture dominated by that race, especially when it comes to dating, skeeve me.

Second of all, do you know that I'm dating a Korean man? And if you do, did you not stop to think that maybe this question would be offensive? Did you mean to imply that I like to date men who have a child's mind?

There's really nothing about this question that I understand, least of all the motive behind asking it. But what I have to say is this: maybe your friend has really shit taste. Or maybe she has kind of a childish mindset, herself, when it comes to digesting people who are, on the surface, different from her. Maybe her only way to cope with the cultural differences was to classify the men she was dating as simple minded. Maybe she didn't realize that, in Korea, within Korean culture, we are the ones who make mistakes and do things "wrong".

I don't know what else to say. I know I make a lot of good-natured jokes at Busan's expense from time to time, but he's not a child. Not in the least. He went through an army service that would've made most of the guys I went to university with cry. He holds down a job working hours that I can't imagine ever tolerating, and he does it without complaint. He sends money home to help take care of his family. And within our personal relationship, he manages to handle me and my neuroses in such a manner that I know I can rely on him in a way that I haven't ever been able to with any other man before. He's not a child. He's a man. And he's as Korean as they come.

And that's all I know to say.

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