Category Archives: Korea

A Grim Trend

Fish Folk.jpg

There seems to be an awful lot of death around me lately. Last November, my grandmother passed away. I had to fly to the States for a bit of a memorial gathering. I haven’t seen my grandmother for many years prior to her passing, and in at least a couple of scares, our family had to mentally prepare ourselves for her passing. And when she finally passed away, it was more like seeing the long inevitable, acting in a scene long rehearsed.

Not long after, my godfather passed away. I don’t have much of a relationship with him, but he was close with my father and I do love my cousins. His health has been in a decline for many years now. And while it was a surprise for me that he passed away, I had a feeling that it was to be expected. He wasn’t getting any healthier. A few weeks after his passing, another uncle passed away. Like my godfather, his health was in a decline as well. It’s a bit of a coincidence that he was really close with my godfather and that they both died within weeks of each other’s passing. It’s almost like what they say about old couples dying.

Just now, my landlord just passed away. He’s not a relative, but being my landlord, he’s physically the one closest to me. His death hasn’t hit me as much as my grandmother’s death did, but the fact that I just saw him smiling with his family gathered all around him on a Sunday afternoon a few days ago makes me feel really uneasy. He was a good guy who was kind and generous enough to let me stay at his place for so many years even though he wasn’t particularly fond of the way I decorated and furnished my apartment. I just hope he makes a straight beeline to heaven and not linger around to make his complaints about my living space known.

Oddly enough, we are planning to move to a different place sometime this year. Having my good landlord finally pass away seems to make that decision even more pertinent. Here’s hoping we find a reasonable place in this currently ridiculous Seoul real estate market.

I don’t know if there’s really a point to my writing this week. There have been a lot of people dying lately. It feels quite uneasy.  I really would like to shake it off.

Be kind to people while they are still around. One of my biggest regret in life is not being there with my mother in her last years. I could’ve found another job. I could’ve made arrangements around my life to make it possible for me to be there with her, but I didn’t. I was lazy, unimaginative, selfish, and unkind. I kinda shut it all out. I pretended everything was going to be fine, and in the process, I missed out on so much from a woman who was nothing but a saint to everyone in the family. Be kind to people while they around, because when they’re gone, you might end up writing blog entries about it repeatedly and getting reminded of your mistakes every time another person dies.

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Reading the Christmas Barometer

Conversation

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I have become bitter, old, and cynical, but it is still my favorite holiday. It’s my favorite holiday when it’s good. Otherwise, it’s one of the most depressing days of the year. If it’s bad, it becomes a barometer of how messed up your life has been. What the hell have you been up to that you can’t even get a Christmas that is joyful?

The thing with Christmas is that it always brings me to a time when my family and I were still living together. My mother was still around, everyone got presents, and we even shared the evening with our cousins and extended family. There were tons of food and something Christmas-related was on the television to further amp up the mood. It was close as I could ever be to experiencing a Norman Rockwell painting. And yes, I do realize that nothing could ever replicate the holidays of my childhood, especially with rose-tinted glasses, but every year, I just want a decent meal and an evening that doesn’t end with me sleeping depressed.

Joyful is the last word I would use to describe Christmas this year.

There was one Christmas when my family, after having celebrated and opened all of our presents, was subjected to the sounds spousal abuse happening over at our neighbor’s house. It was pretty bad. To this day, I could still remember the sound of that poor woman being choked, as well as the knocking of her husband’s mother saying, “that’s enough… please stop it.” I don’t remember how the whole thing ended, but I do remember that no police officers were called to the scene.

There was another Christmas when I spent the holidays all by myself. I was in midst of the lowest depression. Nothing was working out in my life and I found myself wandering the city all by myself while people around me laughed, cackled, held hands with their loved ones, and made me all the more depressed. I remember one of the good things about that year was that it was actually snowing. It reminded me of being back home. See, when everything is bad, it’s the smallest things that count. What surprised me that year was that I got messages from two people I long discounted from my life. One from an old student and another from a friend whom I like to think I once helped out through her depression. It was good to be remembered. And at that time, I like to think I did something good to be remembered during the holidays. My life was messed up, but at least I did a bit of good for some people. I wonder what they’re up to now?

I’ve never been seriously bullied in my childhood, but I do remember being ostracized or being called names at one point or another. It was nothing serious, and I used to brush them off, but I do remember its sting and the cold lump it built on my throat, slowly making breathing a little bit harder. I’m sure everyone knows this feeling. I never thought about those feelings much before, but on Christmas, that’s the exact sensation that I felt. I’m a grown man, but I felt insecure, ugly, inept, unloved, not normal, and in a word “weird.” It was one of those few instances when I truly felt I didn’t belong… that something was truly wrong with me. That cold lump on my throat was making it harder for me to breath, and as I type these words, the sensation is still so fresh that I can still feel its sting. It’s like I am that neighbor lady being metaphorically choked.

I actually sometimes wonder if that actual benign lump in my thyroid is a manifestation of insecurities, Christian guilt, actual guilt, depression, and anxiety, and that it will someday grow and choke the life out of me.

Ugh… what am I writing? It’s December 26! It’s a low bar. I had a shitty Christmas. I hope everyone had a better Christmas than me.

 

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Hijacking the #MeToo Movement

Good Doctor

At 4:00 am, a couple is having drinks in a bar in Seoul. The franchise is known for its cheap drinks, thus it gets really crowded and tables are often close to each other. Because of this, and because it’s typical of people when they consume alcohol, people tend to be quite loud when they speak.  The couple gets harassed by a neighboring table. They were two women who for some reason started to harass the table. According to the couple, the two women have been exceptionally loud prior to them trying to ruin their neighbor’s evening. The couple decided to leave.

Not long after the couple left, a neighboring table of four men made comments at the two women. The group claims that they asked the women to quiet down and stop harassing other people. One of the women said that at some point, one of the men began filming them. The two women didn’t take this lightly and started arguing with the men.

The argument spilled outside when it got physical. Ultimately, it resulted in the two women getting seriously beaten and the police getting called. Everyone was arrested and now we have two conflicting stories and some people trying to tie the incident with feminism and the #MeToo movement.

I don’t care so much about the insults or the women’s claims that the men insulted them for them for not looking feminine. It was 4:00 am, people were drunk, and I am sure the two women must have hurled equally vile insults at the men. The women claimed that the men attacked them first, however, security camera footage proved that the women were the first to attack the men. I was never on their side, being obnoxious bar patrons, but this puts them in legal jeopardy and provides defense for the men. The men were trying to diffuse the initial situation (being good Samaritans), were initially attacked, and have a good argument for self-defense. The women were proven to have initiated the attack and are bad actors, providing false statements.

Korea doesn’t have a very good record when it comes to self-defense. Usually it is often the one who is most injured that gets compensation, which makes it wise for people to just walk away from a confrontation even after they have been physically assaulted (grabbed, touched, lightly hit) or threatened. There are self-defense laws, but in the country, it is often countered by laws over excessive force. I believe that at least one of the women thought that she could get away with physically assaulting a man and not have any repercussion due to the tendency of people to avoid physical confrontation and the unwillingness of most men to physically confront women. I’m in no way an MRA apologist, but I believe some women DO goad men into what they believe is an unwinnable trap, where men are either cowards for walking away or are monsters for hitting a woman. I think that these two women thought they could “win” the evening or satiate their bruised egos by putting at least one of the men into this trap.

Unfortunately for the men, it doesn’t look good that there are four of them and only two women. The excessive force argument is also pretty convincing. Most people could imagine four men easily defusing the situation with not as much injury. But if you follow that idea a bit further, the question becomes: what is the reasonable amount of injury is enough to diffuse an attack from a drunk and violent woman? You inevitably come to another trap. Are the courts and society at large willing to say that it is reasonable to lay a hand on a woman? In this day and age of feminism, equality, and the #MeToo movement, that would seem like a bridge too far.

It goes without saying however: it is never good to hit women! It is never good to hit people!

But in my opinion, allowing women the defense of being the weaker sex is in itself sexism. The women were proven violent instigators and they should be seen as that in the eyes of the law. The men’s actions don’t exist in a vacuum, and it should be seen as a separate case. The men would appear to be excessive in that early morning brawl, but that doesn’t give the women excuse for their earlier action. The problem is one of the women already started an online petition calling for an end to hatred against women. “The women were beaten up just because they wore no makeup and had short hair.” She is trying to make the case about men hating women instead of men hating obnoxious bar patrons who harass and physically assault other customers. And if they’re claim that men attacked them because they didn’t look attractive enough. Wouldn’t there be more evidence of this behavior? Perhaps other victims of this “gang’s” misogynist attacks, be it physical or verbal?  Or maybe other customers in the bar noting that the men were criticizing patrons for their looks? So far there’s been none. Just witnesses corroborating the men’s accounts and video footage showing that the women attacked first. Unfortunately, it would appear the women already have sizeable support on the Internet, turning the whole thing into a nationwide gender debate.

True sexism and misogyny is assigning the women weakness and freedom to harass other customers due their weakness. Being a woman does not allow anyone to lay a hand on a stranger free from consequences despite that stranger hurling insults. True sexism and misogyny is allowing incidents like this to be under the umbrella of feminism and the #MeToo movement when it has nothing to do with the movement. I’m a visible minority living in South Korea. If I initiated a physical altercation with two people and lost, I cannot immediately cry racism. It would be an insult to genuine victims of racism as well as a disservice to the fight against prejudice if other people took me seriously.

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Bad Politics for Thanksgiving

Bath Time

There is a crisis in South Korea right now. Housing prices have skyrocketed, making buying homes a dream for most young families. At the moment, the traditional way of building wealth is much too lucrative for the average person, and it has become the realm of speculative investing/gambling the same way stocks and cryptocurrencies are. I’m not sure if there’s anything the government can do to calm the market down, but as far as I can tell, they’re not doing anything that could effectively make things better for people. Along with the housing crisis is the current unemployment/wage crisis.   The government’s attempt to regulate time spent in the office and prevent overworking as well as their push to increase minimum wage has made companies reluctant to hire new employees. The job market was already tough before the Moon Jae-In administration, but their recent actions have made it more difficult for young people to find jobs. There are even been reports that many graduates have given up on finding lifelong employment and have settled on multiple part-time work or the gig economy. There is good intent in increasing the minimum wage in South Korea which is woefully low for a country with such high living costs, and there should be regulations in a culture which pressures workers to stay at work long after regular business hours have passed, but I feel like the rollout of these initiatives should’ve been coupled with incentives for big and small businesses to follow-through. Carrots and sticks. In any case, things are not good in South Korea at the moment. With Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) coming next week, there is very little to be grateful for in many Korean households.

Which is the reason why the President’s North Korean expedition rubs me the wrong way. It reeks of tone deafness and bad politics. While things are, at best, stagnant domestically, Moon Jae-In continues to pursue relations with North Korea when Kim Jung Un has yet to demonstrate that he is a good actor when it comes to negotiations regarding nuclear disarmament. Why is this the priority when people in the country are struggling to make a future for themselves, when the wealth gap between those invested in the real estate market and those just starting their families and career are getting to be so wide that more and more people are getting into crippling debt? I kid with some people sometimes, but a part of me believe that at some point, the only people who can afford the high rise apartments continually being built all over Seoul would be Chinese investors. Re-establishing the Kaesong Industrial Complex is not going to help the average Korean. It’s not going to make it easier to buy a house or get a proper job.

If anything, Kim Jung Un promising to denuclearize and allow nuclear inspectors is good politically for the one person who has not risked anything to push for disarmament: Donald Trump. While Moon Jae-In is running around North Korea, his victories towards nuclear disarmament are claimed by Donald Trump. I understand that nuclear disarmament benefits everyone, but here it seems he is working far too hard for the benefit of someone who really couldn’t care less. Also, who did Moon Jae-In bring with him to his recent trip? Three heads of Korean companies, two of whom have recently skirted Korean laws. It’s just awful, awful optics. Not only is the average Korean not going to benefit from the North Korean summit, but it appears that those who will gain are giant companies whose heads can break Korean laws and still continue to operate their multi-billion dollar companies. The Samsung heir who conspired with the previous administration and was convicted is attempting to rehabilitate his image with this trip to North Korea and the government is giving him the opportunity to do so. Awful.

Give up, boys and girls. Winners and losers are born. If you were not born a winner, give up already. That Samsung heir, boy, is he a winner!

Now, I agree that governments can’t be focused on one thing only and that the current domestic crisis is quite complicated and would require a solution lengthier than a couple of days-worth of socializing with communists, but I just find the whole thing inept and a tad misguided. While Moon Jae-In might be noble in his intent, I believe Kim Jung Un is simply looking for a photo op at the moment. And this, in a nutshell, is my problem with the current administration. While much better than the past administrations, it is far too invested on its good intentions and not so much on effective policy. Not being evil and getting elected is one thing, but actually running the government effectively is another. I feel like this current North Korean trip, with the backdrop of the domestic crises shows that the Moon Jae-In government is far too starry-eyed with its own ideals. And for that, they will get punished politically by their opponents. (It pains for me to say it, but they should.) It will be a loss for them politically, but that’s small compared to the huge impact the current crises is inflicting upon young Koreans.

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Kimonos and Fake News

Spoliarium

I’ve been doing a bit of an informal survey after hearing a friend spout off what sounds like anti-Japanese sentiment disguised as facts. In an attempt to disparage the character of Japanese culture specifically and the Japanese people in general, she mentioned that the kimono was designed specifically for the woman to easily have sexual encounters with men at a moment’s notice. That is why what appear to be cushions or pillows are attached at the back of the outfit. This factoid (or to cut to the chase, this lie) seems to be designed to hurt the Japanese image by basically calling their traditional attire a sex attire and by virtue implying that Japanese women have a history of having loose morals.

I’ve been asking Koreans around me about the reason for the kimono’s design and most people reference this rather risqué explanation to different degrees, with some being more polite than others. This was very fascinating since the people I asked were mostly well-educated people who have visited Japan several times, if not lived there for several years. They mostly came up with the same explanation, although some expressed doubts regarding its veracity.

Now, I’ve read about kimonos, seen them worn many times first-hand, and been with people who had it put on. There are many degrees, but kimonos can be quite complicated to put on. It took my friends almost an hour to have it put on them, and this is with a professional assistant. When you see people walking around Japan with their Sunday best kimonos, these are mostly complicated attires with several layers. They are not the fastest things to take on and off. Probably the easiest and least layered kimono I could think of are the yukatas worn in the summer, but compared to the Korean hanbok, they are probably a little more complicated to put on and off, so I don’t understand this idea of “easy access.” As for the cushions or pillows attached in the back. They are otakos or oversized ribbons mainly placed there for aesthetic purposes. I would hardly consider them pillows. One of the reasons for putting so much material around women at the time was that it was considered ideal for women to have a straight, flat figure. It was simply the aesthetic at the time. And as for pillows and the idea of having women basically be on their backs, Japanese women, when fully attired in traditional garb will have a very complex hairdo. Back then, they would never rest their head on pillows for fear of ruining their hair, and instead rested their head and neck on what amounts to a wooden platform. The whole pillow/easy access thing is simply a fantasy.

But what lends it credibility is a bit of truth. One is that there is a history of courtesans and prostitution in Japan which does involve the image of geishas wearing heavy make-up and kimonos. But this is counter to the easy access image the rumor I’ve been hearing. Another bit of truth is that kimonos are usually tied from behind, thus women would often require assistance when putting on such complicated attire. Prostitutes would sometimes tie their kimono in front so they could easily put them on and off without assistance, but that it not the only sole reason to wear a kimono with the ribbon in front. Elderly people for example, would tie their kimonos in front to make it easier to wear them. In any case, there are many reasons why kimonos could be tied in front, but I think the originators of the easy access lie just latched on to the prostitution story and made it true for all kimonos.

But what is the purpose of the lie. I imagine it is a relic of anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea. I ask people where and when they first heard of this explanation and not many people could tell me exactly when. It seems to have been rooted in their childhood. Thus, even when I offer a counter explanation, some find it hard to divorce themselves from the old take. Perhaps it was designed to disparage the Japanese, and in doing so, boost Korean nationalist sentiment. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen. In the 80s, children in the Philippines were taught that Armando Lite invented the ArmaLite (M16), Agapito Flores invented the fluorescent lamp, and Eduardo San Juan invented the Lunar Rover. There’s a possibility that Eduardo San Juan did exist as an engineer, but there is no record that he was the chief engineer for the Lunar Rover. And as for the other two, they are nothing but clever puns. But why make up the lie? They were designed to boost national pride, encourage children to take up science and engineering, and instill a bit of anti-American sentiment since all inventors were said to have had their inventions stolen and their credits removed, thus making the lies unprovable. I suspect the Japanese kimono lie was created in the same vein, especially since the Koreas were occupied by the Japanese the same way the Philippines was occupied by the Americans.

I believe this is an early attempt at “fake news” or propaganda. Unfortunately, with me trying to disprove the old “fake news,” I could be labeled as “fake news” as well. I’m not sure if propaganda had the same vicious back and forth cycle back then as well. I figure some lies just faded after people saw the light of truth and reason. But maybe I was being naïve in thinking they are not as persistent, after all, what was my friend spouting? And to bring it back to the modern era, I had my wife look up some of the anti-Japanese sentiments my friend was spouting including the kimono explanation online. True enough, she finds them in a Korean anti-Japanese site. Old “fake news” makes it to the modern age.

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Is that a YOLO?

Infant

I learned this week that partying with kids, while still doable and fun, can ultimately be uncomfortable and sometimes awkward. I’m at a point in my life now when I can finally “feel my age.”

My work got featured in the arts magazine Wake Up Screaming. Thanks to Matt Witt. The edition’s theme is “In My Town” and it features my move from Winnipeg to Seoul, and how my old Winnipeg no longer exists.

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Shaking Hands

Skull

Living in South Korea, I think it would be a bit odd if I didn’t comment about the historic event right now regarding North and South Korea. Honestly, I’m very optimistic about the first steps towards a friendlier relationship with North Korea; however, I really don’t know what that friendly relationship means for the country going forward. But whatever it is, it is still better than the North Korea a few months ago that was testing nuclear missiles and insulting its neighbors.

First off, I worry about John Bolton’s comment that they are going to use the Libya model to denuclearize North Korea. This model has been looked at negatively by the people in power in North Korea, especially since it eventually led to the ouster and death of Colonel Gaddafi. As friendly and as willing North Korea may seem to be with denuclearization now, I’m not sure how far those talks would go and what true denuclearization would lead to. Also, factory jobs and the military are the biggest way out of poverty for many North Koreans. If you don’t have a need for a military, you have millions of men potentially on a crisis to transition to other industries. North Korea needs to maintain a perpetual sense of threat in order to justify its bloated military. Also, without the west to fight against, why would North Koreans need Kim Jung Un to save and protect them? It’s a disconnect in the cult of the Kims’ dogma which I’m not sure if Kim Jung Un would survive politically.

So yeah, shake hands with Kim Jung Un, take photos, and make promises. But remember that the North also just decimated a mountain due to their nuclear tests and that Kim Jung Un has killed relatives in order to save his skin. Optimism with a grain of salt is in order.

A friendlier North Korea would do well for the South Korea. I don’t imagine open borders anytime soon, but as I mentioned in past posts, with South Korea relatively meager and stagnant GDP growth rate, a friendlier North could help companies in the South by opening its population to commerce. It would also ease tensions with China and prevent issues like the THAAD missile crisis from harming companies that do business in China and South Korea.

What annoys me, however, is the extremely partisan atmosphere in the country. Just last weekend, there were street protests from the hard right calling the president a traitor and accusing him of selling the country to North Korea. This is insanity. How does that even work? Last time I checked, South Korea is far richer than its northern neighbor. But the problem is the left can be just as toxic with their tribalism as well. I don’t lean on any Korean political parties nor do I subscribe to any particular Korean publication (which can be terribly partisan). I will read anything and I also read/listen to analysis from foreign publications and commentators.  But the minute I say anything negative or express a bit of concern regarding the current president’s actions, I get accused as being brainwashed by the right. And  sometimes this is my wife accusing me of partisanship!

What’s also annoying is Donald Trump taking credit for any headway into North Korea’s denuclearization. I could forgive him for taking some credit. Despite him name calling and trying to compare nuclear buttons with Kim Jung Un just a few months ago, he is still the leader of the United States and he did send Mike Pompeo to meet Kim Jung Un. I don’t know what they talked about and I suspect Trump only sent Pompeo to the North in order to boost his credibility as a Secretary of State nominee, but he still sent him there to presumably open a dialogue. But what’s annoying is Trump taking 100% of the credit to the current North and South Korean situation. What an annoying gnat! He just dismissed all the work of his allies in the South. What’s worse, I suspect if the talks don’t result in meaningful progress, he would gladly throw South Korea under the bus without even remembering President Moon Jae-In’s name.

As for President Moon Jae-In, he should really calm down with saying “Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize” for his work in the inter-Korean talks. I know he’s just trying to be gracious, but Trump will take that graciousness and use it as a cudgel.

I wasn’t in the country during most of the Sunshine Policy of previous administrations, but this feels similar to that attempt to a more peaceful coexistence between the two countries. What’s mostly missing from that previous policy is the North acting in good faith. They were occasionally aggressive during the period and have failed to return much of the goodwill shown to them by the South. I certainly hope things will be better this time around. I personally don’t care so much about nuclear disarmament, especially since North Korea still has thousands of traditional weapons aimed and could destroy Seoul should it ever choose to (I live and work in one of the busiest parts of Seoul), but it would be a great first step at easing tensions in the region. However, I suspect that the song and dance following a true denuclearization, i.e. claims of not following agreements, accusations of hiding nuclear facilities, misleading inspectors, etc., would long be used by political actors to scare each other long after the last rocket has been decommissioned. I’m optimistic, but it will be a long time before people truly no longer see North Korea as a nuclear threat.

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On Korean Funerals and Being an Outsider

Morton Salt Girl

My wife’s grandmother passed away last Monday. It was a very sad occasion but not unexpected. She hasn’t been living well for two years now. But I guess that’s the hallmark of a good long life, to die and have people remark “Well, we were expecting it. She was old and at least now she’s at peace,” instead of “What!? How did she die?”

The funeral was very traditional, even by Korean standards. My wife and even my co-workers say they just don’t bury people that way anymore. It felt both like a privilege and me intruding (I’ll explain this more later). I knew I was watching something that’s no longer done and probably would no longer be done in the future. And it was also extraordinary that I was pushed to participating into many aspects of it, even carrying the casket and lowering the body. It’s a bit morbid, but I was reluctantly grateful for it.

Several things marred the experience for me though. One was the almost mandatory inclusion of heavy drinking. I understand drinking in a funeral, but at some point it turns less into a funeral and more into just a regular drinking session with Koreans, complete with the ugliness of hierarchies in such occasions. I was particularly annoyed at one of my wife’s relatives “testing” me and my brother-in-laws to see if we were fit to either be part of the family or be married to our wives. We’ve all been married to our wives for years, and the man was basically a stranger to me. He won’t be there when our marriages run into a trouble whatsoever, but yet he gets to lord over everyone in the table. Why? Korean culture. Perhaps it was all coming from a good place, but it felt quite obnoxious at some point. And no it wasn’t happening because I was a foreigner. My brothers-in-law had to tolerate some abuse too. But it does nothing but alienate people or make them feel like they don’t belong in the table. I said so that night myself. Being in that table, while it makes me feel like I’m family for whatever that is worth, it makes me feel small and that I have to constantly prove to others that I belong.

Being a foreigner, I tend to be a target for people who are not quite used to seeing foreigners. This is why I’m sometimes not particularly excited to be in the countryside. One drunk grave digger who probably never saw a foreigner before in his life started yelling incoherently at me and was bragging that he can speak seven languages. And yet he does not understand a word of English. I suppose he’s a genius with languages who just happens to dig graves as a hobby. And I was the idiot who had to tolerate his nonsense and not punch him out. I was warned not the engage him, which was smart, but then again, why was I the target of his abuse in the first place?

Again, I can’t help but feel it’s because I’m the other. I’m a foreigner. As welcoming as many of my Korean relatives can be, it can sometimes only take a few handful of events before I start feeling like the “other,” like I’m the dancing bear. Perhaps I’m being too sensitive, but I don’t really complain about it in real life. I just keep things bottled up inside and write about it here where no one would read it. But it’s that feeling of being an “other” that makes me feel like I’m intruding in the funeral in the first place. Last Wednesday, we buried a wonderful woman who had a great life and whose selflessness has touched the lives of so many people in her family. There must be other people worthier than me, someone who actually feels comfortable to be there and fits in, to be part of the group that lays her body to her final resting place.

On a rather sweet note, I remember one time, back when my wife’s grandmother was healthier, we we’re all spending Korean thanksgiving together. For a brief moment, it was just me, her, and my older brother-in-law in the living. I think at some point, she started feeling bad for me, wondering why I wasn’t spending Korean thanksgiving with my parents. She asked why I don’t take my wife to my family and have her help my mom with thanksgiving preparations (as is the tradition in Korea). I told her that my mom passed away and my family was not in the country.

My brother-in-law was more direct, “He’s a foreigner. He’s not Korean.”

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Korean Evenings

Horseman

Learning Korean has been a struggle for me. First off, it’s very difficult to find time to go to class with my job. On a busy day, I work two jobs which start at 7:00 am and end at 6:00 pm. On a really busy day, my day won’t end until 8:00 pm. Squeeze making art and perhaps more side work between that, and it’s very difficult to find time to do anything at all. A lot of Korean learners find listening to K-pop or watching dramas or TV shows help, but I’m not interested in any of those. Korean television is simply not that interesting. I’m mostly isolated at work, so there’s very little interaction with Koreans during my day, so it’s very difficult to learn Korean via osmosis. So what am I to do to increase my Korean fluency beyond intermediate? Sacrifice my evenings and take Korean classes.

I decided to take classes again to force me to take learning Korean more seriously. I took Korean lessons years ago but had to quit because I got busier with work and there was a huge jump in the difficulty level in the classes. It was very discouraging. After that, I didn’t really try that hard to learn Korean. In fact, I focused my attention to studying law instead.

I figure my problem has been a lot of my attempts to learn the language has been based on my own pace. Thus, it was very easy for me to quit or decide that I have learned enough for the day. I think that’s the problem with the Duolingo and Rosetta Stone solutions. They give you too much freedom. They also don’t force you to be in a situation where you actually have to speak Korean to another person. Even basic sentences can be very intimidating when speaking to another person. That’s one of my biggest hurdles. I simply don’t spend enough time interacting with Koreans in Korean.

The classes would result in less time spent at home, but I guess it will be time well spent. In any case, I need to be out more anyway without drinking or spending too much money. This also means I won’t be working as much during the evenings. But again, if I’m not out spending money, it should theoretically cancel out not making money. Korean classes, plus listening to Korean audio lessons (less time spent on podcasts), and reviewing with apps like Duolingo and Quizlet. Here’s hoping I keep this up.

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#MeToo and an Idiot with Clean Hands

Odd Feeling

About a month ago, a prominent progressive politician in Korea was accused of raping his assistant in at least four incidents. This rocked the country’s left wing base since Ahn Hee-Jung is quite the popular figure and was even being groomed to be the next president after Moon Jae-In. The accuser claimed that she couldn’t refuse his advances and was in fear. Ahn however, claimed that the relationship between the two was consensual. Despite only being accused, the damage was already done. Ahn was removed from his position. It is very unlikely that he could resurrect his political career. Some people on the left however, despite being early proponents of the #MeToo movement are now starting to question the whole thing, thinking that some accusers weren’t really raped. Perhaps they were paid off by political opponents? Perhaps they were expecting a payoff in the end? Why did it take so long for many of the country’s accusers to come forward? The latest high profile celebrity brought down by the #MeToo movement in the country had accusers calling back to incidents ten years ago. People are wondering if these women are truly acting honestly, and whether they truly have clean hands.

The doctrine of clean hands state that those looking for equity must have equity as well. An accuser must have no unethical agenda and should act in bad faith. The defendant has the burden of proof to prove that the accuser is not acting with clean hands. The onus is not on the accuser to prove that they are acting with clean hands.

Absent of prior investigations, legal judgments, or evidence contrary to the fact, I tend to side with rape accusers automatically simply because it is difficult to prove  that it happened or not, and despite this difficulty, an accuser would be willing to stake his/her reputation in the name of justice. I think this is truer in a country like South Korea where the stigma of being a rape victim would have more lasting and deeper consequences than it would on the west. Being a spinster or a divorcee still has negative connotations in the country. I could only imagine the burden of being a known rape victim.

With the Ahn case, many suspect the accuser of acting on bad faith simply because it happened four times and she “allowed” it to happen. I believe this is a case of blaming the victim. It is simply arrogant to think claim that a person would act differently should they be in the same circumstances, not knowing all of the circumstances at all. We were not the victim. We were not in her head. Also, as Ahn’s supporters, the onus is on them to prove that the accuser was acting on faith, and not the accuser.  And I have to say there is hypocrisy in them saying that the accuser was not being sincere, when I suspect they wouldn’t be so willing to attack accusers if they were claiming foul play by members of the opposite party. This makes their distrust of the accuser politically motivated. They are not acting with clean hands.

In this scenario, absent of evidence, I believe there are two possible realities with two camps in each. One reality is where the accuser is telling the truth. To believe her would be a marriage of two goods: an accuser with clean hands and supporters of victims believing them with no motivation whatsoever other than justice. To not believe the accuser when she is telling the truth would either be blindness or just an act of political tribalism.

The other reality is where the accuser is lying. She has been paid by Ahn’s political opponents. And those who innocently and truly believe her, regardless of whether they are in the same side as Ahn or not, are fools. They are idiots easily manipulated by the #MeToo movement.  Those who do not believe her when she is lying look wise to be critical of what seems to be falsehoods. However, they also risk crucifying a victim for their “wisdom” and preventing others from coming out.

The people who do not believe Ahn’s accuser, absent of evidence, are hoping that they are wise enough to see through the accuser’s lies, and that they are indeed lies. I would rather believe the accuser and risk being a naïve idiot, a naïve idiot with clean hands.

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