Category Archives: South Korea

Wearing Me Down

Space Man

I was done worrying about the coronavirus. I was done. Dammit, this thing has been on my radar since January, and I was done. Granted, I haven’t really been too worried about it until there was a resurgence in South Korea after Valentine’s Day, but the fact that my office is still responding to calls from customers, re-scheduling, informing them about the virus, has got me tired. I’m tired of worrying about my health, about people’s health, about my job, about other people’s jobs. This constant atmosphere of high alert, it’s stressful. It’s like we’re witnessing another global historic event that will affect the way we do things, much like Sept. 11, except this one is dragging along through the year.

Last Friday, I went out with some friends. I think because of the sudden drop in temperature, I got a bit of a cold over the weekend, but I’m almost over it. I usually get really bad colds about twice or three times a year, but this one wasn’t too bad. Still, it didn’t stop me from being overly anxious about it. “Do I have it? Is this it? If Tom Hanks has it, then maybe I have it, too! After all, cases of infection have been documented around the neighborhood I work in. Am I endangering everyone right now? Am I going to be Internet famous as the Canadian guy who got everyone in his office sick?”

Korea’s doing well right now. It’s not quite like Singapore, but it appears that the government has got the whole thing under control. The infection rate has gone way down, and more people are recovering from the disease in comparison. People everywhere are still wearing masks, and we are constantly getting updates on television and online regarding the disease.

The problem is now that Korea and China are on their way to out of the coronavirus hole, the rest of the world is just experiencing the brunt of the disease. Looking at the numbers, Spain and Italy have gone past Korea in terms of infections. Germany, France, and the US appear to be catching up within a week’s time. These countries didn’t take the virus seriously. Just a couple of days ago, people were out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, crowding bars and restaurants, despite news of the pandemic being ubiquitous.

Quite frankly, I think the reason why the rest of the world didn’t take it seriously for so long is because the initial victims were Asians. I suspect western countries saw it as a foreign matter. “It couldn’t happen here!” When WHO declared the coronavirus a global health emergency in January, they explicitly said it was not because of the tremendous number of infected people in China at the time but the few numbers of infected people in other countries. When the disease exploded in Iran, I don’t think people took that too seriously as well. The world has gotten too used to seeing dead Muslims. The WHO didn’t declare the disease a pandemic until the number of infected Europeans starting rising dramatically. That was March 11. Korea was already in the middle of getting the virus under control.

I think Japan is in denial as well regarding their strategy of suppressing their infection numbers by not testing as many people as they should. “It’s not a Japan problem. It’s a problem with other countries.” I realize it has a lot to do with politics as well as trying to keep the Olympics. But even if Japan looks good on paper regarding their infection rates, the rest of the world won’t be able to participate in the Olympics if they are dealing with the coronavirus come July. Just cancel the Olympics already!

So if Korea’s starting to look fine and the rest of world isn’t, why am I stressing about it? I’ll be okay, right? Well, not really. I have friends and family overseas. Aside from that, I worry personally about the economy. People are already predicting a recession in the US, and I can only imagine how that would affect the rest of the world. How would that affect the company I work for? Fear of the disease and self-isolation has already affected many of the industries here in Korea, particularly restaurants, bars, saunas, and gyms. But all of that, couple with the global economy is bound to affect me at some point. Whether I’ll still have a job next month or if my contract will be renewed at the end of the year worries me.

And even though there are good signs in the country, the constant flood of distressing news from abroad is stressful. I love Twitter, but right now, most everything on Twitter is about how Americans and Europeans are totally dropping the ball in responding to this pandemic. This is really the worst time to elect a failed casino owner as the leader of the free world. I wish I could insulate myself and just ignore all of the news out there. But when I look at some of my art friends who are oblivious to what’s happening, just going about their merry way, I get frustrated as well.

And speaking of art (this is still an art Web site), I haven’t stopped making art. However, I stopped looking for art shows to apply to. I imagine galleries are suffering at the moment. Who wants to attend an art opening right now? Same goes for theater productions. Luckily, there’s plenty of opportunity to get my work seen online.

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An Update on the Panic

Ceiling Monster

I really didn’t want to write about the coronavirus again, thinking that the whole panic would’ve been over by now, but here I am again.

I just bought another set of masks. They’re still in short supply at the moment, and at least in Daegu where the most infections in the country have been, people have been lining up when they hear that shops have them. The problem with this is that in one instance, one of the people lining up was infected for the virus himself. I’m guessing the people lining up for those masks won’t be sleeping well for the next couple of nights.

Classes in the country have been postponed for another two weeks. I don’t have Korean classes this week, and I doubt if it will resume anytime soon. Many gatherings have been canceled due to fear of infection. Recently, a Zumba fitness class has been identified as infecting several students. This has confirmed fears of going to gyms or health classes. The gym in my apartment complex remains closed this week. I wake up early in t he morning with nothing to do.

Similarly, Japan has decided to postpone classes for a month. They’ve detected almost 1000 cases of infections but they aren’t testing as many people as in South Korea. Because of the virus, South Koreans are now unable to visit over 80 countries and people are also advised not to visit South Korea. Japan still manages to escape a strict ban to other countries, and is still one of the countries, like the US, that mostly prohibits other nationalities from entering due to the virus. I wonder when that situation would reverse itself, when let’s say Americans would be prohibited from entering Singapore due to American coronavirus cases.

I continue to be impressed with the transparency of the Korean government regarding their fight against the virus. New infections continue to be detected, but thousands of people are getting tested for the virus everyday. Real-time updates are available on television, and there is a website which pinpoints where the infections are on Google Maps. Unlike the United States, people don’t have to worry about costs when it comes to testing, quarantine, and treatment. The government has also set-up drive-thru coronavirus testing centers.

At work, things continue to be busy with people manning phones, rescheduling and updating people regarding our company’s actions during the heightened panic. Employees are still required to record their temperature coming in the office every day. Most people are walking around with masks around the office. I can’t spend the whole day breathing through a mask, so I do without.

I’ve cut down on my walks around the neighborhood where I work. I used to be quite friendly with many business owners and even the homeless people around the neighborhood, but I guess it won’t hurt if I don’t see them for a while. When I’m out, the streets are pretty empty. I don’t even see the vagrants I encounter on a regular basis.

There are now speculation that fear over the virus is going to lead to a recession. It’s continued to affect many businesses around the country. Quite frankly, I’m now worried about my company as well. Everyday I come to work, I count my blessings that I’m working for a company that could weather this crisis, at least for now. Movie theaters and theme parks are now closed. Study rooms, saunas, karaoke rooms, and many other businesses are currently empty. I went out for dinner last night. After dinner, I passed by a bar which caters to patrons going for a second round of drinking post main meal. It was empty. I imagine similar establishments would be the same.

I walked around the gallery area near my workplace the other day. The area was empty. Thursday is opening night for most of the galleries here and I imagine they would be equally empty as well. It’s a bad time for the arts. Curiously however, I read that a local production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ opened the other day despite the widespread fear. I noted that the production, like similar productions in other countries, decided to cast a female actor in the role of Judas. I realize they’re breaking a glass ceiling, but isn’t a woman playing the role of someone who backstabs the Son of God a step backwards for women?

Production on several reality television shows has been halted. I think this is a good thing, quite frankly. I can’t stand the Korean brand of reality shows. It’s mainly just people eating, singing, playing with children, or watching foreigners react to things.

For once, the regular weekend protests near my workplace has been canceled. I believe this is mostly the result of the religious leader organizing the protests being arrested prior to the weekend.

The leader of the cult responsible for the resurgence of the virus has publicly apologized for hiding documents and impeding the government’s efforts to track down potential infected members. He now pledges to help the government in their efforts. I’m sure the mayor of Seoul asking investigators to look into charging him with negligence has nothing to do with it. Officials have also announced that despite the current rising cases of infections detected, the virus contamination in Daegu is now 90% contained and will likely subside in a week or two. People are cautiously optimistic. It would only take one dumb cult or something similar to trigger another resurgence.

Fewer people have been going to banks. Korea is quickly becoming a cashless society and fears of contracting the virus has led to people avoiding waiting in banks or handling cash. Even if people have cash in hand, vendors (mostly street vendors) who don’t have card readers have mostly been out of sight. Markets have been empty of customers as well. When ordering groceries online. What would usually arrive within the same day will now have at least a two-day waiting period.

Frankly, I’m hoping that as soon as people start recovering, more people would be at ease or simply be too tired of living in fear. Living in fear of infection is tiring. Even if you’re not afraid of the virus, just constantly hearing about it can be very stressful. Over the weekend, I tried not to go out and just stay at home, but ultimately I had to go out and eat at a restaurant. Cabin fever can be quite unbearable especially when unwillingly subjected to it.

I’m now observing how the United States is reacting to the pandemic. Unlike in Canada, an American checked and being quarantined can set him back a month’s pay. The US also has leaders peddling false information regarding the virus. It’s like a perfect storm for a disaster and I’m hoping things get better soon before this gets out of hand. Unfortunately however, it seems like things are going faster than it did here in Korea. The first coronavirus case in Korea was in January 20. This was after several weeks of fear over the virus. The virus was mostly contained until a cult managed to spike the number of infections. A month later, there’s been over 20 deaths. The US has identified its first case of infection a couple of days ago. As of the time I’m writing this, there’s been 6 deaths. This does not look good at all.

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White Male Bubble in Asia

Multitask

A friend of mine in Canada was telling me about her co-worker who was being rather stubborn and insensitive regarding race relations in the office. When he was confronted about this, his defense was he lived in Asia for a couple of years and is therefore sensitive to the plight of minorities since he was fully immersed living in Korea. This is bullshit, folks.

I’ve been living in Seoul for many years now. Pardon the generalization, but I can definitely say that white people, and white men in particular, live in a privileged bubble in Asia. It is not uncommon to hear white, male expats complain about racism and xenophobia after experiencing the most minor slights or inconvenience. You would think that you’re listening to Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They ignore the fact that besides the occasional racism and xenophobia when living in another country, doors are opened to them solely by being white in Asia. The most mediocre white man from Scottsbluff, Nebraska has an edge over the populace and even other expats of color simply by the color of his skin. He is seen as more knowledgeable, more experienced/adventurous, and even more attractive. Just walk around tourist-heavy cities in Asia, be it Hanoi or something more metropolitan like Tokyo or Hong Kong, you’ll always spot the most mediocre white guy walking with someone who is far too young or attractive to be with him. (I know this is very judgmental…. But really…)

Of course, some people in Asia target foreigners thinking that they’re rich or they’re the key to moving to another country. White men just happen to be the most visibly western-looking compared to people of color. However, even if they’re not particularly wealthy, white men could produce mixed-race kids, and by having children who are perhaps a little lighter-skinned or western-looking, the children gain an advantage over other children. They would look like worldly children who must have some connection with the west, or children whose parents don’t have to spend to much time working under the sun. To put simply, they would look richer, a sentiment that is the result of white colonialist history.

This is not to say that this privilege is solely the domain of the white man. White women as well as other foreigners enjoy perks by living in Asia as well, but they are often burdened by other problems and stereotypes. White women and foreign women in general can be subjected to more unwanted attention (“Riding the white horse” anyone?). Women of color can be subject to negative stereotypes. I myself, being a person of color, sometimes have to unnecessarily prove my qualifications even my Canadian-ness to people, even to other Canadians! I remember one time, a friend of mine visited me from Switzerland and introduced me to another Canadian who’s only been living in the country for a year. After being gracious with dinner, as soon as I leave, the other Canadian asks my friend, “Joe’s Canadian? But really, where is he from?”

I doubt if my Canadian-ness would raise suspicions if I were white. Perhaps I sound bitter, but it doesn’t make my observations any less true. I know I live in a privileged foreign expat bubble. I enjoy it and I take full advantage if it. But white men, they live in a far different bubble, and to claim that one is fully-immersed in the culture and fully understand the feelings of minorities is pure white arrogance.

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Impeachments and Shamelessness

Circle Game

This is the second impeachment of a US president I’ve seen in my lifetime. Looking back, this is the fourth impeachment of a president I’ve witnessed or closely followed. It is interesting to see how these things result into precedents and social attitudes that will be felt for many years to come.

At the risk of aging myself, I remember the impeachment of Bill Clinton. It was an embarrassing exercise which started as a fishing expedition and concluded with hypocrites impeaching a man for essentially protecting his marriage by lying. Commentators at the time would have people believe that the Clinton saga opened a Pandora’s box in society. It brought sex… oral sex, out in the open… right into public discourse. It was blamed for young people being more promiscuous and being more open-minded regarding sexual activities outside of coitus. And of course, conservatives successfully impeaching the president and surviving their rank hypocrisy, it made hypocrisy their brand. It’s amazing that Newt Gingrich, the man who led the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for having an affair, was also having an affair at the time, and the woman he is having an affair with is currently the US ambassador to the Vatican… the fucking Vatican. No one bats an eye. Of course Newt Gingrich is a hypocrite… he’s a conservative politician. Now ask him questions on CNN.

A couple of years ago, they impeached and removed from office the President Park Gun Hye of South Korea. I was there for a couple of the protests. I remember being amazed at how fast the whole process was, from outrage to removal of the president. It taught Koreans that when a move becomes popular and people, especially young people get outraged enough, they could shift politics. This power of youthful outrage is similar to the umbrella movement which happened a few years earlier. Unfortunately, the conservatives in Korea are trying to copy this movement and are now regularly attracting older Koreans to come gather in the public squares formerly occupied by the protesters who ousted the former president. They have seen how outrage and continued public protests could change the country. However, what they are getting mostly senior citizens riled about are mostly empty rhetoric and fake news. The weekly weekend gatherings are now turning more and more into just weekend strolls for angry old people to aimlessly listen to slogans.

Back in 1986, there was the People Power Revolution in EDSA. The people of the Philippines were protesting the violent regime of President Marcos and electoral fraud. I remember there was martial law in the Philippines and during the protests there were talks of violence in the street or people being detained by the police for no reason. I also remember my father being pro Marcos at the time. After the ousting of Marcos, the Filipinos seemed to see EDSA, or large public protests, as an exercise or even a ceremony of public grievance after a period of putting up with traditional political corruption. I say that because after EDSA, corruption still continued in the country, a second “revolution” happened entitled “EDSA 2” which overthrew President Joseph Estrada, but again, the country still continued to have its usual problems. It’s almost like nothing was fixed. The status quo remains and only the players have changed. Look at what they have now, Duterte, a populist who encourages violence on the streets. The country is getting better economically for rich investors (especially foreign investors), but not so much for the people who elected the president, the downtrodden masses who fell in love with his macho crime-fighting lies.

Now in 2020 in the US, we’re seeing the trial of Donald Trump after his impeachment. It would seem that the only lesson we’re learning is that there is no bottom that conservatives would sink to in order to maintain their power. I’m afraid the precedent we seem to be taking away from this is that with shamelessness and a bold disregard to the truth, one could weather any evidence of wrongdoing. Believe in your “truth” and yell it out until people give up and say yes, you’re right. It’s the lessson learned from The Secret. It’s the Kim Kardashian guide to being a celebrity. It’s the Real Housewives of Atlanta. It’s disgusting. It truly is disgusting what is happening right now. I really hope I’m wrong, but by looking at what happened during the first day of the impeachment trial, even with Lev Parnas speaking out and new documents being released by Mick Mulvaney, I think the winners have already been decided.

And yes, I know, I know, the Republican majority senate would not vote to convict and therefore remove Donald Trump. The only thing the Democrats could do is force the Republicans to be more brazen in their defense of criminality that it hurts them in their local elections. That, and by embracing Trump and the ridiculous arguments of the White House lawyers, it makes Trump’s eventual acquittal by the Senate a sham and invalid in the eyes of the public.

But that right there is the rub. The people in power, they don’t really care much about how they look in the eyes of the public. They don’t seem t o care how history would judge them. Let me enjoy my wealth and my power now. Forget history and my legacy. I will be long dead and gone by then.

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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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Madam is a Bigot

Strawberry

Ugh… when someone complains about the cost of housing/helping refugees. Don’t bother entertaining that question. It is a talking point as old as time usually aimed at immigrants. It’s been adopted by white supremacists. This “economic anxiety” is just fluff for what is basically racism. It was economic anxiety that got Donald Trump elected to the White House. However, this same “economic anxiety” does not surface when it Donald Trump wants a space force, an expensive military parade, and increased military spending. His supporters only seem to be “economically anxious” when it comes to issues which affect minorities and immigrants.

So as innocent as that lady might be when she questioned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about where the money to assist refugees will come from, she is parroting a talking point that has been historically used to attack minorities and immigrants. It’s bigoted and racist. That is not to say that Canada should mindlessly bear the cost of helping all refugees out, but when it’s your first complaint, the one you heckle the leader of the country with, then I begin to judge your motives and intelligence. Canada is not a poor country. It’s not the richest country in the world, but we are not starving either. We can afford to help those who are desperately fleeing deadly situations in their home country. We can do this.

A few days ago, I came out of Seoul Station and heard festive drumming. There were drummers set-up in front of the station with seats for the audience and everything. It was pretty elaborate and the whole thing seems to have been well organized. It was a really festive mood. But ironically, it was organized by a group that wants to block refugees coming to South Korea, particularly the 500 Yemenis applying for asylum. The people who want the refugees out were channeling Trump. There are talks of immigrants taking advantage of the system, and that they are not really refugees. And these are the more civil talking point. Others on the Internet simply say they don’t look like Koreans or are scary. There’s a growing concern that the influx from a few hundred applicants ten years ago to about 10,000 asylum applicants this year point out to massive fraud, but it could also mean that the world continues to be a hellish place to live for some people. Or perhaps it shows how Korea has become more attractive to immigrants and refugees in the international stage.

A lot of the anxiety stems from Jeju Island, with many of the Yemeni asylum seekers being there due to its visa-free policy. I suspect this is also fueled by the growing angst against Chinese investors buying up property, coupled with the influx of tourists in the past couple of years. What’s disappointing is that aside from the usual racism, Islamophobia, and accusing foreigners of being involved with drugs and crime, the country’s #Metoo and feminist movement seem to have allied itself with the anti-refugee crowd as well. #제주도여성실종사건 (“Missing Women in Jeju-do”) was trending on Twitter last month, with the disappearance of six women being blamed on refugees. Again, there is no evidence that directly links refugees to the actual five missing women (rumors made it six) and it seems to echo the anti-refugee sentiments in Europe, with people saying that they are a danger to women. It also bears mentioning that foreigners in Korea as a group commit fewer crimes than the rest of the Korean population. This fervor reminds me of events a few years ago when there was a spate of students molested by their Korean teachers. Some were covered up, while others were simply fired. This created a bit of an uproar, but instead of addressing the problem directly, lawmakers decided to make it mandatory for foreign teachers to have AIDS test in order to get their visas. Ignoring the implication that foreigners have a higher risk for AIDS and that they should at least be AIDS-free when they presumably have relations with students, not many people batted an eye when this “solution” was made into law. Blame the foreigners and minority for crimes they didn’t commit. It’s an old, lazy, but effective tactic. Unfortunately, it didn’t really make anyone safer.

And if you really want to go deeper in history, women’s safety has been used by the Ku Klux Klan to demonize black men: the brute caricature. Black rapists, white victims.

Economic anxiety, women’s safety… these have all been incorporated by hate mongers to demonize foreigners and minorities. When it comes to talking about refugees, it is simply racist to address these things because a cursory search in the Internet will show how these talking points have been used repeatedly to demonize people. The coming of foreigners has never resulted in the collapse of a country’s economy and the pillage of women unless you look at colonialist history. European settlers ravaged the First Nations. Columbus and his men raped women and sold people as slaves. It was the First Nations that should have felt concerned about their economy and women’s safety. People don’t need to worry about these things when it comes to refugees. The last time I checked, Germany is still a pretty rich country despite taking in so many refugees. And as for crimes, it has the lowest crime record since 1992. So yes, going back to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that woman was talking bigoted bullshit.

I’m not saying the woman is evil however. She’s simply misguided on the issue. She could be the best mother, daughter, sister, or whatever… but when it comes to the refugee issue, she is a misguided bigot. A couple of weeks ago, a Korean man hurled some racist sentiments at me. The person I was with tried to defend me, but I told her to let it go, and I tried to move on from the situation. Now, as progressive as this person might be in defending me against racist attacks, this same person later tried to convince me of the problems with “fake refugees” coming in to Korea.

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On Journalism and Everyone Who Practices It (Whether Inadvertently or Not)

Fake News.jpg

Journalism is noble profession. The problem with journalism however is that far too many people fancy themselves as doing journalism when they’re doing anything but. Either that, or it gets muddled with punditry and people would sometimes no longer have any idea what they’re reading or listening to anymore. Do people who watch Shawn Hannity actually believe they’re not watching the news? I’m sure they think they’re watching the news and not just some college dropout opine about conspiracy theories. And with the rash of news and opinion outlets which cater to every political persuasion, anything that doesn’t fit or contradicts with our own biases could easily be waved off as fake news. The president of the United States does it. My father does it. Even my wife does it from time to time. I myself am not immune to consuming news from outlets that only share my opinion. I often get my news from left-leaning outlets. Probably the most right-leaning outlet I would occasionally watch would be Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough, but that’s only because the vileness of the current political climate have left them no choice but to go against their former right-leaning ways.

And one of the reasons why I tend not to consume anything from the right is that it’s often awash with conspiracy theories and generally vile attitude towards others. How the heck did Alex Jones get an audience? Who would trust anything that Jesse Watters says? And that’s just people on TV. There’s a plethora of right wing talkers on the Internet who dare I say are more unqualified to talk about politics and the news but still command a sizeable audience. And this again blows my mind because none of them are funny and witty at all. Without actually informing their audience, I would expect them to either be witty or funny at a minimum, but no, they’re just not. Outside of wit and humor, they just often resort to hate, which I understand is just as entertaining and addictive.

But what’s most ironic is that while the president of the US denigrates and makes villains out of real journalists, many right wing commenters who often cloak themselves in the amorphous mantle of journalism/punditry join in and attack the free press as well. “These are fake news.” “lame stream media.” As if they don’t belong and are not protected by the same rights real journalists are working under. It’s the same way Trump and many of his political supporters attack the government and this fictional “deep state” as if they’re not the ones currently running everything. It is insanity.

Just yesterday, five journalists were gunned down in Annapolis. This was after the president called members of the free press the enemy. This was a day after Milo Yiannopolous publicly opined that he wanted journalists to be hunted down. And again, ironically, Yiannopolous also happens to work for Info Wars and previously worked for Breitbart which would in some ways make him part of that group he wants attacked. And while they all attacked the 1st Amendment, I’m sure it would be that same 1st Amendment they would use to protect themselves from any liability. “I was just kidding.” “It wasn’t serious.”

God bless the journalists who do their job right and do their job well. We all need them now more than ever.

Maybe it’s not the most appropriate example from many liberals because he is a right winger who I often disagreed with, but I always admired how Charles Krauthammer went from Harvard medical school, to speechwriter, to journalism. I wish I had his courage and his gift to write.

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The Confusing Korean Left

Little Boy

These are crazy times. The left wing of Korea is now a proponent of the alt-right’s agenda, specifically with Trump meeting with Kim Jung Un. President Moon Jae-In, in his quest for warmer relations with North Korea have unnecessarily entangled himself with Trump and Kim Jung-Un meeting next week in a summit in Singapore. When it was first cancelled, the extreme right wing in the country was celebrating, calling it a failure of Moon Jae-In. But now that the meeting is back on, it seems that the left is celebrating it as a “win” regardless of the consequences and what the summit exactly means for North Korean propaganda. If you told me that the left wing of Korea would push for a meeting between Trump and Kim Jung-Un two years ago, I would’ve called you insane.

Now I’m not necessarily against western leaders meeting with North Korea. What I am is extremely cynical of these things. First off, Trump agreed to a meeting without even having any concessions. They demanded total abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, but there seems to be a disagreement whether North Korea agreed to this. And even if they did, it is very unlikely they would follow through with this, especially with Kim Jung-Un fearing Colonel Gaddafi’s fate after abandoning his nuclear programs.

Second, the Trump administration is not treating this very seriously. I really think they’re just pursuing this and hoping that they would somehow stumble into a peace agreement. Why do I say that? I say that because we’re weeks away from the summit, and we’ve yet to hear any realistic plan to slowly wean North Korea away from their current nuclear trajectory outside of Trump sounding like a genie, “you will be very happy, your people will be very happy, your country will be rich!” And I get very suspicious when clowns start popping in for the summit. There’s word that Dennis Rodman, Sean Hannity, and Sebastian Gorka (a Hungarian Nazi) will be covering the summit for Trump. It’s a damned photo op for conservative “win.”

And again, all of this while Trump makes trade wars with Canada, Mexico, and the EU (and Nikki Haley embarrasses herself in front of the UN).

I like President Moon Jae-In, I really do, but I think he’s got himself caught in a trap. Friendliness with North Korea doesn’t mean the South has to be a wingman for relations with the United States, not at this early stage anyway. It wasn’t too long ago when the North wasn’t too cool with the South. Now he is wedded to the political whims of Donald Trump and Kim Jung-Un. Should either man do anything to mess up the summit or sour relations with each other, Moon Jae-In’s enemies would quickly jump on that and use it to attack him. The promise of warmer relations with North Korea is tenable. The promise of peace with North Korea, while ideal, seems unrealistic under current circumstances. And anything short of peace and total nuclear disarmament (something which Trump initially suggested the North agreed to), Moon Jae-In will be attacked for.

In any case, the left should really step back and see what exactly they are supporting here. They are supporting “wins” for two men who will cynically use the meeting for short term political gains and propaganda. The “wins” for both Trump and the North is simply the summit itself. Both men attend the meeting, they shake hands, take pictures. Done. Nobel Peace Prize for one of the worst US presidents in modern history. Any failing from the follow through could just be waved of as fake news. The “win” for the South would take far longer, and proving it to be a “win” would be more substantive. This is a strange and hard gamble for the left.

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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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