Tag Archives: Rashomon

Racist Korean Rashomon Morning

Vishnu

Yesterday, the bus driver ruined my morning. I just wanted to be left alone and go to work, but no, he had to get into my life, embarrass me in front of strangers, and ruin my morning.

The bus was packed as I got in. There are two ways to get in the bus: the front closest to the driver, and the back which is really an exit, but people in Korea use to get into the bus anyway. The bus that morning was so packed that I remember whispering “fuck” as I got in and swiped my card. I was standing at the front, making sure not to block the driver’s view of the right side mirror.

After a long tunnel, we stopped. The door opened and a couple of people behind me were trying to get out. I wanted to make life easier for them since the bus was so packed, so I got out of the bus only to go back in once they got out. The bus had less people now, so I went further back. I was enjoying listening to This American Life and updating my Twitter feed when I noticed the bus wasn’t moving. The bus driver got out of his seat, went straight to me, and yelled, “CARD! CARD!” while pointing to the bus’s card reader. He must’ve assumed I just got in and assumed that I didn’t bother paying.

He didn’t speak in Korean nor was he being very polite, so I shot back, “I already did!” And I heard a Korean lady, probably the one next to me when I first got in say, “He paid already.” Content, he went back and resumed driving. No apologies. I had to call my friend in Canada during the ride just to calm down about, all the while shooting dirty looks at the driver. And as I was about to get off, continuing to imagine his death, he gave a goofy wave goodbye. Idiot.

A co-worker heard this story and said that perhaps I was reading it all wrong. The bus driver actually took the time to get off his seat, come to me, and remind me to pay in English. Most Koreans would’ve just been yelled at from the driver’s seat. I say bullshit. How would she like it if she was travelling in the US and the bus driver stopping the bus only to yell at her, “PAY! PAY!” when she already did?

My View: That bus driver was a racist. Why would he assume that I didn’t pay? Do I look like someone who doesn’t know how buses work, or for that matter, how the world economy works? I just wanted to go to my job. I didn’t wake up in the morning thinking I’m gonna screw the bus driver. And really, if it was a Korean person, I’m sure he would’ve given him or her the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately for him, I already paid. I’m sure if I didn’t and he had to drag me to the card reader, that would’ve made his day. I’m sure he can’t wait to tell a foreigner off.

Co-worker’s View: Joe is being overly sensitive. He’s been binge-watching Black-ish and the new OJ Simpson show. He really should know that he’s not black, and he’s not being oppressed in Korea. I’m sure that was just an honest mistake. He’s lucky the bus driver even used English.

Bus Driver’s View: Did that guy just get in without paying? I’d better tell him. Luckily, “card” is the same word for card in Korean. Maybe he’ll get it when I tell him.

Lady in the Bus’s View: Didn’t that guy already get in before the tunnel? I remember him whispering “fuck” as he swiped his card. I’d better tell the bus driver. That foreigner mustn’t speak a lick of Korean. I’ll bet this’ll ruin his morning.

Now I’ve calmed down since yesterday. And yes, I know there was a misunderstanding, but I can’t help but sense glee in the bus driver tone as he told me off in a crowded bus. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but even if it was, the perception of the whole thing is bad: a Korean man yelling at a foreigner in front of people early in the morning. It’s very hard for a person to be understanding and open-minded if he or she was on the receiving end of that abuse, especially if they went out of their way just a few moments ago, to make life more convenient for other commuters. Sometimes you don’t have to outwardly racist in order to be racist, just the appearance of racism is enough.

And that really, is one of Korea’s problems. Sure, there is racism. There are people out there who truly hate or don’t want anything to do with foreigners, but there’s also mild or “innocent” racism. An example of it would be places like Koreans-only establishments. Their excuse is not so much that they don’t like foreigners; it’s just that dealing with English is a problem. It’s all just a misunderstanding on the foreigner’s part. This is often excused by saying, “no, no, it’s not racist, but…”

But what?

But your foreign ass just has to deal with it.

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Time Traveling Via NPR

paratrooper

I’ve been listening to old ‘This American Life’ episodes. Over the weekend, I listened to ones that were broadcast right after the attack on the World Trade Center. Like a time traveler, it’s interesting to hear what people feel at the time especially their attitudes towards the US heading to war. As expected, I was annoyed at experts at the time, people like Rumsfeld, who are selling the war with a calamitous need for justice and assurance that America is going to battle in most well thought-out manner. He couldn’t have been more wrong about everything. It’s amazing that they still allow him on television as an ‘expert’ on anything these days.

What’s most interesting was episode 196, when the events of September 11 are examined through different perspectives. Much like the movie ‘Rashomon,’ stories change drastically depending on whose eyes you’re experiencing them through. Of course, people in the west were scared. They we scared of this nebulous terrorist threat. As a westerner, this was probably my default point of view. The west needed a target. It needed to get back at someone. Saddam Hussein has always been a “bad guy” through most of the 90s. Perhaps getting him would turn the scales back into a place of normalcy.

But then there’s also the Muslim point of view. In the episode, a Palestinian teenager explains about why the September 11 attacks doesn’t benefit the Muslims, but instead benefits the Jews in Israel since it puts the Americans into conflict in the Middle East, much like Pearl Harbor brought America out of isolationism in WWII. This of course is seen as anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from western point of views, and in my opinion, rightfully so. But to some Muslims, especially Palestinians and with the different biases between western and Muslim media skewering regional opinion, this could very well be a plausible explanation for the attacks. Another Muslim point of view is that of a former soldier from Iraq who had to reluctantly fight for Saddam’s army. Not a rabid supporter of Saddam, the man had to explain to his son why the normally pleasant and well-meaning Americans had to violently terrorize their city. Looking back on this now, if he had stayed in the Iraqi army, this man would’ve been out of job and perhaps forced to join ISIS by now.

Lastly, the show also looked at war from the point of view of some soldiers. Despite best preparations, war is hell, and things could turn bloody in any minute. It is always best to approach war with reasoned reluctance than with the zeal and optimism the world had back in 2003, when we were confident at shocking and awing the enemy into submission.

Episode 200 looked at the radio station set up by the CIA to help overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala in 1954, Jacobo Arbenz. It was an interesting examination of the power of radio back in the day and the way propaganda is used both during a conflict and long after, when myths cultivated. What I find most poignant however, is the comment by Prof. Nick Cullather, who says that while the US does have a responsibility to sometimes intervene in foreign countries’ affairs, it is far more difficult to face the magnitude of the task afterwards. It is quite easy to depose a leader compared to the difficulty of finding a suitable replacement. Just look at Guatemala after Arbenz, Syria in 1949, Iran in the 50s, Chile and the junta in the 70s. And now Iraq with the fall of Saddam has the whole Middle East in a quagmire.

Listening to old radio shows and “time travelling” is a nice distraction during my commute. However, I would’ve hoped our leaders had more insight to predict the future. Looking back now, we were all such fools back then. It is amazing that NPR had the courage and prudence to examine issues from different perspectives, especially with the national climate in 2001-2003. Unfortunately, being seen as an organization with liberal biases, I doubt that it or any other organizations like it would have their ideas taken seriously in the mainstream media.

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