Image : Cartoon dog, yapping viciously, running at the source of its frustration, all a-slaver, until – glurk! – it’s hauled up by the tether it forgot about, and sails into the air, landing on its back with a mighty whoomp! Little birdies commence to tweet around its head, in circles.
It’s a novel and fascinating facet of this new medium (to me at least) that people can immediately call you on your sh-t, either with kindness or rancour, and force you to think more carefully about your offhanded rants and screeds. I called the guy I linked to in my last post a ‘cretin’ and opined that he represented the worst of what his country has to offer. Joanne sent me an email and asked a few good questions about why I said those things, and I’ll try to respond in public, at a little more length.
Joanne points out that the main thrust of the professor’s article is that Koreans should not be ashamed of eating dog, and that criticism from the west shouldn’t make Koreans feel ashamed of their culture, and that these points, based on things I’ve said before, are very much in line with the wonderchicken take on the whole issue.
She also says, in my opinion correctly, that every culture has things of which to be proud and things of which to be ashamed, and that eating dog meat is neither, if one ignores the cruelty that is often employed in their slaughter. In this I also agree with Joanne, but the last point is an important one, which I’ll touch on in a minute.
So where do I get off calling the professor such horrible names? It actually has little to do with the point he’s arguing. I tend to agree with him that Koreans should eat what they wish, and let the west take care of their own backyard. I believe my suggestion to Koreans was to say “Kiss our hairy asses!”. My primary problem with the good professor’s essay lies in the politicizing of the issue, something that not only annoys the hell out of me, but happens constantly in Korea, for complicated historical reasons. He pulls out old chestnuts like the sovereignity and submissiveness ones quoted below, like (to paraphrase) “it’s a conspiracy against to Korea to make us import beef”, like “the attitude of feeling shame by eating dog meat, of humbly lowering ourselves, shifts the cause of the problem and only hinders the solution, spoiling our pride“, and “in many ways, Korea is historically and culturally among the top in the world, but it lacks not only in a firm pride and belief in a traditional culture, but also in a strong will to make it known worldwide” to quote a few examples.
It may well be because I have heard things like this about “Korea’s magnificent culture” so many times that each further repetition becomes an annoyance. When people tell me (as they do, all the damn time) that Korea is unique in that it has four seasons, I nod sagely. When I’m told that kimchi (which I love) is the greatest health food ever invented, I smile in wonderment. When someone insists that Hangul (the Korean alphabet, which may truly be one of Korea’s greatest achievements, I admit) is the greatest alphabet ever created, I agree that that may be possible. When a colleague insists that Cheju island is more beautiful than Hawaii and Tahiti combined, I murmur my amazement quietly to myself.
I understand, as much as it is possible for a waeguk-in to grasp, perhaps, that the Japanese colonial occupation in the first half of this century was one of the cruelest things done to a people, ever. The Korean language was banned, Koreans (for whom family ties are perhaps the single most significant things in their lives) were forced to take and use Japanese surnames, cultural treasures and temples were destroyed wholesale, tens of thousands of young women were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers, the litany of evil goes on and on. I understand how that, coupled with the devastation and horror of the Korean war, a scant few years after the Japanese were driven out, has resulted in a people that, considering they were dubbed the Hermit Kingdom before any of this happened, are still painfully sensitive about both domination and cultural meddling from outside. I understand that the slightly pathetic assertions of Korea’s uniqueness and marvellousness, perennially overplayed as they are, come at least in part from the pathologies that grew from the rape of the country at the hands of outsiders like myself.
But it’s time to let that go. Korea and its people are truly one of the wonders of this age, and talking Korea up in a whiny, wheedling voice like this professor does, smacks of the same tired, masturbatory self-justification that has allowed all that is bad about Korea to poison all that is good. The country is being held back by people like him, and it annoys me.
The last point I feel like I need to make is that every time on Metafilter or Plastic or even gotta-love-em lowbrow Fark that the dogmeat issue comes up, it is invariably the consensus that “Koreans should eat whatever they want,” with the proviso that the preference would be for the practice of beating the dogs to death to end. Now.
Koreans like this professor entirely miss the point here. The vast majority of people in the west don’t care much about the issue, except when it comes to outright cruelty. By glossing this, and by defending the entire practice of eating dog, which I and many others are fine with, he is implicity defending the abhorrent and evil practice of beating animals to death before cooking them. This practice, where it occurs, happens because the belief that the adrenaline released into the flesh of the fear-crazed animal as it is beaten to death tenderizes and adds more of the mysterious healthful properties the meat is said to possess.
This I can’t accept. And I can’t accept that all the defenders of dogmeat in Korea so far miss the point so badly – that this cruelty is the only thing most people in the West object to.
You know, I love Korea. I really do, in a tangled-up, possibly unhealthy way, and it drives me up the wall when cretins like this, who represent the worst that the place has to offer, somehow end up being noticed. I have a strong suspicion that reading badly-written, speciously-argued tripe like this will push more people to blindly condemn something they might not have cared much about in the first place.
How about a steaming cup of shut the f–k up? For the sake of your country, at least.
Nonetheless, here I am, linking the little essay. Short version for those who can’t be bothered to click through : it’s another episode in the Dog Meat story. I’ve talked about this issue here and here and here and here and here and here.
This time I’ll just let you draw your own conclusions, I think. Read this too, before you do.
Two all-dog patties, special sauce…
Further to a comment I made here:
It’s being reported in today’s Korea Times that the government has decided that its incredibly successful rollout of DSL and cable, that has effectively given Korea pervasive broadband access, is just the beginning (I pay about US$17 per month for my 4 MB DSL, uncapped). It plans to have 5 Gb fiber pipes into homes by 2006. Judging by the success of the first wave of broadband rollout, I think they’ll do it.
The doomsayers in America who have recently offered the opinion that ‘everyone who wants broadband internet access already has it’ ought to visit Korea, and see the impact pervasive fast access has had here, and how the technology, once it reached critical mass, has begun to snowball, economic crisis or no economic crisis. One small but significant effect is that all the major TV networks have video-on-demand services, which allow you to stream past episodes of pretty much every show they air, or watch whatever is on the station at the moment. Think of that, and think about the endless verbiage and millions upon millions of dollars that have been wasted on failed video-on-demand schemes in North America. The Korean stations just went ahead and did it, without fanfare or IPOs or launch parties. And the services are heavily used…when the provision of data as a service reaches the level of a utility (that is, cheap and pervasive enough not to really be noticed anymore), thinking about what is possible, or necessary, begins to change, I think.
In four years or so, when the current 3G wireless network has been replaced by whatever’s next, and I can get a 5 Gb datapipe into my home for the price of a pizza, the mind boggles at the potential uses. Even beyond pr0n!
I hope by then I speak Korean well enough to take advantage of it.
Totally unrelated post-script so that this becomes a post about Korea and thus I am not breaking my ‘rules’ : I saw a large ‘cherry-picker’, I think they’re called, today on the street. You know, those big-ass trucks with the extendable arm, at the end of which is a little pulpit for someone to stand in while rescuing a kitty or something. It made me laugh out loud – emblazoned proudly on the side was the name : it was a Hyundai PutzMeister.
I may be way off, but I think that means something quite rude in Yiddish.
I think I might like Rolf Potts, if we met. ‘Vagabonding’ is something I’ve done my entire adult life. It is actually possible that we could have met, as I lived in Pusan at the same time as he apparently did, a few years ago. His face looks oddly familiar. Unfortunately, my near-perpetual state of blissful inebriation at the time renders the recollections a mite blurry. Anyway – go read his stuff, about Korea and elsewhere. Some nice writing there, and some of the best I’ve seen about modern Korea.
He says in an interview “this would have been impossible without the Internet,” which is interesting. It sounds as if he began his wanderings about 10 years after I did, and as such, was able to get his best, freshest travel writing out to the world via this miraculous inTaRweb, while mine lies mouldering in the bottom of a box somewhere in Canada, as far as I know.
I’m not bitter. Honest. If I’d actually wanted to say anything to anyone other than my friends (sporadically) and my future self (onanistically) over the past 15 years, I would have done it. Submitted, published, lived outside the moment in order to write about it. I suppose I’m finally getting started at that now. I just wish my powers of recall were a little…sharper.
Feelin’ a bit old, this evening.
I am sick. It’s terrifying being really sick, for someone who rarely is. Face of mortality and all that.
Just to keep my thousands of screaming fans (heh) happy, I’ll offer this update in the Korea Herald to a topic I wrote (badly) about in my WorldNewYork piece of a month or so ago.
I’m going back to bed.
OK, so I switch on the TV this morning as I’m drinking my morning coffee. I usually don’t bother, but I woke up before the alarm. There are women parading around in their underwear on the Shopping Channel, which must have been where SK left it when she came to bed last night.
The models are mostly Korean, which in and of itself is interesting, because 5 years ago, and still to a large extent today, you would never see a Korean woman modelling underwear, in catalogues or on TV. That sort of slutty thing was for foreign women to do – no self-respecting Korean woman would allow herself to be photographed almost! naked!, and certainly no advertiser would presume to ask. Tantamount to pornography, that. Imagine how her family would feel. Ruin her chances for marriage, it would. So, if you did see women in Korea modelling underwear, in catalogues or on posters in department stores, it would always be western women, or Russians.
I watched for a few minutes, for, uh, edification, and soon realized that this wasn’t actually a bra-and-panty ad I was watching. The girls would model-strut forward, smile wide and vacant as if they were gazing on the Face of God, and hold up to the camera these flesh-coloured, plastic, crescent-shaped objects. They’d shift their weight to the other leg, cock the other hip, switch hands, and then grin some more, all the while holding this thing towards the camera like an offering at a shrine.
I thought at first that the crescent-shaped things were falsie-related. There’s a huge market here for padded bras and other non-surgical breast ‘enhancements’. But after a few minutes of, uh, cultural research, a brief computer animation revealed what these things were actually (my Korean’s not good enough yet, sadly) Vibrators. Breast-vibrators. Under the breast, crescent-shaped, vibrators. I can only assume from the animations that the theory is that vibrating the boob at a high frequency somehow stimulates breast expansion.
Well, at least judging by the glazed, pseudo-orgasmic grins on the faces of the models, it feels pretty nice.
I’m sure I didn’t dream it…
Heh. I didn’t make the finalist list at the bloggies awards thing. Ah well, the soup pot’s only been boiling for about 5 months. Nonetheless, I wonder if I didn’t make the shortlist :
a) ’cause I suck
b) ’cause I said I’d rip the heart out of anyone who voted for me
c) ’cause I say the word ‘f–k’ a lot, in a consistently gratuitous f–king manner
d) ’cause I blow
e) some combination of the above
Despite the fact that I kinda think awards for blogging are a bit ridiculous, I feel a tiny shiver of disappointment, originating somewhere down near my butt. And, well, that’s a pretty scary place. How easy it is to get sucked in, huh? Even for a cantankerous auto-exile like me.
Regardless, congratulations go to all who are on the shortlists, and especially to Lia, who is the Queen of the Left Shore, in my books.
I talked last month about why there are so many crosses scattered across the night-time skyline of any given Korean urban area, at least according to some. To quickly summarize, the theory is that Koreans just tend to have a great deal of difficulty getting along with each other, a lot of the time.
An article in the Korea Herald recently has inspired me to revisit that idea. It seems one of the candidates in the upcoming presidential election, Roh Moo-hyun, is campaigning, at least at this early stage, on a platform of reducing regional rivalries within Korea. It seems slightly risible that such a small country could have such powerful antagonism between ‘regions’, but it is the case. It’s common to hear people talk about the way Kyongsang province people talk, or Cholla province people behave. And worse, the major political parties, constantly splitting apart and reforming as they do, tend to be polarized around regional lines, rather than policy-driven. Roh is quoted as saying “Politics [in Korea] cannot take even one step forward and no political reform can succeed under the current circumstances.”
This is not a new problem for Korea. Although the line along the 38th parallel was drawn by the Americans in 1945 as a halfway point for Soviet and American armies to meet and accept the Japanese surrender, the eventual permanent partition was at least in part due to the inability of the Korean negotiators to agree on a path to unity. In the three years leading up to 1948 there were a number of attempts to reach a compromise, including a proposal for a 5 year joint US/Soviet trusteeship, and one for UN-sponsored elections. None were accepted, and in fall of 1948, two separate states were born. Although Koreans are not accustomed to taking responsibility for their history, it is the opinion of some that the partition can be laid at the feet of the multitude of nationalist groups and their constant bickering at the time as much as it can be attributed to superpower machinations, or anything else. Two years later, North invaded South, and failed, thanks to Alan Alda, as we all know.
For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with Mr. Roh, that little will change in this country until it can outgrow not only regionalism but ingrained reluctance to cooperate towards a common goal.
Yesterday was a good day on the planet for me. I ate french fries for the first time in almost five months (found a fastfood joint only 4 subways stops away). I decided that I’m going to finally finish a book (it was the idea of finishing a novel that was blocking me. I’m going to write about Korea, non-fictionally, but in that inimitable smart-ass wonderchicken style – I can’t tell you more or I’d have to kill you – and the ideas are just pouring out of my head. I’m very excited about it.) I got some kind, positive feedback on my stuff here (thanks, Shelley). I woke up this morning to find an email from a publisher requesting use of some of my yammering at Metafilter for use in a book about online communities (take that, Basil Boy!)
A nice way to roll into the weekend. The keyboard will be smoking over the next few days, I hope.
Though I’ve not seen much about it in the English language newspapers, the TV news and current affairs programs are wringing their collective hands these days about the growing proliferation of high-school girls selling their asses (and other bits as well, one assumes) to predatory middle-aged scumbags. This sort of thing has been happening for a long time in Japan, but it’s new here. Apparently most of the connections are made in net chat rooms, and the girls are frequently the ones to make overtures. It seems that these girls are, almost without fail, perfectly average upper-middle class teenagers who Want More Stuff. The news items I’ve seen indicate that most of the girls who’ve been caught at it confess that they just wanted extra money for clothes, and whoring themselves to a few drooling middle-aged salarymen was the easiest way to get it. I understand the impulse. I’ve whored myself out to businessmen, too – heck, I was so good at it in Sydney that I doubled my salary in 18 months – but I draw the line at letting them drool all over me.
But seriously, folks. I’m here until Thursday. You’ve been a great crowd! It’s been a long time since I lived in North America, but I’m pretty sure this doesn’t happen a lot there. Or am I completely out of touch?
What’s her perfume? Tigress by Faberge
An informative article from the New York Times (free registration required?) about the resort at Mount Kumgang, which opened in North Korea not long ago, amid much fanfare, for South Korean tourism. One thing the article doesn’t mention is that as such a highly visible manifestation of Kim Dae Jung’s ‘sunshine policy’, the fact that it’s recently been losing money and popularity as the novelty wears off hasn’t much helped the chances of more such projects being undertaken. (thanks Lia!)
From the Metafilter discussion here, an interesting first-hand commentary on racism in Korea, and the double standard that the author felt dominates here.
This post never happened. You tell anyone about it, I’ll have to kill you.
(I have this thought at the moment that weblogs are a stupid f–king idea. That link propagation, which most folks seem to think as the primary function of a weblog, particularly when presented sans commentary, tends to be worthless circle-jerking.
It’s all about voice, about words, dammit, and in this I’m very much ready to snort whatever powder is blowing into drifts at the foot of rageboy and his kin. Simple linking to what someone else has said is purely lame – rat-push-button-get-electrical-stimulus stuff. It’s the evil detritus at the bottom of the blog waterpipe net.folk have been puffing on for the last couple of years. Give me one well-written rant, one single viewpoint that is informed from hard-won experience rather than obsessively reading thirdhand comments on secondhand reports from old-media talentless hacks. Or talented hacks. I don’t f–king discriminate.
Realizing, of course, that the sh-t I type here is read, if at all, by a few old friends, a few new, a few net aquaintances, a few google-nauts and a tiny handful of interested parties. It’s not like this semi-inebriated screed matters.
And that’s the point, innit? Shouting out the words, and hoping to find a few that will gather around your mental hearthfire, a few who are, if not entranced by your words, at least willing to listen. For me, it’s a digital analogue of my wanderings around the planet for the last 15 years, In Search of An Audience. f–k that for a bad joke, really.
In my geographic wanderings, I was in search of the perfect bar as much as anything else, and as I do tend to preach a bit when I’m in my cups, sometimes people would gather around for reasons that didn’t include pelting me with rocks and garbage. So is it now as it was then : I’m glad the folks that come back here regularly derive some pleasure from what I have to say, but the reality is I’m doing it more for me than I am for you. And lately I’m starting to feel a need to remember what the hell I was saying, and the technology is available to do it.
What I find it hard to understand is what the hell people are thinking who post.more.links.over.and.over.again.every.day with little or no hint of what they actually think about the things they link to…
Of course, I don’t propose to claim these half-formed ideas as my own. This sort of deflationary thing has been said before, by others, and better. I’m in a mood at the moment, is all. This rant here just kind of popped out of the old mental cloaca as I was doing a beery weblog-tour this evening, and since I’m still logged into blogger, I figured I’d just start typing. This kind of contrarian bullsh-t probably ain’t gonna help my chances in this bloggies thing, and that’s precisely why I’m posting it.
Hello, I love you, vote for me and I’ll rip your heart out.
No, not really. But stranger things have happened.)
Thank you for your cooperation.
Please do not comment. It’ll burst my self-involved bubble. No, seriously.
Yikes. If the referrer doodad is telling me the truth, it would seem that someone has nominated me for a bloggie. Shucks. For the second time in a week, my thanks go out to some mystery net.niceperson.
*tugs at cowlick, kicks pebble.
At least I think ‘thanks’ is appropriate. I’m not really sure if more traffic would be a good thing or not. Ah well : whatever is, is good.
I promised a Waeguk Mini-essay, and here it is :
Kibeun (variously romanized, roughly pronounced ‘Kee-boon’) has been translated into English as ‘mood’ or ‘state of mind’, but this a very pale concept compared to the Korean one. Kibeun is regarded as much more important a matter than most westerners would regard mood. In another of those seeming contradictions of Korea, Koreans have a tendency to dwell, involute, on their more delicate feelings, despite their rough-and-ready, earthy exteriors. The degree to which they can focus on their emotional states can seem almost effete to a westerner, particularly one who, like me, grew up in a rough, tough northern town. Kibeun is of overarching importance in social relations, is constantly discussed, and attempts are always made to ensure kibeun is preserved.
It might be described as the part of you that goes beyond your physical presence, that not only permeates your being but surrounds you, invisibly, like a cloud. But it can be damaged, by unhappiness or disrespect, by losing face, by thoughtlessness or humiliation, by anything that’s disruptive to the harmony you feel with other people. Damage to your kibeun is damage to your essence, and can have negative effects both mentally and physically.
It is this consciousness of an inner life, one that is molded by the degree of harmony one achieves in one’s relationships with other people to whom one feels any degree of responsibility, that gives Koreans their almost preternatural ability to sense peoples’ mood, and their character, and modify their own behaviour to lubricate the social gears. That’s the nice part. The infuriating flip side of that, though, for many foreigners, is the tendency to dance elegantly away from any potential confrontation. An angry waeguk-in, until they understand what’s happening, is likely to become angrier when the Korean with whom they have a bone to pick says ‘Maybe’ when they mean ‘No’, or ‘tomorrow’ when they mean ‘never’, in order to try and re-establish harmonious dealings. The accompanying, ever-present potential too, is when someone is pushed too far, and they lose face, in which case ‘social harmony’ can take a flying leap, and the only way to regain face and salvage personal kibeun is to blow up and stomp and yell. This happens a lot, too.
In this consciousness of the relationships between people and its effect on your own wellbeing, rather than the ‘correctness’, ‘objective truth’, or self-interest of an individual or his arguments, there is a minefield of potential misunderstanding. Most foreigners to Korea trip through it over and over again, myself included, before they realize that putting the kibeun of the people around you first, even in a situation of confrontation, will bring results.
(As an aside, this is what Bush and the Americans do not seem to understand, or care to, when they deal with North Korea in ways that I’ve discussed earlier)
The importance of kibeun for Korean people should never be underestimated. It’s not merely convention, it’s baked-in. Koreans can make crucial, important decisions based on kibeun. Business decisions, choice of a mate, career and employment choices, all may be taken on the basis of what feels right, or what will result in the most socially harmonious outcome for all concerned. Koreans will discuss kibeun, but rarely attempt to analyze it in this way. To do so would perhaps damage their kibeun.
This is not to say that decisions, important or otherwise, are made strictly on a non-rational, intuitive basis. Things like love and marriage, about which westerners can be decidedly irrational, are approached with a combination of cold, rational analysis and intuitive leaps here, for example. It is another of the contradictions that drive me to drink.
Well, actually, I’d be drinking anyway.
The forces of Konglish are strong, and they’re winning. It’s inexplicable to me how this could happen, even though it happens every day. The entire last page of today’s Korea Herald has a huge, colour advertisement from KT, Korea Telecom, one of the largest companies in the country. This is the ad copy, in its entirety :
Meet the glaring future lead by KT.
It’s KT! It’s future!
I have no problem with people mangling the language, making mistakes. That’s fine. Everyone who learns a new language does it. But how in the name of the dangling purple testicles of Lucifer does a full page ad in a nationally distributed newspaper (edit : it’s an English language paper ) with language like this get published? Does no one check these things? Ever?
Picture me jumping up and down, raving…
This is just sad, and a little stupid. It seems that a group of Korean ‘anti-japanese’ h4x0rs (hardly, but I just love typing ‘h4x0rs’) attacked the websites for the US TV network WB and French state television, with only minor disruptions to their services. The attacks were supposedly in response to slanted and inaccurate reporting about the dogmeat issue, and the Korea Times reports it is “conceived by many to be a ‘gallant action’ which defended the nation’s traditional culture from biased views.”
In defense of these net.boneheads, it sounds as if the French broadcast was purest racist drivel, with reporters apparently dressed in Chinese clothes and holding up menus in Japanese, and describing, with no relation to reality, Korean students bringing dogmeat for their lunches (according to a Korea Herald print edition article which does not seem to be on their website).
But this kind of childish retaliation for perceived slights against the nation will do nothing at all to raise the reputation of Korea in the eyes of the world. It’s more likely, particularly given the ineffectiveness of the ‘attacks’, to increase the chance of Korea becoming a laughing stock. More’s the pity.
Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of soup…