30 September 2009
28 September 2009
“우리 서로 이름을 부르면서 친하게 지내자.”
“우리 서로 이름을 부르면서 친하게 지내자.”
버락 오바마 미국 대통령(48)과 하토야마 유키오(鳩山由紀夫·62) 일본 총리가 24일 미국 피츠버그에서 열린 만찬에서 앞으로 서로 이름을 부르며 지내기로 약속했다. 오바마 대통령을 ‘버락’으로, 하토야마 총리는 ‘유키오’라고 부르기로 한 것. 한국으로 치면 성을 붙이지 않고 바로 이름만 부르는 셈이다.
격식을 매우 중시하는 정상외교에서 이는 이례적인 일이다. 그만큼 두 정상이 친밀하다는 점을 내외에 과시하기 위한 것으로 보인다. 양국의 퍼스트레이디도 남편들 뜻을 따라 미셸 오바마 여사는 ‘미셸’로, 하토야마 미유키(鳩山幸) 여사는 ‘미유키’로 부르기로 했다고 한다.
하토야마 총리는 국제무대 데뷔전이기도 한 이번 방미에 앞서 “오바마 대통령과 신뢰관계를 쌓는 것이 중요하다”고 말해왔다. 그런 점에서 서로 이름 부르기는 일단 ‘신뢰구축 1단계 목적’으로 달성됐다고 할 수 있다.
하토야마 총리가 이번 방미 기간 중 오바마 대통령과 개인적 얘기를 나눌 시간을 가진 것은 모두 세 차례였다. 23일 뉴욕 정상회담에서는 오바마 대통령이 예정보다 일찍 도착한 하토야마 총리를 대기실까지 찾아와 회의장까지 직접 안내하기도 했다. 이런 오바마 대통령에 대해 일본 대표단에선 ‘소탈한 사람’이라는 칭찬이 이어졌다. 일본 언론에선 상대의 마음을 사로잡는 데에는 오바마 대통령이 한 수 위였다는 평가도 나왔다.
Obama-Hatoyama, by using each other’s given names... display intimate feeling
“Let’s use each other’s given names and become friendly.”
American President Barack Obama (48) and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hotoyama (62) on the 24th in
Very seriously showing formality is strange in sincere diplomacy. Two diplomats acting intimate with each other displays their inner and outer feeling. The countries’ first ladies also, following husbands’ meaning, said they will use first names, Michelle Obama by “Michelle” and Mrs. Hatoyama Miyuki by Miyuki.
P.M. Hatoyama before his debut on the international stage with this visit to
During the period of this trip to
27 September 2009
I only say that because, one, it's significant and has kept me cooped up inside all day and, two, as I was thinking about what to write today it occurred to me that most diaries make some effort at recording the weather and the location of writing. While this isn't really a diary, it is an attempt at a quasi daily record. I've always been one to follow form when I have no compelling reason not to and thus, "Cool. Raining all day." (If you want the location of writing too, just glance at the sidebar. I haven't gone anywhere.)
I've had quite a bit of experience with diaries. Starting when I was about six years old, my mother sat my sister and I down everyday of every vacation to write a few words, or at least draw a picture, in hardcover books, the ones with blank lines that can easily be purchased at any major book vendor. Often, on an adjacent page, we would tape a postcard of whatever historic monument or stunning vista we had visited that day.
My family didn't have money to spend on vacations abroad or even to local resorts. In fact, besides a day trip through Canada (We only stopped to pitch a tent for the night near a mosquito infested lake in Ontario on our way to Maine), my only experiences abroad came through a 10-day field research trip in Japan and a going-on-3-years cultural immersion experience in Korea. Still, I find I am more than satisfied with my experiences visiting every contiguous U.S. state and a good number of the major national parks to boot. Cancun, Fiji, Hawaii, even--well, I don't much like the beach anyway.
Fortunately, I can remember these experiences with all the detail that a 6 year old could muster by reading the diaries I kept, and the bindings of those few hardbound books are exploding with all of the postcards we managed to cram in there. Even more entertaining is being able to look back on my own growth as both my sentences and my observational skills became more complex. I have my mother to thank for this, and probably for my interest in writing as well. Even today, I feel uncomfortable traveling anywhere without at least a pad to write on, even if I rarely write anything while on the actual journey anymore. Having those childhood diaries, to me, is very cool, no matter how uncool it might actually be.
Then there was my experience with the 2500 page diary that was my main primary source document for my final departmental research project at Valparaiso University. I basically shut myself in Washington University in St. Louis' library for the duration of that voyage through history, learning how the Japanese first perceived Victorian-era Europe and America. It was a monumental task (How much more so to compile it!), and, though my own minuscule entries as a child followed the same theme of cataloging all the new things learned and experienced while on a vacation, it was humbling to read the thoughts and opinions of the future leaders of a powerful nation as they gaped in childlike awe at countries far more powerful than theirs. They were recording everything they saw because they knew that what they observed was the only way to keep their country from falling under the sway of European imperialism. I was recording what I saw because Mommy told me.
And it makes me wonder what the use is of these diaries in the first place. After all, was my recording those entries as a child anything more than an exercise in practicing grammar? It's not like those will ever be published for their own merit.
And then there are pieces like this blog. And that blog. And the other one.
And besides these, there's Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and manifold other ways that we as a race have devised for us to tell everyone every minuscule bit of data about ourselves in every way possible, willingly putting out information that just a generation ago would have been completely private, not only because of the barriers in communication but because what we did with our lives was no one's business but our own.
I was reading an intellectual piece from a very scholarly source the other day. Though little of it was meant to be taken seriously (In reality, it's a comedy piece on what future history textbooks will say about Obama's efforts in 2009), it did hit on something particularly poignant:
Did you know the combination of reality television and sites like Facebook told an entire generation of people a) that they could be famous for doing nothing and b) that everyone was remarkably interested in what they had to say! It's true! We raised an army of delusional narcissists with inflated senses of self-worth [and we] were still shocked when things fell to shit! The more you know! [Source.]And yet, here I am, quite self-consciously doing the same thing that this article mockingly warns against. After all, I'm not the only person recording their experiences in Korea. But, if you want the opinion of someone who's more serious than Mr. Dan O'Brien up there...
Upon returning to VALPO a year after graduation, my former college dean thanked me for continuing to send him and some other members on the faculty these mass emails I compile every once a month or so documenting my experiences here. It goes out to friends and family as well and is the best way for me to both keep a diary and to keep in touch with everyone. However, the dean also said that he was worried about the amount of information that was out on the Internet in general and its ramifications for actually inhibiting communication. With so much information out there, how can we ever possibly ingest and interpret it? In other words, everyone's talking, but no one seems to be listening.
What's worse is our sense of entitlement about this. That is, everyone thinks that what they have to say is actually worth listening to.
I am, however, skeptical about whether this sense of entitlement is actually a new revelation or just something old that we can suddenly make manifest to a much wider audience.
For instance, at the risk of sounding like a freshman year term paper, people have always had opinions and have also desired to express those opinions. However, before you had to get through a slew of people to have those opinions heard in any sort of mass public fora. With speaking, it was always a matter of if you had something interesting to say that a following wanted to hear. Past that, your only limitation was how far you could project your voice. With writing, it was more a matter of having something interesting to say that a small group of people who regulated the publication process (editors, agents, censors) wanted others to read. In both cases, only a select few could actually distribute their information to a large audience.
So, in reality, maybe the urge to present one's ideas was always there. We just weren't able to.
It then becomes a question of, now that we have this power of expression to let everyone at every time know exactly what we are thinking and doing, should we? After all, we're no where near a Japanese envoy exploring Europe in order to import technologies, ideas, and ideologies into his country to save it from social and economic servitude. We aren't really all that important and, let's face it, few people really do care besides our mothers (Hi, Mom!). Should we be writing at all?
I say, yes, but only if we feel comfortable with it and only if we're still paying attention to the voices of others that are out there, especially if they speak with authority. I still think that the more information that is available to access, the better off we are as a whole. In the end, it really is the audiences' responsibility to regulate what they watch, listen to, and read. We, as the authors of that material, should be humble about our expectations and grateful when we find an attentive ear.
Take this blog for example. It has a low readership and fewer commentators (and those mostly by other means like email or Facebook), but I still keep it because my expectations are not that it will become a source of fame and income, rather that it will help my friends and family back home know what I am experiencing and, later, allow me to look back on this time and to contemplate what my 24 year old self thought.
Or take my grandfather and great uncle. When my grandfather moved from Germany to the U.S. after WWII to make a new home for his brother and parents and to eventually bring them over, he and his brother kept correspondence. My great uncle saved almost all of these letters, and they now tell a compelling narrative of moving to and adjusting to life in an alien nation. It's even a published book that some college classes are using as a primary source document for discussing the Cold War and American immigration. From such humble beginnings as these...
My point is that recording the information is good for both us and for posterity, but that we shouldn't have such a high opinion of ourselves to think that either we or our posterity will find it by necessity interesting or useful. I keep this blog, but I don't mention it to my friends every chance I get, whispering seductively, "Take and read. Take and read." My grandfather and great uncle didn't edit their letters into a book. That was my grandmother who did that and long after my grandfather had passed on. Still, it was good that they wrote them at the time, just as it is good for us to write.
And so today's weather: Cool. Raining all day.
(On a side note...
I also think that there are some things that I just don't need to tell you about myself, just as you probably have some things you don't want to tell me about yourself. And it's not even the skeletons in our closets that I'm talking about. There are things far less insidious that most of us, though there are exceptions, consider private affairs.
In a very real sense, we are the first generation to grow up with the Internet, and so we are still learning what the etiquette and appropriate boundaries are for it. It's like the Internet is in puberty, and we are its raging hormones and teen angst. During this time of growth and development, people are going to post pictures of themselves doing stupid things on their Facebook pages and then be shocked when their employer doesn't like it and fires them, or they're going to impulsively lash out at their best friends in high school and seemingly irreparably break an unbreakable bond in a way that we would have done in private diaries in years past.
People always recorded these events and feelings, even when the cameras were film and the writing was done with paper and ink. After a while, we're probably going to start telling our children to not repeat our mistakes about posting our lives on the Internet. After a while, Internet safety will be taught right along side learning how to look both ways before crossing the street. After a while, we're probably going to have a moralistic TV show targeted at teens like Saved by the Bell with an episode where Billy learns an important lesson about not making fun of friends on his MySpace page.
But that's adulthood. Until then, most of us are still going to keep our diaries publicly and learn from the consequences.)
25 September 2009
23 September 2009
I like sports, but not like most American guys like sports. Don't get me wrong. Put a leather clad ball of whatever kind in front of me, and I'll run, tackle, jump, pass, shoot, or whatever else we're supposed to be doing like the rest of them. I love that part of sports.
What I don't like is the sitting in the armchair, speculating on which team is going to win, knowing every player's name and stats, and yelling coaching tips at the TV part of sports. Except for big games like the Superbowl, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, and maybe the World Series, if sports is on the TV, I change the channel to watch something more stimulating. That's just how I roll.
Going to watch sports in a stadium, on the other hand, that I'm all for. The atmosphere is what gets me. The cheering people, the open air (when outdoors, that is), the vendors and hawkers, the smell and yes the stink of it all is just wonderful. It makes me feel as much like I'm a part of the game as watching on TV makes me feel disembodied from it. Heck, I'll even watch baseball, to my mind the single least exciting sport on American television, if we're going to a stadium.
The only trouble is that in Korea my options are extremely limited. I can go to basketball games, which are rarely well enough attended to make them interesting, baseball games, which are rarely interesting in and of themselves regardless of the number of spectators, or I can go to soccer matches. In Pohang, that trio of opportunities becomes a despicable solo. That's right. Pohang has one sport offering. Soccer. Whoo. Hoo.
Soccer is probably the least American sport in the world, both by popularity and by competency. Much like the Scots consider basketball to be a game for lasses, Americans, according to Chuck Klostermann, consider soccer to be a game of mediocrity only fit for elementary school children who haven't developed the muscular strength, the hand-eye coordination, or the competitive spirit and will to play our real sports. Stereotypically, our moms take us to soccer pitches. Our dads take us to the battlegrounds of the field, court, and gridiron.
Even the language of soccer is all wrong for American sports. A pitch? Please. And a match? I have news for you, matches in America recall the mano a mano brutality of boxing or at least the agility, finesse, and strategy of tennis. Calling sporting events "games" recalls the honor and prestige of Olympic competitions both modern and ancient, feats of strength and will and endurance. They are a test of the human spirit! All a soccer match brings back for us is memories of aimlessly and awkwardly kicking a ball in the general direction of a goal larger than the size of my bedroom wall and still not making it in--all this while our mothers and fathers discussed the most recent series for the baseball home team or the chances the local high school football team has of making the playoffs that year.
So, yes, despite the dirt cheap admission price, it took me a while to get out to a soccer game.
Last week Wednesday was my first one, and I only have one thing to say about the experience: I loved it.
And so did this guy! (One of the cheerleaders. In Korea, this is not a misnomer. He actually led cheers.)
And the cheers? The cheers are amazing. Rather than just shouting random inarticulate phrases like, "Go!" "Come on!" and the unfortunately-popularized-by-Rob-Schneider-speaking-in-a-Hispanic-accent "You can do it!", we had a veritable repertoire of chants and even full fledged songs with verses to choose from. At the head of each section was a cheerleader, usually wearing the colors of the home team (the alternative being nothing but his pants). I assume this person was just a fan (or perhaps it is better to use the etymological source, "fanatic") of the team, but he led his section with incomparable ardor and zeal. The cheerleaders would even work together, taking cues from each other about when to start different songs, cheers, or actions like the wave. (Yes, they do that here too.)
In terms of the club itself, it makes sure to give the fans the materials needed to ensure the appropriate mood. At the entrance to the stadium, each patron was bestowed with a flag for enthusiastic waving. And waved they were. Some fans even brought their own over-sized flags and banners. This flag was collected at the end of the match, though it was no trouble to keep it as a souvenir if one so desired. Around the field were written slogans declaring the spirit of the game--"Your spirit makes our blood boil!" "Soccer is war!" "My pride is here!" "Dokdo is Pohang's responsibility to protect!" and so on and so forth. (Actually, I'm not quite sure that last one was appropriate at the game. It'd be kind of like someone having a "Let's win in Afghanistan!" sign at a basketball game in the states. I mean, I agree with the sentiment, but at a sporting event? Really?)
And then there's the adoration of the fans for the individual players. They are loved. They are cheered on no matter what. If you make a goal, the throbbing masses will shout your name in unison while raising their hands in victory for at least a minute if not more. If you even make an attempt but miss, they will still praise your effort and will to win in the same manner. Everyone has their favorites, and much as is the custom in America, you can tell by the jerseys which they wear proudly. One was hard pressed to find a person without a jersey or at least the appropriate colors in our section. Upon a bad call by a referee or the possibility of a goal by the other team, the most outrageous cacophony of noise erupts from the stands. In this stadium, the audience really is the extra man on the field.
Goals are not only celebrated with lofty adoration, but with fireworks as well, and we were treated with a mini-show upon each and every one. Fans get in on the action as well by lighting flares.
After coming home from the game, which in itself was the most exciting sporting event I've ever witnessed in person, I enthusiastically posted the following to my wall:
The Steelers win against the Busan Pride, 5-1. MOST EXCITING SOCCER GAME EVER!!! I will have to go again. (hangs head in shame)A good friend of mine, in jest, then cast this barb at my American pride:
'Most exciting soccer game ever.' So, like, it was almost as exciting as the most boring baseball/basketball/American football/watching paint dry/etc. game ever?It's a fair question. You may question my sanity with this new found love of mine, thinking I have somehow lost my American-ness or what have you, but consider this. Take a closer look at this picture:
... you're either with the terrorists or your against them. It's American football or terrorist football. American football comes with beer and cheerleaders. Terrorist football comes with secret detention and enhanced interrogation techniques. You can choose.
Do you see that row of men in the foreground of the picture, and the row directly behind them, and ye, even unto the row behind them? Notice that they all wear the red and the black jerseys (and the expensive ones at that), that some even have the team's towel scarfs, that they stand ready to cheer at the direction of the craziest cheerleader. That sturdy bunch, that motley crew, the rowdiest of the rowdy fans--they are the United States Marines.
When the U.S. Marines, arguably the most American, macho, and hardened of all possible spectating groups, are cheering for a sporting event, it's gotta be an event worth cheering for.
20 September 2009
Expats on the other hand love it, and some cities actually have tournaments in not full out leagues. Jeju-do, Korea's island paradise, has international tournaments with teams even flying in from such exotic locales as Idaho, USA. One friend told me that the league in Seoul is so competitive that you actually have to know what your doing or you'll get chewed out by the other players on your team. There are friendly pick up games too, of course, but in the expat crowd, Ultimate is serious business.
Here in Pohang, we usually have a modest--some might say impoverished--showing of about 8 people on a good week, although two weeks ago we had as many as 14. Sometimes, the numbers are as low as 5. It's not enough to host tournaments or to have leagues, but we still have a blast playing our quick 5-point games, and it's something we look forward to every week. In fact, I'm rather disappointed when we don't get a game going, but that's Ultimate for you, I guess.
One of the biggest obstacles to playing Ultimate is finding a place to play. We used to play on POSTECH's soccer field. It was spacious, flat, and well-maintained. The only trouble with this was incurring the ire of locals who wanted to use the field for its intended purpose; that is, soccer. Go figure.
Now, we use a rather narrow and short field near POSTECH's campus. The terrain is rough, the grass is rarely mowed, and because it's surrounded on trees, it has the dual disadvantages of debris on the field and the creation of a wind tunnel that invariably blows directly against one of the teams.
It also has the disadvantage of being in a scenic locale. This makes it a prime place to take pictures for portraits, have church picnics, and just go for a plain old walk through the middle of the field. This is presumably because the soccer field is unavailable for these activities as well. This is a problem because when you're playing a game with a disc that, in a skilled thrower's hands, can cross the length of a soccer field, there's a potential that people in the vicinity could get nailed in the head with one.
Now, when a church group is there playing, we move to the other end of the field. When a group of children are shooting pictures in hanbok for their portraits, we try to make our field a little shorter. If a group has decided that the best place to do either of these is smack dab in the middle of the field, we politely ask if they might mind using one end of the field instead. We understand about sharing space, and everyone can enjoy their respective activities that way.
A lot of Koreans on the other hand do not seem to have the same concerns about shared space that we do; or, to phrase it another way, Western society believes in sharing space, not time, and Koreans believe in sharing both.
Let's say, for instance, that you are walking along with your spouse and two kids and see a group of people playing a game. The game involves running, jumping, and throwing a large white disc at each others' heads. You see that the game space is marked out with cones indicating boundaries of play.
A) ask the people if they might stop the game momentarily so that you can pass quickly to the other side of the field?
B) walk around the field thereby avoiding any unnecessary contact?
C) walk through the middle of the field at a slow pace without apologizing and nearly get clobbered by a player a time and a half your size?
If you picked C, I need to talk to you about imperiling your life and your elementary aged daughter's life as well.
Let's take another example. Let us say that this time you are leading a small group of children in some traditional activities and games. They are having a grand old time of it. A group of strapping athletes approaches you and asks if you wouldn't mind using one end of the field so that they can set up their weekly game. You acquiesce, the children continue their activity, and the players start their game. During the game, the children begin to stray onto the playing field.
A) ask the children nicely to come back over the play area?
B) order the children to return the prescribed zone at once? Their lives are in peril!
C) leave them be (they're just children after all), smiling all the while, until the players stop their game and come over and tell the children that it's dangerous themselves?
If you answered C, I need to talk to you about placing other people's children in peril.
This isn't confined to our Ultimate games either. When I practice shooting basketball, I often have children walk through the court in front of me, sometimes even stopping right under the basket that is my intended target and then just stare at me. (Actually, given my accuracy, that's probably the safest place for them.) Adults are not immune to this either, and although they won't stand directly under the basket, they will walk in front of me in herds on their way out of the elementary school where I sometimes practice. No apologies, no rush, just a person moving from point A to point B by the most direct course--a straight line.
In the States it's a little different, and, while I'm not sure about the rest of the Western world, I imagine the same case might hold. At an early age, I was instilled with the wisdom to avoid running out onto basketball courts when games were in progress, that I shouldn't have my picnic on an active soccer field whether defined by chalk lines or cones, and that I should always ask permission before crossing through someone's campsite.
I mean, we even apologize or ask to be excused for passing in front of someone's line of vision at a store with narrow aisles! Let's face it, there's only one way through and that way is in front of the other person. Aren't we basically saying, "I apologize for the limitations of space-time and the cramped interior design of this room"?
I think there are two things going on here. One is that Koreans have a different conception of shared space. As I said before, Koreans don't necessarily consider occupied space to be off limits. If it's in a public area, then your Ultimate game will have to deal with the picnic that's smack dab in the middle of it. That's just something I've had to get used to over here. If a person bumps into you on the subway, there's no apology because it'd basically be saying, "I apologize for the limitations of space-time and for the fact that my country is 15.7 times more densely populated than yours, but hey, at least I'm not blocking your view in the aisle!"
(Actually, over the summer while I was visiting Seattle with my cousin, we noticed a Korean tour bus in the vicinity that I deftly translated for her. Later, in the Pike Place Market, a densely built, hunched, Asian woman practically bowled my cousin over without a word of apology and continued on her merry way. My cousin just stared after her in utter disbelief, and I grinned at her and said, "Don't worry about it. I guarantee you she's Korean, and that's just how they role over there.")
But what's more reflectively interesting to me is the second thing that's going on, and it's a new experience for me.
This is mere speculation, but remember when I said that Ultimate isn't popular with Koreans? It would be better to say that Koreans just don't understand about Ultimate. I don't mean that they can't comprehend the rules, in fact a few Koreans play with us and quite well. I have even taught some of my students to play as a cultural lesson. I mean that, as an imported game that is almost exclusively played amongst expatriates, they don't get how important it is for those that enjoy the game to have uninterrupted play. For them, it's just a goofy thing that the foreigners do every once in a while. It isn't anything past that, and, since it is unknown, doesn't garner respect. By marking out the space on the field, we don't actually reserve it because, when you try to explain the game to a Korean, they say, "That's ridiculous! It sounds boring." (I often have the same reaction when someone mentions baseball, actually.)
Let's put this in perspective. Imagine that you play tennis. One day you come to your regular tennis court that you've played on every weekday after work for a whole year and you find that a game of sorts is already in progress. Some foreign men are kicking a soccer ball back and forth across the net, and while it's clear that it's some sort of game they're playing (It has a ball, an obstacle, passing... Seems like a game to me!), it's also fairly clear to you that it's not tennis and has no right being played on a tennis court. You tell them they have to leave so that you can play your game, or you at least scowl at them through your racket as you sit on the bench waiting for them to leave.
The thing is, that game is a real sport called chok-gu, and in Korea is quite popular (It's similar to volleyball). There are televised national tournaments for it, even. It seems ridiculous to us because we've never seen it or never played it, but it's a real thing that just isn't well-recognized in the rest of the world.
Ultimate's the same way here. It's a sport native to my country that, when transplanted, just doesn't register as an organized, team-based activity. In fact, for all intensive purposes, it is just a bunch of strange foreigners having a laugh on a Saturday afternoon.
Still, it'd be nice to have a laugh without running over any bystanders.
By the way, those kids that interrupted our game this weekend? C-U-T-E! Enjoy the pics.
18 September 2009
- Monday: Low-level Adults Conversation
- Tuesday: Intermediate Adults Free-Talking; Grade 1 (American system 10), Classes 1 and 2
- Wednesday: Intermediate Adults U.S. History
- Thursday: Grade 1 (10), Classes 1 and 2
16 September 2009
Recently, my co-teacher, Mr. Kim, invited me along on a recruitment trip to a middle school in Pohang. "Afterwards, we can visit Yangdong Folk Village. Have you been to Yangdong Folk Village?" he asked. I've been to many folk villages. "Mr. Son's ancestors lived at this one. If you have time, how about going there?" Well, I've never been a recruitment trip, and the personal connection with the village could make it more interesting. Sure, why not?
13 September 2009
I have been watching far too much Star Trek. I would give you precise information as to shows, seasons, and episodes completed, but suffice it to say I have finished all of "Enterprise," most of "Voyager," and nearly a full-season of "The Next Generation" since the beginning of the year. I am tempted to make it a goal to finish all of the Star Trek television series by the end of my contract, but at 45 minutes per episode, about 26 episodes per season, and between 3 and 7 seasons per show, it represents a considerable time commitment--about 528 hours, in fact, or 22 full days, if I've calculated it correctly.*
I have far better things to do with my time here in Korea.
For better or worse, I have my parents to thank for my interest in this indulgence. "Star Trek-The Next Generation" was one of two shows I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch, the other being Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Why my parents chose these two shows in particular, I do not quite understand, but I will say this about having watched Star Trek. It has shaped me in significant ways.
For one thing, I'm still a little afraid of the dark. I actually don't recall being scared of the dark before watching a certain Star Trek episode, season four's "Identity Crisis," although I'm sure I was since I remember having a nightlight before seeing it. In this episode, Geordi transforms into an alien creature that has extremely high photo sensitivity. In layman's terms, it hates light. The night I saw this episode, I had a dream that I too turned into such a creature in my own back patio. Every night since then, I get the nagging feeling that either A) something in the dark is watching me or B) two pairs of digits on each hand will fuse together leaving me with six fingers and I'll suddenly have huge veins sticking out all over my body. Awesome if you're a body builder. Not so awesome if you're an eight year old kid. Like I said, I'm pretty sure I was scared of the dark before this. It was just this episode in particular that continued that fear into my adult years, if only the littlest bit.
More importantly though, I find that those years of watching Star Trek have prepared me for where I find myself today--in an alien country with an alien culture. That sounds absurd, but in re-viewing these episodes, I find myself struck at how much of that Trekkie culture has actually been a boon to me in Korea.
The impression one gets from the Star Trek movie series is that Star Trek is an action packed, sci-fi thrill ride. In reality, the television episodes that are the foundation for those epic confrontations are more often than not social commentaries on interactions between different groups and how our assumptions can hinder our understanding of other cultures; indeed, the episodes do not always agree and serve as a forum for discussion.
Take for instance "Suddenly Human" in The Next Generation. The Enterprise crew rescues a human boy raised by a warrior alien race from a stranded space ship. They wish to return the boy to his biological family immediately, but the boy's alien adoptive father is willing to start a war to prevent this. When they find that the boy shows evidence of recent broken ribs and internal bleeding, they are even more loathe to return him even though the boy insists that he is happier with his alien brothers than he is with the humans on ship. The father explains that with the rigorous training their youths go through, every child is bound to have a few broken bones by the time they are adolescents. However, the doctor on ship thinks that the boy is suffering from Stockholm syndrome, a psychological condition whereby captives identify with their captors even if abused. Eventually, the captain decides to let the boy return in respect and deference to cultural sensitivity even after the boy attempts to murder him!
On the other hand, there is Voyager's "Initiation" wherein a very similar situation unfolds, but instead of allowing the youth (this time an alien native to the antagonist culture) to return back to his violent warrior race, the Federation-trained crew attempts to rescue him from his "persecutors" who are putting him through a training exercise--albeit a violent one--so that he can reach adulthood.
On the one hand, it would seem that cultural relativism rules the day; on the other hand, universal dictates for raising children. This is made even more complex by the fact that in "Suddenly Human," the main voice of the cultural doctrine is the character least likely to be conciliatory when the laws are on the line, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and in "Initiation" it is the character who is most likely to be so, Commander Chicote.
So, what does this have to do with Korea? In fact, I've been faced with almost the exact same conundrum over where my responsibilities lie with regard to corporal punishment in schools. In Korea, it is perfectly legal for a teacher to strike a student, and violently, in school as a form of discipline. Infractions may be as simple as showing up late or falling asleep or as serious as starting fights behind the main building.
The first time I heard this happen it was outside of the main teachers' office room. Let me here emphasize that I heard the rod coming down on the students. I did not see it. I remember being mentally jarred from the lesson plan I was writing. I remember staring through the screen as I realized what was happening on just the other side of the wall. I remember the look of disappointment on the teacher's face when they re-entered the office. I remember seeing, through the doorway, the students scurry back to their classes seemingly no more the worse for wear. And I remember thinking, Just what exactly is my role here?
In the states, teachers are encouraged to refrain from even touching their students for fear of abuse or sexual harassment law suits against the school, much less hitting them with a bamboo switch or sword. I was raised to believe that the only people who should ever administer corporal punishment on a child were the child's parents, and then only sparingly. To see--and believe me, in my two years here, I've had the opportunity to see as well as hear--such a thing at a publicly funded school shocked me to my core. Shouldn't I do something? I thought. Can I really let this pass?
That day I did, but the question became even more poignant for me in Taekwondo class one day when I myself was involved in the problem that led to the discipline. A child had been continuously saying, "Fuck you!" to my face for no other apparent reason than to show off the new English "bad word" he'd just learned that day. I told him not to several times, and eventually began ignoring the student entirely. When the sabeomnim heard that the student had been saying such disrespectful words to a fellow trainee, he made everyone assemble in lines and rank and gave the student a dressing down in front of everyone. The student, already in tears for shame, was made to go into a kind of bridge position, arms and legs straight, his body forming a 90-degree angle as the sabeomnim called for one of the bamboo swords from the back. The child was hit a number of times, I don't remember how many, but he was sore when it was over and had trouble walking without wincing. I remember screaming at myself, in my head, You must stop this! I tried to speak up, but the sabeomnim told me to keep quiet. Apparently, a lesson in respect had to be learned.
Another English teacher here asked me recently, "What do you do about corporal punishment in schools?" I'll admit, my feelings on it are mixed.
On the one hand, I don't think corporal punishment is an effective discipline in school. The reason for this is that discipline of this kind will never happen in the real world except under extraordinary circumstances, e.g. torture, and if you find yourself in those circumstances, no amount of "reasonable" force in school is going to prepare you for them. In fact, in some cases I've observed, what happens here is abuse. There is no qualification I can give for that. Look the word up in the dictionary if you want to know what I mean.
On the other hand, we've taken our loathing of corporal punishment to an entirely different extreme in America. When I worked as a camp counselor, I was told to be wary of touching the children or giving them hugs for fear of calling a law suit down on the camp from an over protective parent. In Korea, on the other hand, I can pat my kids on the back, playfully punch them in the shoulder, and, on the rare occasion, even give a hug without fear of reproach. When I volunteered as a Vacation Bible School instructor last summer in the United States, having grown accustomed to the more congenial attitude in Korea, I gave one of my students a light bump on the chest both to get his attention and to say, lightly chiding, "Hey, pay attention up front!" Both the kid and I were a bit shocked at this--I, when I realized too late the cultural boundary I had crossed--and I resolved to keep my actions in check from then on.
So, in Korea, should I follow Captain Picard's dictates or Commander Chicote's? Are our cultural norms as regard disciplining children relative or universal?
I don't have an answer for that. I do think that corporal punishment should be the reserve of parents, especially in the states where we all raise our children so differently.
But this here is not my culture. Here, it is not my place to make a public outcry. In the future, I will continue to be a passive observer.
However, I do know that, on that day, cultural considerations be damned, I should have stopped my sabeomnim.
*For the Trekkies who are thinking, "Wait a second! He's missing a full 22 episodes in that calculation," relax. I cannot bring myself to watch the Animated Series for whatever reason. I will, however, entertain arguments for its worth.