Friday, December 29, 2006

Something you don't see every day

But I do. It's a row of beer and whiskey joints (맥주 양주 점 in Korean). Typically found in lower middle class residential areas, this is a kind of bar where you pay exorbitant amounts of money for beer or whiskey, which you share with hostesses who are typically middle-aged housewives looking for extra cash. You can go ahead and touch them as much as you like. Many of the women will subsequently sell themselves in the shabby by-the-hour hotels which are never more than a drunken stumble away. It's all super classy. One of the major factors driving the industry is the fact that these women need the money to send their children to after school classes. Because the Korean education system is basically in the middle of a death spiral, parents send their children to private classes all day. This is how I make my living. Here's a few more pictures (I've got a bunch):
This one is called "Amazon", presumably after the one-breasted warrior women who periodically joylessly raped their men-folk and exposed their male babies on the frosty steppes of Eurasia.
This one's called "Sujin's Place". 'Sujin' is the Korean name equivalent of 'Brandy' or 'Trixie', I suppose.
Here's "The Black Rose". This is where you can fondle middle-aged Korean Suicide Girls.
Incidentally, all these pictures were taken within a two minute walk of my parent-in-law's house. Not that they live in a bad neighborhood. Korea didn't use to be too big on zoning laws, so in these older neighborhoods you've got residential buildings, stores, placed of prostitution and manufacturing facilities smooshed together in a sort of harmony that wouldn't be very nice to listen to. What is the reaction of the typical Korean to the preponderance of prostitution in their neighborhoods? Willful ignorance. They totally ignore the bars' presence, like they're not even there.
I think we Americans could learn something from that.


Tonight I took some time out of my recently de-busied schedule to sit down and look at the various things that Google is offering up for free, and I found that Picasa, the photo organizer, now features a very easy to use, free web album service. So I've posted a lot of photos on it. The other nice thing about Picasa is that there is a blogger "Blog it!" button too. Naturally, no single one of my photos is blogworthy. Actually let me take another look.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Koreans taking over the black hair industry

Check out this documentary about Koreans invading the black hair industry. Hard-working Korean immigrants are the bad guys in this movie. But not exactly because they are all given a chance to explain themselves. And many of the black business owners that they are edging out of the business express respect at their hard work and solidarity that allowed them to corner the market. Also many of the black business owners place a substantial amount of (in some cases total) blame on themselves for leaving their industry vulnerable to invasion. But in a recent edition of the NPR News & Notes Roundtable, director Aron Ranen made it pretty clear that he wants the Koreans out of the business, out of black neighborhoods, and he feels that boycotts are the best way to acheive this goal. Check it out for yourself.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

I found myself personally conflicted while watching the film, because I had first heard of it while listening to Ranen on NPR, calling for boycotts and asking the Korean American owner of a beauty shop in LA if he really thinks Koreans would shop at a black-owned store if the products were cheaper. His implication, obviously, being that Koreans stick together and that this is a nefarious thing to do, while he himself is calling for a sweeping boycott of Korean-owned stores.
So holding that image of Ranen in my mind, I found myself surprised that the documentary was relatively balanced. One thing that Ranen consistently and perhaps unintentionally exposed was the fact that the residents of the communities in question held no particular allegiance to black-owned stores, while black store owners seemed fairly split between the "This is our own fault." camp and the "This is a cunning conspiracy." camp. The film is devoid of any serious racism on either side, with the exception of a (fake sounding) story from one black beauty shop owner who attempted to buy a product from a Korean store owner wholesale only to be told that the Koreans were "keeping the niggers out of the business" or some such. Watch the movie and see for yourself, the scene both doesn't ring true and doesn't jbe with the general tone of the movie.
One of the positive results of the movie was that the Black Owned Beauty Shop Association (or BOBSA) was formed. The film ends on a positive note, with a BOBSA meeting at which one man speaks seriously about mobilizing the community for a boycott, but the woman who gets the last word sums up the situation. The Koreans knew that they couldn't take on Revlon and Paul Mitchell and the other white hair care companies, so they took on the smaller and less organized black hair care industry, and they succeeded. Now it is time for the black businessmen to step up their game to take on the challenge from Koreans before they lose it all.
Writing the last paragraph, one question arises. The film repeatedly mentions that black hair care makes up a disproportionately large portion of the hair care industry as a whole. Shouldn't it have therefore attracted or resulted in bigger, better organized companies in the first place? Why was the black hair care industry so vulnerable? Ranen in the NPR piece states that the Koreans vertically integrated the black hair care industry, so could it just be that the beauty parlor industry itself was easier to infiltrate?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hagiography for Ban Ki-moon

My computer has crashed twice while trying to write this, and I think the Korean CIA is doing it, so I'll keep it short and sweet. check out this article from The New York Times that tries to make Korea out as some sort of mystical land where tradition and modernism meet, and remember that Korean traditional culture was effectively destroyed by the Japanese during the colonial era, and what's is left now is whatever is useful to the government in stirring up irrational nationalism to distract people from the nation's real problems, like an education system fit to collapse. Read this and know that every time the article mentions ancient traditions, feng shui, ginseng farming and prophecies, the real life of almost all Koreans consists of watching TV, listening to soulless pop music, talking on their cell phones and hanging around department stores. Basically, every time the article says 'feng shui master', think 'civil war buff'. and when it says '22,000 practitioners of feng shui, or pungsu in Korean, as well as a few Buddhists' think '2,000 senior citizens on group tours to see Ban Ki-moon's home town, drink sweet potato liquor and buy chestnuts from farm stands, as well as a few fervent nationalists looking to fervor it up'.

Friday, December 22, 2006

My stars and garters

I went to an astrologer with my wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her husband tonight. I am a hard core skeptic and expected to be cold read and told what I wanted to hear, subconsciously or otherwise. Nonetheless I was inspired by the words of Richard Wiseman in his interview on the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe Podcast. Dr. Wiseman explained that one should not close themself off to a realm of human experience just because they know it's not real or true. He also suggested that going to astrologers, whether you believe it or not, has a positive affect on one's mental state because the mind functions better in the absence of unknowing about the future, even if the "knowledge" one has is based on nothing. I have been experiencing some anxiety of late about my future and thought it might help.
So I went and watched a master at work. Korean astrology is interesting. Her technique reminded me of John Edwards. She mixed things she knew from knowing my mother-in-law from the neighborhood , things she could easily see, and logical answers to straightforward questions and mixed them together. She noticed me rubbing my neck during my sister-in-law's reading and later told me that I have to be careful about my neck. She saw my size and told me (when I asked) that I won't get cancer or have a stroke but my heart is weak and I have to be careful and exercise. She even name-dropped trans-fats ('you know, the foreigners eat a lot of trans-fats, so . . . '). I decided to ask her a lot of questions and see what she'd say. Accordng to her I'll get into the grad school of my choice and move to America, where Miyoung will live a hard life but become rich eventually. My career will be very successful but I must never start my own business. Questions about starting one's own business seem to be a big part of what she does, as she ran down the chances of success as a small business owner of everyone in my wife's family. I'm going to have two kids, and Miyoung is going to be a devoted parent (literally saying she would "donate her body" to her children). We will spend our lives going back and forth between our two countries.
Her biggest failure was when I asked about my immediate job situation. I didn't mention that just last night I found out that my school is changing ownership and I'm going to lose the big perk, a huge free apartment next door to the school. She said that I had gone through a lot of hardships and tough times at work in the last year (I hadn't), but that next year I will make a lot more money (almost certainly impossible) and have a smoother year (also not likely).
Her biggest success was when, out of the blue, she said "You have weak bronchial tubes". I have a history of chronic bronchitis, but I hadn't had it for at least 5 years until about two weeks ago. Nonetheless, I am fully recovered and there is nothing about me that says 'weak bronchial tubes'. To put it into perspective, I just learned this word in Korean when I got bronchitis. Bronchitis is not a well-known condition in Korea and people generally don't speak in that kind of doctory way that we Americans do. I was really surprised to hear that bit. Now note that I'm not saying she figured that out through some supernatural means, but I must concede that I have no clue how she did figure it out.
For all you rationalists out there, I highly recommend going to an astrologer and seeing what your future holds. It is fascinating to watch a career manipulator at work, especially when you can stand back and catch a glimpse behind the curtains at what she's really doing. And I'll tell you honestly that just because some old lady that I never met before told me that I'll get into the grad school that I want to get into, I feel somehow much better about the future.

What Christmas means to me

When I read Salon I get the sense that there are a lot of liberals out there who are rational and agnostic, to say the least, and they feel some sort of spiritual emptiness because they don't believe in God and don't raise their children in a religion. These people tend to replace belief in God with the belief in a lot of spiritual mystic hooey. I recently found that, while I still really really don't believe in God and I don't feel any spiritual emptiness at all, I did feel that I was closing off a whole literary and philosophical realm that has fed into Western Civilization for a long long time by pooh-poohing religion. I've always felt that a lot of the rationalist, secular humanist skeptics out there think science and reason are enough to live on, but there's a vital moral and humanistic element that you completely miss out on if that's your only focus. People seem especially to avoid Jesus if they don't believe in God, but I think that's mostly trying to set themselves apart from the religious types they feel so superior to. With all that in mind, I sat down and I really thought about what Christmas means.
The first thing that never occurred to me before about Jesus is that he seems to be uniquely a middle class prophet. His family owned their own business, their own tools, and his father was descended from King David. and yet by this sort of accident of history he winds up being born in a cow shed among animals, far from his home. Imagine what it would feel like to have your baby in a stable. That made me really feel for Mary and Joseph. It also reminded me greatly of Eddie Albert's character on Green Acres, who was born in a small Mid-Western town to sophisticated New York socialites on the way to the West Coast, and later decided it was his destiny to become a farmer. I could see how that kind of birth could lead Jesus to be concerned for the lowliest of society when he himself was pretty well-off. It also bears a resemblance to the life of Teddy Roosevelt, who was a wealthy socialite who postured himself as a hard charging tough guy soldier and populist and built his image on a sort of puffed up hard-luck story about having asthma. Not that I think Mary and Joseph were socialites, but neither were they paupers. Plus don't forget Jesus' cousin was an influential prophet in his own right, so his family certainly had some standing.
The aspect of the nativity story that I like the most and that no one ever focuses on is the baby-as-metaphor-for-the-potential-of-life. Jesus as a baby is us as babies, always depicted as soft and mild and peaceful, and yet some day he will essentially bring the concept of selflessness and putting yourself in another's shoes to the world at large, which will inform western civ to no end. Jesus told people to think about what other people feel, and that in turn gave birth to all sorts of great things, like psychology and good literature and the ASPCA and charity in many of its forms and Battlestar Galactica. I contend that none of those things would be quite the same without Jesus, and that, as it sort of says in the song "Oh Holy Night", the world just sort of chugs along its own disgustingly selfish and self-interested path wherever Jesus' teachings don't reach. Make no mistake, human beings are prone to all sorts of despicable behavior, like selling their own children and enslaving others, and Jesus is pretty categorically against all that stuff and gives it a framework in which that opposition can gain some strength. Here in Korea, people used to chain their children up on the edge of town if they couldn't afford to feed them, and people still throw their kids out the window and jump after them when they face financial hardships, apparently unable or unwilling to imagine their children living on without them. And then there's the more simple stuff, like walking feelinglessly past people suffering, whether they be the poor or old men who've fallen down drunk.
So there is this baby, who really could have been anything, but he chose to become a preacher and then eventually to perhaps claim he was God, but along the way lay out a completely new moral code that still permeates thought in many of the world's nations and is, to me, undoubtedly a good thing, despite all the crusades and persecution and wars and Sufjan Stevens that come with it.
So I say happy birthday Jesus. Thanks for the soul.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

U.S. Soldiers doing what they ought to be doing.

Ripping the hearts out of live rabbits and eating them. In the name of cultural understanding. This article truly does my heart proud. Look what our boys can do in the name of peace in Iraq:
Politicians, tribal and religious leaders and soldiers watched displays of military prowess and one demonstration, hailed as a display of courage, in which five soldiers stopped before the grandstand to bite the heads off frogs. A sixth holding a live rabbit slit open its stomach and ate its heart before tossing the
carcass to his comrades to chew on.

What is a great way to show solidarity with the Iraqi military.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Korea vanquishes looming obesity pandemic!

What's the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic? I think the word pandemic simply replaced epidemic, and we can never go back.
Anyway, Korea has followed New York City in banning trans-fats. Korea, long known as "the sixth borough" and referred to by other East Asians as "Little Flushing", Korea has taken a very bold stance in following New York City's precedent. The move is especially bold considering that Korea is basically a gastronomic wild west, where no food regulation seems to be actively enforced. This is another example of Korea sticking a weather vane into the dirt and having a grand opening ceremony.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

How to lose faith in mankind at Christmas

Go to Kazaa or Limewire or the like and do a search on the word Christmas, and alongside your holiday favorites you will find (among others:
Afroman's "the 12 drugs of Christmas"
Kevin Bloody Wilson's "Just a Little
Christmas Blowjob"
"You ain't gettin' shit for Christmas"
Jeff Foxworthy's "The Redneck 12 days of Christmas"
Bob Rivers' "Santa's Whore"
"I farted in Santa's lap"
Larry the Cable Guy's "Christmas Songs for the 90s"
"Suck on my cock (Jingle bell rock parody)"
Parody Eminem's "The Real Slim Santa"
"White Pussy (White Christmas parody)"
Barking dogs' "We wish you a merry Christmas"
"Frosty the Pervert"
Cheech and Chong's "Santa Claus and
his old lady"
"Puff the Magic Tampon"
"The 12 Guido days of Christmas"
"Grandpa got run over by a beer truck"
"The Retarded Christmas song"
"White trash Christmas"
"Horny Porny Christmas"
"O.J. Simpson Christmas"
"I'm dressin' up like Santa when I'm out on parole"
"I saw mommy fucking Santa Claus
"Who put the dick on the snowman?"
got a DUI"

Just reading the above list makes me cringe to be an American and a human being. Can't the hoopleheads leave anything alone, or must they simply sully everything with their filthy, sardonic lowbrow shit?

Finally, someone I don't think is racist

Rosie O'Donnell is not racist, despite what Youtube might say. Her umpteenth rehashing of the classic "Yackity yackity shmackety Hostess Twinkie gibbety gibbety mish mash" joke is only being posited as racist because of a) Michael Richards and b) the continued existence of Youtube in a post-Michael Richards world.

Rosie could have substituted 'Chinese' and 'ching chong ching' with 'Spanish and lots of 'rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr' or German and 'glochen Schprockfluschensproinkel" with no repercussions. In a Youtube free world the joke would have passed unnoticed.

I almost hope that Youtube and its ilk are sued out of existence, because in the event that it does not disappear, Youtube presents two possible courses for the future of our society. Either people are going to get a little more thick-skinned and reasonable in their responses to things that offend them (not gonna happen) or people are going to have to remain extremely guarded all the time for fear that a captured faux-pas will cause them to be banished for ever (almost certain to happen).

I've been pulled into something ugly

So thanks to my good work, my little English school is set to expand in March from 5 classes a day to 9 classes a day. That means we need a new part-time teacher, and I've been charged with hiring them. I know my students' parents have high expectations, as I think I have set the bar pretty high. So yesterday I put two help wanted ads up on English teaching websites. I got my first respeonse last night from an oddly accented fellow. He lives far away from where our school is, but he said that was not a problem. He didn't have the experience or Korean skills that I was looking for. Finally he asked me what nationalities I was looking for. I said any was fine, and he said that's good because he is British Gambian. From his accent I would say he was heavy on the Gambian, light on the British, and just from the accent I knew I would not hire him. North American accent is a must. I briefly thought about the controversy that would erupt if I hired an African teacher. many parents would probably complain, and the woman who helps me run the school, as well as my wife, would probably veto the choice, should I make it.
An hour later I got a call from a woman. She had a very good American sounding accent with a hint of something else. She had the experience and Korean skills I was looking for. She sounded like a good fit all around. Then finally she asked the same question about nationality. Turns out she was from the Philippines. Again, I thought, that might raise some eyebrows but if she's really good it wouldn't matter.
I got home and told my wife about the two calls, and her reaction was "Hire an American or Canadian, you can't hire someone from any other country, it just won't fly." And I knew the was right. But I hate it all the same. I think too often in this country people make these simplistic racist decisions based on what other people's reactions are likely to be. The students' parents won't like it or people will think we hired a Philippine woman because they work cheaper or a non-Nroth American will teach the children a bad accent. There are so many fears, all about what other people will think, that people never address what they themselves actually feel.
I don't like it, but I can't pretend it's not true, so I feel like I'm becoming part of the system. You know what I mean?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Life imitating the Onion

I just laughed out loud for the first time in a very long time when I woke up and was greeted with the news that Time magazine has declared everyone person of the year. That was the headline at the Drudge Report, anyway. Reading the above article, of course, not everyone is person of the year, just anyone creating content on the web, which includes everyone I know except my mother and father-in-law. Here is a choice quote from the article, one "local man" away from being ripped from the pages of the Onion:
"If you choose an individual, you have to justify how that person affected millions of people," said Richard Stengel, who took over as Time's managing editor earlier this year. "But if you choose millions of people, you don't have to justify it to anyone."

That's one of the more ridiculous things I've ever heard. Stengel said that if they had chosen a single person, it would have been Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but that felt "a little off". While I agree, I still say it's a bit of a cop-out. It's like saying you don;t have a favorite child or everyone's your best friend.
The worst part is, it worked. I really want to read that article. It's about me.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Monoracial nation inexplicably racist!

That's right, Korea, a country with one racial group and an identity based almost entirely on eating food nobody else likes and shunning outsiders, is racist and doesn't even know it. I'm talking about an incident (dealt with in English on The Marmot's Hole blog) on the asinine KBS TV show "The Beauties' Chatterbox". The show features beautiful young foreign women (mostly exchange students and dancers from former soviet satellites) who speak fluent Korean discussing Korea and how great, unique and interesting it is (eventually: being an acquired taste, it takes a looong time to grow to love Korea). One of the young ladies, African-American Leslie Bensfield, was singing a Korean song when singer Cheon Myeong-Hun appeared on stage in a rasta wig and began doing Korea's own version of the classic American blackface, chanting "shickamunce!" (transliteration mine and mine alone), roughly translated: "I'm really black!"

None of this should be any surprise in a country where I've had grown men approach me child-like and either grab my belly and go "Fat" or touch my head and say "No hair!" with a strong sense of wide-eyed wonder. The shock is KBS's reaction to large amounts of criticism from viewers, both Korean and foreign: nothing. They have said it is not racist and that Cheon will continue to appear on the terrible show, despite the incident and being even less talented and attractive than the average Korean pop-star and having crooked teeth.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I hope he tells us to burn our pants!

These things are driving me nuts. Indeed if you're in America, you may slowly be coming to learn of an alarming development that has been bugging/enriching me for a few years. The dollar is depreciating like crazy. When I came to Korea in 2003 the exchange rate was 1,200 won to the dollar. The average salary for a young mush-brained recent college graduate teaching English was 2,000,000 won, or about $1666 a month. At the beginning of 2006, the rate had fallen to 950 won to the dollar, making the same 2,000,000 won salary worth $2,105. Think about that, that's $500 of free money for the young English teacher to spend on cheap cigarettes, camera-phones and Karlsberg beer.. In the last week or so the exchange rate story has finally started to get some press in the U.S., as if it's some sort of new story, and that has driven the rate ever downward. On Monday the rate was 930 won/$, and as of this morning, it is a shocking 923 won/$.
My wife Miyoung and I have been so happy about the exchange rate that we've been taking some of our savings and exchanging it every time the rate hit a new low. We've run out of available money to exchange.
If the exchange rate continues to fall at this rate, our move to the U.S. will be very similar to our honeymoon in Thailand. I'll be taking limousines to and from school and Miyoung will be at her wits end trying to wrangle the four maids we'll be legally obligated to hire when we rent our four-bedroom house downtown. We'll probably even have to hire on the former tenant of the house, an advertising executive, as my driver after his job is outsourced to India.
Imagine all the headaches that'll cause.