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Posts Tagged ‘prejudice’

In honour of Buddha’s Birthday, a national holiday here, I’m reposting an early post I wrote retelling the story of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment and the significance for featuring the daughters of Mara on my site’s homepage. 

1 BS his birth

The Buddha for our age is Shakyamuni Buddha, born Siddhartha Gautama. His mother, Queen Maya gave birth to him without pain in a sacred grove. It is said that as soon as he was born, he took his first steps, and lotus flowers emerged from his footsteps. However although he was born into a great royal family, it was prophesised that he would either be a great king or a great ascetic. Fearing his son would renounce his earthly birthright for a life of meditation and poverty, his father built an enormous palace devoid of age, sickness, poverty, or unhappiness. The young prince grew up completely oblivious to sufferings of the world, and the king even dyed his own hair to shield his son from the march of time.

1 BS chana
But unbeknownst to his father, the prince yearned to see outside the palace gates, so he took his charioteer Channa to explore the places beyond his paradise.

1 BS sick<

1 BS the last three gates

What he saw that night became known as the “four gates.” Siddhartha saw a frail elderly man, followed by a sick and emaciated man, followed by a corpse. The sheltered prince was horrified by the suffering he saw, but then his eyes fell on an ascetic.

1 BS asthetic
The contrast of this one night to the life of privilege and materialism he had always lived spurred the prince into action. He relinquished his princely life, left his young wife and son, and vowed to work toward the end of such suffering. He became an extreme ascetic, subsisting on a single grain of rice until it is said he was almost translucent. He devoted himself to renunciation with the same abandon he had lived his royal life of luxury.

1 BS sujata
But one day he saw a girl by the river. Named Sujata, she offered him a bowl of rice. Realizing he had been living in extremes, the Buddha ate the rice and vowed to find a middle path to enlightenment.

1 BS the temptress
But even the Middle Way was fraught with dangers. During his meditation, he encountered the demon Mara. At first, Mara sent his beautiful daughters to tempt and distract Siddharta.

1 BS MARA!
But after he managed to overcome the women, Mara revealed himself in his full fury. Siddhartha faced his literal and psychological demon full on, and when he vanquished the great demon, he touched this right hand to the Earth to testify to his Enlightenment.

You may wonder why I have chosen to use the daughters of Mara fresco for my blog.

First, the pictures in today’s blog come from one of my favourite temples in Korea called Wawoojongsa (와우정사). Documenting renderings of the life of the Buddha is one of the many traditions we have when we pilgrimage. And it also reminds me of a particularly lovely day trip I took with Mr. Lee.

But beyond these reasons, it is also one of the most interesting renderings of the daughters that I have ever seen. Not only is the woman shown in her tempting beauty, but she is also revealed as the demon she is in the mirror.

When you experience a great change, such as moving to another country or entering a new life stage, I think you learn a lot about yourself. Your neuroses emerge – your prejudices – your flaws. They are all revealed before you when you see yourself from a new perspective. This has been my experience in Korea…and preparing for marriage…and in writing down my thoughts in this blog.

I also think this is the enormous challenge Canada is charged with every time a new community of immigrants lands on her shores. Every time settled Canadians are confronted with new ideas or customs, their self proclaimed notions of multiculturalism are challenged and hidden prejudices are revealed.

Perhaps even more dramatic is the change Korea is going through. From a relatively homogenous nation periodically subjugated to foreign rulers, Koreans are now traveling extensively, marrying outside their culture, and encountering non-Koreans in their daily lives on Korean soil. This constant interaction with ‘the other’ is holding a gigantic mirror to the Korean consciousness, and revealing a great many troubling things.

And like the Buddha for this age, our role is not be overwhelmed by our own or our culture’s inequities. Rather we must observe, examine, and set aside the horrors we see in the mirror in favour of a different reality.

But I am not a Buddhist. I don’t see the end of suffering as relinquishing desire or quenching the thirst which fuels the suffering. I think we hold this mirror up to our flaws, our inequities, our prejudices, our hidden ugliness, in order to recognize, admit, and change those things which bring suffering to others and ultimately ourselves.
1 us and 2 buddhas

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Today I finally got my iPhone. Didn’t Msleetobe blog about going to get her iPhone like…5 weeks ago you say? Yes. Yes I did. And this time I am not only going to freak out about KT (the sole provider of iPhones in Korea), but also LG my former provider. To catch you up with what has been happening between December 17 and now, here’s the short version.

December 17 @ a KT Local Centre
– Msleetobe can’t have a phone because she is a foreigner and/or because she is a foreigner on a 1 year visa
-Mr. Lee can just put Msleetobe’s phone under his name
-Despite the fact Mr. Lee is a salaryman at a big Korean company and a customer of KT with 14 years of perfect credit, he can only have 1 phone while most other Koreans can have 3.
-Local centre calls headquarters – oops, there’s some problem, he can have 3 lines
-Msleetobe is assured she can get her phone under her own name in May when her visa is renewed. At that point a ‘family plan’ can be set up to reduce fees because the couple will have phones under separate names.
-Msleetobe and Mr. Lee sign contracts

One week later
-Mr. Lee calls KT – iPhones not in, everything still good, Mr Lee and Msleetobe can get the family plan in May

Two weeks later
-Mr. Lee calls KT – iPhones not in, everything still good, Mr Lee and Msleetobe can get the family plan in May

Three weeks later
-Mr. Lee calls KT – iPhones not in, everything still good, Mr Lee and Msleetobe can get the family plan in May

Four weeks later (Friday before picking up phones)
-Local Centre: Mr. Lee can have another line…if he pays 50,000 won. Mr. Lee can have another line….if he waits one, two, three, four weeks MORE.
-Call to KT Head Office: Mr. Lee can NEVER have another line. EVER.
-Call back to Local Centre: Oh, no, Mr. Lee can have another phone if he pays 50,000 won (is this a bribe people?)
-Mr. Lee goes nuts and tells them a) there is nothing in the contract we signed 4 weeks ago about this mysterious 50,000 b) the original manager said the 2nd line was not a problem 4 weeks ago 3) he has been calling to check on the situation for 4 weeks without hearing any problems

Saturday
-Mr. Lee gets his phone.
-The new manager says foreigners are allowed to get an iPhone with 6 months left on their visa if they have an F visa (I had 6 months + a day on Dec 17th).
-The new manager says it’s going to take ‘more time’ to get Mr. Lee a 2nd line. Obviously, nobody has done anything about this situation in the past 4 weeks.
-Mr. Lee tells the manager he has until Thursday (today) to get the 2nd line.
-KT tells us that they don’t accept our marriage as ‘valid for a family plan’ even with our marriage certificates validated by both Korean and Canadian governments and my name on the family registry because as a foreigner, my name is not on an additional document which they will only accept as proof.

Wednesday
-Mr. Lee calls the local centre and talks to yet another manager. He has to relate the entire story once again. The new manager says he’ll have to wait a few more days because he isn’t familiar enough with the situation.
-Mr Lee says ‘I know the things customers can do to ruin a company.’

Thursday
-Msleetobe has an iPhone in her hand.

But are we finished? Oh no. I still had to cancel my LG phone. So far LG has been great except for that one time I got a message saying that my visa had expired, I was illegal, and they were cutting off my international service. That was bizarre, but overall, they’ve been good to me.

So I go into LG and give the phone over to one of the workers so Mr. Lee can explain the situation. The girl actually speaks some English, so between our combined language skills, we don’t need Mr. Lee anymore. I had to pay off the remaining portion of this month’s bill with my credit card, and I got a message saying the transaction had gone through. Then, I left to go and do some other errands.

30 minutes later, I get a phone call saying that my phone isn’t cancelled because my credit card didn’t go through.

So I got back on the subway and went back to LG only to find out that (surprise!) it wasn’t my card – the woman had put the wrong amount on the credit card. So she tells me I’m going to get two messages. One will be to cancel the first amount, and the second will be to add the new amount. I only get one message – the additional charge.

They smile at me and tell me everything is okay. The phone has been cancelled. I say…but where is the cancellation message? They swear it is cancelled. I have this feeling. I tell them ‘I don’t believe you.’ They start calling LG head office trying to verify that they have cancelled the first charge properly. They call again and again, do something on their computers, keep telling me it’s going to take just five minutes more (the upside was that I had an iPhone to keep me busy). One hour later, they tell me that it is for sure done, but unlike what they first thought, it isn’t going to show up on their computer screens. Still not really believing the situation was resolved, I took a business card. I felt like a bit of a bitch…I felt like maybe I was reacting in response to KT bullshit, but I still felt that something was not quite right.

I get home and immediately check my credit card bill online. You know what’s coming right? It wasn’t cancelled. I called Mr. Lee and gave him the phone number of the woman I had been dealing with. 10 minutes later…at 4:38 pm, my credit card bills says the charge has been cancelled. He had to yell at the woman for 10 minutes to get it done. I had tried to do all the right things for 3.5 hours without any progress. I think the woman was actually a very nice person…but a completely inefficient person who was more worried about saving face than about doing the job right.

So, I have an iPhone, I no longer have an LG phone…and now I’m too tired and too pissed off to use it.

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On Saturday Mr. Lee and I went to purchase our Christmas presents to each other…iPhones. Mr. Lee desperately needs a new phone. The sound quality on his current one is terrible, the screen is horribly scratched, and lately his has been turning off by itself for no reason. Me on the other hand? I’m just an email/Facebook addict, and I want to be able to access online media wherever I am. But I must admit, the heart palpitations I was feeling as we walked into the store on Saturday had nothing to do with excitement for my new purchase. I was afraid that I was going to hear that phrase so often uttered in Korea…

‘I’m sorry, but foreigners can’t…’

And yes dear reader, this same phrase was indeed repeated on Saturday. ‘Foreigners can’t have iPhones.’ Of course, this fact is blatantly untrue, and the store we were in was a designated as a ‘foreigner iPhone store’ with a Chinese and an Indonesian customer sitting in the store with us, but the phrase was uttered all the same. Later, it was clarified that I can have an iPhone, but only once I’m on a two year visa with two years left on the visa. At the moment, my spousal visa is in a sort of trial 1 year period. I guess the Korean government is pessimistic about our marriage and expects it to fail. If however, we make it past the one year mark, I get a 2 year visa, at which point, on the day I get the visa, I need to scoot right over the store and re-register the phone in my name. So for now, it is registered under Mr. Lee’s name because, although my husband actually owns my visa and thus my being here is tied to his being here, I am considered a ‘flight risk’ while he is not.

You got that…right? I’m 30 years old with no debts and a decent amount of cash in my own bank account, excellent credit both in Canada and Korea, working full time for a major university as a professor…and after 5 years as a good tax-paying/credit card-balance-paying citizen, I’m not allowed to own my own iPhone.

Some people, including Mr. Lee at one time, would say ‘that’s okay – you have a Korean husband who can put everything in his name.’ Yes, that’s true, and I realize that I have a great many advantages over people with working visas and expat men married to Korean women. Unlike most expats, I can access decent bank loans (although usually only indirectly through my husband). Unlike many expats on work visas, I have a husband who can advocate for me with immigration, banks, cell phone companies, and credit card companies. Even my male expat friends who are married to Korean women tend to have more problems in these areas because their wives do freelance work, work part time, or are homemakers caring for their children. Thus, when it comes to bank loans for example, when the bank is doing a risk assessment, they see one person with an excellent job, but he’s a scary foreigner who might flee the country at any moment, and they see a nice Korean woman who is jobless or lacking a sizable and stable income. Loan denied. On the other hand, while my excellent job doesn’t count for much because I am a scary foreigner who might flee the country at any moment, Mr. Lee is a) a male b) a male in his late 30s c) a male in his late 30’s who works for a major Korean company. Yes, I realize that there are advantages to my situation.

But these advantages also come at a price, and I’m beginning to realize that being an ‘immigrant wife’ means becoming increasingly dependent on my husband. Some of the dependence is admittedly linguistic. It’s become a bit too easy for me to defer all phone calls and service calls to Mr. Lee. I know that, if I would work a little harder on becoming fluent, I too could call the washing machine service man to find out why our machine is making that horrendous grunting sound when we turn it on. But it’s just so much easier to have him do it. His education, hobbies, and job predispose him toward technical things regardless of language – or at least that’s how I rationalize it.

However, there’s a whole host of things where language is the smallest factor in what is possible or impossible in my life. Immigration for instance – I cannot be here without a Korean sponsor. I am not able to be here on my own accord for more than 6 months (tourist visa for Canadian citizens). Yes, it’s better that my husband owns me/my visa (benevolent patriarchy and all that), than my workplace. I trust my husband far more than an unscrupulous hogwan owner. But it’s still a little disturbing that I am literally dependent on my husband in this way.

Mr. Lee is also the ‘face’ I bring in to quell concerns my own face tends to provoke. Whenever I hear a ‘foreigners can’t have/do/be…’ I bring him in as my advocate. He’s sure to quickly identify himself as ‘the husband,’ and you can immediately see a softening in the clerk/officer’s face. If you’ve been here for any length of time, and had any dealings with credit/cellphone companies, immigration, landlords, banks, etc. you will know that ‘rules’ can be quite flexible here. And they often depend on the feelings of the clerk, the position of the officer, the story you can spin. And when you have a foreign face, policies are often made up on the spot either consciously or unconsciously. If I had a 십원, for every time I’ve heard, ‘yes, that was the policy for foreigners 2 weeks ago, but now….(all together now) foreigners can’t…’ I would be a very wealthy woman by now. But if I bring in my husband’s face, or my husband’s voice, suddenly everything can change. Suddenly I’m not so scary, I’m not so risky, and suddenly things change.

But it also means that I am increasingly dependent on my husband’s name, face, job, status. And that disturbs me a little. It’s not like I can’t get things done by myself at times – before I got married I managed to find my own housing, communicate effectively with my landlord, set up my own home, and get my own pay-as-you go phone, in part through my own relationships with Koreans and in part through the expat network. However, because I am now trying to be more settled and build a longer, more stable life here, I am starting to encounter more complicated things which can only be resolved or settled by bringing my husband into the mix. Of course, I never expected a freaking iPhone to be a ‘complicated thing.’

Shortly after my father died, there was an article in a magazine our family subscribed to berating women for becoming homemakers. The article talked about how so many women were vulnerable to poverty because of death, divorce, or their spouse’s sudden illness or disability. The overall message that women should have their own assets and abilities is important, and my mother did have her own bank account and, until a few months before his death, a part time job, but she was heavily dependant on him at the time of his death. Plus, the article would have been far too jarring at such a sensitive time…so I hid it from her. My mother has come an incredible way in relearning her independence, and in taking on all the responsibilities of her life that used to be joint responsibilities, but that article, and the lessons that I learned during that heart wrenching period of rebuilding her life and her world have stuck with me. And this increasing dependence I’ve been feeling has made me more aware of how, under slightly different circumstances and a different husband, many immigrant wives can become incredibly vulnerable to abuse. I’m ‘lucky’ because my husband is a good man who treats me well, but that shouldn’t really be the point. We shouldn’t be forced through custom or law or an individual officer’s feeling to be dependent on our Korean spouses, but the reality is that we sometimes are. And I’m not really sure, apart from obviously becoming more proficient in Korean, what I should do about it.

PART 2 (A post in which I wonder if everything I just said is wrong)

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It’s no secret that I struggle with Neo-Confucianism, at least how it is practiced in present day Korea, and I’ve been really fighting it since I’ve gotten back from my trip to Canada this summer.  There’s always a cultural dissonance upon returning to Canada/returning to Seoul, and it seems that this issue is my burden this time around.  I think this time I’ve been having a hard time because there’s been a lot of situations recently where I’ve seen how the inability of younger people to speak the truth and speak up when there is an older person present, causes massive communication problems and ultimately causes so many avoidable problems for relationships at both individual and social levels.  There are some beautiful things about Confucianism, but not when people are being silenced from speaking about what is right simply because they are even 1 year younger. 

But then this happened this weekend…

Backstory – several years ago when I was teaching adults English, a woman (let’s call her ‘Moon’) in her 60s would always show up in the same class.  She’s a bit infamous – she has great pride in her son (a doctor – we heard about that all the time), her past as a school teacher, and the privilege her age affords here in Korea.  All this is fine except that these are the only issues she would ever talk about.  If we were having a conversation about environmentalism, fashion, chocolate, international cuisine…she would always direct the conversation back to herself, and her position as the eldest in the class in combination with her incredibly dominant personality always meant that younger students were silenced and somewhat miserable when they were paired with her.  I only had the fun of teaching her a few times, but other friends had her every single weekend for months.

Now, despite marrying me, Mr. Lee has continued to take English classes when he can on the weekend in part to ‘keep his English up,’ but also because it is one of the only ways he still has as an overworked salaryman of meeting new people on a regular basis.  English class is often a social activity, and this has been an important part of his life for over 10 years. 

Well, this month Mr. Lee again encountered Moon in class, but she was paired for three hours (not a very good teacher in this class), with a mild-mannered salaryman who was quite terrified of her.  And….the topic of discussion was marriage…including a question of international marriage.  I guess at one point the man happened to mention that he would (hypothetically) marry a black woman if he loved her.  Moon went quite nuts over this.  During break, she repeated his comments over and over again in front of the class, telling them that he was disgusting (in front of him), and saying that if he married a black person, he would bring extreme shame to his parents.

Finally Mr. Lee burst out with ‘I am married to a white woman! Did you know that?  And if I can marry a white woman, what is the difference from a black woman if I am in love?  I have met black women who are beautiful…who are smart, so why shouldn’t a Korean man marry such a person?’

Moon is taken aback.  Horrified really (she doesn’t know that this ‘white wife’ used to be her teacher).  She said to Mr. Lee, ‘How do your parents feel?’

‘They’re just happy I found someone,’ replied Mr. Lee.

‘Oh no,’ said Moon.  ‘Deep down they must be deeply ashamed and embarrassed by you.’

Now Mr. Lee is really angry.  Now she has disparaged his wife AND his parents.  ‘You may have been a school teacher at one time,’ he said, ‘but now you are not my teacher, so keep your opinions to yourself!’

Now, if an older Korean read this blog, they would probably be shocked and say that my husband is a rude person who was ‘not raised well’ which is really the ultimate insult here.  And to someone not living in Korea with no Korean connection, this story may seem like a very small thing.  But it’s not…it was a big moment for Mr. Lee, and it’s the first time in a while (remember, I’m neo-Confucian depressed), where I’ve heard such blatant prejudice (from an older person) challenged by a much younger person.  Let’s cut out all this bull shit about ‘it’s not racism, it’s just a cultural thing’ and call it what it is.  Being told you are ‘disgusting’ for (hypothetically!) loving a black person or being told you bring shame to your family (a family you have never ever met!) is unacceptable, and we need more courageous people to directly say so. 

So it goes without saying that right now, I really heart my husband.

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Recently, I’ve become pretty impressed with the Korea Herald. They now have an ‘expat life’ section, and they get normal people – usually expat bloggers – to write pieces pertinent to issues surrounding being a foreigner, and perhaps more importantly, living as a foreigner in Korea. Here are a couple of my recent favourites for those of you who don’t read the KH.

First, there have been several articles about Bonojit Hussain, Indian-national professor who was harassed and assaulted by a drunk Korean man for being Indian and (shocking!) traveling with a Korean woman. Unfortunately for the Korean man, Hussain is actually doing his PhD on unions and activism and has taken the issue to court instead of accepting a settlement. Fortunately for the expat community, the issue of racism is finally making its way to Korean courts. As it stands, there are currently no hate laws or laws pertaining to making racist remarks or threats in Korea. Of course Hussain has also had enormous problems with the police taking his complaint seriously and also was discriminated against by the police themselves.

The situation reminds me of the time when I got my wallet stolen and my credit card was used. When I went to file a report, they sat me at a table with an African American girl..and when we said ‘hi’ to each other, they decided that we must be friends who had our credit cards stolen at the same place since we spoke the same language. Then, although the American girl had video of the thieves using her card at a hotel in the area (she had done some sleuthing work!), they said she knew the people because they were also black. In fact, the police officer said ‘that guy…he looks like your brother…he’s black…like you! So he’s your brother. Why don’t you just call him and tell him to bring your card back?” Of course, the police officer also asked her what his phone number was…because you always ask the person who stole your credit card what their phone number is while they are stealing from you…..Yes, the police are extremely effective and culturally sensitive here.

Also, Brian from briandeutsch.blogspot.com has had a couple of good articles recently, including this one on ubiquitous ‘thoughtless’ English words strangely incorporated into daily Korean life. He makes a good case for not only why Koreans themselves should reevaluate the way English has been imported and used in advertising/signage etc. but also how a possible return to using Korean words in place of Korean-English hybrids should not turn into blaming ‘English’ or ‘foreigners’ for a situations created by Koreans in Korea.

A few months ago, FI’s family members were remarking that because there is a trend to name apartment buildings/restaurants/offices/businesses by using English-Korean hybrids and then writing them in English, there are now many older people who can’t read or understand the name of the apartment complex in which they live. Seriously?!

And lastly, also in today’s paper is a good article about the need for expats to come together and stick up for each other. My favourite part?

First of all, expats of any stripe need to recognize that, for all our differences, we have a lot in common. When a story like Bonojit Hussain, who was victim of a racist attack on a bus, appears, we owe it to ourselves to give him support, however we can. The same goes for racial discrimination or scapegoating in business, in government, or in the media, because even if it’s not our sub-group this time, next time it could be. Racism doesn’t stop to check visa status, years in country, skill with children, diligence on the job, or ability to eat spicy food: We’re in this together.

It harkens back to my feelings about a ‘foreigner’s rights and responsibilities. We have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in Korea, but we also have the responsibility to advocate and work for this respect for ourselves and others. God helps those who help themselves.

So good job KH! There are so many more articles in this section that I’ve enjoyed reading and passing on. Hopefully other media outlets will also start to publish thoughtful pieces by and about foreigners so Koreans and foreigners can have a more nuanced view about ways to make this country a better place for all to live.

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Okay, I admit it…I spoke too soon.

A couple of days ago, I posted on the issue of a rapist convicted of raping and mutilating a child to the extent that she now has a permanent physical disability in additional to her horrific emotional scars.

I was generally positive and upbeat in the post because I felt that the public outcry over his lenient sentence (and attempt to make it even shorter with his appeal) because of his claim of being drunk at the time, signaled a shift in Korean’s perspectives on personal responsibility for sex crimes and the beginning of positive changes to the current application of the law.

Well I should have known foreigners would eventually be blamed for everything.

This is an article from yesterday’s ‘esteemed’ Korea Times. If you are a reader of this ‘venerable’ paper, you will know how much they just loooooove foreigners!
(The paper also enjoys printing the opinions of people we might consider ‘way right of centre’ when it comes to issues of non-ethnic Korean rights, including those of our very own government Ministries and lawmakers.)

I’m sorry to say that I believe much positive debate has now turned into red herring country with unreasonable and unfounded blame being shifted to foreigners.

From the title of the article to the tone of the piece, the emphasis seems to be placed on the ‘abundance’ of foreign pedophiles filing into Korea. On closer reading however, there are no examples of foreign teacher pedophiles given. The only example is the recent case of Cho Doo-soon who is…Korean…and not a teacher! I’m not trying to deny the fact that there are sexual predators here who are foreign. I believe sexual violence happens everywhere and is caused by people of all different ethnicities and backgrounds. However, if there are SO MANY…or even one particular case, why does the government, and the author of this article, not name them? Koreans try to avoid naming Koreans who have committed crimes in the news, but the media loves naming foreigners! If there are several cases of teachers abusing students, the public needs to know these numbers!

There have indeed been reports of ‘foreigners’ being convicted as sex crimes. However, ‘foreigners’ refers to everyone who is not a Korean citizen. Unlike in Canada, this means the vast majority of people who are not ethnic Koreans, are not citizens. E2 (English teaching visas which are limited to citizens of the UK/Ireland/US/Canada/NZ/Australia/South Africa), already have to submit drug test, HIV tests, and criminal records. The implication of this article is that it is the E2 visa holders who, despite the most stringent requirements of all of the visas, are still committing these sex crimes. However, there is a much larger group of foreigners – ethnic Koreans/non citizens (F4), migrant workers, international school teachers, spouses of Koreans, business owners, ‘entertainment’ visa holders (ie. prostitutes), workers at Korean companies, students, who do not have to submit these kinds of checks. For the record, I have had to take 4 HIV tests in less than 2 years…but I don’t know any other foreigners on different visas (or ANY Koreans!) who have had to take and submit these kinds of tests. ALL non citizens get lumped into this category of ‘foreigners,’ but we really are a widely diverse group of people!

In addition, the article careens wildly around through different crimes. In fact, half way through the article it turns to the subject of forged documents (code of fake university degrees), and immigration violations. How in the world is a forged university degree related to rape? It harkens back to another recent article where rape, drug, and traffic convictions were rolled into one to show how ‘foreigner crime’ was on the rise!! (Of course, the article didn’t seem to realize the number of foreigners has increased over time…and the crime rate among foreigners is actually MUCH lower than that of Koreans). Crime should be unacceptable and foreigners should be punished if they violate Korean laws. However, treating all crimes by foreigners the same…and using a fake university degree as a reason to suspect a person of rape is not only racist, but illogical.

Above all though, what I am most upset about with these charges and implications is that the focus should be not on the ethnicity of a perpetrator, but rather on the fact that there ARE sexual predators in society. Shifting the blame to an ‘other’ is racist, but it also places children, women, and yes…men! (sexual violence against men is a fact no matter how much we want to cover it up), at further risk. If parents believe that only foreign teachers are rapists, they will not demand closer inspection of Korean teachers and proper prosecution of teachers who abuse students or school administrators who look the other way when children rape children. If Korean children are taught only to be wary of the ‘bad foreign stranger,’ they will trust the Korean man who takes their hands and leads them to the public restroom. And finally, if only non-ethnic Korean violence on Korean is recognized as ‘true’ sexual violence, there will be (and are today) an enormous amount of hurting, broken people whose stories are not recognized and who will never receive the love, support, and help they so desperately need.

So yes, lock up or deport foreign rapists….but do so with the Koreans too. Criminal checks for foreigners (not just foreign teachers!!!)? For sure – but make sure that the Korean teachers working at private academies who see your kids more often than you do, church youth leaders who take kids on overnight retreats, and day care workers also submit VALID criminal records.

Korean kids need to be protected from ALL predators, not just the red herring fuzzy number foreigner kind.

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If I were in Canada, I think I might be conscious of being in a biracial relationship. Let me explain this by going back a week…

Last weekend Mr. Lee and I went out for dinner and drinks with Mr. Lee’s younger friend and her British husband. The British husband was commenting that he hates it when Canadians say they are ‘Scottish’ or ‘British’ because their distant ancestors hailed from somewhere in the UK.

I think this is a specifically Canadian issue. When there it is the absence of a race or ethnic background or religion or region of origin or language or even history that unites you and gives you identity, you just assume that a person who is in Canada is Canadian.

When I get lost in Seoul, I pull out a map, put a confused look on my face, and within seconds an elderly man will toddle over to me and direct me to my destination. If Mr. Lee did the same thing in Toronto, people would think he was just an out-of-towner. I have tried to answer the question ‘Where are you from?’ several times in Canada with ‘I’m Canadian,’ but this always gets me an annoyed look and a repetition ‘No WHERE are you from? Where are your grandparents from?’ For the record, the last of my mother’s family arrived in time for the 1832 Upper Canada Rebellions, but I know that the answer to this question supposed to be ‘Scottish-German.’ The assumption is…well of course you are Canadian…just where do you fit in the cultural mosaic of Canada?

That’s why I think I would be more conscious of our racial differences if we were in Canada. If two people grow up in the same milieu, speaking the same language, attending the same schools, walking on the same streets, they are not linguistically different, they are not educated in a different way, and in many ways they aren’t even really culturally different. It’s always interesting when my South Asian and Middle Eastern friends’ parents want their born and raised kids in Canada to marry from their original village. The idea is ‘you are from the same culture.’ But really – while my friends have their own home culture life, and have sometimes lived in a community where one cultural or ethnic group is in the majority – they have lived the bulk of their lives in the same way as their friends from totally different ethnic origins. Therefore, with the lack of other differences, and since Mr. Lee and I are from the same general religious tradition, race becomes the distinguishing factor.

But in Korea, it’s the linguistic differences which make us differences. It’s also the fact that I was born into a stable developed nation while Mr. Lee grew up in a culture hell bent on joining the ranks of the developed in record time. We grew up with radically different education systems and I never had the threat of imminent war positioned just 45 minutes from my home. Race…the external differences in our skin tone, cheekbones, eye structure and build are the very least of the differences and challenges we face.

And so we get to the real impetus of this post, the decision by a Louisiana Court Justice to deny a biracial couple a marriage license on the basis of his concern for the welfare of possible future biracial children. It is deeply troubling that in this day and age, there are still places on my continent of origin where we could still be refused the ability to legally wed on the basis of some external hue. Less than a year after a biracial president was elected to America’s highest office, at a time when globalization is opening up incredible paths of interaction and openness, that a government official could make such a proclamation is astonishing in the saddest of ways.

I am greatly saddened that there are still people in this world who seek to limit happiness and opportunities to people based on the colour of their skin and not the content of their character. I don’t feel any anger for Bardwell….and this couple will certainly find another official who will happily grant them a license. But I do feel great pity for him that he is still enslaved by the limitations of racism and prejudice – that he places so little faith in the abilities of individuals, and that he cannot see the beauty in a spectrum of colours…not just ‘white, black, yellow, red, and brown’ but butterscotch, caramel, ivory, butter cream, ebony, olive, copper……. The truth is that if you go back far enough in our pasts…and if you just scratch the surface for some of us…that you will find we are all ‘mixed race.’ We may be on different sides of the spectrum, but the purity of race is an astonishingly strong myth.

So while I hope that there will be serious repercussions for Bardwell and any other officials who seek to make the same judgements, I also hope that this might be an opportunity for him to reflect on the origins of his beliefs, and to challenge himself to move past the limitations he has placed on himself and the lives of others.

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