Sunday, September 07, 2003

Korea & other stuff

Blogger seems to have flushed out its cyber-constipation for the moment.

Highly recommended: visit the Vulture for a great meditation on, as Brian puts it:

Korea's obsession with its image abroad vs. the behavior of Koreans themselves.

This is a long-standing problem with the conception of "face" and "honor" in East Asian society, though we could argue that this is actually a pan-cultural phenomenon, "no blood, no foul" writ large: as long as you don't get caught at it, act however you please. If your public conduct looks OK, then your inner conduct must be just fine. Here's hoping no one is sifting through your trash pile or leaving tracers in your hard drive.

We sometimes take this "no blood, no foul" ethic pretty seriously, to the point where we will loudly advocate that there should be a disconnect between one's public and private conduct. The Clinton sex scandal comes to mind as an easy example: those sympathetic to Clinton found themselves arguing against a very simple notion of integrity: your inner and outer realities should be in harmony (by the way, Clinton is merely one example; I'm not giving Republican presidents a pass on this, either; or clergy, or parents, or anyone else for that matter). Confucius must have been rolling in his burial mound during the Lewinsky flap.

Anyway, getting back to the Korean problem, there's Vulture meatiness here:

Ask anyone who has spent time in Korea or pays attention to the Korean press: Koreans are fixated on how the world sees them. The media often mulls over the issue, with regular editorials coming down on those within society that "harm" Korea's image abroad (usually corrupt businessmen or mighty kung-fu warriors working day jobs as Korean politicians). Large international events (World Cup, Olympics, etc.) are invariably seen by Koreans as a chance to strut their stuff to the world, with the actual event itself nothing but a sideshow to the real goal of flashing as many flat screen tv's, tiny hand phones, and high-speed internet connections as possible to visitors in a heavy-handed attempt at proving "Korea's competence" (a phrase used by the Korea Times a few years back) to the world.

Implicit in all this is a Korean view of the world that sees practically everyone else as either Korea-haters or Korea-ignorers. They usually cite Korea's short and turbul[e]nt democracy, the native protest culture (unions and students), Korea's unfortunate (but true) reputation for engineering disasters, and their kooky cousins in the North as the reasons for Korea's lack of respect around the globe. This feeling that the rest of the world is somehow looking down on Korea drives Koreans to go to great lengths to right this perceived injustice.

Now, I say this is an incongruity because in my experience, the goals of the Korean government and the Korea people as a whole (that is, improving Korea's image abroad), is more often than not ruined by the behavior of individual Koreans themselves. In other words, everyone in Korea says they want the world to like and respect them, but on an individual level they just don't seem to care, and this makes them their own worst enemy as they strive to improve their image.

That about sums it up here in Korea. When you see the constant barrage of Konglish, English errors to make your eyes bleed, you ask yourself why the hell it is that Koreans are so intent on employing English teachers, but seem to have no interest in hiring native speakers as ad copy writers and proofreaders. A quick trip over to the English version of Seoul National University's website reveals a ubiquitous sprinkle of shameful errata, all of which are avoidable (I risk the inevitable reply that many Americans seem unaware of how to spell words in their own language... being a language snob, I sadly agree). This phenomenon affects even Korea's most prestigious university.

By far my favorite Konglish was embroidered on the back of a ten-year-old's leather jacket:

"My castrate are causal line the 2 and Word."

I have no idea what it means, but I think it holds near kong-an status for the Divine Mystery it represents.

In other news...

Kevin at IA appears to be losing patience with the Bush Administration, and I can see why.

The suspicion that the administration doesn't have much of a plan has always been an undercurrent of recent public discourse. A friend of mine has argued that the whole notion of "having a plan" is bogus; the Marshall Plan, after all, didn't exactly require years and years to draft. My answer to that is: to the extent the Marshall Plan was dealing with rebuilding Europe, there weren't any cultural obstacles on the order of what we're encountering in the Middle East, nor (in the case of Germany) were we dealing with a country hampered by an enormous victim complex. Incidentally, the same is true with Japan, which understood quite clearly it had been decisively beaten, but retained a strong sense of national self. To what degree the Middle East offers any analogy, I don't know. I still feel there needs to be less ad hoc, more planning, and maybe even strict timetables, for motivational purposes if nothing else. Too open-ended a project can lead to (is leading to!) financial hemorrhaging, and if national self-interest was a compelling reason to begin this project, it may become a compelling reason to scale it back.

By the way, a brief summary of the Marshall Plan can be found here. Of note:

The program cost the American taxpayers $11,820,700,000 (plus $1,505,100,000 in loans that were repaid) over four years and worked because it was aimed at aiding a well-educated, industrialized people temporarily down but not out. The Marshall Plan significantly magnified their own efforts and reduced the suffering and time West Europe took to recover from the war.

This is a completely different animal from nation-building. In the Arab world: Well-educated? Industrialized? Temporarily down but not out? And all in a period of four years?

Getting back to Bush, then. I think there's some kind of plan, but it hasn't been laid out in its particulars. We need to hear there's a plan, with a definite direction aside from the nebulous goals of flypaper, nation-building, and ripple effect. I hear that Bush will be giving an address Sunday night (DC time)... stay tuned, and keep those tentacles crossed.

In other news:

Brush calligraphy is hard work, lemme tell ya'. Every element of the activity is designed to misbehave on you: the ink is runny and the paper is highly absorbent, which means you have to be careful how much ink is on your brush (this isn't like oil painting). The brush has to be held a certain way (one friendly to right-handers, and I'm left-handed), and my shoulder ends up aching, which results in trembly calligraphy. Any hesitation produces nasty blotches that swell like time-lapse tumors on the paper. Embarrassing. The worst: you have to have just enough ink on your brush to get you through most of your character before any "fade-out" appears. Good thing I'm doing this at home (though I hope to begin real lessons soon). After some practice yesterday, I was able to make some more or less legible characters, and even attempted some stylish swooshes (the Sino-Korean character shim, which means "mind" or "heart," is especially swoosh-friendly, looking a bit like a "C" or "L" surrounded by teardrops).

I have two brush paintings of Bodhidharma (by experts) on my walls right now. Bodhidharma (Dal-ma daesa in Korean) is usually drawn with large eyes, pendulous ears, and a frown, as if he's about to yell at you for once again being a stupid asswipe in the meditation hall. When drawn, he's usually not thin, and he's damn hairy-- bald of pate, but with enormous eyebrows and a full beard and mustache, thereby preserving his Indian-ness, I suppose (though some Korean monks, following the Taoist "forest/mountain sage" tradition, have also been known to let all their hair grow out while in seclusion, so the hirsute ascetic isn't uniquely an Indian thing). Often, Bodhidharma's got a ring in his ear. One of my drawings is rather jowly-looking and long-faced, and it strongly reminds me of a combination of Popeye and my Uncle Pete. Both drawings feature gorgeous, quickly-done calligraphy, and those samples serve as my guide and inspiration.

Perhaps in a few weeks I'll be able to churn out characters that don't look either skeletal or elephantiasis-ridden. Calligraphy is a very strict way of finding that Middle Path, being part habit-formation, part discipline, part decisive movement, and all about awareness and focus. Mindfulness. More on this as I progress.


Is the EU waking up? This seems to be a good sign.

John Feffer at Counterpunch argues the 6-way talks were a disaster.

Russia apparently isn't on board with the idea of squeezing NK economically.

Korea is in the midst of messing up its telecom market.

Peking Duck proves tasty. Get a slice of Ayn Rand over there.

Satan's Anus turns its nasty brown eye toward for a debunking of Edward Said. Note: Said gets debunked regularly, especially after 9/11, but you can never debunk him enough, so enjoy. The essay's subtitle is a keeper: "Third World Intellectual Terrorism."

European conspiracy theorists prepare for their massive circle jerk about "the REAL truth" behind 9/11. Wank on!

Via Drudge: US to demand UN action on Iran.

Korean emigration fraud ring: BUSTED by the FBI! "You ask for miracles, Theo, I give you the F... B... I."

Also, read the Vulture on pregnant Koreans skipping off to the States to have their babies. He links to this article.

Is Israel declaring all-out war? In a sick way, you might say that this changes little.

OK... time to write an essay?

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