Monday, April 23, 2007

postal scrotum: HK on Cho

HK writes in:

hey kevin,

is facebook also widely popular in korea?

from what ive seen in the last year ive been working at ucla, there are still kids who spend a significant amount of time throwing up comments and updating their facebook pages. completely obsessed.

im just a couple years younger than you, so even if i were to go and sign up, i wouldnt find many of my peers there...

also what do you think (if you did notice it at all) about the cho seung hui vs seung hui cho thing?

do you think this has anything to do with making seunghui ssi seem more foreign somehow?

off the top of my head i know that in general they address korean nationals LASTNAME firstname. ban ki moon. kim jong il. etc.

it's not a big deal but it was kind of weird.

from daily princetonian (who referrred to the nuna as sunkyung cho but little brother as cho seung hui):

While family members of the Virginia Tech gunman have secluded themselves during the last three days to avoid media attention, his older sister, Sun-Kyung Cho '04, reached out to a close friend and spiritual adviser from her Princeton days yesterday, offering the first glimpse of how the shooter's closest relatives are reacting to Monday's killings.

At a discussion forum organized yesterday by the Korean American Students Association (KASA) to help students cope with the shootings, Manna Christian Fellowship director Rev. David Kim told the group that Cho — a member of Manna while at the University — called and talked to him over the phone yesterday morning.

Some of Cho's conversation with Kim focused on the guilt he said she's feeling in the aftermath of her brother's actions. Kim said that Cho apologized for any negative repercussions Koreans on campus may have experienced after Monday's shooting.

The 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui — who shot himself after taking the lives of 32 people Monday on the Virginia Tech campus — immigrated to the United States in 1992 from South Korea, along with Sun-Kyung and their parents.

anyway, it seems that this has largely been corrected since the family has requested several days ago that he be called seung hui cho (and more simply seung cho). he was in america for a long time and basically american after all.

lastly. this is kind of random. after working at smoo... what do you think of same sex schooling, high school and university level?

HK, thanks for writing in.

Regarding Facebook:

I have no clear notion of how popular Facebook is in Korea, but my impression-- which may be completely wrong-- is that Facebook doesn't hold a candle to CyWorld here. Facebook operates on much the same "degrees of separation" principle as CyWorld and Friendster and other such sites. In other words, networks are developed through the whole "I know someone who knows someone..." game. Koreans already on CyWorld probably have little motivation to try out a site that does much the same thing.

To be honest, I'm not all that curious about whom my contacts know. It's cool to look through their photo galleries to get some sense of what they're all about, but I can't see myself getting lost in exploring friends of friends of friends. Call me selfish, but the radius of my interest extends no further than a single degree of separation. I guess I'm not made for Facebook.

Facebook at least has the virtue of not having a sickeningly cute interface, which is what CyWorld seems to feature (and which unfortunately seems to fit current tastes here). I remember Douglas Coupland writing years ago about "the Hello Kittification" of culture in his excellent novel Microserfs, and I'd have to agree with Coupland that it's happening-- especially in East Asia, where the rule is: The more saccharine, the better.

Regarding "Cho Seung Hui" versus "Seung Hui Cho":

I had no idea this was even an issue. I simply thought that different publications were working from different style sheets regarding how to handle Asian names. I haven't tracked which publications are consistently using which appellation.

Regarding same-sex schooling:

I'll be frank and say that, as a man working at a women's university, I'm perfectly happy not to see too many guys on campus.

But to answer your question more seriously: I think the women tend to breathe easier when they're with other women. Study after study in various cultures has shown that, when women find themselves in coed groups, they often tend to feel neglected by the teacher and/or they become withdrawn, perhaps even intimidated. I've noticed that many of my students speak out resentfully about men (by which I mean Korean men, since I'm in Seoul) who act in a overly traditional manner-- e.g., saying things like "I'm older than you, so you need to listen to me," and so on. Such behavior drives women up the wall; it's so "ku-saedae" style.

The ladies are ready to embrace the twenty-first century, I think... but then again, I have a feeling that some of these women wouldn't be so outspoken in a mixed classroom. That's a shame; some of my favorite students are the most willful and outspoken (though some willful students simply come off as ungrateful beeyotches with bugs up their asses-- willful simply for the sake of being willful). Being able to stand up to a guy in public (by using reason and not by being an irrational harpy) is a very attractive trait.

The downside for women at Smoo is precisely what I enjoy about the place: the general lack of men. Any number of students in my classes have sighed wistfully when describing the dryness of the dating scene in this part of town. But I'm not quite sure what the problem is; we're a very short taxi ride from some of the biggest (and funnest) universities on the peninsula-- Yonsei and Hongdae come immediately to mind, with Hongdae being the most bumpin' location.

What's more, quite a few women in my classes do have (or claim to have) boyfriends. What routinely astonishes me, though, is how many women admit to never having had a boyfriend. I can't imagine an American chick proclaiming before a class of strangers, "Guys, I'm a virgin." And an American guy who did the same thing would feel obliged to commit hara-kiri soon after.

Aside: the "boyfriend" thing is itself a complicated issue. Many ladies here say "I have a boyfriend" when what they mean is "I see a guy on occasion and we do a restaurant, see a movie, or otherwise engage in a level of dating that implies no deep commitment." Here, the word "boyfriend" isn't quasi-synonymous with "fuck buddy" as it would be on most American campuses. Of course, this isn't true for all Korean women claiming to have boyfriends, not by a long shot. Today's women aren't particularly prudish, if shrinking miniskirts are a reliable metric. Many "boyfriended" women are pretty serious about their man.... though it's extremely rare for me ever to see those boyfriends on campus.


1 comment:

  1. Your last few paragraphs made me think of the "Fools' Stage" (바보무대) in front of Ewha Woman's University. As you probably know, the university's front gate sits at the bottom of a street that runs down from the main road and the subway station. The street then runs east toward Yonsei and west into an apartment complex. At the northeastern corner of this intersection there was a shop of some sort (can't remember exactly what) that had a rather large (for lack of a better term) elevated stoop-like space in front of it. Guys waiting for their girlfriends to come out of the university would often congregate on this stoop. They really did look like a bunch of fools on a stage.

    My wife went to Ewha, and I always made sure to wait for her in a less exposed location. I haven't been back to the area in a while, but last I remember there was some construction done and the stage is no longer.

    Anyway, that just brought back some memories.

    (The word verification text is so frighteningly appropriate today that I can't see how it could possibly be random: "adope." I kid you not. The word verification genie is messing with me.)

    Now I need to get back to an important book review I'm writing...



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