Wednesday, April 18, 2007

postal scrotum: Jason sounds off

Jason sends me the following email:

Thank you for your essay on Korea's fear of a backlash, Kevin. My wife and I actually had a pretty frank discussion about this same issue last night with me making many of the same points as you do (although not as articulately, I'm afraid). What got us started on this was the Hankyoreh's statement yesterday, which featured the standard expression of sadness before it veered into some unexpected territory when it called on Americans to avoid stirring up racial violence against Koreans or something similar to that.

WHOA! Where'd that come from? Project much lately?

I've read a lot of expressions of sadness in the past two days but this was the first time I've seen such an awkward expression of defensiveness tacked on like that. My wife took issue with my observation, saying Koreans actually now more than ever need to circle the wagons because there would be reprisals against Americans if this had happened in Korea with an American shooter.

Like you, I think Koreans have indeed gone into CYA mode over this, largely because they for all their superficial modernity most still find the outside world a puzzling, scary place and have a hard time imagining how others may deal with crises and emotions differently. I know that comes off sounding a bit condescending but after considering my wife's argument and looking back on Korea's shared narrative of perpetual victim of outside powers and the occasional outpouring of rage against things foreign, I think it is still very much a closed society bound by traditional notions of revenge-- as illustrated by the anti-American demonstrations in 2003-- and shame (see the Korean ambassador's ridiculous call today for members of the KorAm community to fast for 32 days in penance for Cho's acts, something that made even my old-skool wife say ,"the FUCK?" when she read it). It should be noted, though, that every human being fears what he or she does not understand, and that holds true no matter which country you come from. It's how we deal with and overcome that fear that makes us different. Have I rambled on enough? I think so.

Anyway, I hear KorAms are pretty scared right now down there... my secretary's son went to Va Tech (actually remembers seeing the shooter lifting in the gym last year in a weird, silent Robert Patrick-in-T2 sort of way) and he told his mom that Asian students there are wary of going to class now for fear of "redneck reprisals." So many victims from NoVA; one just graduated last year from Annandale High, less than a mile from my old apartment. I've also heard reports that Cho's father has committed suicide after slitting his wrists and his mother is in the hospital after drinking some sort of poison. WaPo mentions Cho's sister is a Princeton grad now working as a human resources contractor for the State Dept. I cannot begin to imagine the pain she's going through now.

Sucks all around, man. I'll keep you posted if I hear anything more.


My students told me about Cho's parents on Wednesday morning. I had been combing the news fairly religiously and had seen nothing, so I dragged my ladies over to the teachers' office and we searched online in the English-language articles for any evidence of this. I found an article that said that the Korean news agency Yonhap had reported that Cho's father had committed suicide and that his mother had drunk poison, but that this was a rumor and that the parents were simply in shock over what had happened. My students looked sheepish and then APOLOGIZED to me for having quoted a rumor. I was agog at their behavior, and told them they had no need to apologize: in the immediate wake of a tragedy like this, things are bound to be confused.

I'm waiting for news from my father about whether some students who are part of my church's congregaton are all right. A couple of them attend Tech, I think. (At least, they did a couple years ago; I haven't kept up with current events.)

Thanks for writing.


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