Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dear Kushibo: What's across the street from the Itaewon McDonald's?

Ah, what's in today's mail bag?

Dear Kushibo, 

Tom, Kushibo, and Seoul Guy what’s across the street from McDonald’s in Itaewon? of course you don’t know. None of you actually lives in Korea. 



Dear Dreamboat Annie,

It's funny you should ask that, because almost at exactly the moment you left this comment at ROK Drop, I was actually in the McDonald's in Itaewon, munching on an Egg McMuffin set (Egg McMuffins are better in Korea than Hawaii for some reason).

But off the top of my head, I couldn't recall what was across the street from Mickey D's, except for some nice eatery a little bit up the hill, so I had to go back and snap a picture. It turns out there's a beauty shop that does Brazilian waxes and "manscaping" and has a bear baring a bare bear crotch to drive that point home. Is that what you were looking for? The number's on the photo I snapped (above).  

Although Dreamboat Annie's motivation for that question was probably something else and she doesn't really care what's across the street from the Itaewon McDonald's, here's the picture I took anyway:

My finger has a special message for you.

In fact, this may have been just a dig from Annie, who has joined that bandwagon of people thinking I don't have any business posting so prolifically on Korea because I don't live in Korea. And indeed, although I am now in Seoul (well, Pundang, actually) and my actual home is here and I think in some way that constitutes living here, it has been three years since I was last in Korea. (She also thinks I'm paid to blog, but that misperception may be my fault.)

This is the longest I've been away since I was a teenager. This was not by design, since I had been coming back every six months or so and spending about two months a year in the Seoul area working (even in Hawaii I work for a Korean corporation), doing doctoral research, hanging out with friends and relatives, etc., etc., but some important personal matters that have been first and foremost (since right after I got to Hawaii in 2006) simply did not allow it in 2010 and 2011.

And indeed, it has been an eye-opening experience being away for this long. I've often said that, in terms of change, five years in Korea is like twenty years in the United States, and this "decade" being away has been eye-opening. The traffic patterns have changed, already ubiquitous coffee shops have spread like cockroaches, there's an obvious effort by city governments to create green open space, things seem more orderly and sophisticated, etc., etc. Things that are the same are the constantly-under-construction nature of Seoul.

Perpetual reinvention is the thing that is the same and makes everything different at the same time.

But even while I'm away, my own academic work keeps me up-to-date on what's going on "back home." And even if it did not, I have professional, social, familial, legal, and financial ties to Korea that keep the bond strong. (Three years of being away has left me with a bunch of fires to put out — from getting my finances reordered to paying three years of property tax to getting my vehicle working again to giving face time with my employers.)

That my point-of-view in my blog is so often against the grain of other English-language blogs has more to do with my personal and experiential background than with having been abroad for three years. Back in 2005 and 2006, before I went to Hawaii, I was just as "contrarian."

When I write things in support of, say, HIV testing for all English teachers (as well as all F-series visa holders and all ROK citizens) and criminal background checks for long-term (i.e., over 90 days) residents, more than a few English teachers tend to think I'm against them (especially when they forget things like this), and some choose to make it personal. The "You don't even live here!" meme is a popular one.

Of course, I'm not the only blogger who gets flak from the English-teaching crowd. The Marmot's name is being dragged through the mud because he had the audacity to agree that some of the bad reputation of English teachers as of late (I remember when English teachers were treated as honorable professionals) has been brought on themselves, at least as a group. And that's why he's being called a moron.

Of course, Marmot has long had his detractors, especially Gerry Bevers, who seems particularly bothered by The Marmot's mockery of Gerry's relentless effort to defend Imperial Japan. From his latest blog aimed at demonstrating that the Japanese are good people because Koreans are bad:
So, is the neutrality of The Marmot's Hole really debatable, especially when the man behind the blog wanders Korea wearing the traditional Korean clothing hanbok and brags about his eating of dogmeat?
Not the Marmot.
Some other guy
in apŭrikabok.
I don't know why people bag on The Marmot for wearing a hanbok. Back in Africa he also wore apŭrikabok (or whatever Africans wear) and, as Zen Kimchi noted, he looks damn sexy in a hanbok. It doesn't make him a sellout.

So I guess the point of this rambling post is that people go after me, people go after other bloggers with whom they disagree, and they justify it by making ad hominem attacks. Gerry has done it with me as well, back in my pre-Hawaii days when I was a way-too-frequent-commenter at The Assa Hole.

On the plus side, it can be fun and occasionally memorable. After a heated exchange (when is an exchange involving Gerry over Japan with anyone not heated?), Gerry asked if was going to respond to him or "have you already posted your one-comment limit for the day?"

To which I replied:
Sorry, Bevers, unlike you, I receive neither masturbatory joy nor subsidies from right-wing sources for flooding the Internet with a one-sided, historically skewed, Imperial-apologist view every time someone utters the word "Tokto," so I will try to limit my writing to just this one comment.
I soon thought better of what I'd written and issued a unilateral apology:
The last paragraph of my post up there was over-the-top. I apologize to Gerry and anyone else who may have been offended by that.
With a glimmer of humor (and no small amount of admission), Gerry replied:
No problem, Kushibo. Like Japan, I was taunting you.
But I had the last laugh:
Good, then. Like Japan, my apology may be meaningless. ;)
Ah, good times.

A less pleasant exchange was when Gerry, as he is wont to do, accused me of taking the Korean side on the Tokto issue (and Comfort Women issue, etc.) because of fear of my "Korean handlers." To which I replied:
[Gerry] Open your eyes, Kushibo, and stop kissing up to your Korean handlers. You have been in Korea long enough to know what is going on. You do have to be afraid. It is possible to live among Koreans without having to kiss their butt.

Fu¢k off, Gerry. Just because I don't believe that "Korea was Japan's greatest ally" and that it's all a big Korea-generalted lie that Korea was butt-fucked by imperial Japan doesn't mean I'm ass-kissing anyone.

I have been critical of Roh for his diplomatic war almost since I started my blog. i have written things that are harshly critical of some of the nationalist sentiments that bubble up in Korea. You, on the other hand, are unable to see anything that would suggest even the slightest bit of culpability on the part of Japan, either past or present.

The Black Dragon Society is sure as hell getting their money's worth from you.
I concur with all who think Gerry is an asshat (and possibly a paid shill like Christine Ahn seems to be for Pyongyang). Even though I actually called his school to defend him and protest his firing when he supposedly got kicked out over his Tokto views (which turns out not to have been true, according to them: they canned a whole bunch of people from that school because of restructuring, including his fellow English teacher, and Gerry was allowed to re-apply).

Anyway, I'm really in Korea, Dreamboat Annie. Send me an email through my Blogger profile page and we'll meet up and have a beer. If your userid is gender-appropriate and accurately descriptive, a few more beers.



  1. In fact, this may have been just a dig from Annie, who has joined that bandwagon of people thinking I don't have any business posting so prolifically on Korea because I don't live in Korea. And indeed, although I am now in Seoul (well, Pundang, actually) and my actual home is here and I think in some way that constitutes living here, it has been three years since I was last in Korea.

    It doesn't matter whether one lives in Korea or not. If you do your research and can write intelligently about it. Of course, it's different if you are actually writing about what daily life is like. Some people can live there for 20 years and STILL not get what is going on due to lack of language skills or just the desire to understand. I know a number of people who live in Korea, but have never been to Itaewon because it's known as a seedy place that proper people should not go to. I really don't understand people who continue to live in Korea when their country is so much "better." Not like they are migrant workers who can't find decent employment in their own First World countries.

    Go and have that beer. But you may be disappointed :p

    1. I think you make some valid points. In fact, I maintain my blog when I'm doing yuhak study abroad in Hawaii because it pushes me to keep up to date on political, social, and economic goings-on in Korea, which is not only where my home is but also where my research focus and news expertise is, so I have an academic and a professional reason beyond just being a resident with personal ties.

      But if someone had spent little or no time in the Korea (or some other country) and wrote about it extensively, I think there could be stuff to question. But I've spent over a third of my life in Seoul, including most of my adult life, so it's not like I am so lacking experience living there that I shouldn't write about it.

      Where I might lack experience is with the English teaching industry. I did in the past teach GRE and even basic Korean, but I was creating and developing my own programs, hiring people to work for me and being my own boss, so maybe I have none of the direct experience of the hagwon worker. Nonetheless, I have worked with (and helped out) enough of such people that I'm familiar with the ups and downs of life of the foreign hagwon/school teacher.

      I am one of those people who wants to change things if they are not working out, and from long ago I've been involved in projects or organizations trying to do that very thing. But some people just want to gripe, and like you say, if they're really so miserable in Korea (or some other country) then maybe they should go back.

      As for having a beer with Dreamboat Annie, I think having a chance to see eye to eye is a good way to build bridges, and I say this even if Dreamboat Annie is not an Annie or a dreamboat.

  2. I'm glad you posted this, if only because I enjoy street-scene bloggage of Korea. I've no idea when I'll ever be able to go back.

    1. Glad you enjoyed that.

      I don't know if this means my head is getting infected, but the manscaping bears reminded me of Nestlé's Kit Kat bear being mistaken for that godawful Pedobear meme.

  3. Too bad you were at the very place Dreamboat Annie named for the challenge (although it's an admittedly amazing coincidence) -- had you been somewhere else, you could have described something in, say, Yŏngdŭngp'o and challenged him (with a name like that, I figure it may well turn out to be a dude) to prove you wrong. That would have been entertaining.


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