Friday, December 15, 2006

When I usually write for Socius, I stick with the movies, because that what I like and that’s what I know. Within the last few weeks here in Korea I have seen a few things that, frankly, have had me wondering what in the heck is going on here in Korea?

I would like to make this remark right now! These are my own view of what is going on here in Korea and do not reflect the view of Socius. This article will have a lot of cutting and pasting and will cover a lot of material that I have seen on different web sites.

This whole thing started out to me with a great article written by Stephanie Shimko about a play in Busan, the article was called Babopalooza and it told of some foreigners in Busan who told stories about their time here in Korea. It was not done for profit and any extra money that was made was to be donated to a local orphanage. I thought, well isn't this a great idea and this made people laugh.

It is when a few days later that the shit hit the fan and I will give the links of what followed next.

People, not Space Invaders

Aftermath of the show.

Foreigner Discrimination in Korea

KBS ‘foreign beauty’ program slammed for racism

And here it comes

Police Story Korean Style

First from Stephanie's story...

In addition to this, another interesting situation has arisen concerning a few of the foreign residents who participated in "Babopalooza", the sketch comedy show in Busan that I reviewed last week. Throughout the beginning of this week, various foreign participants were approached in their workplaces and taken to the police station where they were interrogated for several hours. To the best of my knowledge, the Korean participants have not been approached. Although they say that they were treated kindly while in police custody and were provided with a translator who was not employed by the police, they were fingerprinted and asked to sign wavers stating that they did not request their respective embassies to be informed about them being detained. Afterwards one of them was talked to "off the record" about how it is inappropriate to make fun of other people's cultures.

The two foreigners producers are now being fined one million won each. The police say this is because they worked outside of their teaching contracts, which is untrue. None of the actors were paid for their participation. They did charge for admission, but this was only to recover the associated costs, and any profits made were to be given to a Korean orphanage. I hardly find this reprehensible. They ended up losing money in the end, which doubles my confusion on the issue.

This is just my opinion, but I found the show to be quite good. It took shots at Koreans, but it also took shots at foreigners. A good portion of the skits, including "18!", "The Steam Irons of Busan," and "Gogo on the Rocks" had nothing to do with Koreans or foreigners. I was sure that they most offensive skit would have been "So, Jew!" but I guess it's ok to make fun of foreigners, including Jews as long as they're not Korean as well. From what I have been told, the "Immigration" and "Boshintang" skits were the ones that caused the most offense, but if this is a visa issue, why is the offensiveness of a sketch even relevant?

I fear that this may be a very slippery slope in regards to free speech and the rights of foreigners in Korea. At what point is doing something other than our work considered illegal? Is it illegal when a foreign band plays for fun (and for free) at the Cool Bar on a Saturday night because it's organized? Is it illegal when I go out with my Korean friends because I'm talking to them in English without being on the clock? Should I worry about being interrogated by the police because I'm writing something now that could be considered negative against Koreans, even if it's the truth?

I understand that choosing to live in a foreign country requires me to accept parts of their culture that I may find less than savory. However, if Korea truly wants to be "dynamic", it must first develop tolerance for groups and cultures other than its own in a genuine way. The libel/slander double standard illustrated in the two examples I have stumbled upon in the last few days will do no good for Korea's reputation in the foreign community and our contacts throughout the rest of the world. I know I came here against the advice of my friends and family back home in the first place and have worked hard to praise the benefits of this culture as well as vent my frustrations. I know that not all Koreans behave in such a xenophobic manner, but it only takes one rotten apple to make the whole bushel look bad. The same can be said in regards to the comments about foreigners from the hagwon mentioned at the beginning of this article. It's definitely a two way street. It is my hope, on behalf of all the Korean people I know that are open minded and kind, not xenophobic and uninformed, that these situations will not continue.

This was my reply to her article......

I am not sure if this will make sense but this is how the Korean Police explained to me why I should never volunteer for anything here in Korea.

We do not believe you when you will say that you will work or do anything for free. (Even though it would have been for the orphans) this goes against Korean thinking and understanding. (I was never sure if this is what he was thinking because it was translated to me).

So needless to say, I have never volunteered to help with the kids.

You really are asking a legitimate legal question with the cool bar, because, what happens if there is a raid and the foreigners are playing, based on my experience they will be fined because they, the police, will think that they are doing this for $, even though no $ has changed hands.

You are also correct in that, even thought this is the truth, could you be detained because the truth cast a bad light upon Korea. To be honest, I wish I knew that answer.

So my guess is that, we are not allowed to do anything except work and if we act, or sad to say, write columns, that could give the appearance of us getting paid. In actually we do it for free and for the love of doing it. I guess that is also illegal here in Korea.

Food for thought. Great article Steph.

Now Lets pay special attention to this part of her article....

they were fingerprinted and asked to sign wavers stating that they did not request their respective embassies to be informed about them being detained. Afterwards one of them was talked to "off the record" about how it is inappropriate to make fun of other people's cultures.

Now do you notice the off the record comment here? Please remember this because it will be brought back again into the story later.....

now this is from The Marmot's hole and this is his story, now the number of the audience was wrong and so was the fact of the $ charged and where it went to, looks like the Korean press link was wrong or they just deliberately printed false information

Foreigners in Busan busted for ‘anti-Korean’ performance

Police in Busan have booked nine foreigners in Busan for putting on an unapproved performance that allegedly degraded Korean culture, reports the Kyunghyang Shinmun.

The paper noted that they were booked (but not detained) on procedural grounds (you must seek permission from authorities before holding a performance), but controversy was expected since it was possible police were more concerned about what was said during the performance than the paperwork before it.

All in all, nine foreigners, including a 37-year-old American English instructor at a Busan university, were booked on violations of Korea’s performance laws, while seven band members, including a 30-year-old Canadian, were told to leave the country for violating immigration laws.

The Busan Nine—all apparently English teachers—had formed a performance group called “Right Down” and staged a one-act play called “Oriental Story” on Dec. 1 and 2 at a small theater in Namcheon-dong.

According to the Kyunghyang Shinmun, the performance was made up of 10 short skits that lampooned or degraded aspects of Korean culture foreigners found repulsive. One of their targets, apparently, was Korean immigration officials. During the performance, they ridiculed the entry process, joking (?) that Korean immigration officials ask if you know the Dokdo islets or bosintang (dogmeat soup) or kimchi and claiming that Korean civil servants demand that foreigners adopt the Korean way of thinking (Marmot: Koreans expecting people to do things the Korean way in Korea? The horror! The horror!).

They also lampooned Korea’s “strange” (so the Kyunghyang quoted them) number culture, including Koreans’ insistence on doing things three times (”They even shit three times,” they are quoted as saying), the taboo on the number four, and the use of “18″ as an obscenity. They also ridiculed Koreans’ “saucepan disposition” (naembi geunseong, the tendency of Korean society to boil over quickly about a particular issue but just as quickly simmer down), calling it a “steam iron” (Marmot: I fail to see the association). Finally, they chose to express Korea’s dogmeat culture by pretending to eat with tortured expressions, throwing up, and eating again.

Oh, they also referred to middle-aged women as “stubborn ajuma.” Or something like that. Or so the Kyunghyang Shinmun said.

At the police station, they foreigners in question said about the dogmeat routine that they were just trying to express their displeasure with some Koreans who “force” foreigners to eat bosintang.

Entry to the performance was 7,000 won. Four performances were held, with some 600 people attending in all. (here is where an error is on this article.

Police said the busts were made because it was an illegal performance, not because of the content of said performance.

Actually, I got an email this morning about the performance, which was apparently called “Babo-palooza.” There are discussions going on about it at Busanweb and EFL-law Said one poster at ESL-Law:

Just walked in from Babo-Palooza! at Beach Town on Gwangalli — What a friggin’ joke. More down and out English teachers than you could poke a stick at mocking Korea and Koreans with purile humour barely fit for a mental (###) camp. The organiser “teaches” at a Dong university in Busan and can be seen propping up the bar at O’Briens on any night of the week) spent the night thinking he had a Konglish accent when instead he sounded like a Pakistani. The rest of the losers (including a big chested woman from down under with a gut to match and some gutter baboon who looked like he’d swallowed a sheep) were just pathetic. Ten thousand won to see these monkies performing their favourite hogwan routines with added venom? No friggin’ way! This debacle only confirms my suspicions that Busan is home to the dregs of ESL in Korea. Next time, maybe someone should invite immigration and get these fools shipped home.

Not everyone felt that way, however. This STEPH'S BLOGsaid the show did a “wonderful job walking the impossibly thin line of being witty and occasionally sarcastic without being spiteful or mean towards the Koreans and their culture.” Then there is this BLOGGER, who is apparently one of the Busan Nine. Lamenting his position, he writes:

There is a good possibility that I will be fucked off out of this country. This makes me sad. I don’t want to leave. I’m not done with this place. I’m on the cusp of becoming functionally fluent in the language. I love the food, and most of the folks who I met have been ace.

But this is a nation that disguises itself as a modern industrialized democracy. It is the tenth largest economy on Earth and is a miracle of sorts. But peel the onion and you will see that Korea is still a patriarchal Confucian society, one that tolerates little true dissent or satire, especially from a foreign tongue. We are finding this out now.

If anyone has a detailed account of what was said or—praise be to God—video footage, I’d love to read/see it.

This is usually the point when the comment section flamewar begins.

UPDATE: Here is the NoCut News version of what happened (in Korean). Not really different from the Kyunghyang Shinmun account. The police were quoted as saying, however, that while the show did look at Korean culture from a fairly negative angle, it didn’t really amount to “degrading Korea” and, at any rate, was covered under free speech and hence not subject to punishment. But they added that holding a performance without permission from the Korea Ratings Board and engaging in activities outside your visa status are another story.

UPDATE 2: PusanWeb has posted corrections to what it claims to be inaccuracies in the Kyunghyang Shinmun piece (as summarized here). Be sure to check them out. Also, I should note that I did make one mistake in the beginning of the summary—rather than “arrested,” it should read “booked.” The summary has now been corrected. I’d also like to suggest that it might be better—at least for the sake of accuracy—to write up a refutation based on a full translation of the piece rather than the abbreviated summary you see above.

UPDATE 3: Commenter “Spook,” who says he is “intimately connected to the story,” has some very interesting things to say in the comments, and this, if true, should make a lot of people nervous:

In addition to claims of violations of E-2 visas, these guys are being prosecuted (persecuted?) for putting on an illegal performance. This is an issue that affects everyone, including bloggers, since right now there appears to be some question as to what kinds of activities foreign workers can do other than work, defecate and sleep. When these guys went in to the police, the police also discussed the illegality of another local event–a regularly-held Poetry night at a local bar where foreigners and Koreans would get up on stage and read poetry and play music to an audience for free. Guess what? The police said that was illegal. Are you in a band that plays in Itaewon on the weekends, or a mix-master at a Shinchon dance club? Guess again! You’re breaking the law according to Pusan police. Talking to a small group of Korean friends on the street? Who the heck knows, right? Could be illegal. This has a HUGE chilling effect on what we foreigners can do in Korea. Frankly, I’m not really sure anymore we can do.


THIS WAS the exact question that Stephanie asked in her article, WTF can we do here in Korea? He brings up the exact same questions that Stephanie does

Now from one of the Organizers of the above event and his story...

What a day... man oh man. Have you ever had a day when you sensed that things you have built for years were evaporating before your eyes? I don't mean to be dramatic, but I get that sense.

There is a good possibility that I will be fucked off out of this country. This makes me sad. I don't want to leave. I'm not done with this place. I'm on the cusp of becoming functionally fluent in the language. I love the food, and most of the folks who I met have been ace.

But this is a nation that disguises itself as a modern industrialized democracy. It is the tenth largest economy on Earth and is a miracle of sorts. But peel the onion and you will see that Korea is still a patriarchal Confucian society, one that tolerates little true dissent or satire, especially from a foreign tongue. We are finding this out now.

I know. I am not in America. I should not apply the same standards here, and I don't. I will take whatever punishment is meted out. In fact, as a comedian, there are worse fates in the world than to be banned because of the content of your comedy. In the least, it proves that that something is potent, something is hitting the mark.

The Korean media is already picking up on the story. The snowball is forming. Let us hope that the articles probe deeper than "foreigners disrespect Korean culture."

Here are the links from Koreas two most popular web portals. They're in Korean of course, but check 'em out:

And here is what is being said in the English speaking webland/blogosphere over here: (He even links yours truly. Finally.)

This is what's up so far. It's bound to be fruitful and multiply. For those of you here on the Peninsula, check out the Korean Herald on Saturday. We're rumored to be on the front page.

And if deportations actually happen, I will do my damnedest to get the Western press involved. I may even have a contact or two.

Keep posted. There is surely more to come. This was his next comment


I am one of the producers of the show. There are several inaccuracies the Marmot’s post. I figure he got a lot of it from a Korean article, so it’s no surprise.

First off, we did TWO performances in a small theater that only fit 80 people. So only 160 people saw the show. NOT 600. I have no idea where they came up with that figure. We spent 1,500,000 won on the show. We took in less, so we LOST money. Do the math. We never tried to make money on this thing to begin with. It was for fun, and any profit made would be donated to an orphanage. There’s a reason we only charged 7,000 won.

The name of the show was “Babo-Palooza!”, not “Oriental Story.” And I will withhold the band’s name, so as to avoid incrimination, but they are not called “Right Down.”

And NOBODY has been punished yet. They have brought many of us in, questioned us, taken our urine samples and fingerprints, but no charges have been filed. They will take everything to the prosecutor, who will then make the decision.

It is apparent that we broke the law by staging a production and charging an admission fee. As one of the producers I’ll take responsibility for that and accept whatever punishment is meted out. But the vigor in which the cops are going after us suggests a motivation deeper than just busting us for visa violations. They were offended by the content of the show (a lot of Koreans loved it, btw) and are using these other laws as a pretext to punish us for dare poking fun at some local sacred cows.

This thing is taking on a life of its own in cyber-land, but please make sure your facts are correct before wagging your finger and blowing your horn.


Now from another blog that I read



What gets me about this, and again, I haven’t had time to read all the comments, is how these expats can be rounded up for offending Korean sensibility, and when Koreans read about it in the papers, the mildest form of reaction will be simple agreement that the police did the right thing and the expats should be deported and fined, but a typical reaction would be to off-handedly say the teachers should be roughed up or something.

Yet, this same society can’t get much energy flowing across the masses when it is reported that a Nazi bar is doing business in one of its major cities - that the waiters and waitresses wear brown uniforms aka Hitler’s fanatically political supports/intimidation troops - complete with swastika armbands.

Something like that comes out, and the expat community reacting to it just doesn’t understand Korean culture - it really isn’t meant the way it looks, its just a concept, yada yada yada…

But I guess they are making progress…

Judging by the limited amount of attention I was able to give to the TV foreign beauties posts here and elsewhere, it seems a fair number of Koreans were upset at what happened there.

Give it another 100 years……and you’ll see….

So far I have told a story about what happens when expats makes fun of Korea. Now lets look at what happens when its the Koreans making fun of the foreigners and look at the aftermath of it.

Stupid is that stupid does

(Seriously Stupid Department) KBS ‘foreign beauty’ program slammed for racism

UPDATE #2 (Brendon Carr, 14 Dec. 2006): Video of the KBS program is available by BitTorrent which you may download (if you have a BitTorrent client) at the following Link Thanks to commenter “ihaveseoul” who posted the link in the comments section of related Marmot’s Hole entry Sign Letter Demanding Apology from KBS.

UPDATE: The NGO Cultural Solidarity has released a statement blasting the production team of “Minyeodeului Suda” for its failure to take seriously what it [Cultural Solidarity] considered a pretty overt display of racism. Frankly, I rarely agree with much of anything Cultural Solidarity says, but when they are right, they’re right, and the statement they issued—together with the viewer and netizen condemnation of what they saw on the show—is a great example of just how much things have changed. The key points in the statement, IMHO—regardless of the “intention,” the very idea that to use racist language and actions directed at an individual of a particular race in such an open manner to “improve the show’s mood” is itself indicative of society’s racism; this incident could happen because Korean society is racist in that it favors white people while holding people of color in contempt; and the worst part is that the producers are seemingly clueless as to just how racist what happened was.

I know some commenters have stated their belief that this isn’t a big deal—the joke may have been of bad taste, but it was still just a joke. Before, I would have said this incident was born more of ignorance than actual racism, but if the Hines Ward craze should have taught us anything, it’s that while there are exceptions, the fact remains that not all “foreigners” are treated equal. Many Koreans acknowledge as much, and there is no point pretending anymore that negative stereotypes concerning blacks and other “dark-skinned” ethnic groups (and conversly, generally positive stereotypes about white folk) don’t exist.

Another thing about this whole mess irks me (as it did the Kyunghang Shinmun reporter I linked below), and it’s this—the show seems like an opportunity for Korean male entertainers to flirt with a bunch of foreign female exchange students and Russian models. I have to wonder what KBS2 might think of a show featuring a panel of five Korean female entertainers covorting with a bunch of foreign male exchange students and English teachers.

Somehow, I doubt that would go over real well.

ORIGINAL POST: KBS2 is under fire from viewers and netizens for what many consider to be racism during its “global talk show” entitled “Minyeodeului Suda” (The Beauties’ Chatterbox).

The program brings together 16 lovely and unmarried young women residing in Korea to discuss Korean culture and Korean men, and in the process hopes to break down cultural barriers. The show includes a panel of five (Korean) men. Among the questions (from the website):

* What was the most embarrassing thing to happen to you in Korea?
* What kind of things do Koreans do that you can understand least?
* What dating places have you gone with your Korean boyfriend?
* When have you felt, “Ah, I’ve become a real Korean now”?
* What are five good things about Korean men?
* What Korean entertainer would you like to have as a boyfriend?

The show also apparently has “corners” featuring foreign women doing all the stupid little things foreigners are supposed to do on Korean TV, including a song-and-dance section, a “trying Korean food” section and a Korean dictation section.

All was as it should be—maybe—until lovely African-American Leslie Benfield was performing a rendition of a Korean song. It was then that one of the panel—singer Cheon Myeong-hun—jumped up on stage wearing a rasta wig and began chanting “sikameos, sikameos,” a reference to a black-face routine made famous by comedian Lee Bong-won.

Not cool, said many of the program’s viewers. Not cool at all.

Especially since Ms. Benfield had confessed on the show’s first episode that she’d been disregarded by her boyfriend’s parents because she’s black.

The show’s production team, however, told StarNews there was no racist intent behind Cheon’s stunt. They explained Cheon did what he did to give the show’s atmosphere a bit of a boost. They also said they have no intention of dropping Cheon from the show.

This isn’t the first time the show has run into problems—viewers had criticized previous episodes for incorrectly explaining Korean culture and Korean sayings. Others have criticized it for “sexually commercializing” foreign women and seemingly emphasizing physical contact between the panel and the guest women over actual discussion.

Now to be honest here my original intention was to write a Korean Movie Industry review and I was going to ask a heck of allot of questions. I may still do that one. I started doing research and these 2 stories came up and I was thinking, "WTF?" One group makes fun of and they are given pee test and then asked to sign papers not informing their embassies. Then I see the Korean do the exact same think that the Busan police stated...

...Afterwards one of them was talked to "off the record" about how it is inappropriate to make fun of other people's cultures. So my question is why have not these fools been dragged into a police station and given pee test, if they did the exact same thing and the people in Busan did?

Now this is what I really could not believe.....

* What was the most embarrassing thing to happen to you in Korea?
* What kind of things do Koreans do that you can understand least?
* What dating places have you gone with your Korean boyfriend?
* When have you felt, “Ah, I’ve become a real Korean now”?
* What are five good things about Korean men?
* What Korean entertainer would you like to have as a boyfriend?

It was like the Koreans were trying to sell the fact that Korean men are the best in the world. I do not know if anyone has noticed lately but their have been ads with White females and Korean men and I have always wondered if this is trying to sell that same point that I have listed above. With these questions is sure does make one wonder.

The real Korean quote is what made me do a double take... Earlier this year when Hines Ward mania was gripping this nation, one of the parents of one of my students at my last hogwAn made this comment, "It's not Hines Wards fault that he is only half-Korean." It just left me dumbfounded and left a bad taste in my mind. Once again the narrow view of Korea reared its ugly head.

Overall this has been a large look at a huge problem that all of us who live here are real soon going to have to ask ourselves. Why are we in Korea and can we really do anything except go to work, go home and never do anything to interact with Koreans, because just by talking to them in English, are we violating our visa status?

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