Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Good Luck to Brian and please read his entire story.

An update to my run-in with the netizens.

What follows is a very wordy update to my post "I've attracted the ire of Korean netizens." I'd like to apologize for its length and its meandering, but I haven't been quite right these past few weeks, and can't organize my thoughts very well. Furthermore, I wanted to be as complete as possible and provide enough context to do this situation justice. I've tried to restrain myself from quoting emails without consent, even though some of them have been quite revolting. With one exception I've refrained from naming names, even though some really ought to be named due either to ugliness or to the help and support they've given. As a result I'm guilty of some bias and from giving the impression of being an unreliable narrator, but since very few people were privy to what actually passed between all involved, I don't see any alternative. And since this is my house . . . well, that should suffice.

On June 14th a Korean guy took exception to some articles I had written for the Gwangju News and decided to start two blogs devoted to "correcting" me and my editor. He posted the names of my schools and advised people to direct their complaints there, as well as to the Gwangju International Center (GIC). A few weeks later and the matter seems to be concluded. Inquiries with the police were rejected because, in the words of my a Korean colleague, they said they were too busy to look into it. After my controversial article ran in the Korea Times a week after the netizen attack, I lost pretty much any sympathy I might have garnered with Koreans, and the matter as good as died. So the moral of the story is you can direct a personal attack against someone you don't like, provided they're foreign, unpopular, and helpless.

It was carried out by a man named Kim Hong-su (김홍수). I said his identity would turn out to be shocking because he's the husband of a GIC employee and the author of the letter I mentioned earlier, in which he wrote:
And western also didn't do their best to understand eastern too. It was also proven in [Brian's] article about Namdaemun, which he wrote that he couldn't understand why Korean was shocked greatly; to such extent they could compare it with the September 11 attack. So I would like to advise him that while he advises Korean to be aware of western culture, he should also try to learn eastern culture in general and Korean culture in particular. If he feels bad about my opinion, he also has to think about Korean who felt so about his article.

While he was probably motivated to attack by a couple of articles in the latest Gwangju News, what apparently set him off was having the aforementioned letter to the editor "ignored" by the GIC. His wife went through the Gwangju News email account and passed along the email conversations we had about the letter and about a possible response. In these conversations we---the director, the editor, the other author mentioned by Hong-su, and I---decided not to respond to his letter because it was clear he misunderstood the ideas contained in our articles. In addition to his comments on my piece, he also wrote on another article in a recent issue, which on second thought I will reprint because it was not a personal email but rather intended for publication:
First, I would like to comment on 'Does Justice Have a Statute of Limitation' by [omitted]. I found out some of her misunderstanding about the law about "retrieval of pro-Japanese collaborators assets"

(, in Korean). And it seemed to lead the author to wrong conclusion.

The law is not to retrieve all the assets of all the pro-Japanese collaborators, but to retrieve only the assets that the pro-Japanese collaborators took advantage of their position and took unjustly in Japanese colony times. The assets which are object to be retrieved were originally taken by them unjustly. Therefore the law is not unfair, but fair to have the unjust situation for years returned to Justice.

If you don't think that it is fair that the descendants of pro-Japanese live very affluently with the assets that their ancestors took unjustly, you won't think that it is a situation of limitation on justice due to National Pride, but you will think that it is a recovery on Justice from a situation of limitation on Justice in Japan colony times and pro-Japanese dictatorship times.

The assets to be retrieved are just about 1% of the assets which they received from Japan government. Even though those are very little and some say that there is no meaningful of the law, It is important not only due to National Pride, but for justice. With nothing done, how could we forget those who gave pain and harm to people for their profits. If their crime can be forgotten and there is no effort to correct their wrongdoings as time passed, who will keep justice?

He then moved on to my piece, a portion I have already quoted here. That author's point in the article, though, was not to debate who should have property repossessed, but whether repossession of property of descendants of suspected Japanese collaborators is ethical or appropriate at all. Likewise, the thesis of his complaint on my piece was that Koreans cannot be expected to understand everything about Western culture, though I must understand this inability to understand as part of my obligation to understand Korean culture.

Anyway, writing back, I said, would only lead to more misunderstandings. Here is what I wrote to my editor on May 25th after being asked if I wanted to respond:
Ah, the "doesn't understand Korean culture" line. Of course.
Thanks for passing this along.

After I sent that message I received a short reply from the editor, which read in part:
I know. It couldn't be more predictable. I was fuming. But lets not rip this guy a new one even though we'd probably like to. Instead lets you, and our copy editing team come up with a response that makes you (and the Gwangju News) look like the bigger, more educated man.

I replied:
Well, are you running that letter in the magazine? Honestly I don't think it warrants a comment from me.

And after another email went out I replied:
As I mentioned to you, [omitted], I don't think it warrants a comment in the magazine. If I write something, he'll write back, and it'll never end. I think his comments are way off base, and he missed the mark completely, and it'd be quite easy to take him to task for it, but if I respond---even in a nice, intelligent, well-researched way---it'll look cheap and I'll look like a bully. I may type something up on my blog about it, but I'd rather not fill take up space in the magazine. Besides, opinions would still be split along the lines they are now: Koreans would side with him, regardless, and foreigners would side with me, regardless. I doubt a dialogue would take place---hey, there's an idea for an article---it'd just be "us vs. them," and since foreigners apparently can't understand Korean culture after three years and lots of study, well, there you go.

I'm not privy to the conversations that took place without me, although what apparently happened was Kim's wife---a foreigner from Indonesia---went through the emails and marked them as "unread" when she finished. She, according to others at the magazine, misunderstood the content of the emails, believing that when my editor said we are tempted to "want to rip him a new one" she actually meant "rip him off." The wife evidential thought we were belittling him. From my emails and from the comments on my post on this letter, I think it's pretty clear I wasn't belittling him. Belittling his argument, yes, the tried and true "must understand Korean culture" line, but I thought I and everyone else remained pretty tame.

This spring I had been going to the GIC every Saturday morning for Korean classes, and so I usually woke up extra early to get myself going and to ultimately catch the 8:00 a.m. bus from Suncheon. I got on the computer around 5:30 a.m. on June 14th and got around to checking my Sitemeter, which told me I had a relatively large number of hits for it being so early in the morning, and that some of them were coming off Naver blogs. I clicked those links and noticed that a couple of hours earlier somebody had posted my name, my blog, and my facebook profile online, as well as the details of my friend and editor, and the full text of the piece that ran in the June issue of the Gwangju News. I ran the accompanying letter through babelfish, just to see if I couldn’t get the gist of what was being said. After I did that I posted the first write-up to my blog, sent a heads-up to the Gwangju News email account, and left for Gwangju. If you didn't catch what Hong-su wrote in his original message, here's an excerpt of the rough translation:
What galls me the most is that these foreigners are growing fat and rich in Korea teaching their native tongue while making fun of the same people who are paying their wages. I need your (other Koreans') help in correcting this kind of behaviors from foreigners. I would like you to e-mail the editor [omitted] and those of you who are local to Sunchun should track down this Brian Deutsche and find out which school or hagwon he teaches in. You can assist me when you find that information. I seek full and unfettered cooperation in my campaign to correct this foreigner's behavior. If we cannot do that to a foreigner on our own soil, how can we hope to correct the behavior of US President Bush?

Shortly after I arrived I met my editor, who had heard about this not only from my email but from others in Gwangju who had caught my blog entry already that morning. We sat down at the computers and googled and navered ourselves to see where these posts were made. It turned out that he posted them to both of his blogs, to the “Candlegirls” cafe, to the Daum “Agora” news site, and to another Daum cafe. I saw that he posted the names of my schools in a comment to his original posts on all the above mentioned sites. After staring at the computer screen for a while I realized his ID “freact” was the same as the name used in the email sent to the GIC the month before, and thus we knew this netizen was the husband of a GIC employee. I had received a mass email from a Gwangju News contributor a couple of days earlier that cryptically talked about "unprofessional" behavior, and I came to understand this was about a staff member reading Gwangju News emails without authorization.

There were other staff members at the GIC that morning, although they didn’t take too great an interest in this. They helped us search the internet and asked us questions about the articles, but were a little more interested in debating my ideas than in getting to the bottom of this. They expressed displeasure with my articles, and told me, for example, that there were no anti-American displays in Gwangju, no anti-American activities following the 2002 military vehicle accident, and no aggression toward foreigners in Korea whatsoever. They were quite adamant and unmoving on these points, taking an aggressive and argumentative tone I wasn't expecting given the circumstances and given that, theoretically, they had signed off on these articles during the editing process.

Furthermore, when my colleague and I were using our "indoor voices" we were told to be quiet because there was a Korean class going on next door. One of the officers made a call to the man’s wife to let her know what he had done and to ask Hong-su to remove the posts. She, the wife, then got on MSN and in an online chat apologized to the GIC staff members for helping create this headache. She didn’t apologize to the two people who were the target of this attack, mind you, but to the Korean staff members, and I have yet to even hear a single word from her, to say nothing of receiving an apology.

I caught this pretty quickly, and the guy got more attention through my blog post than he did on his own. However, at the time I wasn’t sure exactly how widely-read he was, and I was pretty worried about potential problems at my school. I called my coteacher just to let her know what was going on, and then my editor and I were on the phone with a few helpful people in the community, trying to plan a course of action. Based on what we knew of Korean laws we knew that we ought to speak to the police and to a lawyer. We were hooked up with a foreigner-friendly police officer through a friend, although we had some difficulty trying to get some legal advice that day.

Even though the GIC has advertised that it can provide mediation and legal assistance to foreigners, the staff members told us it wasn’t possible, and that there was no one like that available. After further prodding we were told that, in fact, a GIC board member was a lawyer, and so we arranged a meeting with him for later in the day. That afternoon he reiterated that Hong-su clearly broke several laws and that we could press criminal and/or civil charges if we wished. He mentioned, though, that it would be best to wait for a few days and let the situation calm itself down, citing that the messages were posted in the early-morning hours and that Koreans are easily excited.

The Gwangju News publisher wasn’t around and was largely out of touch, saying he was feeling a little sick and was quite busy and wouldn't be able to meet in person. I was cc’d in a few emails over the next few days, but I haven’t received any word from him since June 17th. But first let me just write that we were surprised by the very lax attitude of the GIC and mentioned that, as the netizen directed people to send email to the GIC that it was also an attack on the center and a magazine, and wondered aloud why the staff weren’t upset by this. We said that since this was carried out by a member of the GIC staff, this breach of trust would reflect very poorly on the center.

This line of reasoning was repeated several times over the next couple days, but was misinterpreted by the publisher to mean a threat. He responded in an email by saying there were four possible courses of action he could take, and I paraphrase: (1) fire the wife of the husband, since she was unauthorized to read emails in the Gwangju News account and since she passed along information that led to the attack on us (2) fire the coordinator who did not respond to the initial email violation and who had no response to the netizen attack (3) close the GIC (4) close the magazine. He dismissed the first two options, the former because she was an intern and needed to complete her term, and the latter because she had been with the center for a long time. The last two options, he wrote, were the most viable because both were costing him a great deal of money. If the center was going to suffer great damage to its reputation because of this, he reasoned, there was little reason to keep it going. He actually quoted my editor’s words in his response, when she wrote that the director and the center would “los[e] a great deal of support from the foreign community.” The tone of his response was quite immature, especially when he wrote that he found it unwise to keep sinking money into an organization that was unappreciated by foreigners.

Even more troubling, when taken together with this thinly-veiled attempt at blackmail, was what followed. In that email he said that the Korean members of the staff were being verbally attacked not only because of my article and another one on Mad Cow Disease, but because of another article I had written, this one on Mike White, the 14-year-old American who died in a Gyeongsan sauna the month before (please give it a read on page 28 of this .pdf file). I had written a small piece on the situation, one that had gotten the approval of his mother and one that, apparently, had gotten the approval of the editorial staff.

In a follow-up email the director wrote these articles were giving readers the impression that the Gwangju News was only advocating for foreigners and was too biased toward our side. This was something we heard from the GIC staff the morning of the 14th, that my articles were too impartial and the magazine was taking on too much of a bias. Although it’s an English-language magazine, we were told, it’s still under the umbrella of a Korean organization and thus needs to reflect the Korean side as well. By that point in the morning I was quite flabbergasted and said that the quote-unquote Korean side is available in 99% of the local media, and that foreigners often don’t have access to anything else. If readers are interested in finding the Korean side, I said, they needn’t look too far. My editor made a stronger point in a subsequent email, reminding everyone that on the GIC website it says:
Gwangju City provides financial assistance to help GIC to carry out its missions of providing foreigners with information and services, promoting an international exchange in the fields of culture and economy and fostering international awareness among Korean youth through active involvement in helping the international community of Gwangju and Jeollanamdo.

I was the opposite of speechless when I heard these complaints, and that allegations of bias would come from several higher-ups in the GIC is astounding. Writers with different points of view are of course free to submit their own articles to the magazine, though not surprisingly we receive few printable contributions on current events. But I have to question why some Korean readers are so insistent on seeing the status quo mirrored in a foreign-language magazine designed to represent the region's foreign language community. As if their opinions weren't getting enough air time already.

Anyway, that was the second-to-last email I received from the director, over two weeks ago. I have yet to receive an apology or even an explanation, and have not heard from anyone from the center in an official capacity since. After the coordinator spoke to Hong-su's wife, he removed the posts from the cafes, though he refused to take them off his blog. After the removal the GIC coordinator asked us to let the issue drop, and told the editor that she was not allowed to write anything anywhere about it because of her affiliation with the magazine. A few days later Hong-su modified his original blog posts to remove our school information, and a few days after that he took our names off altogether, replacing the original letter with:
여러분의 많은 지지 덕분에,

광주 전남지역 국제교류센터의 외국인들과 지역 영어교육인들을 대상으로 발간되는 ‘Gwangju News’에서

'광우병 위험성이 있는 미국쇠고기 수입에 반대하는 한국인의 의견'을 다음달 호에 올리기로 결정했습니다.

한국에 있는 많은 외국인 친구들에게 우리의 생각과 의견을 알릴 수 있도록,

영어 실력이 출중하신 많은 분들이 아래의 메일로 '광우병 위험성이 있는 미국쇠고기 수입에 반대하는 이유'를 보내 주셨으면 합니다.

여러분의 이런 소중한 노력이 국내 외국인들을 설득시키고, 나아가 미국에서의 국내 입장에 대한 좋은 여론을 조성하는데, 소중한 역할을 할 것이라고 생각됩니다. 그럼 ~~^^

E-mail :

※영어로 만들어지는 잡지이기 때문에, 꼭 영어로 부탁드립니다.^^

[출처] 주한외국인에게 광우병 위험성있는 미국소 수입반대 이유를 알립시다|작성자 개나리꽃

Needless to say I have since stopped all involvement with the magazine and the center and will no longer be contributing as a writer or proofreader, a decision that is apparently mutual given the complete silence from the other side these past two weeks. I also have to revoke my previous endorsements and must rescind my earlier campaign to get other bloggers and writers involved with the magazine. So, I hope subscribers will enjoy their wall-to-wall coverage of temple stays, festivals that are already over, kimchi, and Scotland. Yes, Koreans like spicy food, so let's have some more articles about that. And while the center perhaps serves some symbolic function within the quote-unquote Gwangju community,

I can no longer feel enthused about an “international” center so out-of-touch with the needs of its international members. Perhaps Koreans who feel threatened by reading stories on foreigners oughtn't earn their paychecks from an organization that nominally is designed to support them. And given the circumstances, I'd like to invite those Korean members of the community who feel attention-starved to sit around and eat yeot 떡, listen to 사물놀이, talk about the weather, smell their own farts, and nod in agreement as they parrot the same garbage you find in every single newspaper and magazine in the country. Just don't do it under the banner of an "international center," one that evidently has little tolerance for what is of interest to the international community.

Let me clarify that I'm not, and was not, angry because somebody disagreed with my opinions. Hong-su is certainly not alone in disagreeing with me, and I'm no stranger to opposing viewpoints. This isn't me saying "wow, I can't believe Koreans are disagreeing with a position disagreeable to most Koreans." Nor was I angry that he printed my blog or my facebook page. Anybody can find those things after two seconds in front of Google. And even if he had printed my email address---he didn't---

I would have been annoyed but not outraged. After all, the Korea Times has always run my email address underneath my articles, and I've given out my address enough times to disqualify it from being a closely-guarded secret. No, I take exception to telling people where I work and asking his readers to direct their anger there. Korean netizens, as we know, wield quite a bit of power, and corralling that power is no empty gesture. And while some will say that it's a minor offense because he didn't get many readers, or because a lot of the commentators to his blogs found him too extreme,

I must emphasize that the only reason he got shut down was because I happened to check my Sitemeter before I left for Gwangju. If I hadn't had a tracker, or hadn't checked it that weekend, I likely would have been in for quite a surprise when I got to school on Monday. Remember that he not only posted this information on his two blogs but on very high-traffic sites like "Candlegirls" and "Agora." Clearly he intended to threaten my job, thereby revoking my visa, and thereby destroying my livelihood. If I were Korean, or if my opinions weren't so decidedly unpopular among the majority, this matter would have been settled much earlier. But, I'm not, they are, so it's not.

You know, everybody volunteers that foreigners need to learn about Korean culture, but I don't recall meeting many people interested in teaching. Rather than appealing to me directly, Hong-su took his anger out in public. As I said, my email address is printed at the bottom of my Korea Times articles. What's more, the articles I wrote for the Gwangju News on the Nazi ads and the beef protests had already appeared in the Korea Times (here and here) weeks before they were modified for the magazine, so were he interested in actually sharing his ideas with me, he had plenty of time to do it. Likewise, he obviously knew about my blog, and there was nothing preventing him from leaving his comments on the relevant posts, all of which predated the Gwangju News pieces by several weeks. No, instead he felt threatened by foreign voices in an English-language paper that were taking unpopular positions. That he wrote about "correcting me" and "correcting President Bush" almost gets me as mad as the cyber crime itself.

That same arrogance was on display in my school after my Korea Times piece came out. My teachers were, and are, giving me the cold shoulder treatment based on what I wrote in a foreign language that they don't understand. I was given several talkings-to at work, the latest one in a meeting with all the Korean English teachers. I remarked that it was strange to finally have them all together, since they never come to my workshops, never come to our classes, and never make any attempt to speak English to me.

I was asked to write a follow-up piece to the Korea Times apologizing for what I wrote, which of course I immediately refused to do. I'll give that whole situation fuller treatment in a later post, but suffice it to say that my fear of being fired was replaced by an anger at the unbridled arrogance on display as teachers who struggle to get through middle school textbooks were piling on me for misunderstanding Korean culture.

The irony was not lost on me as colleagues from several different departments chastised me for being biased while at the same time dismissing all the claims I made in the article out of hand . . . well, the claims they presumed I made, since I wrote in a language they clearly don't understand. They were upset that I took an unpopular stance on a "sensitive issue," as if the beef protests of the 2002 riots aren't sensitive for Americans, too. I've grown quite weary of the default "us vs. them" dynamic affixed to everything a foreigner writes on Korea. The difference being that our sensitivities are reduced when the other side simply refuses to acknowledge that, for example, there were anti-American demonstrations in 2002, or that foreigners face discrimination in Korea, or that 5/18 was invoked last month to protest American beef. But, again, much more on all that in a later post.

I’ve also decided to post this update a little earlier than intended---and postpone a lengthier update on those troubles I’ve faced at school---in anticipation of a nasty hit-piece done by a GIC member and contributor that will run in this month’s issue. Ah, the hypocrisy of being called biased by a man whose article on the US's responsibility for the Gwangju Massacre led off the May, 2008 issue. I've been asked if I want to respond in a forthcoming issue but I have no interest in doing that, at least outside of the blog. For the time being I'm through performing charity work for a broke-down magazine.

As I have written before, I’ve been trying to take this matter to the police. The officer we talked to in Gwangju said Hong-su definitely broke several laws, and the lawyer we spoke to confirmed that. Initial attempts to report this, though, have been fruitless. The officer in Suncheon in charge of cyber crime in Suncheon said several times that they are too busy to handle this case, and has called it a minor offense. As my go-between wrote to me roughly two weeks ago, "the police cannot punish the comments on the cyber space, even though it is blackmailing or forcing others to do something against somebody." Strange, I thought that was the job of the cyber cops. Several other avenues have proven dead-ends as well, and the situation has been all the more hairy given the threats from the GIC. My coworkers were first willing to help me with the police, but as I said after the latest Korea Times article they have changed their mind. I am working on the few options left to me thus far, but just wanted to provide an update to let people know the score and let them make up their own minds on the state of the quote-unquote international community down here.


Anonymous said...

Brain? Brain?
Who the fluffy-duck is Brain?

The Anti-Jihadist said...

This unfortunate situation is precisely why I have absolutely no presence on Facebook or any other social networking site (nor will I ever), and why I blog strictly behind an alias.

The best thing that can be said about all this is that, unlike my usual blogging opponents (i.e. Muslims), the Koreans usually aren't out to kill the foreigners in their midst who disagree with them. They seem rather more content smearing your name, blackmailing you, ruining your reputation, taking away your job, visa and livelihood of course, but not killing you jihad-style (as what happened in Jerusalem today with that bulldozer jihadist).

Remember, my fellow 'megooks'. A little paranoia on the web is a good thing.