Sunday, November 25, 2007

Repost: The Metropolitician - Holla Back, Seoul Division?

I'm doing a lot of reposts from other blogs lately. One it's because I'm spread pretty thin right now with life: my thyroid treatment is has turned a corner and is going well, and I'm almost back to my old self but for the thyroid disease ass I've packed on. Also, I'm doing a lot of writing, so there just isn't a lot of time.

However, this post I actually wrote part of, so I don't consider it a repost and more of a collaboration.

I did repost Mike's blog on his arrest. This was essentially because he called the cops on a Korean man who was drunk and disorderly. This man both verbally and physically assaulted Mike. When the cops showed up, the Korean claimed that Mike was verbally and physically harassing HIM, so the cops took Mike in. The man went too as they had to take his statement, but he wasn't booked.

Well, he followed up with this post, A Few More Words About This and a Very Modest Proposal, which essentially calls for people to document these incidents. Someone seemed not to be sure what he asked, so I chimed in with a comment to clarify. That comment got stuck in the spam folder for the blog (really irritating). Anyway, I guess there is some TypePad spam comment glitch thing. So not being able to override it, he just made it a new blog. I'm there along with some troubling pictures of a foreign woman who was followed home by a Korean man. He broke in and beat the daylights out of her. Also, another woman commented on her experiences here with both the sober and drunken ajosshis (ajosshis = Korean men old enough to be married).

"Holla Back, Seoul Division"?

I've had two posts not make it through the spam filter and their owners contact me and email them in. They also happened to be interesting, as well as supportive of me. I can't control the spam filter on Typepad, and have had my own comments not make it through, at which point, since I am the owner of the blog, I just published them as a post. So I'll do the same here.

These two posts are also from two women in Korea, who channel well the frustrating experiences that foreign women feel here, in a society whose laws are designed to basically cater to the social and sexual freedoms of Korean men. In this way, so do Korean women experience these fears and frustrations – as well as real physical dangers – as foreign women do; the only difference is that foreign women may have a bit of extra leverage as foreigners, or additional options, which often include just leaving Korea.

 News 200711 News1195021391 89850 1 MAs to the commenter who seemed so ready to doubt unless hearing from the proverbial horse's mouth, I can't speak for MissKoco or why she chooses/chose not to blog out her horrible experience for all the world to see. Perhaps, though, I'll venture to guess, it's because of comment sections just like the one see here? "What were you wearing? Were you looking at him in a way that wasn't respectful of Korean culture? Why did you push him, since according to Korean custom a woman who...blah blah...? You don't like it, just leave" and all kinds of other helpful, rogue gallery commentary. Not too hard to imagine why especially women aren't telling their story.

And on the other hand, it's easy to see why only foreign women could or would, if anyone does, as in the case of the American law student who had been telling her story in the expat blogosphere for two years now, and seems to be using the Misuda show to get her story out – GOOD FOR HER, and a brilliant move, if that was an ulterior motive for getting on the show. I myself had contacted her about doing a podcast on her experience, but it never panned out. I think she did her story justice a damn sight better than a mere podcast that would be preaching to the choir – put it out there to the people who need to be hearing about this, turning her horrible experience into something that might have some positive effects after the fact.

Jamilla WinterYet, you know what she still has to fight against. She has heard it, too: "You suuuure you didn't bring this on yourself?" If there's any room for doubt, it seems that in Korea, someone's always trying to crowbar into it and yank. Since she was in her house, and he was an intruder, the inevitable question of, "What were you wearing" and "Maybe you gave him a certain look that he misunderstood" couldn't come into it. Even in Korea, saying "Why don't you follow me home and break into my house to rape and perhaps murder me, baby?" won't fly.

So why doesn't MissKoco blog her experience? Doesn't take Dr. Phil to figure come up with a pretty probable and plausible reason, "Whitey." This whole "I'll believe it only when you have audio, video, pictures, and written affidavits from at least 3 witnesses" attitude is tiresome. The pattern is as clear as day, talked about constantly amongst foreigners, and isn't hard to imagine, given the way foreigners are talked about and (mis)represented in the media.

In other words, people choose, in all their particular and peculiar ways, to NOT LET THEIR NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES DEFINE THEM. So, no matter what you think of my blog, to ME, my blog is my way of coping with things so I can get on with the other things I do in my life here. Getting detained/arrested (whatever) became a bearable experience because I was recording it, because I knew I would blog it. It gave me the sense that I would not have to bear it alone. For others, they may want to keep it off their blog because that isn't something they want to make become a public spectacle, since it was enough to bear by oneself, let alone when your sister was visiting the country, which may have (I can imagine) involved its own kind of pain.

When my father died, a far, far more painful experience than anything an ajussi or "Korean society" could ever dish out, I didn't want to see friends, because I didn't want to break down in front if them. I don't like sharing my moments of true weakness, instants of deep and personal pain, which I'm not the type to blog. Hey, that's me. Others can and do. No one's "right" and there are lots of imaginable reasons how and why people react to being violently attacked in Korea, especially those of us who may lack the support systems that many cultural insiders have access to. So, I leave that to MissKoco – and anyone else in her position – to decide to answer. Or not. In the end, that's her choice, not mine. And the only reason you even know about what happened with MissKoco is because I brought it up as part of my own shit, which perhaps wasn't cool, but you wouldn't even have had the privilege to know about otherwise.

My point is – think about all the many, many women who have had horrible experiences to tell, but which society doesn't want to hear, which society actively discourages from being heard. And think about the stories the media salivates in waiting for, which it will publish without the slightest shred of believablity or journalistic integrity, yet STILL pale in comparison with the ones you never, ever hear and aresimply common and everyday occurrences here.

THAT's why all this is fucked up, in the big picture. Commenter "Nightfall" mentioned the famous quote that a society is best judged by how it treats its prisoners. I would broaden that a bit by mentioning how it treats those at its margins.

Here are the two very astute comments that inspired this post:

From ExpatJane, in response to criticism that I brought this upon myself:

“Is he saying it's JUST Korea? I don't think so. Plus, that's not the point. The fact is stuff like this happens a lot in Korea and this is where he and a lot of others who have to put up with this sort of bullshit are.

I've been extremely lucky. Maybe it's because I've got that "fuck with me and die" look down; I mastered it growing up in L.A. because you can get into trouble if you can't step clear of trouble or repel it when you see it coming. However, I hear stories like this and I've had the drunken ajosshi encounters too. Those experiences happened to me my first year. I'm a quick learner and I AVOID them religiously. It's one big reason I simple DON'T go out where I'll risk running into Korean drunks. Even then, I frequently traveled through the Gwanghwamun/Jongno district of Seoul when I headed home in the evenings from Ewha. I avoided the packs of office workers in suits stumbling out of bars.

He's NOT being paranoid - not at all. I've altered my routes and habits to avoid it, so far, I've been very successful.

His proposal was to record this stuff. I started doing that awhile back. If I get some asshole(s) trying to mess with me, it's amazing how quickly it changes when I whip out my phone and start taking pictures of them (with the phone I have now, video.)

HollaBackNYC has been doing it for awhile:
"Holla Back NYC empowers New Yorkers to Holla Back at street harassers.Whether you're commuting, lunching, partying, dancing, walking, chilling, drinking, or sunning, you have the right to feel safe, confident, and sexy, without being the object of some turd's fantasy. So stop walkin' on and Holla Back: Send us pics of street harassers!"

We need a Holla Back Seoul division...ASAP.”

And from a reader whom I'll just refer to as "C" until I hear otherwise, in response to ghost.yoon's comment:

ghost.yoon said
..."However, the more outside influence gets into Korea , the better it will get. I may not know you too well as an individual, but I hope you stay in Korea as long as possible, despite it's failings. It is because of individuals like you, perceptions will change, leading to greater social change overall. After all, part of my own perception of my own people has become influenced by you and your writings." (November 23, 2007 at 04:36 AM)

Well said, ghostie, bloody well said indeed.

Metropol, I have been reading your blog for almost a year. The breadth and depth of your thinking, writing, and photography make your blog always utterly compelling and entertaining reading, but I think this may be the first time I've felt the real need to comment.

I am absolutely ENRAGED at the injustice and absurdity of this incident. And to those "I'VE been in Korea since Dangun was a kid, never happened to ME, blah blah, you're not in smallville anymore, blah blah, must be YOUr fault, blah di blah" commenters I say, good for you, pollyanna. Wish I lived in your nice world.

For my part, I cannot tell you how many times I've been subjected to verbal abuse and sexual harrassment from ajosshis - drunk and sober - in my five years here.

My only recourse in all cases (I'm five foot two and weigh about 110 pounds) has been to pacify the arseholes by smiling and pretending not to understand (as on the several occasions I've been screamed at and threatened with violence for being American and being here, and even though I'm not American I have to grant they WERE right about my being here, yes) or by simply getting the fuck away from them as quickly as possible. The second option (getting the fuck away and quickly) was always the right choice (indeed the only choice) in the cases of sexual harrassment, a sampling of said to wit: the well-dressed 40-something ajosshi parked in his stupid shiny black K-cadillac who politely called out to me as I was walking home late one night and showed me how urgently he liked to masturbate (amazing, I couldn't see any penis to speak of, even though he'd pulled his pants down well far enough); the inevitable random drunk businessmen who would sit themselves down at my table EVERY TIME I ate out alone at night in my friendly old neighborhood of Sadang-dong and who would refuse to leave despite my polite-as-you-can-be protestations because they ALL thought I ought to be grateful for their married-man-on-soju company, and i KNOW they left young female Korean solo diners well alone, because THAT would be sexual harrassment; the man who followed me on the street for MILES, even into the fucking SALON where I had an appointment, and where my hairdresser had to call the peelers; NUMBERLESS taxi drivers who have tried to engage me in sparkling conversation - accompanied by descriptive gestures and leers - about sex and my marital status; then there are the laneway lurkers, and the sneaky subway touchers and feelers...) Oh, I could go on.

NONE of the above was ever warranted or invited on my behalf. I pride myself on being sensitive toward and respectful of cultural difference. I have many good Korean friends. I behave politely and conservatively wherever I go in public in Korea. Yet somehow I still manage to get the ajosshis all worked up. Yeah, go figure.

Michael, the cultural life here would be so impoverished without you and your fantastic blog. Don't give up. And don't listen to the wankers who try to bring you down in this comments section.

We readers need you! hwaiting!

And I need you, too, readers! Much love to those of you who encourage and challenge me in the comments. Seriously, knowing I could get this message out there helped keep me calm and sane through what was truly a ridiculous evening.

And I will continue to strive to keep this blog worth reading and produce stuff worthy of myself as well as this fine culture; the way I see it, the only stuff a Korean would want to really read and keep on reading is stuff that displays a certain honesty about life here, which itself comes from being committed enough to stick around when the going gets...sucky.

That is, my friends, what separates strangers from acquaintances from guests from friends from family. I just happen to place myself somewhere between the last two categories. And I don't judge those who choose to place themselves somewhere else, or who even choose to call it a night and go home. As Too Short once said, "Get in where you fit in." I'd add to that, "Or where you can make a space for yourself if there isn't one."

My main guiding principle is, that while you do, and no matter how many mistakes you make along the way, as long as you're making a sincere effort motivated by goodness, people will understand what you're doing.

No matter what I do, I'll always be an American. I don't look Korean, I'm not a native speaker of this language, I wasn't raised here, nor was I educated here. But as a person living here, I live according to its words, its rules, and its laws. But this society, like many others, is in flux, and some things are ambiguous, conflicting, and downright embarrassing, even ACCORDING TO THE VALUES HELD WITHIN THIS SOCIETY ITSELF, BY ITS FULL MEMBERS.

I continue to navigate my life here, which inherently exists at the margins, which by the very nature of the foreigner's constructed and maintained WEIRDNESS here, which continues to place me in bizarre and surreal situations, no matter how hard I try to stay out of the bad ones and enjoy the interesting experiences that the new ones offer.

But I know that no matter how hard I try, I'll always end up in them sometimes. It's inevitable, it's the law of averages. But I can only try to make the negative experiences into something more positive, and try to use my perspective and experiences as something that members of this society - which I define as any one of the interconnected millions of people living in Korea, regardless of skin color, religion, passport or visa status – can benefit from as I continue to strive to leave this world a better place than I originally found it.

And were it not for the privacy-related laws regarding photography in Korea, an American-style Holla Back! might be a good idea. Perhaps as a clearing house for evidence of all these things happening? As a way of documenting and discouraging, perhaps not on the individual level, but in the aggregate?

THAT would make for an interesting site, and for some interesting copy.

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Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.