Cho Seung Hui is big news around Korea right now. He’s big news all over. Three things now instead of two that Korea is known for: the war, the ’88 Olympics and the Virginia Tech. Killer. I have no doubt there are plenty of people around here who actually have a little bit of pride that Korea is getting so much world attention. But the pride is mixed with embarrassment that a Korean did such a thing, a healthy dose of shame that comes from their idea that Koreans are all brothers and sisters and it was their “brother” who committed this atrocity, and fear that other Koreans, especially those in the U.S. will be judged based on his actions.
I saw on the Korean news an interview with a Korean chick going to University in America, (not Virginia Tech.), and she was saying how her parents called from Korea and told her she had to quit and come home in case the Americans decided to take revenge. Ridiculous!
However, I got to talking a bit at work with a couple teachers and some Koreans about the whole deal and a T.A. nicknamed Rita, (she’s Korean), brought up an event that happened here in Korea five years ago. Some American soldiers ran over a couple Korean schoolgirls with a tank in Eui Jung Boo. After the U.S. made an apology Koreans were demanding that the two tank pilots be tried in Korean courts and calling it intentional and Korean people were just freely hating other people for the tragedy. The thing is they were racially generous with their hatred. They were hating all Americans and all people who just might be Americans.
I live just down the road from Eui Jung Boo and let me tell you the people there are STILL pissed off at ALL non-Koreans about that. I swear to God the second you cross the border between Yang Ju, where I live, and Eui Jung Boo the asshole meter jumps off the charts. On the rare occasion I go to Eui Jung Boo I ALWAYS have trouble with people. I think they are still avenging the tank tragedy. I told this to Rita and she agreed.
I haven’t had too many run-ins with racism here in Yang Ju. I like it. It’s boring but the people are nice. I DO get the occasional group of kids one of which is trying to impress the others by making the joke that just never gets old here in Korea, saying “hello” to the foreigner and then laughing uproariously when the foreigner politely replies. It’s like tapping on a fish tank and watching the fish speed up for half a second or leaning out a car window and yelling “MOOOOOO” as you go by a field full of cows. Just trying to get an interesting reaction out of a foreign species. And that’s how people from other countries are regarded here in Korea whether secretly or even consciously. This, as I see it, is the lesson to be learned here in Korea from the Cho tragedy.
Now, I know the U.S. of A. isn’t completely free from racism but I have no doubt that Koreans will be treated no differently by Americans because of this incident. Yet the immediate reaction of so many Koreans was WE are so ashamed that one of US did that! WE sure hope that THEY don’t make things difficult for the rest of US.
The average Korean is very similar to other Koreans. Frighteningly so to people like me who come from cultures in which uniqueness is valued and encouraged. Koreans more than any other people are always making VERY sweeping statements about Koreans. And from my experience, and everyone else who’s been here for a while, sweeping statements about Koreans are almost always much more accurate than they would be for most other countries. You can say very accurately something like “Koreans like kimchi.” Or “Koreans work long hours.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by my Korean students if Canadians do this or do that. So many times that in the interest of brevity I’m beginning to just say yeah we do or no we don’t rather than give the whole politically correct answer and mention how everyone is an individual etc. etc. But recent events have made me start questioning ever giving the simple answers to these questions. Because Koreans NEED to know about idividuality and how differences are okay within the same race. They could also use some training on how to see people rather than race.
I’ve been saying for years that because Korea is still technically at war they haven’t been able to start “educating” here yet, they are still “training.” This is one of the end results. They tend to think like a soldier thinks. Soldiers are trained to do what they’re told. They would give their lives for a member of their unit or corps or whatever. A member they don’t even know! They love their fellow soldiers like they love their family members. Koreans are trained to think of other Koreans like this.
I cheer for Canadian athletes in the Olympics. I sing along with my national anthem at hockey games. I support Canada and Canadians in lots of ways just because it’s my country and they are my countrymen. And women. But where does a healthy patriotism turn into unhealthy racism? I would suggest that Koreans cross that point. Most of them anyway, excuse the sweeping statement.
The reaction to the Cho incident has brought this to the fore. And other recent news reflects Korean xenophobia too. It’s hard to say who their favourite target for it is, the U.S. or Japan. But it bothers me reading about Koreans waiting for the Japanese to apologize for wartime mistreatment. I think almost everybody, including me, would like to see all the old surviving soldiers from Japan come to Korea and apologize to the old surviving Korean women who were “comfort women” during Japanese occupation. THAT would have some significance. But getting people who were uninvolved to apologize to people who were uninvolved seems a little too much like “We are all Korean and we hate all of you because you are Japanese so we want you prostrate and humbled before us.” And maybe the Japanese are smart not giving too heartfelt an apology because I don't doubt the Korean reaction would not be satisfaction, rather they would start asking for more revenge like they did in the Eui Jung Boo tank incident. In fact they already HAVE received an apology from Japan AND they have received some reparations in the form of money. If Japan admitted to wrongdoing it might just encourage Koreans to demand mass executions or secessions from land or waters or whatever. And who knows where it would end?
In the coming weeks I sure hope Koreans can see the reaction of Americans, or lack thereof, toward the Koreans in America. I hope they can use it as an ideal for their people to strive for. Because I’ll tell you what, if a Canadian shot up some students at a Korean university I think I’d be getting the hell out of here. Or at least taking my Canadian flag off my backpack for a while.