Thursday, November 12, 2009 0 comments

University of Hawaii - Center for Korean Studies

There aren't enough cuss words to sum up my frustration in my lack of 1) Korean linguistic ability, 2) funds and 3) ability to start grad school. Patience isn't one of my strong points. I can admit that. However, delayed gratification is one. Unfortunately, I have no guarantees that my little noggin will be soaking up any formal education soon. Sigh.

Until the time when I can transform into a super nerd, I am forced to do my homework, so to say, on on of the best universities to offer English-language courses in Korean Studies. Ladies and gentlemen, The University of Hawaii at Manoa - Center for Korean Studies.
Anyways, I still have a lot to read and hopefully I'll update my findings soon.

University Options

Back in June, I wrote about grad school. It was my first attempt to find a place to study. Where could I even study? What programs are available? Below is my original post:
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Ink isn't even dry on my undergrad diploma and I'm considering graduate school. I mean, I should of course pursue higher education, but with all that's on my plate right now do I really need to be thinking about getting up and going for seconds?

I've got such a sizable student debt that it's baffling to think of doing anything other than working, but I know that I want to get as much formal education as quickly as possible while I'm young. But, looking at my tentative plans, it won't be for quite some time that I'm in a place to actually pursue a graduate degree. But, I need to keep my options open, right?

Needless to say, history is a passion. Korea is a passion. Korean history therefore is like chocolate covered pizza. So what are those sweet sweet options? A quick Google search yields:

- University of Hawaii - Manoa has a Korean Studies program. The classes offered sound incredibly exciting.
- Another America-based university University of Washington has an enticing program.
- IIC seems to have a program, too. But California....come on... might as well just go to UCLA instead...
- UPDATE: Great list of American options

- Yonsei has a program that looks to be quite competitive. The classes offered are making my mind drool.
- Korea University has a program, but I can't find much information on it.
- Good ol' Ewha has a program. Interesting. Wonder if they'll let a foreign guy attend that program, too?

- Australia seems to have a respectable program. I like their free podcast lecture series. Nicely done.
- Here's an exhaustive list, it seems. Will peruse later. (alt link)
- AATK might be able to point me into the right direction
- If all else fails, AAS might just have the right info for me. Wouldn't hurt to join, either.

I know that I would like to get a few years in Korea under my belt before delving into graduate studies. I also know that Korean language proficiency is one of my absolute goals right now and that very little else should be tackled until that happens...which prudently speaking won't happen for at least another three years. Plus, all of the programs require a certain level of language competency and I would like to have that part of my studies already taken care of (by and large). Either way, I'd prefer taking the classes in Korea, but I'd probably have a better chance at getting accepted in an American school. 흠.

I've got a lot of time to think about it, but I need to be prepared for the future. For now, it's just spitballing.
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Funny how little has changed. To expand, I'd like to get a little more specific on a few universities. Until then, it's still just a pipe dream. But a good one at that.

Robert Neff

This guy. Give me the chance to meet him. I have never been so enthralled with one writer's work as much as Robert Neff. He isn't the absolute best writer on the planet; that's not what is charming about his work. What I find interesting are his topics. No one else covers such a fascinating stories in such a way that seems effortless. There's no way his research is carefree. I wrote about him back in March but that post was in need of an update so here goes. Original post:
I can't get anything done this weekend because of a writer over at OhMyNews. He has written some fascinating articles covering all things Korean history-related including several pieces on the old Joseon period, a story of the sole survivor of an Italian trading ship that eventually made its way from Nagasaki to Jeju, and a thoroughly interesting article titled "An early case of foreign depravity in Asia" which has had me begging for the third and final part for months (!) come on already Neff - don't leave me hanging. Anyways, nicely done, sir.
Wouldn't you know it? I have found even more pieces of awesomeness by this guy. He cowrote a book that I'd love to get my hands on...once I can read Korean a bit better. Look don't get me wrong. I'm not one to butter up anyone. But it just so happens that a particular writer is writing subjects that I find incredibly engaging.

So with that, I give you what I can find.
I will surely write more later. Curious though as to a comment made @ Brian in Jeollanamdo - are there really two East Asian correspondents named Robert Neff? Regardless, I'd love to read a bio about the man but I can't seem to find one...

UPDATE 12/4/09: Met the man and he's a stand-up guy in every sense of the word. An inspiration for me and hopefully others. I also got a lot of my personal questions answered. A few I can share with you. For one, there are indeed two Robert Neffs as it turns out. Robert C. Neff is the Japan economist and sauna enthusiast and Robert D. Neff is the Korean historian and North Korean gold mine specialist.

Also, Neff has written a great deal more with the Korea Times and Elegance with Steven Revere but alas, I still can't find archived articles. I'm terribly disappointed because now having met the man, I sincerely hope that we can meet in a professional setting one day. Despite his understandably busy schedule he had a lot of great advice to bestow on a young aspiring runt like me.

Needless to say, his book that comes out hopefully by the end of the month will be a must-read.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 0 comments


originally posted elsewhere.

Acceptance is an interesting concept. As Americans, we accept many natural truths about our daily lives. We see homeless people but we don't care enough to do anything about it. Sure we're divided about how they became homeless or what to do about it but ultimately we accept them as a reality. Well, homeless people also exist in Korea. That's not my point.

My point for this post is acceptance in general. Are foreigners accepted as a part of daily life in Korea? Yes. Are they accepted as productive members of society? Not really. Will foreigners ever have a voice outside of the English teaching field? Sure. Eventually. But not right now. For now, it's a necessary evil - Asian-looking foreigners are here to work crummy conditions in factories and western-looking foreigners are here to teach the young people English so as to raise the international profile of Korea.

But, what is my place? I'm not here to teach English. I'm here to learn Korean history, the language, and to get married (what? you didn't see that coming?). So where do I fit in? Allow me to make an analogy.

I notice a lot of Koreans spitting in the streets in Seoul. Perhaps this happens out in the rural areas, too but I can only atest to the spitting nature of Seoulites. It is repulsive. But, it's an accepted part of Korean life. A small, accepted part.

That's kind of how I view foreign English teachers in Korea. A spit on a sidewalk. No, I don't mean literally and certainly don't mean any disrespect, but it's fitting in my mind. It's this unpleasant but fairly common sight to see - a foreign English teacher. Other Koreans think spitting is gross, sure, but it's accepted. Just like the sight of a Western-looking guy buying groceries, riding the bus, and holding hands with a Korean woman. Want your kid to speak English? Then accept the fact that some English teachers will be in the streets.

I had expected to not be lumped in the same category as the rest of foreigners because I love Korea; plus, I'm a "real" teacher at a public school, not an academy. Sorry again, I don't mean to look down on teachers without teaching degrees, but when your focus on ESL and actual teaching as an undergraduate, it's more applicable in the teaching job field than say, a degree in IT or Communications. Any 학원 teachers looking to leave nasty comments - try to be open minded. If the job market here was for computers or for speech giving, then those degrees would trump my teaching degree any day of the week.

Anyways, yeah I'm not a 학원 teacher, and I have a teaching degree. Fantastic. Too bad I have a white face...I'm the poster boy for America. I'm, therefore, an English teacher. Why else would I be in Korea?

This leads me to believe that no matter how fluent I become, no matter where I work, I'll still be immediately identified as an English teacher (at least at first glance). Teaching English to elementary school kids is not what I always want to do, so I'm not complaining nor am I venting. I simply am fascinated by this instant recognition - be it false or accurate. At the moment, it's dead accurate. But, five years from now? It had better be a different story.

It makes me think of old school 1860s Chinese immigrants to California. Chinese workers came in droves for promise of good pay to work on the new transcontinental railroad and previously, the gold mines. They likely had no interest in American life, its history, or its people. It was a job. However, some stayed in America despite severe discrimination. They were probably faced with plenty of Americans who looked at them and smirked "You're a railroad worker, aren't you?" They still preferred their new life in America over what they had back in China. Now, they were no longer exactly Chinese, not exactly Americans, but not yet Chinese-Americans. They were 'pioneers' in every sense of the word. My hat goes off to them.

But, clearly, no one looks at a Chinese-American today and think "Oh cool. You came here during the Gold Rush, right?" But that's why they came in such great numbers at first. Over time, some stayed, integrated into the mainstream society and are now are just as accepted as any other American. Chinese-Americans govern cities, own businesses, and are simply a natural part of what makes America so great. Sure, some racism still exists, but be reasonable, the system is set up to support minorities, no suppress them. Chinese-Americans have the same rights as any other American. They can work any job and do whatever they please just as all other Americans.

Unlike foreigners in Korea at the present.

Look, I'm not trying to say I'm a pioneer or that I'm doing anything as meaningful as building a railroad. But in the standard mold, I don't fit. I didn't come here to make money teaching and I didn't come here to be Korean. I don't expect to be instantly recognized as anything other than a young American teacher because frankly, that's what I look like. I don't get offended when people ask if I'm a 학원 teacher. I don't get offended when I don't get accepted in the group 100%. But, when other people such as myself come to Korea with a genuine interest in the culture, history, and language, it says something about the future of the country.

My Korean friends are much more open minded and accepting of me than say, the older generation. But that's indicative of old generations in any country. My friends are the young generation who will eventual rise up and replace the old generation in business and government. They will see foreigners like myself as something other than what their parents saw. They will simply see: 매튜. Just Matthew.

So, no, right now, I have no real rights or anything like that. No, I'm not fluent yet. But, I know that I'm in the right path.

My older brother Todd once shared with me one of the most profound life statements ever. "At the end of the day, can you honestly say that what you did today helped you get to where you wanna go tomorrow? If so, then you're doing the right thing. If not, do something else." How simple yet so incredibly insightful. If I never learn anything else from my brother, I will surely never forget this mantra.

It applies to me right now because I'm studying Korean now in order to be fluent tomorrow. I'm working as a teacher now because it affords me the time to study, network, and of course, pay the bills. I read Korean history books because I want to be prepared for graduate school.

One day, when my halvsie kids are running around, perhaps they won't be met with the question if they are in Korea to teach. Perhaps they will be seen as unique members of society and their individuality will be viewed as a positive contribution to the group. After all, Korea is already getting better at accepting mixed ethnicity kids in Korea - or at least in terms of accepting them as something other than the product of American military presence. Still not fully accepted but it's getting better for sure. 새미's work at YMCA is proof of this.

Anyways, here's to the future. I believe in you, Korea.

Reading Material

originally posted elsewhere.

What is the deal? I've been reading like it's going out of style. I'm impressed with myself. When I was a kid, I never read for pleasure. Or for school for that matter - thank you Cliff Notes.

In the last year, I have really been spending some quality time with my computer and a few select books. Granted, they have been in a fairly narrow scope: Korea. As technology continues to enrich my life, I've found a bunch of good reads online. Thanks FeedReader and Delicious for organizing everything.
  • Jumping The Asymptote is a cultural comparative blog written by Tony Hellman of ATEK fame. It's a newer blog but he is well versed and brings a calm, organized perspective to the table. I especially like his pieces on expatriates, 애교, and Korean dating p.1 and p.2
  • The Grand Narrative needs no introduction to fellow K-bloggers. James Turnbull is a smart mofo no doubt about it. His devotion and level of detail is daunting at first but extremely well placed. I applaud his efforts and follow his blog regularly. I'd recommend a starting point, but honestly, it'll just frustrate you. It's like "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie..." once you read one epic post, you'll be tempted to read another one. Do yourself a favor and check out his blog.
  • Gusts of Popular Feeling gets down and dirty. The man knows how to delve into a subject and break it into a million pieces. His ability to summarize is impressive. In an otherwise normal personal blog, he chooses a few topics here and there to analyze. Peak at his pieces on objectification of foreigners, Korean youth, and foreigner images in the Korean media.
  • White On Rice is an online gem. It's an uploaded personal diary with commentary from a former English teacher in 부산. From 1987. His story-telling ability is unparalleled - when I read his posts, I am instantly transported some twenty plus years ago working a job for peanuts, living a lifestyle unable to sustain forever, and living ill-equipped for a job whose industry and policy has changed by leaps and bounds since the 80s. Cringe at his stories of nights out on the town, laugh about his boom box, giggle at his pink blanket, and smile because he's just so rad.
  • Of course the rest is pretty standard (but good nonetheless) online reading material. Roboseyo, Marmot's Hole, Korea Beat, and the like.
Of course, a good book is hard to beat. Especially if it is about history. Here's what I've been reading recently courtesy of Living Social. I picked a few new books and I'm pretty excited to finish them.

The book I'm reading now is rocking all kinds of socks and I'm happy that it survived the summer of 2008 escape in the middle of night. It was raining the night I left Seoul and apparently I was in a hurry because in my haste, I was dragging my suitcase in the rain off the wheels. The book that was bearing the brunt of being drug all over Seoul (mixed with dirty rainwater) left a lovely almost scary four inch long corner of matted paper pulp which makes part of the book unreadable. All of the pages turn a little funny and many of the pages are stuck together but the book is totally worth the dirtiness. UPDATE:

Anyways, I seem to be reading a lot more than I did a year ago and I feel that the blog that I contribute to at KC101 is partially to blame. I like to read up on Korean news and I suppose that in a way for me to synthesize the information, I write a blog entry about it. It seems that the blog is more for my own understanding. Now that I think about it, it's like I'm giving myself homework. Well, in order to write meaningful posts, I need to read up on various subjects - anything ranging from blind dating, getting a teaching job in Korea, Korean age, to quantity of water consumption. Even though my contribution is but a simple overview filled with overtly cheesy jokes, I like writing for the class. I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep up the momentum I've kept since this time last year. I can't believe I've written as much as I have now that I think about it. So much more to go, though.

Asian Cinema

originally posted elsewhere.

I recently watched a great little documentary about Asian-American men's roles in American cinema. It's a 2006 production called The Slanted Screen and it delves into the silent era of Hollywood, as well as aims to debunk the stereotypes of Asian-American men on film. It's quite comprehensive but curiously leaves out the international success stories of George Takei, John Woo, and Jackie Chan.

Another series in the same vein is the BBC's Asian Invasion (2005). This three part series chronicles the history, development, and influence of Asian cinema. If you are looking for a primer for Asian cinema, each episode highlights the most influential and notable players. Of particular note is the episode on Korean film, for obvious reasons. All in all, it's entertaining and the host does a good job of keeping the pace of the interviews interesting. Take a look:
For those that know me personally, you would know that I only pretend to be mean because I like to see my friends smile. Otherwise, I'm all talk. But, I must pause for a moment and do something culturally insensitive - "mean" if you will. If you would like to hear the absolute worst attempt at the standard greeting in Korean, then I would ask you to watch the third episode as linked above and wait just seven short seconds. You will be shocked and dismayed. Okay, mean rant over.

For more into South Korean cinema, look no further than who continues to provide the most comprehensive English language resource for all things Korean film related. I especially like how films are broken into reviews by their year of production.

And of course, who can argue with wikipedia's article entry on Korean film? Take note of the all-time box office records chart. That's a lot of dough.

For my own personal reviews of Korean movies, here are parts one and two as well as Korean drama reviews here. All three of which are screaming for an update.

For present day listings of Korean movies shown with English subtitles, the Hub of Sparkle has weekly listings. Thanks Paul Ajosshi.

G.I.s Gone Wild

originally posted elsewhere.

I've been on a history bender recently. I mean, it's always a 24/7 interest but it seems that lately I've carved out more time to read and watch some truly compelling sources of history. I'll just mention my two favorites out of the four or five I've come across. these two sources are easy to swallow - less than 50 minutes each and both will freakin blow you away with their content.

The first one is as scandalous as it gets - it deals with 21 American POWs that, after given the chance to come back to America at the end of the Korean war, refuse repatriation and chose instead to live in China. Keep in mind that this took place during the height of McCarthyism. Watch They Chose China (2005) to see what exactly happened.

For an even more shocking documentary (which apparently is possible) watch this short on a few American soldiers who crossed the DMZ in the 1960s in order to live in North Korea. Most ended up starring in propaganda films portraying evil foreigners in the Unsung Heroes series. I really wish I had a copy of Crossing the Line (2006) to get an even closer look. In the meantime, here's a two part 60 Minutes episode from 2007 here and here. UPDATE: I think I found the documentary here.

That there's some good history.

North Korea documentaries

originally posted elsewhere.

I have come across several remarkably well done resources regarding North Korea. My fascination is steeped both in my interest in history and DPRK's relationship to the ROK. It seems the more I find out about North Korea, the more surprised I am. My history nerd sense is tingling!

Here are what I would consider mandatory viewing material for anyone interested in history and North Korea in general:


A new blog and a new beginning. It's about time.

This blog is highly inspired by this blog by Korean Studies graduate students at George Washington University. Although I'm not nearly at the stage of editing and revising wikipedia entries, I hope that through this blog I can chart my progress.

This blog won't be as broad spectrum as An Acorn in the Dog's Food or even my culture blog at KC101. Also, it won't be as specific as DPRK Studies. I would like to make it similar to Frog in a Well but obviously updated a bit more frequently.

Ultimately, I want this blog to be a place where I can write about what I've learned recently from reading as well as link to recent book reviews related to Korean History and Korean Studies in general. I hope through this blog I can post some things I've learned and link to some awesome articles I've read recently.

Anyways, I hope to use this dedicated space to prepare myself for the rigors of graduate study despite the fact that it seems like it will be forever before I can commit myself to such a formal study. More money more problems? At this point I'll take the more problems...

Before I get into any new posts, I'm going to repost and slightly edit some old posts from my previous blog. Enjoy.