Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ask the Expat

Ever since the US election ended, I've tried to refocus some of my attention back towards Korean issues and have found it trivial and tiring. The K-Blogosphere is already so polluted with everyone writing the same thing, that I decided that I have had enough of it.

That being said, I am not abandoning Korea or the scene, but I will alter my focus.

I have been an expat in Korea for nearly half a decade and have seen just about everything. On top of that, I am the creator of the largest ESL Teacher group on Facebook where I constantly field questions on everything ranging from immigration and teaching to kayaking and rock climbing. There really is nothing that has not been addressed.

So, rather than relying on the sometimes confusing design that Facebook and other forums offer, I decided to answer each question I receive in detail. I'll usually answer your question on the blog within 24 hours and if I don't know the answer, I'll point you to someone who does.

I also understand that this is very similar to Ask a Korean, but I figured adding a helpful twist to it for us expats wouldn't hurt.

So, if you wanna check out Ask the Expat, then there's your link...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Texas Secedes from the Union...finally.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided that his state has had just about enough of the Obama administration and Democratic rule and has declared Texas as a sovereign... something.

“I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state,” Gov. Perry said. “That is why I am here today to express my unwavering support for efforts all across our country to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I believe that returning to the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution and its essential 10th Amendment will free our state from undue regulations, and ultimately strengthen our Union.”

Of course, Palin and Glenn Beck approve.

The real question is how do we rescue the more liberal-minded Texans? Would they stay and form a internal resistance, like the French Resistance during WWII? Or would we need to form an underground railroad to shuttle them to safety? What happens to the NASA space center in Houston?

My ideas:

1) Let Texas go and we build one of those fences they love so much around them.

2) Encourage Mexico to reclaim it.

3) Allow them to elect W again.

Honestly though, I doubt that Perry could point to even one specific change that has negatively impacted Texas. Could someone please name ONE single Republican that is not acting like a little baby nowadays?

As Jon Stewart said, "You're in the minority. It's supposed to taste like a shit sandwich."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Koreatown vs. Little Bangladesh: The Dokdo of America

The Korean-American community in California has had their hands full recently. It hasn't even been a week since Susie Kim was shot and killed in Santa Ana and now another Korean-American, Joseph Han, has met the same fate.

The details surrounding those shootings have yet to surface as the investigations continues, but Korean-Americans are facing another threat. Their bastion in LA known as Koreatown has been invaded by the pesky Bangladeshis.

"The Bangladeshi American community says that its numbers have swelled to more than 10,000. Last year, proponents filed a petition with the city to designate the area from Third Street to Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue to Western Avenue as "Little Bangladesh."

The problem with this is that the inhabitants of Koreatown have never had to file a petition before. (They have now.) The law didn't protect such enclaves, but offered only de facto status and since no other migrant community has threatened their "sovereignty" they saw no reason to do so.

In the last 30 years or so, a six-square-mile area west of downtown Los Angeles has become an enclave of some 50,000 Korean-Americans, the largest concentration of Koreans in the country. The district is now commonly known as Koreatown. But on the city’s official maps, Koreatown is nowhere to be found, because until 2006, Los Angeles had no formal process for designating neighbourhoods. Korean civic groups say they always simply assumed that the area was officially Koreatown."

The amount of Bangladesh's living in LA as per the 2000 Census was a measly 1700, but now some estimates are closer to 10,000. That's a huge increase that has been fueled mostly by natural disaster, poverty and civil war.

Let's take a look at what we're talking about here. Below is a wider view of LA with Koreatown highlighted.

Now, here is a closer look at it with the area that was petitioned to become "Little Bangladesh".

That's a pretty big slice right out of the center of Koreatown and the local Korean community is angry.

"It means power," she said as she hemmed a pair of pants inside the dry cleaners where she's worked for a decade. "Koreatown is already established. . . . Why can't they find another place?"

Besides the obvious rants that some Koreans aren't great with multiculturalism, she brings up a good point. It's clear that the Bangladeshis want to capitalize on the progress that Koreatown has made and kind of bypass the whole process of creating a migrant district. LA is huge. There are tons of places where rent is also cheap, but they chose Koreatown and it's very center at that. If the Bengladeshi population continues to grow at the rate that they have been for the past decade, then the location of Little Bangledesh certainly poses a threat to Koreatown. If the proposed location was, say, on the outskirts of town, then its growth wouldn't necessarily threaten Koreatown as much.

I totally side with the Koreans on this one. They moved to that area over 40 years ago. Since then, they have opened stores, dry-cleaners, restaurants and other businesses. It's been a cultural destinationa and a haven for Koreans for decades. During the LA Riots, they defended it from thugs, gangsters and looters. They have shed blood for that district. They deserve to be able to retain the naming rights to the area. The City of LA should not ignore the shared experiences that have bound the Korean-American population to that area.

Luckily for the Koreans, I do not see this passing. I hope that LA would not shit on their Korean community like that.

If it does pass and "Little Bangladesh" does get recognized by the city, then Koreans have a couple options. They can try to bully the Bangladeshis out or they could work together and try to collaboratively promote the area.

Not a great month for Korean-Americans in Southern California.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Field Trip to the DMZ"

ROKDrop and One Free Korea have this PBS video up. I thought I'd psot it here.

Shouting for their mothers was the saddest.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Hyundai Nuvis: It's Pretty Damn Cool

It looks like Hyundai's got a few fresh ideas.

The 11th concept car penned by Hyundai's California Design Center in Irvine is called the Nuvis. Sporting gullwing doors, the Nuvis is noteworthy for two reasons: First, its hybrid drivetrain will find its way into the next-generation Hyundai Sonata, and second, Hyundai says the concept's styling hints at what the Santa Fe's replacement could look like.

I must admit that I don't know about much cars, but this one sounds pretty cool. I like the gull-wing doors and the big entrance to the back seat. I've had a two door before and it was always a pain for my passengers to get back there.
"The large gullwing doors open to a luxurious 4-seat cabin with a "cascading" floor and ambient blue lighting. The seat fabric is made from 100-percent reclaimed soda bottles, while the seatbelts were made by Harveys Original Seatbeltbags (they make handbags out of seatbelts); Harveys also provided two matching handbags for the Nuvis."

I'm not sure about the seat fabric being from bottles, but it sounds "environmental". Still, the best part is that it's a parallel hybrid. That's cool.
"...the Nuvis can be driven in all-electric mode, gasoline-engine-only mode as well as any combination thereof. Engine management software automatically shuts off the gasoline engine when the Nuvis comes to a stop, improving overall fuel mileage and providing zero emissions, while Hyundai's Integrated Starter Generator (ISG) restarts the engine once pressure is applied to the accelerator pedal."

This concept video -while a little overdramatic and blue- sold me.

Did you see that steering wheel? That's sweet. On a side note, did one of the guys in the video pronounce "Hyundai" (현대) as "Hundai" (헌대)? I guess it's better than Hun-DYE (헌다이) as it so often is in America. I'm still not sure why they didn't spell is Hyundae from the beginning. It would have saved some trouble. But, I guess it's the same as the name issue -any effort will suffice.

They did manage to add an extremely useless high-tech bragging point component to the car's computer system.
The Nuvis's instrument panel streams information throughout the cabin, with passengers able to access each other via Methode Electronics TouchSense technology that links all four seats; after all, why go to the trouble of actually talking to one another?

This is a great time for Hyundai to introduce a new concept like this. Aside from the recession, they obviously have America's attention and should take advantage of it and keep on riding the wave.

Not that you care, but my wife and I bought new bicycles today. They're foldable and totally sexy.

2NE1's New Song: Lollipop

At first I hated it. Then I liked it, but by the end of the song, I decided that I hated it again. It kind of reminds me a little of DISCO by 엄정화 which was equally fun at first, but also grew irritating by the end of the first listen. Even though this one might be my favorite Lollipop-based song, I don't think Lil Wayne or The Chordettes should be worried.

The lyrics are repulsive and the hair is absurd, but in its defense, it does have a fun 90s-era dance beat to it. Then again, that's all Big Bang-related groups do, so this is nothing special. I think K-Pop needs to start taking some cues from Heavy D & The Boyz or move past its current, but already tired sound.

Would I add to my MP3? -no. Will I ever listen to it again? I hope not.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Americans Love Teabagging. Do you?

You've heard the news. Americans love to teabag.

Best quotes:

"It's going to be teabagging 24/7 by the time of midterms"

"Who wouldn't want to teabag John McCain?"

"Tea bag the fools in DC."

"Let's teabag Obama."

"Teabag the liberal Dems before the teabag you."

Despite what the right-wing media is saying, no one thinks that this is a movement organized by the people. The average person knows what teabagging is.

Who would you like to tea bag?

Asian-Americans Must Adopt English Names -OR- Rep. Betty Brown is a Racist

At least that's what a conservative Texas lawmaker wants.

AUSTIN — A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.”

The comments caused the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday to demand an apology from state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. But a spokesman for Brown said her comments were only an attempt to overcome problems with identifying Asian names for voting purposes.

The exchange occurred late Tuesday as the House Elections Committee heard testimony from Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Ko told the committee that people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent often have problems voting and other forms of identification because they may have a legal transliterated name and then a common English name that is used on their driver’s license on school registrations.

Names that are "easier for Americans to deal with", huh? By making this statement she is essentially classifying what is and isn't "American".This line in the sand is dangerously alienating to huge groups of Americans.

Does she see American as a white country full of Jones', Smiths', Williams' and this guy?

Cause this is how I see it. (And yes, that is from California Dreams.)

Last year alone, half of the new citizens in the US were Hispanics -mostly from Mexico, Cuba and El Salvador. Does that mean they need to alter their names as well? Of course it doesn't. That would cost her the Latino vote.

There is nothing easy about pronouncing names from around the world. Sometimes you get it right and sometime you don't, but just because you can't say it accurately, doesn't give mean THEY should change their name to accommodate your ignorance.

Personally, I don't like it when my students (especially adults) take English names. I know a lot of them see it as a nickname while their mothers spend hours online trying to figure out which one is good enough or popular enough, but your name is your name.

My name is George and in Korean it is written 조지 and pronounced "Jo-ji". Do I get upset when my name is pronounced like this? No.I understand where I am. I know it's a little uncomfortable for Koreans to make the "R" sound when saying my name. I'm not offended though. The Asian-American community is not going to be upset if their name is pronounced a little incorrectly, but making them change it under the guise of voter identification should not be an option.

Take the immortal Kim Yu-na for instance.

Her name is 김연아 which should be written and pronounced as Yeon-ah, but most people in fact pronounce it 김유나 or Kim Yu-na. She has been called Yu-na Kim over and over again, yet is not bothered by it. My brother-in-laws name is 김영승 or Kim Young-seung, but when my family was over here, they called him Kim Young-song. Did he care? Not at all. In fact, he was happy that they were trying.

Ultimately, this Texas lawmaker is gunning for voters in a state that is filled with ethnic diversity and racial tension. She's stoking the fire here and decided to throw the Asian-American community under the bus (again) since they have long been considered "Natural Republicans" and are a sure thing. (Not true by the way.)

She really displayed here intelligence with one of her closing statements.

"Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Really? Is that what the Chinese-Americans wanted? They wanted people to learn Chinese so everyone can properly pronounce Chinese names? What a racist c**t.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Korean Cops and Traffic Laws for Expats: Some Advice

I'd like to offer some advice to any expats out there who also have a scooter, motorcycle or even a car in the form of a simple story.

One of the powers of being a motorized bike driver in Seoul is the ability to ignore all traffic laws. The unstated rule among us is that if it's clear, go. It's certainly not allowed by the law, nor is it safe, but the bike culture here is based on speed and efficiency (a trait that many facets of Korean life lack). Most of the drivers out there are delivery drivers who carry huge loads and packages on the back of their bikes and a speedy arrival translates to more income.

I always laugh when I'm sitting on my scooter in the middle of these leather clad delivery road warriors. They're always smoking and are usually filthy looking. I, on the other hand, am much cleaner, listening to "Take My Breath Away" and wearing a suit. I look pretty damn out of place, so I laugh. The only other motor scooterists in suits are the entry-level guys who can't afford a car yet.

To the story...

The other day, I was waiting at an intersection for a green light that never seemed to come. My fellow drivers were only adding to my impatience by constantly revving their engine as they inched closer to running the light. Finally, the coast was clear and we all ran the light. That's usually how I judge it. If they go, I try to blend into to the mix and dash across the intersection. Most of the time, we're in no real danger, but if even if we were, we certainly wouldn't we give it a second thought. That's what we do.

As free or innocent as we usually feel, this time the police, who were literally hiding in the bushes, did not seem to agree. They had set up little red-light trap. Since I have a scooter, I have quicker acceleration than most motorcycle deliver guys, so I was leading the back (which I imagine looks equally as funny). The fuzz emerged from the shrubs and darted into the street waving batons, directing us to the side on the road. I thought about ignoring the officer's orders, but decided it would be best to pull over and see what they had to say.

I stopped the bike, pulled out the key and waited to be questioned and, I presumed, ticketed. An officer who looked like he was in his mid-forties approached me and asked me to remove my helmet. Up until this point, he assumed I was a Korean man. He was prepared for that, so when I took off my helmet, he was noticeably shocked. It totally threw him off his game. He paused and just started at me. After an awkward 30 second love-stare, he began Korean.

He tried to make it simple for me by speaking only in nouns with no verbs or anything "tricky".

"운전 면허증(drivers license)."

I knew what he had asked for. Simple context was more than enough. I understood, but did I want him to know that?

"뭐라고" I responded.

He said it again.

This time I just shrugged and pretended that I didn't understand a word he was saying. In frustration, he walked over to discuss the situation with his fellow officers. I watched them out of the corner of my eye. He was trying to find someone who spoke English. Besides the fact that they were busy dealing with other angry drivers, I could tell that none of them did. I don't think the Academy requires TOEIC scores.

He walked back over to me. He was looking at my license plate, or at least where my license plate is supposed to be. He pointed at it and said something I actually couldn't understand.

I shrugged.

Again because context is quite helpful in tricky situations, I fully understood what he was trying to say.I assume it was, "Where is your license plate? You should have a license plate!"

I shrugged.

After a few minutes of silent frustration, he looked at me and told me to carry my drivers license.

I shrugged.

"GO!" he fired back.

I did.

My first thought was that if this was America, I would have gotten a ticket and my lack of communication skills would have only made it bigger. No American police officer would do such a thing, but this guy did.

Either way, this officer had options. He could have found an English speaker if he wanted to. He could have asked for my ID card and tried to give me some sort of fine. He could have pushed harder for my drivers license or plate, but he didn't. It was easier to let me go than to go through the trouble. It boils down to the fact that these officers are underpaid and lazy. On top of that, he's not a Gangnam cop, so bribery is off the table, so it was just easier for him.

What did I learn?

Pretending not to understand a word (although a little embarrassing) got me out of a ticket and maybe more. Not having license plate on the bike (it's in my storage compartment under my seat) made it impossible to track. I was essentially a unregistered dude that somehow ascended to a level of greatness where traffic laws don't apply.

My advice to other expat motorcycle drivers?

Take off your license plates and play dumb. Forget all the "perpetuating a stereotype" or "being rude" talking points and play the game. It pays off.

Will this work everytime? No, but I assure you it won't hurt.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Seoul Traffic Lights

Wow. Was that almost two weeks away from this bad boy? Sorry...

As you know, I am brave enough to drive in this accident-ridden city and cool enough to drive a motor scooter. The other day, I discovered something about driving here.

When I go to work, I leave at the same time everyday. I take the same route and have even timed how fast I need to go in order to hit every light perfectly (70-80km/hr), so a drive from Gangnam to Jamsil takes twelve minutes rather than thirty. It took a few days to master, but I had it down well.

On April 1st, I did the same thing I always did. I left the house at the same time and was at the appropriate traffic light at 12:35 -just in time to beat the light. Well, this time, I was off. The light was not green like it always had been. I figured it was a fluke and waited it out. After all, the lights are on a cycle and I'll just pick up the next one in a few minutes.

So the light turned green and I sped on in my normal James Dean fashion, but was stopped at the next light. This pattern continued the entire way there. I have to go through nearly 20 lights to get to Jamsil and I got caught at every one. My commute took thirty minutes and I was late.

The next day I tried again and again was duped. The following day, I tried to leave a little earlier, but still couldn't manage my drive so I hit the lights accurately. Remember, I drive a scooter, so besides being very cool, I don't ever get caught in traffic. I drive on sidewalks, alleys, between buses, on the other side of the road and anywhere else that gets me to my destination faster. The traffic is not a hindrance.

The only thing I can assume that happened was the the City of Seoul, in a surprisingly clever move, changes the patterns of the lights every month so that motorcycle guys and taxis don't game the system which could lead to increased accidents as we believe we can predict the flow of traffic, therefore leading to carelessness and more accidents.

It's smart and I have yet to figure out April's system, but I will soon and then BAM! it'll be May.

Touche 서울...