today was national sports day

Unlike the rather grim militaristic putting soft cranky students through their paces that was sports day at Baekyoung, sports day at Cheongpyeong High School was a really festive occasion.  All the kids were dressed in all manner of trainers (track suits) and displaying all kinds of individuality and throwing themselves with zest into the physical competition.  When the loudspeaker was not blaring Kpop, a whole cadre of students were playing traditional drums (which was really exciting) and the kids were all chanting/singing cheers, and it had the raucous feel and fever pitch of a football playoff.

There was even a teacher relay race that I wished I could have participated in, but nobody told me about it or asked me to.  Since I haven’t joined the other teacher events I wasn’t told about this one:  I guess joining in is an all or nothing proposition.

The day before was my evening conversation class, and I attempted to discuss teen issues in the news.  I made the mistake of reading the articles to the first group, which was a total kill joy, but by the second group we were having a really good conversation.

One of the articles was about the discovery that interviews with defecting N. Korean students had watched a lot of S. Korean movies and dramas.  My students weren’t impressed by this at all.  I had to explain that it was against the law for them to watch capitalist influences, and that they had to do this in secret.  No response.  And then I had to point out to them that they can dream about travel and if they work hard enough, they actually can travel, but that for people in communist countries they couldn’t even entertain dreaming of travel.  A couple looked sad afterward:  I don’t think empathy for N. Koreans is part of their curriculum at all.

Another article was about a proposition by the Korean government to limit access to on-line games for six hours every day, during the hours students should be sleeping.  Another proposition was to increasingly slow down the games until they are rendered unplayable.  I asked the students what they thought of this, and they thought it was a good idea.  (recently a S. Korean died of exhaustion playing games and even more recent still a young couple’s baby starved to death while they were playing a virtual role playing game where they had to take care of a virtual baby.

I told them I was surprised they were all for the curfew, as American students would be up in arms if their government dictated what they could and couldn’t do with their free time.  “Oh!” One explained, “you mean freedom!”  Yes.  If a person wants to die playing video games, that’s their right.  But, I explained, I didn’t think American students were as obsessed with games as Korean students were, so maybe it was a good idea.  But personal liberties were carefully guarded in America, even in the face of some people being irresponsible.

One article comparing surveyed students in Korea, China, and Japan determined that Korean students were almost twice as unhappy.  I asked the students if they thought this was so and why, and they all chimed in entrance exams. But, I countered, didn’t Japan also have these entrance exams?  Yes they countered, but parents (makes pushing movement) much stress.  I don’t know, I said.  I heard Japanese parents were also very demanding of their children.  They still maintained that they had it worse than all the other Asian countries.

The same article also said that the survey showed Chinese students valued academic success the most while Korean students valued money the most.  I told them I was confused about this, because as a Confucian society I had read Korea valued academics above all things.  They said that all their parents cared about is that they made money and so they must all be doctors, lawyers, and CEO’s.  “Yes, but not everyone can be a doctor, lawyer, or CEO!” I exclaimed.  “Yes, but that’s how it is and they must compete for that,” said Winnie.  She went on to lament that this is why the school has no art teacher and why she can’t go to art school.  Two of them both said, almost in unison, “I want to live in America.”  Another student had tried to test to get into music school but failed.  These are really sweet girls who really love music and art.  But they are told they have to pursue money.  I suspect their children will be given more options than they have been given.

And so, I skipped the other articles talking about how 1 in 10 Korean students have considered suicide.

The last article was four years old and talking about how Korean students send 60 texts a day.  I went around the table and asked each student how many texts they make.  Tiffany pulled out her two cell phones (which she can’t put down in my class – grrr) and told me over 200.  When I gasped, she explained, “boyfriend.”  The other students were either at about 100 or they said they made very few texts because their homeroom teacher took their cell phones at the beginning of the day and they didn’t get them back until 9pm.  I asked Tiffany how much those texts cost and didn’t her mom get angry?  There was some discussion translating the Korean answer into English, and 300,000 won came up (about $280)  “You mean 30,000 won?” I asked.  “No,” she said, “one time it was 300,000.  My mom was very angry.”  It turns out the second cell phone is from her boyfriend so she is free to text him anytime she wants and he pays the bill…Tiffany is a 1st year high school student, so her boyfriend must be graduated and working somewhere…

On my way home every evening, especially the late nights when I have the conversation class, it’s evident to me that the students have quite a rich social life.  I mean, teenagers WILL be teenagers no matter what conditions they are subjected to.  They will find a way.  Even if they are in school for 12+ hours every day, you can bet they aren’t studying in earnest any more than American students. At most maybe 2 hours more prior to exams.  They are doing very little real acquiring of knowledge, even if they are warming a seat and flipping through pages.  So the way everyone is always counting the hours and comparing them to other countries just isn’t a valid comparison, because they are mentally shut down half of the time they are there.

Thrown together so many hours with a common enemy (math, English, draconian teachers, pushy moms and the college entrance exam) they are exceptionally close. During class and in between class there seems to much more joviality, horse-play, exuberance and comraderie than I’ve seen among American students.  I also see a lot of coddling of the students by teachers and parents.  It’s this I-know-we-push-you-too-hard so here’s a treat, I-know-we-push-you-too-hard so you don’t have to bother with this or that, I-know-you-are-obligated-to-do-this-or-that so I’ll ignore how rude you were, etc.  So they’re constantly getting this message that they’ve got it bad from the very same people making it bad.

Sometimes I think part of Korean students’ belief they are unhappy is in large part programmed into them.  Because I look around and they’ve really got quite a nice childhood.  And an extra long childhood.  An overly long, coddled childhood.  It’s going to be very very interesting to see what happens to Korea’s economic miracle when these students, accustomed to tuning out and sick of competing, enter a work world still run by absolute authority.  Korean society is depending on fear of not having money to be the true disciplinarian.  But on that, I’m really not so sure…


23 thoughts on “today was national sports day

  1. “It’s going to be very very interesting to see what happens to Korea’s economic miracle when these students, accustomed to tuning out and sick of competing, enter a work world still run by absolute authority.” Don’t worry, Korea will be ok because Koreans are very resilent people.

  2. I meant more on the lines of the economic miracle is finished and credit collapse looming.

    Koreans who survive are resilient, but I think the huge number of losses due to suicide and emigration tell another story.

    I’m tired of Koreans painting themselves as and trying to be superhuman. They’re just human like all of us and pay the price like all of us. Accepting their own humanity will bring them better health and well being.

    And what I meant for the article was that the future adults here are a mixture of serious slackers and also independent beautiful minds who are going to be making more holistic choices for their own families.

  3. Comparing Korea to USA is like comnparing apples to orange and will only lead to bias observations.

  4. Hogwash. Human beings are human beings.

    I look around and the ajummas here are just like my mom was, (bless her heart) only she was them two decades earlier. Seriously. Same clothes. Same haircut. Same demeanor. Some social circles. There are many, many parallels between present day conservative Korea and America of the 50’s and early 60’s.

    America pulled itself out of a rigid social order and into a place where people can now discuss what they once silently suffered, and Korea can too.

    Like it or not, Korea laid down with America. And it’s got to learn to control their love of American style capitalism with the rest of the western ideas which keep things in balance. Because Korea is still in hysterical reactionary mode: without the semi caste system, everyone’s scrambling to buy status that doesn’t belong to them: they hated being subject to Neo-Confucianism and slaving for the collective because they never benefited from it. When can they ever have enough?

    I hope for them a wonderful life and for them to stop being so miserable. And I think if a lot of them stopped for a minute and thought about the treadmill they were running on, they would want to step off of it as well.

    Collectivism isn’t what is saving Korea. Collectivism is what is holding Korea back. Primarily because it’s not sincerely ascribed to. And it gets far too much credit for the economic miracle, in my opinion. Whenever people face perishing anywhere, they pull together for the greater good – even in individualistic societies. And those pushes in times of crisis are not sustainable. Ask my pressured, burned out students.

    Koreans want so badly to be proud of themselves, and they have LOTS of GREAT REASONS TO BE PROUD. But the things they cite are not things to be proud of, but symptoms of pathologies: they are crappy collectivists, they are superficial collectivists, they resent their filial obligations and are crappy Confucianists. And the stress and pepper paste is eating holes in their stomachs.

    The things they should be proud of is good humor, tenacity, will-power, and poetic minds. The things I’d like them to be proud of is generosity, compassion, and self-criticism.

    And, I’m encouraged, because the Koreans I speak with are also disturbed by Korean values and THAT means there is hope for a better Korea, which is what all my work this year is about.

    And we can do this because Koreans are not apples and Americans are not oranges, but people: people who want love and happiness. That shared humanity transcends empty ideology, survival hysteria, and local customs.

  5. You know, she wouldn’t have those feelings to begin with if she were in the country of her birth. There wouldn’t be a need for self esteem videos if you weren’t bringing her into a racist society.

    The fact that people need to make these videos is SAD. One of the things that makes me shake my head in dismay the most is how internationally adopting parents are always having to read instruction manuals to care for their different children. And I made the mistake of joining an adoptive parent group recently and the level of temperature checking adoptive parents appear to do to their children makes me really feel for those kids.

    And everyone is so supportive and congratulatory (self and mutually) about their efforts – and it’s all coming from a white privilege perspective. They try so hard to get their children to feel good about their forced migrations.

    White privilege IS a bad thing in my opinion. You go and you “help” another country by taking its children. You go and “help” that child by removing it from a society that needs help, but create a whole host of (unacknowledged) problems in its wake. You think you’re creating a multi-cultural world, but actually you’re only creating a more multi-cultural appearing white world. That the kid has to deal with. So much deceit we must sift through. Corn row skills are no substitute for the culture you can’t give her.

    But it’s too late for that now. And you could never do anything wrong. So justify, justify.

    And to be honest, you’re getting on my nerves. I’m not loving you like I do David or Ed. Go sell your adoption fantasies elsewhere.

  6. thanks!

    …i’m beginning to see why most of my adoptee blogging friends are snarky or don’t allow comments from ap’s…

    it gets to you after awhile. and i also think its lame they come here. who are they trying to convince, why do they have to constantly prove and defend themselves? is it not enough that they control the politics and the market and get everything they want? do they have to have everyone praise them too? is it not enough that they have their own little captive audience they can feed this crap to?

    from now on, i’m only talking to realists. we adoptees had to live everyone else’s f*g fantasies far too long.

  7. If you truely want to help an Ethopian or Haitian or whatever, don’t take their children but what makes sense is help them build their own infrastructure so that they can take care of their own. I am sure that most adoptive parents have good intentions but what they forget is that they are unintentionally raping their children from their race and culture.

  8. There wouldn’t be a need for self esteem videos if you weren’t bringing her into a racist society.

    The only thing I would say differently than you is that I would rather say:

    There wouldn’t be a need for self esteem videos if you weren’t bringing her into a white family in a predominantly white society.

    When I blogged about my experience of racism, lot APs said that their children have no problem because it’s different today than in the past, there is no racism.

    Needless to say, racism was certainly difficult to live with as a child with white privilged parents who have never been victim of racism, but that is not a problem. And it is also true that there is much less racism (in my country).

    The problem still remains for transracially adopted children with or without racism.

    Remove the racism, and the transracially adopted child still has selfesteem problem.

    When I looked back to my childhood starting from my adoption, racism was only a small factor in my selfesteem. As long as I was under the attack of racism, I knew at least who I was, I knew I was a Korean. It’s only when the racism disappeared that I viewed myself as a white person.

    The “I want round eyes” or “I hate my eyes” were not a consequence of racism. I wanted round eyes like mom and dad and everyone else around me.

    I read once a blog from an AP which says her adopted child wanted straigh har like his dad and mom. The child was too young to be victim of racism. The “I want straigh hair” is not a consquence of racism.

    It is the consequence of being in a predominantly white society in a white family.

    Transracial adoption itself is wrong.

  9. MyungSook,

    You always make me either see things in a new light or make me face the things I’ve tried to avoid. You are totally right. Racism is just easier to talk about, and even that’s difficult.

    Thank you.

    btw, I still think racism is a very real problem – even in very tolerant accepting areas: it’s criticisms have been absorbed and it just appears more innocuous.

    We still have some racism on top of transracial adoption.

  10. Aloha, there…

    I’m not an adoptee nor are there any adoptees in my immediate family, though I’ve had about a dozen international adoptee friends in Korea who had come back temporarily or permanently, so I can’t speak from any kind of been-there-too perspective. Frankly, I’m torn about the issue, trying to understand what it would be like being raised by two parents so different from you while living in a place where nobody looks like you, but also realizing the tremendous difficulties faced by those who grew up in “orphanages.”

    Do you have any links to previous posts that would go to the heart of your story, explain what you feel and why? I’d be most grateful.

  11. Good question. This blog has over 600 posts now and I’ve also got two other blogs, a facebook group, and another website. So it’s also kind of a challenge for even myself to find a summary post. I’ll look into this and get back with you.

    I like the position statement I wrote about in this post: but about my own story, I’ll have to look for that in one of my other projects, but I’ll post a link for it here when I find it.

  12. The Collection-of-one post is wonderful, but there was one other that got to me for days after I read it. Heck if I can remember when that was.

  13. Ed! I wondered if you were still around! I guess whatever gets to you, being an AP and all, would probably be the most relevant for Kushibo.

  14. David – I meant to respond to you too

    I am sure that most adoptive parents have good intentions but what they forget is that they are unintentionally raping their children from their race and culture.

    There’s nothing undecided about that statement! Thank you for having my back – and for getting it – and wow, I feel meek in comparison!

  15. Kushibo, you said

    I’m torn about the issue, trying to understand what it would be like being raised by two parents so different from you while living in a place where nobody looks like you, but also realizing the tremendous difficulties faced by those who grew up in “orphanages.

    I’d say adoptees have an equal amount of difficulties. Maybe less quantifiable hardship for most, but the level of unrest is epic. We are disturbed by what’s happened to us. And we are not at liberty to talk about it – especially to our parents, even if they ask us, because being adopted is inexpressible. It takes adults decades to be able to express themselves. The ones who can’t cease to live their lives to their full potential: personally, or physically.

    And you don’t have to change your language or culture at an orphanage. And your stark realities are there for you to see, versus buried under a mountain of deceit.

    I’d say being adopted internationally is just as or more traumatic than growing up in an institution. And a lot of adoptees have done both, and the one that haunts them while they live is abandonment and adoption. Neither are the best solutions. Personal responsibility should be the only option allowed. Abandoning children should be illegal and enforced. Society should NOT condone this. The world should not condone this, which is exactly what is being said. Give up. Take the easy way out. You’ll both be better off. It’s not true. It’s a devil’s bargain. And for those who feel they have no choices, women and poor families need empowerment to raise their own.

    Permanent solutions such as forced emigration and identity reassignment (which is what international adoption really is) REALLY DO rape a child of personal identity, cultural identity, and racial identity.

    AND, the fallacy of this argument is that the nature of international adoption today is that it isn’t saving children from orphanages. The children are relinquished (abandoned) because adoption agencies are available. The children adopted are mostly only babies. International Adoption is, for the most part, still nothing more than baby farming/gathering. The children in orphanages stay there because nobody wants them when there are babies made available. And those who are in orphanages shouldn’t have to add the incredible adjustment of cross continent relocation and all its challenges to their already unfortunate lives.

    Anyway, this either/or dichotomy just doesn’t wash. Adoption is too complicated for ANY dichotomies to cover.

  16. To Kushibo et. al. all I would say is that the only voices we can trust are those that have been there. It doesn’t matter how we measure their lives.

    Even the most perfectly adjusted adoptee I’ve met caught my attention when I noticed that she carefully watches people that look like her as they walk by. We talked about it and she said that she wonders if they might be related to her. At a very basic level she is keenly aware of what she lost. It’s an aspect to being a human being that the rest of us can’t comprehend.

  17. You know, I’ve always found that term, perfectly adjusted adoptee interesting. What is the real measure of adjustment, anyway? Socially acceptable? Are they REALLY better adjusted? Or is it their game face? Or has the popping nail been hammered into place? So often I think perfectly adjusted adoptee merely means perfectly self-censored adoptee

    In fact, I think its the ones who question and criticize who are better adjusted — I always envied the ones in touch with their emotions, who could have a temper tantrum and defend their own interests.

    In fact, perfectly adjusted adoptee is why so many adoptees are over achievers. Because we’ve absolutely. got. to. be. perfect. Because everyone is watching us all the time. Watching and measuring.

  18. I guess by that I mean she says that she accepts the way her life has gone. I don’t try to read anything into it. I was just going by what she said to me.

    And as I said, it was still clear that it’s all there – the trauma of being adopted.

  19. Oh! I know. And thanks.

    It wasn’t directed at you but just an aside because I’d like other people to realize how ironic that phrase is to so many of us adoptees. It’s not only ironic but also its use is yet another subtle way in which we are kept in line…

  20. The process I went through in my mind a while back is something like this:

    Yeah, we all have our game faces and our past to deal with. We’ve all known loss and disconnection from our family and etc. You know the drill.

    Then I kept reading, which began to include your stuff, and I thought to myself why is it so hard for them? And your writing helped me a great deal because the way to put it just clicks for me. I’ve read many others, and they make sense, but I didn’t quite get there.

    Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t listening well enough. I accepted that I can’t get the scale and utterness of it. And that the only thing the rest of us can do to help is to accept and trust what it is you have to say.

    Making such leaps are very hard for human beings. I think. We rely on the frames of reference we have in common. And I imagine the reason that I am motivated enough to learn here is that I love my damned boys too much to fail them. I can’t take back what I did to them, but I can try to make up for it.

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