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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

International Students Beware: Sneaky Sneaky Universities - Part 1

My wife has now finished her nursing course in Australia.  This was a huge achievement; I can't imagine how hard it must be to complete a degree in another language, so she deserves a lot of credit.

The whole experience of my wife being an international student in Australia did give me an interesting perspective into what's going on with the universities here.  It is not an understatement when I say I found what they were up to a smidge immoral.

This actually has less to do with my wife's time at university and more to do with our ex-housemate's.  Before I get on to our dear little lodger, however, I shall first explain what my wife and I have had to deal with, and in part two, I will write about the far worse scenario that went on with our housemate.

Firstly, I am not going to complain about the fees - exorbitant though they are - more what you are getting for the fees and the level of dishonesty surrounding what the universities are doing.  I also will not name the learning institutions involved, just in case, and because I think it is largely irrelevant anyway, as I have learned that this behaviour is fairly endemic across the board.

To begin with, my wife enrolled in a course at a well-known TAFE in Melbourne.  These are smaller college-like campuses, still offering degrees for many subjects.  They often have the advantage of having less students per member of staff, and therefore provide greater support and usually for less money also.  My wife's course was to be 2 years full-time, with one year part-time because of partial credit for what she had already done in Korea.

However, as soon as time came to start her course, things changed.  Instead of doing one or two modules per semester in year one - as offered before she left Korea - all of a sudden she had to take extra modules because they were not satisfied with her previous knowledge.  Unsurprisingly, this would come at extra cost, about $8000.

Having carefully planned our outgoings before we embarked on this venture, this was unacceptable, not just for the extra charge, but for the amount of time it took away from my wife's ability to work in that first year in order to help out with finances (for much of the first year she was on her own in Australia, as I stayed in Korea to finish my teaching contract and save money).

To put it mildly, I was not a happy bunny.  What made things even worse was that speaking to somebody about this was extremely difficult.  My wife tried, but I had the feeling they were purposely confusing her and fobbing her off with weak excuses and promises.  I wanted to speak with them, but a familiar problem I experienced in England, as well as Australia, occurred, the complete lack of someone to speak to when you really need to. It took a lot of skype calls from South Korea and an incredible amount of quite strident complaining to find someone that could speak to me about it.  After making them all feel very uncomfortable indeed, they delayed charging us extra and putting my wife on extra modules until the following semester, before which my wife and I decided to pull out of the course and join another university.

Luckily, this university had some prestige in the area of nursing and offered just a one-year course, giving my wife credit for the time she worked as a nurse in Korea and the learning she had already done at the TAFE.  Curious, I thought, that a better university thought her experience warranted just doing the last year of a nursing degree (which she then passed fairly comfortably), while the lesser institution demanded two and a bit years, and then more when we arrived.

I think the reason for this is that once an international student arrives in Australia, most of them have no choice but to give way to the universities demands for extra tuition at extra cost.  Even before they arrive they can also call for more study than is necessary, again in order to swell their pockets.  Once we were in Australia, knew the system and knew others that had been through it, we could find a better offer.  How many international students have this knowledge or indeed have a miserly, moaning, old fart of a husband to truly hold the universities accountable for this sneaky trickery?

For most students, they had been sent to Australia with their family's money in order to make a career for themselves, mainly from China and India, but basically all parts of Asia.  What are you going to do if your son or daughter phones home and says they need more money than expected as they need to take extra modules?  Pull them out and send them back home, having already heavily invested in paying at least the first semester upfront and moving them half-way across the world, or pay up?  My suspicion is that the universities know full-well that the vast majority will simply pay up, especially as many international students and their families lack the English ability to put up much of a fight when it comes to putting their case across and complaining.

Most of the universities my wife had her choice of, once we left the TAFE in question, also were not advertised or made known to us in Korea.  Now that we are here, it seems different universities advertise in different parts of different countries, China, of course, being the most popular.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there.  My experience of university some 15 years or so ago seemed a lot different to what I saw with my wife.  I'm not talking about the social life or anything like that, but the way learning was structured.

Universities these days appear to take full advantage of the internet, making the online element of their courses gain larger and larger significance.  Far from aiding learning, I believe this has given universities the ability to save an extraordinary amount of money by being less hands on with students and this helps them by requiring less staff.

I used to regularly meet with my personal tutor at my university, at specified times, usually 3 or 4 times a month with 4 other students.  Other lecturers and tutors were also quite available to deal with any difficulties I might have had.  But this was before the sophistication of the internet was really adequate enough to run a course mainly from online, it really had to be done on a more person to person basis.  At my wife's university, the ratio is hundreds and hundreds to 1 of students to tutors.  Problems are dealt with online, and from what I saw, there were plenty of them as well, as regular maintenance problems with much of the material online.

With international students in particular, you could also make a case for them needing greater support, but it seemed less to me.  Did they really pay all this money for almost zero support except for a few vaguely answered questions on the university's online portal?

To top it all off, after receiving an awfully large sum of money from us, the graduation ceremony was to take place 100Km away in another campus at a charge of approximately $400 (more if you don't decide straight-away to attend).  This is annoying for us, but extremely disappointing for any international students wishing to attend, what for many is supposed to be one of the proudest days of their lives, as the graduation takes place 5 months after the finish of the their course.  Almost certainly, all those planning not to stay in Australia would have had their student visas run out by this time.  They either couldn't attend or would have to go home and then come back.

So, to sum things up, it looked to me that universities were out to squeeze all they could out of international students, and they'd do it with a mixture of bending the truth, shoddy service, and in my opinion some big fat lies to boot.  To put the icing on the cake, they also decide not to give a second thought or any effort to alleviating any of the many inconveniences and special issues international students might have compared to ordinary Australians at university.

If it wasn't for the qualification at the end of it all, it can only be described as one sneaky little con job, designed to extort vast sums of money from countries like China, India, and Korea, just some of the countries now where people have increasing sources of capital.  All in all it was a disgraceful case of the bottom line coming before human beings.  I wonder how many families in Asia universities have bankrupt, or put in severe debt, because of the innocent dreams of a better life for their sons and daughters and security for the family as a whole.

Now if this all sounds like I am making a mountain out of a mole hill or I am rather too suspicious of the motives of Australian universities, the story of my housemate in part 2 might sway you into my highly cynical position on them.  I can't say this girl was my favourite person in the world, but I did feel mightily sorry for her.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Returning to Korea? Why Not?

Let's get stuck in with the first real post back.  Now I have to admit to entertaining the thought of returning to Korea on a number of occasions, my reasons for not doing so I won't bore you with again as I have already touched on them in my post, "The Reasons I left Korea".  All I can say was that the temptation was great.  On each occasion after I left (I did so before, to live back in England for a year), it soon became apparent to me that I had a pretty great time in Korea.

I can't say that without my wife that I would have returned, but my wife certainly was quite steadfast against returning, much more so than me.  This seemed odd to me as she has clearly missed home very much and moans quite regularly about the many nuisances of living in a Western country.  She is also much more attached to family than me, as are they attached to her.  At times, adjusting to life in Australia, along with the lack of money (due to the international student fees we have had to pay), has been a real burden on her.

We have both worked exceptionally hard and only recently have we began to see the fruits of our labours.  But trust me, it's been tough.  Every time we have tried to get some money together, the cost of living bites, every time we sort anything out - like internet, visas, finding a house, going away, etc - we have to work through mountains of bureaucracy, bad service, and unnecessary rules, regulations and charges.

So what's going on?  In my wife's eyes, and in mine, Korea is a much nicer place to live. Everything is organised better, life is more convenient, less stressful, we go out more often, and I have more holiday.  For my wife, all her friends and family are there too.  So why is she so against returning?

The answer lies in how the people she knows treat her; family, work colleagues, friends, and acquaintances.  Societal pressure and expectations in Korea are astoundingly strong and I have been quick to criticise how Koreans treat one another before on this blog based on quite inflexible views on life and the duties that are expected of each other. Us foreigners who have experienced Korea often bemoan how we are treated by Koreans, but like I have said time and time again on this blog, we really don't know the half of it. Koreans themselves get treated far worse by other Koreans than we ever are.  We can play the foreigner card and get away with an awful amount.

Korean working culture is often cited as a big reason why people want to leave the country, but my wife would often comment that she didn't mind working so hard if the people she was working with could treat her like more of an individual and with a bit of empathy and understanding.

When you think about it, the despair many Koreans feel surrounding work and education is rooted in how others treat them and what's expected of them.  It is the pressure parents put on their kids to learn - which comes from the pressure society puts on them - that makes education the way it is and so unbearable for students, for example.  The inflexibility of the working environment and the long hours is also something more controlled by society and the perceptions of work and duty than by the government or business (although both take advantage of it, I'm sure).

It's a shame, because I reckon that if my wife were to make a list of pro's and con's about Korea and Australia, she would have a long list of pro's for Korea and only one or two con's.  It's just that these one or two are so powerful, it is out of the question for her to entertain returning.  She is currently visiting friends and family in chilly Korea right now, and although it has obviously been nice to go back home, after less than a week away, she can understand why she left, and yearns for a return to Melbourne (despite having more than a few complaints about living there).

Sergey Kustov -

It's a sad state of affairs in what would otherwise be a fine country to live in.  Not only do many Koreans not want to return to Korea, but an alarming amount want to leave. There is a real sensation that many Koreans are truly fed up with the direction the country is taking, they just don't know how to change things and hence simply leave it (one way or another).

A couple of weeks ago, I got a haircut and coincidentally it was a Korean lady who did it and she was very open and talkative - as well as being able to do a Western haircut. (Funnily enough, I reckon most of my haircuts have been done by Koreans since coming to Melbourne.  This is because it was one of the easiest avenues to obtaining a visa some years ago).  She commented on travelling last year; she had travelled for about 5 months to South East Asia, Japan, and back home to Korea in two, two week stints.  After her first visit to Korea for about 8 years she remarked, "I planned on staying for a month, but after 2 weeks I couldn't take it anymore.  My mum nagged and nagged, you know, and the rest of my family told me, 'why can't you do this, why can't you do that'".  I couldn't take it so I went to Japan for two weeks before going back to Korea for one more week and then returning to Melbourne."

I have met a number of Koreans in Melbourne through my wife, and it is much the same story for them.  They have all been a rather different breed to the Koreans I met in Korea.  None appear to be living the dream in Australia and really enjoying the place, but none want to go home. They are far more individual also, although coming from a culture that values a rather close-knit group and dependency on others, none seem particularly happy.  My own take on their situation is that they would love to return to Korea, but all want to keep the ability to be themselves and make their own decisions without being pressured into a way of living that is not for them.  This is all impossible in Korea.

Perhaps it is just the nostalgia talking, but what a shame this all is because when I look back at my time there, it is a country that has so much to like about it.
And on a site in English:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Different Perspective

Well, I know I said I'd be back over a year ago and haven't posted since.  However, new year and a new start.  I am well and truly settled in to living in Australia now and although things are running pretty smoothly, there are still plenty of things to complain about (and that's essentially what this blog was all about, right?), so some cathartic writing is in order and the blog has been resurrected from the ashes.

I must also thank one of my readers for helping me contemplate getting things restarted, I forgot just how much I enjoyed putting my thoughts into writing.  Having no artistic ability at all, this seems one of the few ways I can actually create something, and of course, I love a good argument.

I would often receive criticism in Korea from readers saying something like, "Why don't you criticise your own culture?"  Well, I'd like to think my blogs on Korea weren't all negative, I did have many positive things to say.  I do quite like to moan though, and I can see how I could come across as a bit of an old curmudgeon towards Korean culture. I did always retort that I had just as many dislikes about my own dear culture, and here is the blog that will prove it.  I am quite sure that I won't have many people berating me for criticising Western culture, Australian and British specifically.

So why connect what may essentially be a diatribe against certain aspects of life in the Western world with Korea?  Well, mainly because many of the things that now irk me about living in Australia and some of the issues I see from afar happening to my dear country of birth, bother me precisely because I lived in Korea.  What was good about Korea is often bad in Australia or Britain and vice versa, from a perspective that is quite possibly only available to someone who has lived in a radically different culture.  Korea will be very relevant to much of what I write in future months.

Plato's "Allegory of the Cave", drawing by Markus Maurer
There are many things I am troubled by upon returning from topsy-turvy land and an unrest created by a reverse culture shock.  Why can't we have the best of both worlds?  Is that even possible?  Will I ever be truly comfortable living anywhere now or will the knowledge that things can be done better elsewhere get the better of me?

Can't live here, can't live there, stuck in the middle, this is often what my wife tells me about her feelings on that matter.  I must admit to giving thought to the idea of returning to my cosy existence in Korea, as there was much to like and life seems much more complicated in Australia.  I console myself with the thought, borrowed from Plato, that while I may be wholly content sitting in the cave, walking outside into the light, while painful at first, can produce a richer, more fulfilling existence.  I think this may be a thought many who have lived in lands far away (and certainly in Korea) can relate to.

So on that very profound note, I hope you enjoy the posts to come.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Reasons I Left Korea

Faisal Akram (
I'm back!!  It's been nearly 4 months without a single post, but I have been busy trying to settle into life in a new country, Australia, so give me a break.  To be honest, compared to living in Korea, it is just like living in England just a bit sunnier, more laid back, and with barbecues everywhere.

So why did I leave Korea?  I had a decent job that I liked, a very comfortable existence, was saving money and had lots of free time.  In recent months I have had times where I thought, "Jees, what am I doing?", especially as I have had to fork out quite a lot of my saved cash in tuition fees and work very hard here in Oz.  Here are my reasons:

1. The English Teaching Went Stale

I remember how keen I was to teach when I started my High school teaching job, I gave it everything and I was so creative in my lesson planning.  I enjoyed going to work, in fact I'd even turn up 45 minutes early everyday!  By the middle of my third year however, I was getting lazy and irritable, the challenge had gone and I was working off old lesson plans.  Everything, including the lessons themselves became less enjoyable. It was time to move on.  On top of this, could I ever be anything but an English teacher in South Korea?

2. Disappearing Friends

A friend of mine commented on Facebook the other day something along the lines of, "another year in Korea and the friend count continues to fall."  This is very true.  If you stay for a year or two, you make loads of new friends and keep your old ones, if you stay for longer, the new friends leave and you're out of sight, out of mind to your friends at home.  For me, I am always looking for new experiences and England has grown stale also, so it is with great regret that I have distanced myself from friends back home.  In Australia, I can at least make friends through my sports and there is less of a cultural barrier as well.

3. I was Becoming too Immersed in the World of the Internet

This blog was partly to blame for this, but also the nature of my job and Korea as a whole.  Too many spare hours on the computer at work sent me into a world that isn't quite as it seems, where faux outrage, trolling and political correctness reign absurdly supreme and debates always end on a sour note due to implied aggressive tone and the lack of a human face (or even a real name) to hold each person back.

I was afraid, frankly, of becoming one sad bastard who spends hours arguing with morons and reading other people's worthless blogs (I can see the irony, really), looking for something to blog about.  Live in the world of the internet for too long and you forget what the real world is all about, and that it is much better to live in.

It isn't all negative; I grew a much thicker skin, discovered the very real problem of political correctness for myself, and most importantly created something.  That something might only be a shitty opinionated blog, but I think it is important to have an outlet, to produce something, which is a large part of why I'm writing this post now.  What it means is that posts on this blog will be far less frequent than in the past, but that this site is not dead!!!

4. Something New, but not so Stressful

What can I say, I get bored easily these days, both with jobs and the places I live.  I want to see the world before I die and experience many different countries and cultures.  However, I want to live in these new worlds and not simply pass through them.

Korea is a place I am sure I will return to - I have family here after all - but for now the spice has gone and too many things were rubbing me up the wrong way, a long break was needed. When I do return, it will be to study Korean first, as my lack of fluency in the language is probably my biggest regret in my time living there, even though I could get by OK, I just couldn't have very deep conversations.  When I can speak properly, I can argue with Koreans in their own language and that'll be really interesting!

Australia is somewhere different, but not too different.  It's a taste of home, but with kangaroos, Koalas, and possums!!

5. Too Easy

The above is one of my favourite Aussie sayings I hear a lot over here, so I thought I drop it in to describe how I felt in Korea in general.  Soooo comfortable my life had become.  I have never been happy being comfortable; when it lasts for too long it becomes a rut, a furrow in the path so deep that it becomes impossible to blaze a new trail and go to new, exciting places, both literally and metaphorically. Through discomfort, the challenge of something new, and associating myself with new people, I have learned and achieved a lot and gained great life satisfaction in the process.  Korea was certainly this way for a time, but all good things must come to an end.

6. Freedom!!!

There was always the feeling of constraint in Korean society, the feeling that I couldn't really do and say what I wanted.  I couldn't just be me and be accepted by Korea, I would never be accepted that way, I would have to conform.  To be fair I have felt this way in England as well, but the flavour of it in Korea was certainly sharper and more pronounced.  I even felt pressure to not voice my opinions on this blog, so I often held back (believe it or not).  I believe my blog was censored by Busan's Ministry of Education (according to a chap on Asiapundits).  I felt like I was one blog post away from getting in trouble. I say that, but just as I was leaving, I kept on getting requests to join radio debates in Seoul (had to keep refusing, but I did one on the phone about the Sewol disaster and safety), so someone must have been reading and thinking I had some valid points or at least a debatable opposing view.  Perhaps I was just being paranoid and that actually I was one step away from recognition as a truly insightful blogger on Korea (could be dreaming on that one).

Note: Stay tuned for some more perspectives on Korea, except now from the outside looking back in; I guess I am still on the inside in a way, as I have family, so the blog title can stay the same.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Confucianism Doesn't Explain Everything, but it can Explain Quite a lot

Since the Sewol disaster and some rather simplistic reporting of Confucianism being in the reason for so many student deaths, using the C-word has become a bit of a no-no in writing about South Korea.  If you do dare to use it, you risk immediately discrediting everything you write.  "Did he say Confucianism?"  "He must know nothing about Korea, what a fool."

As I wrote at the time, the explanation that it was Confucian values that made those students follow orders and stay below was far too basic.  For a start, many didn't listen and escaped, and in a situation you are not sure about - and rarely are most people experts on ferry safety - you perhaps should defer to those in charge with the supposed experience and expertise.  Not only that, it was insulting, laying the blame on the students for their own deaths, when it was clear they were let down by a grossly negligent ferry company and an incompetent crew.

Turning to Confucianism to explain things was a mistake in this case (for the students, I could see a more complex argument for the company and the crew, but I would more broadly say that Korean, 'respect culture', rather than traditional Confucianism could've been a factor) but let's be honest, Confucianism is a driver of many of the behaviours we see around us on a day to day basis in Korea.  In many cases, common practices have become a slightly altered form of Confucian tradition, but modern culture in Korea still has a Confucian base.  It seems stupid to have to say this, as it is so obvious, but I do think some people might need to be told this brute fact.

Some popular news articles and some in the Korean blogosphere have managed to make using the C-word as an explanation a bit of a taboo.  Actually, I think I agree with the two articles I have linked to and many others on the subject, and I also agree that many people used Confucianism too freely, but it is amazing how things swing to the ends of two extremes and the reactions to such articles have not caused balance.  It has gone from being the one-stop solution to every query about things that happen in Korea, to being ridiculed whenever it is used, even if it is extremely relevant.

I have noticed the ridiculing of those that mention Confucianism a lot in the past few months, but it came to my attention this week when an old post I wrote for Asiapundits on the treatment of women in Korea was shared again by one of the editors and received some attention and comments.  In that article, I used Confucianism to partly explain the culture of patriarchy that still exists in Korea.  If you read that post, you will see it only formed a small part of what I wrote, but sure enough, it was picked up upon and received the usual treatment:

1. "It might further behoove you to read about why these cultural traditions exist rather than throwing it under the gauge blanket of confusion ism." (her spelling, not mine by the way)
2. "But Confucianism is such a handy word. Every time I can’t understand Korea, I just use it and pretend I do."

These kind of comments have increasingly become the norm.  But in respect to the treatment of women in Korea, surely it is impossible to say that Confucianism is not involved, it is a huge part of the system of hierarchy we see today, both with young and old and men and women.  In a rather long article, I actually only wrote a few lines about it and I'm not really sure how you can argue against it:

"To do away with nearly two thousand years of Confucian tradition (and about 700 hundred of strong cultural influence through the Joseon Dynasty) is what the women of Korea are up against, so perhaps it is no surprise they are still struggling to make an impact on society for better treatment.  In Confucian thought a virtuous woman is meant to uphold the ‘Three subordinations’: be subordinate to her father before marriage, to her husband after marriage, and her son after her husband dies.  Men can remarry and have mistresses, but women must always remain faithful even after their husbands’ death.  With this is mind it is easy to see why men are still thought of in higher regard."

Most cultures all around the world are still in some state of patriarchy.  I would argue that Western culture is almost completely rid of it now (although I'm sure many would disagree, but that's an argument for another time).  But I don't think it is a stretch to say each of these cultures has had to, or is still battling out of, the old traditions that were enforced by a religion or cultural philosophy.  Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, etc.  Which hasn't tried to subjugate and control women?  They all have their particular ways about doing it, however, and some are worse and harder to escape and fight your way out of than others. Islam is undoubtedly the most oppressive of the bunch in this regard and has easy to identify consequences of its patriarchal philosophy.  The results of Confucian tradition in Korea are not so brutal on women, but they still have a significant affect and the form of patriarchy present in Korea has the obvious stamp of Confucianism about it and the culture as a whole persists in holding women back because of it.  Not solely because of it, mind, but to deny it is a factor is strange to say the least.  My suspicion is that it's down to political correctness.

Political correctness is not always a bad thing, it is good we aren't all going around saying bad words to people and jumping to overly-simple conclusions, and it has raised consciousness about certain issues.  But it regularly goes too far and prevents honest dialogue and that is something I have had to really fight with on this blog.

Reflecting on my time blogging, with just one week left in Korea, I have to say that I have been quite amazed by the aggressive, vitriolic, and ridiculing nature of the responses I have got to my blogs over the last two years or so.  Some people write entire repetitive essays of hate against me on my comments section or on their own sites. In the beginning, it was upsetting, I won't lie, especially as I thought I wasn't really being that controversial or anywhere near hateful.  Nowadays though, it is just time-consuming to deal with.  A new life dawns in Australia and I just don't have the time or inclination to deal with those who say white is black and always misconstrue what I write to be some of the most vile evil know to man, indicative of some of the worst elements in modern society and harking back to the days of Hitler (really, no exaggeration, it's what some people think).  The fact I am a White man also seems to be a real problem for many people (even some White men).  How dare a White man give his perspective on Korea.  What a danger to world my meager little blog must be.

It seems that even with a lightly-read, tiny blog on South Korea, you can't escape the abuse, just by having different opinions to the progressive crowd.  From day one, I have had to fight the assumption that you just can't make and share your own judgements about other cultures and you can't compare other cultures (if what you are saying is in any way negative in nature). Although I should say you can, but Western culture - and in particular American culture - must always come out on the losing side, then it's fine.

Confucianism might be becoming another word us White guys can't use anymore in writing or talking about South Korea, it feels like it is now off the table for discussion.  Keep this in mind the next time you ask a Korean person about why they behave in such different ways to us Westerners, because in my experience Confucianism is as much a 'go to' in their explanations of their own behaviour as it is for us. Why?  Because it really is relevant in explaining Korea, there's no escaping it and people other than Koreans themselves can use it (including White guys), it's just not always relevant in every situation.  So somewhere between 'always relevant' and 'never relevant', I think there might be some middle-ground we can occupy.  How about treating every claim of Confucian involvement in different circumstances on its own merit and arguing the particulars of each case?  Now there's an idea.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's so Wrong with Eating Dog?

Image by Gael Chardon 

With less than 2 months until I leave, I thought I'd give my perspective on the old chestnut of eating dog in Korea.  I have partly dealt with it before on a few occasions, but it is summer again (the best time of year to eat dog, apparently, it will improve stamina in the hot summer months) and stories about it keep coming up, with the same old nonsense being said about it.  In this piece I will confront the main argument from the cultural relativists and many Koreans themselves:

"Westerners are hypocrites, they eat sheep, pigs, chickens, deer, cows, ducks, and more, but draw the line at dog.  Korea, China, and Vietnam just view things differently, they simply have a different culture.  Who is anyone to say eating dog is wrong?  It's the same as eating any other animal."

I partly agree with this sentiment - shared by many Western people and Koreans alike - there is a big chunk of hypocrisy going on (even wrote a blog about vegetarianism based on it), yet at the same time, I have my issues with what they are ignoring.

There is a special relationship between dogs and humans, it goes back thousands of years.  I am a huge fan of dogs; they are so loyal and so genuine, they can teach people a lot about life.  It is sad to see many dogs still getting so excited to see their owners, even when they are treated badly by them, but that is the spirit of the dog, the eternal optimist.

The adoration of the dog in the West at least gives people a place to begin with compassion towards animals.  Of course, there will be many Koreans, Chinese, etc, who think the same way about dogs and care for animals, but as a pattern in society, frankly, the treatment of dogs is clearly different.

Once you have a place to start, comparisons can be drawn between other animals, which can raise consciousness.  Most people completely ignore these comparisons, granted, but by having sympathy for the dog, a crack appears and a way into people's hearts and minds is possible with regards all other animals.

The problem with the attitude towards dogs in Korea, that I see, is a general heartlessness to all animals is largely present.  It's not like some other animal gets most of their love - in the US is dogs, but in Korea its deer, for example - all animals are well and truly outside the sphere of what the average person should be compassionate or concerned about in a large section of Korean society (especially the older generation).

Remember also that it is not just the eating of dogs, but the treatment of them and the slaughter of them.  Unfortunately, as the dogmeat trade is technically illegal and unregulated in Korea (an example of one of many laws never enforced), the standards of care are appalling.  Some Koreans (mainly older Koreans), believe beating the dogs or strangling them to death slowly causes a surge of adrenalin that makes the meat taste better, and they are often kept in terrible conditions.  In fact, in China also, dog meat always seems to go hand-in-hand with horrifically cruel living conditions for the dogs, abhorrent methods of slaughter, unhygienic practices, and unethical means of procuring the dogs (e.g. stolen from pet owners).

We know it is possible to ignore animal suffering, we all do it to some extent, but when you have the ability to be so indifferent to the suffering of an animal that worships the ground you walk on, and can be the most trusting and loyal friend you've ever had, I think that points to something more than a little troubling.  Many people are hypocrites when it comes to dogs and the treatment and eating of other animals, but at least they have some ability to feel the pain of non-human animals.  I worry that those that treat dogs poorly and eat them may be almost completely numb when it comes to animals, which also begs the question about what goes on in their minds with regards to some fellow human beings.

In another blog, I mused on the reasons for Koreans eating dog and speculated that there may very well be justifiable reasons for it in the past, and perhaps we can understand why they still do so.  I focused mainly on history and poverty in that piece. Whatever the reasons though, you have to weigh the current attitudes and whether they are right, wrong, damaging, or not.

There is a concern I have about cultural morality in this part of the world, and I think the way Koreans treat dogs highlights this quite nicely.  Duty is very important here, and what troubles me is how rigidly defined these duties can be.  Things workout fine most of the time, and perhaps more kind deeds are done and more thought given to others as a result (to those who you have a duty to be kind and thoughtful to), maybe even a more orderly society as well.  However, when someone or something sits outside the traditionally defined duties (think strangers, people from other countries, and animals), it can be a recipe for a lack of moral consideration and I think this is what happens in dogs.

When I see a dog chained-up outside all their lives, or even worse hit and abused, I think about how I would feel if I were in its place, I put myself in its shoes - so to speak - and I think this method of being empathetic is shared by most people.  I don't believe this is how the mind of many Koreans works.  Fine, you can say this is just a theory, how on earth do I know what goes on inside their heads?  But I can draw conclusions from the behaviour I witness, and this is what I see.  I believe the traditional moral duties outlined by Korean, and possibly Chinese culture, actually get in the way of the natural empathetic urges towards the suffering of other beings that people everywhere have.

Korean culture has this set of duties for different people in different situations, even the dog has a duty.  In Korea, any dog too large for an apartment has a duty to sit and guard the house outside, that's just its place, to argue otherwise is futile.  The owners job is to feed it and give it water and pretty much nothing more.  The thought of, "Its freezing outside, the poor dog must be cold.  If it were me, I'd appreciate being inside or least having another blanket", is a thought process I think simply doesn't occur in many Korean people.  For this reason, even some of the most basic and easy to solve discomforts are left unattended to.  Time and time again I see this as I travel around Korea and have even witnessed it in my own Korean family with their treatment of dogs.  It is really quite shocking.  I find myself often muttering under my breath, "Well, the least you could do is x, y, and z, it would require almost no effort or expense at all and would make the dog's life quite a bit better."

This is not to say that cruelty does not exist in the West towards dogs, but the poor treatment I see in the West is done mainly by people who are poor and disadvantaged and are just overwhelmed by the responsibility of having a dog, or they are genuinely nasty, evil people.  What I see in Korea is that you have the poor and the occasional nasty person, as usual everywhere, but also genuinely normal, good, nice, caring people, with the means to care for dogs better, doing horrible things to dogs or just completely neglecting them, that's the difference.  These are also not isolated cases, the neglect and mistreatment of dogs is widespread among perfectly decent people in most other respects.

There have been a few articles in the Western press about the practice of eating dog meat and the relationship between Koreans and Chinese and their dogs. According to Japan Crush, even Japanese netizens sided with the dog meat eating tradition in China.

This article in the New York Times after the Sewol tragedy, actually annoyed me slightly.  I know news articles can't cover everything, but it made it sound like Koreans really adored their Jindo dogs, but in my experience, they are usually chained-up all day and forgotten about, sometimes even sold for dog meat (my uncle in-law did this with his) even though they are designated a "National treasure".  The reverence for the Jindo dog is mainly in words only, it seems.

Read about my own personal experience with this little Jindo dog in Korea.

Change is afoot though, and the number of people in China and Korea objecting to the treatment and eating of dogs is increasing.  Protests in Yulin, China surrounding the traditional summer solstice festival of eating dog have hit the news, and South Korean animal rights activists have staged protests in Seoul.  I find this encouraging, as I do the lack of support eating dog meat seems to have with the younger generation.

There really is something unsettling about eating dogs and I think the intuitive disgust of it by many is a justifiable thing.  I say this while at the same time agreeing with what other people say about the hypocrisy of eating other animals and how we treat them (I really do think factory farming is one of the most disgusting things imaginable), but I hope you can now see why I think that it is so especially horrible to eat dogs.  Because after all, if you can't muster any compassion for dogs, what hope do other animals have?

For more information on the current situation and the law regarding dog meat see the link below:

Friday, June 20, 2014

From England but Dislike Football? Liar!

The fact that I am not into football is a cause of regular disbelief to most Korean people I know or meet, even to the point that I get accused of lying about it sometimes (especially when England lose).  My students in particular find my lack of enthusiasm for the beautiful game most perplexing. But I promise them it is the truth, I'm really not that interested.

Now, with the World Cup in full swing, of course I wouldn't mind seeing England triumphant (unlikely) and I obviously support them and am curious as to how they do, I even watched the Italy game.  However, their defeats caused me about 0.5 seconds of disappointment. I was much more bothered by England failing to beat Sri Lanka in the cricket at Lords.

Not only am I quite indifferent about the world of professional football (I don't mind a kick about every now and then; nice game and good for fitness), it has actually grown to be something of an irritation for me, causing a mild disliking for it.  Here are my reasons, for my students and those of you out there that think it is impossible for a true Englishman to not like football:

1. Saturation

When I am in England, I very quickly go past saturation point; bored, bored, bored I am of people talking about it and it being on TV.  I like sport, I play squash at a decent level, I love cricket, and I workout pretty much everyday.  I like to know what is going on in the world of sport, but when you flick the TV onto sports news, it is most often 99% about football, and it is usually non-news that is repeated over and over again.  The 24-hour Sky Sports News in the UK, was basically Sky Football News with one minute every hour for whatever else was going on in the world of sport.

2.  Moral Vacuousness 

The professional game is basically morally bankrupt in all departments, from the organisation of it, to the supporting of it, and the playing of it.  The game is the worst possible influence on children, who idolise some of the worst characteristics of some of the worst role models.

I'll let the video above do my explaining of why FIFA is such a disgrace.

When it comes to supporters, I am sure most are great and in fact English sports fans generally are some of the best, most loyal, and most vocal.  However, football has served to encourage one of the worst parts of British culture and that is general drunken thuggery and violence.  Football hooliganism is still a problem in the UK and has had a very nasty history.  I know it is not the fault of the game itself, but I can't help but associate football with probably the most deplorable aspect of my own country's culture.

A few years ago, I worked for a while in a bar in my hometown which regularly showed football matches on a big screen every weekend and I'm afraid the clientele that showed-up were some of the worst human beings imaginable.  On top of this, their behaviour was never worse than when the football was on.

Onto the players then and what happens on the pitch.  Football has turned into game game full of real nancy boys, I must say.  They dive, roll around on the floor, cry, and when they don't get their own way, throw hissy-fits at the referees and basically show no respect whatsoever for each other or the officials.  Almost every game is spoiled by cheating and unsavoury behaviour.  Even in the very first game of the world cup, the game was marred by a dive by a Brazilian player to gain a crucial penalty.

The spectacle of football surely is, at least in part, a show of athletic prowess and a display of competition between men.  Professional footballers are great athletes, but I don't see a lot of men on the field much of the time, only spoilt little boys.

The classic contrast is that of rugby, but I have been told that cheating goes on all the time in rugby, it is just not as obvious.  Well, my response to that is that's a shame but the vast majority of young boys in my country don't idolise rugby players, and if they did, they would have a much better grasp of fighting spirit, fairness, toughness, and respect by watching a game of rugby, even if some of it is an illusion.

I actually prefer to use cricket as an example of a good sport to teach us good core values, especially test cricket (played over five days).  Obviously, sometimes cricketers cheat or show examples of 'professionalism', but when they do there is great debate and moral outrage about it.  See the example below of England player Stuart Broad refusing to walk after clearly hitting the ball and being caught.

For those of you not familiar with cricket,, the batsman in this situation does not have to walk off, he can wait for the umpire's decision, but it is expected of him for such an obvious edge off the bat.  Masses and masses of column inches in newspapers, TV debates, and controversy were the result of this situation, especially as it was in an important Ashes Test between England and Australia.

For another more recent example, see an incident in a one-day game between England and Sri Lanka below:

England player Jos Buttler was given out - quite rightly - for walking out of his ground before the ball was bowled.  This is extremely unusual and has only happened a handful of times in the history of the professional game.  The Sri Lankan players had warned him twice before doing so (they actually didn't even have to warn him once), but there was still moral controversy about it, with many saying it wasn't in the spirit of fair play and the game of cricket.

I think this all means cricket, its players, supporters and organisers still have a moral conscience, it isn't perfect and there are problems with the game, most notably match fixing scandals, especially in India.  But the core messages of cricket and the example the game sets to young people is still praiseworthy.  Football has totally lost its way in this respect, examples of absolutely blatant cheating are minor talking points that occur in almost every single game and no action is ever taken to make an example out of offending players in the vast majority of cases.

3. The Players and the Scandals

I guess I could have included this as a part of section 2, but I thought it deserved its own place.

The vast sums of money involved in professional football have corrupted it to the core. Of course, this happens in officialdom and allegedly appears to be an issue in the success of the Qatar world cup bid, but over-paying the players has given them an inflated sense of self-importance and causes any numbers of apparent character defects in some.  Here are some examples:

I don't watch football - with the exception of the World Cup - but I had heard of all of these incidents linked above and they easily came to mind.  Many youngsters idolise these morons and copy their behaviour, believe it or not.

I see football, and the exorbitant amounts of money paid to its stars, encouraging some of the worst things in society.  It promotes the pursuit of money, fame, and celebrity worship above all else and discourages good manners and behaviour.  There are many positive aspects to football generally - think fitness and community building - but the professional game and its main characters are doing more harm than good.

So, there you go, just in case you didn't believe me, that's why I think the beautiful game isn't so beautiful.  I guess I wouldn't have any problem with it if the game wasn't worshipped like a religion my many people, but it has gotten too big for its boots and garners far too much attention.  I got fed-up with it all a long time ago and fail to see what all the fuss is about, but hey, each to his own and this is just my grumbling perspective on it.  How I wish people in Korea could read this post and understand my reasons for disliking football though, before they look at me in disbelief and call me a liar when I say it doesn't interest me.

Finally, Peter Hitchens sums things up nicely in this clip starting at about 7:10 on the odd situation of people from all over the world obsessing about the game and that strange but common experience of people from Asia mentioning Manchester United whenever you say you're from England.