Saturday, October 26, 2013

Noah the Jindo Dog and the In-Laws Dilemma

Noah at 7 weeks old
To have a little break from the controversy of the last couple of weeks on this blog, I thought I'd write a nice warm-hearted post and one for everyone to go "awwww" at.  If you don't find the picture of Noah the Jindo dog as a puppy on the right adorably cute, I swear you are not human.

So, in case any of you didn't know I am now lonely and pathetic in Korea (as one of the English teachers at my school always says to me in jest).  The wife has gone to study in Australia and I have to wait a number of months until I follow her there because I need to finish my contract and save money here.  I am cooking bundegi fried rice, growing a beard, drinking only water, and not eating out at all in a bid to save for Australia.  Pretty soon the beard will be trampish enough for me to become a successful beggar in the evening after my school day is finished.  Combined with the pitiful condition of my watch that I bring to class, I think some of my students are thinking about making donations already.

Anyway, a few days before my wife left, my father in-law was given a Jindo dog by his friend.  He couldn't really take care of it for a couple of days so he left him with my wife and I.  I have an extremely soft spot for dogs, I think they are marvellous animals and so with this in mind 2 days was all it took for me to fall in love with the little rascal.  We named him Noah because it is a Western name that is easy for Koreans to say and it had rained all day the day we got him, which caused some minor flooding.

My parents also happened to still be in Korea at the time after my wedding and when the day came to give the dog back to my wife's parents, we all went to their house for dinner (which is in the countryside).

I would be lying to you if I was confident in my in-laws ability to care for the dog properly and this was not solely based on how they were with him that night, but what I have seen from other Koreans when it comes to "caring" for dogs.  Culturally, any dog bigger than a new born baby tends to be left outside in all weather on a chain and doesn't get out very much and this was my worry for Noah.

The way they treated him that night was also a concern.  He was still very small and vulnerable, but starting to get a little more confident and explored around later in the evening.  Unfortunately, my in-laws had got into the habit of feeding a feral cat in their yard, which meant it tended to hang around quite a lot.  The cat in question also had a kitten that it was obviously very protective over.  When Noah came within 3 or 4 metres of the cat, it gave him a discouraging growl, but my in-laws didn't seem too worried and just ate.  I was constantly out of my seat.  I am pretty confident he would have been mauled that night had I not been there.

My father in-law also didn't appear to be too keen on having the dog, although my wife assured me that he liked the dog but had a funny way of showing it and wasn't especially open with his emotions.  Firstly, before I met the dog my wife and her father had taken him to the vets for the first of his injections.  Upon hearing this first trip would cost 70 000 won ($70) he was extremely unhappy and my wife ended up paying instead (for his dog).  She relayed to me that he said something along the lines of, "70 000, That's more than it costs for a person to see the doctor!" 

This did not convince me that he was too dedicated to the dog's well-being and made me wonder what he would do if the dog required more serious and expensive medical attention at some point in his life.  He was also fairly clumsy and callous with the dog, some examples included; he would spray his face with a compressor, wave a lighter around in his face, and grab his head and forcefully push it onto a roll of toilet paper like it was a pillow (causing the dog to squeal in pain when he was still only 7-8 weeks old).  He then also spent the entire first night saying that I could take care of him if I wanted to.  With my mum egging me on to do it and their general behaviour and lack of any preparation at all for having him, I reluctantly agreed.

I knew the situation was less than ideal to say the least.  I was on my own, living in an apartment, and I had to be at work all day and still try and fit in the exercise I do everyday.  Jindo dogs also grow to be about 20 kg or more, which is fairly big.  This was going to be a problem.

Actually, some of my fears were settled a little by Noah's behaviour.  He was extremely quiet and still is.  He would moan and cry a bit, but rarely barked and he was fine being left alone.  He also seemed naturally house-trained.  Extraordinarily, he never made one mistake while living in my apartment, I didn't have to train him for that at all.

I looked up the breed characteristics and this behaviour was confirmed; that they are highly intelligent, naturally house-trained, loyal, curiously hate water, and don't really bark unless something is really wrong (why they are valued as a guard dog).  However, I also saw warnings that they tend to be domineering, independent, willful, and have a high prey drive.  Combined, this tended to mean that, if left alone, they would entertain themselves by destroying things.  After a while this became very true and even with me carefully placing things out of reach before I left the house, he would find a way of destroying something and became a genuine handful for one person with limited time to take care of.

Despite all of this, I still would have struggled through, however I did have another pressing concern over keeping him and that was I was going to have to take him with me to Australia next year.  This was a significant issue as my budget for everything was already tight.  After a while of searching around and getting quotes, I realised two things; it was going to be a very difficult process to get him to Australia and also a very expensive process.  The lowest quote I received was between 6000 and 7000 Australian Dollars.  Added to this was the fact that even if I did manage to get him to Australia, my wife and I would have to find accommodation appropriate and cheap enough for having a big dog, not to mention a place where we would even be allowed to have him.  The situation was impossible.  So that was that, I couldn't keep him and I should give him to my in-laws before he and I became too attached to each other.

It actually turned out that I probably would have had the dog for about a month anyway because my mother in-law spent about 3 weeks in Seoul looking after her own mother who is starting to show early signs of dementia.  My father in-law was working all day everyday (and in Korea, all day really is all day and sometimes all night too) so he could not look after the dog either.  Anyway, I had him for longer than was ideal, which made it a bit difficult to give him up and I hope hasn't made him too attached to me.

My fears about how they would take care of Noah have been slightly erased, as my mother in-law looks to be quite gentle with him.  They will move him outside, which I think is inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing.  My experience of taking care of him also taught me that he reveled in being outside more than most other dogs I have known or looked after, so I think this is not a bad thing as long as they walk him regularly, which I hint at often as something they need to do a lot.

Something really good might come from the whole thing, however, and this is the fact of the dog bringing my in-laws and I together.  Without my wife to form the connection, seeing them without her would have been weird and uncomfortable to say the least. 

Another problem I have with my in-laws when I visit them is the sheer length of time I see them for and the lack of mental stimulation in this time often makes me painfully bored.  I always liked going to their house more when I was doing a job for them, like moving rocks or shoveling sand.  Now, though, I have the dog to keep my mind occupied and this also gives me something to talk about.  I can also help them out by looking after the dog occasionally when they are away, so I am becoming useful to them as well.  It seems that this dog might be the best thing for my relationship with my in-laws, it now gives me a reason to visit them more regularly and speak to them more often.

But there is a Problem

I wrote most of this post before I learned of how the doggy was getting on at the in-laws house and I'm afraid some optimism has disappeared slightly.  It is not a lost cause, but there are significant hurdles to overcome.  The problem I see is that if we cannot overcome these obstacles, I may actually grow to dislike my in-laws just when I was starting to get along with them better.  Like I have said before, I know my in-laws are not bad people, they are really genuine and nice, and the troubles we have are down to culture, this I can understand.

Korean culture with dogs is generally something that I do abhor, but after visiting him yesterday I do understand that my mother in-law, in particular, really cares about the dog.  My mother in-law has been fantastic since my wife has left and I am confident that there is not a bad bone in this woman's body, I think she is truly amazing these days and she takes great care of me too.  This is why the cultural difference is so incredibly frustrating. I find myself becoming angry at her when I know she is doing her best with the dog, she just doesn't understand dogs in the same way.  I feel a wave of negative emotions towards her that I know are unfair (and I am sure there are situations where she feels the same about me), yet I can't stop them

I reckon mixing the culture of the average Korean and the average Westerner and putting a dog in the middle is a bit of a recipe for disaster.  Simply what my in-laws see as just normal behaviour in having a dog, I see as slightly abusive, mainly in the form of neglect.  Their solution for the troubles the dog has caused by this neglect just seems to be to neglect it so much that they will eventually break and get used to it.  I don't really see the point in having a dog if you treat them in this way.

What I see at the moment is that they wanted a dog, got one, made zero preparations for having one, taken no responsibility for caring for him, and basically have no idea at all about caring for him.  Now I hear that they are worried he will bring them bad luck when he cries.  This is because he is a dog, he is a sentient being with feelings, desires, and emotions and he desperately wants to be with people and he wants to be loved. Instead he seems to be on his own all the time with no one paying any attention to him; I think I would cry too.

But the thought processes going on in my brain and that of my in-law's brains are, I suspect, quite different. To me, I am putting myself in the place of the dog; how would I feel if...... I humanise his him in one sense, but also I try and understand the dog mind.  I know they are social animals with certain needs and because I have had a dog before, I know what they tend to enjoy and hate.  I also read-up on the Jindo breed type, so I knew the specific issues I might face.  To my in-laws he is a dog and like everything else, it has its place, and its duty.  A dog's place is to be outside, tied-up, where else would they go?  All my considerations seem to be largely irrelevant.  The thinking of my in-laws explains how they care for the dog (i.e. not caring in the sense that I think one should be taking care of a dog), but it also explains the way they care for me.

I am a son in-law, my place is part of the family - almost like blood - my mother in-law's duty is to make sure I am well looked-after, so no matter how I behave, that is exactly what she does.  This is why I can be the terrible son in-law from a Korean perspective (like a commenter in a previous post thought of me) but I am treated like a king anyway.  It doesn't matter that I don't want to be treated like a king or I don't think I deserve any of it, it happens anyway.

So what can I do with the dog?  I cannot have him, I cannot really arrange for him to stay with others; he will become too big for anyone I know in their current accommodation.  I am also quite sure that giving him away to another Korean would result in similar treatment and my in-laws do actually have the perfect place to have a dog in the countryside.  After a few suggestions on how to improve the quality of Noah's life yesterday, however, I am optimistic again that we can reach a compromise between our two culture's perspectives on raising a dog, but I guess only time will tell.  My emotions on this subject, perhaps very much like this post, go from up to down and back and forth on the whole thing.  Of all of the dilemmas and challenges that have come my way since being married into a Korean family, this counts as the greatest so far.  Let's hope we can figure it out for the little champ.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Trouble with Stereotypes

So I posted a couple of blogs last week that created quite an interesting response.  I did ponder whether the second was necessary, especially after a friend of mine from back home told me he thought it wasn't (and he is quite a thoughtful chap).  I think, however, it was a bit of a success.  If I do regret anything, it is possbly replying to every single comment sent to me on the topic, both on my blog and on facebook, when most of the questions were just re-hashings of the same arguments that I put down in the post where I challenged people on the accusations they made.  I think this might have made me seem a bit confrontational, defensive, and arrogant (this however, always seems to be the accusation leveled at people who enjoy debating).  At the time of writing, no one has attempted to take me up on the challenge yet.

I'm sticking with the subject for a while longer because I have found it all so interesting.  I think what I will take out of the whole discussion is just how murky this world of stereotyping actually is.  Categorising something as a "stereotype" seems to be surprisingly easy and amazingly damning to its credibility in explaining anything.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that if any observation of groups of people does make its way into the category of a stereotype, it appears as though it is completely off the table for discussion for many people.

You see, we have this word "stereotype" and it covers an incredible range of opinions; some have quite a bit of truth to them, some have a little truth to them, some have no truth to them, and some are actually oppositely true.  Also, they can range from viciously insulting to amusing, or just plain benign.

Here is the definition of the word stereotype from the Oxford English Dictionary website, with an example:

"a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing:  the stereotype of the woman as the carer."

(I had originally wrote "i.e." after the first sentence but a commenter pointed out that this was not exactly correct and while I think it makes no real difference, I acknowledge it wasn't perfectly accurate.  No dishonesty was meant on my part)

Actually the example here is a good one, as most people would surely acknowledge that women to tend to play more of a caring role in society than men and are usually the main carers of children.  I guess the problem comes when we always apply this to the individuals we meet and this is where the "fixed" and "oversimplified" parts of the definition not only cause offence, but also hint at the unreliability of judging individuals you don't know by using a broad generalisation of others that share similar characteristics.

I have to admit to having a little bit of confusion as to what constitutes a stereotypical statement, which of the following would be a stereotype?

Asian men are shorter than White men.
All Asian men are shorter than White men.
Asian men tend to be shorter than White men.

In my view, at least, the top two are stereotypes and perhaps the bottom one is an observation based on a widely held belief (a stereotype) that happens to be true.  The bottom statement seems not to be fixed or oversimplified because within it is implied many exceptions to the rule.  However, I think what happens in conversation and writing quite often is that the first statement is said, when the person actually means the third and that usually this is an innocent mistake.  It is an error I am extremely guarded against making when I write this blog because I know that the consequence of making such a mistake means that a whole bunch of people will abuse me and then misconstrue the whole piece of writing as a result.  As I have discovered, that tends to happen anyway.  This makes me think - that in discussion at least - it has become a bit of an annoying and slightly dishonest debating tactic to turn other's attention to use of stereotypes to discredit the writer or speaker, instead of addressing the argument.  The really big problem is that it usually works.

When it comes to applying stereotypes in the real world with real people, I have written many times about the frustration I have felt and the general ignorance of people I have met who have applied stereotypes to my wife and I, when they see us.  Here is one example from Asiapundits.  This is why I was pretty confident that, when I was criticised for using stereotypes (or using arguments with a connection to stereotypes at least) in my post and told I should reflect on other's point of view, that I had already been there and experienced the burn of it many times.  I didn't need to reflect on their point of view because I already had there point of view.

I actually think there is no harm in using a widely held view about groups of people to explain a group's behaviour sometimes, where it is relevant.  As long as it is not fixed and oversimplified for individuals, not expressed as facts about individuals, and it is not used to mistreat or discriminate against individuals.

There are a few misconceptions about the use of stereotypes - or observations that match a stereotype - that I think many people share:

Misconception #1 - When someone states a stereotyped observation about a particular group of people, this means they think EVERY individual in that group shares the characteristic they have observed.

Misconception #2 - That for a "stereotyped" view to hold some truth, a majority of people within a group should fit to that view.

Misconception #3 - That stating a view that adheres to a known stereotype involves insulting people.

Misconception #4 - That all stereotypes are equally bad.

Misconception #5 - That only bigots and racists are tempted into stereotypical thought processes.

Misconception #6 - That stereotypes will go away as long as we don't talk about them or use them for any explanatory purposes.

Misconception #7 - That it is not OK to make light of stereotypes.

Misconception #8 - That those who are within a group vulnerable to being stereotyped need all of our special protection.

Misconception #9 - That generalising (which many consider to be stereotyping) is not valid or useful.

Let me explain some of these with some examples:

#1 - The perfect example for this is would be the widely held view that Asian men don't tend to be as tall or big as White men.  The evidence is there to back up this view, but equally important is that it is fairly obvious that anyone who says this can't possibly hold the opinion that all Asians are short.  It is impossible for anyone with a pair of eyes.  I see a dozen Korean guys a day who are taller and bigger than me.

#2 - For this one, a great example is Muslims and terrorism.  I looked into this and discovered articles, like this one, stating figures in the US, which seemed to contradict the observation (connected to the stereotype that Muslims are terrorists) that Muslims are more likely to support and commit terrorism and websites like this one, which seemed to suggest that Muslims were far more likely to be involved in terrorism than any other group (there are always more stats on the US than anywhere else).  Both, in my eyes seemed to contradict one another, so I discarded them as being rather bias viewpoints, one from the far-left and one from the far-right.  The first did make me think though, could the world really be so wrong about Islam's connection to terrorism?  I did wonder on one thing though, just what defined a terrorist incident and what about the seriousness of them?  With this in mind I looked for a list of terrorist incidents by number of deaths, and this is what I found.  To say this is shocking would be an understatement.  It seems that acts of terrorism are committed by all sorts of people, but the biggest and most lethal ones (the ones which most people associate with terrorist acts) are usually committed by people who happen to be Muslims and under the ideology of Islamism.

Note: Again the definition of terrorism can also be argued by the other side here.  A Pakistani Muslim might well argue that US drone strikes constitute terrorism, and they might have a point.  This would be a crime committed by government, however, and not by citizens and doesn't really disprove the conclusion based on the stereotype.

Even with this list in mind, one must acknowledge that it is only the tiniest percentage of people who profess to be Muslim who are actually terrorists, perhaps not even 0.00001%.  However, this minute figure doesn't matter when we ask the question, "Which group of people with a shared faith or ideology are most likely to commit a deadly terrorist act?"  Despite the tiny numbers, you would have to say those that believe in Islam, so the observation that has the connection to the stereotype is not without some truth to it.  What the numbers do show is how mind-blowingly stupid you would have to be to approach a Muslim on the street and believe they could be a terrorist, let alone shout at them accusing them of being one, or worse.  You would probably be 99.99999% likely to be entirely wrong, not good odds.  If you were to judge them as a possible terrorist, you would be an ignoramus.

#3 - To me this is one of the most bizarre of all.  It simply doesn't compute in my head to be upset with someone who holds a view based on a stereotype.  As long as they can admit of exceptions and not treat anyone differently as a result of their thinking, I can't see how this is a problem.  For example, there is a big difference between how I would perceive the following questions about my wife:

"What's your wife doing today, cooking?"

"I've heard that Asian women always spend their days cooking for their husbands, is that true for your wife?"

 Let me first say that I did receive comment one a few times in England (and a few times more if you swap "cooking" for "cleaning").  To me, the first always sounds a little snidy and like a bit of a dig (especially if I could express the tone of voice used).  The second one is still in a style that many might find offensive, and I guess it might depend on the tone of voice also, but it shouldn't be really.  There is nothing wrong with being ignorant as long as you have an open mind and are willing to be educated and I think this kind of question admits to curiosity and scepticism of the widely held view, and most importantly a recognition of the fact that my wife may well be different from the stereotype.

#4 - I have noticed that people tend to categorise all stereotypes together in a bit of an ill disciplined manner, and a kind of ironic, "if you believe in one, you would believe in them all" statement is often the result.  Believing Black people are criminals is not the same as believing White people are slow runners, for example.  If one truly believes the first and applies it to the Black people they meet, they are people who you should worry about significantly more than people who believe the second about White people.  Believing in one also doesn't constitute believing in the other.

#5 - I have had a few occasions where people have commented on my writing and either implied or simply stated that they think I am a racist or a bigot for taking a generalisation and using it to explain certain behaviours of groups, usually Koreans, but also of Westerners too.  What has always given me a good laugh is that at the same time some of these people are accusing me of over-generalising, they often throw in a comment like this:

"I have known people like you before, you are all the same"

 Here is a classic from my "Challenge" post:

"here, foremost:

"I am married into a Korean family ..."

so what.

i've met a lot of guys like you who throw this out first. it doesn't matter, but you think it does and want everyone to think it does, but it doesn't.

this attitude distorts your worldview, how you perceive yourself, your marriage, and quite possibly your wife."

This makes me inclined to think we all do this to some extent and that we have to be very guarded against it.  It seems we are all natural stereotypers as humans, indeed most animals are pattern seekers.  We make lots of mistakes of course, when searching for patterns, which is why these things need to be examined further.

Once again, you can think something about a group of people, but it shouldn't really inform your actions or your words on a particular individual within that group, much better to have a chat with them and see what they think.

#6 - The other day I noticed a post about about conservatives fearing being called racist (in the US) and so not feeling able to air their opinions and in their frustration simply tuning-in to the most radical conservative radio and TV shows (which tend to be more popular than liberal ones), understanding their point of view and becoming more radically right-wing themselves as a result. I can really imagine this is true and I think this is a sad state of affairs and although I admittedly know little about the US, I do follow its politics quite closely and what I do see is a growing polarisation of the voting public and this could be part of the reason for it. 

It seems to me that silencing any views that could be deemed racist, culturalist, or stereotypical does not have the desired effect of taking away the impulse in people.  In fact, the logic tells me that their views will go unchallenged and allowed to fester and grow into something worse.

#7 - I have always thought of humour as a key ingredient to getting along with anyone and I think this also applies between groups.  When we can make fun of and laugh at each other, without worrying too much about offending each other, this is often a show of acceptance, respect, and generally liking someone and being friendly.  In fact, jokes at other's expense are often a test and an invitation to join the group and to test the water as to whether we can trust the other person, especially in men.

It is common, for example, in sports teams for new members to undergo an "initiation ceremony", which is usually a practical joke at their expense.  I can remember quite a few practical jokes from my cricket team members back in England, but I heard of some truly awful initiations for rugby teams.  It is done because it is a tried and trusted way of breaking the ice and forming a bond.  A problem I see is that it has become truly taboo to even come close to doing this between races or cultures.  We all have to show we are "respecting" each other by being hyper-sensitive about almost every issue.  This hyper-sensitivity is rampant in Western discourse at the moment.  Many people seem to jump to being offended and then can't really figure-out why they are, they just are and that is enough.

If we take another observation about many Far East Asian countries (that might be deemed stereotypical), they do seem to dislike each other a little more than Western countries dislike each other.  It has always intrigued me how little good humour there is between Korea and Japan, for example.  If we take an example of a good relationship between countries, you might use the UK and the US, where very little genuine animosity exists between its citizens and where jokes about each other's culture fly about left, right, and centre and generally taken in good heart.  The current relationship between many Islamic majority countries and the West is a good example of a bad relationship and this is characterised by an almost complete inability for one side to be able to see the funny side of anything when it relates to their culture or beliefs.

With all this in mind then, I might be inclined to suggest that making fun of the groups each of us tend to naturally fit into - by birth or whatever other reason - might actually be extremely beneficial.  Many historical reasons might make this all the more complicated, but at least in principle it appears a sound idea.  As always, however, one must take care with individuals not to embarrass or single them out too much.  Judging the reaction to a good joke has always been a bit of an art form to avoid the potential to upset people too much.

#8 - Over the past year or so, I have noticed a bit of a pattern emerging on my site - and other places where this blog gets a show or where I write - that it is almost always Westerners that become most offended by what I write.  If I write something criticising Korean culture, Westerners will jump to Korea's defense and be offended on their behalf.  It is very noble, but I do see a problem with this. 

The Western voice often becomes so loud that it drowns out the voice of those actually affected by a stereotype or prejudice.  This has the effect of keeping them down, it posits them as vulnerable, weak and in need of our superior position's protection (in fact the Westerner showing offence often assumes this superiority).  In the case of the races, when White people over-defend people of different race and culture, it actually hints at disrespect rather than respect.  They can't take a joke like us, they are not as strong as us, they need help not like us, they are not as culturally evolved as us, so give them a break. 

Obviously, the vulnerable among us do need protection.  I am not sure about whether my theory here would work for minorities in Western countries (but I think protections and extra vigilance from criminal acts might be enough), but what I am fairly sure about is that in Korea, for instance, Koreans don't need Westerners standing up for them and that they are more than capable of defending themselves if they need to.  I have always respected Korean people enough to think them able to take any criticism I have of their culture and to not be so proud that they couldn't accept a knock or two and possibly work to change the behaviour of society or at least go against it. 

#9 - As I have already stated, many people get upset with any generalisation of groups of people and consider it stereotyping and therefore will say it is invalid and also not useful.  In reality, as I have also already mentioned, everyone tends to stereotype, or at least generalise, because pattern seeking behaviour helps us handle and organise the mountain of information we receive on a daily, hourly, minute, and even second to second basis.  Sometimes we will commit errors by doing this, but many times the results will help us interact with people and the world, which may help us avoid catastrophic mistakes. 

I am passionate about the value of scientific inquiry and the scientific method has come about to help us confirm or deny the patterns we see around us, but to get started one must posit a theory first and this involves speculation and asking many questions about what is going on in order to form a hypothesis to be tested.  This is how we find out what is true.  If it is wrong to speculate and wrong to ask certain questions, we will never discover the truth and, if I had to choose, I would take the truth over reducing offence by avoiding honest speculation any day.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Challenge: RE My Asian/White Couples Post

My last post on Asian/White couples seemed to offend a few people, so in a bid to understand why, I am issuing a challenge to any readers of this blog, not because I really believe my position is infallible, but because I do want to genuinely know if the offence I have caused is justified.  If you can fulfill any of the following, I will issue a public apology for what I wrote on this blog:

Pull a quote from that post and copy it into my comment section below on this post and explain how it shows any of the following accusations leveled against me - all of which can be found in the comments section of my last post - are accurate:

a) That the post was a direct response to TheKoreans article on the subject in America, and that I talked with authority about the situation in America.  Please bear in mind that I wrote this:

"This post will not be a direct response as such because I do not live and have never lived in America and I don't know what it is like there, but some of the things I bring up here will at least have some relevance to the subject." 
"My expertise is with Korea, so I am going to look at the question from the point of view of living in Korea."

b) That I wrote that Asian men are not attractive to women.  And I will make this one even easier for you; you don't need to find anything that says I thought all Asian men are unattractive to women, just some.

c) That I personally think White men are more attractive than Asian men.

d) That I think ALL Korean women prefer White men.  And again I will make this easy for you, find the part where I said more Korean women prefer White men over Korean men. 

e) That I do not think that unjustified racism, stereotyping, Western media favouritism to caucasians, etc, plays a significant role in the issue.  You will have to explain away the following quotes from the post:

On TheKorean's conclusion: "deep-seated racism and cultural stereotyping which consciously and unconsciously affects people's choices. Actually, I agree that this could be a considerable factor"

"Let me first acknowledge, however, that it probably is true that society puts the white man on top of the social status pyramid and because status is a major influence on a woman's taste in a man, this is of course a big element to the whole thing"

"With this in mind then there is most probably an effect on the mind of Asian women by society, stereotypes and racism even when it comes to Asian men, I am certainly not denying it."

"So while a form of racism and stereotyping exists that harms an Asian man's chances of bagging a White Western woman, this is certainly not the whole story"

f) That I spoke for mixed race couples and silenced them in the process.  I never suggested I knew anything more than a few POSSIBLE problems for a mixed Asian man and Western woman couples that were perhaps not faced by a White man Asian woman couples, like my wife and I.  I never spoke for anyone else and admitted the existence many exceptions.  Another quote to prove this:

 "This seems a little bit more of a problematic relationship and despite the fact there are many success stories, here are some of the problems I foresee for such couples, which are not insurmountable, but definitely make things more difficult"

I am not sure how this involves silencing their views, as was claimed in my comments section. Also see this link on the disparity of divorce rates in Asian/White relationships, from which I pull this quote:

"White wife/Asian husband couples are 59% more likely to divorce by the 10th year of marriage than White wife/White husband couples, whereas Asian wife/White husband couples show only 4% greater likelihood of divorce than White wife/White husband couples over the same period.[9] Social enterprise research by the Columbia Business School (2005–2007) concluded that while East Asian women statistically prefer East Asian men for marriage, they show no discrimination against White men, causing Asian women/White men pairings to consistently become the prevalent form of interracial dating & marriage in the United States.[6]"

g) Point to where I implied White women couldn't possibly be interested in Asian men.

h) Point to where I implied that it was strange for a White woman to be interested in an Asian man.

i) Point to where I wrote all women don't like short men or that all women like big/tall men.

j) Point to where I wrote Asian men were less "manly".  I merely wrote that they TEND to be not as big, and again not all of them (this is a fact).

k) Point to where I implied my wife's discussion with her Japanese friend on the subject was the opinion of all Asian women.

l) Point to where I said all Asian women were smaller, slimmer, or more feminine than White women.  I said "arguably" they tend to be, which may be wrong, but I am entitled to my opinion.

As you can see there are a number of accusations I feel are completely unjustified and that I simply didn't write.  Some of them are so laughably misconstrued as to make me wonder what they were actually reading and makes me think that this was an important subject to write about.

In attempt to educate me, Roboseyo posted a number of links which included 4 posts (start here) from the blog "I'm no Picasso" on the effect stereotypes and racism have on Western women with Korean men in Korea, especially relevant to when they are in a Western crowd of people.  I read them all (obviously not quickly enough for the blogger in question), but I already knew what they were going to say and I knew that I would agree whole-heartedly.

If she or Roboseyo think I don't understand the general ignorance, prejudice, and unbelievable stupidity of many Westerners when it comes to their behaviour around an Asian/White couple, they are severely wrong because boy did I receive enough of it in England when I lived there with my wife, which I have written about several times on this blog.  And this leads me to my last challenge, and by far the most important one, because even if I did believe what I am accused to believe in (which I don't, let's just clarify that again) they would make me nothing more than a little ignorant perhaps, but not a monster nor especially immoral.  This is what really matters:

m) Point to the part of the post where I wrote that we should discriminate against couples we meet, treat them differently at all, or judge them upon anything other than their own individual character. Point to where I said we should ridicule their choices or assume anything about their relationship.

Just because I believe that patterns of behaviour and appearance do exist in different populations of people, and this can have some explanatory power sometimes, I would never say that means we can judge individuals on this.  This is a distinction worth noting.  Upon seeing any couple, whether they are inter-racial or not, I would advocate assuming nothing more than they like each other and treating them like any other couple you happen to lay your eyes on or interact with.  Why would I condone anything else, considering I myself am in an inter-racial relationship and my wife and I have been the victim of people's prejudices?

It is worth restating the aim of my post and that was to say that the issue of why there are more Asian women with White men than White women with Asian men is more complicated than mere prejudice (and Western prejudice at that, which appears to be the sole explanation for all matters inter-racial these days) and the language I used in the post clearly points to a speculative approach, considering all the possibilities.  It was never intended to be a direct response to the situation in America, just a perspective from Korea, as I explicitly stated.

It appears as if merely exploring other possibilities, and denying prejudice is the sole cause, is offensive in itself.  The ironic thing is that my post may have exposed a different kind of stereotype, a new one, where relations between races can only be explained by Western culture's prejudices, which is then taboo to criticise (I believe this is a very popular line of thought at the moment).  And once again, I think much of it can be, but not everything and I think one has the responsibility to point this out and most of all be honest and have an open mind to other explanations until they are proven to be wrong.

If you see everything as a sign of prejudice, how can you be without prejudice yourself?

And Finally

As speculative as my post was a regular commenter on my blog pointed out in my comments section that there is indeed quite a lot of compelling evidence for many of my speculations.  I thank him for his intellectual rigour in the search for truth and teaching me a lesson in searching for more supporting evidence, even when I am just throwing out ideas.  I am linking a couple of his sources, that he used in his excellent explanation below (please see my comment section on my last post for his full comment):

And just to show , once more, that I do believe stereotypes and media representation of races is a key factor, here is a little nugget to show that too.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why are there more Asian Women with White Guys than Asian Guys with White Women ?

I took issue with yet another of Ask a Korean's posts this week (he seems to be good ammunition for the Korea blogosphere at the moment), not so much because I disagreed totally with him but because of what he left out, which was important to say.  However, all credit to the guy for coming-up with interesting topics that bring me to his blog because, as I have said before, I am often not motivated to read other people's blogs very much.  Check out this post anyway:

I won't re-write what he wrote, but I am going to summarise it by saying that the overall conclusion is that his answer to the question in my title is because of a deep-seated racism and cultural stereotyping which consciously and unconsciously effects people's choices.  Actually, I agree that this could be a considerable factor, but there are other things that should not be over-looked.  This post will not be a direct response as such because I do not live and have never lived in America and I don't know what it is like there, but some of the things I bring up here will at least have some relevance to the subject.

My expertise is with Korea, so I am going to look at the question from the point of view of living in Korea.  Let me first acknowledge, however, that it probably is true that society puts the white man on top of the social status pyramid and because status is a major influence on a woman's taste in a man, this is of course a big element to the whole thing, which is part of what The Korean is talking about.  It is not, however, the only reason.

How Well do the Cultures Mix?

I suspect that a very conservative way of looking at women is present in many other Asian countries as well as Korea.  In Korea, women are still discriminated against in a variety of ways, so much so that Korea was ranked 108th in global gender equality - much to the disbelief of many Korean men who seem to think that, if anything, they are the ones being hard done by (which always makes me laugh).

With this in mind then, it is pretty easy to see the appeal of a cross-cultural relationship (i.e. to a Western man).  A Korean woman can have greater freedoms, not worry about her traditional responsibilities, not be so concerned of a strained relationship with the in-laws (one of the main reasons for divorce in Korea), and maybe able to escape to another country altogether that treats women better and gives them better opportunities.  Not to mention the fact that women are generally a little more communicative than men generally, and in Korea especially this means that they are more likely to strike up a conversation with a Western man in the first place, making it more likely they will form a relationship.  I have also noticed that Western men seem to be a little bolder in approaching women as well.

If you think of the situation the other way round, however, is there as much appeal for a Western woman to be with a Korean man and indeed for the Korean man to be with the Western woman?  This seems a little bit more of a problematic relationship and despite the fact there are many success stories, here are some of the problems I foresee for such couples, which are not insurmountable, but definitely make things more difficult:

* A Western woman is far less likely to be the model daughter in-law for a Korean family and put-up with all the duties that the average Korean family requires (I have had a few responses to my blogs by Western women who married Korean men stating this very problem).

* Korean men are often more conservative in nature and this allows less freedom for a Western woman, who may well value her independence more than your average Korean woman.  This could be frustrating for the woman as well as the man.

* A Western woman may be forced to move into a society that gives her less opportunities and less freedom.

* A Korean man could be more intimidated by a perhaps a more independent and outspoken Western woman.

* A Western woman may well be intimidated by a more conservative Korean man.

The fact of a more liberal West and a more conservative East immediately makes a difference in the appeal of an Asian/Western relationship between a man and a woman.  I know TheKorean's post was about America, but the cultural element must not have been lost completely and is still relevant.  If you are going to say these are all stereotypes not applicable to everyone, then yes, they aren't applicable to everyone, but we need only identify a trend to explain the differences in relationships.  If you think that Asian men are generally not more likely to have conservative attitudes (especially if they live in an Asian country), I'd advise you to travel to an Asian country and see for yourself or stop being in denial.  Most Korean men I know are far more conservative than I am used to in my own culture.  All of them, no, but most of them, yes.

Again the argument also works the other way and that because of a more liberal West, Asian women with a more traditional outlook on life - for better or worse - could well be more appealing as a long-term partner for some Western men.

For these reasons then, I think it is clear to see that the combination of Eastern and Western culture in a relationship between two people does favour the Asian woman with the Western man rather than the other way round.

In Korea, Foreigners are Dangerous and Therefore Attractive

Actually, TheKorean hinted at the cause for this in his post when he talked about the response of many Asian men saying stupid things like, "They are stealing our women."

If you have lived in Korea for any length of time, you will have heard of a few TV shows that got all us foreigner's knickers in a bit of a twist regarding Western men preying on Korean women in Korea and the general distrust of Western men in the news generally.  Grave warnings of us evil foreigners using them for one-night stands, having sex, then jettisoning them the next day, as well as the risk of contracting AIDS from us.

In reality, all us foreigners that are interested in Korean women should have thanked MBC and the rest for doing us such a favour and making us all appear significantly more attractive than we actually are.  I have been musing for years why my friends that treat women terribly seem to get all the action, while I struggle away being nice and coming-up with diddly-squat.  This might come as news for some, but women the world over get a kick out of dating the bad guy.  Every time the Korean media say we are dangerous and not to be trusted, us foreign fella's sex appeal goes up just one more notch.

Now, the statistics probably won't show-up one night stands, just marriages and maybe long-term relationships, but that is the beauty of the whole thing for guys like me and other fine, upstanding young gentlemen.  I am about as dangerous as a butterfly on ecstasy, but the mystery and danger that immediately surrounds me as a white guy in Korea, makes me much more desirable than back home. When it turns out that us "nice guys" treat our date well and don't use them for sex, abuse them, or give them AIDS, we probably look like the best things since sliced bread. We are dangerous and gentle all at the same time.  This was definitely a factor in me meeting my wife and by the time she had figured out how normal and boring I really am, I had already charmed my way into her affections with my "niceness", something which - in my experience - upon first meeting most women, seems to be about as attractive as talking about cricket to them.

It Must be Taken into Consideration

Now, before you shoot me, I am not saying that the following argument is true but I have heard it coming from a few Korean women I know, so I think it is worth addressing.  It could simply be that, on average, Western men (White in particular) are just more attractive than Asian guys to more Asian women than Asian men are to white women, and I am not simply talking about the role that popular culture and stereotypes play on our sub-conscious, maybe they just naturally are.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone denying that Asian men are on-average smaller than White or Black men.  So what is naturally attractive for a woman as a mate?  Size and strength must be a factor.  It sounds almost too stupid and offensive to say, but coincidentally my wife - who is currently living in Australia - had a conversation with her Japanese flatmate yesterday on precisely this topic.  They both said they prefer white men because they are usually bigger.  Each to their own of course and there will be many Asian women who don't like a bigger man, but this has come up quite regularly in conversation with the Asian women I know.

Of course, what this does also suggest is some hypocrisy and that the image society portrays for the races is relevent because they don't often find themselves attracted to black men.  With this in mind then there is most probably an effect on the mind of Asian women by society, stereotypes and racism even when it comes to Asian men, I am certainly not denying it.  However, I am going to take at least some of what they say as a genuine preference a bit like people preferring brunettes or blondes.  It could simply be that Asian men just aren't as attractive to many women like the ginger-haired are often considered less attractive in the West.

White men also, tend to vary in aspects of their physical appearance in ways Asian men do not.  I am not saying any of this makes White men superior, the simple fact is that Asian women may well be attracted to these differences.  White Westerners stand-out in the crowd, like brighter feathers on a peacock.  Blonde hair, blue or green eyes, white skin, these could all simply amount to White guys being more desirable for many Asian women (no theory should go unexplored when you are grasping for the truth, I refuse to fold to political correctness on this blog).  If other animals can be attracted by shows of colour or simply different physical traits, why not humans?

Going the other way, Asian women tend to be quite petit, slimmer and arguably more feminine than their White sisters, which may appeal to all men as well.  Certainly there is a general trend for Asians, both male and female to be smaller and slimmer, so what do these traits tend to favour in the looks department, men or women?

So while a form of racism and stereotyping exists that harms an Asian man's chances of bagging a White Western woman, this is certainly not the whole story.  Every issue that exists between the races is not solely down to ignorance, prejudice, and discrimination.  We must explore all avenues, even if some of those avenues sound like they are being racist themselves.  We cannot let the "isms" blind objectivity, which seems to be happening too often lately.

TheKorean seems to like talking about an ocean of different cultural possibilities - when an outsider tries to explain Korean culture - that make it difficult to come to conclusions.  Without further research the issue of why there are more Asian women with white men is like the ocean in that it may be difficult to pinpoint one particular reason and it may change for different people, but with an overall trend possibly present somewhere.  Why then, when the subject of discrimination or racism and Western culture come into focus does he narrowly forget the ocean analogy and zero-in on one reason for the trends we see in Western society related to Asians.  I see a double-standard at work here because if trying to explain the behaviour of Asian people based on culture is difficult, he should acknowledge that it is also difficult to explain Western people this way also.

Note: If you believe this post was offensive (like a few people have) why not have a look at my challenge in the follow-up to this post:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Interesting Korean Blogs

Firstly, let me confess, I am not a very prolific blog or indeed news reader when it comes to Korea.  My posts are usually personally based; I find something that I like or dislike about Korea, which I have experienced myself, and then I research thoroughly to see if there is any pattern of it occuring anywhere else - if that is required.

With this in mind then, there are only very few blogs that I find myself visiting, which are all listed on my blogroll on the side bar.  I thought I might tell you why they are of interest to me and give them a little bit of a thumbs-up on this site.  We'll go in alphabetical order (I am leaving out because I write for them):

Ask a Korean

Although I often find myself disagreeing with much of what he writes about Korea, he articulates his side of the argument (usually pro-Korean, unsurprisingly) extremely well and often comes at problems from angles that others have not thought of or not dared to question.  Perhaps inevitably, I come at issues regarding Korea from a somewhat different perspective than he does, however, his writing has given me more pause to think and question my own ideas and beliefs than almost any others on the subject of Korea.  Despite the fact I gave him a little bit of a hard time with regard two of his posts - the first on planes crashes (my response here and sorry it was so long) and the second on the effect of modernity on the problems in Korea (I responded on his site) - I respect his writing very much.

I think he has a style of discourse that is very well received in the Western world at the moment because of our penchant to explain-away personal responsibility and apportioning blame for other countries problems on the evils of Western culture.  He has a great knowledge of Korea and its history and although I believe he does use this to wriggle-out of difficult situations and excuse many of Korea's problems that they should be presently responsible for changing (if you delve into history, everyone has a reason for doing what they do, to the point where it is always possible to apportion blame to somewhere else), it could just be that he is right.  I kind of like the uncertainty I feel about my own position when I read what he writes.

Bobsters House

Another person who often disagrees with things that I write, but importantly does it graciously and thoughtfully.  I happen upon his blog from time to time and he takes some great pictures too, something I really have to get into - or at least take some rubbish pictures to put on my blogs more often.

BurndogsBurnBlog and As the BurnDog Turns

This sharp-tongued Aussie came to my attention when he wrote criticising me on a post I wrote about co-teachers.  I took me a while to appreciate his critique because he did it in a style perhaps all of his own and it sounded rather aggressive.  However, after a good deal of expletives and verbal rallies were exchanged, I started to grasp that he had more than just a glimmer of a point on a variety of subjects related to that particular post.  This caused a change in how I run things on this site - which I thank him for - and a knowledge that there is someone out there ready to pounce on any sub-par pieces of writing or poorly informed ones I do in the future.  I still believe there was quite a lot of truth in that piece, but he did call me out on generalising the same problems throughout the country when, actually, I could have no idea what things were like in other regions of Korea.

Very amusing, strangely rational, straight to the point and highly original, I recommend a look.  But if you are easily offended, perhaps you might stay away or at least take care when commenting.

From Korea with Love

A really candid, passionate and well-written blog by a Filipino woman who is married to a South Korean man.  Very interesting to get the perspective from a woman from a non-Western country about the challenges they face embedded in South Korean culture and with Korean in-laws.  It is also nice that she is a woman, as again the perspective can be quite different to that of a man, and especially a white western man.  She writes some personal posts about her life in Korea as well as some well-researched and practical articles about the challenges many people face in marrying into a Korean family, including immigration issues, news, and information.

Gusts of Popular Feeling

We all know about Korea's tendency to be a little xenophobic sometimes, but this blog deals with many issues relating to xenophobia in Korea with such great research and impressive detail that it is a valuable resource.  It appears he can also speak and understand Korean quite well (or at least has a good interpreter) and this enables him to delve deeper than most into TV shows and other resources, the likes of which go right over the heads of the rest of us.

Sometimes I do feel that Korea's xenophobia and racism can be slightly blown out of proportion by the Western community in Korea sometimes, but you will hardly find a better resource for examining it than this site.


I must admit that I probably arrived a little late in the piece at this particular site, as it is quite a well-known blog in South Korea, but I have stumbled across a few posts of his lately that I rather liked.  Unlike yours truly perhaps, he does have a rather nice way of stepping back from getting too emotional in his writing and really tackles problems in a well thought-out manner.  He has obviously been blogging about Korea for a fair amount of time and carries an air of balanced wisdom about all things Korea.

Wangjangnim's Perspective

I came across his site first because of a comment he wrote about a piece I did over on asispundits about Hagwons in Korea.  As a Hagwon owner himself, I don't think it went down that well with him as I was pretty scathing about the hole Hagwon thing.  After a bit of a debate, though, I think we duked-out a fair amount of common ground and argeement.  Here are the posts we wrote:

His is a valuable site due the rarity of his situation, i.e. a foreign Hagwon owner who regularly blogs about business, education generally, and the joys and frustrations of it all.  I have learnt a lot from it about the ins and outs of the Hagwon system in Korea.  I particularly enjoy his musings on his theories of education (which I think are very sensible) and what he thinks about hiring good quality teachers, especially the foreign ones.  Well worth a read.