Finding a place to call your own – My Place

My Place Eng Poster

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

[Press statement]

Finding a place to call your own – My Place

Foreigners in Korea often find themselves caught between cultures. Whether you are adjusting to your new English teaching job, working with Korean colleagues, in a relationship with a Korean partner, or even just travelling as a tourist, you are sometimes baffled, at times intrigued, and certainly trying to navigate through the differences you encounter. For people who find themselves in a transnational context, the documentary <My Place> will speak volumes.

The heart-felt film, <My Place>, depicts an intimate portrait of the director’s own family struggling to overcome past wounds of reverse migration from Canada to Korea. Family members, each in a different way, had to deal with the hurdles of societal norms, a repressive education system, and gender inequality dealt to them by the Korean society. This illuminating film explores clashes between Western and Eastern cultures, traditional values versus the contemporary, and broader themes of societal normalcy, identity, and belonging.

The film begins when the director’s little sister decides to become an unwed single mom. The little sister decides to raise the child in Canada as she never felt welcome in her parent’s homeland, South Korea. As the film progresses, the lives of parents, intertwined with Korea’s modern history is discovered, while family members try to come together to face the challenges of raising a new baby outside of the traditional family form. While following the trajectories of family members, constantly on the move in search of their own place, the film seemingly concludes that ‘My place’ isn’t so much a spot on the map, but a place that lies in the relationships that one holds close to their heart.

After touring the film festival circuit, while winning numerous awards on its way (among others, Jeonju International Film Festival – Audience Critics’ Prize, Seoul Independent Film Festival – Jury Prize) the film is now preparing for its theatrical release on January 30th. The film has also won the Audience Award, at last year’s Chewsock Film Festival – as the name implies, a film festival for expats bored during the Chuseok holiday in Korea – proving that the honesty of this deeply personal documentary and universal theme of yearning for a place in this world, transcends language barriers and cultural differences, while its subtle commentary on the differences between Eastern and Western cultures seem to speak to the experiences of expats in Korea.

To cater to the needs of foreigners, English subtitles will be provided for all screenings at the KT&G Sangsang Madang Theater in Hongdae district, and Indieplus near Sinsa Station. One other theater in Seoul ― IndieSpace near Gwanghwamun Station ― will also provide English subs for screenings from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, during the Lunar New Year Holiday(Sulnal).

*KT&G SangsangMadang Cinema (Hongdae) : 02-330-6200 http://www.sangsangmadang.com/cinema/

*INDIEPLUS (Sinsa) : 02-3447-0650 http://www.indieplus.or.kr/jsp2/index.jsp

*INDIESPACE (Gwangwhamoon) : 02-738-0366 http://indiespace.tistory.com/1715

*For more info on Screenings with English subtitles : https://www.facebook.com/AllInKoreanWithEnglishSubsPlease

*More info on film:

https://www.facebook.com/DocumentaryMyPlace (Korean with some English)

https://www.facebook.com/ssmadangcinema (Korean)

https://twitter.com/sangsangfilm (Korean)

Reader Request: Looking for people to share stories about relationships in Korea

Couple ShoesI’ve been asked to pass on the following:

Looking for people to share stories about relationships in Korea

*********Have you fallen in love in South Korea? Battled cultural differences and other pressures to be with someone you never would have met anywhere else? Found the freedom to do things, meet people, or be someone you wouldn’t have dared to at home? Kept things going long-term and long-distance? Decided that dating in Korea is just too daunting and put that side of your life on hold while you’re here? Worn a couple shirt?

If you have a great story you’d like to share about dating, relationships and sex in Korea, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m making a documentary about how living in Korea can affect relationships, and I’d like to interview people with experiences that been delightful and difficult, wonderful and weird, sour and sweet.

It would be great to speak to partnered and single, cis- and trans-gender people, from a variety of backgrounds, and with a range of preferences and interests, including:

  • Korean people with experiences with other Korean people and people from other countries;
  • Non-Korean people with experiences with people from Korea and other countries;
  • People in monogamous and non-monogamous relationships with one or more partners;
  • People happy or unhappy not to be in a relationship;
  • People who have made their homes in Korea;
  • People who are in Korea on a temporary basis.

The film will be inclusive, non-judgemental and sex-positive, allowing the stories to act as an honest look at the unique experience of looking for, holding onto and losing companionship in Korea. To this end, and because I intend it for gallery screenings, the film probably won’t be a traditional talking-heads documentary. Instead, I’ll try to respond creatively to the themes of the stories people tell me, especially when the storytellers wish to remain anonymous. If you’re happy to appear on camera, that’s great, but if you’d like to share your story and would rather not have your face, voice or name be part of the film, I’ll find ways to accommodate those wishes.

I hope to collect stories in December and January, and am happy to travel anywhere in Korea to conduct interviews.

If you’d like to know more, or if you’re interested in taking part, please get in touch at relationshipsinkorea@gmail.com

Ben

Reader Request: Korean-Western Relationships and Gaining Acceptance from the Korean Parents

Korean-Western Relationships(Sources, edited: left, middle, right)

The following was originally posted as a short comment to Korean Sociological Image #78: Multicultural Families in Korean Textbooks; for the sake of giving it more exposure, and thereby hopefully more chances of finding a solution, I encouraged the author to expand it into this separate post. If anyone can give her advice, especially those who’ve been in similar situations (please post anonymously if you prefer), and/or can direct her to helpful websites, she would be very grateful:

*********My name is Jess.  My backstory is a depressing picture of humanity, so we’ll skip it.  I complete my schooling and earn my certification in 8 months.  My grandmother owns a massage therapy and alternative health shop, and I am set to join her in her practice.  I hope to expand the business and hopefully retire her (if I can convince her to) before continuing my formal education.  I have two beautiful, bright little girls.

H grew up in Southern California.  I don’t understand the “generation” terms very well, but his parents moved here from Korea.  He is a nurse (or a murse, he jokes), and works in the ICU of a hospital in the city he lives in.  For the sake of anonymity, I’ll skip a lot of his backstory as well.  I live midstate, he lives in the Northern part of the state.

We met in a bar.  It’s a very funny story, but I can’t seem to tell even a bit of it without writing six pages.  Basically, boy meets girl, boy hits on girl, girl tries to scare off boy with picture of her offspring and fails.  Miserably.  I spent the first half of our friendship trying to put him off.

The first time he ever called me, we talked for three hours.  And this set the precedent. We had regular, lengthy conversations about immediately relevant things:  who we are, what we do, how our minds work, etc.  I’ve never felt so picked over in my life.  I don’t think he expected to find a person like me in the stereotype I inhabited… just as I didn’t expect to find someone like him.  Neither of us expected it, and I think that’s why it happened.  We fell in love by accident and were fighting it all along for various reasons.  He seemed terribly conflicted all the time.  He would ask me repeatedly to date him—which I would decline—then turn around and insist that I not get attached to him.  It never made sense.

Long story short, 6 or 7 months ago, we started seeing each other more regularly.  The more I saw him, the more I found that I was falling for him.  I was careful.  I wanted to be sure that what I was feeling was real and not a byproduct of a past failure or the fact that he was a challenge.  When I was certain of what I was feeling, I began to try to understand what was going on in his head.  Eventually, I realized that his mixed signals weren’t purely because of him.  It wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough in his mind.  I realized that he wasn’t ALLOWED to have me.  That didn’t make sense.   The end result was the same, though, I wasn’t an option for him.  Shortly after this, he admitted that he didn’t like me seeing anyone else.  In short order, we were exclusive.  Not only was I seeing him more, but now we were only seeing each other.

Over the year that we had known each other, our relationship shot through so many levels unimpeded, I’ve never felt anything like it.  It was honest, right from the beginning because neither of us expected ANYTHING to evolve from it, let alone an exhilarating friendship or compatible romance.  I knew all along H couldn’t have a relationship with me, but it wasn’t until after I was good and head over heels that he hinted at the real reasons why we couldn’t be together.  When he did, our relationship started shifting.  We began mourning.  It got to be too much.  It wasn’t fair.  I tried breaking it off multiple times.  The first time, he didn’t call me for three weeks.  After nearly a year of talking to him regularly, it was a stark adjustment.  I resolved myself to letting it go and getting on with my life.  Then, I think it was the end of June.. he called me in the middle of the day.  He had a long drive ahead of him.  He was alarmed by how much he missed me.  I was alarmed how high my heart soared hearing his voice.  I didn’t even realize how badly I needed that.  He “accidentally” told me he loved me.  I gritted my teeth and brushed it off, just immensely soothed that he had no intentions of disappearing, still.  That was all it took, though.  One phone call and we were right back to seeing each other.

Over the next few months, we just had to admit to ourselves that we did love each other.  There wasn’t anything we could do to change it.  He finally told me in detail the reasons why his family wouldn’t approve of me.  I began making every attempt to understand it.  I never stopped.  We never stopped seeing each other, but we were always worried about the anvil of his family hanging over our heads.  Even if we found everything we needed in each other, when that anvil dropped the bond was doomed.

It unraveled when he went to his cousin’s wedding.  He noticed that his uncle was so proud and happy looking at his son and new daughter-in-law.  He remembered the way his father looked, at his brother’s wedding.  H realized that he wouldn’t have that if he stayed with me.  None of this was fair.  He was torn.  He felt he was wasting my time.  He broke it off with me.   I was shocked.  He had changed gears again.  He had gone from needing reassured that it wasn’t changing for me, to disappearing.  It lasted a day.  I was a mess; he called me hoping to help me out of it, and ended up worse himself.   In my attempts to cope, I had started writing a letter.  I knew my letter wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind, but I just wanted to know WHY it had to be this way… I didn’t tell him about the letter.  But his mind (as always) was in the same place mine was.  He asked me if I wanted to send one.  I’ll state for the record, that this was a stupid idea born of two distressed minds, but I did.  The letter was just as positively received as he imagined it would be.  His mother cried.  His father jumped to conclusions that were so far from possible that it let me know just how shocked and appalled they were.  This was extremely upsetting for them.  But… they did tell him that they couldn’t control him.  He decided to stick to his guns and call it over.  I was left coping.  I had a simple birthday gift I’d had waiting for the next time I would see him.  I almost didn’t go, but I took it to him, deciding that I was going to leave quickly.

I’m not sure which of us asked to talk, but we ended up curling up to talk about it.  In my attempts to not be emotionally manipulative or force my needs on him, I had not told him how much time I’d spent researching the issue.  I hadn’t told him that I’d looked up language lessons in the area, how far ahead I had thought and how prepared I was to sustain this effort for as long as it took, if he wanted me.  I’m not sure if I was right or wrong, but it meant that he was unaware.  He asked me to stay.  I took him to the place that I grew up.  I showed him key places from my childhood and teen years. He took me to a Korean restaurant.  His fortune cookie read, “Discover your companion’s world.  Two worlds are better than one.” Which is exactly what he had spent all day doing.  Mine said, “Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.” Which is exactly what I had been trying to explain to him all weekend.  We had an uncomfortable laugh.   By the end of the weekend, his thoughts and emotions were scattered again.  He wanted to call his brother.  I didn’t know what that would solve.  I just wanted him to stop and think about what he was doing for once, because the whole time he had just been making it worse by getting ahead of himself and freaking out.  If he wanted it to work, he needed to be calm and sure.  If he didn’t want it to work, there was no need to alarm his family more.  I would just leave.  I made him stop and think about what he wanted to accomplish.  We pulled out our schedules to figure out when we both had a good chunk of time.  We made tentative plans for me to meet his brother (who lives out of state).  He told me not to get my hopes up.  To just calm down and be chill for a while.  I couldn’t agree more.  This has been taking up entirely too much energy.  It’s time to get back to bantering, laughing deviously, outwitting each other, and discussing things of no import until we have to worry again.

I’ve spent a long time pondering, reading, and learning, trying to find a way around the problem.  It’s not really about who I am as a person.  I feel no pain from the absoluteness of how they look at me.  It’s what I am.  I’m not Korean.  I have children.  I am not at all what they would want for their son, their family.  I can’t change what I am, but I know we are not the only people in this situation.   I haven’t found many articles about the problems in my particular situation.  Usually, racism is full of hatred and cold-hearted callousness.  I have found MANY instances of couples overcoming and succeeding despite situations like that… but I haven’t been able to find many stories about families like H’s–just enough to have hope; not enough for a thorough understanding.  Their disapproval isn’t like that.  They aren’t hateful.  They aren’t callous.  This causes them pain.  I have a lot to offer, but to say that I’m not what they expected… that’s an understatement of epic proportions.  The advice that I seek is how to bridge that kind of a gap.  I’m looking for anything that might help.  I’m looking for people who’ve been in a situation like this and found success, I want to know what they’ve DONE or avoided doing.  Even if not exactly (his parents are individuals, too, there’s no tried and true approach), each success story I can find could offer a pearl of wisdom to guide me through this. (END)

***

Again, any specific advice readers can provide would be appreciated, and/or links. For the latter, off the top of my head I would recommend Speaking of China, AMWF Love, and possibly Texan in Tokyo, the last found while searching for images to accompany this post (and failing — unfortunately, I don’t like to use “ordinary” couple’s pictures without their permission!). Also, there are of course a great many blogs by Western women with Korean or Asian partners out there, some of whom may have written about meeting his parents at some point — if anyone knows of any specific posts, again Jess would be very grateful. Thanks!

Update: Speaking of China has provided a round-up of links with dating advice for Chinese-Western couples here.

Korean Sociological Image #78: Multicultural Families in Korean Textbooks

Korean Mulitcultural Family Korean Ethics Textbook

Over at Korean Circle and Squares, Emanuel Pastreich has scanned some pages of the Korean ethics textbook currently used in Korean elementary schools. He comments that the very existence of such an old-fashioned class is remarkable (as part of the daily program no less), and was especially struck by the efforts to address multicultural issues and the children of “multicultural families.” For example, the page above-right:

…relates a diary entry by Jeonghyeon, an elementary school student whose mother is Vietnamese. Jeonghyeon says she has no memories of her Vietnamese grandmother and grandfather and seems not to actually live in that complex multicultural family. Nevertheless, it is a tremendous improvement to create this space in which multicultural kids can exist within the official textbooks.

Ethnic Nationalism in KoreaClick on the image for more examples. Also remarkable about them is how, just 5 years ago, textbooks stressed how important it was that Korea remain ethnically homogenous instead. As described by Matt of Gusts of Popular Feeling in December 2008:

Korea’s ethics textbooks are to change, however — in part due to Hines Ward’s first visit to Korea after being named MVP in the Superbowl in 2006 — and North Korea, which has taken these ideas to frightening extremes, was not happy:

The words themselves take a knife to the feeling of our people, but even more serious is that this anti-national theory of “multiethnic, multiracial society” has already gone beyond the stage of discussion. Already, they’ve decided that from 2009, content related to “multiracial, multiethnic culture” would be included in elementary, middle and high school textbooks that have until now stressed that Koreans are the “descendents of Dangun,” “of one blood line” and “one race,” and to change the terms “families of international marriage” and “families of foreign laborers” to “multicultural families.” This is an outrage that makes it impossible to repress the rage of the people/race.

More recently, these issues again gained prominence with the election of Ms. Lee (born Jasmine Bacurnay in the Philippines) to South Korea’s National Assembly in April last year, the first naturalized citizen — and the first nonethnic Korean — to do so. As Choe Sang-hun wrote in The New York Times, public opinion is still is still far behind official policy:

And this year, for the first time, South Korea began accepting multiethnic Korean citizens into its armed forces. Before, the military had maintained that a different skin color would make them stand out and hurt unity.

But if government support has improved, Ms. Lee says, popular sentiment seems to have cooled. Korean men who sponsored foreign women as brides, only to find themselves abandoned by women who exploited them to immigrate to and work in South Korea, have organized against the government’s multicultural policy. Meanwhile, low-income Koreans accuse migrant workers of stealing their jobs.

The government itself stands accused of fostering xenophobia by requiring foreigners who come to South Korea to teach English to undergo H.I.V. tests, but not requiring the same of South Koreans in the same jobs. Last year, an Uzbek-born Korean made news when she was denied entry to a public bath whose proprietor cited fear of H.I.V. among foreigners.

Korean Woman's DNA DifferentThe Korean media also has some way to go, Matt noticing (in 2010) the headline “Korean Women’s DNA is Different” for instance:

Well now, I guess that may explain why Roboseyo “personally was told “foreign blood and Korean blood together has problems” [by] one of the nurses at a blood clinic[.]” It all makes sense now – Koreans’ DNA is different. What a simple, obvious explanation.

Actually, while the article tells us that “Questions arise each time Korean female athletes accomplish great things on the world stage,” it (sadly) does not follow up on the promise of the headline, instead dwelling on more mundane cultural and social influences. Mind you, the fact that “Korean women’s DNA is different” was a headline on the front page of a newspaper should go to show that the idea of genes and bloodlines was dominating the writer (or editor)’s thinking, and that they figured others would agree.

Fortunately, my Korean wife and I have met very few Koreans (openly) expressing that idea of pure genes and bloodlines, and fewer still that harassed us for mixing them. Also, as one of those “muliticultural families,” we’ve benefited from our youngest daughter jumping ahead in the waiting list for a place in a state-run kindergarten (albeit something which “ordinary” Korean parents may justifiably resent), and both our daughters receive a great deal of friendly attention when we’re out with them (not so much when they’re just with me — you’d never guess they had a Korean mother). Part of that is likely because half-Korean celebrities were very much in vogue a few years ago, but this popularity may now be waning.

How about any readers in interracial relationships or multicultural families? What positive or negative experiences have you had specifically because of this bloodlines-based view of nationalism, and/or related government policies?

Update: If you’ve come this far, I recommend following-up with The Culture Muncher’sA Multicultural Korea: Inevitable or Impossible?” also.

Update 2: Thanks to @dacfrazer, who passed on the must-read “There is more to my son than the fact he’s a ‘half’” at The Japan Times.

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Announcements: Two Very Worthy Causes to Support!

KUMFA

Today, some information about two very worthy causes.

First, on ongoing volunteer opportunities for the Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association in Daegu and the 3rd Single Moms’ Day Conference this May. Then, on a Kickstarter campaign for a full length documentary film seeking to help preserve and spread knowledge of the shamanistic practices and shrine religion of Jeju Island:

I. The Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association (KUMFA) is an organization that works to promote children’s human rights while addressing systemic discrimination. KUMFA advocates for the human rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea. KUMFA’s goal is to enable Korean women to have sufficient resources and support to keep their babies if they choose, and thrive in Korean society.

More information is available in the following interview and at the Single Moms’ Day event page:

Daegu KUMFA Volunteer Opportunities (ongoing):

The Daegu Branch of the Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association will hold meetings and provide classes for their members. KUMFA Daegu seeks volunteers to provide childcare during the classes. In the future other types of volunteer opportunities may arise. For additional details please visit the KUMFA Facebook Page or contact us directly at kumfa.volunteer@gmail dot com.

Seoul KUMFA Volunteer Opportunities (ongoing):

The Seoul Branch of Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association has ongoing volunteer and learning opportunities. Sign up by joining the Facebook group.

II. Seoul Conference (May 10-11, 2013): The 3rd Single Moms’ Day Conference:

SMD advocates for human rights in a number of important ways, in particularly by addressing systemic discrimination by “informing people inside and outside Korea about the factors that pressure unwed mothers to relinquish their children for adoption. Push factors include fathers’ child support obligations being unenforced; lack of adequate social welfare from the Korean government; social discrimination against unwed mothers and their children. Pull factors include the fact that more than half of unwed mothers in facilities are living in unwed mothers’ shelters that are owned and operated by adoption agencies; a money-driven international adoption system that does not conform to the UN CRC or the Hague Convention, i.e., it does not respect children’s humans rights.”

For more information or to make a donation, please visit the SMD event page. Here is some volunteer testimony:

“I have been involved with SMD and related projects for two years. I’ve learned a lot from this really inspiring collaboration of groups that fight for Korean children’s human rights, including: parents whose children were adopted by unethical means; unwed parents who are fighting workplace and social discrimination to raise their children; adult adoptees who campaign for ethical reforms to adoption laws; supporters and volunteers who work to bring policies into the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

Next, on Jeju Documentarian Giuseppe Rositano’s Kickstarter campaign. Please do check the link for additional information, and on why your help is needed:

Jeju 1As a popular tourist destination in South Korea, Jeju Island has risen to fame predominantly for its natural wonders: hiking trails in abundance, scenic ocean views and South Korea’s highest mountain. It is possible to experience these in just a few short days, but staying on the island a bit longer or even making it a home provides the opportunities to get a deeper understanding and appreciation of some of the more interesting aspects of Jeju. Documentarian Giuseppe Rositano, Jeju Island resident of 7 years, explores some of these more interesting aspects of Jeju life, specifically the shamanistic beliefs and shrine religion of Jeju Island that is in danger due to the rapidly declining population of believers.

Jeju 2Spanning the course of 18 months and accumulating more than 500 hours of shamanistic ceremonies and traditional storytelling on film, Rositano captures the spiritual life of 5 villages through exploration of their native deities and traditional oral stories that have been passed down through generations. These stories, which describe the lives of Jeju’s extensive pantheon, are quickly disappearing. At Search is an attempt to preserve these unique indigenous beliefs.

Each village on Jeju Island has several shrines in which local deities specific to the island are ‘seated’. Each of these deities corresponds to a ‘bonpuli’ or oral myth. With an adventurous spirit, this documentary sets out to capture the retelling of these ‘bonpuli’ legends in the voice of what is likely the final generation of elders who received the stories from their parents and grandparents. Sadly, younger generations are seldom aware of these stories which serve as the cornerstones for their grandparents’ spiritual lives and cultural identity. With over 400 shrines on the island and a total of 18,000 gods on Jeju, that’s quite a loss to humanity’s cultural history!

Jeju 3Currently At Search for Spirits on the Island of Rocks, Wind and Women is in post-production. Rositano and team have launched a kickstarter campaign to raise funds to bring the project to completion and to get it out to film festivals around the world.

Going Solo in Korea

Korea Single Households(Sources, edited: left, right)

Family may be everything in Korea, but by last year more than 1 in 4 Koreans were living alone, beating rates in (supposedly) more individualistic societies like the US and Australia.

While this provides a lot of opportunities for companies, there’s also a dearth of suitable accommodation. And most of those singles are not carefree youth, but either middle-class 30 and 40-something men, or women in their 60s and above living in poverty. With rates set to become 1 in 3 by 2020, this is set to become a huge political, economic, social, and cultural issue in Korea’s near-future.

For a heads-up, see my latest article for Busan Haps, which includes entirely too much information on why I split up with my first Korean girlfriend…

Update: Also see Sorry, I was drunk for a deconstruction — and demolition — of the oft-cited claim that Korean society is more communal than Western societies.