Korean Sociological Image #90: Watch Out For Those Italian Men…

Two back-to-back YouTube commercials for SK Telecom’s “T Roaming” Service, which have a blatant double standard:

In the first, actor Son Ho-jun freaks out when his girlfriend tells him she’s going on an overseas trip with her old college friends. First, he asks if any men are coming with her, but relaxes when she reminds him that she went to a women’s college. Only to freak out again when he learns she’s going to Italy:

T Roaming Italian MenWhatever your gender or sexuality, if your partner can’t trust you not to bang your friends or the natives when you’re more than a few days away from each other, then in my book that’s your excuse to move on and do precisely that.

But I’ll grant that it’s just a commercial, and that Son Ho-jun’s reactions are exaggerated for comedic effect. Also, provided you’re not too clingy, there’s nothing wrong at all with staying in touch while your partner’s away.

The double-standard lies in the huge contrast with the second commercial, which shows what Ho-jun needs the roaming service for when he’s overseas: access to a translation app, without which he doesn’t realize the local women are throwing themselves at him.

T Roaming French WomanOr, once he does realize that “With T Roaming, [he] can translate, take pictures, and do anything [he likes]”, that he can set up his own harem:

Foreign Women T RoamingAgain, it’s innocuous in itself, and I’m all for taking advantage of technology to make sure people don’t miss out on any potential liaisons. Given the selling point of the first commercial though, it’s a bizarre choice of follow-up.

Instead, I would have plumped for a more provocative, much more memorable version with his girlfriend and foreign men, showing Ho-jun exactly what she thinks of insecure boyfriends who want to keep electronic tabs on her.

Or, if that was indeed deemed too provocative, then simply two more commercials with the sexes reversed. As the only extra costs would have been the additional male actors and the extra shooting time, then you really have to wonder why not.

Because without those versions, these ones not only seem entirely aimed at men, but it’s very difficult not to contrast his Korean girlfriend’s childishness in the first—and lack of an angry response to his question about her male friends—with the boldness and confidence of the foreign women in the second. It’s also difficult not to place the commercials in the Korean media’s long history of depicting foreign women as sexual conquests, but foreign men as something to defend Korean women against. (Although this has been improving in recent years.)

What do you think?

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

Something Everybody Needs to Know About Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever Personal Zones(Source, left: Kevin Jaako, CC BY-NC 2.0. Source, right: Isabel Santos Pilot, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, edited)

Now, I’d be the last person in the world to victim-blame anyone who’s ever been the target of Yellow Fever. And I don’t doubt for a moment that the media is overwhelmingly responsible for creating and perpetuating the stereotypes that come with it. But for those men who bring those stereotypes with them to East Asia, there is one aspect of life here that is likely to further convince them of local women’s attraction to them. What’s more, it’s something so fundamental, so visceral, that frankly it completely fooled me too—even though I never shared those stereotypes, and definitely continued to treat Korean women as individuals. 

See here to learn what it is, and why it has impacts that go well beyond mere dating. While it’s really quite simple, and I think most people who deal with people from a foreign country or live in one are already aware of it on some level, I think it’s enormously helpful to have it spelt out—especially if you’re having a bad experience. Also, although again I stress it only plays a minor role in perpetuating Yellow Fever stereotypes, I think it’s one that tends to get neglected in most (English) discussions of those, which tend to focus on Asian-Americans.

I’d be very interested to learn if readers have had any similar experiences, and what you did about them. (Or if your students have; if mine are going overseas, I make sure to photocopy the relevant pages of this book for them!) Also, how does it play out with the sexes reversed?

Continue reading

Korean Sociological Image #87: Normalizing Interracial Relationships

(Update: Sorry for the lack of English subtitles. Since writing this post, one of the show participants/actors in the commercial left Korea in disgrace due to a sex-scandal, and the original video was made private. You can still find a good English translation and explanation here though).

An extended commercial for Yoplait ‘Yopa’ yogurt, featuring five quick, humorous stories of foreign men in relationships with Korean women.

It’s unremarkable in itself, and frankly not all that funny, although I did love hearing the “Do you want to eat noodles at my place and go?” line again at 1:10. But that’s precisely the point: by making no big deal of the men’s ethnicities, and showing Korean women dating, living with, and even—heaven forbid—explicitly wanting to have sex with them, the commercial helps to normalize such relationships among the Korean public. Whereas just last year, one Korean television station effectively portrayed entering into a relationship with a foreign man as a sex crime—adding to the Korean media’s long history of depicting them as sexual deviants and rapists, from whom weak and gullible Korean women need protecting.

Starring five men from the Abnormal Summit show, who form part of “a panel of eleven non-Korean men, living in Korea, who debate [in Korean] on various topics and Korean culture, through the eyes of a foreigner,” this marks just the third commercial in the last ten years that has positively presented such relationships (that I’m aware of; see Korean Sociological Image #47 and #65 for the other two). In contrast, there have been numerous ones with positive depictions of Korean men in relationships with foreign women, especially during and after the Misuda show of 2006-2010 (in many ways a female equivalent of Abnormal Summit), although there’s also been a strong tendency to portray the women as sexual conquests (especially in K-pop).

Do any readers know of any more examples, whatever the sexes? Do you think we’ll have to wait another four years for another commercial like this one?

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

Announcements

From Explorers and Missionaries to Vagabonds and Potential Criminals
(Source: Facebook Event Page)

Hello everyone. Just to quickly let you know about an upcoming presentation not to be missed, some worthy causes, and some Youtubers that deserve more promoting.

First up, next Saturday (the 25th), Matt VanVolkenburg will be giving a presentation in Seoul for the 10 Magazine Book Club titled “From Explorers and Missionaries to Vagabonds and Potential Criminals: Two Hundred Years of Teaching English in Korea.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the name, let me add that he’s the author of the Gusts of Popular Feeling blog…which I’m sure will have you scrambling to check out the Facebook Event Page before you even finish this sentence!

Next, via The Kimchi Queen:

99 Film‘s new queer movie “Butterfly” is being crowdfounded on GoodFunding aiming for 2 million won in donations (about 2 thousand dollars). 99 Film has used this method for other films (such as “20”) and they have been in general successful in getting their target funding goals.

About working in a (gay) host bar, see The Kimchi Queen for more (English) information, or go directly to GoodFunding for more information in Korean.

Next, via Hollaback Korea 할라백 코리아 comes Rainbow Teen Safe Spacesfourth letter to donors. It begins and ends:

Rainbow Teen Safe Space will soon be launched. The project has been focusing on fund-raising activities so far. Now it is time for a new round of dealing with organizational issues. On July 13, we had a meeting to talk about a new organizational structure for this project to be a common cause of the LGBT human rights movement. We decided to set up the secretariat and hire a full-time staff to set out the street counseling program in September. The secretariat will share the office with Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea. We are also in preparation to form an advisory committee of experts in various areas such as law, medical care, counseling and human rights…

…We haven’t reached our fundraising goal yet. For the street counseling activities to start on a solid foundation, please join our fundraising effort for Rainbow Teen Safe Space project. If you, donors’ help come together, it would be such a great strength to all of us.

See the link for much more information about its activities, the video above for a quick introduction (it’s in English), or here for its fundraising website.

Finally, I’ve been asked to promote a couple of video producers. First, a small, Daegu-based organization called Stompy Ruffers Cultural Fusion, which “takes Korean culture and blends it with American culture to create some fun and exciting products/events.” See here for more information about them, or here for a selection of their videos—including the “How to Order Food at a Korean Restaurant” one above, which I think would be better titled “But we’re speaking Korean!” after the Japanese version, and which I’m I sure all too many expats in both countries can relate to (Update: Actually, the Korean video came first sorry!).

Last but not least, from Stephanie Rosier (whom I have to thank for this post), also based in Daegu, who has been making video blogs about Korean culture:

I talk about everything you can imagine really. The blogs are an average of 20 minutes long and usually include various photographs and short videos of my adventures here. I can speak Korean at a conversational level (or Topik level 4 to be exact) so I have been able to talk to, and make friends with a wide range of Korean people, from hair dressers to grandmothers, and learn about Korea from an insider’s perspective.

See here for the blogs, or the above video for her “Spring Video Project: Asking Korean People 한국 사람한테 물어보자: 봄 동영상 계획”.

If any readers also have any event, worthy cause, video, or just about anything else they’d like to promote, please just shoot me an email (but please add as many pictures and details as possible!) and I’ll add it here or in a later post.

(KICKSTARTER) My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book

Texan in Tokyo(Source, all images: Texan in Tokyo)

I’ve been asked to pass on the following:

Deciding to move across the world for “love” is easy. People do it all the time. Thriving in that new country (without sabotaging your relationship), on the other hand, is a bit more difficult.

EnterMy Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book.”

My Japanese Husband Thinks I'm CrazyThis comic book is the autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer (Grace) and her Japanese “salaryman” husband (Ryosuke): in comic form. From earthquakes and crowded trains, to hilarious cultural faux pas, it explores the joys of living and working abroad, intercultural marriages, and trying to make a decent pot roast on Thanksgiving.

Grace Buchele Mineta Texan in TokyoMy Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book” is being funded on the popular crowd-funding website, kickstarter.com, from July 28th to August 30th.

In the first 24 hours online, the book has been funded 73%.

Grace Buchele Mineta is a native Texan, founder of the hit blog “Texan in Tokyo,” and author of the autobiographical comic book, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy.” She lives in Tokyo with her husband, Ryosuke, where she blogs and draws comics about their daily life.

I Read a Book: Susan Blumberg-Kason’s Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong (2014)

Good Chinese Wife CoverLet me be honest: Good Chinese Wife is not something I would normally read.

Susan’s ex-husband was Chinese; my wife is Korean. Susan’s relationship goes from friends to engaged in less than two minutes; we lived together for years, and had lots of wild sex before I proposed. Their marriage rapidly turned sour; we just celebrated our tenth anniversary. They married, had a child, and divorced way back in the 1990s; I’m really only interested in Chinese attitudes towards dating, sex, and marriage in the 2010s. And so on.

I’m still grateful for receiving a reviewer’s copy, organized by Jocelyn Eikenburg of the Speaking of China blog (see here for many more bloggers’ reviews). But first impressions? I expected it to be very outdated, and that it would have little to offer readers with Korean partners.

I was dead wrong, on both counts.

Good Chinese Wife begins in Hong Kong in the mid-1990s, where Susan is doing a graduate degree (she previously spent a year there as an exchange student in 1990). Then in her early-twenties, she soon becomes smitten with Cai, an older mainlander from Wuhan. She starts tutoring him English in her dorm room; unbeknownst to her, other students consider them already dating. This prompts him to open up and explain he’s already been married and has a child, revealing all as a prelude to showing he is now interested in dating Susan. Because in China, Cai explains, “couples traditionally only date if they plan to marry.”

This sounded very antiquated. But as it turns out, dating in China is still not at all like in the West, nor even Korea. In Behind the Red Door: Sex in China (2012), Richard Burger explains that even in the big cities, “serial dating” is frowned upon as immoral or promiscuous. Instead, “most Chinese women still believe it is best to date only man and to marry him. Once the man invites her on a second or third date, he is indicating that he’s serious, that he is hoping for an exclusive Behind the Red Door Sex in Chinarelationship, and that marriage might be on the cards.” Whereas for women, inviting her to meet her parents “means she expects to marry him, and Chinese men understand this arrangement.” What’s more, the average age of marriage for Chinese men was only 24 in 2010; for women, 22 (in Korea, 31.8 and 28.9 respectively).

So, I understood Cai. And, being head-over-heels ever since they’d met, why Susan quickly accepted his proposal, before so much as a kiss—it sounded sweet. Her frankness about her feelings and mistakes is also a definite charm, especially for someone who likewise fell very easily in love at that age.

But that’s only 36 pages into the book. For the remaining 300, sympathy turns to constant frustration and exasperation with Susan’s rushing into marriage, then her frequent acquiescence towards her increasingly controlling and abusive husband. These feelings are only amplified by knowing that she’s doomed to fail.

In an interview, Susan says her problems were more because “He told me from the get-go that he had certain conditions for our marriage. Those are things I ignored or thought I could eventually get him to change. That should have been my red flag, not the [6 months] in which we became engaged and married.” (Likewise many happily-married Koreans, for whom such whirlwind courtships are also common, would surely bristle at the suggestion that they should have taken things slower.)

I disagree. From Cai’s belief that women are especially “dirty” in the summer, once all but physically forcing an exhausted Susan to bathe in a rat-infested bathroom, to his bizarre, surprisingly submissive relationship with eccentric professor friend ‘Japanese Father’ (“He thinks it’s not good [for us] to have sex relations more than once a week”), most of Susan’s later issues with Cai could have been discovered if they’d spent (much) more time together before the wedding day—and/or resolved if an expensive wedding wasn’t already looming over them.

Still, it does make for a good page turner. There is also merit in studying a bad relationship to learn what to avoid, and much about this one that will already be familiar to those with Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese partners. New and expecting parents in Korea, for example, will sympathize with Susan’s expectations to conform to man yue, the belief that mothers shouldn’t bathe or go outdoors in their first month—it mirrors the Korean one of sanhoojori. Also, for those couples planning to move to a Western country, her discussion of Cai’s difficulties with adjusting to life in San Francisco will be very beneficial. Her avoidance of tiresome Orientalist stereotypes is especially welcome, with her ex-parents-in-law coming across as old-fashioned but lovely, and Chinese men portrayed no better or worse than Western ones.

That said, I am reminded of a book for couples I once flicked through, which encouraged them to discuss their expectations of marriage in great detail before committing. With checklists ranging from beliefs about circumcision and determining which cities were best for both partners’ careers, to dividing the housework and setting dating policies for potential teenage children, that approach would be much too calculating for most couples. Marriage, after all, is ultimately about making a scary but exciting leap of faith with someone. But when partners come from such wildly different backgrounds, and bring such different expectations into marriage? Susan’s experience teaches readers that for international couples in particular, perhaps they really should learn the answers to those questions sooner rather than later.

Good Chinese Wife back cover

One minor quibble was all the hyperbole. Not to diminish Susan’s genuine fears for herself and her son at times, but did it lead me to expect a story involving forged passports and bribed border guards(!). Also, I disliked the format of numerous short chapters, with so little happening in some that they felt like diary entries. But that is just a personal preference.

The verdict? Good Chinese Wife is well worth the US$14.99 cover price (16,410 won at What the Book), and a definite eye-opener about the value of reading more about relationships in this part of the world, especially with such limited options for reading about Korean ones specifically. Please do leave your suggestions (and reviewer copies!) for more like it, and/or for blogs.

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