So in our new English Zone, I was reviewing one of the new books purchased by In Kyung for teacher reference. She did a very good job, btw, but most of the books were, of course, chosen for the Korean English teachers and more applicable to creative ways to teach grammar. However, there were a few titles she chose which I found useful and which I wrote down and hope to purchase for myself.
One of them was Small Group discussion topics; for Korean high school students and beginners by Jack Martire. Martire is a long-time ex-pat who knows Korean culture well and his discussion topics are both very provocative AND distinctly about modern life from the perspective of a young Korean.
For example, one of the topics was on regulation of the internet by way of the sex slave trade. He cited news articles from the late 90’s where a ring of internet prostitution was broken up by the Seoul police. Approximately 300 girls were found to be soliciting for sex on-line. The alarming thing was how organized this solicitation was, and even more shocking was the fact that most of the girls were under-aged, some as young as 14. The interesting thing was that many of their customers were not men, but boys of their peer group. The horror of it all was these girls were not even profiting from this solicitation, but were held captive because they were essentially being socially blackmailed into perpetuating what should have been an isolated transgression.
Sooo many tangent topics for discussion can spring from this article. What conditions would cause so many young girls to be in this predicament? How is it the boys can afford to pay for this activity? How was it organized? By whom? How was this activity facilitated? It seems clear that these children, despite being over-scheduled and living pressured academic lives are also woefully unsupervised. In Korean society today, too many parents work late into the night and have very little interaction or relationship with their teenagers.
When I look at my students, (who, admittedly don’t represent average Korean students as much, because the majority conduct themselves in a more moralistic way due to having Christian parents and being practicing Christians themselves) see their fresh pimply faces, their naivete and almost arrested development in comparison to American students their same age, and think about this article, it makes me wonder what kind of secret lives they lead. I see young boys smoking on the way to middle school. I see a couple of my girls of the gum-chewing, eyes rolling, smart-alec variety, and know deep in my heart that they really can’t handle and aren’t equipped for most of the vices of this world.
I once talked about urban tribes and the way American students wear emblems to mark being in a community and asked a Korean teacher about gangs or tough kids, since they are often portrayed as existing in Korean dramas. She paused and said yes, possibly Korean students do this too. I asked how she could tell, since they all wear uniforms. The hair, mostly. The way they don’t conform to uniform standards. I wonder how far their rebellion takes them. I wonder if the black t-shirt under the white oxford signifies something far more unhealthy than we would care to admit. I wonder what the true cost of Korea’s economic development is. Korea is so like Japan with all its sexual repressions yet is so unlike Japan, in that here individualism is not expressed or tolerated of its youth.
And what happens in a repressed society? Transgressions. And the result of transgressions? Untimely babies. Babies who are sent away as transgressions erased. Because it is not the mother’s shame, but the family’s shame. A family who could not provide a good moral compass. A family who was not doing its job managing their household.
But also interesting in Korea, is that this secret life thing does not stop once childhood is over. Many many adults here lead secret lives as well. For example, I could actually sleep with as many Korean men as I wanted, if I were willing to join the many others for whom marriage has no meaning but for which is pivotal to their place in society. Whether man or woman, these adult transgressors are legion, and its presence is commonly accepted for others and feared for oneself. And, as it turns out since last year’s celebrated case of an adulteress actress, a jail-able offense for the women.
And, I believe, that these transgressions are the result of everything around Korea changing but Korea resisting REAL change. While it embraces technology and takes it to a new level, imports everything, and hungers after global commerce, it doesn’t comprehend what the implications are, what it means to their society, and how to incorporate them in a healthy manner. That some of the things they see as evil are actually beneficial, and some of the things they accept are a trap, enslaving them. We are talking epic growing pains here.
There is hope, however. Most of the Koreans I talk to are my age. They went to college during the student demonstrations for the democratic movement. They ALL categorically are opposed to this educational system, and some of them are considering saying to hell with their family’s traditional expectations and obligations, as dictated to them.
Mr. Lee tells me about his son. He wants to direct movies like his mother and sees no point in scoring high in math and science to get into a university that doesn’t focus on his interests. So Mr. Lee let his son drop out of high school and study on his own. So now the boy is studying directors, film history, social studies, etc. Mr. Lee says the extra classes are killing his pocket book, and that he worries about his son’s future here in Korea, but that he sees the sparkle in his eyes and it fills him with joy to see his son change from someone who hated learning, to someone who has a lust for learning.
I bet Mr. Lee’s son doesn’t have a secret life. There’s no need now. May he grow and prosper and show the rest of Korea that in a crazy world without traditional values, personal happiness is even more important to achieve balance and sustainability.