Sunday, November 28, 2010

Same-Sex Marriage Debate in Class

For the past 2 years, I have taught English at a Canadian university. Over this time, I have taught hundreds of students, most of whom are Chinese. Among them, though, there have also been a few dozen from other countries, mostly from Saudi Arabia, but also a few from Latin America, Korea, Japan, and a few from Iraq (via Jordan). Now, I figure, simply because of the law of averages, I have had a few students who are gay.

One activity I do most every term in my class (after a few weeks, so that we have had time to develop a good rapport with each other) is a same-sex marriage "debate." I do this for a few reasons:
1) Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada, and people from other countries who are living here should know our stand on it
2) Some of the students I've had are undoubtedly gay, but are generally from countries that either a) don't acknowledge homosexuality as even existing, or b) don't acknowledge homosexuality as even existing, but if it does, it is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or death (mainly the "Koran Corset" countries, as opposed to the Bible Belt - although homosexuality is certainly most alive and kicking in Saudi Arabia).
3) It's good for students to cultivate empathy for others' points of view that they don't necessarily share, and finally,
4) it allows students to practice expressions for stating opinions and disagreeing.

So how do I do this activity? First, I tell the students a story about my best and oldest friend, whose wedding I attended a few years ago. The kicker at the end of the story is that instead of a bride and a groom, the wedding featured a bride and a bride. I let the news sink in for a moment, and observe the reactions, which range from "Wow, cool!," to general ambivalence, to disgust. Then I ask them for their opinions - for or against. Almost without fail, it seems, the students schooled in either Christianity (Korean, Latin American) and Islam are wholeheartedly opposed to the idea. The Chinese, (and Japanese, to a lesser extent) generally range from enthusiastic support to overall ambivalence. (In my class of 14 Chinese students this term, for instance, I had only one student opposed to the idea, and he is nearly 10 years older than the rest of the class - I don't know if age has anything to do with it at all, but I think a little while ago, there was a celebrity drag queen in China that drew some attention to the issue). Then, based on their opinions, I divide them into 2 equal groups (this works better is there is about a 50/50 split of opinion, but usually, because of the Chinese influence, it ends up being about 80% in favour of the idea). The students who are opposed are in one group, with the pro-same-sex group in another. I give them some vocabulary (homosexual, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian) and then I then tell them they are going to have a debate... but they have to argue in favour of the opinion they don't actually have. So, in groups, they brainstorm reasons to support their arguments. Overhearing the brainstorming session the other day was particularly charming - this from a student struggling to find reasons to oppose it:

Student (making a triangular motion with hands): It's wrong for people who go to that place...ahhh...ummm.... (struggling for the word)... CHURCH! In that book... (lengthy pause)...

Student B: Oh, yes, I know... ummm... book, ahhh.... b,b... BEEBLE!!

Student A: Yes, BEEBLE!!

(By the way, what made this encounter even more charming was that there was no trace of irony).

So, after their brainstorming session, they pair up with someone of the opposing team, and argue their viewpoints - the person in favour generally comes out the winner.

After the debate, we talk a bit more, and I tell them my reasons for doing the activity; mainly, to understand that being gay doesn't make you an abomination, and that one of our rights as Canadians (and something to be proud of on the world stage, to be sure) is the right to marry the person we love, regardless of gender. The students are generally very interested and motivated, and will ask many questions.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Trot Rock!

I remember the first time I heard trot music: riding home in a taxi after having been in Korea for only a short while (2 or 3 weeks, I think), when the taxi driver suddenly cranked the volume on the radio and started belting out the lyrics to the song in the most beautiful baritone, complete with vibrato reminiscent of the great Jewish cantors of old. I had not yet heard this music, though it immediately caught my ear, especially the sound of the accordion.

For years, I didn't know the name or the style of this music, though I could immediately identify its distinctive 2/4 beat when I heard it. To me, there is something in the melodies and the chord progressions that reminds me of klezmer, though I know these genres are not at all related. Indeed, after poking around a bit on the Internet, I discovered this music was called trot (트로트), after the foxtrot, and was hugely popular in Korea pre-1960s. It gradually declined in popularity throughout the following decades, though it has become more popular again in the past few years, especially due to modern K-pop artists who are getting back to an earlier sound. Check out Ask a Korean for much more info on this music.

A few videos to introduce you to the phenomenon of trot...

The video below is a song by Lee Meeja, and the song is called Lady Camellia (동백아가씨) – ostensibly one of the more popular trot songs. Thanks again to Ask a Korean for this one.

Jang Yun-Jeong, a young "semi-trot" artist, had another popular trot hit a few years ago, called 어머나! ("Oh my goodness!"). She is interesting because her music has succeeded in introducing a younger generation to this music, which is generally more popular among an older demographic.

And finally, a post on K-pop could never be considered complete without mention of Super Junior. Here is "Rokuko," from their 2008 Japanese release (the single was released the year before in Korea). The one below features the Japanese comedy duo, Moeyan. Other than that, I have absolutely no idea what's going on here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

축하 해요, Ms. Mini!!!

Congrats to the beautiful "lady-boy" Ms. Mini from Korea for winning the Miss International Queen 2010 Competition in Thailand! Thanks to The Prestige for this one!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Drunken Tiger

When I was in Korea in 2005, I was fortunate enough to stumble across some pretty decent Korean hip hop. Drunken Tiger was a group I listened to quite a bit, although the vast majority of the lyrics were unintelligible to me. I read up a bit on the group, found out that it was largely fronted by Tiger JK, a Korean-American artist who strives for mutual understanding between Koreans and blacks in the US, and who recently (and secretly) wed a Korean-(black) American artist Tasha Reid (Yoon Mi Rae). All of the above is pretty much a preamble for the real purpose of this post... the tres cool Drunken Tiger video below, which features Reid aka Yoon aka Gemini. Check it out!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Korean Government

I love it when they do this! ... but I really don't understand. From the caption for the last photo: "Observers of Korean politics say the nation's lawmakers would rather fight than switch votes. Says Andy Jackson, a political columnist for the Korea Times, 'The attitude is that if you're not fighting, you're not trying.'"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Bartering, bargaining, haggling, negotiating... whatever you want to call it, it makes me exceedingly nervous, especially in a situation where I don't actually speak the language I'm bartering in. I'm afraid I'll come across as either being ignorant or unfair, or else I'll worry that I'm getting ripped off.

For the most part, Canadians are really no good at this skill. With a few notable exceptions (namely my friend Maighan, who can secure amazing deals from pretty much anyone - "just ask for a deal," she says, when asked for advice, "just ask - lots of people will give you one!"), the thought of negotiating for an item leaves me tense and fearful.

Fortunately, I recently ran across this post from the Globe and Mail. It's focused on bartering in Beijing, but I think a lot of these skills are transferable from one country to another.

A List of Blogs I'll Read Someday

The link below is more of a bookmark for me than anyone else, seeing as how (right now, at least) I'm the only one who ever looks at this blog. At some point in the future, when I have time, I'll make a point of reading through some of these other Korea-related blogs, written by the other 50% of the population. Thanks, Chris in South Korea for this one!