Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Who cares what a kid thinks?

I have been blessed enough to just sort of fall into a tutoring position as the result of someone whom I met here leaving the island. Initially it was only seven hours a week, but then some more students were introduced and I now am pretty busy tutoring from 10:30 am until 5:30 pm five days a week, plus a few hours on Saturday. It is amazing and humbling and tiring and exciting to see people so excited about learning.

One of my students is a boy named Chris. He is fourteen in Korea, where they began a person's age at conception. Which by the way I think makes a great deal of sense-think about it. But he would only be twelve in America. He is the most advanced out of his family, who have all come to Saipan for a month of intensive English tutoring. He is very talkative and I really like him.

This afternoon we were talking about different types of food and as I pointed at a picture of a supermarket meat case I jokingly asked him if it was American Beef. To explain the joke, he, his mother and his aunt have all informed me that people in Korean don't like American beef. Ya' know, that whole mad-cow disease thing kinda soured them on it. So anyways, I said this jokingly-and the joke was in the inflection of my voice, which is not something that most foreigners can pick up on-and Chris' eyes got really big. His answer came in the excited, elevating voice that is his normal volume of communication with me. (I am going to paraphrase his answer and our dialog in general-doing my best to leave the point that struck me intact.)

"No, no American beef. Is Korean beef. No buy American beef. American cows are crazy," was Chris' response.

"Not anymore," I tried to defend my countries meat practices. "They say that the beef is okay and there is no more mad-cow disease."

His eyes got big again and he responded with words that would have made many people nod in agreement. "We don't believe your president when he says mad-cow disease is no more. Why we believe your president? George Bush is a liar. He attack Iraq and say maaaanny nuclear weapons and so attack Iraq and fight and no nuclear weapons. And he say bin Laden and..." Here he paused and asked me if he was saying bin Laden right-he wasn't, because he pronounces the letters R and L incorrectly unless he makes a great effort to inflect them properly-and what his whole name was. I told him, and he continued.

"Yes Osama bin Laden and he say find him and kill him. And no kill bin Laden. And he really attack Iraq for oil."-(it sounded more like oir)-And he said it questioningly and so we repeated the word 'oil' quite a few times. And then he finished up with "Your president is a bad man attack Iraq for oil and a liar."

A twelve year old. From a country on the other side of the planet. Of course he has heard and absorbed this from others. From his parents, his teachers, relatives and the news. Maybe there is a left-wing liberal party running around trying to convince non-voting, non-citizens of our country and its leaders incompetence. That seems likely. I don't really believe that there is a global conspiracy to make George W. Bush seem like a liar and an imbecile. I realize that this wasn't exactly a scientific poll, that one young Korean boy is not representative of the entire world and its views...but still.

As I sat there and listened to him I could hear the emotion in his voice, the feeling behind his words-and none of this is really that "close to home" for him. It became incredibly clear to me in a moment how young boys are willing to die because of opinions like this. His opinion may not mean much right now. I wonder how many more children there are like him around the world, wondering at American incompetence and ignorance. At our ability to demand righteousness and good behavior from others and our seeming inability to present it in ourselves. Maybe Chris becomes a politician in Korea someday...who knows. Whatever, he's just a kid right?


Michael said...

Nicely pulled together, Rio. Young Chris has been exposed to the news (some facts, some lies and spin) and come to the same conclusion I have.
Good for him.

KAP said...

The wisdom of a child, and why I think either McCain or Obama would be an improvement at home and internationally.

Momtecki said...

Kids say the darnest things don't they?

JustMe said...

Chris & I spent over an hour talking history and more of the same today...only I recorded it all. He told me his beliefs in regards to European colonialism, Japanese attacks on Koreans, and the killing of Native Americans. He busted out the word 'opportunism'...which I mis-defined, and showed me what it meant. I in turn, showed him what 'stereotype' meant, and asked him to think about his unqualified statements that he hates Japanese and Americans and Europeans are all bad. He thought about it. Don't think he's changing his mind just yet.

Brad said...

Rio, I lived in Korea for 6 years and I've had hundreds of conversations like that with Koreans. Not just kids, but adults too. And people with high level educations. The kids repeat it because just as you said, they hear it continually in the news, sometimes from their parents, usually from their teachers, etc.

There are so many issues going on there it's crazy. Ask him tomorrow to search the internet and find out how many people die each year from cigarettes, liver disease and auto accidents. (in Korea). Then ask him to find out how many people have actually died from Mad Cow disease (EVER, in America). Then ask him which is more dangerous.

The Korean government used to own all the cigarette companies in Korea (I think they were privatized in the late '90s). All healthy Korean men must serve 2 years in the Korean military. When they served, they were forced to take up smoking. I've had several Korean friends tell me about how commanders would only let the smokers stop and take breaks from drills or digging ditches. The commanders would tell the non-smokers that if they wanted to smoke, they could take a break. If not, keep running/digging/working/etc. They insidiously created their own lifelong customers as the young men dutifully served their country for two years. But the government doesn't want you to think about cigarettes. YOU need to be worried about AMERICAN BEEF and the AMERICANS.

Soju is the #1 alcoholic drink in Korea. Liver disease is the #1 killer of men in Korea. A doctor friend actually told me Soju could be blamed for 3 of the top 5 causes . But the big industries in Korea, and Korean society in general, don't want to suggest people should stop drinking soju. Soju and cigarettes are what get them through ten to fourteen hour workdays.

Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike Korea. I love Korea and I'm married to a Korean. I'm just saying the media and the government there try to whip people up into frenzies over ridiculous stuff so the people don't start focusing on uncomfortable issues. They make a big deal about everything and the people develop a sort of mob mentality where everything is black and white. "Us vs. them". We are good, so they must be bad. That's the thing that probably bugged me the most while living there.

Brad said...

Rio, after he has collected all the data and sees astronomically different the numbers are, ask him if he's ever been warned about how to avoid liver disease. If he's 12, it's probably not likely. Yet, statistically he's much more certain to die from that.

The logic will slowly begin to crack that tough Korean armor and he'll start having to agree with you.

How long have you been teaching? I teach Korean kids too. I moved here last September.