Dear Reader, What is your think about the Takeshima Day?

Today a student asked me what I think about Takeshima Day and the Dokdo issue.

I didn’t want to get into how it’s (a) not a new issue, (b) his country’s biased-assed press (or was it hus buddy who told him the story?) seems to have misled him by making it out to be “the Japanese government” that has declared Takeshima Day, when it’s the little backwater Shimane Prefecture that did it, (c) wow, newspapers are sure selling and nationalist sentiments are sure hot now, aren’t they, and hasn’t he noticed a cycle to this whole pattern?

I mean, this is a pretty dangerous question for me to answer, as a teacher. As a foreign teacher, representing a foreign point of view. I don’t know if I could get fired for expressing my opinion, but I was determined to be careful, and to tread lightly. I also wanted to inject a dose of realism into the discussion.

So instead of pointing all that out, I simply said, “I don’t know much about Dokdo. But there are no nuclear weapons on Dokdo, and Japan is not threatening South Korea with nuclear weapons. Right? So right now I am much more worried about Kim Jong Il. Aren’t you?” Into the ensuing silence, I said, “So why fight with Japan, now? Kim Jong Il could kill us all. Boom.”

More silence. “And Japan could help South Korea. So why fight with them? They don’t have nuclear weapons pointing at Seoul. Do they?”
I don’t know if anyone took offense, but of course nobody expressed it if they did.

But what do you, Dear Reader (that is not a Team America: World Police-styled Kim Jong Il pun!), think about this response?

Oh God, I think I will never write “Dear Reader” again without smirking.

6 thoughts on “Dear Reader, What is your think about the Takeshima Day?

  1. It’s interesting how this parallels the story about the Vatican and _The Da Vinci Code_ where one cardinal, trying to make some political capital tells people not to put monoey in this guy’s pockets because, let’s face it, he’s making the Church look bad and promoting prejudice against catholicism. In essence, Brown is attacking Catholics, the people to whom the cardinal was adressing his request.

    Of course, in various newspapers and blogs, one cardinal becomes the whole Church and they’re trying to tell people what and how to think.

  2. I would have evaded the question entirely. – if you don’t answer the way a student wants it will affect they way they feel for the semester which will in turn affect the chemistry of the whole class as it gets around. sad but true.

    I’m here to teach language not debate politics especially politics with which I am unfamiliar with the entire issue.

  3. Interesting observation, Jean-Louis. The parallel carries farther than you may have meant to suggest, too: fifty years ago, according to my Mom, it really was difficult to get her hands on Sartre in French, because the Church had it on the “don’t read list”, just like sixty years ago, Korea was occupied by the Japanese.

    Then, of course, there’s the difference of responsibility. Nobody (outside the Korean press, it seems) appointed Shimane Prefecture as the official spokesperson of the Japanese government, but according to many articles on the subject,

    Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa and a possible successor to the Pope, has been appointed by the Vatican to rebut what the Catholic church calls the “shameful and unfounded errors” contained within The Da Vinci Code.

    Yes, from what I can tell, the Church is taking the book seriously enough that someone was appointed to debunk it.

    왕음치, that’s probably a good strategy. The only problem, in my mind, was that I had sent people off last time with homework, and this guy had obviously thought somewhat to come up with the question. I felt like not answering might be interpreted as blowing off the question. I would feel bad not answering any question someone had come up with for homework, as long as it wasn’t X-rated. (Yes, I’ve had one asked to me, only one, before. Handled that fine, though.)

    By the way, you reminded me of what I forgot to mention. Which was that right after, I asked the guy who asked the question, “What do you think about Dokdo and Takeshima Day?”

    He sat there trying to compose his reply, but of course struggling with it. He was thinking about thirty sentences in Korea, and had no idea what to say in English. Of course, you see that a lot with people who are still at that early stage, trying to translate their mother-tongue thoughts into a language where they don’t have the tools to express it.

    So I finally asked, “Is it good?”


    “Is it bad?”

    “Yes. It’s bad!”

    Then I applauded him and explained that it’s better to say what you think simply, in a Language class, instead of trying to say what you think if you can’t say it. There were nodding heads.

    Then I prompted another question, and it was something like “Do you like 짬뽕?” and the class was smoother sailing after that.”

    Maybe it’s a good suggestion to avoid the topic, if possible. As boring as it is, talking about spicy soup can be better for a language class.

    But I also kind of disagree that the students will be totally put off by an answer they disagree with. I think the students who understood my answer were not as childlike as that. I think, though, that it helped that I asked the guy who asked me, what HE thought.

  4. Gord,

    That was an excellent approach. For me, too often I want to add my opinion – even if it is potentially unfounded or founded on my culture. The thing is, if I do that then I will win because I have the linguistic tools that the students do not.

    I think you handled it very well. What do you think – simple is good. I’ll add that to my reportoire.

  5. Blinger!


    Yeah, definitely I think it’s unfair to argue politics with a student in his or her second language. Offering an opinion, and then soliciting an opinion (or several), though, I think, is okay.

    I’ve been thinking about the simple-is-good thing a lot lately. I have experience from it, more from my French studies, when I felt as if I could almost express some really complicated idea, and tried, and what came out of my mouth was more like mashed potatoes than some complicated idea.

    We were talking the other day in the office about how to say certain things in English, and the notion of, “Please take me to my house,” came up. I realized that, while I don’t know how to say that exactly, in Korea, I know enough to tell someone I want to go there, how to get there, and that I want them to go with me. “Bring me” is a more sophisticated idea than, “You go there with me,” in some ways, but you can certainly communicate the idea even in the absence of the fine-tuned vocabulary. For me, half the battle is getting students to give up on saying complex things using vocabulary they lack, and start saying basic things with the vocabulary they already have—which, of course, allows them to start adding to their vocab.

    Haven’t formulated anything about this yet but the notion of “survival learner English” is kind of bubbling in my mind.

  6. Jean-Louis,

    I wanna stress I’m not trying to blow off your observation. I think there are important differences, of course.

    But I do see your point, about conflating organizations with individuals or smaller factions of those organizations. I suppose in this case the question is whether the Cardinal speaks for the Church, or to what degree he does.

    For one thing, some links claim this Cardinal is a potential successor to the current Pope. It’d be different to characterize the actions of some obscure Bishop as “The Church” but this guy’s a major power-broker; it’d be more of a parallel if a high-level Japanese minister said that Takeshima is really Japanese, and wasn’t silenced or castigated for the claim… and the fuss would be far more warranted, as would the fear that it is the opinion of the Japanese government.

    For another thing, many links claim the Cardinal was appointed to speak for the Church. I can’t find proof either way on that, so it’s an open question.

    Next, I don’t see, coming from the Church, a debate about this. I don’t see any press going to other Cardinals criticizing the statements of the one who has castigated the book and urged Catholics not to read it.

    And finally, I think the act of telling people not to read a book—a book you say constitutes an attack on Catholics—is fundamentally problematic. Telling people not to buy it—ie. not to put money into Brown’s pocket for the thing—would be one thing, but to tell people not to read it implies that Catholics are stupid, unable to read and respond to a text that criticizes them, susceptible to ridiculous ideas, and dependent on mother Church as their only protection from ideological pollution. It’s fundamentally anti-discussion to tell people not to read this and talk about it.

    And since I still haven’t heard any strong contradictions emerging from the Church—none reported as disagreeing with this point of view—I can only assume that none have been voiced, since the press would probably jump all over them if there were any being voiced. Don’t you think?

    Happily, regardless of the spin (which is important, but I’m setting it aside for now) it seems there are a wider range of responses being reported on by Korean politicians about the Takeshima Day issue. As usual, Korean English-language dailies aside, The Marmot is the guy to see for news on this front.

    Personally, I think that the Korean national government has overreacted to the whinging of a small prefecture; not just the press, but a government. Marmot’s first paragraph here makes the most sense to me. Since Korea owns the island now, and Japan’s national government isn’t likely to move on it, I don’t think the Korean government had to react so strongly.

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