I’ve been busy for a while now, sorting through things, getting writing done, and so on. I’ve wanted to post about the Sewol Ferry Disaster for a while, but finding an appropriate way of saying what I think about this horrifying and heartbreaking situation is hard work, and I’ve been busy with other very pressing things, including sorting through my “piles of crap.” Those “piles” are digital, mind you: hard drives of accumulated photos, files, and so on. (And that’s besides my writing, and work on the Daerijeon soundtrack, and getting some exercise, and so on).

But I didn’t want to leave the blog completely empty, so…

If you want to understand what it’s like to be even a little bit different in Korea, imagine you’re surfing the web in your office on campus when this pops up on your screen. Oh, you think, the campus sysadmins have gone ahead and done their biannual network security update, and you need to download yet another piece of crufty software to your computer in order to get back online, because password protection and behind-the-scenes updates  just aren’t good enough.

Note the OS options:

Screenshot-Welcome! olleh WiFi Zone. - Google Chrome

Of course, you’re using Mac OS, or, as I was when I took this screenshot, Ubuntu Linux. There’s no option for that, because there’s no connection manager for those OSes.


And when you call and explain the situation, they suggest, “Why don’t you just use Windows like everyone else, then?” (Which people are stuck doing because of ActiveX.) And of course, they think they’re being helpful… but there’s still no way around that blockage site that’s just popped up. Sorry, this wifi network is for Windows Users only. And that’s the whole campus wired network

That is what it’s like to be even a little bit different in Korea. Map that onto any other form of different you like: ethnic/racial, political, religious, cultural, dietary, sexual, physical, gender identification, enjoyment of reading, ability to speak English, ability to do anything well, passion for any subject. 

It’s hard to be different in all those ways anywhere, but in Korea, it’s so systematically and bureaucratically institutionalized–and the sense that you can tell people, “Just be normal!” is so deeply ingrained, that you often end up face to face with options that do not, cannot, and will not ever apply to you.

When you say, “This isn’t workable for me,” the main reaction you get is, “Then why not just be normal?” When you can’t? Then, my dears, you’re plain S.O.L. 

The tragedy of that isn’t that expat Mac and Linux users get annoyed. It’s much more heartbreaking than that: consider what could drive a gay fifteen-year-old to be making serious inquiries online as to how to emigrate? It’s enough to make you want to suggest to the kid that he try Kickstarter, to raise the funds needed to get into the States on an investor visa. Surely, there are 500,000 people out there would would spare a buck or two to get that kid out of whatever hell has him wanting to escape that badly, that young?

2 thoughts on “Flashback!

  1. I’m afraid all these artificial intelligences aren’t as smart as they’re cracked up to be. I have a car whose clock I can’t set; a Kindle paperwhite which does not retrieve the contents of an earlier one; a computer that would at times like to save, not the current draft, but an earlier one than that (I think I fixed that; and it took several months and extortionate prices (yes, you do need to buy yet another remote for a thousand to work the whole thing) before we could watch the channels, the DVD and everything else that should just come with it. They don’t seem to belong to the same family.

    1. Jim,

      Well, yeah, some of that would be firmware failures and hardware failures, but they’re not human failures of lazy exclusion, though; you weren’t dealing with a sysadmin who just thought everyone should be using the same OS because it makes his job easier, and it’s not like Kindle is just refusing to update any genre novels you had because “genre is junk” or something. That’s how the whole Korean banking system is like… they actually rely on ActiveX even though Microsoft has declare ActiveX dead. (We have a third computer with us just for doing banking and online shopping in Korea, if you can believe that. On Macs, you can’t do jack squat on the Korean internet, and it’s even worse on Linux!)

      But anyway, I was kind of trying to just note that the brokenness of the Korean internet–fastest internet in the world; utterly useless except on Windows, and on Windows very likely to render your computer cruft-laden and broken in a year–is pretty analogous to social life in Korea: for anyone who is even slightly “not normal” life there is stressful, excluding, and difficult at best, and hell at worst. I’m talking less about myself, and more about kids who grow up different there, in a world were it’s normal for them to be universally despised for anything from being able to speak another language well, to having a different sexuality, or being born with some visible physical handicap, to being from a family where the parents divorced. (People still have a prejudice about letting their kids marry children from divorced parents: they think the rot is in the blood, and the kid will probably divorce their kid when things get tough, too.)

      Though, and I really mean no offense, but: there’s also end-user failure. (Like, why not buy a TV/DVD set that work together–and test them in the store to make sure? Why not use an OS that is less prone to viruses, or why not reinstall your OS and software after backing up your important files? Does your car’s owner or repair manual have some stuff about setting the clock? Did you back up the contents of your Kindle on your computer using Calibre before transferring to a the one?) I suspect being an informed, competent consumer these days just takes way more research and work than it used to; or, maybe, it’s just more possible now. There are also often DIY solutions for these problems, but you need a little technical know-how and a lot of time to invest in getting at the solution. Frankly, I’d rather pay more and have something that just works (though $1000 seems excessive for a remote control), but I tend to have to DIY things for economic reasons, and that’s fine: it has its own rewards.

      That’s like me with my wife’s Acer ultraportable: I feel like I *ought* to be able to make the WindowsXP installed there run more efficiently, but I don’t know how. (I suspect it needs more RAM.) Or me having to search my hard drives to find a given set of photos: that’s simply my own failure properly to curate my own data, not Seagate’s fault, right? Or, like, when I tried to clean my soprano saxophone with a sax swab slightly too big to pass through the neck, and it got stuck… that’s my fault, not Selmer’s! (And my sax is still sitting there with the cut-off swab in the neck. Sigh.)

      Which also has its analogy in Korea, actually; people who are “different” learn how to swerve conversations away from things that are going to make them get red-faced and angry, or they learn to avoid people who will do it. Except, of course, in work situations where you can’t really finesse your boss, and where your boss is very likely to be an unapologetic racist sexist homophobe because he’s a man over a certain age. Still, the person who’s not good at deftly steering conversations away from the things that enrage him or her has a much less happy life there. My tendency–to come out and say, “Did you just say…”–isn’t particularly aggressive in our (your and my) cultures, but in Korea, it’s often inconceivably aggressive, and just makes life harder for me in the end… either because I have to bottle up my response, or piss off the people up the totem pole from me.

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