The Expat Outrage Machine

With so many expats in Korea writing in their own blogs, it was often difficult trying to make your own site stand out from the others. Gimmicky blog names with wordplay interchanging soul with Seoul had grown old before 2010. Just when you thought you had cornered a slice of Korean experience, you would find dozens of other people had written about the same thing, and often in better writing. Eventually the tedium of updating your non-too-original blog became too much, and more likely than not, you just stopped writing in it.

Others who stuck with their sites, and entered doldrums of their own, knew how to gain traffic. One of the quickest ways to get your blog noticed on the K-blogosphere was to feed the always-hungry expat outrage machine. This machine ground its gears over hot-button issues, and needed a steady source of fuel every few weeks. Once site administrators realised they could get a constant stream of hits (and ad revenue) from stories that got the expat hordes frothing, these kinds of stories continued to be typed out with increasing frequency.

A surefire viral sensation could be counted upon if expats felt racially stigmatised in Korea. If you were the first to sensationalise it, you could really milk it. If you kept your comments open, you could count on outrageous discussions continuing for a very long time, resulting in more visits to sites, as people argued with trolls. It’s a near perfect equation, and one you can see in practise all the time on active sites catering to expats in Korea.

My own site wasn’t immune to the effects of the expat outrage machine. My first real brush with it was back in 2010, when I wrote a series of pieces about a lecture hagwon owners were being compelled to hold for their expat employees. Expats (myself included) felt they were being singled out so they could be told about increasing crime rates, and how they were a source of HIV. I had had inside access to the inaugural lecture in my city, and had tried to have the tone softened. I was somewhat successful in that endeavour, but in the process my blog posts were being circulated as a warning to other hagwon teachers. Outraged expats voiced their concern over being singled out as a potential future crime statistic, and for a while it seemed that was the main topic in the Korean blogosphere.

Throughout this, I was concerned what would happen to myself. It was my blog which was being passed around, and I was never shy about having my name attached to it. Within a short time I was later asked if I could delete my posts, and a particular YouTube video I had shot during the lecture. I was told that by my refusal, I could put my future career prospects in Korea in jeopardy. I refused to delete the content, but going forward I was wary about stirring the pot unless the situation called for it.

Several years later, such a situation arose. A now infamous video was aired on MBC, once again singling out foreigners in Korea, and labeling them as potential crime stats. There was a transcript of the video, and after making a few tweaks to it, I added subtitles to the video and uploaded it on my Facebook page. I knew the video would cause discussion, and outrage, but I also thought more people needed to see what a state-sponsored broadcaster had aired. I put it on my blog, and it exploded online. I thought other sites would pick it up and report on it, with a small possibility of all the attention being focused back on my site. Perhaps it was because I was so well connected to other bloggers in Korea, and they were being polite, but they invariably linked back to me as the primary source.

My blog’s comment section had an avalanche of discussions happening simultaneously. At that point in the game, I thought everyone should have their chance to chime in. While the majority of the expat outrage machine was supporting my disgust with the video, it also ran into the nationalist outrage machine. And with that came a lot of nastiness, insults, and threats. My friends gave me kudos for handling it so well, but I wondered if it had been worth it. I wasn’t looking to get hits for the sake of getting hits; I just wanted to get the video out there. But once you feed the expat outrage machine, it’s easy for it to careen out of control. For more than a month, that video was a primary topic of discussion. Parody videos were uploaded, radio programmes discussed it, Facebook groups against MBC popped up, and it even made waves internationally.

In the end, all the outrage had increased awareness, but it didn’t result in sweeping changes to the Korean media landscape. When it was brought to MBC’s awareness, it barely resulted in an apology. The fires were never really cooled in the furnaces of the expat outrage machine, and the original video still pops up on different sites. It seems that the machine has a very long memory.

Do I have a theory as to what makes the outrage such a potent force amongst expats in Korea? I do. It may not be scientifically sound, but bear with me. A lot of the K-blogosphere is directed towards expats working the EFL market in Korea. For years (I guess you could say decades at this point), there has been a hierarchy for hiring expats to the EFL market in Korea. I’ve said this before, but since a long time back, whites were the race of choice by Korean employers. There’s no getting around it. It’s why the photo you attached to your application was so important to recruiters and hagwon owners.

Now this large expat workforce of primarily white EFL teachers comes from countries where whites hold the keys of power (or had held). While they were in their home countries they had all the benefits of white privilege to give them a comfortable life. Or at least a life where they weren’t media targets as criminals. If they did encounter racism directed towards them, they knew it wouldn’t be echoed in the government (or establishment), because the deck was stacked in their favour. Personal racist attacks on an individual scale wouldn’t become a constant stream of bombardment they would need to learn to cope with.

When they arrived in Korea, they eventually realized their white privilege didn’t cast a wide enough defense to always protect them. For the first time in many of their lives, they suddenly encountered what it felt to be a visible minority, and to have elements of the media be perpetually against them. Now they looked different from the establishment, and had no firm voice in how the establishment treated them. While they thought they had lived their lives treating everyone equally, they got into a tizzy when they realised they were no longer being treated as equals. What they perceived to be a non-stop barrage of microaggressions was funneled into the online expat outrage machine.

You can tell that many of the expat outrage machine still cling to their white privilege. Although they are quick to rail against the racism against foreigners in Korea (which directly affects them), they rarely cast a moment’s thought to the reverse happening in their own countries. It’s been an interesting experiment of mine over the years as I matured in Korea. I would pay attention to which people would be sharing stories of foreigners being victims of racism in Korea, and how many would in return post similar stories of institutionalised racism against visible minorities in Canada (or America, or Australia, etc). I also kept an eye on people who left Korea, and hadn’t been shy in slamming the country over its racism. It proved to be a depressing experiment, but the outcome was what I had expected.

The vast majority would fail to comment upon race relations in their home countries, as it simply didn’t affect them. They would often say how glad they were to be away from the racism they experienced in Korea, and yet failed to see the racism in their own society. The recent highly-publicised spate of white North American cops gunning down blacks has barely gotten a peep on my social media feeds. If Korean cops suddenly decided to target EFL teachers with violence, my social media feeds wouldn’t be able to contain the expat outrage. The death of a lion named after a white supremacist was more widely discussed than white supremacists murdering citizens with impunity.

I went to Korea to teach. That was my primary focus while in the country, and you can see it in the blog. A lot of people are in Korea to teach, but that’s not their primary reason, or focus. A lot are there to travel first, and teaching is a distant second priority. Many of these EFL’ers will share pithy motivational quotes on their social media, on how everyone should travel because it will expand their minds. And yet despite how widely they travel, or how many stamps are in their passport, not too many return and begin to critically question their place in society. If they are capable of identifying inequality in one instance, I wonder why their expanded minds are incapable of mustering up the same outrage in another instance.

This isn’t to cast aspersions against the expat outrage machine. It can be used as a tool to increase awareness on pressing social issues. More often than not, however, it’s a bandwagon to be jumped on by drones wishing to express heated opinions. Opinions given voice by people only interested in inequality as far as their lives are concerned, and not an iota more in most cases. If these people were to cast an equally critical eye on their own countries of origin, then they might be a force of actual positive change. Until then, their participation ensures nothing more than website revenue.


Continuing With the Canadian Escapade

I’m three months into my Canadian adventure. The hardest part of the experience was last month, the end of June and beginning of July.  Having (somewhat) recovered from the traumatic experience of leaving Gangneung for North Gower, I was getting ready to make my first real move in Canada (as an adult). Getting all my stuff out of “storage” (aka my parents’ basement) proved to be just as annoying as having to lug heavy boxes from my place in Gangneung to the nearest post office.

When I completed the move, I silently hoped I wouldn’t have to do that for at least five more years. Back in the 80s and 90s, my family would move every 3-5 years whenever my father would get posted to another military base. In the 00s I had promised myself I wouldn’t move quite as often when I came of age. Like so many other promises to myself, I didn’t keep it.

For now, though, I am settled in. I’m up in a room with a decent view of Ottawa’s east end. I’ve lived here for a month, and I am starting to feel at home slowly, but surely. After a month’s hiatus, I broke out the art supplies and did some free commissions for friends. I haven’t woken up in a state of bewilderment, wondering where I was, and I am slowly getting to know the neighbourhood.

The people around are certainly friendly, and come from all walks of life. There are some Korean families at the complex, but I haven’t mustered up the courage to break out my Korean and “practise” with them (as random people so often do with foreigners in Korea, so they can practise their English). I’m trying my best not to ignore people lingering on the outside of conversations (generally in Korea it’s accepted that you don’t need to interact with people you don’t know if you’re out and about). Fighting the urge to turn my back and give someone a private conversation takes a lot of mental fortitude (my own innate anti-social behaviour only adds to the situation).

Back in Korea I had my own group of friends (people I worked with, or had worked with), and we’d meet up for movies, dinners, and occasional trips. That was enough for me and I didn’t go out looking for further social interactions. My Korean friends would just shrug if I wanted to indulge in some “me time”, and chalk it up to me being a foreigner. I can’t play the “foreigner card” in Canada, and it’s easy for people to think you’re cold, dismissive, rude, or uncaring if you don’t follow through with socialising. I don’t blame them, as that’s the way Canadian society has been cultivated over generations.

I’m getting a lay of the land as far as finding things that interest me goes. I’m relatively close to the downtown core (which I associate with the Parliament Buildings); it’s just a 13 minute drive from where I am. Ottawa’s a large enough city that there is a market catering to specific peoples’ interests. There are plenty of art supplies stores with high-end merchandise. There are a lot of hobby and comic shops around. I’m practically next to some of the best museums you can find in the entire country. The selection of food choices is massive, and it’s just as easy to order food to be delivered as it is in Korea (although not as cheap). I’m in one of the more multicultural parts of the city, and that suits me a lot better.  Having a car would definitely make things a lot simpler, but the bus system isn’t shabby at all.

When it comes to university (it’s still more than a month away), everything seems to be going okay on that front as well. I recently paid off my entire year’s worth of tuition in one click of a mouse button. It cost me over $7K, but at least I don’t need to fret over it anymore. I got the study cohort I wanted to join (the global one), which should allow me to use the seven years’ worth of experience in Korea. I’ll hopefully be able use my contacts on the peninsula when necessary, and use ideas I developed over there in lesson plans here.

If there’s one thing I should do prior to September 8th, it’s work on my French. Quebec’s just across the river, and Ottawa is pretty bilingual. There is a lot of the language being spoken everywhere you look, and people switch back and forth between it and English. If you want to succeed in this city, being fluent in both languages is a must. My ability to pick up languages seems to have improved thanks to Korean, so there’s really no excuse for me to give French another stab. I’ll see if I can pick it up like I did with Korean, and go from there.

I still keep in touch with my students back in Gangneung (hell, I’m still keeping in touch with students I taught in ’07 in Daegu). They tell me they still miss me, and are disappointed there was no summer English camp to go to. Some are looking to study abroad and are seeking advice. Kakao remains the go-to choice for my coworkers and I to catch up.

Next weekend, I will participate in a family softball tournament. That will serve as a mini-family reunion, as I haven’t played in it since ’08, and ’05 before that (and ’99 before that). For the moment, life’s fairly decent.

Elections Canada Logo

How to Vote as an Expat Canadian

If you’re one of my Canadian compatriots living abroad, then there has been a disappointing bit of news to pass along. If you’ve been living as an expat for five years, you can no longer vote in Canadian federal elections. If you spent enough time on the outside, looking in, you’ll probably have seen this vote suppression creeping along for the past half decade.

If you haven’t given up on Canada’s democratic process, then I’ll let you know how to get a mail-in ballot while living abroad (provided of course that you still qualify for one-can’t believe I am saying that to Canadian citizens).

First, you will need to get the forms AVAILABLE HERE. Keep in mind, you will need to have copies of government-issued ID available that has your home address on it. Your driver’s licence will have it. If you don’t have a Canadian driver’s license, then a provincial or territorial ID card will also do. If you don’t have anything like that, here’s the complete list of what’s accepted as ID (you’ll need one from each group):

Pieces with your name:

-health card
-Canadian passport
-birth certificate
-certificate of Canadian citizenship
-citizenship card
-social insurance number card
-Indian status card
-Canadian Forces identity card
-Veterans Affairs health card
-old age security card
-hospital card
-medical clinic card
-label on a prescription container
-identity bracelet issued by a hospital or long-term care facility
-blood donor card
-CNIB card
-credit card
-debit card
-employee card
-student identity card
-public transportation card
-library card
-liquor identity card
-parolee card
-firearms licence
-licence or card issued for fishing, trapping or hunting
-driver’s licence (may be used to prove your name if the address is outdated)
-provincial or territorial ID card (may be used to prove your name if the address is outdated)

Pieces with your name and address:

-utility bill (e.g. electricity; water; telecommunications services including telephone, cable or satellite)
-bank statement
-credit union statement
-credit card statement
-personal cheque
-government statement of benefits
-government cheque or cheque stub
-pension plan statement
-residential lease or sub-lease
-mortgage contract or statement
-income tax assessment
-property tax assessment or evaluation
-vehicle ownership
-insurance certificate, policy or statement
-correspondence issued by a school, college or university
-letter from a public curator, public guardian or public trustee
-targeted revision form from Elections Canada to residents of long-term care facilities
-letter of confirmation of residence from a First Nations band or reserve or an Inuit local authority
-letter of confirmation of residence, letter of stay, admission form or statement of benefits from one of the following designated establishments:
student residence
seniors’ residence
long-term care facility
soup kitchen

Name and address will be a kicker, especially since you’re living abroad, and no longer have a place of residence in Canada. If you don’t have a Canadian driver’s licence, I would use a credit card statement (hopefully you still have at least one Canadian credit card).

Although I was no longer deemed a resident of Canada while in Korea, I kept my Canadian address as my parents’. If you are about to go abroad, I strongly suggest you use a family, or friend’s address as a proxy one (and make sure you register it as such before going abroad).

Once your form is filled out, and you carefully looked over everything, you need to send it to Elections Canada.

Elections Canada
30 Victoria Street
Gatineau, Quebec
K1A 0M6

toll-free in Canada and the United States

toll-free in Mexico

from anywhere in the world

For people who are deaf or hard of hearing:
TTY 1-800-361-8935
toll-free in Canada and the United States

toll-free in Canada and the United States

When your application gets the okay, you’ll have added yourself to the list of International Register of Electors. Come election time, you’ll get a special voting ballot kit.

Annually, expats contribute $6bn in income taxes to Canada (unless they live where there is a tax treaty between the country and Canada, like Korea or Japan). If you live abroad, are a Canadian citizen, and you still contribute to Canada’s taxes, then voting is your civic right.

It’s massively important you register to get yourself on the list as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the fall for the election. Do it now while it is still summer. Even if you think the election process is a bust in Canada, and you’re not alone, spoiling a vote sends a better message than not voting at all.

61% of eligible voters voted in the last election. 38% of that 61% gave the Conservatives a majority. So 23% of eligible Canadian voters decided the country’s fate for the next four years. Your voice matters.