Tangent: LA Times: “Korea activists target foreign English teachers”


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Hi Blog.  As a weekend Tangent, here’s a creepy article making the rounds of the non-Asian communities in Asia:  South Koreans tracking “troublemaking foreign English teachers” in Korea, and reporting their activities to the police before they can commit any further depravities.

COMMENT:  Sounds to me like a bunch of nativist busybodies with nothing better to do than stalk and spread rumor about “English teachers” (read: probably neighborhood white folks). I hope nobody has the balls to do the same thing in Japan.  And I wish some foreign press outlet wouldn’t give them a modicum of credibility by giving them a venue to express their views (viz. “To be honest,” he said, “a lot of our group members believe the teachers made [these threats of violence against them] all up.” with no counter.  LA Times, why report this as if it’s persuasive?)

In sum, these people are scummy vigilantes practicing racial profiling and public intimidation. If there is an issue of non-Koreans breaking the law, they should tell the police and let them handle it. Otherwise these are just more proactive racists, going beyond stores saying “Japanese Only”, and stretching the sentiment to the street and right up to the teachers’ front doors. It’s a means to drive foreigners paranoid and crazy.  Let’s hope it doesn’t give Japanese okaku any ideas.  Arudou Debito in Calgary


Korea activists target foreign English teachers
A South Korea group uses the Internet and other means to track foreign teachers, in an effort to ferret out illegal or unsavory behavior. The teachers say they’re victims of stalkers and rumors.


By John M. Glionna
LA Times January 31, 2010

Reporting from Seoul
Sometimes, in his off hours, Yie Eun-woong does a bit of investigative work.

He uses the Internet and other means to track personal data and home addresses of foreign English teachers across South Korea.

Then he follows them, often for weeks at a time, staking out their apartments, taking notes on their contacts and habits.

He wants to know whether they’re doing drugs or molesting children.

Yie, a slender 40-year-old who owns a temporary employment agency, says he is only attempting to weed out troublemakers who have no business teaching students in South Korea, or anywhere else.

The volunteer manager of a controversial group known as the Anti-English Spectrum, Yie investigates complaints by South Korean parents, often teaming up with authorities, and turns over information from his efforts for possible prosecution.

Outraged teachers groups call Yie an instigator and a stalker.

Yie waves off the criticism. “It’s not stalking, it’s following,” he said. “There’s no law against that.”

Since its founding in 2005, critics say, Yie’s group has waged an invective-filled nationalistic campaign against the 20,000 foreign-born English teachers in South Korea.

On their website and through fliers, members have spread rumors of a foreign English teacher crime wave. They have alleged that some teachers are knowingly spreading AIDS, speculation that has been reported in the Korean press.

Teacher activists acknowledge that a few foreign English instructors are arrested each year in South Korea — cases mostly involving the use of marijuana — but they insist that the rate of such incidents is far lower than for the Korean population itself.

“Why are they following teachers? That’s a job for the police,” said Dann Gaymer, a spokesman for the Assn. for Teachers of English in Korea. “What this group is up to is something called vigilantism, and I don’t like the sound of that.”

In November, the president of the teachers group received anonymous e-mails threatening his life and accusing him of committing sex crimes.

“I have organized the KEK (Kill White in Korea),” one e-mail read in part. “We will start to kill and hit [foreigners] from this Christmas. Don’t make a fuss. . . . Just get out.”

Yie acknowledges that he has been questioned by investigators but denies any involvement in the threats of violence.

“To be honest,” he said, “a lot of our group members believe the teachers made this all up.”

The debate over foreign English teachers is symbolic of a social shift taking place in a nation that has long prided itself on its racial purity and singular culture, South Korean analysts say.

In less than a decade, the number of foreigners living in South Korea, with a population of nearly 49 million, has doubled to 1.2 million, many of them migrant workers from other Asian nations.

Also included are the foreign English teachers, most from the United States, drawn here by compensation packages that may include as much as $2,500 a month plus free rent and a round-trip ticket to teach a Korean population obsessed with learning from native speakers.

Yie’s efforts have the support of some educators who say many foreign teachers lack the skills to run a classroom.

“This has nothing to do with race. It is all about teaching,” said Kim Young-Lan, a sociology professor at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul.

The government has tried to stem what it sees as a troubling number of racist incidents. A 31-year-old man was charged last year for a verbal outburst against an Indian man and a Korean woman traveling together on a city bus in Seoul.

But some teachers from abroad say Korean laws regarding their status remain discriminatory. Foreign English teachers must undergo HIV tests and criminal and academic checks that are not required of Koreans doing the same work, they say.

Yie says he has nothing against foreigners. Growing up near the city of Osan, he often rode with his taxi driver father and encountered foreigners who served at the U.S. military base there. “I learned to pick out the good guys from the bad guys,” he says

In 2005, by then living in Seoul, he joined the fledgling activist group after seeing an upsetting posting on a website: claims by foreign teachers that they had slept with Korean students.

Yie, who is single and has no children, volunteered to help organize an effort to rein in such behavior.

“People were angry; most of them were parents with kids,” he said. “We all got together online and traded information.”

Gaymer says he doubts that such a posting ever existed. Instead, he says, Koreans were angry about photos posted on a job website showing foreigners dancing with scantily clad Korean women.

“They were consenting adults at a party with foreign men,” he said. “They weren’t doing anything bad or illegal.”

Yie’s group, Gaymer says, has used the incident as a rallying call. “They’re posting online pictures of teachers’ apartments and whipping each other into a nationalist frenzy, creating a hysteria against all English teachers, troublemakers or not,” he said.

Yie, who says his group is managed by half a dozen key figures and has 300 other members, created a system for parents and others to report bad teachers. The group says it has contributed to several arrests, including the recent bust of several foreign instructors for gambling and marijuana possession.

“I’m being called a racist who judges the entire group by the mistakes of the few,” Yie said. “I’m trying to look at these teachers with an open mind.”


8 comments on “Tangent: LA Times: “Korea activists target foreign English teachers”

  • Its nice that he wants to help his community and fight crime, but seriously. Look at the Koreans too. Don’t be like the airport White-Watchers. Koreans are just as capable of committing the same crimes that some of these white people have committed. Let’s hope this mass hysteria doesn’t cross the pond over to Japan.

  • “… he often rode with his taxi driver father and encountered foreigners who served at the U.S. military base there. “I learned to pick out the good guys from the bad guys,” he says…”

    what the hell kind of freak is this guy? he learned to pick out the good guys?

    weeks at a time??!?…”staking out their apartments, taking notes on their contacts and habits.”

    “not stalking, following?” sounds like stalking to me.

  • Scary stuff! My cousin worked in Korea as an English teacher a few years ago – as he did not have a university degree he was teaching without a proper visa. Apparently this was a widespread practice and the schools that employed the teachers could not care less, as they were raking in the won. According to him, the major subway stations in Seoul were surreptitiously monitored by immigration officials, who would note the foreigners coming in and out. If they saw the same person arriving regularly at that station at the same time, they would consider it evidence that the person was employed, and would arrange a sudden passport check.

  • This is partly why there is such a shortage of native English teachers in Korea.Just type in “Don’t teach in korea” or “Problems teaching/living in Korea” etc and watch the blacklists and horror stories emerge, stories of teachers being physically assaulted for taking a vacation, of being not paid for months, for being blamed for Korea’s ills. So, next time you feel down in Japan, remember it could be worse, you could be in Korea.

    [unsubstantiated assertion deleted]

  • Wait, is this the same Korea that we’ve been hearing is very progressive and welcoming in the last few months?

    This doesn’t surprise me. One impression I’ve always got from Korea is that the widespread nationalism and xenophobia transcends simple bigotry, and taps into the history of Korea’s suffering at the hands of other nations (China and Japan), and an underlying – albeit irrational – fear that this will be repeated and lead to the destruction of Korea.

    Absurd it sounds (and, well, is) from an external perspective, it explains why racial purity is lauded, and why the idea of intermixing is such a taboo. Doesn’t excuse it one bit, mind.

    Just my musings.

    — There’s what a government does as official policy, and there’s what some people do. They can be quite different, of course.

  • ‘“This has nothing to do with race. It is all about teaching,” said Kim Young-Lan, a sociology professor at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul.’

    This is the freakiest part.

  • Dear Debito,

    That was a good article on your site about the vigilante stalkers in Korea. I agree with your viewpoint that vigilantism is a very scary thing, and in fact, I was the victim of it several times in Korea. I lived in Korea for five years, as a matter of fact. Your article really reminded me of what it was like to live there — and admittedly, I can’t help but get a bit emotional and angry when I recall some of those days.

    In 2007, I was attacked by two young men in Hyehwa, Seoul while I was walking to the local convenience store. One moment I heard some jeering marks in English, the next moment I turned around and found a fist in my face. They spoke very good English and explained that they were getting revenge for their superior in the military who was white and had yelled at them earlier that day — and they said I deserved to be attacked because “[I] must take responsibility for [my] race.” Apparently the collar on my polo shirt also really ticked them off. Those around me did nothing to help, and after the incident, some just said “be quiet, go home, sleep, and forget about it.”

    Later in 2007, I witnessed a South African English teacher being beaten on the ground by three Koreans — they had removed his shoes and were beating him with them, and hitting him with an ironing board. He was screaming, and I went outside to find out what the screaming was, and saw the incident. I went down there and called the police immediately, but unfortunately I dialed the wrong number. The attackers turned on me. The police ended up coming and everyone got to spend the night in the police station/hospital respectively. I ended up having to move to another neighborhood because the attackers kept intimidating me.

    And going back in time a bit, my dad’s office (near the US Embassy near Gwanghwamun) in Seoul was fire-bombed by rioting anti-US protesters. Fortunately he didn’t come into work that day, but the office was badly damaged and they could not turn on the computers because the Molotov cocktails had done such a number on the computers (when he retold this story to me, he wasn’t sure if the computers had melted or if it was a problem with the soot in the air entering the computers through the fans). Apparently at that time, it was fairly tolerated for students to simply stuff rags into yogurt bottles filled with gasoline and hurl them at American buildings!

    In conclusion, I’m glad you ran that article. Racism is a problem in both South Korea and Japan, but at least in Japan some people are beginning to address the problem. In Korea (a nation that signed the CERD in 1978), they seem to get off completely scot-free 99% of the time — all it takes is yet another sob story about the “poor Korean people during the Japanese occupation having to work 20 hours a day in the bitter cold for the Japanese war machine just for a handful of spoiled kimchi, and that’s why Korea is a little bit fearful of foreigners” and all is forgiven.

    Sorry if this e-mail was too angry/emotional. Keep up with the good posts.

  • ///There’s what a government does as official policy, and there’s what some people do. They can be quite different, of course.///

    Indeed there is. Forgive me, the – admittedly rather snide – remark I made was in recollection of one of the tangents you posted a couple of months ago, where one poster’s naive comment about how supposedly welcoming Korea is just got to me.

    There’s government policy and what some people do/the general public attitudes, but one is no good without the other, I personally feel. In many cases, one acts to sabotage the other, as we saw with the crazed reaction of the Uyoku Dantai towards the very suggestion of granting foreigners suffrage in local elections.


    Wow. I had some sense that foreigners were the object of hostility, but the extent that you have accounted comes as a slight shock. I don’t think there’s much that I can say in response, but I feel more compelled than ever to avoid South Korea.

    It does make me remember more strongly what I think is the single best phrase to cheer one up about a given situation: “Cheer up, it could be worse”.

    — But in this case, it could also be better. And the LA Times could have written a better article.


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