Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Year 2 Begins

Today was the first full day of my second year in Korea!

It was also the second day of the new fall semester. The chapter in the second grade (that's high school juniors) textbook is titled "Korean Culture through American Eyes". Back in early planning, I knew one thing I wanted was for them to talk about American soldiers in Korea; I got a photo an anti-US forces protest on my visit to Gwanghwamun Plaza earlier this month:

But I am glad I toured the DMZ last week, as that allowed me to really put the lesson together. The starter is what we call a pre-test: I have them write down three facts they know about the DMZ--very common so far are that it has lots of mines, it is an untouched nature preserve, and there are no weapons or people there. That last is not really true. Anyway, I then give them a slide show of my trip, and they are actually very interested.

After discussing the status of forces with them, in the last portion of class they are to work in groups to discuss the reasons for and against US troops being stationed in Korea--their output should be two lists, about which I and the co-teacher will converse with them as we go around.

As always, especially with the second grade, this kind of thing is very hit-or-miss. Some groups are articulate and thoughtful, a few groups do not do a damn thing. Teacha, me English-ee no! I don't waste much time with them, preferring to give the ones willing to try the benefit of my time and conversation.

This is a kind of political discussion, so I tread lightly, but it is interesting to see how sharp some of them are. Some even pointed out that one reason for US troops to leave is that many Koreans do not like foreigners. One popular reason (not that the students themselves hold the view, necessarily, I asked them to list reasons that some people put forward) is that US troops cause pollution. This is due, I think, to an episode in 2000 where a USFK mortician dumped 20 gallons of formaldehyde down a sink, where it was eventually released into the Hangang. Now, that clearly violates anyone's safe handling rules, though 20 gallons is but a drop in the mighty river--still, US soldiers are seen by some Koreans as actively polluting the water supply.

Also, some people seem to feel the US soldiers cost the government of Korea too much money--as if they are on the ROK payroll or something. Or as if the US isn't the one putting up most all the armament and materiel amassed along the border--it is. On the flip side, it is almost universally felt that Korea needs USFK because America is strong and Korea is not--if US forces leave, the North will attack the very next day. Hard to argue that.

Anyway, an interesting week is underway!


Jo-Anna said...

20 gallons of formaldehyde? Sounds like an exact scene from "The Host". Was that a true story, and just decided to turn it into a monster movie? Or is some student getting fact and fiction mixed?

N Jill Marsh said...

It actually happened, in July 2000. It was reported by a Korean environmentalist group, Green Korea and eventually the US military admitted to a smaller amount dumped than reported, and apologized.

Lots of resonance for those who knew about it and watched "The Host".

Tokyou said...


First of all, I just want to say I enjoy reading your posts.

I just wanted to make a comment on your remark - "some people seem to feel the US soldiers cost the government of Korea too much money--as if they are on the ROK payroll or something"

There is an agreement called Special Measures Agreement (SMA) between ROK and the U.S. It has been in place since 1991. And while I don't have the most recent figures, under the SMA ROK paid the U.S both directly and indirectly $969m, $1,184m, $1,122m, $1,193m from 1999 to 2002, respectively. (Direct payment includes cash, payroll for police and KATUSA, real estate, etc. Indirect payment included tax waivers, discounts on electricity and phone bills, etc.)

I am sure the U.S. is doing its part, but at the same time, over a billion dollars of Korean tax payers' money goes to support the U.S. forces in Korea every year.

I don't think many Americans know about this. And while I support the presence of U.S. forces in Korea, it is uncomfortable when I hear Americans say (not that you are)that the U.S. is unilaterally putting in the sacrifice and effort to protect South Korea from North Korea.

Tuttle said...

Jo-Anna, the first scene approximates the truth, AIUI.

Welcome, njm! Thanks for the comments.

Tokyou, thanks for the additional data! I was not trying to say ROK does not contribute, just that I think it's a relative bargain. I guess it's like when your fridge breaks and you have to get a new one--and come across a really good deal. You appreciate it, but didn't really want to spend the money in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Study finds high pollution levels at most U.S. bases in S. Korea


Congratulations on your anniversary! Your blog is one of the nicest around.

A Korean college student