Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Let's Talk About Issues

Tonight was the final community center Korean class of the year, and there were much fewer students and teachers than usual. I suppose most people were busy with travel or end-of-the-year preparations, or maybe they were partying it up since, hey, no work tomorrow! Most of the country will have the day off on the 19th because it's election day. (What a great way to encourage people to vote! Why can't we do that in the U.S.?)

In class, I decided to chat with my conversation partner about the election. It seems to be either illegal or very frowned upon to share who you've decided to vote for in a public forum, so I didn't press the question. I did, however, pick up tons of election-related vocabulary. Here we go:

선거 (seongeo) is election, and 대선거 (daeseongeo) refers to the Presidential election. The two main 후보 (hubo), or candidates, are Park Geun-hye (박근혜) and Moon Jae-in (문재인). There was a somewhat substantial third-party candidate, Lee Chung-hee (이충희), but she declared right from the beginning of her campaign that she was only running in order to get a national platform upon which to attack Park as much as possible, then proceeded to do so, and finally withdrew from the election yesterday. Sneaky woman. But that's a pretty baller way to use politics (정치/jeongchi). Anyway, now Park and Moon are 서로 경쟁하고 있다: competing with each other, and the polls right now show a 박빙, or a very close race.
Park Geun-hye of the Saenuri Party and Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party. Courtesy Yonhap News.
Park's party is called the 새누리당 (Saenuri Dang), which means the "New World Party". They are politically conservative (보수적), wary of North Korea, and well supported by the older generations and the nation's elite (including chaebols, or business conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai). They are the party of Korea's troubled string of dictators, who controversially led the country to miraculous economic prosperity despite horrific human rights abuses, as well as the current President Lee Myoung-bak (이명박). Park herself is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, an important figure in modern Korean history. She has been involved in politics essentially as long as her father has, which means she already has strong ties to the government (정부) over which she is trying to gain control.

Moon's party is the 민주당 (Minju Dang), which simply means the Democratic Party. More progressive (진보적), more tolerant, and younger: altogether unsurprising. Moon himself is a lawyer 변호사/pyeonhosa) with less political experience, but he did serve as chief of staff for Roh Moo-hyun, the President of Korea prior to Lee.

I am admittedly not too well informed of the candidates' actual 정치철학 (jeongchicheolhak/political philosophies), knowing little more than what I hear from my Korean friends and read on Koreabang, but since I personally lean somewhat left of center, I think it would be good if the more liberal candidate become President (대통령/daetongryeong). My host family asked me not to write on this blog who they would voting for, despite their having already told me, perhaps due to the public nature of this blog and the aforementioned "keep your vote secret" thing. I can't vote, so my opinion doesn't matter much... but on the plus side, my host parents have promised to take me with them to the polling place tomorrow morning so that I can watch and take photos! This event only takes place once every five years, so I'm excited for the opportunity.
A vigil in NYC for the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings in Newton, Connecticut. Courtesy TIME Newsfeed.
And now for a much sadder 이야기 주제 (topic of conversation)... the Sandy Hook shootings. Like most 소식 (news) from the US, I first grabbed bits and pieces of information from Facebook, and then I went to Buzzfeed and TIME. The story was shocking and awful, but I honestly haven't stopped to mourn or even really think about it. Of course, it was on the news in Korea, but since I'm not surrounded by Americans and because I'm not in America, the issue was never shoved in my face. I actually avoided most of the dozens of articles being written on every corner of the Internet with updates to the story regarding the shooter's background, or more tales of heroism and survival. I just didn't want to confront it.

But tonight at class, and also afterward, I had to confront it. A lull in the conversation with my speaking partner led to the question, "What are your opinions on gun control in the United States?" My Korean tutor was extremely curious. In Korea, personal firearms are illegal, so you can imagine that the number of gun-related deaths in the country is extremely low. Compared to my trigger-happy country, well...

What struck me, however, was that as soon as I thought about the question for a moment, I realized that I actually really did not want to talk about this, least of all in Korean. Not only is gun control a hideously complex issue, it also requires grammar that I don't have yet to explain in a language I still can only barely grasp. But I tried, because that's what this class is for.

이사건에서 문제는 총이 않은데 정신병이었다라고 생각해요. 그 남자 정신병이 앓고 있었어요; 총이없으면 다른 사람을 아직 다치게 할수 있어요. 미국 사회는 총이 너무 좋아하는데 제일 중요한 문제는 정신 건강이예요. 몇 사람의 생각에는 더 많은 총은 더 많은 문제가 있다. 하지만 완전히 금하면 안되요. 이왕 불법총이 이젠껏 많아서 보통 사람들이 총이 받을수없으면 범인은 오직 총을 있을거예요. 그리고 으리 사회 보다 위험해져요. 그런데 이 주제 굉장히 복잡하네요.

Okay, that was probably all over the place in terms of grammar, but here's what I meant to say: "In my opinion, in [the Sandy Hook] incident, the problem was not guns but mental illness. That man was suffering from mental illness; without a gun he still could (have) hurt other people. American society likes guns too much, but the most important problem is mental health. Some people think that more guns means more problems. However, guns should not be completely banned. Up until now, the number of illegal firearms is already so high that if normal citizens are not able to procure guns, then it is only the criminals who will have them. Thus our society will become more dangerous. Anyway, this issue really is extremely complex."

So that is the gist of what I was talking about, reluctantly, with my Korean tutor. I tried to steer the conversation back to the election, but in the end I just announced that I was really sad now and couldn't think of anything else to say.

Late at night, when I returned from Korean class, I chatted with my host parents about the election. But inevitably, just as it had in class, the conversation switched to Sandy Hook and my thoughts on gun control. By this time, I really did not want to talk about it, but I tried my best to rehash the opinions I'd developed earlier. My host parents are fiercely anti-gun, and I could tell that they really didn't understand why "everyone in America has guns". ("Do you have a gun?" my host father asked me. I was too tired to mask my horror at the question.)

I also perceived their utter sorrow at the fact that the shootings took place at a school -- my host parents are both teachers -- and when I mentioned the argument some people have given for equipping teachers with guns, my host mother completed the thought: so that the teachers could have protected the children... There was so much conflict in her eyes. It was really telling.

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