In Defense of Marriage

Been busy as a recently “funemployed” person, watching endless games and commentary about the NCAA tournament. (Rock chalk Jayhawk! Go KU!) Will return to India postings in between rounds, I promise.

Today, the Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments both for and against state and federal level gay marriage bans. This marks a big day in the history of American civil rights, in the midst of a sea change in American society at large. Let’s look at the year on the calendar (2013, in case you needed a reminder. 2013!), and hope that the outcome of these hearings puts America on the right side of history. Go marriage! Go freedom! Go America!*

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*I may still be in relentless cheering mode from this weekend. Ahem.

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Electoral afterbirth

I have no idea what is going on here.

I have no idea what is going on here.

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Please Vote for Me: Korean Middle School edition

Meanwhile, last Friday my students had their own elections for next year’s school president and vice-president. Last year, there wasn’t much of a vote because only one candidate was in the running. This year, there was a much bigger to-do, as there were three tickets. Number one consisted of a pair of boys: one boy, the ticket headliner, is this model student who is “oh very handsome!” and popular with his classmates. For some reason, he chose as his running mate a boy who is generally reviled as being a huge bully by the rest of the 8th graders. The other two tickets were all girls.

The model student, who I’ll call Mark, came to my class during recess one day with his best friend Raymond (not the running mate! I can only assume he didn’t want to run), looking glum. “How’s your campaign going?” “It’s very suck, teacher.”

“Well, why’s that?” I told them that they had a clear advantage, out of sheer gender politics – since the other two tickets would likely split the girl vote, if they managed to lock up the boy vote, they would for sure win it. (Look at me, trying to be Nate Silver).

“Maybe,” said Mark, “but I don’t know…” I didn’t tell Mark that several boys had admitted to me that they wouldn’t vote for him, out of hatred for his bully running mate. “We only have two posters, and no girls will make posters for us.”

“Well, why can’t boys make the posters?” No way, Teacher, said the looks on their faces. Even Raymond wouldn’t help make the posters, so poor Mark was stuck painstakingly doing them all himself. As the week drew on, the school walls proliferated with posters…for the girls’ tickets. “The girls teams are tough,” said Raymond. “Why this school doesn’t have debate? We would crush them.” Though I love a good rumble with ideas, given that this is middle school and their emotions run high anyways, it’s probably for the best that there wasn’t a public debate. One day, right before one of my classes, I ended up having to intervene to protect Mark from getting his shins kicked in by one of the ticket 3 supporters! She is a model student herself and is ordinarily a very nice girl, but man, I guess she got caught up in electoral fever.

The girls’ teams had very elaborate posters, with creative themes:

"The Little Prince" themed!  That book is super popular here, for some reason.

“The Little Prince” themed! That book is super popular here, for some reason.

This was my favorite campaign poster - the artist had made cutouts of her friends' heads and put them into an Easter Egg basket, for some reason.

This was my favorite campaign poster – the artist had made cutouts of her friends’ heads and put them into an Easter Egg basket, for some reason.

And this is one of the two posters I saw hanging up for the boys' ticket.  Bonus points for simplicity and use of a foreign language (English), I guess?

And this is one of the two posters I saw hanging up for the boys’ ticket. Bonus points for simplicity and use of a foreign language (English), I guess?

Had there been a School Elections Commission, I think it would have been kept very busy with all the allegations of cheating and bribery going on. Some students accused a candidate of lying, because one of her campaign promises was to get rid of the school rule that students not be allowed to dye their hair. The way it works now, if a student’s hair color is lighter than a certain shade, then they are made to dye it back to natural “black” because everyone has that hair color here. Well, this candidate claims that she is a victim of this rule, given that her hair is naturally a light brown. Her detractors accused her of “거짓말!” even though they probably want to see this rule struck down also.

Later in the week, Mark’s running mate came into my class to buy some candy (I offer fake money as a reward for participation in class, which students can then use to buy candy from my “store”), trailed by a girl with the brightest smile on her face. He bought two lollipops for her, and she exclaimed something in Korean about him being the best, and ran off with her prizes. I’m not sure if what I witnessed was vote-buying, or if he had a crush on this girl or what, but something was exchanged.

After the votes were all tallied, the team with the Egghead poster ended up winning. The day after the election, I congratulated the girls and asked them how they felt.

“STRESS, teacher!” Apparently there are a lot of things to do, as president of a school – one must be on all sorts of committees, and welcome the incoming students for next year into the school, plan school field trips and contests and work to implement the roughly eighty gazillion promises that one may have hastily delivered during the campaign. Welcome to power, ladies.

-p.s. – anyone who hasn’t done so should watch the documentary “Please Vote for Me”, about an election that takes place in a Chinese elementary school. Great stuff.

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Electioneering, part 1

Today, Koreans go out to the polls to vote in the national presidential election. Today is also a public holiday; hence, my staying at home to blog instead of packing up or disposing of all the crap I have accumulated during my stay here (by the way I am leaving Korea next week. 아이고!) The candidates have been whittled down to two, essentially: Park Geun Hye, a.k.a. “The Red Lady” to my friends who can’t remember Korean names, and Moon Jae In, the gentle but boring looking older dude from the yellow and green party.

My lunchtime chat buddy, the remedial math teacher, is super eager to talk with me about politics, as everyone cringes and clams up when the topic is brought up. (Talking politics is just about as unpleasant as speaking English.) He was really disappointed when An Cheol Su, the independent candidate who is an antivirus software mogul, dropped out. He’s voting for Moon Jae In, primarily because he does not want to see Park Geun Hye – the dictator’s daughter – take office. He is convinced the momentum is all for Moon Jae In right now, but I don’t know. I’m not a Korean, and I don’t even speak it really, but I’m seeing a lot more signage for Park Geun Hye, and a lot more dancing ladies. For this is how they get out the vote here – send a bunch of people out into the freezing cold to dance and sing to disco-y tunes for their candidate of choice:

Door-knocking isn’t exactly a thing here (except for Jehovah’s witnesses and other fringe-y religious groups), so this is the alternative. I’m not sure which I’d prefer, to be honest.

Last weekend, I encountered these electioneering animals at the bus stop:

Get Out the Vote Panda!  A lot sexier than "Sexual Harassment Panda."

Get Out the Vote Panda! A lot sexier than “Sexual Harassment Panda.”

"Moo, moo, moon Jae in!" (This would make sense if Korean cows actually said "moo" instead of "ooh-meh" or whatever.)

“Moo, moo, moon Jae in!” (This would make sense if Korean cows actually said “moo” instead of “ooh-meh” or whatever.)

GOTV panda vs. Vote Suppression Pomeranian.

GOTV panda vs. Vote Suppression Pomeranian.

Last weekend, while ever so slightly intoxicated, I braved using the little Korean I know to ask the taxi driver who he planned to vote for in the upcoming election. “Numba one,” he said, indicating a vote for the Red Lady. I didn’t ask why (it would be beyond my Korean comprehension skills), but a lot of the older generation of Koreans actually do look back on Park Chung Hee (Park Geun Hye’s father) with fondness. They remember his reign as a time of rapidly increasing prosperity; never mind any pesky human rights issues. Likewise, my pet student Thomas also seems to like the Red Lady. “It’s so cool how she was in politics from when she was born,” he said. (He’s an odd one, for a middle schooler). Other students have reported that their parents don’t know who to vote for, as they are decidedly underwhelmed by both candidates. They will walk into those voting booths, hold their noses and vote for somebody.

But who? We shall see tomorrow.

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