Saturday, November 24, 2007

Liancourt Rocks

Continuing my unqualified observations of a foreigner living in Korea, I find that most of my students work up a pretty fiery nationalistic fervor whenever someone mentions Dokdo, a few very small islands that are disputed territories between Japan and Korea. The history of the Liancourt Rocks, which is what western historians seem to call them as even their name is hotly debated, is fascinating for a couple of rocks so tiny that only two people actually reside on them.

It seems that Korea is much more excited over this rivalry than Japan. I liken it to Maryland's rivalry with Duke--Maryland hates Duke with the fiery passion of a thousand suns; Duke really hopes they beat the Terps when they play them, but doesn't really get too bent out of shape about it. Duke is Japan in this (admittedly pathetic) analogy.

I empathize with Korea's long and troubled history with Japan, and understand that Dokdo is really a symbol of all of those complicated feelings of oppression and resentment, but really the extreme to which Koreans sometimes take their love for Dokdo is a little ridiculous. They say they want to take vacations there and retire there. They mention Dokdo and then the next line is about how awful the Japanese are.

I give you this background so you can understand my amusement:

I discovered about a month and half ago that my Korean had improved enough to read the t-shirt Sa Beom Nim gave me to wear under my dobok the first week of taekwondo. It reads, "독도는 우리땅! 태권도는 우리운동! Dokdo is our land! Taekwondo is our sport!"

So it would seem that I own an incredibly nationalistic piece of Korean propaganda and wear it every day to sweat in. I laughed out loud when I figured this out. Gwen laughed, too. I told Se Jin. She said I should wear it to school.

And, of course, she also told me, "Oh, you are Korean!"


  1. One of my old students (although I don't remember who) had one of those 독도는 우리땅! 태권도는 우리운동! shirts, and I totally wanted one. I'm jealous that you have one! Gwen and I went to this weird cave place once, and among other bizarre shit, they had a model of Dokdo with standard "it's our land, not theirs" propoganda...

  2. It may well have been one of the 2-3 kids who do TKD at An Il, since mine has the gym's website on the back. Kevin in 4:30 Yale is one (the taller, quiet kid).

  3. It's actually less cute than that. The general population in Japan might not be worked up about it as the Koreans, but the Japanese government is damn serious about making sure that piece of land belongs to them for territorial purposes. Those few pieces of rocks mean different bordering options for national sea ownership. Until the Japanese goverment's intention came into the Korean public's attention, they insisted to the world community that Dokko was theirs. It actually never was, except when Korea was occupied by the Japnanese during the World War II.

  4. Sivan,

    As I said, I'm no expert. I learn a little more each day.

    I know there's more to the Dokdo issue than what I've put here (hence the links to wiki). But sometimes it feels like the younger generation at least treats Dokdo like they would cheer for a soccer (pardon, football) team in England--blind admiration and intense anger for anyone who dares to disagree. However trivial or serious you see the issue, that kind of nationalistic fervor is more than a little disturbing. I can only hope that it's as dangerous as my analogy makes it sound (meaning not very).

    Thanks for your input! It's important to have balance in such controversial matters.

  5. Some of my former students insisted that the Japanese only wanted Dokdo for the fishing rights, whereas the Koreans only wanted it because it was part of their nation.



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