Media’s perspective of foreigners can be better

Edited version published in Joongang Daily, December 10th, 2013. http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2981768

I have lived in Korea for seven years now. Despite firsthand experience and research on media and education, I still do not claim to be an expert in Korean media culture. No doubt that media are powerful tools that orient us to reality particularly in societies like Korea where the media are a near ubiquitous. The significance of new media in contemporary Korea lies in its proximity; smartphones have become our closest consultants. In the words of Marshall McLuhan four decades ago that “the media work us over completely” couldn’t be truer today. McLuhan is considered the father of modern communications.

It is also common knowledge that the media largely influence our choices: what we buy, what we eat, how we dress and sometimes invokes our thinking on topical issues. Beyond the traditional functions of media to inform, educate, persuade, entertain and set agenda for deliberations, the media too form deep-seating cultural perspectives or worldviews. In fact, McLuhan asserted that all media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values. His claim that the media are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, or unaltered is quite evident in modern life.

In the recent days, there has been a series of publications focusing on multicultural aspect of the Korean Read the rest of this entry »

Madam President you won’t snub Africa, will you?

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President Park Geun-hye.

  1. * Edited version published by The Seoul Times on February 8th, 2013.

Dear Madam President. Receive my heartfelt felicitations for seollal, the lunar new year. If it is in order, allow me to commend you on your election.

Now to my point. Madam President, it seems to me that you’re commencing your executive journey on the right footing. I mean you are now the safeguarding vital links with your key political and trade allies globally. Indeed Beijing and Washington remain dominant in the contemporary geopolitical realm. Others like Tokyo, Pyongyang and EU’s main office (Brussels) are undeniably significant depending on the attitude they bear toward you and your country.

But Madam President, I wish to plead for Africa. This time, let’s forget the ‘begging bowl’ images of 80s and 90s. I want to proclaim to you that Africa is rising, and seriously so.

Admittedly, the West tried doling out aid for decades but look where Africa stood – stuck in a socio-political and economic quagmire. But that was then. So what has changed? I say the attitude; purely the attitude, Madam Read the rest of this entry »

World Bank presidency and the moral aspiration

[Edited version published by  Joongang Daily – April 9th, http://koreajoongangdaily.joinsmsn.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2951130]

Dr. Kim and Ms. Ngozi

When the US president Barack Obama recently nominated Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank, debate arose regarding who among the other formidable candidates was best qualified for the top job.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister and former Colombian finance minister José Antonio Ocampo are other frontline candidates. Jeffrey Sachs, with massive experience in development and poverty eradication programs would have made a decent entrant. Well, that’s life, isn’t it?

I have no doubt that Dr. Kim, a Korean-American public-health expert, can make an exceptional head of the World Bank having led World Health Organization’s global body on AIDS/HIV, an significant public health body. I also have no doubt that Ngozi, a World Bank savvy insider, can bring in her experience and development perspective which is an important ingredient to regions yearning for crucial development.

And of course, Mr. Ocampo can also inject his expertise of international finance and perhaps a fresher cog to the South-South cooperation which is getting attention in its role in the global economy.

Admittedly, debate still lingers over the candidates and their merit on proficiency in global economic development which is seemingly what the World Bank is about. The debates may continue but what matters at the end of the day is whether the new president Read the rest of this entry »

Seoul Nuclear Security Summit: An open letter to leaders

Dear world leaders and delegates. Receive my Spring-time salutations. First, my sincere apologies for I will not be attending the summit. That should not bother you since I was actually not invited to the high level meeting.

By the way welcome to Korea. I am not a native of this land of the morning calm, but trust me I have been here long enough to show you how to use a pair chopsticks or do a taekwondo double kick. I assume that you’ve been inside Sangchoonjae in the Blue House where tradition and nature harmoniously subsist near a city. Therein, they must have served you with Kimchi and some makkolli. Koreans are cordial.

Secondly, I belong to the layman’s cluster and their wisdom that wonders why you, ladies and gentlemen, seem to have been making fires and now convincing the world to help think of a fire extinguisher. Okay, I will put it in a context. Sirs and madams, some of your nations’ passion for nuclear technology, for weapon or energy, supersedes any known safety capabilities. That makes me a worried chap.

You know what? If I came to the summit, I mean if I were really invited (jokes aside), I would first meet with the Japanese visitors in those extra meetings – What do you call them again? Aha, ‘side Read the rest of this entry »

Our Nomadic Existence: How Electronic Culture Shapes Community

By Shane Hipps (http://www.qideas.org/essays/our-nomadic-existence-how-electronic-culture-shapes-community.aspx?page=5)

Our Nomadic Existence: How Electronic Culture Shapes CommunityI remember flinching for the dashboard as if that was going to help. The car was careening toward a snake-like elbow in the track. I glanced at the driver expecting him to slam on the brakes and save us from catastrophe. He looked almost bored; I think he may have even yawned. The car glided smoothly in and out of the turn as if it had prepared its whole life for that moment. As he accelerated out of the curve, the driver apologized for not going faster. Apparently, if you’re not wearing a helmet — and I wasn’t — drivers are only allowed to take the track at 70 percent speed. This was part of my “research” for the new account I had been assigned — Porsche Cars North America. At the time, I was working for an ad agency. The people at Porsche had taken us to a racetrack to develop an appreciation for their product. Apart from nearly soiling my drawers, it worked.

My role as an account planner in advertising was to serve as a kind of consumer anthropologist. Basically, I was to keep my finger on the pulse of what consumers influenced and what they were influenced by. There were no rules for this task, no formal training, no manual — just raw intuition, ingenuity, and a dose of insanity. As a result, I go Read the rest of this entry »

I quit, but let my people think!

A reflection on Kenya by Paul Kihiro. First published in Jambo Kenya Korea, 2011 Fall Edition. Republished with permission.
 
As Ravi Zacharias, an India-born Christian apologist, like teaching in his program called, “Let My People Think,” and from whom I borrowed the title of this article, so I say to my fellow Kenyans. It has been a short journey of three years since I came to Korea. In 2009 Koreans looked very strange people and theirs was a very awkward language and a peculiar culture. Oh, and the food! It messed me up. That was three years ago. Now I can eat any Korea dish. Of course there are those which I like most. Now I look forward to quit and go back to Kenya by winter. I am quitting by I have gathered enough to take back home and I hope I am not alone. I just hope!

Besides the books that have helped raise my worldview to another level of global interaction with ideas from various minds, the people I met here have helped me shape my next phase of life. My leadership at KCK Busan County as the chairman since its inception in 2010, and, at Kosin University as the leader of the international community, has given me an international outlook of life. This will remain etched in my life; the Busan Global Gathering, Changwon Arirang Festival, Kosin University Food Festival and culture night, among others. And having handed-over the mantle recently I now ponder.

I appreciate the hardworking individuals like His Excellency the Ambassador Ngovi Kitau. He has a sharp mind and knows what he is doing. He is one person among few leaders of our land who have impressed my heart with understanding and vision. He challenged us at a Busan dinner and kindled the fire now ablaze among the Busan community. He is man of substance and his leadership should be emulated by all who know him. Thanks to him again for opening up the embassy to all Kenyans and making it our office of interaction with each other. I really respect this man.

No doubt the KCK national office has been working very hard lately. Read the rest of this entry »

Wangari Maathai: Audacious Woman of Her Time

Also published in The Seoul Times, Oct. 4, 2011 and The Korea Times, Oct 2, 2011

Sometime in January, 1999, I came face to face with quite a frightening sight in Nairobi. I was just about to cross the road when a speeding anti-riot police truck swerved past followed by a jeep full of policemen with wooden clubs. Panic raged high prompting women to grab their children and flee. Some shops were shut instantaneously. Were it not for my school uniform, a distinctive red shirt and blue pair of shorts, I would not have been allowed into a matatu, public transport van, heading East. I was a high school sophomore.

Inside the van grape vine was churning from every other tongue but the theme was, “Wangari was in the forest planting trees”. You see, I knew Wangari Maathai from my Boy Scout training on environmental conservation, but it took me longer to comprehend why one can be clobbered for planting trees. The television’s chilling images later in the evening and newspaper pictures the following morning are still fresh in my memory – unsettling.

This woman never quit. Sooner than later Wangari Maathai was back in the forest or Uhuru park either attempting to plant trees or dodging tear gas from the authorities. Today Uhuru Park is scenic and Karura Forest where she was beaten by hired guards as the police watched is mostly saved from the hands of land grabbers.

The woman was also unbowed; a fitting title she gave to her biography Read the rest of this entry »

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