Friday, November 30, 2007

Greatest Hits on Ice

Picture the scene. We were standing by the balcony in Lotte World, looking out over the ice rink, Disney style music playing away in the background numbing us into thoughts of all things happy and innocent, and my attention fixes on a group of very young speed skaters and their coach. But there's something not right about the body language. When the coach moves towards them they back away fearfully, and no matter where he goes, they are very careful about not turning their back to him.

The answer quickly comes. He grabs an arm, pulls one of the young children around and swiftly connects the baton he's carrying with the unfortunate owner's bottom. Even standing some distance away and above all the other noise in Lotte World, the sound of baton hitting child reached us micro-seconds later. I watched this spectacle unfold for some time. Bottom hitting was a favourite but sometimes landing a blow to the helmet was an acceptable alternative. Trying to sit on the ice to avoid a beating does not work, you'll just be picked up and hit anyway. Sometimes the little skaters managed to avoid a blow by pushing out their hands in a desperate plea to stop - a gesture as apparently futile as a small rabbit asking a lion to give them a break - but it did occasionally work. I guess that's what separates us from the animals.

Coming from a country where corporal punishment is outlawed, watching these scenes of fear play out beneath us was an odd experience, often infuriating and perhaps even surreal given the way all the other people on the ice and near the rink seemed completely oblivious to what was happening. In fact there's nothing to say that parents weren't watching, although perhaps that's even more troubling. But I've formed the impression in my time here that beating children to get results is still something which is very much part of mainstream thinking in Korea. I guess that's something that separates us from the Koreans.

Will it make them better skaters? Will it make them better people - more disciplined, more respectful - or does it just perpetuate a social environment - especially among the male population in Korea - where casual violence against those weaker than yourself is acceptable?

Growing up in Korea is a competitive and tough business. In education and in sport. Maybe 13 years from now they'll be at the Olympics all the years of being hit with batons will seem worthwhile. Or maybe it won't.

Korean tags: 서울, 경기, 폭력


daeguowl said...

I've been thinking of getting my son to do some speed-skating while we're in Korea. If some teacher did that to him, I would certainly have a lot to say about it. Currently, my son attends football practice, and the teachers there are very kind and tolerant even when some of the other kids are being brats....maybe that's why the Korean football team sucks.

Mike said...

I guess I knew this kind of thing went on from the stories I've heard, but seeing it - and seeing it so publicly - made me think that if I have children in Korea I'm going to have to have a long think about how they are brought up. They would be half British and half Korean so it doesn't necessarily follow to me that I should just bring them up the Korean way and let experiences like this happen.

Another issue I have to think through the consequences of is the fact that if I let my child get treated like this in Korea, back home I could get accused of condoning child abuse.

Ewha said...

Since she's Korean, I'm curious what your wife's take on this was. Corporal punishment is still quite legal here in the U.S., and as a mom who's given an occasional swat to my children, I am still shocked that it seems to be my co-worker's answer to all child-related problems. I once asked how you teach a child to eat with chopsticks - since in my experience a fork was challenge enough. I received a quizzical look and then the word "spanking" in reply. Needless to say, I was and am still quite shocked.

Anonymous said...

Hi ewha,

I'm Mike's wife.

It didn't shock me as much as it did Mike because I grew up with it in school, and I was aware through the media that corporal punishment was still very much alive in Korea. It's slowly but surely becoming something worthy of public attention, which is a positive development. However, it's one thing reading about it and quite another personlly seeing it happening in public.

Mike and I often talk about how we might cope with troublesome kids, but there aren't any easy answers. I would try to reason with them as much as possible and wouldn't want to resort to a quick fix by smacking them, but I know it's easier said than done.

Anonymous said...

The answer seems apparent: these kids don't want to skate, or don't want to skate with this guy. Of course, if every kid did what he/she wanted, little would be done.

On the other hand, based upon my own experience, parenting is very often a matter of getting the child to something without noticing the strings. The more you rely on a kid's personality and intellect, though, the more challenging it is. It's very apparent this adult in the video is just going through the motions and taking the easy way out by using force.

No wonder the kids don't respect him! He's a lazy clock-puncher, not a teacher!

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