Tuesday, September 28, 2010

US to follow Korean lead on creating a policed Internet?

The United States government is trying to require Internet services to submit to government surveillance. Encrypted communications that can't be tracked by law enforcement, the government argues, makes it easy for criminals to escape the law. You might be swayed by the example of a drug cartel or terrorist cell doing what they do with impunity because the government can't crack their Facebook messages, but is this where we want to go?

Glenn Greenwald of Salon writes (emphasis is mine) in a fantastically thorough article on the matter:

"In other words, Internet services could legally exist only insofar as there would be no such thing as truly private communications; all must contain a "back door" to enable government officials to eavesdrop".

In other words, where this would be going is towards the Korean model. Not only is the Internet here not anonymous, but users are accountable to, and traceable by, the government. Consider this case, where a 17-year-old high school student was arrested for spreading a rumour that escaped convicts were roaming the city raping and killing teenage girls.

There is some credence to the fact that the Internet is more central in Korean civil society than it in the West, so the power of the Internet is greater than it is elsewhere. However, people spread falsehoods in all forms, why invert the traditional process by not only ignoring the Internet's exceptionalism, but focusing on the Internet as a source of perversion? When politicians claim false North Korean threats, accuse Westerners of spreading AIDS (this seems to be why we're tested so often), should they not be arrested as well for spreading rumours?

About two years ago, Korea came up with a fantastic way to police the Internet called the real-name law. Using the Internet for anything remotely useful, such as using a blog or message board, commenting on news articles, but also buying a rice cooker, reserving movie tickets or even using free wireless in a coffee shop, now requires entering your name and identification number.

This was probably not a shocking step for a country that has been a military dictatorship for 40 of its 60 years, and one where everyone is fingerprinted by the police upon reaching adulthood, but it does represent an absurd abuse of power. The entire scam was cooked up when raucous protests about the safety of American beef, driven by online rumours and fear-mongering, threatened to bring down the current government.

To clamp down on nonsense spread on the Internet, the government required virtually any use of the Internet to be tied to a real name. In theory, this could keep people safer, but it also means that people have been arrested for blogging unpopular opinions that apparently were not safe for reading. Even if people were not being arrested, it's patronizing and insulting to be forced to enter your ID number at all times. Part of being an adult in a democracy is to not have to answer or explain your actions to the state, unlike the current state of affairs.

Now, it's worth appending a disclaimer to all this. I'm particularly vexed by all this because I'm part of a very small group of people in Korea that are literate but are not citizens. Our identification numbers generally don't work (often I have to input my name backwards, and in capitals), making me a literate adult that has to get friends or coworkers to perform the most asinine tasks for him.

I often try and explain this to Koreans on Twitter as following: "I wish that you couldn't use Twitter without having a US social security number". Or, "I wish you couldn't use Gmail until you took your passport and mailed it to California, where someone could verify that you are who you say you are". If you don't think that something as mundane as an email account, Twitter or Facebook should be tied to even a credit card, much less an official government ID, you probably wouldn't be too fond of using the Korean Internet.

The final consequence of Korea's ridiculous laws is that it creates a closed society that barely exists for citizens, much less anyone outside of it. Websites around the world are free to be used by anyone, until you get to Korean websites, which only work with Internet Explorer, a boatload of Active-X controls, security certificates, and about a half-dozen forms of identification (cell phone number, credit card number, passport, ID card).

There will be a G20 summit in Seoul in November. Ads proclaim that "세계가 대한민국을 주목합니다" ("The world is paying attention to Korea"). And I'm sure they will. I'm sure that a group of people might sit down with a laptop and pick up a dozen wireless networks, which are only available to citizens. I'm sure they'll be thrilled to go past the large quarantine zones at the airport, be greeted by the large sign at immigration informing them that they are "FOREIGNERS", and they'll definitely be thrilled to not understand when groups of teenagers mutter "아 진짜! 흑인 있다!" ("Hey look! It's a black guy!")

Book #11: The Lexus and the Olive Tree

Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and The Olive Tree, written 10 years ago, examines the effects of a nascent globalization on the world. None of it is new to someone in the year 2010, but it is useful as a contemporary source of post-cold war American (and global) optimism. If nothing else, it's nice to look back and see how people thought in the year 2000 and the sort of future they envisioned for themselves. I bought the book for its explanation of the IMF crisis of 1997, so crucial to the country where I am now, and a topic about which I know nothing.

(Fun fact: such was the impact in Korea of the 'Asian flu' or IMF crisis of 1998, that in my neighbourhood, there's a convenience store named 'IMF Mart')

Among the book's weaker aspects, Friedman's sometimes grating, saccharine writing style aside, are that it reads like a love letter to free-market capitalism, the buzzword that is globalization and "benign american hegemony". Friedman writes a chapter or two explaining why America is the greatest country in the world, why Europe or Japan simply can't compete, and why this won't change for any foreseeable reason in the foreseeable future.

Ten years later, of course, this looks ridiculous. Friedman acknowledged as much in his subsequent books (The World is Flat), which tend to lean toward ushering in Chinese and Indian supremacism while compiling an anthology of everything that's wrong with America. Friedman is an unrelenting, unabashed optimist and romanticist, albeit a romanticist of free markets and democracy, which he believes will always carry the day.

If, for some reason, you come across the Lexus and the Olive Tree (I bought it for $7 in a used-book store) and find yourself either not well-versed on how the Internet works or the fact that the Cold War has ended, it's a good read. It's also nice as a kitschy source from the late '90s, but a better guide to the broad issues (but not the carefully-considered nuances) of globalization would be Friedman's subsequent books.

The World is Flat discusses economic globalization, while Hot, Flat and Crowded argues that renewable energy sources are the key to global economic success in this century. Both are not without their flaws, but they're easy reading about politics and economics. If you don't know much about the topics, you'll learn something. If you know something about them, hopefully you'll be able to come up with better ideas than Friedman.

I enjoy reading Friedman's books and columns, partly because they're easy-to-read and partly because Friedman can explain complex issues with sometimes cheesy humour and easy-to-follow narratives. Of course, there are flaws and dangers in explaining complex issues with humour and simple narratives. Still, he's close to the mark and his optimism and desire to come up with solutions to problems is something to admire.

One last gripe about football journalists, I promise

At least the next few posts will be something different.

After Blair White of the Indianapolis Colts caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown, a decent start but nothing earth-shattering, Peter King pronounced:

"You know how you always hear quarterbacks say it takes so long to mesh with new receivers and get good chemistry with them? Not Peyton Manning. He pulls undrafted Michigan State free-agent wideout Blair White up from the practice squad and the kid catches three balls for 27 yards, one for a touchdown, in his first game."

Except that the reality is completely different. Peyton Manning, speaking to Yahoo, said:

"I’ve thrown to Blair White since we picked him up in April, and there’s no way he’s ready to play [Sunday] if I don’t have those reps with him. In training camp, there just aren’t enough reps to get familiar with a guy [near the bottom of the depth chart]. You’ve got be able to throw to him in the spring – otherwise I wouldn’t feel good about rushing him out there."

Friday, September 24, 2010

I hear things, part 4

Student: "It smells bad in here!"
Adeel: "It smells bad?"
Student: "Yeah!"
Adeel: "Well, it's probably you. You wear the same clothes everyday."
Student: "No, it's you!"
Adeel: "What are you talking about? There are eight of you and one of me. Plus, I wear different clothes everyday, you don't."
Student: "These are different clothes! These are gym clothes!"
Adeel: "Oh, gym? No wonder it smells in here!"
Student: "No, we didn't have gym, we had bible class."
Adeel: "Bible class, oh, uh, okay?"

Moral of the story: I hear things, but I don't always hear correctly. The student actually said 성교육 (song-gyo-yook, sex education), but I heard 성경교육 (song-kyong-gyo-yook, bible education). Small difference.

***

I was walking down the street talking to our school's maintenance man. Students from another school saw us.

"Where are you going with this American? Please! Tell me!"

I said hi to a few seniors that like to sit out on their stoop on sunny afternoons.

"You're really friendly with everyone, aren't you?" the maintenance guy noted.

Then I went to translate for a coworker.

Landlord: "What's your phone number?"
Me: "Whose phone number? Mine? "
Landlord: "Yours, she doesn't understand a thing.

***

I was marking a quiz, so I wrote down the answer key on a piece of paper, which went something like BBCDA BADB. An intrepid student saw it.

"Hey, what word is BBCDA?"

***

This is weirder because it was a phone conversation.

Me: Hi, do you have any rooms available on Sunday?
Hotel owner: Yeah, I do. When are you coming?
Me: Sunday?
Hotel owner: Wow, you speak Korean.
Me: Yeah...
Hotel owner: Yeah, just come. We have rooms.

***

Woman: Do they not have Chuseok in Canada? I think it's only in Korea.

***

Kenyan guy 1: They have the athletics World Championships here next year.
Kenyan guy 2: Oh yeah?
Kenyan guy 1: Yeah, you should buy your tickets now, because soon you won't be able to get a discount. For a good seat, it's 40, and for a great seat, it's 60.
Kenyan 2: That's not bad.
Kenyan guy 1: I just want to see those three guys: Mateelong, Kemboi and...
Kenyan guy 2: [suggests a name]
Kenyan guy 1: No, that's not it.

Note: Richard Mateelong and Ezekiel Kemboi are Kenyan steeplechasers. Kenya has had a general monopoly on the men's steeplechase for about 30 years.

Nonsense from football writers, continued

After summarily dismissing the New York Jets last week, Peter King wrote this week that "Mark Sanchez's performance Sunday -- when he outplayed Tom Brady -- is proof you can't make judgments of finality based on one game."

You can't make this stuff up.

Anyway, clear contradictions aside, the most galling pieces of football journalism came after Michael Vick played a decent game of football. Idiotic fans love Michael Vick because he makes "sick plays" and is generally cool. Pandering to the idiot demographic is, well, profitable, which might explain why Vick got so much coverage during his trial and arrest.

However, Vick is not, nor has ever been, anything more than an above-average quarterback at his best, and typically a below-average quarterback. A 21-34 game for 284 yards and 2 touchdowns is very good, but it's not unheard of, particularly against Detroit, which has allowed over 1,000 points in the last two seasons (an average of 30+ points a game).

In four full seasons, Vick has shown the ability to gain about 7 yards per dropback (passes and rushes are about the same), but to complete barely half his passes and therefore not generate much offense. With career averages of 136 yards a game of passing and 46 of running, Vick would have ranked about 20th in the NFL last year among quarterbacks for yards gained through passing and rushing.

Naturally, this was the reaction among journalists:

Peter King wrote that "Vick played the kind of game Sunday at Detroit he's been waiting to play for years. He was a polished quarterback who ran when forced".

Michael Silver calls him a "revitalized star".

Deion Sanders explains that Vick should be the starter after one game because, apparently, "Vick has won that locker room, he’s won those fans, and he’s won the opportunity and he should be starting [this] week.”"

Apparently there are no more average quarterbacks left in the NFL, because Michael Vick is even the fantasy "start of the week" according to this guy.

The most ridiculous piece of football journalism comes, unsurprisingly, from Peter King. Midway through the 49ers-Saints game, King wrote on Twitter:

"What a night for Alex Smith. Backers always said he'd be accurate enough when he got the weapons. It's only one night, but he's got 'em now."

Anyway, if you ignore the journalists (and worse-yet, the colour commentators), it was a great, unpredictable week of football.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The true meaning of Chuseok

The true test of Canadian society, its people, structures and infrastructure, is its winter. We build everything for winter. The test of everything in Korea is its ability to withstand the crush load of crowds. The wide streets, highways that widen to 20 lanes on one side at the toll booths that mark the modern gates into seoul and the massive train and subway stations are all built to accomodate the rush hour, but ultimately they're built to accomodate Chuseok-like crowds when hoards of people leave Seoul to travel to their (sometimes supposed) hometowns.

Naturally, it's not easy. I was stuck in a kilometres-long traffic jam in front of Cheongnyangni station on Saturday afternoon, to the point that eventually the driver of the taxi I was in just asked me to get out. In Suwon, there was a wild-eyed, hurricane-like panic at E-Mart on saturday afternoon, evidenced by the sign in parking lot saying that it's best for everyone involved if you shop before 2 pm.

Chuseok is a stressful time of insane driving times (much of the online buzz about the holiday consists of traffic conditions), the fulfillment of ancient traditions in cramped, crowded modern society, and a lot of cooking that no one does anymore. It would be easy to forget about it and simply stay home and do something else.

But, ultimately, much as our culture celebrates Christmas as an affirmation of and universal participation in our affluence, Chuseok is a uniquely Korean triumph of stubborn will in the face of less-than-favourable odds. This a country dragged from the Third world to the First world by workaholics despite the crowded cities, the mountain landscape without natural resources and the constant threat of war. To suffer through a holiday that, to me at least, defies understanding for how little anyone really looks forward to it, is uniquely Korean.

Note that no one ever really looks forward to Chuseok. People will tell you that they're going to go to some tiny town in Chungbuk, but that doesn't mean they look forward to it. It means eight hours in a car, time away from friends and time with relatives you don't really know doing things that you don't really understand, and hours of cooking if you're a woman. Still, Confucian filial piety and sheer inertia keeps them going.

On the topic of filial piety: Suwon milks this slogan aptly, describing itself as "a city built on the filial piety of King Jeongjo" on its official website.

Friday, September 17, 2010

How to talk in green and white, no shades

After just one game of the NFL season, sportswriters are already out issuing not only wild prognostications, but also wildly far-reaching pronunciations. It's one thing to predict that a certain team will do well after seeing one game, especially if they're already good to begin with. It's another to make counter-intuitive pronunciations on the basis of a single game's failure. For example, Peter King of CNN SI writes:

"I think the Jets are in big trouble on offense. Big trouble."

This comes after a 10-9 loss. Days earlier, King had predicted a 16-14 win for the Jets and written:

"I think Greene and a fresh LaDainian Tomlinson will win the day in the Meadowlands."

Needless to say, the Jets might not be in such big trouble.

King also wrote on Tuesday, after the Ravens win:

"I think the Ravens are one heck of a team -- with a very strong organization to back them up."

Of course, they won.

Slate's Nate Jackson writes, after one sub-par game by Brett Favre:

"[N]ow you have an unprepared, underperforming quarterback who cannot be benched but will probably deserve to ride the pine by Week 5."

That's awfully specific and dramatic after just one bad game. Looking at a quarterback's stat line seldom reveals game after game of stellar numbers. Usually there are good games and bad games, reflecting not only wins and losses, but also the ebb and flow of personal statistics.

Don Banks, King's colleague at Sports Illustrated, writes:

Houston "took a sizable first step toward fulfilling their playoff-level promise" by beating Indianapolis on Sunday.

Many teams start 1-0, even against great teams, and do nothing with the rest of the season. Why he couldn't have waited until mid-season to say something like this is baffling.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The real F-word

I hate the word foreigner. In Korea, there are two kinds of people: 내국인 (inside-country-person, naegukin) and 외국인 (outside-country-person, waegukin). Or, more precisely, 한국인 (hangukin, Korean) and 외국인 (waegukin, foreigner). Waegukin is the Korean pronunciation of the better-known Japanese epithet, gaijin (literally "outside person"). I'm not too fond of being referred to as a waegukin, but the Korean-language use of the word is its own issue (or non-issue) that I don't feel qualified to comment on.

What I hate is the word foreigner used in English. There are lots of other ways to refer to me in a variety of situations: Canadian, native English speaker, non-Korean, man, guy, person, Westerner, expatriate or expat, temporary resident. To reduce my existence as being simply that of a non-Korean is absurd. It's a negative definition of a class of people that now numbers over one million people, or 2% percent of the population.

Consider, for example, seeing a hapless Korean tourist walking down Yonge Street in Toronto. How would you describe him? Tourist? Traveler? Asian guy? Chinese guy? Korean guy? That guy? Where does foreigner rank on the list, even if you knew that he was from another country? Would you really use such an obtuse definition as "foreigner", which simply means that the person in question is from the other 204 countries and 99.5% of the world?

Referring to someone as what they are instead of what they aren't is a basic extension of logic and courtesy. You wouldn't refer to a knife and a fork as non-spoons, and you wouldn't call cats, dogs and birds un-ungulates. Some rough guess, even a vague assumption of Americanness or Indianness goes a long way, defining me as what I am instead of defining me against the Korean race.

I certainly have no delusions that this will change any time soon. After all, the identification that I carry around refers to me as an "alien", which is several degrees of dated turn-of-the-20th-century prejudice below foreigner. Both the Korean government and at least the English-speaking community have fallen into a comfortable practice of referring to the disparate group of people that includes Chinese factory workers, Indian professors, American soldiers, and Australian teachers as foreigners. After dealing with Koreans all day, it's simply easier to say than "non-Korean", "not a Korean" or whatever remotely well-mannered term you care to apply.

However, it seems ridiculous for me to continue using this word when it's considered a mild insult in English (to those living outside of Korea: when was the last time you referred to someone as a foreigner? Maybe when doing an Ellis Island mock-up?). I'm grateful that my Korean coworkers usually refer to as "the native speakers" when talking about us in Korean, instead of "the foreigners" as might be expected. I certainly will not use this absurd pejorative any longer, at least not where I can help it. I request those of you in Korea to try and do the same.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's the most wonderful time of the year

It's the first week of the NFL season, which means that we can experience two powerful emotions:

1) We have the maximum possible amount of football to look forward to with the least amount of waiting, 21 weeks of 267 regular season and playoff games.

2) Perhaps more importantly, this is roughly the longest possible time until the next NFL draft and, therefore, the longest possible time until idiots bombard the Internet and the airwaves with their draft prognostications (who cares which defensive end goes at 14th instead of 17th?). If it had been possible to examine Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford's respective stool samples, I have no doubt that the self-important twits who specialize in draft projections would have used it to their advantage.

The two big trends of news for this football season are generally negative, focusing on the fact that football takes an immense toll on its players, many of whom are injured severely in the short and long-term. Slate has an excellent set of articles starting here on the realities of football, both the demands of earning and keeping a roster spot, as well as the prospect of devastating injures later on. The Onion has its own set of previews, noting that the Raiders will be able to get some exercise and fresh air this season.

Elsewhere, there is the prospect of an 18-game season and the attendant problems that come with it, not entirely unrelated to the Slate series of articles. The NFL owners seem to want to rework the current arrangement they have with players, a wonderful one where fan interest is so high that people pay large sums of money just to go to preseason games, because they feel players are getting too much of the money.

Nevertheless, I'm going to go ahead and make a meaningless Super Bowl prediction: Bengals over Chargers. Obviously both of these perennial preseason favourites (along with the Cowboys) can't make the Super Bowl, but odds are that your predictions aren't going to work out anyway. You might as well just increase your odds of putting one team in the Super Bowl, which isn't a bad accomplishment.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Snapple of countries

A long time ago, Snapple achieved some fame with a quirky advertising campaign declaring that "we're number 3!" It seems that Japan and China are now taking the same approach to international relations. Japan was long the world's second-largest economy, a 130-million powerhouse of efficient cars, fancy electronics and weird comics. Then, it stopped. Japan is, in many ways, frozen in time. China finally overtook Japan this year as the world's second-largest economy, riding a mountain of cheap consumer goods and sheer numbers.

But, as anyone who suffered through the Spiderman trilogy (but not the excellent cartoons) knows, with great power comes great responsibility. If China really is the world's second-largest economy, with a GDP exceeding Japan's 5 trillion, it probably should do something around the house. That's why China's state media wrote the equivalent of a press release titled "China's developing-country identity remains unchanged", posted on the English-language websites of their embassies.

So, China argues that it's really nothing special, kind of the opposite of all those Chinese businesspeople you've ever seen, from the souvenir hawkers at Tiananmen Square to the Chinese restauranteurs who serve up your pre-conceived Chinese food, who insist that whatever it is they're selling, it's the very best. Japan is something of the opposite. Now eclipsed by a country that has been, essentially, in shambles for the entire duration of Japan's ascendance dating back to the 1868 Meiji Revolution, Japan has concluded that it doesn't really matter. Are these sour grapes or are they on to something?

Japan's decline due to a flatlined economy that hasn't grown in 15 years and a shrinking population is the stuff of cliche, semi-regular feature pieces. A few pieces of late were decent, if not positive to the point that they were a paean to death. James Fallows here describes a surrendering Japan in mixed tones, while this piece portrays Japan as a star athlete retiring because he has nothing left to prove.

One of the most useful things I learned in university was to consider that limitless progress was not necessarily a good thing and that, maybe, just maybe, things are great just as they are. Gregg Easterbrook fleshes out this idea in arguing against the NFL's desire for more games and more money:

"...owners want to maximize revenue. But they're all already wealthy -- they should be content to be wealthy and selling a successful product. Why must owners demand more from the goose that lays the golden eggs?"

Indeed, the Japanese live as well as anyone else in the world. Yes, they have problems in that there is a large gap between permanent employment with great benefits and temporary employment with few benefits or security, but every industrialized country has problems. Japan, if it hadn't been frozen economically for the better part of two decades, could be far ahead of where it is now. But, regardless, they live very well and there's no reason to pity them.

Their decline, at least economically, is a myth. The economy isn't shrinking and no one's getting poorer. By many accounts, such as the second article to which I linked, most people live better in material terms than they did in the boom years of the '80s. They're being passed by other Asian economies. Singapore and Hong Kong are ahead. Taiwan will have a higher GDP-per-capita this year (mystifying for anyone who's been there) and even the lowly 朝鲜人 here in Korea will surpass them before the end of the decade. But, is standing still really declining? Only if limitless progress, by definition a goal without satisfaction, is the aim.

Friday, September 03, 2010

I hear things, part 3

This is what I overheard, mostly in Korean, from the first week back at school after summer vacation.

Patrick: Why aren't you studying?
Adeel: I don't need to study, I learned this 20 years ago.
Patrick: I learned this 100 years ago.
Patty: What are you talking about? You weren't born 100 years ago, how could you get a pencil?
Patrick: I was doing taekwondo in the womb.
Patty: Yeah, sure, but where did you get a pencil? Did your mom swallow one?

Victor: The little booth outside my building blew over. Hey, what do you call that in English?
Lisa: You're so smart, but you don't even know that?
Victor: Yeah, well, I, uh...
Lisa: You're smart, you should know that!

Louis: What day is it today? Is it Wednesday?
David: 오늘 목요일이에요. 목욕 해야돼요. (Stupid pun that translates as "It's Thursday, so I have to bathe". Thursday and bathe sound similar.)

Adeel: What are you doing? Seriously, what are you doing? How old are you? Three?
Josh: What did he just say?
Ji Woo: He asked how old you are.
Josh: Huh?
Ji Woo, Shawn: He asked how old you are!
Josh: Oh, uh, I'm 12. Tell him I'm 12.
Ji Woo: Why don't you tell him yourself?
Adeel: Josh, how old are you?
Josh: Uh, what did he say?

Adeel: Hi everyone, welcome back! Did everyone have a good summer?
Thomas: Man, look how bald he is.

Adeel: Okay, now, who sees chocolate on page 7?
Ryan: Chocolate? What's chocolate? (Chocolate is the same word in English and Korean)

Adeel: Uh, guys, where's Morald?
Student: I think he went to the nurse's office.
Student 2: Yeah, he went to the nurses's office. He got hit in the face by a ball!
Rachel, helpfully translating: He went to the dentist. Dentist's office.

This last one was technically read, not overheard, but it's too good to omit. For a letter-writing contest, grade 4 student chose to write a letter to our principal. One sentence read something like this:

"My dream is to be a judge and I hope not to be as lazy as you."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Stop! You can't mix 종이 and plastic!

"Lockaw-ga open imnida", a pleasant voice announced ("로커가 오픈입니다"). I was using a storage locker at a subway station when, all of a sudden, out of a confusing haze of Korean options, the voice abruptly switched to two English words. What made it amusing is that unlike, say, an MP3 player or ice cream, there are perfectly good words in Korean for both 'locker' and 'open'. Wouldn't it be easier and more comprehensible to say "보관이 열립니다"?

Few things make me as uncomfortable as mixing languages. It all started about 15 years ago when a Pakistani friend told me in English that "I had chawal for lunch". I was confused by the fact that he threw in the word for "rice" for no apparent reason. Later on, I grew to hate it more and more, as people who had been born in Canada randomly and needlessly mixed English and their choice of Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi.

My affinity for linguistic purity was made clear by my mom one day. Because I prattle on in English for hours about topics no one cares about, some older relatives were shocked to see that I even spoke Urdu. "He doesn't really speak it that well," my mom noted, "but when he does, he insists on speaking only Urdu." That's something of an anachronism among the Pakistani diaspora, for whom speaking in a mixture of English and Urdu is standard. I know of no way in Urdu to say that someone is at work, because we only say "wo job pay hai".

Mixing languages in Canada is probably a reflection of a mix of cultures. The 9-year-old that told me he had chawal for lunch had probably never eaten rice in a setting where it was called rice. Many words, of course, either do not translate or do not translate coherently. I don't call keema ground beef because that's like calling referring to coffee as ground beans roasted and then brewed. It's frequently better to use the original word.

The use of foreign words in a language is very different in Korea, however. I really just mean English words, though there is the odd Japanese or German word. Using English automatically makes anything higher-status, which is why most coffee shops and bars, as well as various stores, post their signs in English only. Some coffee shops go so far as to have a menu that's in English only. My personal favourite are magazines that have covers and titles in English, with everything else in Korean, because of the way it suckered me into picking them up for my first few months here.

I'm certainly not a fan of people who feel the need to toss in words from my language to make themselves feel superior to others. I except English words used in Korean either in a different way, or English words that don't really exist in English (one shot, hand phone, glamour, service, sign, call, talent, comeback, etc.). But the day I saw a magazine described as "seutailishi libing maygawjin" (stylish living magazine), I got a little angry, since there's already a way of saying that in Korean.

There are others who like to use only English words when talking about English. For example, they'll say they're only good at listening instead of 듣기, speaking with an extra syllable thrown in (suh-peaking) instead of 말하기 or 대화, grammar instead of 문법. There are those who like to take English words and turn them to Korean adjectives. I've seen sexy, which is an untranslatable word that makes sense, but also busy, nice and fresh, which is absurd since even a toddler would have the vocabulary to say that in Korean.