Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hello again! Plus An article about my current foreign policy fears.

Well, it certainly has been a while since I've updated here, hasn't it? Semester's almost completely over with and I have some more free time so I thought I might update this blog since I used this note for facebook too. Before I get to that, I just want to say that I've had an incredibly odd semester, with many ups and downs, but it appears to be winding up on a high note. I've officially contracted with the army now and I just passed my PT test with my score ever.

I'd also like to apologize, because looking back on this I did get a bit emotional in some of my rants posts. I was surprised, and a little embarrassed to actually be contacted through email about this blog--for questions about working at the SSPI, which while flattering, also means I'm actually getting a few non-family readers. Now I understand that its possible, I just didn't figure on anyone outside my family/friends radius actually bothering to read this stuff. If I do continue to post here, I will attempt to keep this a bit more professional (?) and less personal.

Anyhow, back to my main reason for posting, an interesting article from Victor Davis Hanson, which sums up a lot of my concerns in the current political climate for the US and its image abroad.

So, in my travels this summer, I had a lot of questions about what I thought about Barack Obama and his presidency. To be honest, I've gotten the feeling that to the world Obama is hugely popular, but for little reason. When I came from Kazakhstan back to Korea, I was told that the phrase "That's so Obama!" Meant "That's so cool." Apparently, in the US "Obama" had become synonymous for cool. I'm not sure where this idea came from, I never heard it in the U.S. when I returned and I never really got a good explanation about why they liked Obama so much, other than he wasn't Bush and he promised "Change" (though, in their defense, I spoke no Korean, and in the family I stayed with, only one of them spoke any English and it was very basic, so we had a difficult time communicating. Plus, they weren't the most political people and they may have been trying to be polite.)

I have to say I'm worried we are looking like the U.S. will run out on its allies if put into a tough spot simply to try to appease people and countries that will never be happy with the U.S. at all. If anyone has watched my link on the Korea-US alliance, I have a feeling there is something to this: public opinion over in Korea may be against the U.S. often, but "the alliance survived because rationality triumphed over ideology and emotion."

Even Roh, who was elected on a anti-U.S. position ended up being able to work with Bush, one of the least popular U.S. presidents internationally and so called "the least capable president in terms of handling the alliance" and in many ways the ties to the US-ROK alliance increased. But further than that, while many South Koreans demonstrate against the US military presence there, the South Korean government has actively lobbied against US plans to draw down forces to a token level throughout the entire history of the alliance.

Believe me, I am very grateful for the fact that the world seems to have a better opinion of the US because of Obama's election. I'm just worried he's sacrificing our obligations to certain countries in favor of trying to become liked by other countries that will never be satisfied with us.

"December 7, 2009
Riding the Back of the Tiger
by Victor Davis Hanson
Pajamas Media

…is what America has done since 1941. Obama wants to get off. Fine. Many of our countrymen are tired of the ride. But what makes him think that on the ground with the gnashing beast is any safer than on his back?

What Causes Wars?

I do not mean here the existential reasons for strife, brought about through pride, status, envy, honor — or even the supposed desire for riches and natural resources. But rather, less grandly, what allows those aggressions to devolve into legalize murder on a vast scale?

I ask that question, because I am not sure our President or his advisors have ever raised it. But in almost every case in the past, wars were not caused by Bush-like ‘smoke-‘em-out’ rhetoric — no more than they were prevented by “reset” button outreach or bowing to thugs or the League of Nations or the United Nations or things like the Wilsonian Cairo speech.

Usually aggression, bullying, and nationalist agendas evolve into wars — when the aggressive party is convinced it has more to gain through war than lose. And such perceptions, wrong or not, emerge when a Xerxes, a Napoleon or a Hitler are assured that their targets either cannot or will not stop them. Or, if they belatedly try to roll the dice, the resulting losses will be small in terms of what might be perceived as gain.

I am not discounting error and miscalculation. Hitler, after all, got more natural resources through purchase from the Soviet Union (a willing ally) for the Reich between late summer 1939 and June 1941 than he ever did by looting Russia between mid 1941 and 1945.

Hitler also would learn that only post facto. By June 1941 he was convinced that given Stalin’s poor performance in the recent Finnish War, the Red Army’s so-so record in splitting up Poland in 1939, and the well known past purges of the Soviet officer corps — all collated with Stalin’s mysterious efforts to placate Hitler, and denials of the impending threat — the Soviet Union would be impotent, like Norway or France. He deemed its finish a 4-5 week cakewalk.

(Remember, Hitler was also using WWI (faulty) analogies: 4 years /defeat in France vs. 2 years /victory in Russia meant 23 years later, a 6 weeks /victory in France would mean 3 weeks / triumph in Russia.

In the Arena

Take a war. Even the trivial can create dangerous impressions.

Korea? Dean Acheson’s inadvertent slip that South Korea lay outside the U.S. protective shield, coupled with (wrong) impressions about Truman, who was on record as wanting to diminish U.S. conventional forces (remember the ‘revolt of the admirals’?) — all that and more helped to convince the communists that the U.S. would not or could not react to aggression, a perception almost confirmed by the time we were encircled at Pusan.

How about the weird Falkland War (‘two bald men fighting over a comb’)? Why would Argentina take on the reputation of the centuries-old British navy over a few windswept rocks?

Let us count the ways: the sinking Argentine dictators needed a nationalist distraction? They thought the new “female” Thatcher would not be so macho? They thought the withdrawal of a British minesweeper from the Falklands would mean that their invasion would be seen as a fait accompli, not as something the far away, supposedly decadent British would fight over.

Hitler could have been stopped during the Rhineland crisis, during the Anschluss, and in Czechoslavakia, given the paucity and vulnerbality of the late 1930s Panzers. But he gambled that the French and U.K. were far more traumatized as winners in the Great War’s killing fields than were the defeated Germans.

What is the point of this pop historicizing?

Like it or not, the fragile postwar order was largely enforced by the U.S. and its Western allies, along with a general understanding that the ‘system’ had allowed a Russia, China, or the Gulf monarchies to thrive through maintenance of the “rules”. We spent trillions because we thought it cheaper for us and the world than what started in 1914 and 1939. And we were largely right.

There was a general recognition among unhinged regimes — a Cuba, Saddam’s Iraq, a Libya, a North Korea, a Syria, Venezuela — that regional aspirations were, well, contained. Redlines were everywhere — Taiwan was sacrosanct; so was South Korea. Israel would not be destroyed. Europe would not face a Russian invasion. And so on. A Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Mao, Kim Il-sung, Gaddafi, Arafat, etc. would be “corralled” and not allowed to destroy the Western-inspired global order.

Not now. Ever so insidiously in just a year, with the best intentions, the President, driven by narcissism, fueled by post-Enlightenment ignorance, is undermining old-fashioned deterrence. Chavez may have called Bush a “devil” and he may appreciate his handshakes with Obama, but an “incident” along the Colombian border is now more, not less likely.

Call him pathetic (he is), but Chavez has visions of a unified South America, communist, totalitarian, and with himself as titular head. He need not invade and occupy Colombia, only bully it, shoot a bit, humiliate it, anything to show his neighbors that he is a little crazy, mean, unpredictable, and worth kowtowing to. He thinks either that Obama will do nothing or cannot do anything, or perhaps contextualizes Chavez’s own socialist indigenous grievances against “them.”

Ditto that soon most everywhere. We bow to the Chinese and think, “Wow, our Harvard Law Review, outside-the-key-three-pointer shooter, looks great as he breezily strides through the majestic hallways and handles his Q&A in full campaign mode.”

They in turn review his apology tours, dithering on Afghanistan, his bows, his trashing of Bush, his past demagoguery of the Iraq war and prior anti-terrorism protocols, his efforts to be liked, and always the soaring debt, and think “Wow, it’s soon time to make some regional readjustments and then remind old U.S. friends and allies, that we, unlike America, are terrible people to have as enemies, but rather loyal and devout friends.”

1979 On the Horizon

So I think we are going to see soon some regional flare-ups, minor in themselves, but terribly important as the world pauses to gauge the U.S. reaction. Syria and Iran feel liberated and think they can act with impunity. Turkey is an emerging regional hegemon. I would not want to be a former Soviet republic — at least if I were consensually governed, pro-Western, and democratic.

If I were in Manila, I’d start learning Chinese; if in Tokyo, I’d think about massive rearmament. I would not wish to be in NATO if east of Berlin — “allies” in the West would (cf. 1939) stay theoretic and distant, enemies would be concrete and proximate.

The survival of Israel now depends on its pilots and missiles, not on any guarantees from the U.S. In today’s currency, what we guarantee is worth about as much as U.S treasury bills, or promises of missile defense for Eastern Europe. If I were an Israeli, I’d either pray for the skill and audacity of the nation’s Air Force pilots, or begin cultivating India, Russia, and China, or that and more.

The problem with all this pessimistic view of human nature is that our elite and anointed smirk at it. They seem to say, “Tsk, tsk, we are 21st-century, Ivy-Leaguers in the postmodern age. The world is no longer like it was in 1914.” I explained all this in my latest piece in Foreign Affairs. “Cell phones and the World Court are the order of the day, not Neanderthal notions of something called ‘appeasement’”. But does anyone think human nature has changed since the Greeks due to improved diet, or that brain chemistry has altered with video games?

A Cautionary Tale

Obama inherited, he did not make the rules — whether he thinks he can hope-and-change them away or not.

He can read all the Paul Krugman’s essays he wants that swear that deficits don’t matter that much, or the borrowing is too small, or that the mega-creditor always supposedly has leverage over the lender (reader: would you rather owe a million or be owed a million?), but that does not make a soon to be $20 trillion dollar debt go away.

Such fantasy does not mean interest rates won’t climb to 5-6% and more, and does not mean that we soon will not be paying a $1 trillion a year in interest to pay back what we owe.

The President can Van-Jones the energy question all he wants, in soaring tones bellowing out “solar, wind, and millions of new green jobs!” But that does not mean that, when the global recovery begins, oil won’t go back to $100 plus a barrel. Indeed, our import tab will grow by leaps and bounds in direct proportion to the new gas and oil we find that remains off limits here at home.

And, yes, again, we can give 100 Cairo speeches, back flip even, apologize to the world for being mean to blacks, Indians, Hispanics, Europeans, Japanese, women, birds, plants, butterflies, whatever. And still an Ahmadinejad, a Chavez or a Putin will not be impressed.

With Bush’s first-term swagger, he may have made things unpopular for America among the masses. But his enemies knew that he would do what it takes to protect the U.S. His friends abroad assumed that the more they hated him publicly, the more privately they counted on his support in extremis.

Now? The more the masses hail Obama, the more overseas elites in private shudder that they are on their own.

And, of course, they are.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shipping Up to Nowhere

o boyos, looks like it's been a while no? Lot of stuff has happened; though I suppose you probably guessed that part. I'll go ahead and start with our departure from Kazakhstan.

We stopped working after the 28th and that day was more of a "Goodbye Party" day anyway. It was fun, but we had too many sweets—I had kind of expected the students to bring more savory stuff, but sweets were the order of the day. That Tuesday was one of our guy's birthday, so we had him and a few more students at our apartment for dinner and some movies. We started with Tropic Thunder; a great movie, one I really enjoy. Unfortunately, that was our movie night's high point; the birthday boy picked the next three…and it was the first three Scary Movies—yuck. I could have gone my entire life without seeing those POS. Nichevo (it is nothing). Jake mainly hung out with Zhanar so I was on my own—I built my tank model, got practice making lagman with one of our students. We also had a farewell tea party at the Institute that Friday when we went to get our pay.

I'm not sure why, but for some reason, it seems to be getting harder for me to say good bye. I seem to be getting too easily attached to people now a-days. I was an Army brat for crying out loud; I've gone to six different elementary schools, a junior high, and a high school. I've lived in eleven different houses, six different states, and two different countries—you'd think I'd be used to saying goodbye, by now. I wish I could stop getting so emotionally involved in people that I've just met and may never see again. It really is a pity and it makes things very difficult for me. Don't know what I'll do.

Photos from our last walk home

Anyway, we left Semey by train, which was a bit nerve wracking since they hadn't bothered to get tickets for us. Instead we were relying on personal contacts that Nailia had within the train station. I was worried, but they were pretty confident that everything would be OK—but they were right. About three people saw us off at the station, besides Zhanara who was coming with us to Almaty. We got on for free and were given a booth (though it looked for a while like we'd be standing up the whole time). Riding a train is a bit of a crazy experience in Kazakhstan. It is very cramped, crowded, and during the day unbelievably hot. The bathrooms are pretty primitive and dump the contents of the toilet straight onto the tracks below you—so never ever walk by railroad tracks in Kazakhstan. At night (if you can open your windows, it'll get cold and when you leave you have to put the bedding and sheets away. Also, you'll need to bring your own food and drink or be prepared to starve unless you by from the venders at each stop. Going by train takes a long time in Kazakhstan because there are a lot of stops. Another thing is that there are some soul-crushingly flat areas that you will ride through, that are literally in the middle of no-where. Yet, for all these faults, I think I'd still prefer to go by train than by plane. That was pretty scary and with the hassle of luggage in Kazakhstan (especially when you have a lot of it!)

We finally arrived in Almaty and then we spent our one day there mainly in the company of Damy, Leyla, and Victoria, the students Jeff, Mark, and I had hung out with last summer. It was good to see them again and they seemed very excited to be spending time with Jake and I. That day we went up the Kok-Tubeh, had lunch at a popular student café, saw the central square of the city and some other sights of Almaty. The girls gave me a present of a CD from a guy called "Oleg Gazmatoff" since I liked Lubeh, they think I would probably like this guy as well—and so far I think they are correct, I'm liking it. I also met with the Kazakh officer's sister and niece who gave me all the stuff they wanted us to take…which was a lot of junk. I was really worried about the weight, because it was so darn heavy.

The next day we went to the airport and after people attempted to hustle us at the airport, I met the officer's subordinate who took great care of us and got us through all the lines really quickly and completely got us past the baggage weight limitation. It was really cool. I've benefited twice now, from corruption in Kazakhstan and I can see how it can be nice if you've got the right kind of contacts, but I think in the end, the problems it causes way outweighs its supposed benefits.

I guess now you are expecting me to go on a long rant about Kazakh/Russian culture and so on and so forth like I did with Korea. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it won't be exactly like that. There are a lot of problems in Kazakhstan, but to be so nit-picky seems a bit unfair. Most of my complaints about Korea is because Korea is an extremely well developed country and benefited greatly from US support so I expected better than that from them. Kazakhstan on the other hand is a former Soviet bloc country, which was fed on a diet of Soviet lies and propaganda. It is extremely poor, full of corruption and they're still trying to decided whether Stalin was a bad or good guy (about evenly split in my class). Most of my other complaints have to do with the lack of body hygiene, which sounds very petty to complain about and I don't really know how they can fix it—it just seems natural to me to change my clothes everyday and take a bath likewise. So you won't be hearing quite as much complaining about Kazakhstan ways.

What I will complain about is that the girls can be a little too friendly. For example, take a look at these few pictures (pictures coming soon if not up yet). The girls have got their arms in ours or (and you probably can't tell) their hands around our waist—sometimes they put our hands like theirs for a more mirrored look. Now this just isn't one or two girls, but almost any girl there in Kazakhstan will do that for a picture. It means nothing really, but what are two poor, to put it nicely heavy (to put it not so nicely fat), homely Midwestern boys from Kansas supposed to think? It isn't easy, you know?

Dr. Lee always says there's something good about Midwestern kids. More responsible, trustworthy, etc. He's really hard on the Korean kids, but he may have something at least in America, I think. I am kind of a fan of the Midwest and her people. We may not be the coolest and hell, some of us might be hicks, but of anywhere I've been the people here are the least boastful and some of the hardest working, I'd like to say. I hate it when people my age knock on Kansas and complain about it so much; I like it here and I'd much rather live in Kansas than some west (or east coast) latte drinking big liberal city. Bleh—if what I've been hearing from people about Obama and people's obsession with him, I'm extremely glad to be in Kansas. As far as I can tell, he still hasn't really done anything yet.

Also, while I'm on politics—why the hell did we get those two idiots out of North Korea? Anyone stupid enough to try to sneak in illegally to a hostile country that is looking for bargaining chips against us deserves to be left to rot, in my opinion. What did we have to give to get them out? They shouldn't have gone there in the first place and by going there, they put America's strategic goals at risk. What fools! If I do something that stupid and a hostile regime is trying to use me against the USA, leave me be and hopefully I'll learn my lesson—I've read One Day in the Life of Ivan Dennisovich so I think I'll be OK to survive in a gulag—I've learned all the tricks, see?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Leaving Korea

Well, Today's the last day in Korea. This really bites. I know I'm due for a Kazakhstan update, but right now I'm feeling too down to bother with that.

Yeah, I'm going home to see my family, but for what two weeks? Doesn't really matter that we'll be in the same state, I still won't see them in real life, so what's the difference between 300 miles and 3000? So I don't really see that as a very big plus. Not to mention I've got about 50 pages (not exaggerating: Dr. Lee wants 20 for Korea, 20 fo rKazakhtan, and Dr. Zagorski wants 10 for Kazakhstan) due at school this summer. Coupled with the anxiety from ROTC (which I know'll go badly for me next summer) and all the other problems that I'm not really allowed to talk about with the public, I see no reason to be joyous on this home coming. If I'm lucky the plane'll crash while I'm asleep and I won't notice.

Ugh: Update--left Elly's home and finally arrived at Incheon Airport. Computer is acting very strange and horribly slow, unsure why. I now fully apologize for complaining about the army banning flashcards, I can really see why. All those punks in Kazakhstan who plugged into my
computer gave me the computer equivalent of Aids or the Ebola virus.

Also, am feeling really bad (besides the usual, I don't want to go blues), and I am afraid I caught something because I've got a nasty little head ache and sore joints. Ain't got none of the symptoms of the Mexican Influenza (at least Korea's symptoms). Hope fully I'll be able to sleep most of it off.

Also, I feel terribly guilty at the good bye Elly's mother gave me. Crying and saying how wonderful I was...and how grateful she was that I'd be helping her in the future. God it hurts. I don't even know what to think anymore about it. I feel guilty, because I did treat her rather badly this summer and our relationship failing was both our faults, but it seemed to hit her harder. I just don't know anymore.

Anyway, I'll leave you with a good song--assuming my computer can handle it, God it is sucking atm. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Dxhm9iEfo8&feature=fvw

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Hey, no updates yet, I've been very very busy.

I'm still alive and having lots of fun in Korea. A real shame I have to go back to school. I'll try to update later; right now I'm at an internet cafe in Pusan.

Later all!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A few recipes

So the last update was more of a historical-military one. I don’t have too much time, but here are those recipes I have been promising. Later on today I plan to hit up the internet café so maybe I’ll get a chance to do more of a free write later.

To start: Alex and Jake’s Totally Awesome™ American Pan Fried Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients: One egg, the equivalent of a stick of butter, and a package of Betty Crocker cookie mix

Directions: Start by trying to guess how much a stick of butter is from a Kazakh butter bag. Don’t worry, this really isn’t such a big deal, since butter is bad for you anyway right? Go ahead and go with a bit less than is needed. The next step should be to mix the butter, egg, and mix, but since you’ve just gotten the butter cut out of the bag thingy, it’s still frozen. Get the bright idea of throwing it in the microwave for a bit. Take it out when you start to hear it sizzle (about 3-5 seconds). Then ignore the directions of the back of the bag, dump the back of cookie mix into a bowl. Then throw the still warm butter into the bowl and crack the egg and begin to mix.

Realize that hot butter+ chocolate chips does not go well and watch as the chips begin to melt and turn the mix brown. Decide what the hell and keep going. Get frustrated with how dry it still is and add some water. Mix until it looks like cookie dough. Give it a couple of tastes to make sure it is cookie dough (we want to be one hundred percent sure that somehow the bag wasn’t a dud or something). Realize then that you do not have an oven and debate on whether or not to save the mix, bring it to school and see if one of the students will make it for you or simply just eat the dough raw.

Come up with brilliant idea! Get a pan out, throw some oil into it and a spoon full of cookie dough. Try to keep the dough in the shape of a cookie. When it starts to bubble like a pancake, flip it over. Keep checking it and as the cookie slowly starts to turn black on the other side, take it out ASAP before you completely ruin it, you g-d idiot! Put it in a plate, apprehensively grab a spoon and split it with that that bumbler who almost burned it. Realize it is freaking amazing—warm like a fresh cookie, but still soft and gooey like cookie dough. Make another and enjoy! Then realize that what everyone says about American stuff being too sweet is true and get a stomach ache. Vow to never eat two cookie blobs again. Freeze leftovers for use later or just general snacking.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Variant:

Realize some of your mistakes from last time, be more careful with the molten butter, follow the directions on the back of the mix (slowly stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients) and follow same step as above. Try to cook it the same way, but realize that the oatmeal makes watching for bubbles difficult so just keep moving it around and flipping it. Take it out when it starts to get really brown on the outside. Eat it and realize that it’s even better than the other one because: A. It has oatmeal in it, which totally rocks and B. It’s crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. Freeze the rest. Awesomeness™.

A last final homemade concoction: Alex and Jake’s Totally Awesome ™ Waterless Stew

Ingredients: Anything you have in the fridge.

Decide to use up a lot of the left over ingredients in a final stew. Check the fridge and see that you have some cabbage, potatoes, onions, three whole heads of garlic, two beers, some permini, some sausage, macaroni noodles, and these small things that are kind of like noodles but these tiny little round things. Feel bad that you didn’t go for a run in the morning and ask Jake if he’s all right to get it started while you run (in the rain). Come back and see that Jake’s almost done cutting up all the vegetables and that he’s already started boiling the beer. Make a roux for him and then help him add all the veggies. Realize you have run out of room in the pot. Keep cooking anyway and when final product is done, it should be too thick to be a soup, but too wet to be a pan fry. Enjoy!

I'll try and get another post later on this afternoon, maybe about the more mundane stuff as dad asked. Later all!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

And the Auld Triangle went "jingle-jangle"...

That old triangle’s still going “jingle-jangle” all along the banks of the Irtysh River…

To be honest, I’m feeling more in the mood for using lyrics for “Monto”, but I’m afraid my parents (and anyone wise enough to know what Monto was…) will be worried for me and such.I'll get new recipies up 'soon'

Been a while since the last update—things have changed, though not too much. I’d have to say though that my mood may have improved a bit. I suppose this occurred sometime last night. Yesterday morning, I was too tired (went to bed ~2330, later than usual and I’ve gotten lazy, it’s hard to get up in the morning…ROTC’ll eat me alive…) so I decided to sleep in till 0700. Jake wasn’t as tired (he claims it was discipline—I claim it’s because he doesn’t have to work as hard in the day). Anyway, it was no big deal, I did plan to go run in the evening.

Unfortunately, the weather here is unpredictable and changing (worse than Kansas weather, if I’m honest). So it was raining pretty hard-core last night, however, feeling pretty lousy for sleeping in and with how I’ve probably lost time on my run, I forced myself out in the downpour. It was great! I don’t know about you, but for some reason, I get pumped running in the rain—heavy or light (and this rain was a bit between; a lot of rain, but it wasn’t too heavy when it hit). Not to mention, I was extremely fortunate in the music that came on my (dad’s) mp3 player: Dropkick Murphy’s “The Fields of Athenry”, followed by one of my favorite versions of “Twa Recruiting Sergeants” (one I picked up off YouTube by a group called “Fiery Jack”). Needless to say, (although I’m still saying it—what a curious phrase—an excuse to say something you claim is so obvious it doesn’t need to be said) those songs were repeated several times—Hoo-ah!

I won’t say I don’t have any worries about the future, or ROTC (especially ROTC), because that definitely isn’t true (and Dr. Lee is no help here, he just told me that we have to do a paper for both Korea and Kazakhstan’s trip…and the one I gave for the conference will not count…20 pages times 2). But for the first time in a long time, it felt like I could handle it and I even was looking forward to the challenge. Like I said, it’s not that I’m afraid of dying or that I don’t want to be a soldier—I do, almost more than anything, it’s just that I am afraid of not being up to scratch. However, yesterday with the cold pelt of the rain and the awesome mix of the electric guitar and Celtic song, made me feel ready to fight the enemies of the nation. I wouldn’t say I had bloodlust, but if someone had given me cause to fight at that moment, I would have been the wrong person to mess with.

Speaking of ROTC, there’s something I’d like to discuss. Hopefully, you’ve kept up on my previous posts about China and future possible conflict with the Red Menace. According to the Chinese students I’ve talked to and the stuff I’ve read about the government there, they are pushing towards becoming a superpower and to get there it seems they may want a fight. I’ve already mentioned how I am worried that we aren’t taking this possible threat seriously enough to prepare for it, but there’s another point I want to make.

Being abroad and having to explain ways Americans can pay for college, often means I have to explain how the ROTC program works. Sometimes I’ve explained that I’m part of the program, sometimes not (small note here, it isn’t because I’m ashamed to say I’m going to be a soldier or I’m afraid of Anti-Americanism, I can and do live with that, it’s just that I don’t really feel up to scratch to say “I’m a part of this”), however I have to say that reaction to this is almost universally negative. “You want to kill people?” “Aren’t you afraid of dying?” Or they talk about torture. When I had a class in Kazakhstan that I allowed to ask questions, it turned to politics and Iraq, and again, allegations of American greed, exploitation, torture, and killing.

To be honest, I wasn’t really surprised. I’m in a country that until twenty years ago was known as the “Kazakh Socialist Republic” and made up one of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I expect a country that for years was locked in a competition for global supremacy with the U.S. to not be huge fans of the U.S. military—I mean think of the propaganda they would have seen; we called them “an Evil Empire” once and its obvious to see how much more effective Soviet Propaganda was and is on shaping the thoughts of the people here and in Russia.

I’ve had similar experiences in Russia and again I was not surprised. I tried not to argue there, however, not out of fear for my position’s strength, but because I knew there was no way I could change their minds. They don’t accept any of the western media sources as valid and I refuse to set any stock in their (state influenced, which just happens to only have one party) media as well. Not to mention, I always got a kick out of their indignation at what we have done with Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with their attitude towards their own actions in Georgia—

“What? Supporting a separatist movement in another country, supplying those people with support and Russian passports and then using said Russian passports as an excuse to intervene when the other country tries to fight the separatists is not a good example of peace keeping? And that we may have acted with less than honorable motives here? What are talking about? How dare you attack Afghanistan (with more of a causus belli than we had 30 years ago)! How dare you attack Iraq claiming that they had Weapons of Mass Destruction, when they gave the appearance that they did and for years acted like a belligerent party as well as using them on their own people and during the Iran-Iraq war! Obviously you lied about that, because you didn’t find any. Everyone knows you’re government is perfect when it does things!”

I’m not all that surprised by the Chinese position either. I always did find it amusing that Hai-Xiao would readily admit that his government kept information from their people and also was repressive, but again he took any information it had to say about the U.S. government or military as fact.

Folks, bear with me for a minute here, I’ll get back on topic of ROTC after this short rant.

I would have been surprised by the Korean opinion that I heard, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d already heard it before and was kind of expecting it. Also, it was slightly less overtly anti-American than I had come expecting—but I’m not yet willing to say that it’s because it isn’t there. The time I was there was a period when North Korea was doing its usual saber rattling and their former president had just taking a dive from a cliff, so they had other things on their mind. I’d like to see how they’re acting now and judge the feeling of current events; from what I’ve read and heard, the only time the U.S. Military is appreciated there is when N.K. is acting up.

It’s hard for me to accept that attitude from them, for if any country should at least respect the U.S. Military, it’d be them. Koreans love to talk about “the Miracle of the Han” and how they pulled themselves out of the gutter, but very few acknowledge that without the U.S. support during the Korean war, they’d be little better than their northern brethren. Or when they do acknowledge that U.S. support helped save them, they simply say, “but you got benefit from it too” as if that makes us even and washes away any sort of obligation to the US-ROK alliance.

Yes, there is a great benefit for the United States in having an independent Korean Republic—we have an important ally in the east, with a strategic location; which was a great aid during the Cold War in helping check communist expansion in Asia. I’m sure that the government also saved some money selling surplus or obsolete U.S. equipment as well, but what country (or person for that matter) in history has ever done something for purely altruistic motives? Everyone (country, person, or animal) does an action because it is necessary for their survival or it benefits them somehow (even South Korea).

Let’s be cynical here for a bit. For example, America gives much aid (more than any other country in the world) to places like Africa and other third world hell holes. Many people, I’m sure, say that it’s because the US wants to make a profit in the future. As an American, I see it differently. Remember that America is a democratic republic that has to at least pay lip service to the “people”. Also remembering that Americans view themselves as the most fortunate and wealthy people in the world and that a free and independent media is protected by the constitution, when Americans see suffering in Africa they may ignore it at first, but if the media persists (and is effective) American public opinion will change and they will demand government action (remember Somalia 1993—that picture of a starving child did wonders to galvanize Bush). Any politicians in government will be very careful to listen to the popular opinion for fear of losing the next midterm or (God forbid!) presidential election. It’s a nasty bit of ammunition for the opposition if they can claim that you stood by and allowed people to starve to death.

Another major benefit helping places like Africa is because a stable Africa will mean that the aid will not be needed and if the countries are stable, that will lead to safety for America (and the rest of the world). Don’t agree? Somalia is a lawless country that is a prime example of the problems in Africa. Many people have turned to piracy to feed their families—which I can almost sympathize with, but this is not good for anyone else. Pirates attack ships, endangering lives of sailors and driving up the costs of shipping. A more stable Somalia might (and I believe will) lead to safer waters around the coast, saving lives of both sailors and Somalis and also keeping shipping costs down. Thus, it would be in America (and again the world’s benefit) for Somali to be a functioning nation-state.

This is an extremely cynical view to take, but it seems to be the one the Koreans want to use against America. OK, so American benefits from a democratic and prosperous Korea—but who benefits more? The Americans who gain some strategic security or the Koreans who have the same security since they are under the blanket of American protection and have prospered greatly? Who has gained the most? Who would be worse off without American intervention?

I believe the answer to all of these is the Korean people. For ever benefit America gets, Korea benefits more. Selling excess weapons may offset the cost of producing new ones, but you can’t turn a profit on that. Not to mention, America sells weapons to many countries, not just countries it has spilled its blood for. More than 38,000 Americans died to preserve South Korean independence, what has Korea given in return for the ultimate sacrifice? Nothing that comes close, since we Americans value individual human life above all. And we’re not even talking about the men who came home maimed, crippled, insane, or traumatized for life.

Americans for over a hundred years talked of Lafayette and the French alliance; even when relations with the French government were low, such as under Napoleon III, Americans always maintained an affinity for the people of France and vice versa—as seen in the gift of the Statue of Liberty. When Americans went to France in 1917 and 1918, what did they say? “Lafayette, we are here!” Times may be strained and a lot of Anti-American or French jokes swapped, but the point remains that America was grateful for the intervention; and France did much less than America has done for Korea. And of course, France did a lot of it for their own benefit—as Americans tried to convince the French crown that it would benefit them for it. We never complained about their ulterior motives in helping, but were grateful for the aid that saved us. It seems to me that behavior of a similar caliber isn’t too much to ask of the Korean government and people.

Why the Koreans don’t, is something I cannot answer; many Koreans stress the humiliation of being helped by Americans at the time and how pitiful they looked—but the more I read about Korea before the war, shows me that they weren’t much better anyway, and if anyone should be blamed for it, it is the North Koreans and their Chinese and Soviet backers, not the Americans. Americans instead, I believe, should be thanked as helping to rescue (with of course the aid of the other allies of the UN, though, since Koreans tend to ignore them in this anti-ness, I will as well) the Korean people from the sad condition.

To end my aside rant (and it kind hurts that I have to express this explicitly), I have no problem with the Korean people or the people of China. With Korea, my frustration and disappointment (not really anger) is with behavior and what I perceive as ingratitude whenever I see this anti-American sentiment rear its ugly head. As far as people, I’ve only met two Koreans that I actively disliked and that was because of behavior on their part towards a friend of mine. Every other Korean I’ve known seems like a nice person and I genuinely like them. Sometimes behavior can irritate me (when I am at a lunch table with you, I’d appreciate it if someone talked with me a little bit in English!), but besides that I have no problem with the people. As long as we can stay of political topics or they’ll keep overtly anti-American statements to themselves, we will get along well. These are the same rules I apply to democrats for crying out loud—we may disagree, but just don’t say something that deeply offends me and I’m content to let us disagree, and I’ll try not to offend you either.

As for Chinese students; honestly, I’ve only known a few. Of those, I can’t say I’ve ever really had a major problem personally with any of them. The only problems I have ever had come with political issues. My beef with China is the government of China and the lies and propaganda it puts out to stoke their nationalism. Again, if we can stay away from politics and you keep your anti-American sentiments to yourself, I’ll keep my anti-communist ones to myself. This is the same criteria I keep of the Russian students I’ve met. The people I like, but their politics I do not care for.

So back to the main point for ROTC students:

Guys, I have noticed that with students all over the world—China, Malaysia, India, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ireland, Canada, Saudi Arabia and so forth, the United States Military has an extremely negative reputation. Some things are universal; such as accusations of torture, needless killings, and bloodlust. Others are more specific to areas; the students from Asia often accuse Americans of rape and using prostitutes. Of course, I realize that most of these criticisms and accusations are either completely baseless or based on isolated incidents and the soldiers invariably have been punished through our own system. The point is, however that even among “friendly” nations we have a bad reputation.

I realize there isn’t a whole lot we can do about this on our own, but I think we must be aware of this problem, because as Leto Atreides once said, “Knowing that there is a trap is the first step to avoiding it.” We will have to fight this kind of reputation, because if we are ever called to fight, such as we are now or in a more conventional sense, we will have to have the support of the local populace and of countries abroad. “Winning hearts and minds” should not be an empty phrase, but an active goal for the American soldier. If studying Napoleon and his failures and successes in Russia, Calabria, and Spain has taught me anything is that you can have the most technologically or tactically superior force in the world, but if you cannot win the goodwill or at least get the populace to stop actively supporting the guerillas, you will lose.The Grand Army was one of the greatest fighting machines the world has ever seen, but when it failed to address the local complaints or respond to popular opinion it got mired down in a protracted and bloody irregular conflict that in turn caused more people to take up arms. Furthermore, the violent actions coupled with Napoleon’s own foreign policy failures turned Europe against France and got them to join in coalition which humbled her.

So, I believe that we must start combating this negative press from every level. This means that again, I am urging government action, which I’ll admit, is probably already identified this problem and I’m sure they are working on this, I’m just adding my voice and support to these efforts. What this means for us, is to continue to fight this negative press by providing the opposite example. Continue with nation building efforts and community works that I’ve been hearing about in the media—most foreigners I have talked to had no idea what the Army does in Iraq besides apparently commit atrocities. Most importantly, stand up and stop behavior that has given the Military this negative press. If you see someone doing something like that Marine who threw a puppy off a cliff, stop them. Yeah, it’s just a stray, but it’s a perfect opportunity for the enemy to use that video showing how cruel Americans are. Or that video that made the rounds a few years ago of a tank crew smashing a guy’s car for stealing wood—sure maybe that’s “justice” but you take away his only means for working, how’ll he feed his family? Someone offers him the equivalent of a pension if he’ll become a suicide bomber…Maybe I’m over dramatizing the incident, but at the very least you’ve just created another person hostile to the Military.

We’re going to need help in the future and we need people on our side. My dad always told me that the U.S. Army was the army that fought for the little guy, for the oppressed, and for liberty. It was the army ready to stand against the vanguard of the revolution, the Red Army. The same army that had brought communism and suffering to the people of Eastern Europe. We were the good guys and thus we shall remain.

We’re fighting a type of war that is not the kind we would want and we get frustrated, but we cannot allow ourselves to give into those frustrations—you hear people say “It is false to say that you can’t kill your way out of an insurgency. In reality that is how most are defeated.” Partially that is true and I am not denying that violence is necessary, this is the Army after all. But the violence must be used to a purpose and the main focus must be to win the population’s support or at the very least isolate them from supporting the insurgents. This sometimes can be done through a combination of the carrot and the stick, as was Napoleon’s case in Calabria, but since we are a force of good, we must use the carrot and thus win the population over through good will and positive action. At the very least get them to stop supporting the enemy.

Just my two cents guys and I’d hope that I’m not saying anything new or shocking, but I just want to let my opinion be known. I think this is a problem and I’d really like to stop having to explain that I’m not joining a band of rapists and thugs. However, if you do disagree with me, I’m not too dismayed as phase two and three (phase one was inserting myself in the country) of Operation “The Man Who Would Be Khan” are hugely successful. I’ve already established local popularity and I’ve also made my contacts within the local indigenous forces. Should my cries fall on deaf ears, I’ll just redouble my efforts of reform into simply forming the indigenous forces into a professional Western army based on my own opinions.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gone to Hilo

Tommy’s gone on a whaling ship, Away to Hilo
Oh Tommy’s gone on a damn long trip
Tom’s Gone to Hilo
He never kissed his girl good bye,
Away to Hilo, he left her and he told her why;
Tom’s gone to Hilo
She’d robbed him blind and left him broke, Away to Hilo
He’d had enough, gave her the poke
Tom’s gone to Hilo
Oh Tommy’s gone, and he won’t come back
Tom’s gone to Hilo

I’m sitting here in the flat, after an evening of drinking on a Monday night. I started with a few swigs of Cognac, a mix of (very bad) wine, (flat) beer, vodka (God I hate the stuff), a bit more cognac, and some of that “Maxi Chai” Lemon tea garbage. The mix was actually really good before Jake suggested we add that “Maxi Chai”. I’m serious, something about the poor quality of the wine (tasted like grape juice with a shot of vodka aftertaste—probably what it was, it’s a Kazakh wine) and the flat beer gave it a bit of a wheaty-grape juice taste, with the vodka not being too strong for once. Adding the cognac just sweetened the whole shebang. After that we (Jake and I) mixed some diet coke with Finka Vodka, which really made that awful stuff bearable. The two of us spent the rest of the night sharing swigs of Cognac and smoking the cheap cigarillos we spent most of the earlier evening scrounging around town for. Can’t really say why we drank last night; just had an unbearable feeling of sadness on both of our accounts.
Jake’s a bit lovesick at the moment; he’s made his choice to pursue the girl here in Kazakhstan and now he’s worried of rejection, et al. and so forth. Also, he’s worried that something’ll go wrong with her transfer to PSU, which is a legitimate concern as you don’t see many Kazakhs walking around down town Pittsburg. My own melancholy is dramatically different as it’s the same old same old with me. Don’t know why, but I’m often very low. I read in a book somewhere that Winston Churchill called feelings like this his “Black Dog Days”. Now it’s been a long time since I read that and I might have missed the point, but it sure sounds accurate for me right now. It’s just the same old fear of the future that I always have and my own inner demons and other poetic type stuff. Not trying to be too depressing or open here, but just sometimes I just can’t see any good about myself and I have little hope that I’ll be able to withstand the challenges of LDAC and what the army will have in store with me.
Today’ll be an easy day though, so I’m not so worried. We’re watching Gettysburg because I’ve been doing a unit on the Civil War. Not sure if we’ll finish the movie today; probably can’t, so that’ll be good. Give us a little more time here. I’ve been really enjoying the Civil War section—we sang “Dixie”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, and “The Battle Cry of Freedom”. God bless good ol’ Bobby Horton. Plan on singing a few more songs after we finish this movie; show the evolution of music throughout the war.
We’ve had a few interesting events happen since the last update. Recently, we’ve had some problems with the inner door not wanting to lock for us, nothing major, just a bit frustrating. However, on Friday after work, we discovered that the door would not unlock what-so-ever. We had to call the school, to get them to call our landlord, who took a while to show up and when he arrived he first just attempted to use our keys to unlock the door—as if we hadn’t try that. Eventually he got a hammer, chisel, screwdriver, and when to work on the door, busting the lock out and finally getting our inner door open. So now we can get in and out of our flat, at the expense of only have one door that locks.
Saturday night we had two of our students come over and I tried to make my favorite spaghetti meal. Unfortunately, that failed pretty spectacularly. I went with my mother’s advise of just buying cheap wine, which in U.S. dollars cost about $1.20, so I might have gone a little bit too cheap (if you’re wondered why we had wine in that mix above, here we are). Also, this country does not have any oregano. I mean none, what so ever. They hadn’t even heard of it, even when I looked it up in the dictionary (five of the dictionaries didn’t even have it as a word…) and the basil didn’t really taste correct either. Another problem was the lack of spicy Italian sausage, which would have given it some more flavor; that and the beef here (hamburger is what we used) kind of smells and tastes different than it does in the US.
The girls said the food was good but even if they were being honest it didn’t taste right. I was extremely disappointed in it and I promised that if they ever came to the U.S. we’d get it proper. I think though that’s probably the first home cooked meal I want—to make up for the dismal failure.
Sunday night one of our students and his friend showed up drunk on our door, but for some reason we decided it was a good idea to grab dinner at a café. Not a good plan…but we did it anyway. It probably was because he got us to take a few shots of Vodka when he arrived (he brought his own bottle). Getting there was an adventure, he was almost hit by a car, gave the driver the finger, the driver pulled over and started to get out of the car—luckily his friend (who spoke no English) defused the situation and we proceeded to outdoor café. Except he decided this place wasn’t good enough (this place has a bit of a history of tolerating drunks—one came up to us and started chatting with our female students when we had gone there once, before his friend dragged him away), so we went to a more upscale one—another mistake. Our friend kept confusing his friend and the wait staff by talking to them in English—sometimes we had to order for him. It was also compounded by the fact that he insisted that we have beer, but they would not bring him any. It was a scary night, I was always worried we’d be ejected from the restaurant due to his loudness, but we made it through all right.
Now that it is almost time for us to be leaving, I guess I should go ahead and start listing a few things I’ve noticed about Kazakhstan and its people. I’m going to try and do it like that “American Ways” book does it for Americans. Take the good and the bad, then look how they might be related and just accept it like that.
So the good, the bad, and the downright ugly:
Good: People here are extremely generous and hospitable. Whenever they invite a guest out, they pay for their guest and they take very good care of their guest. They’ll be sure to make sure their guest is safely home.
Bad: They won’t allow you to pay for yourself at all, no matter what. Whether it’s expensive or just petty, they don’t let you do that. Even if you’re being taken out by a group of 14-17 year olds. Or if it’s a group of girls. What’s worse, is this is a complete double standard—one of the students met me to take me to the bazaar, she paid for my bus ticket. However later that night after all the other students were leaving and we were trying to get her home, but the buses were supposed to have stopped at 2000 or 2100 (we couldn’t be sure). Being 2105, I had little hope that she’d find the bus there, so I offered to lend her the 500 tenge she would need to take the taxi (because she didn’t have any money on her for it) and she flatly refuses it. I tried everything, from assuring her that she could pay it back later, asking whether or not it was because I was a guy or a “guest”. Nothing, but a horrible double standard. Luckily, a bus was running late and at about 2120 she got on it and I could go home.
To add insult to injury, the last thing she said as she got onto the bus was “Are you sure you can find your way back home from here?” Such patronization…home was within sight of the bus stop. It’s like they think we’re made of stupid. This isn’t the only case of this kind of thinking—we have a student escort us to and from school because they’re afraid that “You’ll get lost”. Like we haven’t walked this way for the entire time we’ve been here. Or when we got off the bus yesterday, the student asked us if he needed to help us find our way home or if we could do it ourselves—again within sight of the stop.
This behavior is rather infuriating, but let’s look at it objectively: this is probably directly related to the hospitality of generosity of the people here. They probably feel that they have to do everything to make the guest feel comfortable and to keep the guest safe. It just so happens to offend the American sense of “independency” and “self-reliance” (whenever I hear that word I always imagine Sean Connery saying that from Indiana Jones III) then so be it. I’m over here, I’ve just got to bend to it, no matter how bad it tastes in my mouth.
The Ugly: Again, going to have to complain about body odor. Just can’t stand it. It ain’t everyone, but Christ there are some people that just make you gag here. Ain’t nothing I can do about that, but just go to live with it. Just ain’t easy boys and girls. Literally this morning, I was checking emails from Dr. Lee and a student just walked by, about 10 feet away into another room and it just hit me in the nose like a giant fist wrapped in a dirty diaper from a sewage plant that’s been held under a 500 pound sweaty man’s armpit.
Enough of that. Later all; by the way, this is my cell phone number here, if anyone wants to try it; I have no idea whether or not it’ll work. 877775431576. I think that’s it anyway, on my phone it says +77775431576, and I think the +=8 (or 87-not sure). For some reason our home phone just don’t work.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Kazakh go bragh

Well, I'm not sure how much I'll actually say in this post-there's a lot I want to talk about, but I remember an email I got from mein vater reminds me not to blur the line between blog and online journal. Good sense there, nothing I hate more than sounding mopy and whiny. Still, there's a lot I want to talk about, besides what's going on here in the K-stan.

May be getting a touch homesick-but that's not 100% correct-I just want to be able to talk with my family or someone now and then. Also, a hug or two would not be turned down.

Shoot, only got two minutes left...should have started this update sooner. Anyway, 4th of July was fun. Had some of the teachers we taught come over and teach us how to make a Kazakh dish called "Koordak" made of meat and potatoes (and some onions). Went out with some students for pizzza and then went walking. Tried some interesting combonations with a common drink here that I'd have to wait until December 26th of this year to buy in America...


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Semey is a Hard Road to Travel…

A few more thoughts from Kazakhstan (written Friday, June 26th):

The Vice Rector of the Ped. Institute and the head of the International Relations department came up to me Monday morning and (through Nailia) asked me to speak at a conference on “The Importance of Internationalization for Education as a Strategy for the Training of Competitive Specialists.” I was asked to speak on the subject of “Internationalization” and the “Mobility of Students” using my experience this summer and from PSU. I got started that night and finished up the paper (provided below), turning it into Valentina who had to translate it because she was going to act as my interpreter.

The conferences itself went pretty well (I think). They gave me my own name tag and name place up at the front table onstage with Nailia and the Vice-Rector who had asked me to speak. Ironically, due to a mistake on the part of the Russian Embassy this summer, who decided to transliterate my name the same way most Americans mispronounce it (Jurjis) this mispronunciation has followed me here. I had shaved my glorious whiskers and put on my good old Argyll-Sutherland Highlanders tie and one of my nice shirts, pants, socks and such that mom had made me pack. Thanks ma, I owe you one.

Speaking went rather well, Valentina and I had to share the podium—I would read about three or four sentences and then she’d translate. The audience reacted well to the format and we got a nice amount of applause. Afterwards the Vice-Rector stood up and spoke, thanking me for speaking and (from what Nailia says) saying that to make sure I come back they should give me a beautiful Kazakh girl. So I take it that he enjoyed my presentation (afterwards Nailia told me that he had said that I was more professional than many teachers, that’s probably also a good indicator).

That’s the good. There is some bad too. We’re having a little bit of trouble getting the morning class started on time. We’re supposed to started at 9:30, but often times students aren’t even showing up until 9:45 or so and when we have a break (ten minutes) they often come back ten or even twenty minutes late. Today for example I had to go find half of the class (and all the girls) downstairs eating cake and having tea ten minutes after the break was supposed to end.

To be honest, I wouldn’t really care all that much, except that they have been complaining that they aren’t getting their money’s worth because we aren’t starting on time. That bothers me, because we aren’t starting on time because it’s more difficult for me to start class and then bring everyone up to speed as they trickle in than to just wait till they all show up. For some reason the school has decided whenever there’s a problem, I should be the one to talk to…so if the classes aren’t starting on time: Talk to Alex. If they aren’t getting enough talking experience: Talk to Alex. If Jake isn’t prepared for class and is still writing on the board at 0931: Talk to Alex… So it really annoys me when they complain they aren’t getting the full amount of time and I have to go looking for them to make them come to class on time.

Not to mention, at least with the morning group (I think because they’re younger) we have a body odor problem. I mean only with the morning class and then only with a few certain members—but Gawd is it awful! It is like a cloud sometimes when you walk into the room and it hits you. Just terrible mates! It’s even worse when the stinky kids hang around you…

Gah, anyway, back on topic!

I also don’t think too much about a future for myself, so I’m not really that worried about that kind of thing at the present time. Much more worried about whether or not I’ll be able to keep in shape and thus get that Army ROTC scholarship (and keep it…). After that I have to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to get enough experience and knowledge to be able to pass LDAC or if I’ll just fail out (a lot more probable than you probably think. Then I have to worry about training (if I pass) and getting into my first unit and then service in Iraq or Afghanistan. To be honest, that doesn’t scare me quite as much the other stuff and failure (including getting Russian language knowledge). With all those worries, death honestly doesn’t seem all that scary.

Plus somebody has got to be ready to fight those darn Chi-Comms who seem pretty intent on expanding their empire. Ask the people of Semey-PRC’s damming up the Irtysh river to use for their own fields and slowly but surely killing the ecosystem here and causing draught conditions. Before too long there won’t be an Irtysh. Violating international law and just telling the people of Kazakhstan to buzz off…who are the imperialists now? And mark my words, we haven’t heard the last from the Russians…even if there military ain’t much to fear at the current time—war in Georgia (again, who are the imperialists?) did not impress me, no matter how the Russian media span the Federation forces’ performance.

Life’s just the same old thing-teaching isn’t easy, I’m busy often, lots of pressure, etc, etc, etc. Semey is a hard road to travel (reference to a Civil War song, just FYI).

Anyway, here’s another photo of me in the morning class (and for any of you wondering, none of the smelly ones are in that photo…thank Bog) and my paper for the conference. Hopefully they’ll get me the pictures to that later.

Gone Global: An American University Student’s Observations on Internationalization in Education

Before I begin, I would like to thank the conference for asking me to speak and giving me this honor. I would also like to thank the Semey State Pedagogical Institute, whose initiative in creating this exchange program has allowed me to visit your wonderful country. I hope that the Pedagogical Institute and my own University will continue this experimental joint program next year.

Today’s children are growing up in a world where news travels faster than ever before and one country’s actions not only affect themselves and their neighbors, but other countries around the globe. The world seems to turn faster when we are able to watch a news story occurring on the other side of the world unfold in real time. We truly are living in the global age and education must reflect this to remain relevant.

I have been exceedingly fortunate in the opportunities that have been available to me in my life. Since my birth, nearly twenty-one years ago I have lived in six different states, visited every state east of the Rocky Mountains, travelled to nine different countries, and including my current abode here, I have lived in three different countries. Besides my own personal experience abroad, I have also had much experience with people of other nationalities through my own summer job in the International Military Student Division at the United States Army’s Command and General Staff College, which hosts nearly two hundred military officers from other countries, including two from this country.

These opportunities have made me aware of the importance of the concept of “Internationalization,” As my own experiences have shown; the world is a much smaller place than it was even fifty years ago. Today it is possible to communicate with someone on the other side of the world instantaneously and quite cheaply or even freely, something unimaginable a generation ago. Because of this, internationalization is not only an important, but fundamental aspect of education.

My own university in Pittsburg is home to students from many different countries. The Korean Student Association has over sixty-five members. The Chinese community at PSU has at least two-hundred members. I do not know the exact number of international students at Pittsburg; I believe the number is close to seven-hundred, which is remarkable considering that my university only has a total enrollment of nearly seven-thousand. We have students from Taiwan, South Korea, China, Russia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Spain, Malaysia, India, and several other nations.

This great diversity at Pittsburg State University is a wonderful thing for its students. American students such as myself are exposed to different cultures and viewpoints that we might never have seen otherwise. My own state of Kansas is well-known for its people’s hardiness and reluctance to leave their home state. Many people have never even been outside the state, let alone the country. So, for many of my fellow students; this is the first and perhaps only time meeting students from other nations. This allows them to see the world in a more full light and helps them understand that our nation is not and cannot be an island—we are part of the world community.

The benefits of this contact are not limited to the American students alone. International students in Pittsburg are introduced to the realities of American life and her people, which generally differ considerably from their preconceived notions or perceptions gained from Hollywood films. They also gain from contact amongst themselves, because often times the closest friends international students make are other international students, allowing them to gain even further cultural exchange than they were already getting from their study in America. I personally believe this to be an extremely beneficial experience for all involved and will help increase international cooperation as my generation grows up and assumes the mantles of leadership in our respective countries.

So far, however, I have only talked about the programs that Pittsburg State University has made for students coming to my country as guests. PSU also has made many opportunities for American students to experience internationalization. One way this internationalization can be seen is the use of graduate level students to teach classes; for example Russian language and culture classes are taught by a Russian graduate student from the city of Veronezh, while Korean language and culture classes are taught by a graduate student from South Korea. My physical science class was taught by a graduate student from Palestine and my lab instructor was an Indian student.

Pittsburg State University also encourages, but does not direct the international community of Pittsburg to form cultural associations. These associations have various activities throughout the year to promote awareness of their countries and cultures. For example, each semester the international students have an “International Food Fair” during which they sell tickets which can be redeemed for different foods from different groups—so that an American who has never been outside the States, or an Indian who has never been to Korea can both try the national Korean food “Bul-goh-gi.” They also have various culture days, such as “Korean Culture Day” or “Chinese Culture Day” where the students wear the traditional clothes of their home countries, perform traditional dances, sing traditional songs, and teach about their homelands.

Other opportunities PSU makes for its students are its study abroad and international experience programs. A study abroad program usually is made between an individual student and one of PSU’s sister universities around the world. The Pittsburg student will enroll with one of these universities for a semester or two and live in that country, going to school as a student of the university. For example, I have several friends who are currently doing a semester in our sister universities in South Korea.

An international experience program is very different. Instead of sending an individual student to another university for a longer period, PSU will usually send a small group of students and teachers to one of its sister schools for about two weeks. During this time, the PSU contingent will meet students and teachers from its sister school as well as see various cultural landmarks or historical sites. Since this period is shorter, more emphasis is placed on structured activities and the trip functions much like a tour of the hosting institution’s campus and country.

Both of these options have their merits and drawbacks. Generally, a study abroad program is preferred, since it is a longer time period, allowing for much greater cultural immersion. In fact, this is a requirement for international studies majors, who must spend at least one month abroad, preferably in a country where English is not the primary language. It is not without its drawbacks: a longer stay requires that the student shoulder a greater financial burden and since it is generally in a country where the main language is not English, it requires that the student have experience in other languages, which is not something many Americans have at this point. Indeed, this is a major pitfall, since Pittsburg only offers four languages currently: Spanish, French, Russian, and Korean—and only the first two of these languages have comprehensive programs.

On the other hand, an international experience program generally does not require that the American student be fluent in any language but English, greatly increasing the selection pool for participants. Also, it can sometimes be more desirable since it is shorter and thus generally cheaper. This shortened stay also has the added benefit of allowing students that may have other commitments for their time see other countries without having to spend an entire semester abroad. However, its length also is its major drawback as it means that it is impossible to get a true cultural immersion experience and it also has the hazard of becoming little more than a glorified vacation tour. Personally as a student who is experiencing both of them this summer, I believe that both programs are beneficial to the students who participate in them. It is important however, that we remember their different purposes and use them in that way. Each has its own time and place and can be helpful if used correctly.

One final issue I want to talk about is the idea of the “mobility of students.” I and my friend Jake Meredith are living examples of this, as are the students I met here in Semey last year who participated in programs like “Work and Travel.” The opportunities are there and the people of my generation are taking them. Something that might be overlooked however is the role of the internet in keeping international communication open. Nowadays, for a student to be considered “mobile”, they might not necessarily have to physically visit another country. Two days ago, I went to an internet café, got on an American “networking site” and proceeded to chat in real time with a friend of mine who lives in Kuala Lumpor, Malaysia. After talking with her for a while, I replied to an email of one of the students that I had met on my trip to South Korea who lives in China. I also forwarded a few photos from this trip to one of the Korean students I had met during this trip.

In less than an hour, I had communicated with friends who live in three different countries. Not only have I learned more about Malaysia, China, and Korea (countries I may never get a chance to visit) from my contact with them, but they also learned about Kazakhstan—a country they have never visited. I also used the internet to keep in touch with the students I had met with last year in Kazakhstan. Ideas and knowledge are being exchanged and thus increasing internationalization. This kind of communication will never replace true “mobility” but it does give my generation opportunities that have never been available before.

The world is a changing place and internationalization is an important aspect of this change. If present indicators are any sign, then it will be even more important in the future than it is now. I think that any education system that does not give its pupils opportunities for this is not preparing them for a successful future. Thank you again for your attention and allowing me to speak.

Edit: Just realized i had this twice, so that's why its so long.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Coming from Kazakhstan Update Part II Including Photos


Coming To Kazakhstan: (teaching photo)

Finally I’m getting caught up on the details of our arrival to the K-stan. We arrived that evening around 2130, but my phone didn’t work-too long not using it and so it had been deactivated. Luckily, Jake’s phone got some signal in Almaty (but never in Korea…) so we called Symbat, who was meeting us at the airport with his girlfriend and they got us to a flat the school had for us that evening. It was tough to get all our luggage to fit though-and damn heavy-but that’s partially the school’s fault since we had to bring all those darn books. Dinner that night was burgers, which was kind of funny—I guess they wanted to make us feel at home, not knowing that we had done our darndest to avoid them in Korea.

They weren’t too bad though, quite funny actually—in Kazakhstan they stack ‘em wrong. Go to McDonalds, Burger King, or even just the Dining Hall and look at your burger. It’ll be two pieces of bread, on the bottom you might have some mayonnaise or ketchup, then on top of that, the patty, some cheese, and your veggies—lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles. Kazakhstan they do it completely opposite: on the bottom the lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers (not pickles) then the patty, no cheese, mayonnaise, and ketchup. After dinner, Jake and I cleaned up, but I think that made Alyona (Symbat’s girlfriend) uncomfortable, since we were guests and she’s a girl. In this country it seems that girls generally do all the work and I don’t mean like what women in America do—I mean literally all the work around the home. Alyona made dinner, breakfast, and lunch the next day and tried to do the entire cleanup herself, though at least for lunch we didn’t let her.

That night I got in touch with Leyla, Damy, and Victoria, the girls Jeff, Mark, and I had met last year in Almaty. They came by the next day and were really glad to see me again. I was pretty surprised at how excited they were. It was very good to see them and we had a lot of fun talking and taking photos. Alyona made permini (which is like ravioli, just boiled and eaten with sour cream or mayonnaise—most food here is eaten like that) for the five of us (Leyla, Damy, Victoria, Jake, and myself) and was going to clean up, but I wouldn’t allow her to do that—her and Symbat had left us alone with the Almatians and I didn’t think it was right for them to do that much stuff for my guests. But my high intentions were thwarted when the girls refused to let us do the work of cleaning dishes—women’s work in Kazakhstan and they thought it was too weird for guys to do it.

There’s some culture shock there for me—everyone is extremely hospitable and generous to guests, too much so. I hate being taken care of like that; it makes me feel uncomfortable. Yet, as Danny said to Peachy: “Different Cultures, Different Customs,” and I resolved to try and not make them uncomfortable by refusing their hospitality. That sounds really easy, but it isn’t. Americans (or at least me—I’m doing my best to not over generalize) are not comfortable with people waiting on them like this.

After lunch, I said goodbye to the girls and we hope to hang out a bit before I go back to Korea, but I can’t guarantee anything since I don’t know what Nailia will let me do. Then we headed onto the train and rode for the next eighteen hours to Semey. It was kind of warm on the train—AC isn’t so common here in Kazakhstan and the trains didn’t use it very long. We were lucky when we had it, which wasn’t for very long. The view was interesting, but pretty much standard flatlands and no trees. I spent most of my time shirtless in my bunk (above so the rest of the group didn’t have to look at my hairiness) getting my journal up-to-date, which took a long, long time to do.

We arrived in Semey the next day and were taken to our new flat by Valentina and Zarina, two teachers at our institute who help us out at the school. They showed us our flat and had stocked it with some sausage, bread, cheese, cucumbers, mayonnaise, and tomatoes. We’ve since learned that entire meals can consist only of these items. Many of our meal consist of these items; however, we’ve started to add ketchup to this combination. Turns out there are several kinds of ketchups over here (and types of mayonnaise, but we’re sticking to good old fashioned normal flavor for the time being on that). For the ketchups, I’m particularly fond of a brand called “Baltimore” (no idea why it’s called that, it is from Russia), but pretty much any hot pepper ketchup is good.

We started classes the next day and that hasn’t been easy. I’ve already complained a lot about high expectations from us and how difficult it is to teach, but I’ll just reiterate: I find it difficult to teach English to these people. I’m not sure how you make them talk—especially when some will talk, but others are too shy…just ain’t easy…

We spend a lot of time with the students however, and that is very good. Kazakh people (and I mean as in the nationality, not the ethnicity—you must be careful with that, people get a little offended) are extremely hospitable and kind, especially to guests, so they’re always taking care of us. I feel a little guilty actually, as they will pay for us when we go out, which makes me feel a little bad, because even though the cost of living is cheap, people aren’t paid that much (and not that often; learned it wasn’t uncommon for pay to be withheld for months sometimes) and it can’t be cheap to take us out so often. But different cultures, different customs…

Some of the events we’ve done with the students include going to a beach on the banks of the Irtysh river (the same river that the bloody Chicomms are diverting away in violation of international law, of course—who’s the imperialists now Hai-Xiao?) and having a barbecue, going to various museums and the zoo, hitting a local pizza joint and crashing for some Shashlik at a café nearby, going for a traditional Kazakh dinner at a local restaurant owned by one of our students’ family, and visiting the local military park—the location of the famed “Battle of Semey.”

This park is one of the reasons I enjoy being out here in Kazakhstan so much. Back in the US, they don’t have parks in the middle of a small city that’s just full of old tanks and personnel carriers. And you absolutely are not supposed to climb all over them and a have a great time like you’re nine years old playing army all over again. This place is great dad, you’d have loved it. Several T-64s, a T-34, a Katushya, a BRDM, BTR, a Ural truck, a BMP, a mine clearing vehicle…it’s just wonderful. And you can climb all over the equipment.

So I call it the battle of Semey, since you’ve got two Yanks and a crowd of their followers climbing all over the symbols of the Soviet Union and its military prowess. That day was a great victory for capitalism, freedom, apple pie, and America in general. However, the Red Army did get its licks in—whilst jumping off the BTR, my back pocket got caught on the symbol of Soviet Oppression and the dirty communists ripped my jeans a new one…literally. All is well, however, as one of the students has taken my jeans to sew ‘em up because they’ve got a sewing machine. I wanted to get some practice sewing again, since it’s been a long time since mom showed how to sew by hand and I haven’t had any causes to do so, but the student tells me I’d need a sewing machine to make it stick, so she had to take it.

I’m pretty content here. Life’s not exactly a picnic, but it isn’t too bad. Worst compliant is I’m very nervous about teaching, since our salary is tied to the number of pupils that we have, and it’s been hinted that some students felt very let down by our teaching experience and are not planning to sign up again for the next course. There is one spot of brightness for me however, because Dr. Lee told me that Nailia and the other teachers have been impressed by my effort and my classes and that she’d be extremely happy if I came back to teach the next year. I wish I could, but darn ROTC and the rest of my life.

To be honest, teaching isn’t that bad…and certainly I think that teachers in the US complain WAY TO MUCH. I’m getting by here with no training, no more than a rudimentary knowledge of the specifics of English, students who don’t speak the language as first one and are taking the class to learn it, I’ve had to work Saturdays, I work more hours than they do daily, and I’ve got to balance this whole deal with limited resources on everything. I’ve got exactly one pot, one pan, two regular sized plates, four tea plates, one serving bowl, two regular bowls, two ladles, two spatulas, two forks, two knives, four tea spoons, two serving spoons, one regular sized spoon that Jake stole from Korea, two sets of chopsticks (one a gift from Kyung-Hee University, one stolen by Jake as well), a microwave, and an electric stove with two burners. We don’t have an oven—so that kind of ruins mom’s brilliant idea of giving us those cookies and stuff since the school won’t let us use their ovens. There still might be a way around that; I’ve got to ask the students for help.

Teachers here in Kazakhstan have it much worse than any teacher in the US has it. They do more work, for less money, less prestige, have more responsibilities for their students, and they have to work in the summer term. If I ever hear an American teacher or a student studying to become a teacher complain (I’m remembering the folks on the trip to Russia and their constant griping about it) they’ll have no pity from me whatsoever.

I’m sure you’re all wondering about my status on facebook—yes it is true, I now have cavalry whiskers. It wasn’t an easy process; I decided to grow out all the facial hair first and then shave it after about a week, to make it easier to keep the distinction. Not that it was a mistake, but that’s tough. First its itchy, second—a beard just doesn’t look good coming in and I had to listen to basically every single young woman (and even the older ones) in this country tell me it looked bad and that I should shave it. However, I stood strong and finally cut the stuff off and went into cavalry whisker mode.

Not really sure what I’ll do about it now. The plan was just to go ahead and grow it all summer, but the backlash against growing facial hair was pretty strong—to the point where I decided just to cut the whiskers, get a few pictures and go back to clean shaven. However, reaction to the cavalry whiskers has been a little bit more different than I expected: Jake whom I expected on my side on this one is against it, but a lot of the students are telling me to go for it. Some say that people shouldn’t be afraid of being different (which sounds a lot like saying “Yeah, you look weird, but you should be able to do what you want”), some say that the look is good on me—kind of perfect for my personality: old fashioned. So, I’m not really sure how to take that, but my big problem is I kind of like how I look; yeah its goofy, but when I see myself in the mirror I really feel like I’m getting out there ready to battle the Zulu or head off to relieve Chinese Gordon.

So I think I’ll put it to a plebiscite and let the students decide…but it’s cool…even if I do look extremely goofy. Any thoughts from home?


And one of me teaching: