Author: iremki

Exploring North Korea through Reddit

An auto ethnographic experience into North Korea can be difficult as the rest of the world doesn’t have access to many parts of it. Which is why a subreddit dedicated to pictures of North Korea proved to be an interesting way to delve into this isolated country. The subreddit North Korea Pics is exactly that. Those who have visited the country post a range of pictures of various aspects of day to day life. We began to look into these photos to gain a better understanding of North Korea and what those on Reddit thought about it too. These are the images that stood out to us most – 

 

Pyongyang

This is the capital city of North Korea, Pyongyang. Pyongyang which translates to flatland (Lonely Planet 2017) was basically built from scratch following the Korean War which ended in 1953, so it is a relatively new city with new city with attractions being added in recent years such as a water park (Branigan 2015). Pyongyang is a city of the elite with the population and foreign media coverage being heavily controlled. This would mean that access to this city by journalists is regulated.

This brings us to the point of the actual image itself, how it was photographed and uploaded to the internet. This Reddit thread had users question how this image was uploaded. Through the comments we discovered that North Korea doesn’t in fact use the same internet as us, they have an intranet that excludes sites like Reddit (and most others, excluding these). The user had gone back to China and uploaded this photo however, many users found it hard to believe that this was North Korea and this image is quite beautifully architectural.

 

Propaganda posters for sale

Looking at these solely as works of art, these are really amazing and dynamic illustrations that give off almost a retro vibes. The user who took this image clarified that this was taken at the DMZ where there are stores that tourists are taken to purchase them these posters. In the comments of this thread a lot of others thought had similar thoughts voicing that they would be keen on buying these. It turns out, there are these posters also sold on ebay for around $10, so it doesn’t seem to hard to get your hands on it.

Looking at this image also brought to mind the case of Otto Warmbier, the American student who tried to steal a propaganda poster in North Korea. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and hard labour for the crime. It brings to question that if buying these posters was an option why would you attempt to steal them from a country as strict as North Korea?

 

The Traffic Lady

This image is quite significant as we soon realised that images of traffic ladies were becoming quite common throughout the thread. As we dug a little deeper we found that there are not many traffic lights which is why traffic police are utilised. What was even more interesting was people’s reaction towards the lady traffic police. Reading into the comments we found that these traffic ladies have an almost celebrity status with some strange fetishes surrounding them. It didn’t take long to find fan sites and pages dedicated to these women as well as merchandise made in their honour. They are known to be sexy and handpicked for the role. However their careers as traffic ladies are not too long lived, having to retire by the age of 26 (McLaughlan 2017). These women are iconic symbols of the capital (Gold 2015) and they can often be seen on posters, flyers and billboards as a form of national propaganda.

This set of photos on Flickr is entirely dedicated to the traffic ladies

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

 

 

The Underpass

We found this image so intriguing as people are using this underpass even though there are no cars in sight. Let us be honest, jaywalking here in Australia is something we’ve all done and this interesting form of road crossing is not something we encounter on our streets.  However, it seems that these underpasses are not only used as underpasses. In an article by Evan Onosos, who visited North Korea, it was explained to him that everything has a dual purpose and these underpasses are also used as shelters in the event of nuclear war.In the distance there is a traffic woman to direct traffic but ironically there are no cars. Some comments were saying her job can be easily replaced by just building a roundabout in this intersection.

 

Military Parade Peace

Initially this photo seemed like a really risky one to take. Without much context we found this particularly striking. This was a military parade but the exact context of the image wasn’t apparent. Researching further we found that this was taken from a vlog by Danny Dobson, a British vlogger. It was stated that this was uploaded after leaving North Korea as some Reddit users feared for his safety. This speaks volumes about the perceptions of North Korea and how something as simple as a photograph can be potentially dangerous.

 

School Girls

This image for us creates a sense of normality that many don’t see of North Korea through this couple of school girls. One of the first things you notice is the large sign in the background that almost resembles the Hollywood sign. In the comments a user has translated the sign which says ‘follow your leader to the end of the world’. This really reinforces the totalitarian state of North Korea and emphasis placed on the Kim family.

This image also sparked our interest in the education of North Koreans. In a report by Baret Hathcock, education is a requirement for all North Korean children between the age of 5 – 16. There is a strong emphasis on technology and the sciences and to build train workers for industries, however the main aim of the education system is to promote the communist ideology that North Korea holds.

 

So how did this subreddit thread contribute to our understanding of North Korea? We found that there is so much more to North Korea than what we see and hear in the media. The sense of normality really struck us in some of the images, the architecture, and school kids going about their day. On the other side its unique elements like the traffic ladies and military parades showed us a unique side to North Korea and led us on a journey of epiphanies that enabled us to understand those who live there. Our research allowed us to look past the media depictions and dig further down into the root of North Korea beyond the media perception to appreciate its cultural significance.

 

Presentation

https://prezi.com/z-0vwn1nsyql/north-korea-through-reddit/

References

Branigan, T 2015, ‘Pyongyang is booming, but in North Korea all is not what it seems’, The Guardian, 16 January, viewed 17 October 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/15/-sp-pyongyang-north-korea-kim-jong-un

ELLIS, Carolyn; ADAMS, Tony E.; BOCHNER, Arthur P.. Autoethnography: An Overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 1, nov. 2010. ISSN 1438-5627. Available at: <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>

Gold, J 2015, ‘The Bizarre Fansite Dedicated To North Korean Traffic Girls, Konbini, http://www.konbini.com/us/lifestyle/bizarre-fansite-dedicated-north-korean-traffic-girls/

Hathcock, B 2017, ‘North Korea’, p. 1, MasterFILE Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 4 October 2017

Lonely Planet 2017, North Korea-Pyongyang, https://www.lonelyplanet.com/north-korea/pyongyang

McLauchlan, K 2017, ‘Driven to distraction: How Kim Jong-un’s ‘traffic ladies’ are hired purely for their looks, have to retire at 26 and MUST be single’, Daily Mail Australia, 14 June, viewed 17 October 2017, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4602298/Driven-distraction-Pyongyangs-traffic-ladies.html

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Exploring Chinese Dating Culture

After viewing If You Are the One I was left with many questions and began to dig deep into why the interactions between contestants were so intense and why this show was as popular as it is. Having briefly delved into the numbers in my last post, the sheer number of people watching this show and its popularity demonstrates how interested we are in other people’s relationships. The show is the most viewed dating show in the Chinese speaking world and is produced by the JSBC: Jiangsu Television and began in 2010. As of 2013 it began to air on SBS in Australia in a subtitled version.

Initially the show focused heavily on their financial status and their wealth in terms of material possessions rather than themselves and their lifestyle. This was viewed unfavourably in China and authorities soon stepped in to regulate the show.

While watching the show I found the conversations to be quite direct and to the point. In order to understand this better through Ellis’ autoethnography process I began to look into Chinese dating culture and found that within this culture finding a partner while you are still young is ideal (before 25). However, at the same time dating and relationships are not a great focus while in high school leaving a small time frame where dating is focused on. This means that dating is taken quite seriously along with parental pressures, finding a husband or a wife is the end goal. This explains the intensity of the conversation on the show and why all the contestants are direct and upfront.

In an interview with the show’s host Meng Fei with Lee Lin Chin, he stated that out of the 6000 contestants that have come and gone throughout the years the show has been running, there are only about 40-50 couples and about 300 that are married. So when you break it down, the success rate of the show is definitely not high but it still remains extremely popular. Initially, this baffled me but when you compare this to shows in the West like The Bachelor, it too doesn’t have the best track record, yet we still watch it. Why? Because nosiness is universal, clearly.

In an interview held at Western Sydney University with Meng Fei, he provided interesting insight into the show and its contestants. Meng Fei believes that If You Are the One gives insight into the lives of real Chinese people from different walks of life and their lifestyle, and this is the best way to learn about China as a foreigner. From my own experience of watching If You Are the One I’ve found this to be true as it helps pull apart what those in Asia are looking for not only in relationships but in their life.

Meng Fei gave insight into how the Chinese are taught to say what is correct rather than what they feel or their own opinion. However, this is changing through the younger generation and it can be seen through a show like this as there are more forms of communication and people are more willing to speak their mind. A journal article by Pan Wang discusses the “inventing of traditions’ in a world that is rapidly changing with technology, matching making in China has revolutionized and this in turn has creating new traditions. If You Are the One creates a platform to speak about moral issues that would otherwise not be discussed in China. This has created a gateway into a more modern China that steps away from the traditions that are heavily influential in its culture.  Meng Fei also touched on how traditional roles of males and females were also quite prevalent which is demonstrated often on the show and this is an element of Asian culture that has been heavily engrained through a very long period of time.

Whilst I can’t directly relate to the dating culture of China from my own experience having grown up in Australia and being mainly influenced by Western dating culture, I can understand the core values that the contestants are searching for as they don’t differ too much from my own values. The approach the Chinese take is perhaps a more direct on than in Western cultures but when you consider the background its one that works with their existing ideals.

 

References

Wang, P 2017, ‘Inventing traditions: television dating shows in the People’s Republic of China’, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 504-519

Not Sincere, Don’t Disturb

Image result for if you are the one logo

I’ve never really been a viewer of foreign television. So when I found myself watching “If You Are the One” late one night I was surprised by my own intrigue. I have been watching this Chinese dating show on and off for a while when I come across it on TV and I must say it has become a favourite of mine. SBS is the gateway for me to watch If You Are the One, either live on TV or on demand. Watching live has the added bonus of reading through the live tweets of others watching the episode with you somewhere across Australia, commentating the very thoughts you are also having.

If You Are the One (or it’s literal translation of “Not Sincere, Don’t Disturb”) is a Chinese dating game show that began in 2010 and has highly successful on both a local and international scale. Here’s a quick rundown of the the premise of the show

  • 24 women stand at podiums while a single man attempts to “win” a girl through a series of videos about themselves.
  • The women turn their light off if they are uninterested otherwise they leave it on in hopes he will pick her to take.
  • If multiple girls are interested he gets his pick
  • The couple win a trip to a tropical location

So tonight I settled in to watch an hour long episode as per usual, but this time, really considering the cultural standpoint on dating and how it differs from my Western ideas of dating. 24 women and one man. You would think this would be a weird concept, but let’s be real, we have all seen The Bachelor, and so this really didn’t surprise me. Apparently we all like options.

Watching an episode of If You Are the One I found that the bluntness of both the women, men and hosts the most jarring. I had never experienced this form of dating that at times was quite objectifying of not only the women but the men as well. Despite watching multiple episodes it still surprises me when the conversations are blunt and kind of mean.

Image result for if you are the one

Image result for if you are the one

As part of their series of videos, most of the men have their friends comment on them as a last effort to convince the women to choose him. That’s all well and good but as I watched more and more contestants, and their friend’s comments, I couldn’t help but notice that many tend to focus on their negative attributes and shortcomings. One contestant was described as being naïve and gullible while another was said to be always late. It made me wonder if this was cultural and whether these were the kind of comments they wanted to hear. The girls are more often than not referred to by their number which coincides with the podium that they stand at. This aspect makes the show feel more like a trade deal rather than a dating show because of the lack of personal interaction.

Aside from the many facets of this show I find so different from everything I have known growing up in Australia it is clear that the core values of relationships seem to transcend culture. Trust, loyalty, friendship, love are the values driving the contestants and many seem to find it. I am curious to know what the success rate of these relationships are and whether we should all be getting on board with a more straightforward way of dating rather than sugar coating the things we dislike. The whole encounter was also quite focused on logistics as every contestant had a form of discussion about living in different cities and how these issues would be resolved before they decided to go together. While these are all obviously things dating couples discuss, the way that all of these conversations are condensed into a short amount of time to determine compatibility seems incredibly intense but highly logical.

When a male contestant comes out and introduces himself he is then asked to pick his favourite girl. In the first 10 seconds. What criteria is this based on? Has he seen them before? Does he go based on appearance? Consistently the insanely fast pace of the show is what baffles me. Being a very indecisive person myself I can hardly fathom choosing someone I want to be with in an environment like this.

I am looking forward to researching into the show beyond just the surface and understanding why this has become such a popular show and method of finding a partner. Is it purely cultural or is this something that occurs in other cultures too? There are so many questions and I can’t wait to find the answers.

Understanding Autoethnography

While the term autoethnography is new to me, as I read further into Ellis’ work Autoethnography: An Overview I realised that I have sought out this kind of research subconsciously for a long time to be able to understand cultures that are very different from my own. Autoethnography is a combination of autobiography and ethnography. The combination of the two allow for a culture to be experienced and analysed through personal and interpersonal experiences. Ellis describes how autoethnographers select epiphanies that could only stem from being immersed in a culture and this is what differentiates autoethnography from other methods of research.

Recently I delved into various documentaries and books about North Korea to learn about the country, and more specifically, to try and gain an understanding of how the people of North Korea view the world and their own lives. The most engaging and eye opening of these were the ones that gave first-hand accounts of their experience and expressed their ideas and views about what they were experiencing. Essentially, these epiphanies are what connect us with a culture that others might not be able to experience first-hand. This particular series by Vice is one that engaged with the experience of the North Korean culture to present what they found and how it made them feel from a Westerners point of view.

Autoethnography doesn’t play by a set criteria making it more of a creative process than a scientific one. However, when it comes to understanding cultures a creative understanding allows the audience to connect more with the research. Ellis (2011) states that when using autoethnography the most important questions are –

Who reads our work?

How are they affected by it?

How does it keep a conversation going?

By answering these questions, autoethnographers set their own criteria based on the individual research. While autoethnography can be considered unreliable to some I think in ways it creates more value than traditional research through its emotional connections. Comparing different accounts and different research will help in gaining a holistic view of a culture. I am looking forward to engaging with autoethnography through my own project and allowing myself to let go of the objective method to research that I have become accustom to and explore my personal experiences.

 

Reference

ELLIS, Carolyn; ADAMS, Tony E.; BOCHNER, Arthur P.. Autoethnography: An Overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 1, nov. 2010. ISSN 1438-5627. Available at: <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>

Gojira – An eye opening experience

I’ll be honest, sitting down to Gojira I didn’t expect it to be my cup of tea and had no idea of the parallels it would have to Japan and WWII. My expectations were low but in the end, I was surprised at how much I appreciated it. Having been to Japan and having a huge interest in their culture was the one thing drawing me to this movie and the knowledge I have on Japanese culture made me feel like I understood it a whole lot better. Having a Turkish background as well I can see some similarities between these cultures and this again helped me empathise with these characters even more.

I admit the special effects were a comical element at the beginning and it took time to not focus on it. In saying this there is a turning point in this film where you stop noticing the black and white and the subtitles and become really invested in the storyline. I think amongst our class this became evident and there was a shift from our tweets being humorous to drawing out the plot and message.

I have watched black and white films as well as films with subtitles however I can’t recall having watched a film with both elements together. While I find it more difficult to understand the tone in which dialogue is being said with subtitles I think it was pretty clear for most of the characters throughout (with the exception of Emiko… her emotions confused me more than anything else in the movie).

Having been to Hiroshima recently this film really reinforced how the Japanese people felt about nuclear weapons and World War 2 and demonstrated how raw these events were then and now. It went beyond just a giant lizard attacking people and I found myself getting really into the deeper plot line. For me, this film really voiced the things I had read and seen at Hiroshima. The scene in which a mother was holding her children waiting for death, tore me apart and paralleled the stories about Hiroshima I had heard.

All in all watching Gojira was an eye opening experience and has inspired me to watch more Japanese films. Despite my doubts I have to say it was a pretty great movie.