Palestine Grafities

Le mur est le support idéal d’un graffiti. Celui que construit Israël depuis 2002, dans le but d’isoler les Territoires palestiniens occupés de Cisjordanie, n’échappe pas à la régle. Des graffeurs étrangers et des jeunes artistes palestiniens, viennent défier pacifiquement l’armée israélienne en y peignant leurs revendications.

It’s Not About Speech, It’s About Power

This is the tenth in a series of “Provocations,” a LARB series produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016). All contributors are also participants in the conference.

By David Palumbo-Liu

When asked to contribute a “provocation,” I was at a loss.

For over a year, I have been involved in the case of Steven Salaita, and the way one particular kind of speech — raw, uncensored, morally-outraged tweets expressing disgust and horror at Israel’s attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014 — became a pretext for an even rawer exercise in power. After his tweets became known to an Illinois campus community that had been prepared to welcome him as a tenured professor, several wealthy contributors, aided and abetted by university administrators and trustees, fired Salaita. A year later, many of the administrators had resigned, one under an ethics investigation; a federal court had thrown out the university’s attempt to halt Salaita’s law suit against it; and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, settled the case by awarding Salaita $875,000. These results were greeted as a victory of sorts by Salaita’s supporters, though many of us noted that he still was not reinstated, and that, if anything, attacks on critics of Israel have only increased. As important as this case was, and as its ramifications still are, it did not seem reasonable for me to write about it here, as my views were already more than amply available.

I then thought of focusing on the intertwined topics of “trigger warnings,” “feelings of safety,” and “micro-aggressions” on campus. But I have written a lot already about those, too, in The Huffington Post, on Buzzfeed, and in Salon.

A better approach for Provocations, I decided, was to step back and try to answer a broader question: What links these and other topics dealing with censorship and the stifling of speech? Taking this tack involves the risk of speaking too generally, but it seems useful to take it, in order to get at how, beneath the surface variations, we see recurring issues of historical change and power.

One thing that has changed is that there are now legal, institutional, and other instruments that empower people who without them would be unable to have a hearing. The Freedom of Information Act, for example, allowed Salaita access to key evidence that proved the legitimacy of his case. The use of Title IX to address issues of sexual assault is another historical development that has made it possible for those to be heard who have a grievance of the kind that had previously been largely hidden. Other new tools include the committees on some campuses that consider the ethics of a university’s investments. Recent campaigns for divestment relating to fossil fuels and Palestine have had, thanks to the anti-apartheid campaigns before them, formal, institutional processes to go through.

Access to these new instruments can prove inconvenient for some. At a high-level administrative meeting I attended, for instance, we were talking about trigger warnings, micro-aggression, student speech, campus climate, and divestment — all issues that will be on the floor later at the “What Cannot Be Said” workshop — and one very senior and powerful colleague said, with regard to divestment, “We have to delegitimize those petitions.” I was happy to see that I was not the only person who gasped. After a moment of stunned silence, I said simply: “That would be hard to do, since they are legitimate.”

This brought to mind a speech by Rigoberta Menchu dealing with the early days of her struggle. Even to appear in a state court in Guatemala to give witness, she said, was empowering, regardless of the outcome of the case. This resonates with a claim by Hannah Arendt: “The fundamental deprivation of human rights is manifested first and above all in the deprivation of a place in the world which makes opinions significant and actions effective.”

Some in power now fear more than just the way that specific instruments of Title IX or committees for ethical investment provide a new space for speech. The university itself, since at least the Free Speech Movement of the sixties, has perennially been a place where not only can free speech be debated, but the very nature of the discourse around free speech can evolve, morph, and grow. This is not just due to the fact that different generations of students are bringing different world experiences into that space, as always — it is also because demographically we are finally seeing more students of color, as well as first-generation students, in formerly pretty white, upper and middle-class colleges and universities.

When students take seriously the university’s self-portrayal as a place for debate and difference, and when the value of “diversity” is held up as a positive and essential value in higher education by the US Supreme Court, it is not a little strange when “diverse” perspectives coming from people of color and others are shut down, not necessarily due to the content of their expression, but often largely because of the mode of their expression. The very language that is being used by some just rubs certain people the wrong way, and not just that — it is unseemly language that is not only addressed at them, but also language that demands a response.

Many would not have a problem with students voicing their feelings of discomfort, about being threatened by racism or other things. What they are bothered by are the ways they are themselves being asked to consider their complicity, or responsibility.   I hasten to add that not all of the accusations being made on campuses have merit. But often those who complain about “coddled” students simply assume that because of the mode of expression, the accusation is false. Furthermore, the mainstream media has been utterly shameless about sensationalizing this topic, latching onto the most egregious cases and arguing that it is, for God’s sake, a movement.

As I wrote in my piece in The Huffington Post:

The much-publicized article in the recent Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” opens by setting off the alarm:

Something strange is happening in America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.

It is rather a stylistic feat to riff off the title of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students and at the same time begin one’s article by mimicking the famous beginning of the Communist Manifesto (“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism”). But that is the intent of the two authors, both conservative voices in American academic circles — instead of the Red Scare as seen from the eyes of the marshaled forces of reaction in Europe, we have the Coddled Kids Scare as seen from the eyes of two conservative white males.

This is pretty much the kind of exposition you get throughout the article. Watch out, there is a strange, unorganized, undirected, dangerously contagious “movement” sweeping American’s colleges and universities, striking fear and loathing into every crevice and causing our American minds to shut close. I, too, have a problem with both trigger warnings and micro-aggression-talk. There is no doubt that both present complex and important challenges to us in terms of how we teach and learn on campus. But this article is of very limited use, and in fact its sensationalism and clear bias do the topic a disservice.

The more I hear people of my generation, and some a bit younger, bemoan the strange new world of discourse, the more I recall Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.” He was as right then as he is now — there is something happening and we don’t know what it is. We know we don’t like it because it doesn’t play by our rules. But are isolated and grossly exaggerated incidents worth this huge backlash?

The handwringing brings to mind the sort of things we once heard from the generation of our parents — and thought worthy of mockery due to what seemed to us evidence of a strange sense of priorities and a tendency to grossly oversimplify complex issues. Consider this statement from a 1975 publication of the Trilateral Commission, The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission:

The essence of the democratic surge of the 1960s was a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private. In one form or another, the challenge manifested itself in the family, the university, business, public and private institutions, politics, the government bureaucracy, and the military service. People no longer felt the same obligation to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talents…. Each group claimed its right to participate equally — in the decision which affected itself.

There is no question that the new solidarity between black activists and those protesting the Israeli occupation, between those protesting racism on campus and in Israeli-Palestine, emanates in large part from the fact that both groups understand how power works against them, and how to make use of whatever instruments now afford them some modicum of leverage. One can add those protesting sexual assault and harassment as well.

Finally, there is also of course social media, which allow groups to produce, disseminate, and circulate knowledge and opinion outside the mainstream. The form and the content of this speech are often abrasive, raw, unsettling. That by no means makes this type of expression necessarily good, but neither does it make it necessarily bad.

What we need to do is step away from issues of free speech and expression, and look more carefully, instead, at those who profit from systematized structures of power and privilege, and who refuse to be judged or called to account by those who are now speaking out.

David Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, and Professor of Comparative Literature, and, by courtesy, English, at Stanford University. He has written three scholarly books and edited three academic volumes on issues relating to cultural studies, ethnic studies, and literary theory. His recent books are: The Deliverance of Others: Reading Literature in a Global Age (Duke UP, 2012), and a co-edited volume, Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture (Duke UP, 2011). He is part of the Public Intellectual Project at Truthout, and blogs at The Nation, Salon, The Huffington Post, The Boston Review, and other venues.


The Limits of Tolerance

This is the ninth in a series of “Provocations,” a LARB series produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016). All contributors are also participants in the conference.

By Krista Tippett

FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS a necessary right, worth upholding and defending. But it made more straightforward sense, and was more straightforward in application, in the relatively homogeneous western societies in which it was originally conceived than in the wildly plural, interlinked, technologized, globalized world in which we now find ourselves.

To celebrate “freedom of speech” in simplistic, absolute terms impoverishes the depth of our deliberation, and the possibilities for creating a generative 21st-century global culture. Freedom of speech needs to evolve, just as as our common life is evolving.

The creation of the category of “hate speech” in the U.S. is a kind of acknowledgement of this reality.

The challenge of the present is connected to the limits of “tolerance” as our primary civic virtue for navigating difference. Tolerance, like multiculturalism in Europe, was a baby step towards pluralism in the 1960s, when American culture experienced genuine diversity for the first time — religious, ethnic, racial, and social.

Tolerance sought to control pluralism rather than live it robustly. Tolerance does not embrace difference, interrogate it, honor its complexity. It allows, endures, and indulges. In the medical lexicon, it is about the limits of thriving in an unfavorable environment. Tolerance is still a necessary civic virtue, but it was never big enough from a human, spiritual perspective or a robust ethical perspective. Tolerance doesn’t ask us to engage, much less care about, the stranger; tolerance doesn’t even invite us to understand, to be curious, to be open to be moved or surprised by the other. And how we deal with the “other” has always been the primary moral challenge of human life. In the 21st century’s unparalleled interdependence, rising to this occasion becomes existential, a matter of planetary survival.

Free speech uncoupled from moral accountability gets us Charlie Hebdo; it also gets us Donald Trump. It seems to me important to recall and acknowledge, however unconditionally we continue to condemn violence, that what was acceptable on the pages of Charlie Hebdo would never be condoned in American media.

There is a difference between free speech and shouting fire in a panicked room. The entire Muslim world is, at present, and most reasonably on multiple levels, the equivalent of a panicked room.

A nuanced, enlightened 21st-century virtue of free speech would hold the question of the effects of that speech and honor the virtue of accountability for its results.

While extreme and violent acts committed in the name of religion have created the specter of religion as an oppositional force to free speech, the robust civic culture we need could be informed by what religion attempts at its best – a fusion of word and deed; of ideal held in a practical, creative tension with a frankness about human realities, and underpinned by virtues like humility, hospitality and care for the needy, the outcast, and the stranger.

Krista Tippett hosts the national public radio program “On Being” (formerly “Speaking of Faith”), which takes up the great animating questions of human life: What does it mean to be human? And how do we want to live? Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times bestselling author. In 2014, she received the National Humanities Medal at the White House for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.” She will participate in the conference Freedom of Expression in a Changing World: What Cannot Be Said.

A Provocation by Ann Telnaes


This is the eighth of a series of “Provocations,” produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016), scheduled to coincide with the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. All contributors are also participants in the conference. As the notion of “provocations” suggests, these contributions, like the cartoons below by Ann Telnaes, are not the opinions of the editors of LARB; if you feel provoked, please leave a comment.

Ann Telnaes creates animated editorial cartoons and a blog of print cartoons, animated gifs, and sketches for the Washington Post. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for her print cartoons. She is one of five cartoonists on a panel at the conference.


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Paju Book City, the Korean Town All About Reading (and Publishing, Printing, Browsing, Buying…)

By Colin Marshall

Twenty to one — you often hear that ratio brought up in discussions of Paju Book City, in which, so the legend has it, twenty books reside for every human being. That exact number has to have origins in the art of guesstimation, but still, it gets the point across. As its name might suggest, Paju Book City is dedicated to one set of purposes above all else: the printing, publishing, distribution, sale, purchase, and consumption of the printed word. But its builders have also pitched it as “a City to Recover Lost Humanity,” presumably the humanity so many state-of-Korea-bemoaners see as having been mercilessly wrung out of the country by its rapid and deep industrialization of the second half of the twentieth century, disfiguring the country with the uncouth, disorderly urban landscapes left in its wake.

Paju Book City’s English-language brochure gives you an idea of the emotions behind the project: “Cities filled with disorganized urban planning, chaotic road networks and buildings and a welter of signboards directly reflect our distorted life. Such distorted urban scenes give negative impact on our already arduous life, creating a vicious circle, which exacerbates us ceaselessly. Why was such an urban shambles created? When did such disordered architecture and urban planning come to us? It is because we lost the sense of common ground and value.”

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Though the text adds that this happens in “any cities of Korea,” it takes no great feat of mind-reading to understand which distorted, signboard-weltered, ceaselessly exacerbating urban scene, exactly, the writer had in mind. And so Seoulites seeking a restorative dose of humanity can simply catch a bus, ride for between 40 and 80 minutes, traffic depending, and step out into this city purpose-built to provide it.

First proposed in the 1980s, planned and constructed in the 1990s, and opened in stages in the 2000s, Paju Book City occupies a bit of the copious amounts of land available in Paju, a former military area just south of the North Korean border. Its recent development and the wide-open space available for that development allowed for a kind of planning unthinkable in the capital: the kind of planning that can divide the city up into “publishing districts,” “printing districts,” and “support districts,” that can lay down stiff architectural guidelines, and that can try to replicate the qualities Wales’ tiny “book town” of Hay-on-Wye.

On some levels, Paju Book City would seem to make a ripe target of ridicule, especially in the contrast between the grandness of its self-description and the modestness of its real existence as a single-industry suburb, and a remote one at that. But I still find it an intriguing place to visit, as do many Korean tourists. Come on a weekend and it may at first seem completely uninhabited, its many publishing company offices (the firms having received strong encouragement to relocate there, or at least open a branch) and scattering of art galleries shuttered, but the closer you get to the the central Asia Publication Culture & Information Center complex, the more signs of life you see.

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The beating heart of Paju Book City takes the form of its Forest of Wisdom, a 24-hour library stocked to the ceiling with hundreds of thousands of books donated for anyone to read and staffed by ladder-climbing volunteer “book recommenders” (권독사). Weekends see the dozens and dozens of tables in its cafe packed by readers, many of them families with young children. In its capacity as something of a theme park of letters, Paju Book City also offers a attractions geared directly toward youngsters, such as a Pinocchio Museum containing, for whatever reason, a Paddington Bear-themed gift shop.

Adults in a more soul-searching mood can opt for a visit to Café Hesse, one of quite a few coffee shops in Paju Book City, but the only one inspired by the author of Siddhartha, Demian (an oddly popular novel here in Korea), and Steppenwolf. Other book cafés have different themes and specialties — not that their drink menus vary much — but all of them make use of the space afforded them in this accommodating location to surround their customers with as many volumes as possible. In a sense, the coffee comes free; you just pay to drink it in a space filled with books.

Korean book culture has an aesthetic dimension that I haven’t noticed to quite the same extent in American book culture, whose products, on the whole, feel more generically assembled. Plenty of specialty presses exist in the West which take great care with their design, their paper, their binding, and so on — that take books seriously as objects, in other words — but that sensibility seems to extend farther across the smaller publishing landscape of Korea. At some point, of course, this can get ridiculous: “Why do I need to know the quality of the ink on my chick lit?”  a Korean friend once rhetorically asked after I praised the bookmaking practices of her homeland.

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Without wanting to overstate the point, I get the sense that books have retained a certain talismanic power in Korea, this most internet-connected of all modern societies. Koreans may not regard themselves, in the main, as intellectuals (I often think of the story of a foreigner who came to study Korean thought, only to have the people he met look quizzically at him and respond, “But we don’t have any thought”), but the idea that you might get an intellectual charge merely from the presence of books still has some currency here. The same notion no doubt got all those midcentury American households buying the complete set of Mortimer Adler’s Great Books of the Western World.

Many of those color-coded copies of Homer, Thucydides, Shakespeare, Gibbon, and Ibsen went unread, but they certainly contributed something to the décor. Paju Book City’s visitors really do seem to enjoy reading the books they have pulled off the shelves in the Forest of Wisdom, and they buy books from the nearby dealers with even greater fervor. Even those who don’t care about reading at all, or foreigners with no knowledge of the Korean language, can spend a fun day in this highly explorable, conceptually unusual, and — what with all the specially commissioned sculpture and architecture — visually fascinating place. I enjoy Korean books myself, but when when my own time comes to return to Seoul, I have to admit I feel ready to be exacerbated.

You can follow Colin Marshall at his web site, on Twitter @colinmarshall, or on Facebook. Catch up on the Korea Blog’s archives here.

Qin Hui cover

Out of Autocracy, Off the Shelves

By Jeremiah Jenne

It is an unfortunate axiom of publishing in China that the best way for your book to gain international attention is to have the Chinese government make it unavailable to domestic readers. Such is the fate of Out of Imperial Autocracy (Zouchu dizhi), the latest book by the eminent public intellectual and economic historian Qin Hui, published earlier this year.

International coverage of the ban has focused on the book’s treatment of constitutionalism in modern Chinese history. It is a timely topic. The question of whether the Chinese Communist Party should be subject to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China has become a third rail for writers and academics in the Xi Jinping era. The banning of the book so close to the government-promoted “Constitution Day” holiday, as well as the recent trial of free speech advocate Pu Zhiqiang, have put China’s constitution in the spotlight. But while Qin Hui does discuss constitutionalism, he does so in the context of a much larger and wider-ranging assessment of the political transformations in China from the late-19th into the early-20th centuries.

Out of Imperial Autocracy is a collection of essays on modern history, many of which appeared previously in mainstream publications in China on the occasion of recent centennials: The 1911 Revolution, the outbreak of World War I (1914), and the beginnings of the New Culture Movement (1915). Articles on the Taiping Rebellion and Sino-Japanese relations round out the collection. The result is nothing less than an overview of Chinese modern history by one of China’s most celebrated intellectuals and gifted polymaths.

Given the wide range of topics reconsidered, Qin Hui’s perspectives on constitutionalism may not be as objectionable from the point of view of government censors as some of the other positions taken in the book. What is interesting is why these arguments are now sufficiently controversial to have the book removed from the shelves when most had already been published in one form or another.

In recent years, China’s leaders have made it clear that they are in an all-out ideological war against the intrusion of Western values into the Chinese political system. The banning of Qin Hui’s book, and the continuing pressure on academics in China, is evidence that the government is not only looking out for views that radically depart from party orthodoxy, but is now no longer willing to tolerate any view that does not seamlessly fit with set narratives on a range of issues, among them history. In the past year, there has been a concerted campaign by Party publications and officials attacking “historical nihilism,” defined broadly as, “anything that challenges the historical orthodox that depicts the Party as the decisive force in the Chinese people’s struggle for independence and liberation from suppression.” As the party continues to rebrand old ideological terms, think of it as Anti-Revisionism 2.0.

Space does not permit looking in depth at all of the argument presented in this collection, but a few topics have attracted particular attention in the press and by reviewers.

If one thread can be traced throughout the collection, it is the question of how to proceed away from the imperial autocratic system and toward a republic in the early 20th century. Qin Hui argues that in Chinese history, there have been only two significant political transformations. The first was the move from the feudalism of the Zhou Period (1122-256 BCE) to the autocracy of the state of Qin (256 BCE-220 BCE), which marked the beginning of the imperial system. The second was in 1911, when a Republican revolution swept the Qing Dynasty from power and brought that same system to an end after nearly 2000 years.

The first transformation, from Zhou to Qin, lasted nearly 100 years. For Qin Hui, there is little coincidence that China today remains caught in the grip of the equally momentous second transformation that began just over a century ago.

Qin Hui concedes that the the 1911 transition out of autocracy did not fulfill the ideals of the revolutionaries insofar as a constitutional government failed to take hold in China. But was it a total loss? Viewed in demographic terms, the revolution avoided the calamitous population drops of early dynastic transitions. In the realm of foreign affairs, between 1911 and 1945, China went from being under the thumb of foreign treaties to a member of the UN Security Council. Surely, Qin Hui argues, that must count for something?

In fact, in one of the more controversial sections, Qin Hui argues that when the Chinese people famously “stood up” with Mao Zedong in 1949, it was not against foreign imperialism, as later PRC interpretations have emphasized. Instead, he contends, the people were taking a collective stance against the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek. The Communists promised a system more in keeping with the ideals of the 1911 revolution, a move away from autocracy of the Nationalists and the corruption associated with their one-party rule. The appeal of the Communists, ironically, was the fulfillment of a 30-year dream of democracy.

Looking back then, the political fate of the 1911 revolution was not predetermined by cultural or historical circumstance. In today’s revolution-averse ideological climate, many scholars argue the revolution failed because it tried to do too much, too fast. Qin Hui feels that gradual reforms were unlikely to dislodge imperial autocracy; he argues that constitutional monarchies develop out of feudalism, as in the case of the British parliamentary system or the Meiji Restoration in Japan. Entrenched autocracies, such as those found in Russia and China, require revolutions. But are revolutions any more radical than reforms or political evolution? Perhaps not, answers Qin Hui. The 1911 Revolution was relatively bloodless by the standards of Chinese history and world revolutions, while the founding of a constitutional monarchy in Japan resulted in bloody civil wars and ultimately led to an aggressive militarist state.

Qin Hui can find autocracy and Legalism lurking everywhere. It can even bring together strange bedfellows in modern Chinese history, like the pseudo-Christian rebels of the Taiping kingdom, whom Qin Hui sees as carrying on the anti-intellectualism of the Qin period, and the vehemently anti-Christian pro-regime insurgents of the Boxer Uprising, who were rebels in support of the imperial order.

Systems matter. The transitions of Chinese history, whether from Zhou to Qin two millennia ago or out of autocracy in 1911, succeeded or failed based on the suitability of the systems for that historical moment.

Qin Hui focuses on systems because in his estimation systems can be judged as being either superior or inferior, whereas cultures, whether comparing ancient and modern or Eastern and Western, cannot be judged the same way. As he explains,

You may play basketball, and I may play ping-pong. The sports themselves cannot be defined good or bad. We cannot say that basketball or ping-pong is superior to the other. But the rules of the game can be judged good or bad. If in the rules of a sport, only one side gets to serve, or the referees may also participate as players, or if one team is allowed six players and the other team only three, no matter if we are playing basketball or ping-pong, then we must hold these rules to be of poor quality.

The Chinese Communist Party considers itself locked in an existential ideological struggle with the West. It regards even the idea of universal values as anathema to its own ideological survival. As a bulwark against these attacks, party ideologues have deployed shields of cultural and national exceptionalism. Their argument is that China exists as it is because that’s the way it was meant to be. Qin Hui’s separation of culture and systems knocks against the very foundations of this tautology.

While such arguments do not have the sex appeal of a scholar calling openly for the Party to submit to constitutional rule, the ability to disrupt entrenched historical narratives presents just as grave an ideological challenge. In China, history is taught as a set of facts. The answer is “A” or “B.” The idea that history can be composed of multiple — and often competing and contradictory — perspectives counter to the CCP’s attempts to control public opinion.

While copies of Out of Imperial Autocracy are still to be found by laboriously browsing through China’s e-commerce platforms (searches for the book by title invariable come up empty or say the book is out of stock), Qin Hui and his publishers have confirmed that the book is banned for now. Qin Hui has a way of simplifying complex narratives while complicating seemingly simple assumptions. Hopefully his book, a tour-de-force by one of China’s most intelligent, engaging and challenging intellectuals, gets the readership it deserves.


Pico Diary

By Jon Wiener

A caravan of four Stanford football buses roars down Pico Boulevard with a police escort — in town for the Rose Bowl. I stand at the corner with a delivery guy from the Domino’s Pizza down the block — he’s an older Latino man.

He asks, “Is it Obama?”

Obama did come by a couple of months ago.

“No,” I say, “It’s Stanford.”

“But why?” he says, pointing to the motorcycle cops with the flashing red lights stopping traffic.

“This is football,” I tell him. “This is America.”

He shakes his head sadly.


At the newsstand next to the McDonald’s, I ask the Turkish girl who works there what’s happening. “What’s happening is Playboy,” she says. “Everybody is buying. Because it’s going to be the last nude issue. We are always sold out. One man just bought 200 copies. I guess he’s going to sell them on eBay or something. I checked eBay today — normally they are $12, but now they are $25 — for the current one. My boss raised the price — from $10 to $15.95. He put a new sticker over the old price. Today I got ten more copies, but I think they are going to be finished again.”



A homeless guy with a dog has camped out on Pico near the pet store — he has one of those Booth dogs, white with a black ring around one eye. He’s a young black man, in pretty good shape for a homeless person. It’s a cold morning, and he has the dog in a stylish blue-and-white striped T-shirt. He also has a little stuffed penguin, obviously for the dog, but actually it’s a child’s toy. And he has a dog food dish. I give him some money. He becomes animated and charming, and wants to explain things. “I used to in a gang,” he says. “My father was a Black Panther. But I decided to take another road.” Then he points to his little camp as if it were a good thing.

He motions to the pet store, holds up the money, and says, “I noticed that they have little socks in there. I’m going to get some for my dog.” He says, “I had another dog, a puppy, but they took it away.” Then he says, “You don’t know what you did today, but I know why it happened.” He looks at me out of the corner of his eye and says with a big smile, “He’s always watching me.”


Jon Wiener lives south of Pico, near the Pep Boys at Manning Ave.

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Why Is Korean So Hard?

By Colin Marshall

The summer after my freshman year of high school, I took a short computer programming class. Getting up to speed in C, the programming language of the day, looked like a daunting task, but the instructor reassured us: “Look, guys, I don’t expect you to learn C in two weeks any more than I’d expect you to learn Korean in two weeks.” I took his point, but the specific comparison baffled me: sure, great, but who on Earth would choose to learn Korean?

Now, living in Korea myself more than fifteen years later, I realize that I’d have done much better to take a class in Korean than that class in C, which even when it interested me I could never get much of a handle on. But at the time, Korean struck me as a hilariously obscure language to bring up: why not Japanese, at which I’d tried my hand a couple years before out of my love of Japanese video games without seriously imagining ever being able to comprehend it, or Chinese, which some Americans surely wonder, deep down inside, whether the Chinese themselves can understand?

I didn’t give a another thought to that programming teacher’s remark until the year after college, as I hung around and plowed through all the Korean movies available at the university media library, eventually starting to suspect I could teach myself a thing or two about their language if I put my mind to it. Some time earlier, I’d learned the one thing about Korean that everyone who knows only one thing about Korean knows: its written language, known as hangul (한글), is just an alphabet with letters arranged into blocks, not a logographic language like Chinese (or the adapted-from-Chinese characters used in Japanese) which requires a massive amount of memorization even to approach functionality.

And so, during idle moments at work, I began studying Korean, a language expressed in what one often hears described as “the most scientific writing system in the world,” as if the linguists of all nations had with one voice declared it so. Those words, as far back as I can trace them, came from Edwin O. Reischauer, U.S. Ambassador to Japan and co-creator of the old McCune-Reischauer Korean romanization system. If any language has no need for romanization systems, it’s Korean: they tend to get mixed together in practice, none reflect the actual pronunciation very well, and you can get each and every one of the real letters down with only a modest layout of time and effort.

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“A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over,” declared King Sejong the Great, who commissioned the creation of hangul in the 15th century. “A stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.” A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but the height of Korea’s literacy rates more or less bear it out. For many Korean-learners, the speed and intuitiveness with which they learn hangul gives them a sense that the rest of the language will come easy — a false sense, as it turns out. Even after the first four or five years I spent studying, and even when I knew all the relevant vocabulary and grammar, I still couldn’t understand anything actual Koreans said to me.

Now, with at least eight years of studying under my belt, many Korean classes taken, hundreds of hours logged with Korean podcasts, Korean videos, and Korean speaking partners, and a fair few Korean books read (some, even, without pictures!), I can get a bit of conversational traction. I still have a long way to go, but when I look back at all those years filled with waves of frustration during which any reasonable person would have put the language away and never picked it up again, I do finally feel confident that my obsessiveness will see me through.

Living in Korea speeds the learning process, no doubt, but it’s far from a guaranteed road to proficiency. “One of the things that distinguishes the expatriate community here from the expatriate community in Japan and China, even now, is that the percentage of foreigners who learn the Korean language is much lower,” said the Busan-based American North Korea analyst Brian Reynolds Myers when I interviewed him last year. “If you go to Beijing, I think I’m correct in saying that the average long-term expatriate speaks pretty good Chinese — certainly good by my standards. In Japan as well, I’ve heard a lot of expatriates speaking Japanese to a higher degree of fluency even than the foreigners here in South Korea who are so famous for their Korean skills that they’re on TV every week.”

One part of the problem, according to Myers, is that “the Koreans do not demand Korean language skills. I’ve often had Koreans apologize to me for not being able to speak English, and I always have to say, I’m the one in Korea, I’m the one who should be apologizing.” Another is that “people do not come here with the intention of living here for a long time. Korea is not a country that foreigners fall in love with to the extent that they fall in love with China or Japan. You get foreigners who come here thinking they’re going to stay for one year, and that becomes two, three, and after a while they’ve been here six or seven years, and they’ve just got this survival Korean.”

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All this creates an environment not especially conducive to mastering the language. Still, I seize every practice opportunity that comes my way, and that often, when speaking with a stranger, results in the same question: “Why are you interested in Korea?” The acknowledged catalysts for an interest in Korea include pop music, television dramas, movies, food, money (especially the making thereof as an English teacher), and professional computer gaming, but the most truthful answer I can give — the one that most fully accounts for why I’ve come to live here — is the language itself, which few Koreans ever seem to accept.

Some of that disbelief may owe to the difficulty of the Korean language, or rather the difficulty Koreans imagine it visits upon the non-native speaker. But even though Koreans know their language is hard, they don’t usually know why. For some reason, almost all of them cite the example of how many different words it has to express colors, especially the color yellow. (Taxi drivers who want to regale you with the magnificence of the Korean language will say the same.) But this cultural meme, no matter how widespread, has little to do with the very real walls a Korean-learner keeps running into, no matter how long they’ve studied.

“The problem for me is the lack of a really developed grammar that I can rely on,” said Myers. “The first foreign language I learned was German, and one of the things I love about German is that it gives you a bunch of rules you need a year to memorize, and you follow the instructions pretty much without exception. But in Korea, you’re constantly coming up against things that are a question of feeling. My Korean teacher and I, we just come close to strangling each other every week because she cannot explain to me why something sounds funny — it just does. I get the impression you really need to have heard every single sentence, at some stage, in order to generate a similar sentence in the future.”

Another of the reasons so few Koreans buy my story about the language attracting me here may come from one of its qualities that most fascinates me, and one that stands out to any native speaker of English, which can afford to make no assumptions about speaker or listener. Korean, to a degree unique among any of the languages of my acquaintance, is inherently geared toward not just one nation but one ethnicity, embedding the assumption that both speaker and listener are Korean into its very vocabulary. The words hangugeo (한국어) and hangugmal (한국말) refer to the language itself, but more commonly, you hear uri mal (우리 말) — “our language.”

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If I referred to English as “our language,” nobody, including me, would know whom I meant as the we. (I’ve tried doing so to Koreans as a joke, but they never get it.) Anyone who hears and understands the word uri, however, knows exactly the we in question. Sometimes it gets romanized as woori — Korean romanization, again, not being known for its iron consistency — which you might recognize from the names of such Los Angeles Korean businesses as Woori Market and Woori Bank. Listen for the word in Korea and you hear it all the time, especially in the media, where, as often as you hear the actual name of Korea, you hear uri nara (우리 나라) — “our country.”

This sort of thing goes as deep as you want to look for it, but other fairly obvious examples (not that I stopped to consider them until a friend with more experience in the language pointed them out) include words like hanbok (한복) which refers to traditional dress of 1392 to 1897’s Joseon dynasty but literally means just “Korean clothes”; the aforementioned hangul, which literally means just “Korean writing”; and hanu (한우), which refers to the species of cattle bred here but literally means just “Korean cattle.” That the language adheres so closely to the land hardly comes as a surprise, since no country outside the Korean peninsula speaks it, but that aspect sometimes makes it seem a category apart from such less insular languages as English, Spanish, or French (or even, in some respects, the pretty damned insular Japanese).

Does the resultant feeling of non-inclusiveness put off foreigners who would have otherwise thrown themselves into the study of Korean? (As one longtime Korea-resident Westerner once put it to me, his speaking just a few words of Korean often draws a “How do you know our secret code?”-type reaction from the locals.) Or does more of it come down to the fact that, in time, a foreigner can too easily convince himself — working in English among only the highly educated, socializing in expat bars, letting his Korean wife take care of business — that he doesn’t need the Korean language in Korea?

Before moving here, I most feared the prospect of turning into exactly that kind of foreigner. Maybe that very fear motivated me to study Korean for eight years before arriving. I’ve hardly learned all the Korean I need to know yet, and certainly not all the Korean I want to know, but the more I learn — and I make a point of learning on a daily basis — the fuller a life I lead. The language has only become more fascinating with time and knowledge, and so I wonder whether Korea, a country always looking for pieces of itself to market to the outside world, might one day start putting as much energy into promoting uri mal as it puts into marketing bibimbap, Hyundai and Kia cars, or Girls’ Generation. And given the country’s zeal for English-language slogans, how about this? The Korean Language: Don’t Stay Here Without It.

You can follow Colin Marshall at his web site, on Twitter @colinmarshall, or on Facebook. Catch up on the Korea Blog’s archives here.


Chilling Debate

This is the seventh in a series of “Provocations,” a LARB series produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016). All contributors are also participants in the conference.

By Nadine Strossen

AT AN IOWA TOWN HALL MEETING last September, President Obama strongly championed campus free speech, even for “language that is offensive to African Americans, or … sends a demeaning signal towards women.” He also repudiated “the idea that you’d have somebody in government making a decision about what you should think … or what you should be taught, and if it’s not the right thought … that … they wouldn’t get funding.” He continued: “I guess that might work in the Soviet Union, but … [t]hat’s not who we are.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was accompanying the President, endorsed these remarks with an unqualified “Amen.”

Apparently unbeknownst to the President and his Education Secretary, officials in their Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) have been doing precisely what they deplored: deciding what is not the “right” thought, and wielding the federal funding power to censor the very kinds of “offensive” or “demeaning” expression that the President explicitly defended against censorship.

Violating core First Amendment principles and Supreme Court precedents, which secure freedom even for “the thought that we hate,” starting in 2010 OCR has issued a series of mandates that strong-arm campuses into defining as punishable harassment a broad range of constitutionally protected expression about “race, color, national origin, sex, or disability.” Contrary to Supreme Court rulings, OCR considers expression to be harassing even if it is not directed at a specific individual, does not involve any intent to harm, and would not offend a reasonable person.

Directly violating these important First Amendment precepts, OCR has pressured campuses to define as punishable sexual harassment any expression about sex that anyone might find “unwelcome” – no matter how unreasonable, or even outright irrational, that subjective reaction may be.

While OCR pays lip service to free speech in some of its pronouncements, too many others encourage schools to err in favor of suppressing speech. Given OCR’s power to charge, investigate, and discipline colleges and universities – including by withdrawing the federal funding that is such a key part of their budgets – it is not surprising that even the best-endowed schools are capitulating to OCR pressure and defining as punishable harassment any expression about important but sensitive topics, including race and gender, that any student might find offensive.

As noted by many respected scholars and activists – including feminists and civil rights lawyers – this distorted definition of harassment not only deviates from Supreme Court decisions about what expression may constitutionally be punished as such, but also undermines OCR’s critically important anti-discrimination mission. After all, as campus activists in the Black Lives Matter and anti-sexual assault movements remind us, meaningful reform requires candid in-depth conversations about race, sex and gender.

President Obama made precisely this point in a November interview: “Being … an activist, involves hearing the other side and … engaging in a dialogue because that’s … how change happens. The civil rights movement happened because … the leadership … consistently … sought to understand the views, even views that were appalling to them, of the other side.”

President Obama likewise has repeatedly championed the time-honored First Amendment precept that the appropriate response to speech we might deem offensive or even hateful is not to suppress it, but rather to refute it. As he said at the Iowa town hall meeting: “Anybody … you disagree with, you should have an argument with them. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, `I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’”

Again, the President and his Education Secretary would presumably be dismayed to learn that their OCR has been pressuring campuses to enforce policies that do in fact suppress disfavored ideas – and that, consequently, also suppress the all-important debate about those ideas.

Under OCR influence, campus officials have exercised “zero tolerance” toward any potentially provocative expression about gender and sex, even as part of serious academic discussions. Officials have said that they are required at least to investigate all student complaints about comments that make them feel “uncomfortable” or “unsafe.” That was the reason that Northwestern University gave for carrying out a months-long Star Chamber-like investigation, in 2015, of feminist film studies professor Laura Kipnis because of an article she wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Ironically, her article critiqued the distorted concept of sexual harassment that OCR has enforced.

Even beyond the many instances where constitutionally protected speech has been punished on campus, thanks to OCR edicts, there are countless instances where those edicts have triggered self-censorship. This point was made in 2014 by Harvard Law Professor Janet Halley, a prominent feminist scholar and activist. Harvard, which was then undergoing an OCR investigation, adopted OCR’s unconstitutionally overbroad concept of illegal sexual harassment. As Halley wrote:

[To the OCR], … academic freedom, the very lifeblood of education and research, appear[s] not to register as important at all. … Classroom instruction [and] academic debate … can and will … become the basis of complaints and sanctions. … Chill is already happening. Teachers at Harvard, alarmed by the policy’s expansive scope, are jettisoning teaching tools that make any reference to human sexuality.

To again quote President Obama’s town hall meeting statements, OCR’s tactics “might work in the Soviet Union, but … [t]hat’s not who we are.” The President has pledged to vigorously exercise executive power during this late stage of his administration. All defenders of academic freedom should urge him to do so to ensure that OCR’s overreaching rules are replaced with speech-respectful policies that do actually reflect “who we are.”

Nadine Strossen, a professor of law at New York Law School, has written, lectured, and practiced extensively in constitutional law, civil liberties and international human rights. She served as President of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991 to 2008, and was the first woman to head the nation’s oldest and largest civil liberties organization. The National Law Journal has named Strossen one of America’s “100 Most Influential Lawyers.” Her book Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights was named by the New York Times a Notable Book of 1995. She will participate in the conference Freedom of Expression in a Changing World: What Cannot Be Said.

Four Provocations by Matt Bors

This is the sixth of a series of “Provocations,” produced in conjunction with “What Cannot Be Said: Freedom of Expression in a Changing World” a conference cosponsored by UCI, USC, and UCLA (January 22 -24, 2016), scheduled to coincide with the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. All contributors are also participants in the conference. As the notion of “provocations” suggests, these contributions, like the cartoons below by Matt Bors, are not the opinions of the editors of LARB; if you feel provoked, please leave a comment.

Matt Bors is a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist and editor based in Portland, OR. He is the founder of the comics site The Nib and previously worked at Medium. Bors was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for his political cartoons, which appear regularly in The Nation, Portland Mercury, and on Daily Kos and Foreign Policy. He will participate in the Freedom of Expression in a Changing World conference.










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Looking for Mexican Food in Seoul (or, the Strange Case of Hoover Taco)

By Colin Marshall

I, like anyone else who has lived in Los Angeles, hesitated to leave the city for one reason above all others: where would I get decent Mexican food? This might sound like a trivial concern, and one already addressed by Our Globalized Century, but an Angeleno needs not go far out of town any direction but south to realize just how good he has it. Seeing the world teaches us lessons we couldn’t learn any other way, and each new country I experience teaches me one in particular, more powerfully every time: Mexican food doesn’t travel.

The fact that while living in Los Angeles I forgot about the very existence of hard-shell tacos (a southern Californian invention, ironically) says all you need to know about the glories of eating Mexican there. Or rather, I’d forgotten until I went to Copenhagen and ordered, at typically great expense, one of their interpretations of that signature south-of-the-border street food. Out came a hard shell, of course — for what other kind of taco shell could there be? — made to shatter into a dozen pieces at the first bite, filled with watery ground beef smothered in mounds of sour cream topped with stiff orange shredded cheese: a culinary vision straight out of my elementary school days, but reincarnated in such comically huge proportions that it actually required the use of the knife and fork provided.

And so I made my peace with a lack of proper Mexican food in Korea even before I first came to visit. Still, that didn’t stop me from joining in on a trip to a local place called Dos Tacos right away, where, having learned my lesson back in Denmark, I ordered not dos tacos (or even un taco), but opted instead for — and I still don’t know if I made the selection in the spirit of curiosity, self-flagellation, or both — something called a 나초피에스타, or “nacho fiesta,” about which the less said the better, suffice it to say that its warmed Cheez Whiz sent me right back down the terrible Proustian path to the fourth grade.

But who in their right mind comes to a place like Korea, with its own robustly developed (and, to my palate, almost unfailingly delicious) culinary traditions, looking for Mexican food? For a long time nobody did, until Westerners started coming in force (meaning coming to constitute the small non-Chinese part of South Korea’s two-percent foreign population) and bringing their longings with them. This holds especially true for my fellow Americans: the military-affiliated ones have long satisfied their various cravings on or near the base, but the growing number of young English teachers have increasingly arrived expecting to find the same things they enjoyed at home just as available here.

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For most of them, though, “home” isn’t Los Angeles; it’s Seattle or Denver or Milwaukee or Boston, or more likely their suburbs, places where the Taco Bell-Taco Time axis of evil or the sort of restaurants to which you go for Chimichanga Plate #2 and a giant margarita set a sad standard. And so Korea has, for the most part, adopted that bland tradition, and sometimes gone all in for it. Not only do they have Taco Bell and clones of Taco Bell here, they have “Mexican week” at their Outback Steakhouses, a cultural-commercial intersection that sends the mind reeling.

Korea — or let’s say Seoul, which gets everything first anyway — began with no Mexican food, graduated to unappealing Mexican food, and has now reached the stage where, though you still can’t and probably never will be able to reliably enjoy a meal standing at a randomly selected lonchería, boasts a fair few spots offering reasonably good meals that do indeed bear some resemblance to Mexican food. But I wonder: why hasn’t Mexican caught on more in Korea than other genres of foreign food? Given its easy street edibility, its tendency toward spiciness, and its utter dependency on meat and other animal products, you’d think it would be right up the Koreans’ alley.

But it turns out that a lot of them hate cilantro. I realized this the third or fourth time a waiter or cashier taking my order at a Korean Mexican place asked me whether I wanted it included in my food, a question that at first I no more expected to hear than the question of whether I wanted cumin. But clearly they’ve had complaints before. Ask around, and you find that a surprising number of Koreans share a revulsion for this herb so essential to Mexican food’s appeal, usually described in the same terms: “It tastes like soap.”

While part of me believes that Mexican food without cilantro doesn’t count as Mexican food at all, another part believes that few worse fates can befall a cuisine than to receive the protection of the authenticity police. (How often, nowadays, do you go out for a memorable French meal?) And so the space for not a watered-down but a genuinely Koreanized Mexican cuisine still looks promising to me; Angelenos familiar with Roy Choi’s Kogi trucks (as if any other kind of Angeleno exists) know just how well it can work from the other direction.

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I recently tried a bit of that at a one-man shop called Habanero (하바네로), from whose one man I ordered a squid burrito. He asked the usual question about whether I wanted cilantro, and when I said I did, he put plenty in. He asked the other usual question about whether I wanted it spicy — the usual question for foreigners, anyway, though still an odd thing to have to ask given his eatery’s very name — and when I said I wanted it very spicy, he made it so, not quite in the Mexican manner, nor quite in the Korean one, but somewhere interestingly in-between.

Still, nobody, to my knowledge, has yet offered explicitly Koreanized Mexican food here, I suspect because not every sort of Korean business here yet sees its Koreanness as an advantage. It reminds me of what happened when the Eiffel Tower-logo’d Paris Baguette, a Korean-owned bakery-cafe chain omnipresent on the streets of Seoul, made their move into Paris itself. A public relations firm suggested that the store set itself apart with promotion as the only Korean bakery in all of the City of Light, an idea which Paris Baguette’s higher-ups regarded as anathema. They’d have done anything but come off as Korean, and so they de-Koreanized their flagship Paris branch further still, disappointing the Paris-resident Koreans and formerly Korea-resident Parisians who’d come for Paris Baguette’s signature hypersucrotic pastries and sausage-stuffed cheese rolls.

In the case of Korea’s best-known purveyors Mexican food, most of it seems as much an adaptation of American Mexican as Mexican Mexican. That, alas, has happened to many foreign cuisines here, since the United States has loomed so large in Korea’s view of the world outside Asia for so many years. So far, most of the enjoyable Mexican meals I’ve eaten in Seoul have clearly come inspired not by something you’d eat, say, outside the Cuauhtémoc station in Mexico City, but by something you’d eat in California or Texas. One spot not far from Habanero that I haven’t yet worked up the will to enter advertises, in English, “WEST COAST ‘TACO’” — scare quotes theirs.

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Life in Los Angeles did give me the sense, though, that not every Korean who goes to America returns with all the wrong ideas about Mexican food reinforced. (One Korean friend, now a five-year resident of Los Angeles, cringes with embarrassment at the memory of a “Mexican” dinner she once had with her high school pals back in Seoul, all thinking themselves the height of sophistication as they dropped ridiculous amounts of money on sodden enchiladas and tortilla chips.) Most of the Koreans I met there seemed to if not frequent then at least have some experience eating at El Taurino, the big all-night taco joint a few miles up Hoover Street from USC. This struck me as coincidental enough, but they also all called it by the same name: not El Taurino, but 후버타코, or hoobeo tako — “Hoover Taco.” Don’t ask me what the deal is with the nickname; El Taurino renders much more easily in the Korean language (엘 타우리노) than most foreign words.

This Korean blog post about the writer’s trip to El Taurino first deals with what he describes as the perennial complaint of its Korean customers: that the orders seem to come out of a random window at a random time, or more suspiciously, that the workers and the Spanish-speaking customers talk in whispers to one another, no doubt to conspiring to ensure that their own people’s food gets prepared  first. The author of the post ascribes this seeming favoritism to nothing more than the freewheeling nature of the Mexican culture: “They don’t have any workers as fast and precise as Koreans. Asking a Mexican to work the same way would be fascistic.”

And so, on Garosu-gil, one of the most fashionable streets in Seoul, appeared a familiarly named restaurant perhaps meant give the El Taurino concept, loosely interpreted, a dose of good old Korean food-service fascism. Its name: Hoover Taco. Branded as both “Mexican style” and a “Mexican casual grill” (and a place to go “If You Like Mexican Food…”), this slick, candle-on-every-table sort of place without a Virgin of Guadalupe in sight arguably failed to grasp the appeal of its sort-of namesake when it opened back in 2012.

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But the following year, along to Garosu-gil came Vatos (바토스), the Kickstarter-funded creation of three Korean-Americans, two from southern California and one from Texas. They’ve apparently premised their restaurants on the notion that, if you must do American Mexican, you might as well do the best American Mexican you can. (With no fascism required: according to the sign just above, “food made by happy people is different!”) Their efforts actually gave my girlfriend and I the unexpected chance, just after moving to Seoul, to try a standard Tex-Mex dish about which the Austin scenes of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood had filled us with curiosity but that we never had a chance to order in the States: the melted concoction of chili peppers and blended cheeses (real and otherwise) that Texans just call “queso.”

Beyond that, Vatos also offers a bit of Kogi-style fusion (kimchi carnitas fries have proven popular) as well as a suite of what they call “urban tacos” (reminiscent of the days when Diablo in Silver Lake earned the scorn of the world by branding itself an “Urban Taco Fabricator”) containing your choice of meat, like carne asada, carnitas, barbacoa pork, and spicy chicken, or — presumably to establish their California credentials — vegetarian and vegan fillings. But I can already sense which of my own desires will have to go unsatisfied for a longer term: where’s the buche? The lengua? The cabeza? The cachete? The sesos — what of the sesos?

And so, Mexican chefs, let me assure you that the opportunity to do what you do best remains wide open in Korea — for tacos, sure, but I can only imagine what impact a solid mole would have over here. I complained, in Los Angeles, of so many Mexican eateries’ widespread reliance on pre-made rather than fresh tortillas, but here they don’t even seem to know that you can make them out of corn yet. The law here will make you find a Korean business partner, but as soon as you do, get ready to blow some minds, not so mention some tastebuds. Just maybe go easy on the cilantro for a while.

You can follow Colin Marshall at his web site, on Twitter @colinmarshall, or on Facebook.