Friends of Margaret Cho need to buy her this bookIn 2002 the Korean soccer team saw great success at the World Cup under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.
And back in the 17th century, Dutch sailor Hendrick Hamel accidentally found the country when he was shipwrecked off Jeju Island in 1653.
So Korea has a few favorite Dutchmen, and Maarten Meijer may eventually join them. But his book, “What's So Good About Korea, Maarten?” will not endear him to many Koreans.
On the glossy cover of his book Mr. Meijer is draped in a Korean flag. It’s an eye-grabber, but you know what they say about a book and its cover.
The flag may not protect Mr. Meijer from some Korean scorn regarding a few of his silly simplifications.
In his introduction, his “warning before you read this book,” Mr. Meijer tries to covers his back. Nonetheless, when he shoots from the hip, Mr. Meijer misses rather badly.
For example, we learn on page 13 that, “Because of their passionate nature, Koreans have a hard time thinking things through in a calm and deliberate fashion.”
Further, Koreans “see things as black or white.” And this “lack of nuance gets in the way of honest and constructive self-reflection.”
Oh. I wonder what the engineers at Samsung and Hyundai think of that? Without the ability to think things through, how did Korea rebuild from the ashes of 1953 to become the world's No. 12 economy? (The Netherlands is No. 16.)
The book apparently was classified as “recommended reading” on the Korean government Publications Ethics Committee website, which means it will be made available in public libraries.
When I read Mr. Meijer’s observations to several Korean reporters on the business desk here, one chuckled. Another just stared.
I’m not quite sure what the book contributes to the body of work by foreigners living in Korea.
We are informed that Mr. Meijer will discuss the good and the beautiful, the bad and the ugly.
Fair enough. But how about a little substantiation for remarks that sound, well, comical for someone who claims to love Korea?
For example, in the “dilemma of education” chapter, we read on page 130 that, “Sadly, Koreans do not read, either.”
As a tree hugger from Oregon, however, I was happy to read Mr. Meijer’s “concern” for the environment: “If [Korean] children read at all, they usually browse through Japanese or domestic comic books. Even the way they turn the pages of their books is telling of the low regard they have for these fallen trees: They slap their hand on a page and slide it over, half crumpling it in the process.”
And consider this take on lifelong education: “Other than showing interest in remedial and recreational learning, Koreans generally lack appetite for voluntary continued education. It appears once a person graduates from college and lands a job, studying more or less comes to a halt.”
Is that right? Several members of our newsroom earned advanced degrees at night.
As an American I stopped giving the book any serious consideration after reading the “Reality Check” on page 128: “While bullets fly through the hallways of Columbine High and other public schools, many American high school students seem to be better versed in sex than in English grammar.”
Apparently Mr. Meijer is now in the Korean countryside teaching religion at a private school.
Perhaps there he can do a little more reading, unlike the unread Koreans, incapable of subtle thinking or self-reflection, seeing things in black and white, staring at the subway floors. Shame on them for not packing around “Crime and Punishment.”
Mr. Meijer might expand his own reading list with a few Graham Greene novels that discuss tolerance for human weakness. And he best hope that Margaret Cho, the Korean-American comic, doesn’t get a copy of his book. She’ll make this review look like a lovefest.
by Pat King