Saturday, January 27, 2007

Who am I and what is this blog?

My name is Joe Mondello. I am a 26 year old American living and working as an English teacher in Bucheon city, just Southwest of Seoul. Teaching English here in Korea over the last four years, I have become very familiar with the edutainment comic book series 'Distant Country, Neighboring Country' (먼나라 이웃나라 or Meonnara Iunnara). For the sake of simplicity, I am going to refer to the series as Monnara, as the publisher, Gimm Young Publishing, does on their website.
This very popular 12-part series has been in print since 1984 and I have found it in the every single home with children that I have ever stepped foot in in Korea (around 40). I have noticed that children absorb an incredible amount of knowledge from these books. Recently a 13 year-old student of mine described the Taft-Hartley Act based on information he read in volume 11 of the series, about U.S. history. While I think the outward-looking spirit of the series was admirable, I still bear a strong curiosity, bordering on suspicion, of what the series actually says about the various countries it treats. The main reason is the illustrations, which portray the various races in a very crude manner. Another reason for wonder is the English translation of volume 9 of the series (Korea) under the title "Korea Unmasked: Looking at the Koreans Behind their Masks". The small portion available at the publisher's website makes it clear that, while the various countries of Europe are all so similar, Korea, Japan and China are all drastically different. "The English, French and Germans are supposed to be so different, but at least they all sleep in beds." Quite.
So I've decided to start reading the Monnara series, beginning with volume 10 "America Part 1: The Americans", and blog the whole experience. In the process I expect to have to teach myself a lot of Korean. Although I've been studying for four years, I still have a long way to go. When I quote the book I will include the original Korean, and any corrections from you eagle-eyed bilingualists would be greatly appreciated.

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