The Emperor’s New Soccer Uniforms

New Korean Soccer uniforms The following is from an article published in "The Korea Herald"

In a departure from previous years, Nike, in creating national team uniforms for eight countries, incorporated each country's culture and heritage. Since the 1980s, red has been the predominant color in the Korean national team and the latest jersey reflects that tradition. At first glance, the close v-neck of the jersey is the most striking reference to Korean heritage, reflecting the collar of a hanbok, or traditional Korean costume.

Other Korean elements are less than obvious. Unless Walker pointed out the blue diagonal lines on the mesh panels on the sides, panels that are created for ventilation, as representing stripes of the tiger, an ordinary soccer fan would never have known. Why the tiger stripes? "Through our interviews and research we found that the tiger, in Korean culture, is associated with bravery and power," said Thomas Walker, the 28-year-old English designer based in Amsterdam who created the uniform.

The shorts are slightly longer and looser. White shorts make the players look bigger and faster on the field, according to Walker. "This is an advantage when playing against larger European players," Walker explained. The rather chunky blocks of number letterings on the jersey, Walker, said were inspired by the straight lines of Hangeul script. Perhaps his researchers chose to focus on particularly modern stylized typography.

For the last Korean element of the design, one really had to look. In fact, one had to pull out the shirt from the shorts to find the writing "tuhon" in Korean. Tuhon roughly means fighting spirit. "This reflects the will to fight to the very end," Walker said.

Veteran hanbok designer Lee Young-hee, who also does modern ready-to-wear collections inspired by hanbok, was less than impressed with the result. Not one to mince her words, when asked to comment on the traditional Korean elements, Lee said on stage, "What Westerners see as Korean and what Koreans see as Korean are very different."

Calling for the need to cooperate with designers who really know hanbok, Lee said, "I am sure there will be a much better uniform four years later. It is too bad I didn't know about this earlier."

Soccer fans can see their favorite players on the field in the new uniform on March 1 at Sangam World Cup Stadium when Korea plays in a match marking the D-100 to World Cup Soccer in June.

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Fascinating line: "What Westerners see as Korean and what Koreans see as Korean are very different."

What about Koreans born in the west? Isn't this just accelerated postmodern culture? What about faith? Perhaps what Westerners see as Korean faith is not really what Koreans see as faith? For instance, I know so many non-Koreans have commented to me about the Korean approach or style of prayer and its power, but maybe it's not what Korean views as powerful about their own faith.

Regardless, I'm glad we don't have to wear uniforms.

The Fight To Stay Asian

In high school, I had the opportunity to be part of a program that allowed for a unique class called "Theory of Knowledge". It was, as the name perhaps reveals, an open-ended, discussion-driven class that poked at the epistemological methods of adolescent minds. Some days, I have to confess, featured the type of discussion that go unappreciated by the average high schooler; other days, like the one I'm about to discuss, go unforgotten.

The topic was multiculturalism and pluralism. The classroom held about 22 students. I was the only Korean-American, there was another guy from Hong Kong who had been in the country for a few years, one Indian guy, one Indian girl, one Pakistani girl, one half-Japanese, half-American girl, and one Cuban girl; there were also two African-American girls in the group. The other 13 students, to the best of my recollection, were Caucasian or at the very least had families that had been in the country for multiple generations and could not be picked out of a group visually as "non-white".

The teacher began by talking about how wonderful multiculturalism was, how the acceptance of other races, creeds, and peoples had begun to really show us how things could be, that world harmony was possible. She led the conversation to the point that we all responded hypnotically to the fact that yes, it was a good thing. Even a few of the students chimed in and said how nice it was to learn new languages and eat new foods. One of us "non-whites" piped up and remarked how good it was to have opportunities here that we would not have had any where else. Then as the discussion seemed to die down and the class period was coming to an end, I ruined it.

I raised my hand and the teacher gave me permission to speak.

"But you don't know me. You don't know Korean any better because of me. This multiculturalism thing is not all true. I mean the world is becoming a smaller place, and yes, there are wonderful opportunities here, but I don't radiate my Korean-ness here and he doesn't radiate his Hong Kong-ness here or her Pakistani-ness."

The teacher interupted me. "But by you being here, we have a window for discussion. The possibilities are there. Even that was never possible before."

I don't know where my anger came from but it started to flow more freely. "A window? I know a Cuban. I don't know what being Cuban is like. I know two African-Americans. I don't know what being black is about. That's not a window–that's a peephole. When I'm here at school, you don't know that I don't speak English when I'm at home or what my life as a Korean is like at all. This is not multiculturalism — it's uni-cultural with all the rest giving up what they have to have the opportunity. I'm not Korean any more, I'm just an American with a Korean face! Or at least I have to be if I want to be a part of this multicultural facade."

You could have heard a pin drop. We certainly heard the bell ring.

I think it was the first time that even I realized that culture is something we fight to maintain – perhaps fight isn't the right word, but it is something that we work and develop and re-create with every generation, like building sand castles. There is a slow erosion and tectonic movement to identity, cultural and self. I think it becomes even more complicated in Western cultures where the self precedes the culture, as though one element could stand on its own.

Perhaps the difficulty with ethnic churches is that there are two forces that are re-worked at once – culture and faith. The fight to maintain either begins anew with each generation, and while each promises a more clear identity of the self, well, let's just say it can be easy to get lost in all of that as well, now more than ever.

I think with all the emphasis, technology, society, mass culture driven to idolize the individual, isn't it a natural conclusion to just forego the traditional definiton of culture and just develop a culture of self? But where would that self come from? Isn't that the line we're fighting to recover to some extent? Isn't that what we want to stand the test of time? I want to know what it means to be Korean, American and Christian all at once — isn't that why I'm so wrapped up in this?

Material World

While driving around neighborhood after neighborhood looking for a new house, the buyer's agent that we were working with decided to coach me on some real estate investing tips, as he knew I was interested in how he visually assessed a house. I learned a few very interesting facts:

  • Look for shiny kick plates and door handles, preferably brass. It lets you know that they care about the home and nice details. In other words, they care about home and how it looks.
  • Check the local schools. Values go up depending on the quality of education.
  • Drive back through the neighborhood a few times. You're looking to see if kids play in the neighborhood, if people jog, if people walk their pets — if they feel safe to do that, it's a good sign.
  • See what kind of cars are parked in the driveway and in the garage. It gives you some insight into the median income of the residents.

Continue reading “Material World”