Early this month I knew why Ki Sung-yueng/Ki Sung-yong was not present in the crucial Brazil 14 final matches (his last match was in March against Qatar, in which Korea won 2-1).
OK, maybe he was in fact injured. But throughout this month he had been more than injured. He had become Korea’s most hated man. For saying something that everything else had said.
In June, former national coach Choi Kang-hee was the most hated man in Korea (believe me, not all Koreans hate Kim Jong-un). I hated him too for his stupidity of talking trash to Iran – and for fielding weak midfielders when Korea had Ki, Kim Bo-kyung, Koo Ja-cheol, and Lee Chung-yong. I still had some sympathy with his decision to abandon Park Chu-young (which, in hindsight, he shouldn’t have done especially after the spring’s code red), but he had the stupidity of fielding all his four forwards – Lee Dong-gook, Ji Dong-won, Son Heung-min, and Kim Shin-wook at once.
Piling up forwards is not attacking play. Attacking play is putting on two forwards supported by two attacking midfielders (I’m not a fan of 4-2-3-1 – especially for Japan and Korea). Senegal had proven in the last African Cup of Nations the folly of hoarding strikers just because they seemed scary.
And so, in February 2012 Ki wrote Facebook status along the lines of “Gee coach, thanks for taking me although I play for second-tier league.” Because mighty Choi commented that the Scottish Premier League is a second-tier league – lower than the K-League (Yeah? I’d see how the Hibs fare against Jeju United. Oh.)
Then Ki put on his Rip Curl beanie and murmured “Now everyone knows the value of overseas players. Leave us alone or somebody gets hurt, mate.” I know it’s bit mixed message. So did he want to be called into Team Korea or not?
OK class. Why the shit hit the fan, then?
There you go. Sung-yueng disrespected his superior. Publicly. What do you mean publicly? He didn’t do it on Twitter with @choikanghee and #celtic #respect #내가 제일 잘 나가 right? Just personal Facebook status, eh?
You’re as puzzled as I do. But true to forms, Koreans got angry and showered Ki Sung-yueng and his wife Han Hye-jin with online abuses. Many asked for barring him from Brazil 14, on the ground that his arrogance and frivolity will damage team chemistry. So Ki deleted his FB page (some footballers and athletes had also closed their Twitter accounts), but then a sportswriter reported that he had another account and said it “Very serious problem”.
I believe that expression of racism or homophobia by a footballer is a serious problem. Reckless driving and tackling are serious problems. Brawling is serious problem. Getting even with a coach BY SCORING GOAL AND PLAYING WELL is not serious problem. After that, Han was abused online with comments such as “Please stop your husband from getting online! He is shameful! Can’t you be a good wife?” and “What kind of man marries a much older woman like you?”. When asked by reporters why Han was targeted for something her husband did, the answer was “because we can reach her online.”
Accidentally, few weeks ago I saw a translated digest of Japanese news on ice skater Miki Ando admitting that she has a baby. Most of the comments on Yahoo! Japan and Twitter was that one word – slut. People really wrote that.
I just finished a book that my sister studied in college, The Asian Mind Games by Chinese-American business consultant Chin-ning Chu. A mid 1990s’ book when Japan’s implosion was not evident enough, when Korea was still at dawn, and when United States was not quite sure what to make of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum. The book is subtitled “A Westerner’s survival manual” but I could use it as well. Being an overseas Chinese, I’m as clueless and perplexed as an Asian-American with what actually Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans think and why.
In a way, so does Ki. He became a teenager in Australia and Brisbane Roar had offered him a place, no doubt to kickstart the making of the first Asian Socceroo. He chose to become a Korean footballer, finished his high school in Korea and joined FC Seoul the next year.
And like Ki, I also refused Australia feeling that our home is in Asia. But well, he had learned the hard way the true meaning of being a Korean. Even though Choi was unpopular, he was a superior, an older man. And young and old Koreans hate a young man who disrespects his superior far more than they look at their personal merits (they really don’t think about the weighing at all. The older one is always right).
For the Korean media, Ki’s mistake was to write the status. They said if he disliked Choi, he should have kept it to himself. Well he didn’t write “F U Mutha I gonna kill ya and raip yo ho gal how do ya lik dat”, which is terrible. But was Ki wrong to air his TRUE feeling? Rather than pretending everything OK and cursing about Choi just like what others Taeguk Warriors might have done? Not for me, not for him. Plus it’s Facebook status. You might as well like it.
If the KFA tut-tuts him, that’s fine. There’s something called organizational discipline. But it’s the public that judges him. Online. The KFA has decided that there’s no penalty for him, now it’s the turn of KFA to receive the wrath. Well, that he’s a bad example and other players will act bad too yadda yadda.
I really, really hate the East Asian culture of bitching people online behind avatars and nicknames, while maintaining the poker face on the street. As Chin-ning Chu said to me, that’s Asia, honey. Everything has to be concealed.
We are used to cocky athletes, angry athletes, trash-talking, behaving badly athletes. Ki Sung-yueng is not one of them. He’s not Rooney, or Suarez, or Terry. He deserves better respect from Koreans. Personally I think this controversy is stupid (it happened in February 2012! Why you people made a fuzz of it just in July 2013?!). What also makes me mad is how Korean papers make it by default that it’s Ki’s fault for doing something horrible. But well, it’s something Koreans have taken for granted. They are more open than the Japanese. They are more exposed to American culture and values than the Japanese. But they are still a hive, thinking in unison and abuses a rebel. Online. Where they can hide behind avatars and nicknames, and where nobody sees them.