Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fury of Girl's Fists Lifts Up North Korean Refugee Family


The headline of this article was what caught my eye when I was scrolling through the New York Times Sunday's stories. Perhaps it was because it sounded so weird in my head, like I pictured a pair of fists literally lifting up a family; or maybe it was because of two words, "fury" and "fists" –they are not used often in headlines, but they are so emotive. A safer headline would have been (here's one off the top of my head): North Korean Female Boxer Inspires Her Family. Sure, there's the same message there, but it is definitely not as effective.

The writer, Choe Sang-Hun, delivers her hook in her very first paragraph when she described boxing as a hobby for the past, when the people of South Korea did not have the 13th largest economy in the world. Using a bit of artistic license, Choe Sang-Hun delivers to readers an image of a boxer who should be seen as scrappy, hard-working, and (in South Korea today) rare. She sets up the story of Choi Hyun-Mi, a 17-year-old female boxer, who has recently won the World Boxing Association's Women's featherweight championships. She and her family are also from North Korea, and have been refugees in South Korea for about four years.

Her father was quoted throughout the article, as he was the one who decided to move his family to the South, because he had a taste of what freedom was like through his business travels. However, once they gained asylum to South Korea, he realized that life in South, through free of restraints, was relatively harder since he was not able to find a job. The article said that the family lives mainly off the government handouts, or off of what Ms. Choi earns/wins with her boxing tournaments.

Maybe the writer should have gone into it more, but I kept wondering throughout the article why the father couldn't get a job. If he was a relatively successful business man in North Korea, couldn't he use those same skills to get another job in their new home?

What was also apparent throughout the article was the amount of fear and power that the government of North Korea have instilled in their people. Ms. Choi's father said that he was so worried about being caught by the government after moving to South Korea (note: After gaining legal asylum.) that he changed his family name.

But the writer uses this little detail to end her article, when she had Ms. Choi describing her dreams and aspirations. She said, at the the end, that she wanted to sweep all the world titles in her weight division, and then find some way to break into the entertainment industry. "I'm going to make everyone recognize my name," she said, which I thought was a poetic ending, since it showed that she (and I guess, metaphorically) her family no longer live in fear of the North Korea government.

All in all, I thought it was a good article, and really really interesting. I especially liked the nice gender role switch, since boxing is usually considered such a masculine sport.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hindu Threat To Christians: Convert or Flee


Today, the New York Times front page brought the horrifying story of a religious clash happening in the Orissa state of India. Hindus in that region are forcing the Christian minority to convert to their religion with threats of destruction and violence. The reporter, Somini Sengupta, reports that the result is that more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed.

Sengupta says early in the article that most people know India as– the sticker label that this country has, if you will– "the world's most populous democracy and officially a secular nation." She then contrasts that label by painting the actions of the angry villagers to their Christian neighbors. However, not much later in the piece, Ms. Sengupta says, "India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians... But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years."

The missing link in this very beautifully-written article is contained within that sentence. Ms. Sengupta is very thoughtful in explaining the catalyst that set off the religious turmoil six weeks ago. She not only paints the religious aspects of it, but also the social and economic factors that fueled the unrest. However, she does not tell the readers if there were any previous notable skirmishes between the Hindus and Christians. I felt that it was necessary because it would certainly add as a foundation of the present conflict as well.

Also, another problem is that we, as international readers, do not know about this contentious clash between Hindus and Christians. In fact, the most common thought is that the nation of India is made entirely of Hindus, and Christians probably reside peacefully as the minority because we think of India as a successful democracy. But Ms. Sengupta reported it like the previous conflicts are not news to readers, when it would just really enrich our overall picture if she would just give a couple sentences as examples in the past.

That aside, I thought that this article was quite good, in terms of story/plot. It really read like a drama. However, it was also heavy with the writer's opinions. For some reason, reporters who write about religion tend to show people in a very one-dimensional light. And with this article, there was indeed a danger of that, especially with this bully-victim, he-said-she-said narrative.

At one point, Subash Chauhan, the state's highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, was shown as thoughtless regarding the actions of the Hindus. According to Ms. Sengupta: "Who am I to give assurance?" he snapped. "Those who have exploited the Khandas say they want to live together?' Besides, he said, 'they are Hindus by birth.'"

I don't deny that Mr. Chauhan said such things, nor am I convinced that he is completely blame-free when it comes to the violence. My little problem is with the fact that Ms. Sengupta used the word "snapped" with his delivery. As writers, we are supposed to stick to neutral terms (even if the comment/statement/question was not intoned neutrally) like "said" or "replied" or "responded." By using the word "snapped," Ms. Sengupta has already judged Mr. Chauhan and has rendered useless his claims before that he is in support of Christians being free to worship their religion. Not only that, she follows Mr. Chauhan's remarks with a very detailed description of a Christian man, Daud Nayak, being compromised for his beliefs.

Or perhaps what she did there was right? Perhaps there really is not neutral his point of view/her point of view to this?

Despite what I said, I really like this article. I thought it was informative and incredibly moving. Ms. Sengupta, though very vocal in her opinions, is gifted in showing human plight in a format that is both affecting, and also appropriate for newspaper.