how the world sees america

January 2008 Archives



January 3, 2008 7:41 AM

Korea's American Saviors

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SEOUL, Korea -- “He is a sensation,” my taxi driver says when I tell him I'm heading to interview Dr. David Yonggi Cho, founder of the largest megachurch on earth. We drive through Yeouido, a business district in Seoul where the roads are wide and the buildings tall, past Cho's religious TV channel, his two newspapers, his 600-person global missionary outfit, and his stadium-sized church.

Finally, we reach the sleek media center where I am to interview Cho. When he emerges, he is joined by an entourage of three cameramen, five aides, two secretaries, and a woman with a comb who flattens Cho's wisps of black hair. Cho walks steadily to the interview chair and lowers himself down with his back perfectly erect. He stops his right hand from twitching, and then makes eye contact. I tell him we are to talk about America, and he begins:

“America has made this possible…It has been the main influence on my life up until now.”

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January 9, 2008 11:41 AM

Too Sexy for the DMZ

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PANMUNJOM, Korea - Before entering the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) my fretful tour guide Michelle Kwak rattles off some restrictions:

1) "No sexy clothes. No tank tops or miniskirts," she says. The North Koreans could photograph you for propaganda purposes and run it under the headline, "South Korea infected by American moral corruption!"

2) "No ripped jeans" for a similar reason. “The North will say Americans, South Koreans, and other democratic countries are so poor they can't afford new trousers."

3) "No alcohol and no pointing," because tensions run high here. A little booze and a little misunderstanding "could start World War III."

4) "Finally, no slippers," because in case Armageddon begins, you won't be able to run away fast enough.

Now sign your life away,” my tour guide says, handing out a liability form relieving them of responsibility in case of “enemy attack.” With a little laugh she adds, “It's worth it.”

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January 14, 2008 10:04 AM

How the World Sees "Change"

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Want change?

Washington DC – “What countries did you visit on this trip?” the U.S. customs agent asks. I respond: “Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, the Philippines, and South Korea.”

There’s a pause. I’m anxious. After my previous airport adventures, I fully expect her to order me into a back room for a talk with a burly interrogator. But instead she tugs back her sleeve, lifts a stamper in the air, and brings it down hard on my customs form. Cla-Clack. She hands me back my passport with a flourish.

“Welcome home.”

I’ve been on the road for one hundred days since kicking off Part II of How the World Sees America. For the next week I’ll be in Washington DC, restocking, repairing broken equipment, and preparing for the next leg of the project in Venezuela and Mexico.

Though I’m looking south, it takes only a few moments stateside before I start thinking about the differences between how the world sees America and how we see ourselves.

I exit baggage claim and am greeted by dozens of TVs overhead recycling images of our presidential candidates. These candidates, in turn, recycle the same one word: “Change.”

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January 18, 2008 7:30 PM

How America Sees the World

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"Boundary [with Mexico] of the United States of America"

Washington DC - This is "How the World Sees America", but a few days at home preparing for Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico inevitably got me thinking about "How America Sees the World."

Last time I was in the U.S. 100 days ago, Iraq dominated the headlines. Now it's the economy. But voter anxieties about the world still loom large.

Our candidates define themselves on transnational issues. Fred Thompson burnishes his anti-illegal immigrant credentials. John Edwards blames big corporations for sending American jobs abroad. Rudy Giuliani, and others across the aisle, say our dependence on foreign oil exposes us to both financial instability and terrorist attacks.

Conversations at home are all about 2008. But even as the headlines pivot from the Iraq War and terrorism to jobs and health care, our view of the world remains central to many of our votes.

Do we combat, compete, cooperate? There is anxiety.

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January 27, 2008 7:42 AM

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

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Caracas skyline and Sketchers sign.

CARACAS, Venezuela - My twitter says it all: "Clear Night. Sharp city lights. The city opens up through the hills at dawn like its floating in space with stars.”

On my first day here, from its architecture to its people, Caracas strikes me as cinematic. And I wonder: to what extent are views of America here based on personal experience? And to what extent are they based on storytelling?

To get from the airport to the city center, I drive down a concrete overpass through hills that part like stage curtains. Barrios (slums) tumble down their slopes on one side, and on the other scores of concrete highrises block out the ocean view.

The buildings are angular and rather unimaginative. As I move closer, they grow more interesting as I see their peeling facades, their quirkily retro color yellowing and graying. At ground level, small stores sell wares without much order. They advertise baby clothes and Tupperware and ladders all under one roof.

I arrive at 5am, settle down to write, and watch the city wake up from the East where lots of little pieces of glass and trash litter the road, refracting morning light. Journalist Ibsen Martinez comes to meet me, and repeats a common quip: “How can [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez fight America if he can’t pick up the trash?”

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January 30, 2008 10:39 AM

Critical of the U.S. at the Bolivarian University

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CARACAS, Venezuela - At the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, which President Hugo Chavez founded in 2003, the students in Elena Ferrero's English class interview the reporter first.

"Isn't The Washington Post biased against Venezuela?"

"Have you already made up your mind about Chavez?"

"Are you going to write that we're all brainwashed?"

The questions keep coming: Are the FARC terrorists? Who'll win the U.S. elections? I answer as best I can, assuring them I'm a free agent -- not the CIA kind! -- able to write whatever I want.

This satisfies a student named Elvis García, who explains his and his classmates' concern: "America is a threat to Venezuela," he says: overtly, covertly, and through an "international media war to discredit our government."

"The one who writes has the power," he says. That's why Elvis enrolled in the Social Communications course here, which aims to give the right to write back to the people. “We are studying here to protect ourselves, to liberate ourselves from The Empire.”

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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send your comments, questions and suggestions for PostGlobal to Lauren Keane, its editor and producer.