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Sewol Disaster Updates: April 21

- As of this morning, 64 bodies have been recovered. Another 238 are still missing.

- Rescue personnel should enter the kitchen area at noon as well as conduct a concentrated search of the third and fourth-story passenger rooms. This is where they believe many of the passengers/bodies are. Weather conditions around the wreck are reportedly pretty good. Rescue personnel are now using a Remotely-Operated Vehicle, too.

- In addition to the captain, four other crew members have now been arrested on charges of abandoning passengers on the sinking ship.

- Also appearing before the police following the issuing of an arrest warrant was Hong Ga-hye, the young “volunteer diver” who during an interview with broadcaster MBN claimed the government was hindering volunteer efforts to rescue passengers, that relief equipment was lacking, etc. Turns out the woman in question was a serial impostor, and MBN has apologized.

- MBN’s screw-up was indicative of how badly the media has handled the Sewol sinking. To be fair to the Korean media, though, it seems the rush to publish—regardless of veracity—is now simply part of the contemporary media environment the world over. Doesn’t mean that’s a healthy phenomenon, though.

- Perhaps unsurprisingly—especially given the anger being expressed by the parents of kids on the ship—the Hankyoreh is complaining about the government response to the tragedy. I guess in the investigations to come we’ll learn of things the government could have done better, but frankly, I think the government has responded fairly well so far, and as Andrew Salmon notes in Forbes, the anger should probably be directed at the crew and the ferry company, not the Park Geun-hye administration. Having said that, I—unlike the son of possible Seoul mayoral candidate Chung Mong-joon, apparently—understand that families are grieving, angry and lashing out at anyone they can. I might do the same, if I were in their situation.

- The fact that so many of the kids who did what they were told died has parents and teachers wondering what to tell kids now. There is also concern that the lesson people will draw from this is that you should just do what you think is best in an emergency, which is probably NOT what you’d ordinarily want to do in an emergency situation.

- Given what I’ve read in my comments, I suppose it was only a matter of time before somebody started blaming culture for aspects of the accident, in this case, the number of fatalities. Of course, we are talking about CNN, so perhaps we shouldn’t expect much. As I’ve said earlier, it doesn’t help that the Korean media itself will frequently resort to cultural explanations for this sort of thing, too. For instance, we’ve got a Korean sociologist in the JoongAng Ilbo piece linked above saying much the same thing the CNN reporter (herself Korean, or at least ethnic Korean) does.


Open Thread: April 20, 2014

Enjoy the rest of the weekend, folks.


Other odd  or interesting bits in the news as of late:

The penis patrol is on alert for adultery again: South Korea has banned the Korean Ashley Madison website that offers a way for married people to meet since South Korea still has a 1953 statute that criminalises adultery.  The website owner, Noel Biderman believes the law is “hopelessly outdated” but still heeded legal advice not to attend the South Korea launch in person.  For those that might wonder why people would visit such a site, this GQ piece was pretty much to the point and interesting.  The power of scent is not to be underestimated.

South Korea and Japan have held senior-level discussions on Korea’s “comfort women” and have discussed the need to put this issue behind both countries for the sake of future relations.


Sewol Sinking Updates

- The confirmed death toll is now up to 26, with 270 still missing.

- Divers have begun exploring the inside of the vessel. They are also pumping oxygen in to give any survivors a better chance.

- That said, the ship has now slipped completely beneath the waves, three days after it capsized.

- 108 patrol boats, 61 civilian and government boats, four cranes and 535 rescue personnel are on the scene.

- The parents of the missing have issued a statement blasting the government response.

- Overseas experts told the Chosun Ilbo that the captain’s misjudgment essentially wasted a 140 minute opportunity to evacuate the ship. More analysis in the New York Times.

More to come later.


Sewol Tragedy: What we know so far

- Of the 475 passengers, 179 have been rescued, nine are confirmed dead and 287 are still missing.

- 10 crew members, including the captain, were called into questioning a second time by the Coast Guard. Unlike the first questioning, in which the captain was brought in as a witness, this time he was brought in as a suspect as the Coast Guard is considering filing a number of charges against him, including manslaughter. He issued an apology to the public, but refused to answer any other questions from reporters, including questions regarding reports that he abandoned passengers to jump ship first.

- Rescue workers haven’t been able to explore the interior of the ship yet. They are trying to pump air into the vessel, though, to boost the chances of any survivors inside.

- As for the cause of the accident, we’re still not sure, but the Coast Guard think the most likely cause was that the cargo inside shifted to one side of the hold as the ship made a sharp turn, capsizing the vessel.

- There’s been a lot of talk about the crew’s response to the accident. And by talk, I mean criticism. In particular, survivors testify that crew told passengers to stay where they were rather than try to escape even as water was flooding some of the decks. Only one life raft was deployed, too. As there’s still a lot we don’t know, I’m not going to join the chorus of condemnation just yet, but I will say this is not something you want to hear from a crew member:

선원 김모(61)씨는 “침몰하는 배에서 빠져나오는 데 바빠 다른 사람들이 구조됐는지 신경쓸 틈도, 어떠한 조치를 취할 겨를도 없었다”고 말했다.

- We know that the ship deviated from a government-recommended course. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the sinking, though.

- You can read some of the communications between the ship and the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center here.


Developing Situation: Ferry sinks off Jindo

Let’s pray for the best here:

A passenger ship carrying more than 470 people, mostly high school students, sank off South Korea’s southern coast on Wednesday, leaving at least two people dead and 13 others injured, amid fears the toll could be much higher.

A total of 368 people have been confirmed rescued, but the death toll could rise sharply as nearly one hundred passengers remain unaccounted for amid fears that they could be trapped inside the sunken vessel.

In its last report, Yonhap said there were 107 missing. The fear is that many were perhaps unable to leave their rooms before their floors flooded, but we just don’t know yet.

Still no word on the cause of the sinking.


So, says Gi-Wook Shin and Daniel C. Sneider over at Foreign Affairs magazine. Shin and Sneider are Director and Associate Director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.

You need to register (it’s free for three article views a month) to see the whole article, but here are a few slices:

Japan and South Korea have made repeated efforts over the past two decades to resolve their wartime history issues, but progress has always proved short-lived. South Korean officials now openly plead for the United States to step in. 


Even so, China’s bid for regional domination makes it nearly impossible for the United States to continue to stay out of the fray…. By taking a leading role in dealing with the wartime past, the United States could make it difficult for Beijing to use it for political gain.


The oft-stated notion that the United States has no responsibility for history issues is a convenient myth. The United States made several key decisions right after the war that laid the groundwork for the current dispute. These range from its decision to put aside the issue of the emperor’s responsibility to its efforts to rehabilitate nationalist conservatives — including Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, the wartime minister in charge of Japan’s military industry — to counter Japan’s leftward drift, all of which undermined efforts within Japan to make a clear break with the past...


Such decisions made sense in the context of the Cold War because of the imperatives of the struggle against the Soviet and Chinese Communists. But they don’t anymore, and it is incumbent on the Untied States to help the region reconcile its past once and for all.

Here is a more moderate appeal (i.e. largely not involving the U.S.) by Ogata Sadako, former president of Japan International Cooperation Agency, Han Sung-Joo, former foreign minister of South Korea and Ezra F. Vogel, professor emeritus at Harvard University, in last Friday’s Washington Post opinion section.


“Regrettably, wrong practices of the NIS and holes in its management system have been revealed (yet again). . . The NIS must make excruciating efforts to overhaul itself to make sure this kind of incident won’t repeat itself.”
<The prez> (cite)

Wait, the NIS is under the direct control of the president, so does that not mean that the president should be in charge of fixing their “wrong practices” and this on the heels of the NIS electioneering in the last presidential election and the subsequent attempt to “fix” the NIS!?


The New York Times has a critical article on the efforts of both Samsung and LG, in building corporate facilities in the US.  Samsung wins applause – this time – and LG draws the ugly criticism of being a “bad neighbor” due to their proposed office space:

. . . 143 feet high on a site next to the Palisades, which have been designated a National Natural Landmark. That’s several stories above the tree line. The site had been zoned to prohibit anything over 35 feet high, a provision that protects the view, but the company, a hefty local taxpayer, won a variance. . . .

To summarize: the project in San Jose (Samsung) is thoughtful, LG’s is a public shame.

The article is here.


Open Thread: April 12, 2014


Have a good weekend, folks.


Samsung sues newspaper over report on Galaxy 5

Samsung has launched a KRW 300 million lawsuit against Korean IT newspaper The Electronic Times for running an article that questioned whether the company would be able to launch the Galaxy 5 on time:

Last month ET News published claims that Samsung was having trouble producing Galaxy S5 cameras putting the device’s April 11th launch in jeopardy. Samsung states that’s not true. The Korean publication stood by its claims, refusing to change the story when requested by Samsung.

Samsung is now suing for 300 million KRW – about $284,000. The lawsuit was confirmed to TechCrunch by a Samsung representative.

I will say this about the Electronic Times—they aren’t sitting back and taking it. Since Samsung issued its demand for a correction, the paper has been firing back with a flood of articles criticizing Samsung, reports Pressian. So much so that Samsung is accusing the paper of using articles as a weapon. The Electronic Times, meanwhile, is accusing Samsung of using its economic power to “tame” the media.

Now, I have no idea whether the report in the Electronic Times was true or not. That said, Pressian and Media Today note that rather than take its case to the Press Arbitration Commission, the usual practice in cases like this, Samsung chose to launch a lawsuit straight away just two weeks after the store was printed. If true, this might lead some to suspect there’s something else going on here, even if Samsung has legitimate cause for complaint with the Electronic Times.

Now, as somebody who a) likes Samsung products, b) views Samsung as a symbol of Korean drive and ingenuity and therefore wants them to succeed but c) is simultaneously scared shitless of the company because of stuff like this, I’d caution Samsung that in terms of PR, lawsuits of this sort often cause more harm than good. As Media Today notes, Samsung launched the lawsuit because it was worried the Electronic Times’ report would spread and impact sales. Since the lawsuit, however, the foreign press—including FOX News—and big tech bloggers have picked up the story. This is probably NOT the effect Samsung intended. To make matters worse, a story at AppleInsider compares the Korean electronics giant rather unfavorably to the Cupertino Fruit Company, which—assuming the report is true—almost never sues newspapers/blogs despite the countless groundless rumors that accompany the release of just about every iPhone model.


Roboseyo has posted some very handy tips for determining whether the writer of a particular story about Korea actually knows anything about Korea:

You know how it is: whenever global or OECD rankings come out, whenever a Korean hits the global stage, whenever something’s written about Korea in a prestigious magazine, or bidding opens for another major global event… it becomes clear that in general, Koreans in high places (and perhaps many ordinary folks as well) really really do care what non-Koreans think about Korea. I’ve written about this before… perhaps my most memorable (to me) being “In Which Roboseyo Exhorts Seoul City Not To Get In A Snit About Lonely Planet.” One result of this abiding interest is the occasional case where some article, blog post, or other bit of writing gets far more attention than it deserves, through social media, netizen backlash, anxiety that someone Doesn’t Like Korea, or whatnot.

No. 3, “They use Han, Jung, Confucianism, Nunchi, Chaemyon, and other “Magic words” to explain Korean culture,” is the one that irks me the most, although to be fair, locals (about whom it can be presumed they know at least something about Korea) are wont to do this, too, when explaining things to a non-Korean audience.

As for No. 5, “(And this is the biggie) They don’t know any Korean,” is a good one, too, although as Roboseyo points out, it’s not a deal breaker in and of itself. I know of a couple of very knowledgeable writers about Korea whose Korean proficiency could generously be described as basic. Inability to understand a Korean news broadcast, read a Korean newspaper or interview a Korean, however, does limit your ability to gather and relay information. There is a corollary to this, though: just because you speak or understand Korean doesn’t mean you’re an expert on Korea. I know plenty of Koreans who can read the New York Times in English. Very few of them, however, I’d want to see on MBC analyzing the November midterms or the crisis in the Ukraine.

Speaking of the Ukraine, last month I read a pretty funny piece in the Spectator that provided ten handy phrases to help you bluff your way through a discussion on the Ukraine. Perhaps it would be fun to put together a similar list for Korea?


A survey of 642 female and 505 male visitors to Korea by Korspot, a social media group that promotes Korea, revealed that 90% would like to date a Korean.

When asked why, female respondents cited “interest in Korean culture and language” (27.4%) and “Korean men seem to work hard and to be responsible” (13.1%).

Male respondents, meanwhile, said “Korean women are pretty” (23.2%) and “Korean women have a lot of aegyo” (16.2%).

For some of our non-Korean readers who may not be familiar with the concept of aegyo:

Next up, survey reveals men watch Game of Thrones because they like violence, boobs.


Thursday Roundup

1. Party Nominations

Ahn Chulsu 안철수 of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) has bowed to the pressure of the party politics and opinions by following the result reflected in the public poll carried out yesterday with regards to party nominations for basic elections. The overall result was 56.44% to 46.56% for the status quo (to keep the party nominations) – a breakdown of 49.75% to 50.25% for the public opinion but a result of 57.14%:42.86% for opinions of his own party-members.

He had been stuck-in-the-middle between the President Park/Saenuri and Roh-supporters within his own newly founded political camp – who went back on their promise of getting rid of the party political nominations. Here is a link to a good background article in English. He even went for a surprise-visit to the Blue House to ask for a meeting with Park who’d been giving him the silent treatment (the woman’s really good at not seeing people she doesn’t want to see) on this issue. Incidentally, the president was out at that time, “meeting with the soap star Lee Minho 이민호 to discuss Korean contents promotion abroad (uh, why????!!!!)

When I talk with some older Korean men about Ahn, the overall reason for a negative opinion on him has been of the following kind : “He has no political experience.” or “How is he any different from what exists already?”

There is a Korean saying 요령이 없다, to not possess a know-how. The word 요령 is one of those words that sits precariously on the fence of positive/negative connotation depending on the verb which follows it and the circumstance involved.

For example, To possess 요령, 요령이 있다 can roughly be translated into “to do something with ease and possess a know-how”, often perceived as taking a short-cut. To lack 요령, 요령이 없다 on the other hand, is to stick to principles and be too diligent and a bit obtuse to the point of being a bit 답답하다.

요령을 부리다/피우다, (as in 꾀를 피우다, 잔머리 굴리다) is to go one step further towards the negative connotation, i.e. to apply the know-how to do something in a sly way.

Judging by what he has done so far, I think when Ahn is accused of “not having the political experience” it is simply that his character is that of somebody who is surprisingly 요령이 없는 사람. Surprising, for an entrepreneur type, that is. Seems like it’s both his good point and contributing to his downfall. Still, so far, I think it is refreshing to see this in Korean politics where, let alone 요령, an advanced level skill of principle-bending seems to be a necessary admittance-pass one must possess.

2. Child-Abuse and welfare blind spots
The government is set to address the issue of child-abuse and welfare blind spots – two social issues which have seen an increasing number of sad incidents recently including:

– Two separate horrific abuse/beating to death of the stepdaughters in Taegu, and Ulsan – which will both get the court ruling tomorrow (11 April 2014)

The case of neglect – Incheon 4 siblings in primary/middle school years found neglected in a flat which was “like a rubbish-tip”.

– The case of a Seoul-Songpa-ku mother and two grown-up daughters committing suicides related to poverty-issues covered here on this blog

3. Noisy Neighbours

This is a social topic that I have seen being discussed between friends and family in Korea recently..but it seems now the government has set some sort of guidelines as to what constitutes an acceptable noise level between neighbours (43dB consecutively for more than a minute(Leq)) & 52dB(maximum noise level (Lmax))during the day, 38dB(Leq) & 52dB((Lmax) during the night.

For those without a noise-barometer handy, roughly what corresponds to these noises?

43㏈은 체중 28㎏의 어린이가 1분간 계속해서 뛸 때 나는 정도의 소음이다. 38㏈은 30초간 뛸 때 나는 소음에 해당한다. 또 57㏈은 28㎏ 어린이가 50㎝ 높이에서 바닥으로 뛰어내렸을 때 생기는 소음이다. 따라서 이 기준은 아파트 거주자가 무심하게 걷거나 일상생활을 하는 데는 지장이 없을 수준이라고 국토부는 설명했다.

I guess the examples given indicates clearly what is the primary cause of the neighbour disputes in Korean apartment buildings. I blame the large 평수 area of the middle-to-large apartment buildings nowadays. When I was young, the average floor area of an apartment flat was not as large as what you see nowadays, certainly, very few families with young kids would be able to afford an apartment with a large enough space for them to “run around” in. 다다다다다다-

4. Trains

-Larva Trains
This made me laugh.

Park Wonsoon, the Seoul City mayor has replied “Egg of Columbus“- when he was accused by some of “using what was originally Oh Sehoon (his predecessor)’s idea” in implementing Tayo bus around Seoul, an idea that has proven to be so very successful, now they are in discussion of making the Seoul metro into Larva trains, after another hugely successful children’s animation character.

Really, what some people accuse other people of…

-Cheap Chinese Lines
There is a police investigation into whether the wires supplied for the construction of Honam line KTX (specifically 조사선, support/balance wires) were switched to cheap Chinese equivalent at the supply level after initially passing the test with higher quality domestic manufactured/constructed wires. 60 percent of the 745km long Chinese wires has already been put in place, which would mean depending on the ruling, the pulling-down and re-constructing will significantly affect the completion time and the budget.


Seoul is bolstering its ability to detect low-flying North Korean drones by acquiring Israeli-made RPS-42 tactical air surveillance radar systems:

A government source says Seoul plans to buy around ten RPS-42 tactical air surveillance radars to detect North Korean drones.
The source said the military plans to deploy the RPS-42 radars next year to key government facilities, including the presidential office, and to the western front.

The Israeli made radars are optimized to detect and track all types of aerial objects within a 30-kilometer radius. Each radar costs around 900 million won.

You can read more about the system here at the RADA Electronic Industries website. There’s a nice PDF factsheet just in case you wanted to pick up one yourself.

Yonhap, meanwhile, reports that the Ministry of Defense is also considering attaching to the new radar system a German-made laser weapon to, you know, shoot down the drones.

Which, when you think about it, is pretty cool.

Naysayers, however, express concern that because the new radar system is capable of detecting small drones within a range of only 10km, it’s can be used to defend key facilities only; drones that enter through mountain regions in Gangwon-do, meanwhile, could still enter undetected.

North Korea might also just, you know, fly their drones using paths that avoid the new radar systems.

A military official told Yonhap that to detect every small drone North Korea sends over would require a tight net of hundreds of low-altitude radar systems, which in turn would requires lots and lots of cash.