The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Author: Robert Koehler (page 1 of 581)

Open Thread: July 7, 2014

Have fun, folk.

PS: Regular blogging to restart from this evening.

Open Thread: the Monday edition


Sunrise over Yangsu-ri

Sorry for posting this so late—had a very long and very busy weekend. It happens.

Evangelical Baptist Church fugitives use evil foreign app to evade justice

News1 reports that the Evangelical Baptist Church members accused of helping Yoo Byung-eun escape justice have been using Viber—an American application similar to KakaoTalk—to communicate with one another.

Because Viber’s servers are overseas, it’s hard for the authorities to bug them, and local investigators can’t conduct search and seizures.

Interestingly enough, Viber became famous in Korea because then-presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo—himself a cybersecurity expert—used it to communicate with his campaign folk, citing security.

The church folk are apparently changing their USIM cards, too.

The PM fiasco: it’d be funny if it weren’t so serious

Is there really anything anyone can say about this?

President Park Geun-hye on Thursday retained Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, a sign that underscores the difficulty in finding a qualified nominee for the country’s No. 2 job.

Chung offered to quit in April following a deadly ferry disaster, but Park turned down his resignation offer and asked him to keep his job, said Yoon Doo-hyun, the senior presidential press secretary.

Park took the step as she “could not leave the situation as it is” at a time when the country is divided over a series of issues exposed by the process leading to a parliamentary confirmation hearing, said Yoon.

Over 50 million people in a country that leans markedly center-right, and Park can’t find a half-way decent suit to fill the PM position?

And in case you’ve forgotten how we got to this point:

To help resolve the manpower problem, Park is bringing back a presidential secretary position in charge of personnel management; the position had been done away with by President Lee. There’s a lot of politicking and attempted blame-shifting going on, too, particularly by the right, which would like this to be about anything else BUT President Park’s questionable personnel choices.

Social media, meanwhile, is expressing its frustration with this fiasco. These tweets by Chin Jung-kwon sums up the “WTF” mood best:

GOP rampage suspect captured, but questions remain

The soldier who went on a rampage at his DMZ guard post in Gangwon-do has been caught—alive, no less—but the story is by no means over.

The Ministry of Defense is saying there are a lot of potential problem soldiers in the military. How many, you might ask? This many:

Speaking at a June 23 morning briefing on a recent incident in which a soldier identified by his surname Lim fatally shot five colleagues, ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok explained, “The 22nd Infantry Division [where Lim worked] has around 1,800 troops listed as ‘requiring special attention’ in the three categories of A, B, and C, or about 20% of all troops.”

Kim went on to say, “They’re not all clustered in the 22nd Division. There’s just generally a lot of soldiers that require attention.”

When asked by a reporter if the issue extended throughout the military, Kim said, “I believe the rate is similar [around 20%] for the military as a whole.”

Lim was one such soldier:

According to the Army, Lim enlisted in December 2012 after his freshman year in college and was assigned to the 22nd division in February 2013.

However, he was sidelined from performing patrols at the border in April last year following the outcome of a military-conducted personality test, which showed that he required special attention.

Lim’s test results put him in the highest Level A, indicating that he needed extra supervision and was mentally unfit to perform the border patrols. Level C is for those who just joined the Army less than four months ago or are deemed too weak to perform their duties.

But just seven months later, the sergeant was downgraded to Level B, which enabled him to perform border patrol duties, a task that carries a high risk. One military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Lim’s unit downgraded his personality assessment because he had shown improvement in his character in the time since.

The problem, both military and non-military folk say, is that the army’s chronic manpower shortages—which won’t be getting any better—make it necessary to put “soldiers of interest” on the DMZ for guard duty. One army captain who lead a platoon on the DMZ told Newsis that in some platoons, half the guys are “soldiers of interest.”

Meanwhile, the military response to the incident is being criticized for being something of a clusterfuck, with poor communication between the military and the police, belated orders to evacuate civilians, and a friendly fire incident in which one trooper almost got his head blown off.

As for why a guy with only three months left in the service would go postal, it appears he was just a very introverted guy who did not get along with his fellow soldiers and, on a practical level, may have been treated lower than his actual rank.

UPDATE: Great, if somewhat disconcerting, photograph from the standoff:

Must be God’s will, I guess

Moon Chang-keuk is hanging them up after all:

South Korea’s prime minister nominee withdrew his name Tuesday amid mounting criticism of his alleged pro-Japanese views, in what is seen as a fresh blow to President Park Geun-hye’s efforts to contain the fallout from a deadly ferry sinking.
[...]
“I agree with President Park Geun-hye’s words that she would reform the root of this nation,” Moon said in a hurriedly called press conference held at a government building near the presidential office. “I also wanted to contribute with the little strength I have to (Park’s) words that she would lead the divided nation to unity and reconciliation.

“However, following my nomination as prime minister, this nation fell into greater confrontation and division. It worried me that this kind of situation would become a stumbling block to the president’s future running of state affairs.”

With Moon out of the way, I’d say attention is about to focus on Chung Sung-keun, President Park’s nominee for minister of culture, sports and tourism. Noted legal scholar and SNU professor Cho Guk is accusing the former TV news anchor and Arirang TV CEO of tweeting that Cho, Father Park Chang-shin of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, writer Gong Ji-yeong and Kim Yong-min should go and live in North Korea. A list of some of his better tweets can be found here.

Open Thread: June 21, 2014

Have a good weekend, folks.

Moon Chang-keuk won’t give up, and other crap I read: June 20, 2014

Moon’s got balls. I’ll give him that.

Despite a second call by Rep. Suh Chung-won for him to step down and even signs Cheong Wa Dae wants its pick back, Moon Chang-keuk shows no signs of throwing in the towel:

Prime Minister nominee Moon Chang-keuk said Thursday that he would press ahead with preparations for an envisioned National Assembly confirmation hearing.

“My position has not changed. I will do what I can do now to prepare for my confirmation hearing,” Moon said.

His remarks put more pressure on Cheong Wa Dae.

For what it’s worth, Moon’s now saying all the right things about the Comfort Women, the Kono Statement, his historical heroes (Ahn Jung-geun, Ahn Chang-ho) and Dokdo. I still think he’s screwed, though.

If you read Korean—and come on, you know you do—there’s a pretty good take-down of Moon’s historical views in NoCutNews. In particular, Moon is criticized for focusing almost exclusively on negative depictions of late Joseon, particular by early nationalist and later Japanese collaborator Yun Chi-ho, while ignoring positive depictions of late Joseon by observers like Isabella Bird Bishop. Mind you, even in the world of online historical debate, this is a frequently seen tactic.

I’ll also say that while I don’t know Moon personally, I suspect his historical views are very much a product of how his generation was taught. Even after the Japanese went home, colonial historiography continued to impact the way Korean history was understood and taught for quite some time. His generation viewed pre-modern Korea, and the late Joseon Dynasty in particular, as weak, corrupt, faction-ridden, superstitious and, in a word, backwards. Basically, everything the Japanese told them they were. It’s not a coincidence that Korea’s post-war political elites—many of whom, like late President Park Chung-hee, were Japanese educated and trained—launched a war on Korea’s very own traditional culture as part of their modernization efforts. Throw in the Jesus factor, and then it’s no surprise Moon has a serious hate-on for his own country’s history.

More people disapprove of President Park

On a related note, a poll by Gallup Korea shows that the Moon Chang-keuk fiasco has helped drive President Park’s approval rating below her disapproval rating for the first time ever.

The president’s approval rating stood at 43%, while 48% of respondents disapproved of the way she was running the joint. Of the people who disapproved, 39% cited her personnel choices, nearly twice the number from the week before.

Interestingly enough, support for the Saenuri Party was 42%, while support for the opposition alliance was 31%.

Gov’t strips KTU of legal status

Well, this is interesting:

A Seoul court ruled yesterday that the country’s second-largest teachers’ union cannot maintain its legal status, rejecting its claim that the government’s decision to outlaw it violated basic labor rights for teachers in the group.

The ruling yesterday by the Seoul Administrative Court, which handles challenges to government administration, effectively stripped the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union of its legal status and will allow the government to take further action, including stripping it of its collective bargaining rights and requiring teachers working full time at the union to return to their schools.

Last October, the government banned the union because it refused to expel nine union members who were dismissed from their schools.

In case we can’t recall why those teachers were fired:

The decision to strip KTU of its legal status was made after the union accepted nine fired teachers as members. By law, groups cannot accept fired workers as members. KTU has about 600,000 members.

According to association, two of the nine fired teachers were dismissed after protesting school corruption or overall policy. Six were fired for illegal campaigning, accruing donations for a liberal candidate for the 2008 Seoul superintendent race.

Another was fired after preparing material for a seminar with other teachers using a North Korean textbook. All nine teachers lost in their legal bids to return to their schools.

The Chosun Ilbo notes that the union could regain its legal status if it just kicks out the sacked teachers, and warns that if the union continues to fight, it will only harm the kids ™. The Hankyoreh complains that the court focused too much on the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit, and noted that both the ILO and even Korea’s own human rights body have called for the letter of the law to be changed. It also points out that in the last election, progressives won 13 out of 18 regional school superintendent races, and of those 13, eight winners were KTU. Lastly, it warns that if the government and ruling party continue their war against the KTU, it will only harm the kids ™.

My guess is that the Hani has a point, but my view is clouded by my own not-entirely-positive views about the KTU. To be sure, I’m sure the bulk of their members are well-meaning, dedicated teachers and if you think the Korean education system has got problems—and if my comment section is anything to go by, many of you do—then the KTU is probably your best and perhaps only ally. That said, I’m also sure that a significant number of union members see the classroom as the front line in the revolutionary and (pro-North Korean) reunification struggles, which I find abhorrent. I suppose the trick for the government is to find a way to isolate the troublemakers without completely antagonizing the entire union. How they do that, I haven’t a clue.

How NOT to succeed as an Asia-based expat

At Sweet Pickles and Corn, Mr Motgol has posted a pretty entertaining satire/warning and how NOT to succeed in Asia. Read it on your own—here’s just a sample:

[S]ome of my fellow expats have it the other way around. They come to Asia, and THEN implode. Whether they blow all their cash, burn their bridges, or just piss the wrong people off, I’ve seen more than my share of expats unravel here. With their tail quivering between their legs they grab what they can, stuff it into their bags, and crawl onto that first plane home. The rest of us shake our heads and wonder how can this happen in Asia, where–at least for us pampered, spoon-fed Westerners–things are just so damned easy. How is it possible to ASS OUT in a land where Westerners are generally given a berth fit for a cruise ship?

Police crackdowns and other crap I read: June 19, 2014

Gee, you don’t say

The Hankyoreh complains about the disproportionate use of force to contain/put down protests. Now, as anybody who has been here for a while will tell you, this is by no means a new phenomenon, and I don’t have statistics from protests during previous administrations with which to compare, but still, the numbers presented by the Hani are truly astounding.

Even Yours Truly has noticed. This was from the June 10 protest (6,400 vs. 100).

Photo 2014. 6. 10. 오후 7 09 37

Seriously, I didn’t know if they were protecting Cheong Wa Dae or preparing to invade Gaul. And the odd thing was, I think I saw, at most, maybe two protesters…in the entire Gwanghwamun area.

I get that overwhelming numbers may dissuade would-be ne’er-do-wells from engaging in bad behavior, but the heavy-handedness can backfire, too. Mostly by pissing everybody the hell off. People live and work in and around Gwanghwamun (including your Uncle Marmot), and when the neighborhood goes on lockdown, it can become real pain-in-the-ass, and for no real good reason.

PS to cops: Look, I know you guys gotta do what you’ve gotta do, but if you’ve just gotten done violently carting old folk away, commemorative photos are probably in poor taste:

Well, self-reflection is important

So, a well-known Korean restaurant in New York is apparently being sued by several former employees for forcing them to, among other things, “work 18-hour shifts without overtime, attend church before work on Sundays, and “volunteer” their time picking vegetables at a farm outside the city.” (HT to Todd). Get a load of this:

Waiters also testified about having to spend their days off picking cabbages and chili peppers at a farm in New Jersey owned by a friend of the owner, essentially gathering ingredients for the kimchi that the restaurant serves and sells. Song Jong Hyep, a young waiter participating in the lawsuit, recalled being notified of this obligation via fliers posted on the restaurant’s bulletin board.

“The flier said, ‘Let’s go on a picnic and eat barbecued meat together!’” he said in an interview. “But we’re not in the 1960s—it’s not like we can’t eat meat these days. We knew we were only going to have to work for free on our day off.”

For Song and other waiters who declined to pick vegetables, their refusal came with a price. According to Song, the owner told everyone who hadn’t worked on the farm to drop on their knees and beg for his forgiveness, or leave. Song didn’t work for four weeks. Others were denied work for longer than that and effectively fired.

More crap

- Does this mean Moon Chang-geuk’s nomination is dead?

- The incoming US ambassador to Korea is talking about getting Seoul and Tokyo talking. Good luck with that. The new guy is just 41 years old, but he’s apparently well-respected by the Korea policy folk.

- Here’s your primer to Korean cults.

Crap I read: June 18, 2014

So much for heightened safety vigilance

The JoongAng Ilbo inspects Korean safety standards, and they’re not impressed with what they see:

It’s been two months since the Sewol ferry sunk in waters off Jindo, South Jeolla, claiming the lives of nearly 300 victims. But Koreans have already returned to their slipshod ways, forgetting the bitter lesson that negligence of safety can lead to tragedy.

This includes lax safety procedures on Korea’s ferries, including insufficient attention paid to safety instructions, poor lifeboat maintenance, passengers smoking where they shouldn’t be, people blocking exits, etc. Hongdae clubs, too, are reportedly firetraps.

Working holiday/sex trade link?

The Korea Times reports that the Japanese embassy is turning down working holiday applications for women aged 26 or over:

The Japanese Embassy rejected all applications from Korean women age 26 or older for working holiday visas this year in an apparent bid to fight prostitution, sources said Sunday.

The measure follows reports that Korean women have misused such visas to work as prostitutes in Japan.
[...]
“Women age 26 or older all failed to obtain a working holiday visa. There was no exception. All 100 percent failed. Many applied for the visa again and again, but we have to say that the acceptance rate is zero. It seems the age cutoff wasn’t so strict for men,” said an employee of Go Japan, an agency arranging working holidays and student visas on her blog.

Hard to tell what’s true and what’s BS here. The Japanese embassy, for its part, is denying such a policy is in place.

Architects are a funny bunch. Even in North Korea

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the designs North Korean architects came up with when they were told to “go crazy.” The paintings are currently on display in the (award winning!) Korean Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Your tax money at work

That Four Rivers project just gets better and better.

He’s right. Even if it shouldn’t be coming from him.

Even more evidence that irony is dead:

The rumor arose following Rep. Suh Chung-won’s suggestion earlier in the day that Moon Chang-keuk needed to step down, adding to pressure on the controversial ex-journalist.

“After looking at Moon’s actions since his nomination and listening to public opinion, I think Moon needs to read the people’s will regarding his words and actions,” Suh said.
[...]
“(Moon) should engage in serious self-examination. Then (Moon) needs to carefully judge what way (is best) for the people.”

He’s not wrong—Moon’s out there, and recent remarks he made at a lecture at SNU, in which he suggested the recent gay pride parade in Sinchon was intended to “ruin the country,” do not inspire confidence. Still, I suppose it would have been nice to hear this advice from a guy who didn’t do two stints in the pen.

I will say in Moon’s defense that a column he wrote in 2008 that he’s now taking flack for, in which he criticized the Roh administration for exaggerating the Japanese threat to Dokdo, where there was no realistic threat, while saying nothing about the much more real North Korean threat to the NLL, was probably spot on. I’d also say, however, that if Japan’s Sankei Shimbun likes you, you’re probably the wrong man for the job.

Poster, trailer of upcoming Seth Rogen, James Franco flick is ten kinds of awesome

Check out the poster—and translations/explanations—at Buzzfeed (HT to Colin).

Where does President Park find these people?

With the Ahn Dae-hee nomination not working out, President Park nominated former JoongAng Ilbo editor-in-chief Moon Chang-geuk for the prime minister’s spot.

I guess she’s a fan of the Yoon Chang-jung school of political inclusiveness. Now, to be fair, this is a guy who is unlikely to get busted in the states playing grab-ass with the staff, and he appears to have little in the way of personal wealth, which I suppose is a positive in this political climate. Here’s how Cheong Wa Dae describes him:

When announcing the nominations, Blue House spokesperson Min Kyung-wook called Moon “a committed and upright journalist who has brought objective criticism and rational alternatives to his efforts to set right the mistaken practices and longstanding vices of South Korean society.”

Now, this is how his own political friends describe him:

“He grew up in a Christian family in Pyongan Province [in today’s North Korea], so he’s staunchly conservative,” said a political veteran who is close to Moon. “His columns, and everything else he writes, are like ultra-right-wing cudgels.”

Another acquaintance from the ruling Saenuri Party (NFP) expressed confidence that Moon would work “with a sense of ethics and conviction,” but worried, “He may be too conservative to be the right person for bridging divisions and achieving unity.”

“He’s also not especially sociable, so there could end up being communication problems if he finds himself under attack from the opposition, such as during parliamentary questioning,” the acquaintance added.

So, basically he’s an old, right-wing Christian curmudgeon. Great.

Giving evidence to this is KBS, which showed video of a lecture Moon gave at a Church in Yongsan in 2011 in which he said Japanese colonialism was “God’s will,” suggesting that the Korean people needed a trial after idling away 500 years under the “Yi Dynasty” (and I’ll let your Korean friends explain to you the connotation of the term “Yi Dynasty,” or 이조).

He also said the division of Korea was God’s will, saying had God given Koreans full independence, the communists would have taken over the entire place. Oh, and that Koreans are lazy and lack self-reliance. Lots of fun stuff in that last link, BTW, if you read Korean. The Chosun Ilbo, quoting NoCut News, notes that he also told university students that Korea needn’t get an apology for the Comfort Women from Japan, and that Korea should no longer bring up the compensation issue.

He thinks President Park is God’s will, too:

However, the nominee changed his stance on Park after she was elected president in December 2012, calling her victory “God’s choice.”

“What if the election produced an opposite result? Her election is like a guardian angel showing up and saving the protagonist in danger,” he said in a Dec. 24, 2012 editorial.

On a positive note, I’ll grant that the guy has a set of brass balls. When Yonhap cornered him this morning to ask if planned to issue an apology, he responded by asking what he should apologize for. I also think the shinny dome is rather dashing.

CoD: Advanced Warfare demo released, US Marines blow shit out of Gangnam, Cheonggyecheon

(HT to Noe)

Holy effing crap.

At least Korea’s Wikitree noticed.

The game’s due out in November, but I’ve got to wonder if it will ever make it to Korea given the government’s past sensitivity regarding games set in Korea. Even if it’s got Kevin Spacey in it.

Odds and Ends: June 10

Yoo trying to flee the country

So, Yoo Byung-un may be getting help from an organized crime gang to get out of the country:

Investigators have secured circumstantial evidence that Korea’s most-wanted fugitive has contacted an organized crime ring to obtain a bogus passport in order to leave Korea.

They believe that Yoo is still in Korea, and are stepping up searches in Haenam, Mokpo and other port cities in South Jeolla Province to prevent the former Semo Group chairman from escaping overseas.
[...]
The prosecution said it had received a tip about one of Yoo’s aides seeking to lease a boat in Haenam early this month. There are many properties owned by Yoo’s confidents and the Salvation Sect, a religious cult led by him, along the coast of South Jeolla Province.

President Park reportedly said it was nonsense that the police have been unable to catch the guy yet.

Korean pavilion wins award at architecture biennale

So, the Korean Pavilion took top honors at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of la Biennale di Venizia:

Themed “Crow’s Eye View: The Korean Peninsula,” the Korean pavilion featured architecture from the two Koreas.

Cho Min-suk, the commissioner and curator of the pavilion, said that he wanted to bring attention to the architectural transformation in Seoul and Pyongyang. Inspired by modern Korean poet Yi Sang (1910-1937), the exhibition was named after his poem “Crow’s Eye View.”

“Someday, I hope we can do a show on the architecture of the two countries without any drama attached to it,” Cho said during the award ceremony on Saturday. “We looked back at the last 100 years of architecture on the Korean Peninsula as a way of envisioning the future of the two countries.”

Cho’s a wonderful architect, but I’ve got to say, if the last century of Korean architecture is an indication of the future of the country, we are truly screwed.

Kick-ass Miss USA

Newly crowned Miss USA Nia Sanchez is a fourth-degree blackbelt in Taekwondo.

More evidence that irony is dead

So it looks like Rep. Suh Chung-won will make a bid to take over the SNP:

“I am not someone who takes care of Cheong Wa Dae’s orders. (I) will become a responsible chairman of a responsible party,” Suh was quoted as saying by a local daily on Monday.

Suh, the man who will be a responsible chairman of a responsible party, has served two separate prison terms for violating campaign finance laws.

Christ, not even the KPA deserves Philly

Read about Homefront: Revolution (to be released next year) here.

I didn’t think the first Homefront was that bad. OK, it wasn’t GTA V, but it could have been worse. The sequel will utilize the CryEngine, so I expect good things.

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