The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Author: Robert Koehler (page 1 of 582)

Legal pot, Samsung sneers, and thanks for the help, Korea

- In one of the most entertaining pieces I’ve read all year, the Korea Times reports that some Koreans in the United States—well, in Colorado and Washington State—are experiencing “culture shock” with legal pot:

”Two months after my family moved in to a new house, we found out our neighbor was growing pot in her backyard with the fan running 24 hours a day,” wrote one Korean resident of Colorado on a local Korean online forum.

”My family, including my two young children, had to smell pot all day and all night. It’s been so torturous that I listed the house for sale, but realtors tell me I’m out of luck as long as the marijuana garden is next door,” she added.

Hey, just be happy you weren’t living next to a meth lab.

David Kim, an official of the Korean-American Association of Washington, told the Korea Times that, “‘It’s a culture shock. No matter what advocates here say, for Koreans, marijuana has always been and probably always will be considered a bad drug.” Except, of course, that’s not actually true. And it’s reportedly still legal in North Korea.

– Samsung is finding much humor in Apple’s decision to “go big,” although there appears to be some disagreement within Samsung regarding what’s actually funny:

The Korea-based company immediately released ads mocking almost every element of Apple’s show. The ads were a little coarse around the edges, not offering the same wit as some of the excellent mocking ads that had emerged from its US wing.

It was instructive that Samsung’s US spokesperson released this terse statement about them: “The social videos were produced in Korea and are not part of the US marketing campaign.”

Some might have translated that as: “Aaaggh. There they go undoing all our hard work. Bloody corporate headquarters!”

Anyway, watch the videos on your own. Frankly, I liked the Korean-produced ones better, even if I’ll never use an Android device again.

Don’t expect much help from Korea in the fight against ISIS.

Open Thread: Chuseok 2014

I just wanted to wish you all a happy and healthy Chuseok holiday.

Myanmar beauty queen wants an apology, soldiers face murder charges and N. Korean car culture

- May Myat Noe, the dethroned Burmese beauty queen accused of running off from Korea with a $100,000 tiara, says she will give back her crown… IF the organizers offer her an apology:

She told reporters she was forced to lie about her age and organisers had demanded that she have “head-to-toe” plastic surgery.

She also denied claims that she had run off with the crown, saying she had boarded the plane for Myanmar without realising she had been dethroned.

Over at the Korea Observer, Kim Tae-hoon talked with May Myat Noe, but perhaps more interestingly, he also tried to visit the organizers’ office… with interesting results.

– I suppose it’s nice that lawmakers have each other’s backs.

– The four soldiers accused of, well, beating a fellow soldier to death are now being charged with murder. And how’s this for horrible:

Investigators in the Third Army also concluded that so-called crush syndrome and secondary shock from a long period of violence were the main causes of Yoon’s death, citing reviews of medical and autopsy records and consultations with experts.

“Crush syndrome threatened the soldier’s life as muscles were destroyed and blood became toxic due to a beating or a crushing injury,” said Col. Kim Jin-gi, staff judge advocate of the Third Army headquarters. “A secondary shock was from massive blood loss due to injury.”

“In other words, he was beaten to death,” another military official said.

Crush syndrome is usually associated with people who are injured in an earthquake or a collapsed building.

Colonel Kim said the accused soldiers, who had enough medical knowledge as medical officers, were aware of Yoon’s deteriorating physical condition on the day of his final beating but did not stop the brutality.

“Some of the accused were medical students, and they had enough understanding that Yoon could die from continuing beatings and abuse,” he said. “We secured evidence to accuse them with gross negligence.”

I’d write something, but really, I’m speechless.

And in more “Good News from the ROK Military,” the commander of the 1st ROK Army has been sacked for getting sloshed at a time when the military was supposed to be at heightened readiness, and two special forces soldiers died during a harsh training exercise meant to simulate captivity conditions.

– Korean-born Fleur Pellerin is France’s new Minister of Culture.

– North Korea has screwed Volvo out of USD 393 million, reports Jalopnik. But before you feel too bad for the folk involved:

The story goes like this: back in the late 60s/early 70s, North Korea seemed to be making remarkable economic growth and had a lot of potential mineral wealth opportunities. In Sweden, an unusual alliance of socialist groups who wanted the Marxist state recognized and capitalists who wanted to recognize a lot of cash from mining agreed that it would be a great idea to start doing some business with North Korea.

And that was the mistake.

Volvo was one of the first to take advantage of this incredible opportunity, shipping 1000 Volvo 144s to the Hermit Kingdom, along with, presumably, a bill which then-leader Kim Il-Sung promptly got a crack team of highly trained ignorers to forget about.

Let this be a lesson to you.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it already, check out Jalopnik’s fascinating look at North Korea’s car culture. And according to the Financial Times, at least somebody in North Korea is driving around in a BMW 7 Series.

Tiaras, t*ts and human rights abuses, Ashley Madison sues, K-pop’s black fans & more dangerous satire

- Well, I’m sure you’re all familiar now with the Burmese beauty queen who allegedly ran off from Korea with a tiara and a new set of boobs. The organizers have taken to the press to bash her, but judging from this piece in the excellent Korea Observer, it would seem there are some serious shenanigans going on with the organizers, too. And this is not the first time allegations have been made against the pageant in question, either.

– Ashley Madison is suing Korea, accusing Seoul of blocking their website for no reason other than to protect local companies:

The suit alleges South Korea is trying to give its own companies a leg up when it comes to breaking into the Canadian market.

“The defendants’ anti-competitive practices in South Korea have a direct impact in Canada on communications and social networking businesses and websites competing for the Korean-Canadian and Asian-Canadian market for such websites,” it claims.

“Given the global reach of the Internet, a social networking service that meets with success among any particular group of people in one country has or will have a significant competitive advantage among people of that same group or related groups in other countries.”

OK, granted, we are talking about a country that criminalizes adultery and arrested some, ahem, entertainers for shooting porn… in Canada.

But we’re also talking about a country that’s not above a bit of neo-mercantilism, either.

– In case you were wondering, yes, there are black folk who like K-pop.

– Yes, Korea has a plagiarism problem, although as everybody knows, it’s not because of Confucianism. It’s because of PTSD.

– Last, but certainly not least, I’m pretty sure I’d agree with little of this guy’s politics, but he’s right when he says, “Satirizing political power should not be a crime.”

N. Korean cheerleaders, N. Korean racism irony, ‘S’ company sinkholes and the dangers of sarcasm

- So much for the North Korean cheering squad:

Reversing its earlier decision, North Korea said Thursday that it will not send a cheerleading squad to accompany its athletes who will compete in the upcoming Asian Games in South Korea.

The announcement by Son Kwang-ho, the vice chairman of North Korea’s National Olympic Committee, said no cheerleaders will be dispatched to the Asiad to be held in the western port city of Incheon from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.

Son cited South Korea’s negative view of its cheerleaders as a major reason for its decision to call off its plan.

And by negative view, what the North really means is, “Seoul won’t pay for them“:

Pyongyang cited disagreement over whether Seoul would foot the bill for the North’s athletes and cheerleaders as one point of contention. The North initially proposed sending around 700 people including 350 cheerleaders. In previous sporting events in South Korea, Seoul has underwritten North Korea’s costs. This time around, it said that the international norm of each country paying its way should be followed.

Personally, North Korean “cheering”—basically a slickly produced B&W film away from the Nuremberg Rally—is not something I think anyone should be encouraging, so this is a good development, IMHO.

– The day North Korea—yes, that North Koreaaccused the United States of racism was the day irony died. To appreciate this fully, though, read the Korean version of the KCNA description of President Obama from May. For that matter, they’ve been accusing South Korea of polluting the bloodlines by having mix-race babies for years now.

– If you fall into a sinkhole in Songpa-gu, this is who you’ll want to blame. Hint: It’s not Lotte. In fact, the sinkholes have nothing to even do with the construction of the Lotte World Tower. As a note, though, a quick Google search showed that quite a few papers did in fact prominently feature the name of the company that was responsible…at least in Korean.

– You’ll be happy to learn that retweeting North Korean propaganda in order to make fun of it is legal. So says the Supreme Court:

“Praising the North Korean regime, a violation of the National Security Law, is applied [to a suspect] when there is possibility [for him] to commit an evil act harming the existence of the country and public security,” the Supreme Court judges said in their verdict, “But he was not that kind of case.”

It’s outrageous that the defendant is this bullshit case was ever put on trial in the first place. But as was noted earlier in the case, the authorities—and certain major Korean corporations, for that matter—don’t take sarcasm very well.

– So, on my Facebook, I was saying how much I enjoyed “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Pacific Rim,” and somebody linked to an extended version of the Pacific Rim soundtrack, which, io9 points out, “Anything you do while listening to this will seem 1000 percent more heroic.” So I share it with you on this lovely Friday:

Crap I read today

- It’s amazing nobody’s been charged with murder for this yet:

The death in April of a young Army conscript who allegedly suffered constant physical abuse by his fellow soldiers was directly caused by a particularly brutal assault incident by his peers, a human rights official said yesterday, urging the military to charge the suspects with murder.

According to Lim Tae-hun, the head of the Center for Military Human Rights, the 23-year-old private, surnamed Yun, died not from choking, as previously stated, but because he lost consciousness after being severely beaten.

Lim also claimed that Yun, who served in the Army’s 28th Infantry Division, was already dead by the time he arrived at the hospital that day, not a day later as reported.

Abuse doesn’t even begin to explain what happened to this kid:

Four of the alleged assailants were indicted three days after his death on manslaughter charges, with the others — a staff sergeant and a private first class — charged with assault.

“We decided to modify the indictment to bring sexual harassment charges against a sergeant surnamed Lee,” said the senior Army officer said, requesting anonymity.

“On the day of the incident, Lee allegedly forced Yoon to apply ointment to his sexual organ. Lee told the prosecution he did it because Yoon responded to him in a nasty way,” he added.

The prosecution has also been mulling whether to apply “murder charges against the four suspects rather than manslaughter, and will make a final decision within a week,” according to the officer.

For more than a month after being dispatched to the 28th Infantry Division, Yoon allegedly had been beaten almost 100 times per day, according to the prosecution. The suspects also often forced him to stay awake until 3 a.m., hold a horse-riding stance for hours during the night and lick their spit from the ground.

I’ve heard a lot of folk ask why they should send their children to the military when this is the kind of shit that awaits them.

– Well, this is embarrassing. I’m sure Yu-na doesn’t approve, either.

– K-pop isn’t hypersexual, eh? Obviously, John Power doesn’t agree.

North Korean planes are falling out of the sky and Pyongyang’s latest military hardware is decades old. How much longer can the regime last? Being a pessimist when it comes to North Korea, I’d have to say, “Pretty long.” UPDATE: And experts seem to be saying “10–20 years” (HT to Jonathan Cheng)

– The US is concerned about South Korean espionage? Shocking.

Seven urban wastelands in Seoul.

Africa’s a big place, folk

Duksung Women’s University, the host of the World Congress of Global Partnership for Young Women 2014, has rescinded its invitation to Nigerian participants due to the West African ebola outbreak, but some feel this apparently not enough:

However, it was not enough to cool down intensifying frustration from critics who demanded the entire congress to be called off. Some of the women’s university students and other opponents argue that other African participants from countries like Ghana or Rwanda may have come in contact with the disease.

The students yesterday initiated an online petition to cancel the event, garnering support from more than 15,000 people. Duksung’s official blog and website as well as a bulletin board on the Blue House’s website were bombarded with a flood of posts condemning the school’s hosting of the event.

The school said that it would try its best to prevent any potentially detrimental effects, reassuring the public that health officials would be on the lookout for anyone exhibiting Ebola symptoms, especially among the African participants. The school also said it would have participants stay in a separate building away from the school’s dormitory, reversing its initial plan to accommodate them in the dorms.

“It’s impossible to block the entrance of those from the non-affected countries,” said Heo In-seob, a public relations official with the university. “We are cooperating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I think that worries are too exaggerated.”

It’s good to be cautious, of course, but one wonders what some of the same netizens might think if foreign netizens called for Korean participants to be banned from an international conference because of a disease outbreak… in Myanmar.

The perils of intercultural communication… in the KBO

As I said on my Facebook page, I don’t blame the ump at all for this. It’s one thing to get yelled at by a foreigner in a foreign language. It’s another to get yelled at by a foreigner in a foreign language for a pitch that’s clearly high and inside.

Charlie Shirek isn’t the only one experiencing communication issues in the KBO. Former MLBer Luke Scott was cut from his team last month for yelling at his manager. Well, for yelling at his manager and, one suspects, for putting up disappointing numbers. As Deadspin notes, though, Scott’s case might not be about cultural or linguistic misunderstandings at all:

The report’s “insiders” chalk things up to cultural differences, though no one’s actually on record as saying that. But why would there be any cultural confusion here? Luke Scott speaks fluent dick, and dick is a universal language.

Of course, Scott is a special sort of guy.

Open Thread: Aug 3, 2014

Hope you all had a good weekend.

If you’re bored, I’ve posted some shots over at Ye Olde Photoblog, including some photos of the spectacular sunset over Seoul on Saturday night.

Korean by-election results, a.k.a. Holy f*ck, Saenuri won in Honam

Despite public anger at the government’s handling of the Sewol disaster and President Park’s approval ratings faltering, the ruling party won—and won big—in yesterday’s by-election, winning in 11 of 15 races, including all but one seat in the greater Seoul area.

This gives the Saenuri Party an absolute majority in the 300-seat National Assembly and leaves a lot of observers—me included—scratching their heads.

The biggest surprise of the day happened in Suncheon/Gokseong, where the Saenuri Party’s Lee Jung-hyun became the first conservative in over two decades to win in Gwangju/Jeollanam-do:

The most unexpected outcome came from a race in Suncheon and Gokseong in South Jeolla, where former senior presidential secretary Lee Jung-hyun of the Saenuri defeated NPAD candidate Suh Gab-won, a loyalist to former President Roh Moo-hyun. Lee’s victory marked the first time for 26 years that a conservative party candidate was elected in South Jeolla, a traditional opposition stronghold, and is seen as a meaningful step in breaking the thick layer of regionalism in Korean politics.

For Lee, three times are a charm:

His victory came after two previous failed attempts in the province. In the 2004 general election, he received a miniscule 1.03% of the vote but surprised political observers in 2012 by garnering 39.7%.

For those keeping score at home, it’s only been 18 years since a conservative won in Jeollabuk-do—Kang Hyun-wook won in one of Gunsan’s electoral districts in 1996.

The National Assembly also welcomes back Na Kyung-won, whose fortunes look better than they did when she lost to Park Won-soon in the Seoul’s mayor race in 2011, and a damn sight better than when she dropped out of the 2012 general election after it turned out her husband—a judge—had asked another judge to indict a netizen on charges of defaming his wife (to be fair to Na, she was the victim of some pretty bad defaming in the Seoul race, albeit at the hands of folk not related to this case).

Yonhap basically says this was an election the Saenuri couldn’t win and the NPAD couldn’t lose… and yet they did. The news agency blames the opposition for opting to run on the Sewol tragedy rather than, say, present any meaningful policy alternatives. If you read Korean, the Chosun Ilbo’s editorial lists pretty much everything the opposition did wrong. It’s not pretty—my personal favorite is the opposition playing up conspiracy theories regarding the corpse of Yoo Byung-eun.

Anyway, the NPAD’s two co-heads, Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil, are resigning, as is the party’s entire supreme council.

Who said North Korea lacked a sense of humor?

Hwang Pyong-So, the director of the North Korean military’s General Political Bureau, has threatened to nuke the White House and the Pentagon:

A senior North Korean military official on Sunday threatened to launch a nuclear strike on the White House and Pentagon, according to Agence France-Presse.

“If the US imperialists threaten our sovereignty and survival … our troops will fire our nuclear-armed rockets at the White House and the Pentagon — the sources of all evil,” Hwang Pyong-So said in a speech in Pyongyang during a military rally.

Hwang is director of the military’s General Political Bureau.

You know what the problem with North Korea is? They never threaten to nuke something good. Like your local DMV or the IRS. Or Boston.

Anyway, the US State Department shrugged off the threat. In fact, in the department’s latest press briefing, they hardly mentioned it at all (and only at the very end). Apparently, there’s more important stuff going on in the Levant and the Ukraine.

Speaking of North Korea and the Levant, though, a report in the Telegraph suggests Hamas might be hitting the North Koreans up for missiles and communication support:

Hamas is attempting to negotiate a new arms deal with North Korea for missiles and communications commitment that will allow it to maintain its offensive against Israel, according to Western security sources.

Security officials say the deal between Hamas and North Korea is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and is being handled by a Lebanese-based trading company with ties to the militant Palestinian organization.

Hamas officials are believed to have already made an initial cash downpayment to secure the deal and are hoping that North Korea will soon begin shipping extra supplies of weapons to Gaza.

One suspects North Korean cargo ships may begin experiencing a series of catastrophic accidents as certain individuals begin disappearing from the streets of Beirut.

Quincy Black gets 2 years, 6 months in the can / blogging vacation over

Seoul Central District Court handed former American English teacher and would-be porn star Quincy Black (stage name, I’m assuming) a two year, six month prison sentence on July 18.

Coming to Korea in 2009 to teach English, Mr. Black brought a 15-year-old girl (that’s 15 Korean age, meaning she was actually 14) he met on a chatting site in 2010 back to his place and had sex with her, recording the experience with three previously installed cameras and one hand-held camera.

He later did the same to a woman in her 30s.

In its ruling the court said Black’s crime was very bad—the victim was a minor and the offender was a native speaking teacher tasked with teaching English to elementary school students who forgot his duty to foster good sexual values in children and youth and to protect and lead.

The bench also noted the victims had suffered considerable psychological distress due to the release of the videos—the minor left for abroad after experiencing difficulties in her daily life, while the adult victim had yet to forgive Mr. Black.

The court did lessen his sentence, though, taking into consideration the fact that he’d deposited some KRW 9 million for the victims and had no criminal record during his stay in Korea.

Mr. Black will be deported after his prison sentence is up.


As a friend recently pointed out to me, it’s been something like a month since I’ve posted anything of substance here.

I apologize for that, but to be perfectly honest, I needed a break.

I’ve been maintaining this blog since 2003, and rest assured, I have no intention of shutting it down anytime soon. I enjoy doing it, and I’m very grateful to the readers, commenters and especially the co-bloggers who have made this little piece of cyberspace into something moderately entertaining at times and, on rare occasions, even mildly informative.

That said, it does feel like work at times, and like with work, you sometimes need a vacation to recharge. This is doubly so when your actual work-work includes being the editor-in-chief of two magazines, translating one book and writing another. Simultaneously.

It’s also no secret that I’ve been spending a considerable amount of effort on my photoblog, where I’ve been in the midst of a 365 project.

Anyway, I’m rested and ready now, so back to blogging I go.

I want to thank once again my co-bloggers for keeping the ship afloat (probably a bad analogy, considering recent events) while I went on an unannounced vacation. WIthout your help, this blog would have died long ago.

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.

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