The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Author: robert neff (page 1 of 39)

Happy Birthday Dr. Fred Dustin: Jeju’s Renaissance Man

Think you have been here for a long time?  Except for a few years while at school, Dr. Fred Dustin has been in Korea since 1952!  He has literally done it all:  Military, English teaching, Mining, Copy Editing, Rainbow trout promoting, writing, voicing, poultry raising, agriculture, and, of course, The Kimnyoung Maze on Jeju Island.

Not only has Dr. Dustin done everything, he also knew everyone.  Have any of you ever heard of the Koryo Club?

Seoul was a city in transformation and it was filled with interesting people. One such person was Ferris Miller, who arrived in Korea prior to the Korean War and returned in 1953 to work for the Bank of Korea. It was he who founded the Koryo Club – a group of Koreans and foreigners with an interest in Korea and its culture.

The meetings were held in Miller’s home and members were supposed to deliver papers on “things Korea” but Dustin, who was the youngest member, does not remember any specific papers every being delivered – only the large number of beer bottles that had to be cleared away the next morning.

But there were exchanges of ideas as evidenced by the names of the members – names that are now well-known in Korea studies: Edward Wagner (founder of the Korea Institute at Harvard), Richard Rutt (a former Anglican bishop who wrote many books on Korean poetry and his life as a country priest), William E. Skillend (the first professor of Korean at the School of Oriental and African Studies), Greg Henderson (diplomat and author), Chung Bi-seok (novelist), Cho Byung-hwa (poet) and Choi Byung-woo (Korea Times managing editor and reporter who died at the age of 34 on Sept. 26, 1958, while covering the Chinese Communist bombing of Quemoy and Matsu Islands).

All of these men had an impact on Dustin’s life.

“I look back in awe and with great respect upon those friends, role models and early mentors,” he fondly recalls.

You can read more about Dr. Dustin here in (Korea Times, Jan. 10, 2014).  For those on Jeju Island – if you get a chance, stop by today and wish him a Happy 84th Birthday.

Thanksgiving in Joseon Korea

Yes, I know Thanksgiving is over but, did you ever wonder what the first Americans in Korea feasted on for Thanksgiving?  It wasn’t much.

Horace Allen, an American missionary doctor, brought his wife and infant son to Seoul in late Oct. 1884. They spent the first month repairing the home and getting it ready for the winter ― and winter was early that year.

Allen described Nov. 27 (Thanksgiving) as “a cold crisp day” with the “ground frozen for four inches below [the] surface.” He complained about the slow progress in plastering the house but then noted that it was the American holiday so “we celebrated the day by a little altar worship by singing ‘My Country tis of Thee’ and by eating ‘Boston Baked Beans’ for tiffin.”

By the mid-1890s, things had improved but getting a turkey was no small matter – they had to be imported from China – so many Americans made due with what was available.  Sallie Sill, the wife of the American Minister to Korea, described one of her substitutions to her daughter:

“I wish you could have seen the swan, a large, handsome, pure white one it seemed a shame to have it killed and eaten.  I do not like the meat as well as turkey, but it is considered a great delicacy here.”

You can read the rest of the article here – Korea Times November 30, 2013.


Notorious Korean gang lord captured in The Philippines

Remember Cho Yang-eun? He “founded the Yangeuni Family in 1978 and once made it the biggest gang” in Korea.  According to this Korea Times article (April 16, 2012):

The Yangeuni Family once had more than 10,000 members. Cho served his first prison sentence from 1980 to 1995 after being convicted of murder and social unrest. He was released in 1995 but jailed again the following year on charges of drug trafficking and attempted homicide.

After being released in 1998, he surprisingly entered a Catholic school saying he would become a priest. However, he was arrested again in 2001 for gambling and blackmail and received a 10-month prison sentence.

In 2008 he was given an 18-month sentence for assault with an ashtray:

According to the court, Cho hit a man identified as Hwang with an ashtray and punched him for allegedly bad-mouthing him at a bar in downtown Seoul in 2005. Hwang needed medical care for three weeks and Cho was arrested on the spot.

The court said, “an ashtray can be a lethal weapon in cases and it has been only three years since he came out of prison.”

He allegedly committed other crimes as well.

Police are investigating allegations that former gang leader Cho Yang-eun blackmailed a singer to compensate his acquaintance for loss from his stock investment.

Police said the notorious gangster, 60, intimidated the singer in August 2009, and threatened to chop the man’s leg off and bury it unless he paid back 1.7 billion won.

Perhaps Cho Yang-eun had learned this alleged art of intimidation from his rival, Kim Tae-chon and his dealings with Korean actor, Kwon Sang-woo.  According to the Chosun Ilbo (February 7, 2007):

According to prosecutors, Kim called Kwon in April last year, threatening the actor on the behalf of a Japanese associate who said Kwon had failed to keep his promise to hold an event to meet fans there even though he accepted an expensive watch as a reward. Kim allegedly rang the actor again the next day, threatening him with a personal visit to his home. Asked by Kwon what he was talking about, he threatened to expose everything he knew about Kwon in the media unless Kwon met him to discuss his Japanese friend’s demands, according to prosecutors.

But Kwon refused, saying they could talk on the phone. An irate Kim asked if that meant Kwon did not care if “tragic things” happened to him. Having had similar threatening calls before, Kwon recorded the conversation and handed it to prosecutors, who charged Kim with threatening behavior.

What is interesting is the final paragraphs of the article which clearly seems to indicate Cho:

Since 2000, crime syndicates have worked to give their activities a veneer of legality by establishing or investing in entertainment companies.

Prosecutors plans to investigate the cash flow of crime syndicates in case they cooperate with crime organizations in China and Japan that may aim to take advantages of the Korean Wave in Asia.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said it found that a member of a Yakuza gang masquerading as a pastor has taken an interest in the Korean entertainment business. “We have to keep them under constant surveillance and thoroughly investigate the victims,” prosecutors added.

Cho Yang-eun “publicly announced his “retirement” in 2009, but “remained the de-facto leader of the ring”.  Then in 2012, an arrest warrant was issued in regards to his alleged involvment in a financial scam involving a Korean bank and $US 2.5 million.  He quickly skipped the country and went into hiding somewhere overseas.

Now we know where – The Philippines.  He was arrested at 9 in the morning after leaving a casino!  And, get this, it may have been because his tourist visa had expired 19 months earlier.

What became of his rival, Kim Tae-chon?  Well, he died earlier this year.

Further Notes or related topics

A couple of years ago Mr. Marmot did a piece on various foreign gangs working with Korean gangs.

It is kind of strange that wikipedia does not mention these two gang leaders despite them being so notorious.


The return of Korean turtles and birds from the past

Lately a number of historical significant items have been returned to Korea – items that were alleged to have been stolen by U.S. soldiers.  It should be noted that in some cases these items were bought from Koreans – although the buyer should have been a little suspicious such as Sergeant Giltner who was approached by a Korean selling antiques from his cart:

One item, a huge carpet – nearly eighteen and a half feet long and about eight feet wide – made from the matched pelts of 48 leopards immediately caught Giltner’s attention. Although he didn’t explain how he had come by the carpet, the Korean peddler claimed “it was worth at least $25,000 and came from the Chang Duk palace in Seoul.” He was willing to sell it for a mere 150,000 Korean won – worth about $25 USD. Giltner promptly bought it and in a letter to his parents wrote that he was sending them “a pretty nice Korean rug” that he had picked up.

After the carpet was sent home, a Korean diplomat recognized the carpet as having come from Queen Min’s bedroom.  It was returned to the Korean government but now it has been speculated that the carpet was not the queen’s.

Los Angeles County Museum of Arts may be forced to return a Joseon era seal:

In a September statement, the museum said there was “credible evidence” that its Royal Seal with Knob in the Form of a Turtle was “removed unlawfully from the National Shrine in Korea.”

“While LACMA has not received a formal request from the Korean national government, we have reached out to them to discuss the results of our research and a mutually satisfactory resolution, including the return of the Royal Seal to Korea,” the statement said.

An official at the state-run cultural heritage administration told The Associated Press that South Korea in May asked the United States to investigate how the seal ended up at the Los Angeles museum known for showcasing art from ancient times to the modern era.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing department rules, said U.S. homeland security officials have confiscated the seal, as they investigate.

But not every item coming back to Korea is coming back by legal force.  A large number of Joseon era wooden birds are being given to a univeristy in Korea by a Japanese collector in the hopes of generating goodwill:

Haruo Yahashi, 79, owner of a surveying firm, has collected 140 such artworks, many of which were made in the 19th century and were used as gifts, ever since he fell in love with an elegantly sculpted bird he saw at an antique store in Tokyo some 30 years ago.

He will donate them to Daegu Health College in the city of Daegu in southeastern South Korea.

Many of the sculptures are 20 cm to 40 cm long and weigh between 3 and 5 kg. Some are painted in bright colors such as red and yellow, while others are covered with gold foil, a sign that they were originally owned by wealthy Koreans.

Mr. Haruo Yahashi explained his reasons for giving the gifts as,  “Japan-South Korea relations are facing difficulties now, but I hope my donation will help promote exchanges on a grass-roots level.”

Is the pen mightier than the nationalism?

As many of you already know, a couple of weeks ago, President Park Geun-hye suggested that Korea, China and Japan collaborate on writing the history of the region as a “way of alleviating tension and promoting peace in Northeast Asia.”  Does anyone think this has a snowball’s chance in hell?

In her article (“Three-nation joint history book to bring peace,Korea Times, Nov. 26, 2013), Kim Jeong-hyun declared that

Korea, as a leader of the relative studies, should work to strike a balance between Sino-centrism and Japan’s imperialism in writing the joint history textbook.

She also eagerly points out:

From the stance of Korea, what worries us the most is that China and Japan both maintain their superior position in describing historical events involving Korea.

In addition to Japan, China also exaggerated Japan’s influence over ancient Korea. However, it is not a correct interpretation, since the installation was not the sign of subjugation, but “diplomatic prowess” that stayed within the boundary that didn’t imperil Silla’s

The points of disputes, raised by the report of China-Japan Joint History Committee, as well as erroneous description of Korean history, are the issues that we should spare no time to resolve.

I am sure that China and Japan have more than a few issues they would like to correct (from their perspective) that Korea might not be so willing to acknowledge – including historical claims to islands and islets.  The word Dokdo alone could throw this project into a free-for-all.  The present looming confrontation between Japan and China over some disputed islands will clearly cause some agitation to the committee.  Even a submerged rock has the potential to rock the boat (KT front page entitled “Nothing Can be spared for Ieodo).

Prof. Kim sums up her article with:

Publishing a joint history textbook is an important task that has great implications beyond the three nations to Taiwan, North Korea, Mongolia, Russia and others.

What lies on our shoulders is not just a task to unravel the current issues and bring regional cooperation, but a task to ensure peace in the future.

I wonder what Prof. Lew Yong-ik has to say about all this.

The plight of Korean leprosy patients and the superstitions surrounding them

A recent article (newscom.Au November 24, 2013) once again sheds light on a sad chapter of Korean medical history and society – the plight of leprosy victims – particularly those on Sorok Island.  It appears that some of the former inmates – inhabitants does not seem fitting – have returned to the island that was once described as “hell on earth”.

Yu Myung-sun, 61, who lived on Sorok for six years until 1974, returned in 2008 after living with other former leprosy sufferers in a village near Seoul. People outside the village “wouldn’t even look at me … restaurants wouldn’t sell meals to us,” Yu said.

“People on Sorok Island make me feel at ease,” she said, wearing a pair of big sunglasses, her face dotted with black spots from anti-leprosy medication. “I feel comfortable here and this is where I’ll die.”

Starting about a decade ago, the number of returning former patients began gradually increasing. Over the past few years, about 70 people, mostly former residents, have resettled here each year.


It is a sad article but what I found touching was this:

Oh Dong-Chan, a dental surgeon and the longest-serving physician on the island at 18 years, said many former patients have come back as word has spread that conditions on the island have improved. He said he often treats his patients, who are used to be shunned, with his bare hands because he knows they like the feel of bare skin.

It reminded me very much of how the first hospital was set up in Gwangju for these poor sufferers.  It was established about 1909 through the efforts of Dr. Wiley Forsythe after he encountered a woman on the road nearly dead from the disease.  He bundled her up and took her back to the mission hospital but, because the other patients were so afraid of catching the disease, was forced to house her out in a brick kiln.  In her book, Martha Huntley described the incident:

A group gathered at the brick kiln saw her coming down the road, assisted over the difficult places by the loving and unshrinking hands of Dr. Forsythe.  The thought in the mind of each of us, ‘How like his Master’…Dr. Forsythe, every inch a gentleman and dressed as such, every now and then grasping the arm of this woman, loathsome from disease, filth, and long neglect…Her hair had been uncombed perhaps for months, or even years, her clothes were ragged and filthy, her feet and hands swollen and covered with sores…on one foot was a straw shoe, on the other a thick piece of paper had been tied.

The woman died two weeks later but money was raised to build shelter for a handful of patients.  The blog Ethnoscopes has an excellent write up of Joji Wilson Kohjima, the great grandson of Robert Manton Wilson, an American doctor who worked in Kroea from 1907-1941 treating the victims of this disease. Notice in this account the poor woman was being stoned by the Korean villagers.

It is also interesting to note that sufferers of the disease were mainly found in the southern part of the country.  I wonder if there were more victims originally in the south or perhaps those in the north traveled south for the milder climate.  There were some victims in the Wonju area in the 1920s who begged for food and aid as well as in Seoul in the 1890s, but the vast majority appear to have been in the southern part of the peninsula.  They were reduced to beggars as described by this Korean describing a neighbor in Pohang with the disease:

It was a death sentence for him and a catastrophe for his family.  Leprosy in Korea was shrouded in older superstition and medical ignorance.  Lepers were abandoned by their own families and eventually became roving beggars with no eyebrows, lopped-off noses, and no fingers or toes, all eaten away by the disease.

These beggars were not only shunned for their disease but also because of the desperation they might exhibit in their attempts to cure themselves of their affliction.  Up until the 1960s, mothers often frightened their children by telling them that unless they stopped crying, a leper would come and steal them and eat them.  When I lived in Gangwon Province, a friend’s grandmother told me that as a child she used to carry red pepper powder as a form of mace to protect herself from lepers.  It was said that lepers would haunt the cornfields and pounce upon children to eat their livers in the belief that this would cure them.  How true was this?

In January 1917, the St. Petersburg Times reported:

Seoul, Korea.  Justifying his act by the Korean superstition that the eating of human flesh is a cure for leporosy, a Korean leper named Sin Yungsyun has confessed to the murder of a five-year-old-boy, whose mutilated body was discovered in a field in South Cholla province.  According to the police, the accused also admitted that with another leper he killed a girl in the mountains on September 15, and that both had eaten of her flesh.

Lepers in Korea hitherto led a miserable life.  With the exception of those cared for by missionaries in a small hospital near Fusan, they have been left to roam at will and eke out their own living.  The superstition as to cannibal cure is very general.

There were others as demonstrated by this article from the Seoul Press (April 18, 1928 – sorry no link, hard-copy transcription):

A wave of superstition seems to be still running high among Korean lepers.  It is understood from Taikyu that a leper named Cho Yoh Soon aged 28 of Kingokudo, Keishu, North Keisho  Province was recently arrested on the charge of exhuming the remains of a baby from the public  cemetery under the impression the ‘Human Flesh Liquor’ is very efficacious for the cure of leprosy.

Apparently these were not isolated incidents.  The Korean poet Seo Jung-ju wrote this poem about the belief.  Maybe they should have used Korean Ginseng – said to cure everything.

But where did these superstitions come from?  One scholar claims that there was no social stigma associated with lepers in Korea until the missionaries arrived and claimed it was ‘divine punishment’ but this doesn’t seem likely as Eunjung Kim notes in his excellent paper “Cultural Rehabilitation: Hansen’s Disease, Gender and Disability in Korea”.  According to him, there were not only accounts of cannabalism but also body snatchers who sold organs to the afflicted:

“However, the image of the flesh eater and its association with leprosy were not invented in the beginning of the modern era. In The Annals of the Chosŏn Dynasty (Chosŏn Wangjo Silok), there are several entries regarding the use of human flesh to cure diseases such as epilepsy and leprosy. For instance, the chronicle of the King So˘ngjong, “So˘ngjong Silok,” records that there was a woman, Tu˘lbi, who cut off her finger, dried, powdered, and fed it to her husband upon hearing that flesh was good for curing sickness. As a result of her actions, her husband’s leprosy was cured (“So˘ngjong Sillok” 29 February 1472).

In the King Sŏnjo period, the chronicle records that there were vagabonds who stole gallbladders by kidnapping and attacking people in order to sell the organs to lepers seeking cures. Sŏnjo ordered the arrest of these organ snatchers (“Sŏnjo Sillok” 26 June 1576). Although these anecdotal reports tie lepers to cannibalism, they hardly represent lepers as a group of anti-social attackers. Instead, human organs were sold by nonlepers as a source of medicine to the lepers who were seeking cures. The wife’s sacrifice of her finger for curing the husband was recorded as an exemplar of her loyalty to her husband. The association between leprosy and the use of human body as medicine was somehow twisted into the image of lepers who sacrifice the lives of other people for cures.

While this image of lepers as child-eating vagabonds was dispersed through the newly available printed public media, the discourse of infection and the hereditary nature of the disease started to emerge in the propaganda supporting the sterilization and institutionalization of lepers after the 1930s. This fear seems to have advanced and later coexisted with the fear of leprosy infection, but it has not been replaced. Between 1920 and 1931, there were 21 articles in Tonga Ilbo (East Asia Daily), one of the popular Korean newspapers after 1920, about lepers allegedly attacking, kidnapping, and killing women and children, and eating the organs of the dead bodies. By contrast, there are only four entries about seeing a leper’s presence in restaurants or public baths as a threat to public health. There is no mention of infection and only one entry mentioning male sterilization as a way of stopping the genetic transference and eradicating leprosy.

These boogyman stories and accounts seem to have been as Mr. Kim notes, propaganda to isolate the victims of the disease from the rest of the public.  Thus began the Japanese-controlled leper colonies. Continue reading

Practical Gifts in Joseon Korea

A little early for Christmas but….

It wasn’t that long ago when calendars were a popular gift in Korea.  It was not uncommon to visit a Korean friend’s house and see calendars gracing the walls throughout the house.  Those days are gone now – just another trend of the past.  But did you know during the late Joseon era – one of the most popular gifts was a fan?  And it wasn’t just the common people giving fans to one another – King Gojong’s favored foreign representatives and guests with fans:

Members of the diplomatic community frequently received large numbers of fans from the palace. The royal family probably believed the diplomats would distribute these fans to their staffs but many of them merely boxed up the items and sent them home as unique gifts.

One such individual was Sallie Sill, the wife of the American minister to Korea, who wrote to her daughter and proudly proclaimed: “You will never suffer for the want of fans if we get them all safely home.”

Fans were not only gifts – they were also an expected benefit.

Fans were such an integral part of daily life that employers were expected to provide their employees “with these indispensable articles” — even Korean soldiers were equipped with them.

They were also a tool for avoiding people on the street:

They were “an instrument of etiquette.” According to one writer, in Korea, “to hide the face with one is an act of politeness.”

But Westerners did not always seem to grasp Korean etiquette. Gilmore wrote, “Many a time have we passed Koreans on horseback and been amused to see the riders hold their fans before their faces so as not to be seen.”

You can read the rest of the article here – Korea Times, November 25, 2013.

Seeing and being seen in Joseon Korea

001 Korean exhibit at Hanoi Exhibition in 1902
Glasses were introduced into Korea sometime in the 16th century, probably through China but Korea also made a type of glasses that may have been better than some of the Western glasses.  These glasses were made from polished crystals.  Horace Allen praised them in 1886:

“The Coreans really excel in the manufacture of eye-glasses.  I have been ashamed when trying to fit a superior lens, from a good trial case of glasses, in place of a stone lens already worn.  I could not do it; the Corean lens was the better.  They are made of transparent stone, finely ground, and are expensive, costing in the neighborhood of $100.”

A huge amount of money considering the average laborer only made 10-15 cents a day.  But not everyone wearing glasses had bad vision:

“In immaculate white he emerges from the holes and corners of every mud village.  If he is an official of importance, he does not walk alone, but is assisted by the arms on each side.  If he ventures by himself, it is with a magnificent stride that clears the street of indifferent stride that clears the street of indifferent passers, and commands only on-lookers.  In one hand is a pipe three feet long, in the other a fan; over his eyes two immense discs of dark crystal, not to assist him in seeing, but to insure his being seen.  How precious these are!  Many a man will forego the necessaries of life if only he can gain a pair of Kyung-ju (spectacles), and so cover himself with glory before an on-looking assemblage.”

You can read the rest of the article here – Korea Times November 15, 2013.

Speaking of things to see.  Many of you are aware that Korea took part in the Chicago Expo in 1893 (you can read Dan Kane’s excellent article here – including some of the controversy of the mission) and the Paris Expo in 1900 (picture and article, Korea Times May 10, 2010), but did you also know it took part in the Hanoi Expo of 1902?

We don’t know much about Korea’s participation in the Hanoi Expo save a brief note in the Korea Review:

“Korea is sending a considerable exhibit to the Hanoi Exhibition.  A French man-of-war transported the exhibit from Chemulpo.”

Fortunately I was able to find and purchase a postcard of the Korean exhibit.

But why did Joseon Korea participate in these expositions.  According to Mr. Kane,   Joseon’s participation was “an overt display of independence at a time of mounting foreign encroachment” and Chinese hegemony. It “went to Chicago as Korea, not as China’s younger brother.”  That was not the case in regards to the Paris Expo as China had been soundly defeated by the Japanese in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) so perhaps this was an effort to show the world that it was equally free of the Japanese.  But what did Joseon gain from partaking in a colonial exposition?  Obviously not much recognition but it is interesting to note that during the Korean rice famine that a large amount of rice was imported from Vietnam.

You can read the rest of my article (Korea Times, November 8, 2013) and my take of Joseon Korea’s first Hallyu boy.


And finally, a place that none of us wants to be in – the Korean prisons….but what were they like during the Joseon era?

These facilities were mainly made out of logs and planks with large gaps between them that served their purpose in preventing the inhabitants from escaping but did little to protect the prisoners from the elements. The prisoners were often tortured:

Sometimes, starvation was used as an implement of torture or execution. One official was declared knowing “no more of humanitarianism than to kill thieves by slow starvation.”

So severe were his tactics that some of the inmates gnawed on anything they could ― “the straw on the floor, their clothes, and even the skin and bones of their own arms ― to satisfy their awful hunger.” Their hardened jailors, “touched with pity,” used their own money to buy refuse from taverns to secretly feed their wards.

An editorial in The Independent declared that it was a “mark of civilization that a Government should show no small personal resentment against a criminal.  He should be punished according to the enormity of his offense, even to death if need be, but the penalty to be bestowed should not be accompanied by additional penalties of a lesser nature like beating, starving or freezing….To allow prisoners to lie with fractured limbs until they putrefy can be denominated as nothing less than barbarous.  Disease is not among the list of punishment in any civilized country nor should it be here.”

Sometimes sick prisoners were passed off to the Western hospitals for treatment:

“Occasionally one sees a man with body bloated as with dropsy and rotting as with gangrene, carried though the streets of Seoul on a jiki.  He is being carried from one of the city or national jails to be thrown, perhaps, at the gate of a foreign hospital to be fed and treated by a foreigner at foreign expense, till he recovers [or] till king death releases him from pain.’’

By the late 1890s, torture, per se, and cruel punishments were abolished.  No longer were prisoners decapitated with blunt swords but were executed in a more civil manner – by hanging.

You can read the rest of the article here – Korea Times, November 1, 2013.

Picture credits – The Hanoi Exhibit (my collection), the Korean prison (wikipedia – but I disagree that it is a public domain pic).

Kim Jong-un executes his ex-girlfriend for porn and bibles

According to Chosun Ilbo (August 29, 2013), Kim Jong-un’s ex-girlfriend, Hyon Song-wol as well as eleven other famous performers were found guilty of “violating North Korean laws against pornography” and were executed by machine guns:

“The victims of the atrocity were members of the Unhasu Orchestra as well as singers, musicians and dancers with the Wangjaesan Light Music Band.

They were accused of videotaping themselves having sex and selling the videos. The tapes have apparently gone on sale in China as well.

A source said some allegedly had Bibles in their possession, and all were treated as political dissidents.”

In addition, their fellow performers (who weren’t part of the crimes) and their families were sent off to labor camps – guilt by association.

Kim Jong-un is said to have dated Hyon some ten years ago but the couple was forced to break off their relationship because of Kim Jong-il’s disapproval.  She ended up marrying a soldier and having a child.  But the two of them apparently continued to maintain their relationship and provided quite a bit of fodder for newspapers (picture of KJU and her – JoongAng Daily, July 9, 2012).

The Daily Telegraph (August 29, 2013) is quick to note that being executed by a machine gun isn’t the worst way to go:

“She was luckier than Kim Chol, vice minister of the army, who was executed with a mortar round in October 2012.

Kim Chol was reportedly executed for drinking and carousing during the official mourning period after Kim Jong-il’s death.

On the explicit orders of Kim Jong-un to leave “no trace of him behind, down to his hair,” according to South Korean media, Kim Chol was forced to stand on a spot that had been zeroed in for a mortar round and “obliterated.”

The Daily Telegraph also cited a Japanese expert on North Korea who claims the executions were done for political reasons:

“If these people had only made pornographic videos, then it is simply not believable that their punishment was execution,” Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and an authority on North Korean affairs, told The Daily Telegraph.

“They could have been made to disappear into the prison system there instead.

“There is a political reason behind this,” he said, suggesting that the groups may have been leaning towards a rival faction in Pyongyang’s shadowy political world.

“Or, as Kim’s wife once belonged to the same group, it is possible that these executions are more about Kim’s wife,” Professor Shigemura added.

Just for the record – Prof. Shigemura (described “as the leading authority on the Korean Peninsula”) is the one that claimed (Japan Today – August 23, 2008) Kim Jong-il died in 2003 and that for nearly 8 years a KJI look-alike was used to fool the world.  If you have time – read the article.

Did the BBC go too far in posing as students?

I am surprised that we haven’t blogged about this yet but academia is pretty upset with BBC’s recent investigative (?) undercover reporting from North Korea. For those of you who are not aware – three BBC journalists posed as students and joined a London School of Economics tour to North Korea. For about the last week this has been widely denounced on the Korea Studies board. Both sides – scholars and journalists – have provided their views on the board but I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to copy and paste from it so I will merely link to some of the recent articles in the press:

Some have claimed that the students were endangered by the journalists’ presence:

Sir Peter Sutherland, chairman of the LSE’s board of governors, said the programme created “unacceptable risks” for the school’s reputation and the students involved.

“The BBC unscrupulously used a number of students as human cover for a filming operation without fully informing all of them what was happening,” he said.

I think it would be more accurate – as some have pointed out – that the harm was not so much to their physical beings as it is to their reputation and the effect this will have on their future dealings with NK.   BBC, however, defends its position with:

The BBC has defended its actions, saying the film was strongly in the public interest.

Head of news programmes Ceri Thomas said the North Korean government was the only party the corporation had deceived.

He said the students had been informed of the risks on three separate occasions and authorisation for the trip had gone “right to the top” within the BBC.

“We think the risks as we explained them to the students were justified… but had we had any suggestion that lives were at risk… we wouldn’t have gone anywhere near this,” he said.

If I remember right, the students were allegedly told that only one journalist was going with them – it was only later – after it was too late, that they were told that there were three.

Several leading professors have lashed out:

We cannot condemn too strongly the dishonesty and irresponsible behaviour that endangered the liberty and possibly even the lives of the young people on a trip to North Korea. Even though they returned unscathed, it appears to have escaped the notice of the BBC that they have probably caused even longer-lasting damage. Many academic disciplines, including anthropology and archaeology, with which we are all concerned, undertake academic research not only in North Korea, but in other countries that are not favourably inclined to academic research. Now they will have a reason to reject research projects altogether. So future knowledge may well have been jeopardised as the result of the scandalous behaviour of a few and for what – a film that shows nothing more than the normal tourist’s view of North Korea?

And, one of my favorite quotes:

When intelligence agencies use journalists as cover to gather information on hard-to-penetrate regimes, they are rightly condemned – not least by journalists – for threatening the safety of those working in the profession. So regardless of the quality or otherwise of the information gathered in North Korea by Panorama, for journalists to use academic cover is profoundly hypocritical. If students were misled as to the precise involvement of BBC journalists, then that compounds the offence.

Open Thread #289 – Can’t we all love each other?

Threats from the North, threats or promises from Kerry in the South – can’t we all just love one another?

Hope everyone has a safe weekend.

A look back in time – photographs of Joseon’s past

Enough with all the North Korean hype – it is time to take a step back in time and look at this collection of photographs and postcards highlighted in Mail Online (March 25, 2013).

Fortresses, sunglasses, straw shoes and the pounding of rice cakes are all here for your viewing pleasure.

(Hat tip to reader)

The dangers of the Korean Wave – at least in Thailand

According to the AFP (25 January 2013), people in Thailand are undergoing more and riskier plastic surgery because “they seek to recreate the surgically enhanced, doll-like appeal of their K-pop idols.”

Be that as it may, I really don’t think anyone can blame the Korean wave for this increase of vanity on the part of the Thais.  There has always been an effort – at least in the past couple of decades – to appear whiter. I remember many years ago while visiting Thailand that I should stay indoors during the daytime so as to keep my complexion white (considering I had just left the howling cold of winter and looked like a zombie – keeping my pasty white complexion was not on the top of my list).

Apparently, though, things have gone way too far:

Alarmingly high numbers of Thai men inject olive oil, beeswax, silicone and even paraffin into their genitals, in a misguided bid to enlarge their penises, according to one Bangkok urologist.

Skin lesions or serious infections are commonly the result, said Surat Kittisupaporn of the Police General Hospital, which sees up to 300 patients a month after botched penis treatments.

“The body reacts to the foreign substances. When there is chronic irritation or infection, it’ll be very hard to cure… it’ll be hard to even walk or take a shower,” he said, making surgery inevitable.

In the worst case, Surat was forced to remove a 50-year-old man’s genitals in November after he repeatedly injected olive oil into his penis.

In Korea I believe this is called the haebaragi (the sunflower) treatment – injecting silicon or whatnot into your small soldier so that he becomes thicker and more like a French tickler.

But it isn’t just the men:

A product promoter, or a so-called “pretty”, died in October when a gel-like filler meant to make her buttocks more shapely was injected into her bloodstream.

Her friend and fellow “pretty”, Nutchanunt Angkuttarothum, 25, said the tragedy had not deterred her from further surgery to add to a litany of procedures, including a nose job she has already undergone.

“We have to always take care of ourselves and look good, otherwise we wouldn’t look different from others”, she said after pouting for the cameras at a recent motorcycle launch event in Bangkok.

For women, the quest for bigger eyes, noses, breasts and bums is just one step in a wider bid to transform themselves.

Off-the-shelf skin whitening creams, including vaginal bleaching soaps, abound in the kingdom with many believing that a lighter skin reflects higher status and is more attractive to the opposite sex.

Vaginal bleaching soaps?  Gold, too, is used to enhance their bodies – not in the form of bling but as implants.

I like this closing quote:

“People don’t have to be white to be beautiful—good personality, having knowledge and other capacities are much more important,” Professor Suwirakorn said. “It’s better to have beauty from within.”

Open Thread #280

What would you sacrifice for your country?

The Bare Facts of Joseon nudity?

There  is an article over on Live Journal that seems to have got some people riled up.  The article’s title is kind of cute “Joseon Girls Gone Wild” and was written a couple of years ago.   However, it is just recently that it has gained some attention – probably not so much for its historical content but for the way the writer conveys it and his apparent dislike for Korea.

He wrote:

Could this reformatory and revisionist reaction to Westerners evaluating gaze be the reason Korea skipped straight from this innocent primitivity to the repressiveness of today? At least I hear that Koreans are repressed. I do know they’re somewhat backward.

Anyway, when I first heard about this, I envisioned nubile young beauties with their perky little breasts peeking out from under their jeogori. Now I weep, because that fantasy is dead. Wasn’t there even onehot babe to photograph..?

I would suggest you go to the article and read it.  It is relatively short and does have several “nice” photographs from the past.  I am sure that some of you readers will be able to give their own thoughts.

If you would like my view on early nudity you can read it in my book “Korea Through Western Eyes” or you can read this short piece “The Bare Facts” in the KT.

(Hat Tip to CB – really guys, I don’t do Facebook – just send me an email)

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