The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Odds and Ends (page 1 of 20)

Links: Angry defectors, ‘pro-DPRK’ talk shows, violent American teachers and more

- A group of defectors are really pissed at Korean-American ajumma/frequent visitor to North Korea Shin Eun-mi and former Democratic Labor Party deputy spokeswoman Hwang Sun for a talk show they hosted last month in which they allegedly made pro-North Korean remarks. The defectors, including “The Aquariums of Pyongyang” author Kang Chol-hwan, have challenged the two to a debate. A group of female defectors have challenged the duo to a debate as well.

Hwang and Shin, meanwhile, are threatening to write letters to the UN and Amnesty complaining that their freedom of speech is being infringed upon, an allegation not completely without basis. Hwang is also suing the Chosun Ilbo and its TV channel for defamation.

About Hwang, I’m pretty sure I know what to think. Shin, on the other hand, seems to be a bit more complicated a character. Interestingly enough, her 2012 travelogue to North Korea was selected by the Ministry of Culture as an “outstanding book” last year and 1,200 copies of it distributed for free to libraries and social welfare centers around the country. She also appeared in a promotional video for the Ministry of Unification. Now the Ministry of Justice has slapped an entry ban on her, which means the only Korea she’ll be visiting anytime soon is the one north of the 38th. Just to keep the ironies going, her grandfather was a lawmaker who was one of the leading figures in passing the National Security Law in 1948.

Anyway, while I’ve seen bits and pieces of what they are alleged to have said, I have not seen a video of their talk or a full transcript of it, so if you got it, please link it in the comments. If you’d like to see some really angry folk going off on them on TV Chosun, though, I direct you here, or some more rational talk by defectors—including Kang—on the Dong-A Ilbo’s Channel A, I direct you here.

– An American teacher at a foreign school has been booked for allegedly assaulting a Korean man in Itaewon on Nov. 30 after said Korean man shook the hand of his girlfriend. The teacher reportedly told police that he thought the man, who apparently knew his girlfriend, was trying to molest her. The victim, who was punched several times in the face, lost consciousness soon after arriving at the hospital, and he’s been unconscious ever since. The police applied for a warrant to detain the suspect, but prosecutors turned it down, saying that it’s still unclear whether the assault and the victim’s loss of consciousness are connected.

UPDATE: Somebody sent me this link at GoFundMe which, if it’s talking about the same case, tells a very different tale of what happened.

– Rough time for the musical Chung family. Violinist Kyung-Wha Chung apparently shocked audiences in London by berating a coughing child (HT to Brier). In Seoul, meanwhile, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra CEO Park Hyun-jung—who is currently being accused of verbally abusing and sexually harassing her employees—is accusing SPO musical director Myung-whun Chung, Kyung-Wha’s brother, of trying to engineer her removal and running the orchestra like a personal organization.

– This is classy: Vietnamese worker goes to the Ministry of Employment and Labor to demand unpaid wages, and the company has the guy arrested as an illegal migrant.

Links: Suki Kim’s book, Ferguson comes to Seoul and more

- The NYT looks at the predicament Suki Kim’s recent book “Without You, There Is No Us,” a memoir of her time teaching English at a private university in Pyongyang, has caused the Christian educators who run the school:

A memoir by a Korean-American author about teaching English to adolescent boys at a private university in Pyongyang was certain to anger the North Korean government.

But the author, Suki Kim, may have provoked even more anger among the university’s Christian educators. They have denounced Ms. Kim for breaking a promise not to write anything about her experiences and said her memoir contains inaccuracies, notably her portrayal of them as missionaries, which could cause them trouble with the North Korean authorities.

In particular, she accuses the teachers at the school of wanting to turning North Koreans on to Jesus:

However, Ms. Kim argued, her fellow teachers also had what she described as another motive. “As much as they say they wanted to educate North Korean kids for no reason, and poured money — life’s savings — into this school, really the larger goal was to convert them, one day, if North Korea were to open up,” she said. “It’s a long-term project of turning them to Jesus, that’s really their larger goal.” Dr. Kim denied her allegations, saying that the school is committed to education, not proselytizing.

As I’ve written here before, I’m not a huge fan of missionary work. That said, I have to imagine that Christian proselytizing probably ranks pretty low on the list of problems North Koreans face.

Anyway, there’s a good interview with Kim in NK News, so go read it.

UPDATE: Suki Kim has posted a response to the New York Times article—and an explanation on the ethics of writing her book—at her website. It raises some interesting questions on how you should approach North Korea as a writer and is worth reading. Here is just a sample:

There is a long tradition of “undercover” journalism—pretending to be something one is not in order to be accepted by a community and uncover truths that would otherwise remain hidden. In some cases, this is the only way to gain access to a place. North Korea, described only recently by the BBC as “one of the world’s most secretive societies,” is such a place.

– Some expats reportedly will be gathering near Hongdae on Saturday to protest the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case:

“We are planning a solidarity action to support and stand with folks in the United States and all around the world for Mike Brown and for justice,” rally organizer Deja Motley told The Korea Times. “Our goal is to raise awareness of the issue in Korea and give people space to voice their opinion.”

From 2 p.m., organizers will start handing out fliers with information in English and Korean about what happened in the case. The organizers will then lead protest chants before speakers recite poems and speak words of hope.

The organizers also plan to collect support messages and mail them to the Brown family in the United States.

Frankly, I find myself agreeing with Kevin McCarthy that Officer Darren Wilson should never have been brought before a grand jury, let alone indicted. The failure to indict the cop who killed Eric Garner in Staten Island, on the other hand, seems like a legitimate miscarriage of justice, regardless of whether prosecutors would have been able to get a conviction out of that case or not.

A little gift—all the way from 1965—Wangkon sent me via Facebook:

Now, the funny thing is that as I watched it, I had two empty Hwal Myeong Su bottles on my desk:

Photo 2014. 12. 4. 오후 4 20 04

– Must have been a slow protest day.

– If you like hanok—and you know you do—Tuttle has released a new photo book on Korean homes that looks well worth the purchase.

– Also courtesy Wangkon, we have this piece in the LA Times about Los Angeles Koreatown’s historic architecture:

If K-town increasingly resembles an empire on the march, gobbling up new territory by the week, it is not an empire made of bricks and mortar. It is a net draped over the existing cityscape, a net of signage and light, easily stretched and infinitely expandable. It fills, cloaks or remakes spaces in the city others had abandoned or forgotten about.

In a city that has often demolished even its best-known landmarks, that makes it both an anomaly and a suggestion of the L.A. to come. Threaded through a neighborhood that in demographic terms is mostly Latino, well served by subway and bus lines, K-town is a thriving, charismatic advertisement for a more intensely urban Los Angeles.

It is also a reflection of a city whose immigrants are more settled than ever before, increasingly gaining the clout to shape public and private architecture.

The pictures are worth checking out, too. Because really, who doesn’t like Art Deco?

The Korean government’s $500 billion tax-free reunification plan

No, weed is not yet legal in Korea and yes, you heard correctly.  Tax-free.

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(Image from Abihollow via iamkoream.com)

According to Korea’s top financial regulator, Shin Je-yoon, Chairman of the Financial Services Commission (“FSC”), it will take 20 years and $500 billion USD to satisfactorily integrate North Korea into the south.  Now, this won’t be a perfect one-to-one integration mind you, but an attempt to get the north up to a level where it can operate at some workable and complimentary level with the south.

FSC’s blueprint added that the estimated sum would be sufficient to increase North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita from last year’s $1,251 to $10,000 in 20 years. North Korea’s current GDP total of $31 billion is equivalent to South Korea’s 1971 GDP and just 2 percent of its GDP from last year.

Okay, if not taxes, then where would all the money come from?

According to Yonhap:

The FSC said state-run policy financing agencies, including the Korea Development Bank (KDB) and Korea Exim Bank, will play a major role in raising the funds, as Germany’s government-owned development bank, or the KfW, did 24 years ago.

The state agencies will take responsibility for up to 60 percent of the total expenses by running development projects in North Korea, while the rest will be raised by collecting overseas development aid (ODA) and private and public investments.

The Hani was a little more detailed:

In order to raise these funds, the government proposes to have public financial institutions find between US$250 billion and US$300 billion, 50% to 60% of the total, and to allow the private sector to invest between US$107.2 billion and US$186.5 billion in special economic zones and projects with guaranteed profitability.

The government also predicts that it can put US$100 billion of the US$330 billion in tax revenues it collects during the economic development of North Korea to use as funds for further development. These figures were calculated using the South Korean tax rate of 26%, under the assumption that North Korea will experience an average of 8% yearly growth during the first decade of development and 10% of yearly growth during the second decade. In addition, the government believes that it can secure US$17 billion of funding through overseas development aid (ODA) from other countries.

I don’t know.  Sounds a little voodoo to me and it assumes that people would want to invest in the north and that the north’s population would be stable and productive enough to draw some tax revenue to cover the spread.  Still, $250-300 billion is a lot of debt to raise and plunge into the 1960’s era relic that is today’s North Korea.

It must be said that the $500 billion estimate is at an overly optimistic the lower end of a range of assessments.  The upper range being $5 trillion.

A couple of Sewol updates

A few Sewol odds and ends that happened over the past couple of days:

UPDATE

The remains of the latest victim turned out to be that of 17 year old girl Hwang Ji-hyeon, an 11th-grade student from Danwon High School.  Her parents said her body was discovered on her 18th birthday.

Do North Korean refugee women dream of finding their perfect South Korean meal ticket husband?

What usually comes to mind when one thinks of North Korean women?  Those pretty cheerleaders that the North occasionally send out to international sporting events?  Women who, by very nature of being malnourished, being an average of 2-3 inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts?  Prettier than average Korean women in line with the Korean saying, “남남북녀” (“Namnam buknyeo”), or in English “Southern men [are handsomest], [and] northern women [are prettiest].”

Well, according to The Hankyoreh, at least one matchmaking agency has drawn some cartoons to expound their own stereotypes of apparently economically desperate North Korean women refugees looking for South Korean husbands to take them away from their destitution.

(Image from The Hankyoreh)

The blog Korea Exposé offers interesting English commentary:

A North Korean woman, alone in her cheap government housing, asks, “I want to get married. Where is my love?” She daydreams of being only in her underwear, straddling her ideal South Korean man, and calling out to him in affection, “My dear husband.”

That controversial advertisement by a matchmaking firm specializing in bringing North Korean defector women and South Korean men together was abruptly pulled late last month amid a firestorm of criticism at the way it depicted North Korean women as lonesome, sexually charged, and desperate.

Added bonus?  The same match making agency put out another cartoon explaining the, uh, “benefits” of having children with North Korean women:

(Image from The Hankyoreh)

No brown interracial children!

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.

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:

Colin Marshall’s five part series on Korea in The Guardian

Meet Colin Marshall, a Seattle native who somehow ended up living in Koreatown, Los Angeles shortly after college and currently writes for the British daily The Guardian.  Recently, he just wrapped-up a five part series on Korea for The Guardian.  An index of the articles is available on this link.

Unlike many commenters and writers on this blog, Colin has not lived in Korea for years.  His Guardian series was based on about a week’s travel in the country.  He has live in Los Angeles’ Koreatown for awhile and claims he can speak a functional amount of the language.  Apparently, he even has a Korean girlfriend (in Los Angeles).  This might be a plus or negative for some people.  However, when it comes to urban vibe and city planning, Colin might have some experience to speak as he’s traveled to Mexico City, London, Copenhagen, Osaka, in addition to his native Seattle and current home of Los Angeles.

The Korean American magazine KoreAm interviewed Colin about his Guardian articles.  It’s an interesting read and he says some rather insightful observations that I think may have a kernel of truth.

In a way, some Koreans here [in the U.S.] are actually more conservative than the ones in Korea.

[…]

Talking to the twentysomethings there [in Korea], sometimes they’re way more mature than me, but sometimes it feels like they’re still in middle school.

[…]

[English learning in Korea is]… not even about learning English. It’s about getting above the others.

[…]

[Koreans burn too]… much energy on competition with each other.

[…]

Korea has brashness, which isn’t the same thing as confidence.

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.

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.

Crap I read today: the post-election edition

Well, I suppose for the ruling party, the local elections yesterday could have been much, much worse:

The 2014 local election did not produce a clear-cut winner as the Korean electorate remains sharply divided.

Still, President Park Geun-hye’s Saenuri Party has to be happy about the close result, considering the immense public anger that had risen over the government’s bungled emergency response to the sunken Sewol ferry. The ruling party was particularly inspired about victories in key regions such as Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, which left the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) ruing a missed opportunity to shift the balance of power in politics.

As the dust cleared after Wednesday’s vote, Saenuri came up with eight of the country’s 17 metropolitan mayor and governor posts with NPAD taking the remaining nine.

Yale grad and professional gadfly Nam Kyung-pil should be interesting to watch as Gyeonggi-do governor, especially if he starts squabbling with the mainstream of his party (not necessarily a bad thing), as he’s wont to do.

The SNP managed to squeak out a victory in the tight Busan mayoral race. Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, meanwhile, won reelection pretty handily…which, personally, is just fine with me, as I think he’s done a pretty good job of both running the city and refraining from commenting on non-city affairs.

Former Roh Moo-hyun bag man Ahn Hee-jung won reelection as governor of Chungcheongnam-do, too.

While the mayoral and gubernatorial races might have split, the left dominated the school superintendent races, including the Seoul race, where Cho Hi-yeon won a comfortable victory in a race where the conservative front-runner’s support collapsed almost overnight after his own daughter posted on Facebook an open letter to Seoul voters slamming her father for abandoning her and her brother.

Turnout was high…but not as high as expected. And KBS continues its spectacular run.

While the US wants Korea to adopt THAAD (Theater High Altitude Area Defense), Korea seems intent on going its own way.

Now, I’m no expert on public diplomacy, but you know what might help USFK more effectively make its case? Not having three drunk GIs sexually harass a female employee at a water park, assault a male employee trying to help and spit on and beat the arresting officers. Soon followed by another drunk serviceman stealing a cab, hot rodding down Gangnam-daero, hitting another car and assaulting the arresting officers.

To be fair, at least it appears USFK behaves better than East German troops in Poland.

More stuff at my photoblog. Apologies to redwhitedude, though—there are some more Gwanghwamun shots there.

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