The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Odds and Ends (page 1 of 19)

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.

No agreement on corruption bill, angry oldster who lit up subway, Yoo girl goes English only, fallen KoAm hero gets a bridge and more

The Kim Young-ran anti-corruption bill is going nowhere (HT to KB):

Calls for the passage of a bill seeking to punish government officials for taking bribes worth 1 million won ($98) or more have heightened in the wake of the Sewol ferry accident last month, which has shone a light on the problems plaguing Korea’s bureaucracy.

But the proposal, widely referred to as the Kim Young-ran Bill, which was submitted 15 months earlier, again failed to move on Tuesday, with political affairs committee members at the National Assembly failing to narrow their differences.

Some argue that the bill is way too broad, and to be fair, they might have a point: if you include family members, the bill would affect 18 million people if passed. But one gets the feeling that the real source is concern is that the bill calls for mandatory punishments for bribe-taking. Under current laws, officials and politicians can beat a corruption rap even if they accept a bribe if prosecutors cannot prove that favors were granted in return for the gifts.

*****

It’s good to see that despite everything that’s going on, the police’s anti-satire division is still hard at work. Of course, to spin this in a positive way, you could say it’s good to see the authorities cracking down on eye-sore advertising.

*****

So the angry oldster who tried to set a subway car alight at Dogok Station because he was pissed off about how a legal fight went apparently ran an entertainment establishment in Gwangju for 25 years. He still lives in the Big G—came up to Seoul just to commit his crime. He told police he chose Line 3 because there had recently been an accident on Line 2 so he thought a fire would get lots of press. Which leads me to a concern I have, namely, that with the public and media focused on public safety, we’ll be seeing disgruntled folk of all sorts engaging in this sort of nonsense.

*****

Ms. Shin, the 30-something Korean-American who was arrested on charges of helping Yoo Byung-un escape, is denying everything. And to make things tougher on investigators, she’s testifying entirely in English. Or, more to the point, probably pretending not to speak Korean. Anyway, prosecutors have her diary, so I’d say things don’t look too good for her.

*****

So, a singer in Cambodia has released a song lampooning Cambodian women marrying rich Korean dudes.

The humanity.

*****

On Memorial Day in the United States, Hillary Clinton attended a ceremony in Chappaqua, New York dedicating a bridge to Daegu-born Army Staff Sgt. Kyu H. Chay, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. You can read more about Chay here.

Crap I read today: May 27, 2014

- Prosecutors are offering half a million dollars for tips that lead to the arrest of Yoo Byung-un, and USD 100,000 for tips on his eldest son.

To help locate the fugitives, prosecutors have put out images of what the men might look like if they changed their appearance:

873446_no_water_99_20140526164208

873449_no_water_99_20140526164208

Yoo’s eldest daughter, meanwhile, has been arrested in France. She’s charged with embezzlement. A medical school professor accused of helping Yoo escape has also been arrested, as has a Korean-American woman in her 30s accused of the same (see also here). For what it’s worth, prosecutors seem to believe Yoo and his sons are still hiding out in Suncheon.

- Meanwhile, the Evangelical Baptist Church folk are telling the press they are all prepared to go to jail to protect Yoo. Oh, and they’re offering half a million dollars to whoever reveals why the ferry sank.

- Looks like the fire that killed seven at Goyang Bus Terminal was another “human-caused disaster.”

- Daum and Kakao have merged. I still get most of my news from Naver, as I imagine most of the country will continue to, too.

A couple of links

- It’s wonderful that former Japanese PM Tomiichi Murayama met with the Comfort Women, but I’m really not sure how much good it’s going to do. President Park won’t meet with him, either.

- Geoffrey of Jeollamite wrote a very good post about the surprising—well, given how this disgraceful affair has transpired, perhaps not too surprising—acquittal of the former Seoul police commissioner on charges of obstructing the investigation into the NIS.

- The Economist calls Korea an Internet dinosaur (HT to Gregory). As I’ve said before, it really is frustrating to read stuff like this given the kind of IT infrastructure we have here. As I said when Korea made Reporters Without Borders’ Enemies of the Internet list:

It’s kind of like reading news that Iran is suffering oil shortages — you scratch your head wondering how that’s even possible, and yet here we are.

And the Economist was being kind—they could have added to the list a ton of antiquated website design practices that can be quite frustrating.

- Clearly, these people have never seen Westworld.

- As a guy who likes to snap photos of pretty buildings, I suppose I should be excited that PGH wants to rebuild Gyeongju. And yet, a Korean acquaintance of mine said yesterday, “We’re just no good at doing these things,” pointing to this. I suppose you could easily suspect this to be a politically motivated white elephant… it it happens at all. First up is the old Silla palace—if you want to know what that’s supposed to look like when it’s done, see here.

- African slavery in Pocheon? That there’s foreign laborer exploitation going on in a place like Pocheon should be as surprising as a French president having an affair. What’s IS interesting, though, is that the director of the museum just happens to be the Saenuri Party’s general secretary. How much he was actually involved, I don’t know.

- More photos at Ye Olde Photoblog.

Some Quick Links

Been a bit busy, but here are a couple of links you might find of interest:

- Six Koreans got beat up in front of a nightclub in Singapore by locals apparently angered that the singer—also a Korean, mind you—hugged one of them. If the photos are to be believed one of them was seriously effed up. Can’t find mention of it in the Korean press, either. Which is odd—if the attack had taken place in, say, Australia, I’m sure it would be described as a virtual pogrom. Anyway, I really can’t see what would have set the locals off (HT to Aaron).

- Yep, it’s more blackface on Korean TV. What I found more amusing was the way it was reported by one of the local papers. I’m not going to feign outrage about the skit, but I will say that there’s been enough criticism of blackface (see, for instance, this) that I’m moderately surprised producers continue to OK it.

- Bloomberg ran a piece on Miky Lee, the new de facto CEO of the CJ Group (HT David):

Miky Lee helped fashion South Korea’s movies and music into a multibillion-dollar industry. Lee Mie Kyung, as she’s known in Korea, and Lee Jay Hyun, who turns 54 on March 19, turned a sugar and flour refiner their grandfather had founded in 1953 called Cheil Jedang Corp. into the country’s 14th-biggest conglomerate.

- If you’re bored, there’s lots of photos up at my photoblog. I’m doing a 365 project, so there will be new stuff on there pretty much every day—some of it better than others.

Odds and Ends: Boycott McDonald’s!

- Continuing our campaign to make Chinese tourists feel more at home, the Chosun Ilbo warns that yes, Chinese do in fact understand what jjangggae (a Korean term of abuse for Chinese) means. To illustrate this point, another paper recently reported about a brawl in Yeongdeungpo between two Korean dudes and five Joseon-jok (three dudes, two dudettes) that the Joseon-jok claim began when the Koreans called them “jjangggae.” Which I’m not even sure is the appropriate ethnic slur in this case, given that the Joseon-jok are, last time I checked, ethnically Korean. Well, anyway, you really need to be careful nowadays, because the Joseon-jok are a sensitive sort:

경찰 관계자는 “조선족들은 평소 차별받고 있다고 의식하는 경향이 있어 사소한 시비도 폭행으로 번지는 경우가 종종 있다”며 “대림3동 사건의 약 80% 이상이 조선족 관련 사건”이라고 전했다.

- North Korea yesterday proposed that the two Koreas stop slandering one another. Seoul responded by telling Pyongyang to screw off.

- I have qualms about the US Congress getting involved in other countries’ historical disputes, although privately, it does bring a smile to my face when Japanese asshatery publicly backfires. That said, I have to ask, how did the Comfort Women issue get attached to a spending bill?

- So, which country topped the list of foreign criminals arrested in the Philippines last year (HT to Aaron)?

Topping the list of foreign nationals nabbed in the country are Koreans with 34 arrested, whose cases range from forgery, drugs-related crimes to heinous acts such as murder.
[...]
Koreans were followed by 23 Chinese, 19 Americans, three Japanese and two Germans.

Some 80 foreign nationals were arrested in the Philippines in 2013. Which sounds rather low to me.

- OK, if I hadn’t read about this story in the New York Times, I’d have assumed you were taking the piss:

Word ricocheted around the Korean enclaves of Queens, then onto the Internet, where it was picked up by Korean news media and sent in translation to the homeland. The situation inspired television news reports, an animated parody and on Thursday culminated in a summit on a Flushing street corner calling for a boycott: all because a McDonald’s had appeared to disrespect several older Korean people who treat a neighborhood branch of the fast-food chain like their living room.
[...]
On Thursday afternoon, several Korean community leaders hand-delivered a letter to a manager of the McDonald’s franchise at the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards, outlining their outrage that, over the past several months, the management has called 911 to oust older men and women who sit for hours hovering over a single cup of coffee. The dispute was reported by The Korea Times and this week by The New York Times.

To see what we’re talking about here, read the NYT’s earlier piece about this, ahem, culture clash:

For the past several months, a number of elderly Korean patrons and this McDonald’s they frequent have been battling over the benches inside. The restaurant says the people who colonize the seats on a daily basis are quashing business, taking up tables for hours while splitting a small packet of French fries ($1.39); the group say they are customers and entitled to take their time. A lot of time.
[...]
And though they have treated the corner restaurant as their own personal meeting place for more than five years, they say, the situation has escalated in recent months. The police said there had been four 911 calls since November requesting the removal of the entrenched older patrons. Officers have stopped in as frequently as three times a day while on patrol, according to the patrons, who sidle away only to boomerang right back. Medium cups of coffee ($1.09 each) have been spilled; harsh words have been exchanged. And still — proud, defiant and stuck in their ways — they file in each morning, staging a de facto sit-in amid the McNuggets.

I’m pretty certain if I and a large group of friends were to colonize an eatery here all day nursing a USD 1 cup of coffee—as if such a thing existed here—we’d eventually be asked to leave. And if we refused long enough, Seoul’s Finest would be called to the scene to encourage compliance.

At any rate, don’t the Korean churches, etc. have community centers where these guys can hang out and not spend money all day long?

Anyway, Christine Colligan, a leader of the Korean Parents Association of New York, is unhappy about all of this. Very unhappy:

“Senior citizens should not be treated as criminals,” said Christine Colligan, a leader of the Korean Parents Association of New York, as she stood outside the restaurant, her voice rising. “They should be respected.”

That morning, Ms. Colligan had contacted her sprawling network in the Korean community urging a “worldwide” boycott of the fast-food restaurant for the month of February. In a letter, she attacked what she saw as “stark racism” by McDonald’s: “We will teach them a lesson,” the letter said.

The silence you hear is me at a loss for words.

Anyway, if I write any more about this, I’m going to lose it, so read about it on your own and go to town in the comments.

Odds and Ends: Purging Uncle Chang’s Mistress, Foreigner Taxi Scam and Unit 731

- In North Korea, Kim Jong-un’s purge posse has reportedly arrived in the Rason Special Economic Zone. Home to many trading companies, the city had a special relationship with Jang Song Thaek; accordingly, many arrests/purges are expected. Among those said to have been arrested is 50-something Kim Chun-hwa, the president of Rason International Travel Company. She’s rumored to have been Jang’s mistress and is said to be something of a MILF. Or whatever the proper term for a hot older woman who’s still single is.

- The Korea Times has an English piece about photographer Michael Kenna’s lawsuit against Korean Air. As I said earlier, I really don’t get it.

- Some 55% of foreign firms doing business in Korea don’t like the investment climate. Half even said they’d consider moving out of the country if the government continues to enact unfavorable regulations.

- What? International taxi drivers have been ripping off foreign passengers? These would be the international taxis international residents didn’t even want.

- Materials from the Jilin Provincial Archives are shedding light on the activities of Japan’s notorious Unit 731. Of particular note is how Japanese military police liked to label “biological warfare” as “plague prevention.”

- The Diplomat looks at Korea’s pickle in Cambodia. Being an optimist, I prefer to look at the bright side, namely, how despite whatever transpired in South Sudan, it appears Seoul and Tokyo are still able to cooperate on matters of shared interest:

Global Post also picked up on the story, offering in depth coverage and obtaining a response from Seoul in which it tried hard to justify its decision and even added: “The embassies of other countries in Cambodia, such as China and Japan whose companies are operating in the country as well, are said to have made similar requests to the Cambodian government.”

There is a great sense of irony at play and not just because these are three countries which don’t particularly like each other but are finding common ground in the quest for profit. More importantly, Hun Sen and those loyal to him have persistently carped about foreign interference in his country.

Odds and Ends: Kim Kwang-seok, Russians and Catholics, Oh My!

UPDATE: About 100,000 men of the PLA Shenyang Military Region’s 39th Army recently began a winter training exercise in the area around Mt. Baekdusan. The Shenyang Military Region would handle an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, including a North Korean collapse. It conducts winter exercises every year, but this year’s exercise is quite big, which has some people wondering if perhaps this might have to do with instability in North Korea.

- I know what the BBC and FCO are thinking, but frankly, I can’t think of anything that would scare the North Koreans into embracing their regime even more firmly than the Teletubbies and Mr. Bean.

- So, Korea gets to pay more to keep USFK around:

Korea has agreed to pay 920 billion won ($866 million) for the upkeep of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) this year, the foreign ministry said Sunday.

The amount represents a 5.8 percent, or 50.5 billion won, increase from the 869.5 billion won it paid in 2013.

The agreement still has to clear the National Assembly where opposition parties are calling for a significant reduction in the payout.

I’ll address the development in a separate post later.

- Is there a bigger waste of time that politicians talking about Korean reunification? At the same time, though, the DP head said his party would come up with a North Korean human rights act, which should be interesting.

- Race and gender issues intersect with Rain’s latest video. See also this article in the Korea Times and Mike Hurt’s post here.

- Daegu—an underrated city, if you ask me (which you didn’t)—has a street dedicated to late singer Kim Kwang-seok, who also happens to be your Uncle Marmot’s favorite Korean singer. Fun article, but I hate when officials say stuff like this:

“We’ll make Kim Kwang-seok Road as famous a tourism zone as Montmartre [in Paris],” said Yoon Soon-young, the head of Jung District Office.

Good luck with that. Anyway, my wife spent the weekend on a How I Met Your Mother Korea Reply 1994 marathon, so we’ve been getting a lot of Kim Kwang-seok. And with that, I give you his Dylan-esque (very Dylan-esque, as in I think he based it on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”) “두바퀴로 가는 자동차”:

- Sorry to follow that up with two guys from DC rapping in North Korea, but here’s two guys from DC rapping in North Korea (hat to Erik). Unlike them, I won’t be encouraging you to “see the country for yourself,” but I am inclined to agree that Pyongyang’s probably a whole lot safer than Washington DC. Of course, Anbar Province is probably safer than Washington DC, so that might not be saying much.

- It has nothing to do with Korea, but the photo on this article about the Spetsnaz is awesome (HT to Joshua Trevino). This, on the other hand, is less awesome:

Despite his perceived toughness, many Spetsnaz fighters don’t like Putin. Russia’s strongman still seems too soft to them — and much too liberal. “We need someone like Stalin,” says Mikhailov, the retired colonel with Spetsnaz’s “Alpha” unit.

The majority of the Spetsnaz fighters are nostalgic for the lost Soviet imperium, even if most of them were small children — if they had been born at all — when it vanished. They hate America and NATO and don’t think much of democracy. As a result, those who are charged with protecting Russians against terrorists and insurgents are skeptical of their own state.

To be fair to the Russians, I don’t envy their geopolitical circumstances.

- Speaking of the Rooskies, Andrei Tarkovsky’s films are now available for free online (HT to Jason). Which is super dope. Spend much of last night watching Stalker.

- Korea is getting a new Catholic cardinal. He comes from an old Catholic family, and by old, I mean he’s the direct descendant of a believer who was martyred in 1850.

- Over at Ye Olde Photoblog, I’ve got photos up of Gwangjang Market and some other places.

Odds and Ends: the Rodman Edition

As the Worm and his motley crew of former NBA players turn in North Korea, Andrei Lankov writes in NK News that Rodman’s trip should be welcomed:

It is difficult to agree with optimists who sincerely claim that a less hostile and more forgiving international environment will make North Korean decision-makers reconsider their old and brutal ways. Less stick and more carrot is unlikely to make North Korea’s top leadership transform its country into a more benevolent dictatorship or liberal democracy. Pyongyang is well-aware of how risky reforms can be, and the leadership does not trust the outside world (regardless of how the outside world behaves).

Nonetheless, cultural exchanges with North Korea are very important. This is because exchanges influence the proverbial hearts and minds of North Koreans. For decades, North Koreans have been told that the outside world is destitute hell, characterized by extreme poverty and suffering. People inside the North are beginning to understand that they have been deceived, but it will do no harm if their suspicions are confirmed. The best way to do this is by exposing North Koreans to the outside world.

In this regard, Rodman’s presence in and of itself is important, as is his (and his entourage’s) contacts with North Korean officials and sportsmen. As my student Peter Ward has noted in soon-to-be-published research, for decades the oppression of black people within American society was a ubiquitous element in North Korean official narratives of America. Such ideas are difficult to sustain when the U.S. is headed by a black president, but Rodman’s visit is likely to make many North Koreans even more skeptical of official claims – and this is a good thing.

It might be a good thing. Who knows. I have my doubts about the effectiveness of people-to-people diplomacy as far as North Korea is concerned, but I understand the arguments for it. The problem is, the Worm might not necessarily be the best private diplomat:

- Rodman apparently doesn’t want any “negativity” about the visit. I think that’s going to be tough when he’s seemingly blaming Kenneth Bae for his captivity (see above) and likening North Korea’s gulag system to the American prison system and/or Gitmo (granted, he’s not the only former NBAer to do so). I will say in Rodman’s defense, though, that reporters keep on asking the guy questions they know he can’t answer, and Rodman keeps answering because he’s not the brightest light on the 15-man roster. I don’t recall reporters giving New York Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel this much shit when his orchestra visited North Korea in 2008, and he said stuff that was just as outrageous. UPDATE: Not to mention the New York Philharmonic’s performance probably lent the North Korean regime a lot more legitimacy than Rodman’s trip. Rodman’s essentially a walking reality show, and I think most people view his trip to North Korea as an extension of Rodman’s personal nuttiness. The New York Philharmonic, on the other hand, is one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras.

- At the CSM, Steven Borowiec has written a Q&A about Rodman’s trip.

- Could it be that Rodman’s, uh, Rodman might be the reason for his fondness for North Korea. Another strike again PIV, I suppose.

- A diplomatic source is telling Dennis Halpern that the Worm has brought luxury goods with him to North Korea, a violation of UN sanctions and punishable by a 20-season suspension from the public at large. For what it’s worth, though, I do believe that anyone who enjoys Jameson can’t be entirely bad. Smuggling Bushmills, however, should get you waterboarded in Gitmo.

- Three Korean golf courses were named to Golf Digest’s top 100 courses in the world. Anyang Benest (now Anyang CC) was the best Korean course at 40th place. A round there will set non-club members back KRW 257,000 on a weekend, not including the caddy.

- A long-time expat in Korea has reportedly been busted in Cambodia on charges of having sex with a 14-year-old boy.

- You know, Bumfromkorea, if Steven Seagal ever did become your governor, I believe that would make his wife Erdenetuya the first Mongolian first lady of a US state.

Open Thread: Jan 4, 2014

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Have a good weekend, folks.

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