The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Odds and Ends (page 1 of 20)

A Zero Waste Concept – An New & Better Habit for Korean Society and Industry

Everybody picks up; nobody throws down

Tshering Tobgay, one of my favorite people from Bhutan (the PM), who gives the word “politician” a positive meaning, made mention of a very simple yet profound idea for change in Bhutan, that could and should be applied here, in Korea:

zero wasteCheku Gyaltshen, Class 10, School Captain, Gyalpoi Tozey, showing off his zero waste bag. Cheku introduced this concept in Chundu Centra School and today all students carry zero waste bags in which they store personal and other waste they come across in their school campus.

As one Bhutanese observed, “I remember the doctrine of Mr.Tshering Dukpa, JNLSS Principal lecturing on his formula “zero waste”, during morning assembly,  as follows: EVERY BODY PICKS UP, NOBODY THROWS DOWN.
This simple rule if followed makes everyone a friend of environment and society.”

If applied, here in Korea, the improvement to the environment, quality of life, national pride, not to mention the savings in clean-up costs, would be phenomenal.  I would really promote this one simple thing since it would have the greatest positive social impact on Korea since the New Village Movement (새마을 운동).

The Bhutanese are aware that happiness is very important and that it does not stem from money alone but how one lives.

Before the New Village Movement that the current president’s father started, many Korean’s thinking in villages was poor. Many got drunk and gambled and had little ambition. By setting new standards, new daily habits, new ideas, PCH was able to inspire many Koreans to improve their lot.

I noticed an advert up in the subway for people to submit a new slogan for Korean tourism. Hey, how about doing something to help people form a new attitude, even if there is a stick behind it sometimes. Why not require students to carry a zero waste bag and use them? As we say in the West, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but you can certainly start educating youth in a better direction. The adults should be fined for any everything they throw down since they are maybe to old to understand the virtue of it; save the stick for them alone. A really aggressive program of zero waste would improve many things: quality of life, tourism, avoid spending more money to clean up.

I really think it is time for Koreans to adopt new habits that define their culture better than the materialism that puts an emphasis upon making money.

If Park Guen-hye’s father lead and pushed Koreans into better and more productive habits, then it is time for his daughter and other leaders to help start some new and better habits for the sake of the society and country. Considering the high suicide rate here, there is a background of dissatisfaction that needs many things to effect a cure and a new attitude about the world around them is a part of that remedy. There are other efforts government should make as well, such as requiring all companies here to revise their packaging to reduce waste as much as possible. Germany has done exactly this and the savings, to the country and business, have been considerable.

A program like this is a good place to start since it is not costly. I’ve seen some churches go out into the neighborhood and clean up parts of it as part of an outreach program. Though their aim is to inspire new membership, they do recognize the power of an empowered and positive mind to inspire others.

This is exactly what Korea needs.

Is Drawing on A Dirty Jet A Security Concern?

dirty tailThere is a report of thirteen former United Airlines attendants having been improperly fired for refusing to fly on a jet that had vaguely menacing artwork painted on its tail (thirty feet of the ground). According to Bloomberg:

The fired flight attendants say they had a right to disobey orders to make the July 14 San Francisco-to-Hong Kong trip after the words “bye bye” were found written in an oil slick on the fuselage, according to a complaint to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Oddly enough, the artwork was probably applied here in South Korea:

With the 747 in a secured area of the airport and the graffiti on the tail about 30 feet off the ground, the images should have triggered a more-comprehensive reaction, according to the complaint. A pilot’s suggestion to the crew that images were applied when the plane was in South Korea before arriving in San Francisco should have raised alarms about safety in that country, the attendants said.

Maybe the plane was just dirty and someone felt like writing in the grease left on the jet?

Odds and Ends: Jan. 2, 2015

– So, it seems like the leaders of the two Koreas want to talk. Kim Jong-un says the North is open to high-level talks with the South, which is nice, because Park Geun-hye wants to improve relations with the North, with her unification minister proposing on Dec. 30 high-level talks with the North. Still, Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address wasn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs:

But the address also indicated the North’s resolve to strengthen military power in the face of ever-growing international pressure over not only its nuclear program but also its dire human rights record and more recently its alleged cyberattack on Sony Pictures over “The Interview,” a comedy film about a plot to assassinate Kim. His past two New Year speeches focused more on economic growth.

The Korean National Diplomatic Academy affiliated with Seoul’s Foreign Ministry assessed in its 2015 outlook that despite potential “surprise factors” including an inter-Korean summit, Kim could reinforce its “national, institutional tools of violence” to tighten his grip. A small exchange of fire across the border, such as over a launch of anti-North leaflets by South Korean activists, could escalate into a bigger military clash, it noted.

North Korea is not in a good place right now – the Korea Herald quotes the Korea Institute for National Unification as saying KJU’s New Year address “reflects North Korea’s sense of crisis both internally and externally,” while South Korean officials warn that North Korea has sometimes followed up positive speeches by ratcheting up tensions and launching provocations. At any rate, North Korea has a couple of conditions it would like met before talks begin – it would like a suspension of military drills between South Korea and the United States, and end to South Korea’s plans to unify Korea by absorbing the North (a.k.a. “we don’t like the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation“), and for Seoul to stop going around saying bad things about their fellow Koreans (i.e., the UN resolutions condemning North Korea’s human rights violations). Still, I suppose we’ll see how things go.

– A speech analyst commissioned by the Dong-A Ilbo said while Kim Jong-un sounded more confident and stable in this year’s address than he had in the past, his breathing pattern indicated a lung capacity problem. He also said KJU is imitating his grandfather, former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, less than he used to

Whitecaps, snowy rocks and the good ship ROKS Sejong the Great. Very dramatic.

– Over the past two years, 159 women have gone missing in Suwon. There are a million people in Suwon, so I have no idea if that’s a high number of not. This is being brought to our attention, however, because another Chinese-Korean was recently arrested for another brutal murder/mutilation (although police have tentatively ruled out that her organs were illegally harvested). Police have stepped up patrols in five districts in Suwon with large foreign populations, a move criticized by some as unfairly stigmatizing foreigners as potential criminals. Oh, interestingly enough, the family of the victim of the latest killing will not receive compensation from the Korean government – such compensation, provided under the Crime Victim Protection Act, is provided to foreigners only when a reciprocal agreement exists in the foreigner’s home country.

– “Nut-gate” villain Heather Cho is very, very sad. Her sister’s been forced to apologize, too, for a very unwise text message.

Photo by Travis.

The USFK’s official drag queen show

War is Boring is one of my favorite (and perhaps Mr. Koehler’s as well) non-Korean related blogs.  They don’t mention Korea often, but sometimes they do.  Their latest blog post  that kind of mentions Korea, albeit in passing, is the U.S. Army’s only officially sanctioned drag queen show.

Yes, it happened in 1946 when American troops stationed in Europe and Japan had plenty of local diversions and attention from the USO to keep them entertained.  Post colonial Korea?  Not so much.  How did you keep men of the 7th Infantry Division stationed in Korea entertained, distracted and free from trouble from the local populace?  You dress a few men as women and put on burlesque shows.

Photo by Blue Delliquanti.

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.


(Image from Abihollow via

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:


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?

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