The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Odds and Ends (page 2 of 20)

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:



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


Have a good weekend, folks.

Random Links: the Rhodesian Edition

- Apparently Tony “Texas Daddy” Marano—my favorite Texan Italian—is again up to no good, posting a petition at the White House website calling for the removal of the “offensive state in Glendale, CA public park.” To be fair to Tony, it’s just bad form to put offensive states in public parks. Just the other day somebody put UDI-era Rhodesia in our neighborhood park, and it was quite the eyesore.

– I believe Rhodesia and the United States were the only two countries to unilaterally declare their independence from Great Britain.

– More headaches for the United States with visits this month by high-ranking Korean and Japanese officials. I just hope Washington makes it clear that while it’s willing to work with Abe on expanding Japan’s security role, he needs to stop some of the history-related BS, which is helping precisely nobody.

– I need to get me a hat like that. While we’re on the subject of photography, though, renowned British landscape photographer Michael Kenna will be taking the stand this month to testify in his lawsuit against Korean Air for this ad:

Samsung ran into problems with this photo, too, when they purchased a similar photo from Getty rather than pay KRW 50 million in royalties for Kenna’s photo.

To be honest, I don’t know what to think about this. Yes, Kenna helped make that shot iconic—although not iconic enough to stop the construction of an LNG storage facility behind the island—but how far does “derivative” go? Does anyone who sells a photo taken at that spot have to cut Kenna a check? In fact, I actually like the “derivative” work better—I get wood from long-exposure B&W photography just like any other guy, but I really liked the color and sky in the Korean Air shot.

Notorious Korean gang lord captured in The Philippines

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

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

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

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

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

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

He allegedly committed other crimes as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Notes or related topics

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

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


Losers, NLL transcript, invisible US ambassador, Japan and UNESCO redux, complaining foreigners, pretty shaved heads and Lego


With guys like this running the Ministry of Defense, is it any surprise they’re dragging their feet with the transfer of wartime operational command?

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency touched off a furor by saying at a National Assembly audit that South Korea would “lose” in a one-on-one war with North Korea.

South Korea’s 2013 military spending is 33 to 34 times more than North Korea‘s.

Speaking at the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee annual audit of his office at the Ministry of National Defense on Nov. 5, Cho Bo-geun reportedly responded to a question about who would win in a war between South Korea and North Korea by saying, “If we fight as an alliance with the US under the current operational plan, we‘ll win by an overwhelming margin. If South Korea fights alone, North Korea has the superior fighting strength, so South Korea would lose.”

Twice the population, a military budget 34 times the size of North Korea’s, an economic gap that looks like this, and you still think you’d lose?

I just don’t know what to say, other than the Defense Ministry should hire Doug Bandow as a consultant or something.

Which way did the transcript go, George? Which way did it go?

More nonsense with the NLL:

“People all know that President Roh Moo-hyun guarded the NLL (Northern Limit Line),” Moon told reporters before his questioning. “The transcript [of the summit] is intact.

“The crux of this matter is that the ruling party and the National Intelligence Service abused the transcript stored at the NIS by distorting its contents for [last year’s] presidential election,” said Moon, who was also the Democratic Party candidate defeated in last year’s presidential election.

When asked by reporters why the transcript wasn’t transferred to the National Archives, Moon did not answer.

He’s probably right about the NIS using the transcript for political purposes in the last election. As far as everyone knowing that Roh defended the NLL, I’d say recent elections and polling would suggest that’s far from the case.

US ambassador needs to drink more

Somebody at the JoongAng Ilbo apparently doesn’t think US Ambassador Sung Kim is drinking enough:

Modesty and passiveness are different. Kim’s background is too special for him to be just another ambassador.

Because he is the first Korean-American to be appointed U.S. ambassador to Seoul, and because he is the forerunner for other people of Korean descent who will take senior posts in other countries, our expectations are high.

It is not too late. We want to see His Excellency Kim meeting Koreans over glasses of makgeolli during the rest of his term.

There seems to be some confusion here, and I’ve noticed it with previous ambassadors here, too. More specifically, it sometimes seems the media expects the US ambassador to represent Korean interests to the US government. Sure, I guess in terms of public policy, it doesn’t hurt to mix with the locals. Could be fun, too. But that’s not his job.

Oh, not this again…

The JoongAng Ilbo thinks the Japanese are being insensitive by pushing the registration of their modern cultural heritage with UNESCO:

Japan was a regional front-runner when it came to industrialization and economic success. The government is seeking to register its early industrial sites as Unesco World Heritage sites to rekindle pride in its economic legacy. Doing so, however, the country has once again demonstrated insensitivity toward its neighbor. Eleven out of the 28 “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” it plans to seek for UN recognition in February 2015 served as labor camps for Korean prisoners and civilians during World War II.

At least 1,481 Koreans were forced to work as slaves in sites that include a shipyard in Nagasaki, a defunct coal mine and a steel mill in Fukuoka, according to a study by the Prime Minister’s Office.The Hashima coal mine was notoriously referred to as the “island of hell” because Koreans were forced to work for 12 hours a day in pits of 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) below the surface. Few Koreans came out alive or even healthy.

Any country is entitled to vie for international recognition and protection for its heritage and cultural properties under the World Heritage Treaty of 1972. The places Japan wants to list as World Heritage sites may be valuable assets to the Japanese, but they trigger bitter and painful memories for Koreans. It is spiteful to honor its past glory at the expense of others’ pain.

I’ve already explained why I think this is a losing fight for the Korean side here.

Sometimes, this blog just writes itself

OK, it’s a bit dated, but in case you missed the Korea Times piece about the gay American pastor in HBC complaining about Korea’s homophobic textbooks, then you also missed this beauty from an Education Ministry official—be warned, though, that you should not be drinking anything when you read it, especially coffee, which can be especially difficult to wipe off your monitor:

“Every country has its own set of laws in evaluating and approving the education material for books. I don’t know if it’s appropriate for a foreigner to judge how we manage our education. You won’t see us commenting how other countries teach at schools.”

I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing.

Like a very pretty bhikkhunī

Say what you will about Rep. Kim Jae-yeon’s politics—needless to say, I’m not a fan of her party. Still, she does look good with a shaved head.

Lego screwing Korea

Or that’s what some folk are complaining, anyway:

“Lego is too expensive, that’s why moms usually band together and make bulk purchases through the Internet,” Park Jin-hai, 38, a mother of two kids aged nine and six, said.

“Moms all know Lego is expensive, but we have no choice because kids love it. Also, it is difficult to find individual stores and service centers where customers can get the customer service in person,” Park added.

“Lego uses its international economic scale to raise awareness and the price here. Comparably smaller Korean toy firms cannot win with those strategies,” a market insider added.

Foreign coffee chains, outdoor fashion brands, Danish toy companies… when will these outrages stop?

Still not talking to Japan, PGH’s sneakers, N. Korean beauties, K-pop and Youtube, and frisky students

Not talking to Japan

Note to President Park: Look, I happen to agree that certain Japanese leaders are being, to put it politely, dickheads, Still, don’t you think you’re overreacting a bit here:

All of which makes South Korea’s current relationship with Japan all the more striking. Eight months after taking office, Ms Park has still not met her neighbour and fellow US ally, and talk of a summit, she said, was still premature.

“The fact is there are certain issues that complicate [that relationship]” she said. “One example is the issue of the comfort women. These are women who have spent their blossoming years in hardship and suffering, and spent the rest of their life in ruins.”

“And none of these cases have been resolved or addressed; the Japanese have not changed any of their positions with regard to this. If Japan continues to stick to the same historical perceptions and repeat its past comments, then what purpose would a summit serve? Perhaps it would be better not to have one.”

I don’t see PM Abe and Co. growing more repentant any time soon, which means unless Park wants to spend however long Abe lasts pretending the man doesn’t exist, she’s eventually going to have to talk to him, and when she does, she’s going to look like she’s giving in.

Nice kicks

I suppose Park isn’t completely anti-Japanese. Certain jokes—most of them related to “Park Chung-hee” and “Japanese uniforms”—probably present themselves at this point. I won’t make them, though.

North Korean beauties

In Japan Focus, Christopher K. Green and Stephen J. Epstein look at “Ije mannareo gamnida,” the Channel A program that could be seen as Misuda, but with North Korean beauties. Read it in its entirely—here’s just the into:

In 2011, the recently established South Korean broadcasting network Channel-A launched Ije mannareo gamnida (Now on My Way to Meet You), a program whose format brings together a group of a dozen or more female talbukja (North Korean refugees)2 on a weekly basis. These women interact with host Nam Hui-seok, an additional female co-host (or, in the earlier episodes, two), and a panel composed of four male South Korean entertainers. Episodes typically open in a lighthearted manner, with conversation about daily life in North Korea alongside mild flirtation between the Southern male and Northern female participants, often involving song and dance, but climax with a talbuk seuteori, an emotionally harrowing narrative from one of the border-crossers detailing her exodus from North Korea. Via this framework Ije mannareo gamnida attempts to nurture the integration of North Korean refugees into South Korean society; personalization of their plight occurs in conjunction with reminders of a shared Korean identity maintained despite the regime they have fled, which is depicted as cruel, repressive and backward. The show has proven a minor hit within South Korea and received coverage from local and global media (see, e.g., Kim 2012; Choi 2012; Noce 2012).

The unusual subject matter of Ije mannareo gamnida itself renders the show worthy of analysis; equally significantly, it offers a useful window into attempts to address South Korea’s increasingly diverse society, which now includes a large number of North Koreans, as well as media practice in the face of this demographic shift. Nevertheless, other than journalistic treatment, only a limited number of South Korean scholars (e.g. Tae and Hwang 2012; Oh 2013) and Western academic bloggers (Draudt and Gleason 2012) have thus far investigated the show and its larger social ramifications. In this paper, we ask how Now on My Way to Meet You is to be understood within the contexts of South Korean society, its evolving media culture, and developments in South Korean popular representations of North Koreans. We offer close readings of segments from Ije mannareo gamnida in order to elicit motifs that recur as it pursues its stated goal of humanizing North Korea for a South Korean audience and giving defectors a voice amidst the general populace. Given that the show’s very title intimates that a genuine encounter is about to take place, one might reasonably ask how successfully Ije mannareo gamnida establishes a meeting point for South Koreans with these recent arrivals from North Korea: in other words, does the show fulfill its stated aim of breaking down prejudices against North Korean refugees and supplying them with a vehicle that allows self-expression?3 Or, alternatively, does it reinforce, even if unintentionally, pre-existing regimes of knowledge and actually impede understanding of North Korea and its people? As we will argue, given the broader sociopolitical context, the show’s desire to reinforce elements of commonality between North and South while illuminating life in North Korea leads to a double bind: viewers are encouraged to recognize homogeneity with the newcomers based on a shared ethnic and cultural identity, even as the conversations and editing techniques applied to the material often represent the Northern panelists as Others.

K-pop and Youtube

Over at the WSJ, Jeff Yang asks why Girls’ Generation and K-Pop won big at the YouTube Music Awards. Ordinarily, I’d say the answer to that is simple—there is no God—but then again, considering the disgrace that was the MTV Music Awards, perhaps somebody really is watching over us.

Anyway, to win those sorts of things, a passionate fan base and a very mobile-savvy population help:

Having just returned from an extended trip to Korea, I can attest to that: For Korean consumers, whose mobile broadband cups runneth over, watching video is like breathing — they’re virtually never not in front of a screen, whether they’re sitting on the subway, walking through busy intersections, or hanging out at home. It’s quite common to see family members in Korean households sitting around “alone together,” each viewing their own media on their own respective screens while ostensibly in the same room. I was, in fact, nearly run over by a kid watching some kind of video while riding a bicycle, steering with his elbows. And a huge percentage of the content they watch is music videos — almost all of it via streaming sites like YouTube.

“When country restrictions are in place, like the way every country has its own iTunes Store, one can’t witness the power of a global K-pop fanbase,” says Jeff Benjamin, who covers K-Pop for the music industry’s periodical of record, Billboard. “But when no restrictions are in place, like on YouTube, it’s amazing what they can do. ‘I Got a Boy’ received millions of views in its first few hours.”

Hey, anything to beat Justin Bieber.

Keep your hands to yourselves, kids!

The first reaction to hearing that kids are getting punished for holding hands at school may be, “Gee, how medieval.”

Then again, at least I haven’t read about kids recording themselves having sex in class. So perhaps the Korean schools are on to something here.

PGH Speaks, Suh Chung-won’s Back, the FA-50 and Korea’s Gay-friendly but Xenophobic Youth

President Park says something about the NIS

Ahead of a tour to Europe, President Park speaks about the NIS allegations:

“I personally didn’t do anything suspicious, but suspicions have been raised that state agencies meddled in the election. I will clearly shed light on those suspicions without fail” and punish those responsible, Park said during a meeting with senior secretaries.

She also called on politicians—read: the opposition—to avoid causing public division and patiently wait for the legal system to do its job. Considering a) if it weren’t for politicians causing public division, it’s doubtful this issue would have even come to light, and b) the chicanery within the prosecution doesn’t instill much confidence in the legal system, I think it’s safe to say Park’s statement won’t shut the opposition up.

Some foreign correspondents offered their opinion on the NIS mess to the Korean Times. For instance:

“What President Park needs to do is open a bipartisan, cross-party investigation,” said Andrew Salmon, a Seoul-based journalist. “The prime minister’s pledge comes only halfway.”
“I think she needs to get the house in order and get rid of old-fashioned right wingers in certain institutions who may be thinking that they are helping her but in fact are a danger to the democratic process,” Salmon said.

As to why these right-wingers would operate in such fashion, he saw them stuck in a past mindset ― in the Cold-War perspective. “Such forces should leave the institution or start writing blogs.”

I’ll do my part by offering any stuck-in-the-past, Fifth Republic holdovers space on my blog, provided they first resign from their official posts.

2013 By-elections: Return of the Suh Chung-won

So, the Saenuri Party swept both by-elections. The key one was Hwaseong-A District, where Suh Chung-won won, and won big. Everything you need to know about Suh I shall reprint below:

The return to the political scene of heavyweight Suh, President Park’s long-time ally who served two separate prison terms for violating election-finance laws, may signal a wind of change in the leadership structure at the ruling Saenuri Party.


He is also expected to present a challenge to Representative Kim Moo-sung, who has been building his clout in the party and has recently emerged as one of the strongest candidates for the next presidential race. Kim is highly likely to run for the party chairmanship in a party convention scheduled for next year.

Party insiders say Kim is remote from the president, who has strong confidence in Suh because he is less politically ambitious and more loyal.

Double ugh.

The FA-50 Is a Good Plane. But It’s Not an Easy Sale

Will anybody buy the FA-50? That’s what the boys and girls at War is Boring ask (HT to Geek Ken):

Nonetheless, at $35 million a pop, the FA-50 is a bargain for the capabilities it offers. Plus the aircraft has operating costs that are a fraction of that of other fighters—even something as small and comparatively low-cost as a JAS-39 Gripen. For that relatively low price, a country gets an aircraft that has much of the performance of a full-sized fighter — a 75-percent solution.
But as impressive as the FA-50 is, especially for its price, the small fighter faces an uncertain future. “The problem isn’t the plane — they have designed one of the best lightweight fighters in years,” says Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group. “The problem is the market.”

The market has shifted in over the years. Countries that used to buy light fighters such as the F-5 — Turkey, for one — have moved on to more expensive aircraft like the F-16. But other nations have fallen upon hard times and have not been able to purchase modern fighters in decades — Argentina, for example. “The market has kind of bifurcated into haves and have-nots,” Aboulafia says.

Now, Korea did sign earlier this month an MOU with the Philippines to export a dozen FA-50s. What make that sale even MORE interesting is that Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun—quoting multiple Korean officials—reports that Seoul made that deal over the objections of the Chinese, who asked Korea not to sell the fighters to the Philippines.

Koreans Grow More Conservative. Young Koreans Least Homophobic, Most Xenophobic

The Dong-A Ilbo and The Asan Institute for Policy Studies conducted a poll of attitudes in Korea, yielding some interesting results. Up to last year, self-identified progressives outnumbered self-identified conservatives by about 10 percentage points, but this year, centrists (41.2%) and conservatives (32.7%) outnumbered progressives (26.1%). In particular, the percentage of self-identified conservatives grew by 9 percentage points among those in their 20s and 11 percentage points among those in their 60s.

A researcher at the Asan Institute said the drop in support for progressives was largely thanks to support for Park’s strong response to North Korean provocations soon after she took office, late President Roh’s statements about the NLL, and the whole UPP/Lee Seok-ki fiasco.

Meanwhile, conservatives are growing more conservative and progressives more progressive. Slightly more Korean feel the government should focus more on growth than distribution, but conservatives and progressives responded to this quite differently. Conservatives also tended to more heavily favor limits on personal freedom for the public interest—not exactly good news for you classical liberals out there.

Even more interesting—especially for some readers—is that it was young respondents in their 20s that revealed the highest degree of xenophobia. Some 23.9% of respondents in their 20s said they disliked foreigners living in Korea, the highest of any age group. Respondents in their 30s were the least xenophobic, with just 16.1% saying they disliked foreigners living in Korea.

Likewise, 31.3% of respondents in their 20s agreed that foreign laborers were making a mess of Korea’s social values, 10 percentage points higher than the 21.5% for the survey as a whole. This was followed by 21.6% for those in their 50s and 60s and 19.1% for those in their 30s. Only 15.3% of those in their 40s agreed with the statement. Furthermore, 35.1% of those in their 20s said that multicultural families were raising the level of social instability and complicating social unity.

That said, those xenophobic 20-somethings are not equal-opportunity in their hate. They especially dislike immigrants from China and the Philippines, but they are actually less adverse to immigrants from the United States and Japan than those of other age groups, and especially those in their 60s. This is believed to be the result of discomfort resulting from the growth in the number of Chinese students studying in Korea and concern about crimes committed by foreign laborers like the Oh Won-chun murder. Also believed to be at play is the feeling that foreigners are stealing jobs at a time when it’s difficult to find work.

Koreans still don’t like gays, though. Some 78.5% of respondents said they didn’t like homosexuals, although this number has come down year-to-year. That said, 42.5% of respondents in their 20s said they didn’t dislike gays, as opposed to only 8.3% of respondents of in their 60s. Some 53.0% of respondents in their 20s said same-sex marriage should be legalized, while only 7.6% of those in their 60s believed so. Interestingly, there was little ideological difference on the question of homosexuals—84.9% of conservatives and 70.3% of progressives disliked gays.

As for abortion, 55.3% of respondents said they believed abortions should be permitted only when the life of the mother is threatened. Only 29.9% said abortion should be left up to the mother’s choice, and even fewer (14.8%) said it should be banned outright. Younger respondents tended to support the permitting of abortion, while older ones did not. As with homosexuality, the numbers did not change much according to ideology, with conservatives and progressives responding similarly.

I hate Halloween, Koreans overreacting to Japanese defense moves, Korean wins X Factor Hojustan, and more

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