Firstly, I apologize for the lack of activity over the last week. In addition to being super busy at the office, I’ve been running a bit with the camera, as you might be able to tell from my Tumblr blog.
Imported beer, my ass
Some folk are mighty pissed at OB for passing off Hoegaarden as an imported beer (HT to Colin). And by “passing off,” I mean charging over KRW 3,000 a can for a beer brewed in Gwangju since 2008 under a licensing agreement with the Hoegaarden headquarters in Belgium.
The factory price of a 355mm can of Hoegaarden is KRW 1,833, much cheaper than that of Heineken (KRW 2,400) or Asahi (KRW 1,980), yet its selling price in stores remains the highest.
Same goes for Starbucks bottled coffee—since 2006, it’s been made under license in a factory in Jincheon (home of my favorite brewery, BTW), but it’s still selling for the KRW 3,000 price it was sold at when it was imported.
For what it’s worth, I actually like the Hoegaarden despite the price—it’s my go-to beer when I have to buy something from the proverbial pyeonuijeom. Fortunately, I live just above not just one but two fine purveyors of craft beer, so I don’t have much need to go the pyeonuijeom route.
OK, here comes the North Korea-related bullshit
You knew North Korea was going to be pissed about the South Korea—US Ulji Freedom Guardian exercises (even if they’ve been oddly quiet).
But for Pyongyang to call President Park Geun-hye’s convening of a National Security Council meeting in Cheong Wa Dae’s underground bunker on the first day of the drill yesterday an “intolerable provocation” was a bit unusual.
North Korea made a bunch of other unintentionally ironic statements I’ve neither the time nor desire to translate.
The question most people will ask is how this will effect the talks on Kaesong. The question people should ask, however, is why Seoul even wants to discuss Kaesong at all. As Bruce Klingner asks in the WSJ:
Most fundamentally, why does Seoul want to return to Kaesong in the first place? The benefits lop-sidedly accrue to Pyongyang, providing a steady source of hard currency to the beleaguered regime. On the southern side, there is no economic incentive, corporate advocacy or political interest in expanding the complex. Even before the most recent round of North Korean threats, Kaesong was on life-support.
North Korea, meanwhile, also wants to restart the Kumgungsan Mountains Tourism project. Obviously, the biggest reason they want to do this is money—efforts to replace the South Korean tourists with Chinese and other foreigners have failed. They have other reasons, too. Pyongyang sees the restart of tourism as a means of lifting the so-called May 24 Measures slammed on North Korea by the Lee Myung-bak administration in 2010 following the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan. The North also thinks it can link Kumgangsan with efforts to turn the port town of Wonsan into a tourism zone.
In case anyone needs reminding, South Korean tourism to the Kumgangsan Mountains has been suspended since July 2008, when the North Koreans shot dead a female South Korean tourist.
Well, it would beat the instant coffee
Speaking of North Korea, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that the number of registered drug addicts in the Chinese town of Yanji—not far from the North Korean border—increased 50-fold between 1990 and 2010.
What’s interesting is that while the drug of choice for the large majority of Chinese addicts was heroin, 90% of the recent addicts in Jilin Province were addicted to meth.
North Korean soldiers reportedly depend on meth to stand sentry for several days at a time. The North Korean state produced meth, but starting a year ago, corrupt North Korean officers began opening up their own meth labs and exporting the goods to China.
On the bright side, it’s nice to see 60 years of communist hasn’t robbed the North Korean people of the entrepreneurial spirit. Walter White would be impressed.
According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, it’s said that in high-end restaurants in North Korea, meth is given out after meals like dessert or coffee. One might be tempted to discount that as BS, but as Jason Strother points out in the WSJ’s Korea Real Time blog, North Korea has a serious meth problem:
North Korea is experiencing a “drug epidemic”, according to a study published in the Spring 2013 edition of the journal North Korea Review.
“A New Face of North Korean Drug Use: Upsurge in Methamphetamine Abuse Across the Northern Areas of North Korea” explains how during the past several years meth production has gone from government-owned factories to privately run underground laboratories and “home kitchens”.
According to the report, it’s not the first time that a drug originally intended for export into China and beyond ended up flooding North Korea’s domestic market.
Ethiopians apply for refugee status
A group of 40 young Ethiopians—invited here by KOICA to study technical skills at the Human Resources Development Service of Korea—want to apply for refugee status, reports the Chosun Ilbo.
The trainees were reportedly descendants of the men who fought in the Kagnew Battalion, the Ethiopian force sent to Korea to fight under the UN flag in the Korean War.
About 30 of the applicants said they are members of opposition parties and engaged in political activity. Another one claims that as a Muslim he is being religiously oppressed, another claims he is being persecuted due to being a member of a minority ethnic group, another says he was a former police employee who was arrested after he raised human rights issues, and another says he did time after it was discovered he was a homosexual.
Group applications for refugee status are rare in Korea, so a civic group helping them out went to Seoul Immigration Office to ask about the application process. They got a 14-page application—in English and Korean only—and were told that since there were no interpreters, they should fill it out on their own…apparently in violation of the Refugee Law that requires the receiving official to fill out the application if the applicant is unable.
According to the civic group, not only is it ridiculous to have refugees fill out applications in Korean or English, but officials also some times refuse to take applications due to English grammar mistakes or poor handwriting.
I’m inclined to say that if any of this is true, Korea’s refugee application process could probably use some work. At the same time, I could also understand the authorities’ reluctance to get conned.