The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Odds and Ends (page 2 of 20)

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

image

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

Losers

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.

Ugh.

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

Stinky prosecutions, textbooks and beautiful architecture

Seeing some light for the first time in weeks, I post some stuff I found mildly interesting:

Stuff I read today

- Nice to see the warriors protecting Korean cyberspace’s freedom frontier have been hard at work.

– A 40-something Korean—who has spent the last 10 years as a student in the UK—is doing time is a prison in Iran for photographing Iranian military installations and other sensitive facilities. Iran sentenced the guy to seven years in the pen in September. Korean diplomats are trying to get him out of jail, but they don’t seem especially hopeful, and in fact seem rather flummoxed by the guy’s actions.

– Like I said, Syngman Rhee fanboy. Hani’s already calling for him to go.

– If you’re a coffee nut, you’ll be happy to learn that should you ever get kidnapped to North Korea, there are apparently four good coffee houses in Pyongyang. I guess it’s only a matter of time before Pyongyang is overrun by coffee chains, too. I’m not one to rage against global capitalism, but I must confess, when I last visited the Forbidden City and found a Starbucks inside the complex itself, a little piece of me died. That said, it was middle of winter and cold as a witch’s tit out there, and I thanked God for the hot beverage.

– Mt. Seoraksan got its first snow.

– Korea’s building three more Aegis warships. Somewhere, there’s a Royal Navy admiral wondering what the hell happened.

– Chinese hackers have been targeting Mongolia. You can read the whole report here. This part is quite interesting:

Khaan Quest is an annual exercise hosted by the Mongolian Armed Forces with co-sponsorship alternating between the US Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and US Army Pacific. Approximately 1,000 troops from Mongolia, United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, India, Nepal, Republic of Korea, Tajikistan, United Kingdom and Vietnam took part in the exercise between 3 and 14 August 2013. This is a prime example of the Mongolian military benefiting from US military cooperation and support. The US has afforded Mongolian officers, citizens, and Foreign Service personnel the opportunity to attend military academic and training institutions across the US; engage in multiple training programs alongside US military personnel; and be given large amounts of technical support and upgrades. In the past, Mongolia’s military has been developed and maintained largely by either Soviet Russia or China. Mongolia does not wish to repeat this scenario for fear of over-reliance on its powerful neighbors, and their possible political and military coercion, so it looks to the US for support in developing Mongolia’s military. As Mongolia does not share a border with the US, and has no history of US interference, it can comfortably develop a bilateral alliance with the US. The Chinese government regards the US as “a potential foe” which is threatening to deploy an encirclement strategy connecting from Central Asia to Mongolia. Exercises such as Khaan Quest embody China’s perceived US encroachment in the region. Beijing cannot afford to overlook the importance of developing relations with Mongolia to counter what they perceive as a US encirclement strategy.

Stuff I read this morning

- Jesus, the Chosun Ilbo continues to hammer away at Chae Dong-wook. This is just gratuitous. I was talking with somebody yesterday—somebody who was quite pleased to see Chae go, I should note—who told me that several people had committed suicide while being investigated by Chae and this was basically karma. Personally, I think this is more about certain forces making sure the next guy thinks twice before looking into their affairs, but opinions can differ.

– Oh, and Park finally decided to accept Welfare Minister Chin Young’s resignation. Basically, this comes down to President Park always wanting to have the last word. See also this.

– Another minister in trouble is Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong, whose taking flack for allegedly saying he supported the return of some stolen 14th century Buddhist statues to Japan. I feel bad for Yoo for several reasons. Firstly, he’s a really nice guy. Secondly, he might not have said what he is said to have said. Thirdly, even if he did say it, I think he’s been in the right—as I’ve said before about this issue, asking Japan to return plundered cultural properties is one thing, but rewarding theft is quite another.

– More fun stuff with Japan: 1) President Park complained about Japan to US SecDef Chuck Hagel, who’s visiting Seoul and who was no doubt delighted to hear about Dokdo and historical issues; 2) Japan’s First Lady is taking crap for… attending a Korean cultural festival and eating bibimbap; 3) Fisheries Minister Yoon Jinsook slammed Japan for covering up radiation leaks (sounds even better in Korean); 4) Shinzo Abe’s still getting no respect in the United States; 5) Japan is boycotting the Korean version of Google Maps; 6) Korean groups are slamming Apple’s map app for calling Dokdo some other name.

– Guess what’s still under debate—the transfer of wartime operational command!

Daily Roundup: Park and the NIS, BAI BAI Mr. Yang, world’s fastest Interweb, and more

I just saw Miley Cyrus’s thing at the VMA.

The horror. The horror.

Sorry, I just don’t care

Sen. John McCain said something or other about North Korea in Seoul yesterday. I don’t care enough about Sen. McCain to translate his comments, but if you read Korean and feel the mouse click would be worth the burnt calories, here they are in the Chosun Ilbo.

Oh yes, you did

President Park is claiming she got no help from the NIS:

President Park Geun-hye said Monday that she did not receive any support from the nation’s spy agency to attain her victory in last year’s presidential election.

She flatly snubbed claims made by the opposition parties, which question the legitimacy of her power by pursuing the issue of the spy agency meddling in the election when candidates were campaigning for office.

The main opposition Democratic Party has likened the scandal involving the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to election fraud in 1960, which eventually caused then-President Syngman Rhee to be ousted.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe—at least not yet—that Park knew what the NIS was doing, nor do I think the NIS’s online trolling played an important role in Park’s electoral victory. That said, the NIS’s online shenanigans—and just as importantly, the way said games were handled by police—as well as the NIS’s suspected leak of politically sensitive parts of the 2007 summit transcript just prior to the 2012 election suggest that state institutions are stacking the deck against the opposition. And that’s never a good thing for democracy, my own personal opinions about the opposition (not a huge fan) and the content of said leak (confirmed everything I’d suspected about Roh) aside.

In case you needed any further evidence of the extent of the problem, check out the things prosecutors allege former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon said prior to regional and national elections. We’re talking about seriously McCarthy-esque stuff here, at one point accusing even the judiciary of being pro-North Korean. My personal favorite one was “오염된 국민의 생각을 국정원 사이버로 정화해야 한다.” Chilling stuff.

BAI chief’s resignation

Former Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) chief Yang Kun, who resigned suddenly last week, says he stepped down due to outside pressure:

“I ended up losing sight of the meaning of my works as a head of state auditor. The resignation was my own decision though,” he said.

Yang abruptly offered to resign Friday midway through his term. A four-year term for each BAI chief is guaranteed under the Constitution, and Yang still had eighteen months of his term left.

Yang, appointed by former President Lee Myung-bak, showed a degree of dissatisfaction with the current political situation during his farewell speech.

Yang’s dissatisfaction mostly comes from what he claims are attempts to infringe on the BAI’s political neutrality and independence. Of course, this has a lot of folk wondering who did the pressuring. The Hankyoreh seems to think it could have been the pro-LMB faction of the ruling party, who accuse Yang of kissing President Park’s ass by issuing reports critical of her predecessor’s projects, especially the Four Rivers Project; or President Park herself, who wanted a change at the BAI so that she could get a tighter grip on the government. Yang apparently faced opposition from within the BAI, too.

So what’s President Park done right in her first six months?

Well, according to an Aug 24 poll by the Chosun Ilbo and Media Research, Park got the highest mark for her handling of North Korea, followed by foreign policy and welfare policy. Interestingly, her North Korean policy found particular support among older Koreans.

As for what she isn’t doing right, the most commonly cited things were “selecting personnel” (duh!) and tax issues, although with taxes, this tended to me more of a concern for younger Koreans. Older Koreans were more likely to cite welfare or the real estate market.

12:65:18

That’s how many submarines Korea, China and Japan have, respectively.

Speaking of submarines, I do find it interesting that Korea’s latest submarine is named after the country’s most famous anarchist and the father of its most famous gangster. It’s also interesting to note that despite the patriarch being an anarchist, his son (the gangster) and his granddaughter were conservative politicians. Go figure.

World’s fastest Internet

So, if this from all the national bandwidth saved by blocking all the porn sites?

Korea has the fastest average Internet connection in the world, a survey says. U.S. market researcher Statista on Friday said Korea has an average Internet connection speed of 14.2 Mbps.

That means it takes about 2 minutes 26 seconds to download a two-hour 2GB movie file.

Overall, Asia led the world with Japan ranking second (11.7 Mbps) and Hong Kong third (10.9 Mbps). Next came European countries like Switzerland, the Netherlands and Latvia.

A tweet by the Seoul Podcast comes to mind:

Daily Round-up: Unfair foreign professor hiring, N. Korean swims to freedom, Bob Jenkins and his Japanese cookies, and more

Foreigners professor hiring standards unfair to Koreans

The Seoul Shinmun reports that some folk are upset with the unfair ease with which foreign professors can get hired. For instance, at one college in Chungcheongnam-do, Koreans need a doctorate and must undergo a four-stage process to get hired as full-time instructors, while foreigners need only a masters and undergo a two-stage process. One Korean guy with a PhD, a Mr. Lee, said this was unfair when there were plenty of unemployed Koreans with doctorates from local universities. He also wondered how well schools verified their credentials and research results.

With globalization indexes becoming increasingly important in university evaluations, schools are competing to boost their numbers of foreign professors. But with private schools in the countryside focused more on boosting numbers of foreign staff rather than attracting quality researchers, quality local talent from Korean universities are feeling left out. Doubts are also being raised about the effectiveness of foreign profs, too, as not only do they lack a sense of belonging, but their research results are poor and student satisfaction with their classes low, too.

Or so said the Seoul Shinmun.

According to the Korean Educational Development Institute, the number of foreign professors at four-year universities in Korea has tripled from 1,671 (3.3%) in 2005 to 5,126 (7.5%) last year. That said, many schools have lower hiring standards for foreigners than locals, or so it is said. The paper noted two in particular—Mokwon University and Keimyung University—where you need just a bachelors and a masters, respectively, to get work. Mokwon U apparently told the paper that since the position was for English conversation teachers, a doctorate wasn’t really necessary, but the unhappy Mr. Lee wondered if you could get a job as a professor at a US university with only a bachelors. He said the hiring method for foreigners was unfair, noting that 27% of folk with doctorates from SNU were unemployed.

And there there’s a question about the foreign professors who get their masters and doctorates from local schools. One Chinese-Korean business professor at a private university in Busan got his masters and doctorate from a Korean national university in the provinces and landed a professorial job in 2011. He admitted to the paper that given the way things are here, it’s unlikely he would have been hired so quickly out of a provincial school if it hadn’t been for his Chinese passport.

A bigger problem is that most of the foreign professors are contract employees, so they don’t stay long and can’t contribute to research and educational stability. A lecturer at Kyungpook National University—who also happened to have been the head of a union for professors hired on a non-regular basis—said it’s true universities are increasing their hiring of foreign professors, but to save money they are hiring them on a contract basis, hence they are replaced every two to three years. He called for the university evaluation system to be fundamentally improved.

Swimming to freedom

So, a 46-year-old North Korean swam his way (perhaps with help from a wooden log) to South Korea’s Gyodong-do early this morning. As soon as he arrived, he ran up to a home with a light on, knocked on the door and told the awakened homeowner, “I’ve come from the North.”

The homeowner informed the ROK Marines, who took the North Korean into custody for questioning.

In case you were wondering, no, there is no iron fence on Gyodong-do’s coastline. Still, questions are being raised about how a 46-year-old guy could just swim across what should be one of the world’s most militarized frontiers without anybody—and by anybody, we mean the South Korean military—-noticing until he knocked on a local’s door.

Well, welcome to the Free World, anyway. And nice swim—that couldn’t have been easy:

GYH2013082300020004400_P2_59_20130823110506

Speaking of defections…

Wondering whatever happened to Robert Jenkins, the American GI who spent nearly 40 years in North Korea after defecting there in 1965? Well, the Atlantic has a heart-warming little tale about him worth reading:

When I met Jenkins, his top priority was to sell me senbei, light-brown honey-flavored crackers. He is employed by a historical museum, where he wears a yellow kimono-like jacket called a happi and hawks cracker boxes to tourists in the gift shop. “You must be Mr. Jenkins,” I said to him, and he responded affirmatively in a hillbilly drawl, a legacy of his dirt-poor childhood in rural North Carolina. Like the Japanese tourists who flock to see him, I found his diminutive, jug-eared appearance endearing, and bought a box of crackers immediately. A minute later, he told me he’d sent a box of senbei to his military lawyer, a Texan. “He told me it was the awfulest cookie he ever tasted,” Jenkins said.

The Japanese consider Jenkins and Soga’s story a great modern romance: two people find love under Orwellian conditions, and through mutual devotion win their freedom. When visitors stroll into the shop, they whisper to each other (“Jenkins-san!”) and stare at Jenkins until he beckons them to pose for a picture. “Photo” is one of the few words he knows in Japanese—he speaks Korean at home.

Yes, I know I once said I hoped Jenkins would spend the rest of his life rotting in North Korea. No need to remind me.

North Korea diplomacy boosts Park Geun-hye in the polls

Despite the cluster-fuck that has been the NIS/NLL scandal, Park Geun-hye is still riding high in the polls—to the tune of the mid-50s and around 60 percent. The way she’s handled North Korea has been key:

What props up the high numbers — between the mid-50s and around 60% — has undoubtedly been the way she has dealt with North Korea. Even critics give her credit for withstanding a torrent of war threats, gaining the upper hand in high-stakes talks on a joint industrial complex and getting Pyongyang to give in to Seoul’s demands.

That was something South Koreans have rarely seen in the country’s dealings with North Korea, a highly divisive issue where it’s hard to find middle ground. Her liberal predecessors were accused of being too soft on Pyongyang and the conservative predecessor of being too inflexible.

“There have been achievements in the South-North relations and diplomacy. She could have faced difficulties right after her inauguration because of the North Korea crisis, but she pulled through well,” said Shin Yul, a professor at Seoul’s Myongji University.

I’m guessing these folk aren’t part of the 60%.

Seoul taxi fairs to rise

Good news—Seoul taxis will soon charge more to not pick you up at night:

Seoul City’s cab fare is expected to increase by no later than October, as the city moves to help improve the taxi business despite lingering public concern over the heightened transportation cost and poor taxi service.

The basic fare, which had remained unchanged since 2009, is expected to rise from the current 2,400 won ($2.14) to around 2,800 or 3,000 won. The city said negotiations over the fare increase are underway with the taxi union.

Meanwhile, the labor and management representatives of taxi companies on Thursday agreed on raising the monthly wage of hired cab drivers by 230,000 won. The wage increase of corporate taxis is a core determinant of the transport cost.

Needless to say, there’s some skepticism about whether this will improve service, especially at night.

Nice shot

Truth be told, I’m not a huge Nancy Lang fan. I do, however, appreciate this photo in the September issue of Arena (NSFW).

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