The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Seoul Stories (page 2 of 8)

So… are you suggesting we DON’T share common values?

The progressive Kyunghyang Shinmun is taking the Foreign Ministry and security-related bodies to task for behaving excessively anti-North Korean and pro-American, saying it reveals obsolete Cold War attitudes.

Firstly, the Kyunghyang took exception with a notice sent to 10 Korean diplomatic legations overseas asking that Korean travelers refrain from using North Korean restaurants.

The embassies had posted notices on their homepages saying that spending money in North Korean restaurants was the same as giving financial support to strengthen the North Korean dictatorship and strengthen its military, and that North Korea uses funds from overseas to maintain its dictatorship and strengthen its military, including the development of nuclear weapons and missiles. The posted notices also said the workers at such restaurants get only about 10—30% of the total, which they receive in won, with all the foreign currency going to the regime. If you use North Korean restaurants, it warned, you make it so that North Korean citizens must continue to moan in pain.

The notices were pulled down after the Kyunghyang started looking into them. An official from the Foreign Ministry told the paper that they were sent out to keep South Korean travelers from potential harm, but given the content of said notices, the Kyunghyang ain’t buying it. It called the notices “very provocative.”

The Kyunghyang also pointed to comments made by Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan, who on June 15 said in comments directed towards Americans that he was sure the Korea—US alliance was a mutual and lasting one based on shared values rather than one based on cold calculations of national interest. He also said the Korea—US alliance would involve even more interest, support and difficult decisions, but we would pay this as the natural cost accompanying the development of the alliance.

The Kyungyang said these statements, as they make the alliance itself the goal rather than making it a tool to promote the national interest, would make uncomfortable China and North Korea, whose values differ from those of South Korea and the United States, and bring to mind Cold War rhetoric.

Marmot’s Note: Well, when you’re faced with a never ending assault on your “pro-North Korean” elements, you’ve got to fight back somehow.

Still, I’m not sure if attacking a guy for stating the obvious—that the alliance with the United States is based on more than just cold interest calculations—is the way to go. Not when you’ve got late President Roh saying this in 2005:

At this meeting, we were able to reaffirm that the Korea-U.S. alliance, based on the common values of democracy and market economy, is strong and that it is developing into a comprehensive, dynamic and mutually beneficial alliance.

To be fair, I’m sure those elements within the progressives who, one would imagine, dream of turning Korea into some sort of East Asian Venezuela probably needed smelling salts after hearing Roh, too. Especially considering he said it standing next to President Bush.

Something smells on Seoul’s subways

I generally have nothing but the greatest praise for Seoul’s subway system.  It is extensive, cheap and, until quite recently, sane when compared to many other countries’ subways – but what the hell is happening this year?

Once again we have another incident – this one not involving beer or cigarettes but human excretement.

Koreabang did a piece a couple of days ago about this poo-poo girl who allegedly (a picture is worth a 1,000 words – and it is there) defecated in the middle of a subway car on the Pundang line – seems everything happens on that line.  Koreabang  translated some of the Korean comments circulating on the net – one of my favorites was:

Damn, it is like a competition of crazy bitches on each line of the subway. What are you guys doing on the subway!? Is this the mainland [referring to China] or the Korean Peninsula?!

Apparently the woman was mentally challenged – you would have to be to defecate in a subway car in front of people, wouldn’t you?

Korea Times also has a piece on the subject but its angle is more along the line of chastising the bloggers.

Quick post to celebrate end of ‘new town’ development

Unlike some other folk I know, I don’t yet have a man-crush on Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, largely because of stuff like this.

Still, as far as his decision to halt “new town” construction, all I can say is well done, sir. Well done.

If you’re a developer, don’t fret, because there’s always the export market—according to the Hanguk Ilbo, there appear to be many African and Middle Eastern kleptocrats leaders interested in Korean-style “new cities.

When all of Seoul looked like Bukchon…

An Indian who served as an officer with a medical unit dispatched to Korea during the Korean War has donated his photos and other materials to the Korean Embassy in New Delhi.

From Nigeria to Seoul – what did I learn?

I am not really sure what to make of this article by ThisDay’s editor (January 23, 2012).  Apparently he came to Korea – business class – at the invitation of the Korean Cultural Centre and wrote this article filled with poetic prose(?) comparing Nigeria and the “Asian Tiger”  – positive for Korea and somewhat negative for Nigeria. 

The beauty of Seoul’s skyline was clearly defined by its skyscrapers that adorn the city in well defined geometric patterns. Architecture like the modern art forms of Isamu Nogushi in Japan, articulated the modernism of Seoul as a city of international business comparable with London, Paris or New York.

Seoul makes the Federal Capital Territory here look drab and ordinary. Is it part of the master plan of the FCT that there shall be no skyscrapers such as are seen in Seoul, in particular in the business district?

The editor was obviously well-entertained:

Driver Han drove into the exotic Lotte Hotel, which by all standards justifies its five-star status, where the high and mighty rulers of this world are quartered as guests of Korean presidents. At the roof top of Lotte, every weekend, Korea’s most famous chef threats his guests with unique native cuisines, choice wines and jazzy concerts. Dining in Lotte’s exquisite two restaurants every morning was part of the fun of this visit.

(I am going to assume that “threat” was a typo) And received some valuable Korean history lessons:

In the Seoul Museum you learn how 19th century Korea resisted Western culture with the invasion of foreign powers between 1866 and 1871. This was followed by a Treaty of Friendship between the government of Korea and Japan signed in 1876. Two schools of thought emerged – Confucianism and Buddhism creating a divide in Korean politics with the East adopting the Confucian philosophy led by Yi Hwang(1801-1570) and Seong Hone(1535-1598) leading in the West. The Japanese invasion of Joseon in 1592 preferred Confucianism to Buddhism.

And, of course, my favorite:

Here [World Cup Stadium] you learn that 1882 was the beginning of Korean football when sailors of a British warship docked at the Incheon Port and introduced the round leather game to Korean workers and natives.

Wasn’t this fable put to rest a couple of years ago?  Who were they playing?

As to the purpose of the article and its rambling – the part about Jeju could have been polished up a little more – I am at a total loss.  It is true that I am unfamilair with ThisDay’s readership but am I to believe that most Nigerians flying to Korea are doing so in business class and that they are staying at the Lotte Hotel?  Do they all receive a tour of the media outlets by the Executive Director/International Relations who will assure them that  Korea’s major television broadcasting network, largely owned by “government but commercialised and founded on a platform of unbiased reportage while representing the interest of government”?

‘Pixelated clouds’ are not what comes to mind

Please tell me Dutch architecture firm MVRDV is taking the piss:

According to designboom, that’s going up in Yongsan by 2015. I’m sure all the boys at Yongsan Garrison will appreciate the addition to their skyline.

Truth be told, the unpleasant memory it so jarringly evokes aside, I actually like the design. As with so many of these monster projects, through, I wouldn’t put money on it actually getting built.

(HT to Gizmodo and my brother)

The joys of riding on Korean subways

I guess I kind of expect it on subway line #1 or #2 but on subway line #9 – that’s the gold line. Gold not only because of its color but because of the affluent sections of Seoul that it serves. Apparently this young lady is special and feels that the seats reserved for the elderly are hers as well. She obviously believes she is sophisticated (pink boots and sunglasses in December – where is Metropolitan when we need him? – just joking Mike) and apparently has a commanding grasp of English swear words. 

Apologies – Korean text but there is a nice little video of her. Why do they pixilate her face in the picture but not in the video?)

Crisscrossing Korea with subways

I am constantly amazed at how much Korea’s transportation system has improved since my first arrival in this country.  I am sure that many of you old timers will remember the illustrious “push men” – the young men hired to literally shove passengers into the super-crowded subways.  Considering the number of people on those subways and the inability of anyone to move – and this is no exaggeration – including their arms, it is amazing that there were no serious accidents.  At the time, there were only four or five subway lines and all of them were busy.

Now we have subways everywhere.  I can remember I was especially pleased when subway line #9 (the gold line) opened because it made my own transportation that much easier.  It is getting to the point that sometime in the near future we will be able to travel from Uijongbu to Busan.  There are already subway lines in Daegu, Busan, Daejon, Gwangju, Incheon, and, of course, Seoul

Apparently there is another line – the Yongin Line.  The line was started in December 2005 and completed in June 2010  but still has not been opened.  Accord to Koject (with pictures):

Though the line was ready to begin operating, opening dates were repeatedly postponed. There has been much speculation over reasons why the line has lay dormant and several articles have mentioned different factors including risk of revenue loss without the Bundang Line extension. What can be said for sure is that Yongin residents must be extremely frustrated watching their brand new mode of transport towering over their city simply collecting dust. Officials have been calling for the line to be put in service but as of yet no date has been announced.

Subways in Korea are a great way to travel (provided you avoid the drunks at night – Koreans and foreigners) around the city at a very reasonable price.  The blog Seoul Sub-urban is a great site to visit if you would like to learn more about Seoul’s subway system and the sites around each of the stations.

Secret tunnels and escape routes in the Korean palaces

Dr JM Parks picture of the Russian Legation escapeway
I am sure most of you readers have heard the rumors/tales/legends of the secret tunnel that ran between the Russian Legation and Toksu palace, but have you heard of the other tunnels and escapeways allegedly used by the Korean royal family?

Well, if you haven’t, you can read about them here – in the Korea Times.

Picture credit – courtesty of Dr. J. M. Park, the owner of the Coffee Museum.  If you ever get a chance – go – the coffee is fantastic (and, make sure you mention my name – hopefully he will give me a free cup next time I am there….hint hint hint)

P.S. Sorry for doing three posts (two of them long) back to back – this one is my last one for tonight.

Video of Mt. Umyeonsan landslide

F*ck me!

Terrifying, yet awe-inspiring stuff.

Some other videos of the aftermath here:

And if things couldn’t get any worse, there is concern that old land mines might have gotten swept into town by the landslide, too.

And off Jeju, an Asiana cargo 747 has apparently crashed (HT to cmm).

The Dream Bridge: Seoul’s Golden Gate over Seoul’s River Seine

And in more city news, the Dong-A Ilbo really, really likes Seoul’s recently announced, 100 billion won plan to build a pedestrian bridge over the Hangang River, linking Apgujeong-dong and Seoul Forest:

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has proposed building a pedestrian bridge called “Dream Bridge” connecting the city`s posh southern neighborhood of Apgujeong-dong to Seoul Forest in the north as part of a regeneration program for Apgujeong-dong. The cost of the bridge — an estimated 100 billion won (94.6 million U.S. dollars) — will be funded half by the city and half by residents involved in the program. Critics blast the proposed spending of 50 billion won (47.3 million dollars) in taxpayers’ money to build a bridge linking the rich neighborhood, but thinking out of the box is needed. The bridge will link southern and northern Seoul and will be used by people living north of the Han River. It could even become a landmark of Seoul like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco!

And in case you weren’t already sold:

The Han River goes through the heart of Seoul and is a kilometer wide. It is much bigger than the Seine River in Paris, which attracts numerous tourists around the world with many things to see. Unlike Cheonggye Stream crossing the building forest, the Han River shows the grandness of nature. The pedestrian bridge will be built on the point where the river begins to curve with a good view of both the upstream and downstream of the river. If built as an eco-friendly bridge that allows only bicycles and people, the bridge can be a landmark beloved by Seoul residents.

Well, clearly, the Seine can’t hold a candle to the Hangang. Why, the Hangang is a full kilometer wide!

Now, some might ask why the city will spend money on this but not school lunches. You won’t hear me ask that, though — I like bridges. Always have, since I was a kid. Bridges make for nice photos, too, especially at night. I do worry about all those Apgujeong types who might venture north of the river, though. Keep them south of the river, where they belong :)

Troublesome homeless folk in front of Seoul Station

Ye Olde Chosun is bitching today about the drunk, smelly and quarrelsome homeless people who gather in downtown spots, particularly Seoul Station and the underpass in front of the Seoul Press Center in Gwanghwamun.

If you’ve been to Seoul Station or the the Gwanghwamun underpass, you know what they’re talking about.

The Chosun complains that the homeless take over Seoul at night, with drunk homeless fighting with each other or harassing passers-by. Or as the Chosun puts it:

At night, Seoul is overrun by the homeless. Seoul is one of the safest big cities in the world, but it is no longer a safe zone.

Christ, first the unruly foreigners in Itaewon. Now this.

Anyway, most of the problems occur after 7pm, when the homeless spend the money they’ve collected on booze. Seoul Station employees say the drunk homeless fight with one another, pick fights with passengers and relieve themselves anywhere they want, but the station can’t control them with the staff they have on hand.

Seoul officials, meanwhile, want to induce the homeless to come to specialized centers elsewhere in the city. And I would certainly hope so, with the renovated Seoul Station set to open Aug 9 as a new public cultural space.

To add my own two cents, I don’t want to sound heartless, but really, Seoul Station is a major transportation hub, historical site and soon-to-be cultural space. You can’t have a bunch of homeless drunks fighting with each other, picking fights with passengers and visitors, and pissing on the walls. Not there. It’s a problem that has gone on for far too long, and to put it bluntly, it’s a disgrace to the city.

Korean Subways and the Elderly

What is the deal lately with Korean subways and assaults (or threats of bodily harm) involving the elderly?

An elderly man sitting next to a 20-something muscular youth complained after the youth’s shoe brushed up against him several times – the young guy basically lost it and went off on the elderly man.  With a barrage of curses and threats, the young man was eventually persuaded to leave but what is surprising is how few people actually got involved.  I would hate to guess what would have happened if the hiker and his friends had not gotten involved. 

I am sure there are many accounts all over the net but this blog site is one of the first I found with the video and the stills (apologies – it is in Korean but the video speaks for itself). 

Only yesterday we had this incident involving a mother and an elderly woman on the subway (via Korea Times)

A video clip, reported by a broadcaster Saturday, showed the young woman beating an older woman with a 1.5-liter plastic bottle in front of other passengers, while telling the older woman not to touch her child.

In the clip, the woman carrying a stroller said, “Shut up. When I tell you to stop touching my child, you do what I tell you to do. Call the police.”

The older woman did not react but sat quietly. Even the child asked the mother to move on but she kept asking the older woman why she would not call the police.

According to an interview with one of the passengers the grandmother was merely telling the child that it was pretty – which is somewhat common but in the past was a much more frequent event. Apparently the mother freaked.

You can see the video here (again – apologies for the Korean site but – as said before – the video speaks for itself – especially seeing as the video is reversed and you can’t read the Korean).

The Asia Foundation’s English Teacher Program in Korea in the 1950s

Ever wonder what it was like to teach English in Korea in the 1950s?  Frederic Dustin, an American residing in Korea for almost six decades, recalls what it was like teaching at Yonhi University (now part of Yonsei University):

“The school had returned from Busan a year or so before and there was so much damage. That first fall of ’55 was difficult. Many of the classrooms still had no windows and some were missing doors so it was terribly drafty.”

In addition to the lack of heat, there was also a dearth of education material.

“A suitable textbook was simply not available at that time. The Robert Lado series developed at the University of Michigan was mainly for Spanish speakers and certainly not for 30 or more students in a class!”

So, borrowing from the early missionaries, Dustin used a story-telling system and, instead of the Bible, utilized “a little book of Aesop’s Fables” as his text book. Pantomiming the actions of the main characters of the stories, 25-year-old Dustin was able to convey to his not-much-younger students the gist of the story. It was entertaining as well as very successful.

I am not sure if it happens now as much as it did in the past but I am sure many of us old-timers have experienced something similar:

“It was almost impossible to sit down for a cup of coffee or a meal, especially when alone, without having an elderly Korean gentleman suddenly materialize seemingly from out of nowhere saying ‘May I introduce myself? I’m Mr. XX, the Minister of so-and-so government office.’ Many of the elderly, if not educated abroad, had learned their English from U.S. or Commonwealth missionaries in Bible classes in Korea.”

You can read the rest of the story here (complete with pictures) – at the Korea Times.

I also wish to make a few corrections to some errors that I made.  First, the pictures are from Fred Dustin who generously granted me their use for this article.  Second, the first picture’s date should be 1959.  And third, Mr. Dustin attended University of Washington and not Washington State University.

Korean History: Disease, Butchery and Shipwrecks

 
alley
The first Western journalist to live and die in Korea was a Czech-American named Max Taubles.  He had the misfortune of arriving in Seoul during the height of a smallpox epidemic:

The streets of the city were a quagmire of mud and filth, normally crowded with men during the day and women in the evening. Seoul maintained a strict curfew prohibiting men from being on the streets in the evening (but this did not apply to Westerners) allowing women a brief respite from the confines of their homes.

If Taubles was out during the curfew, he would have undoubtedly encountered women carrying sick babies upon their backs and whispering softly, in honorific Korean, to their small wards in an attempt to quiet their cries of discomfort. He would have passed mothers with small bags containing smallpox scabs that had been scraped off a child that had successfully survived the disease. These scabs were taken to temples and burned in appreciation for the child’s life being spared.

Mudangs (Korean shamans) also wandered the street, placating the smallpox demon or, once placated, bearing away the small wooden horse (a mount for the demon) and bags of food and coins that were gifts from the thankful family to the malevolent spirit.

Taubles had obviously been warned of the disease in Japan, but since he had been inoculated in the United States he felt invulnerable. Even when Dr. Horace Allen, an American physician residing in Seoul, informed him of the risks and offered to vaccinate him, Taubles refused and then, somewhat pompously, lectured Allen on the “barbarous custom” of vaccinating people.

You can read the rest of article here – at Korea Times. (I am still not sure why they changed the final paragraph from “dubious honor” to “dual honor.”)

oxen laden with wood
Considering the recent epidemics decimating Korea’s livestock – this article might be of some interest.  Entitled Jeju Island’s Noble Beast – this article looks at, among other things – butchering cattle:

“The method in vogue here is simply horrible from a humanitarian point of view and distasteful from an epicurean standpoint. Briefly speaking, the butcher tortures the poor animal to death by various manipulations. First, the animal’s trachea is cut with a knife and a wooden peg is inserted in the opening thus made. Then the butcher takes a hatchet and beats the animal on the rump several times until the animal dies. This process lasts nearly an hour, and the animal suffers agony before it loses consciousness. The hide is then taken off and the meat is divided at different joints. All this time, a very little blood is lost, therefore the Korean beef is full of blood when it is brought to the house from the store. The reason of not bleeding beef is a trick of the butcher’s business. By leaving the blood in the meat, it weighs more, hence it becomes profitable to the dealer. The cause of the disagreeable odor from Korean beef when it is cooked is due to the decomposition of the elements in the blood by the action of the heat.”

You can read the rest of the article here – at Jeju Weekly.

bedford
And, you can’t talk about Jeju without mentioning shipwrecks.  One of the British navy’s worst shipwrecks occurred in August 1910:

The ship had settled on the bottom of the sea, held in place by the rocks, and was flooded to her engine-room bulwarks. At the time, no one knew just how badly the ship had been damaged or how many lives had been lost. Later, it was discovered that the ship’s bottom had been punctured in a number of places – the largest hole was nearly 30 feet long and 15 feet wide.

Eighteen men, mainly stokers in the boiler room, were lost. Only one man from the boiler room survived – having been carried by the inrushing water to the top of the compartment where he managed to grasp a grating and pulled himself up a hatchway and to safety.

 
You can read the rest of the article – where else – Jeju Weekly.

Photo credits – my collection.

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