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Open Thread: Dec. 6, 2014

Have a good weekend, folks.

And dress warm.

Links: Angry defectors, ‘pro-DPRK’ talk shows, violent American teachers and more

- A group of defectors are really pissed at Korean-American ajumma/frequent visitor to North Korea Shin Eun-mi and former Democratic Labor Party deputy spokeswoman Hwang Sun for a talk show they hosted last month in which they allegedly made pro-North Korean remarks. The defectors, including “The Aquariums of Pyongyang” author Kang Chol-hwan, have challenged the two to a debate. A group of female defectors have challenged the duo to a debate as well.

Hwang and Shin, meanwhile, are threatening to write letters to the UN and Amnesty complaining that their freedom of speech is being infringed upon, an allegation not completely without basis. Hwang is also suing the Chosun Ilbo and its TV channel for defamation.

About Hwang, I’m pretty sure I know what to think. Shin, on the other hand, seems to be a bit more complicated a character. Interestingly enough, her 2012 travelogue to North Korea was selected by the Ministry of Culture as an “outstanding book” last year and 1,200 copies of it distributed for free to libraries and social welfare centers around the country. She also appeared in a promotional video for the Ministry of Unification. Now the Ministry of Justice has slapped an entry ban on her, which means the only Korea she’ll be visiting anytime soon is the one north of the 38th. Just to keep the ironies going, her grandfather was a lawmaker who was one of the leading figures in passing the National Security Law in 1948.

Anyway, while I’ve seen bits and pieces of what they are alleged to have said, I have not seen a video of their talk or a full transcript of it, so if you got it, please link it in the comments. If you’d like to see some really angry folk going off on them on TV Chosun, though, I direct you here, or some more rational talk by defectors—including Kang—on the Dong-A Ilbo’s Channel A, I direct you here.

– An American teacher at a foreign school has been booked for allegedly assaulting a Korean man in Itaewon on Nov. 30 after said Korean man shook the hand of his girlfriend. The teacher reportedly told police that he thought the man, who apparently knew his girlfriend, was trying to molest her. The victim, who was punched several times in the face, lost consciousness soon after arriving at the hospital, and he’s been unconscious ever since. The police applied for a warrant to detain the suspect, but prosecutors turned it down, saying that it’s still unclear whether the assault and the victim’s loss of consciousness are connected.

UPDATE: Somebody sent me this link at GoFundMe which, if it’s talking about the same case, tells a very different tale of what happened.

– Rough time for the musical Chung family. Violinist Kyung-Wha Chung apparently shocked audiences in London by berating a coughing child (HT to Brier). In Seoul, meanwhile, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra CEO Park Hyun-jung—who is currently being accused of verbally abusing and sexually harassing her employees—is accusing SPO musical director Myung-whun Chung, Kyung-Wha’s brother, of trying to engineer her removal and running the orchestra like a personal organization.

– This is classy: Vietnamese worker goes to the Ministry of Employment and Labor to demand unpaid wages, and the company has the guy arrested as an illegal migrant.

Lee Byung-hun to be the next T-1000

X-Geners, y’all remember the original T-1000,  Robert Patrick?

Well, the next T-1000 will be Lee Byung-hun:

This new movie appears to be a “reboot” of the original movies.  The natural question would be is a reboot necessary?

Any ways, mine is not to wonder why.

Links: Suki Kim’s book, Ferguson comes to Seoul and more

- The NYT looks at the predicament Suki Kim’s recent book “Without You, There Is No Us,” a memoir of her time teaching English at a private university in Pyongyang, has caused the Christian educators who run the school:

A memoir by a Korean-American author about teaching English to adolescent boys at a private university in Pyongyang was certain to anger the North Korean government.

But the author, Suki Kim, may have provoked even more anger among the university’s Christian educators. They have denounced Ms. Kim for breaking a promise not to write anything about her experiences and said her memoir contains inaccuracies, notably her portrayal of them as missionaries, which could cause them trouble with the North Korean authorities.

In particular, she accuses the teachers at the school of wanting to turning North Koreans on to Jesus:

However, Ms. Kim argued, her fellow teachers also had what she described as another motive. “As much as they say they wanted to educate North Korean kids for no reason, and poured money — life’s savings — into this school, really the larger goal was to convert them, one day, if North Korea were to open up,” she said. “It’s a long-term project of turning them to Jesus, that’s really their larger goal.” Dr. Kim denied her allegations, saying that the school is committed to education, not proselytizing.

As I’ve written here before, I’m not a huge fan of missionary work. That said, I have to imagine that Christian proselytizing probably ranks pretty low on the list of problems North Koreans face.

Anyway, there’s a good interview with Kim in NK News, so go read it.

UPDATE: Suki Kim has posted a response to the New York Times article—and an explanation on the ethics of writing her book—at her website. It raises some interesting questions on how you should approach North Korea as a writer and is worth reading. Here is just a sample:

There is a long tradition of “undercover” journalism—pretending to be something one is not in order to be accepted by a community and uncover truths that would otherwise remain hidden. In some cases, this is the only way to gain access to a place. North Korea, described only recently by the BBC as “one of the world’s most secretive societies,” is such a place.

– Some expats reportedly will be gathering near Hongdae on Saturday to protest the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case:

“We are planning a solidarity action to support and stand with folks in the United States and all around the world for Mike Brown and for justice,” rally organizer Deja Motley told The Korea Times. “Our goal is to raise awareness of the issue in Korea and give people space to voice their opinion.”

From 2 p.m., organizers will start handing out fliers with information in English and Korean about what happened in the case. The organizers will then lead protest chants before speakers recite poems and speak words of hope.

The organizers also plan to collect support messages and mail them to the Brown family in the United States.

Frankly, I find myself agreeing with Kevin McCarthy that Officer Darren Wilson should never have been brought before a grand jury, let alone indicted. The failure to indict the cop who killed Eric Garner in Staten Island, on the other hand, seems like a legitimate miscarriage of justice, regardless of whether prosecutors would have been able to get a conviction out of that case or not.

A little gift—all the way from 1965—Wangkon sent me via Facebook:

Now, the funny thing is that as I watched it, I had two empty Hwal Myeong Su bottles on my desk:

Photo 2014. 12. 4. 오후 4 20 04

– Must have been a slow protest day.

– If you like hanok—and you know you do—Tuttle has released a new photo book on Korean homes that looks well worth the purchase.

– Also courtesy Wangkon, we have this piece in the LA Times about Los Angeles Koreatown’s historic architecture:

If K-town increasingly resembles an empire on the march, gobbling up new territory by the week, it is not an empire made of bricks and mortar. It is a net draped over the existing cityscape, a net of signage and light, easily stretched and infinitely expandable. It fills, cloaks or remakes spaces in the city others had abandoned or forgotten about.

In a city that has often demolished even its best-known landmarks, that makes it both an anomaly and a suggestion of the L.A. to come. Threaded through a neighborhood that in demographic terms is mostly Latino, well served by subway and bus lines, K-town is a thriving, charismatic advertisement for a more intensely urban Los Angeles.

It is also a reflection of a city whose immigrants are more settled than ever before, increasingly gaining the clout to shape public and private architecture.

The pictures are worth checking out, too. Because really, who doesn’t like Art Deco?

IS playing with looted North Korean gear: NK News

Want to see North Korean tank equipment in action without igniting Korean War II? Well then, check out Syria:

Perhaps the most notable impact of the DPRK’s arms industry on Syria can be found in Syria’s once enormous tank fleet. Namely, the DPRK upgraded hundreds of Soviet-made T-54 and T-55 tanks for Syria in the late ’70s and early ’80s, with some even seeing use in the 1982 Lebanon War.

Although the entire T-54 fleet (including the examples upgraded by North Korea) was presumably retired years ago, the T-55s certainly were not and nowadays a tank spotted in the northern half of Syria shows marks of the DPRK’s military influence more often than not. The T-54s themselves were stored in depots for most of the civil war, but as more and more armor has been destroyed and shortages grow, an increasing number are being brought back into service.

After a large number of tanks were captured at the northern stronghold of Brigade 93 – an armored unit of the 17th Division of the Syrian Arab Army at Raqqa – the Islamic State became a major operator of T-55s upgraded by North Korea, and subsequently used them in the assault on Kobanê. This was not the first case of Pyongyang’s equipment ending up in unintended hands, however, as a MANPADS (man-portable air-defense system) of North Korean manufacture seen at Kshesh airbase testifies.

Read the rest on your own—it’s quite interesting.

And BTW, just how happy are you that the Israelis took out that North Korean-built reactor in Syria NOW?

And if you haven’t read it yet, this is a good primer on North Korea’s involvement in the Mongolian clusterf*ck that is the Syrian civil war. I also recall reports that Assad had brought in North Korean pilots to help in the war effort, which, if true, would not be the first time North Korean pilots have flown for the Syrians.

Leaky Cheong Wa Dae

Cheong Wa Dae really, really doesn’t like leaks:

The prosecution on Thursday questioned police Superintendent Park Gwan-cheon and conducted raids in the expanding investigation surrounding former presidential aide Chung Yoon-hoi.

Park, who served on Cheong Wa Dae’s team dealing with discipline within the civil service until February, is accused of having leaked reports regarding Chung to the media.

The memo at the center of “Memogate,” if true, confirms suspicion that a small cabol of advisors—and in the case of Chung, a guy without even an official position—are calling the shots at Cheong Wa Dae:

Disclosures by Jo and Chung offer a glimpse into the political intrigue allegedly going on inside the Blue House. Jo’s allegation that Park’s three closest secretaries were involved in government personnel appointments has brought to the fore what has long been suspected ― that the three wield great power and influence in the Blue House. Chung’s shifting comments on whether he was in contact with the presidential secretaries cast doubt on his claim that the leaked document is false. The Segye Ilbo, citing the leaked document, reported that Chung met with presidential secretaries to plot an ouster of Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon and that the group met regularly to discuss state and Blue House affairs.

The aspect of this mess I find most interesting is how Cheong Wa Dae is—well, to be perfectly accurate, eight Cheong Wa Dae officials are—going after the Segye Ilbo, which quoted the leaked report, for libel. This, naturally enough, has the press worried, with the Hankyoreh condemning the move in rather strident language:

Park’s views on the media are positively dangerous. At the meeting on Dec. 1, she railed at the Segye Ilbo newspaper for “reporting things that they could have confirmed or denied with the least effort without even contacting the people involved.” But the problem is that this isn’t a case where the “least effort” could clear things up. The prosecutors may take these people at their word when they say “not me,” but the media won’t. What’s “abnormal” is a country whose presidential office dismisses a document that it produced itself as a “tabloid sheet.” Reporting on a Blue House report is a perfectly natural part of fulfilling the mission of the media. What kind of shameless president gets angry at the newspapers instead of blaming herself for leaving her country in this abnormal state?

Mind you, it’s not just the lefties at the Hankyoreh who are concerned. In an editorial, the Chosun Ilbo also asked why a newspaper company should be charged with libel and condemned by the president for quoting a document—a document registered as a public record, mind you—written by somebody at Cheong Wa Dae and leaked by somebody at Cheong Wa Dae.

With the prosecutors now looking into the report, we should get an idea of just how much of it is true. And to be fair to Cheong Wa Dae, this isn’t the first time shadowy individuals have been suspected of having undue influence over a Korean administration, nor is Park the only elected leader in the Free World being accused of overzealously reacting to leaks.

Anyway, I can understand going after the leaker in the name of maintaining official discipline, even if Park might be accused of some hypocrisy in this regard, but unless the prosecutors turn up something we don’t know about yet, I can’t see how going after the press is going to help her administration in the long run.

New blogs for blog roll?

I’ve just given the sidebar blog roll a much needed cleaning.

Now I need to add newer blogs on there, so if you’ve got suggestions, please, let me know.

“Quo Vadis”- problems with Korea’s Mega Churches

A documentary will be coming out on December 10th that will examine allegations of wrong doings by three of Korea’s largest Christian churches.  Titled “Quo Vadis“(Latin for “Where are you going?”) the documentary was made by Kim Jae-hwan, a self identified Christian, who says he spent $270,000 USD of his own money to make it.

Documentary Quo Vadis’ challenges the mission of South Korean churches

(Photo from Los Angeles Times via Han Cinema)

According to a L.A. Times article on the  documentary:

Kim [Jae-hwan], a Christian, said South Korea’s media have gone soft on the churches because of their significant political influence and financial clout. His goal: to spark what he calls an overdue debate on whether churches have lost their moral authority in a quest to accumulate more congregants and money.

Kim centers his greatest condemnations on Korea’s largest Church- Yoido Full Gospel:

One of the scenes in “Quo Vadis” includes a 2013 news conference in which elders from the Seoul-based Yoido Full Gospel Church, purported to be the largest Pentecostal church in the world, asked embattled senior pastor David Yonggi Cho to step down.

The elders accused Cho of using millions of dollars of church funds to buy stock in a company owned by his son. Despite the evidence against Cho, other Yoido elders argued that the allegations were baseless. Cho supporters who barged into the church gathering included one who reached for the throat of a speaker. A brawl ensued. As groups of suited men shoved one another and threw punches, journalists’ cameras rolled.

A few months later, Cho was found guilty of tax evasion and professional negligence. He was sentenced to three years in prison and fined more than $4 million.


Seth Rogen and James Franco’s culinary crime against humanity

Behold, the “Korean barbecue” lasagna:

Layers of bacon, short ribs, pork, beef, kimchi, pajon and gochujang and coming in at 33,083 some odd calories, this monstrosity is evidently an attempt to promote their new movie, coming out on Christmas day in the States.

To THAAD or not to THAAD? That is Korea’s question.

What is THAAD?  It stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and it’s essentially a province/state, small country-wide anti-ballistic missile defense system.  It apparently has a range of 2,000 kilometers and the U.S. is offering it to both Japan and South Korea.  So what?  Well, the Chinese don’t like it.

(Image from JoongAng Ilbo)

Although the U.S. says it’s to protect South Korea and Japan against possible missile attack from North Korea, the pure raw capabilities of the THAAD system would indicate that the defensive target isn’t just North Korea.  The long-range THAAD missiles, along with their powerful X-Band radars, if deployed in both South Korea and Japan, offers a multilayered anti-ballistic missile defense that could theoretically render a sizable chunk of China’s ballistic missile arsenal obsolete.

Earlier this year the U.S. delivered the enormous X-Band radar that helps power the THAAD, to Kyoto, Japan and the PRC was not pleased.

The spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, said “the deployment of anti-missile systems in the Asia-Pacific and seeking unilateral security is not beneficial” to regional security. In an apparent reference to the Washington’s often quoted excuse of protecting against North Korean antagonism, Hu said the deployment should not be an “excuse to harm the security interests of other countries.”

The Chinese have given rather ominous warnings to South Korea not to adopt THAAD:

China has told South Korea that joining the U.S. missile defense system would cross a “red line” in their bilateral relationship.

And the PRC’s ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong:

“The THAAD would have a range of around 2,000 kilometers, which goes beyond the goal of countering missiles from North Korea,”


“The deployment of the THAAD will badly influence the relations between South Korea and China … It would harm China’s security system,”

Cross a “red line?”  Badly “influence” relations?  Uh, oh.  That doesn’t sound good.  South Korea, for their part, says they are not interested in THAAD because they are apparently developing their own anti-ballistic weapons system.

In Oct., 2013, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said South Korea would “definitely not join the U.S. missile defense system,” citing the associated costs and plans to develop South Korea’s own, similar system.

And that would be the so-called KAMD (“Korean Anti Missile Defense“) system, a mix of  Patriot  PAC-3 missiles, SM-6 and perhaps SM-3 missiles,  guided by the Israeli Green Pine radar.  There is also an apparent “indigenous” Korean anti-ballistic missile in the works, which may be similar to an Israeli Arrow type missile.

Publicly, this has been what the Korean government has said about why they may not adopt THAAD, but some Koreans are taking China’s tough talk seriously.  One of Korea’s most popular best selling authors, Kim Jin-myung, suspended all this other projects to rush and write a new novel titled “THAAD.”  According to Kim:

If it accepts the U.S. calls to deploy the anti-ballistic missile system here, he predicts, this will cost the country its No. 1 trading partner. China remains suspicious of the U.S. motive to deploy THAAD on the Korean Peninsula because it will nullify its ballistic missile system.

[China] reportedly believes that the United States seeks to encircle it.

If South Korea rejects the U.S. calls, Kim claims, it will not only lose its closest ally but also may face a catastrophic circumstance — a war on the peninsula.

A “war on the peninsula?”  A bit of hyperbole IMHO, but Kim Jin-myung says he’s not going to take a side in his novel.  He just believes there should be public discourse and concensus before the Korean government makes a decision on THAAD.

South Korea’s traditional ally the U.S. or China?  Not saying the choice is between the two here, but the choice for South Korea is getting increasingly more complex, especially in light of China’s growing economic power and influence.

(Graphic from the WSJ).


Russia doesn’t like THAAD in Korea either.


Have A Jazz Christmas and A Happier New Year Too


This year, try celebrating the holiday season with some Jazz – the Ronn Branton Group is performing at Seoul Arts Center, on the 21st (IBK Chamber Hall) and Christmas Eve at JangCheon Hall (Apkujeongdong).  This year, he has a great lineup of musicians from the U.S. and Germany, performing original arrangements of Christmas songs and seasonal favorites.  For tickets, in English, just call 010-3817-7214.

Open Thread – The Civil Forfeiture Edition

Say what you will about Korean police but they don’t do anything like this or this  because of the worst has been deemed proper.

Have a good weekend.

The Taxman Cometh – What Would Jesus Do?

The National Assembly’s Strategy and Finance Committee held a  meeting with representatives of various religious faiths (Catholic, Evangelical Protestant and Buddhist) for the purpose of discussing how clergy should be taxed.  Their plan is to levy an income tax of 22 percent on 20 percent of the incomes earned by ordained clergy.  (cite)

Well, out of the three main faiths represented, guess which one threw a fit over the money and threatened fire and brimstone?

Here is a hint: which faith is well known for running a growth-for-profit scheme where the pastor has sole proprietorship of the church and runs some of the world’s most intensive missionary programs, not to mention urinating and defacing Buddhist temples and statues in Korea?

Continue reading

WSJ: What’s the average off the street Seoulite think of Japan?

Often not discussed in many Korean blogs is what the average person off the street in Seoul thinks of such and such.  The WSJ’s Korea Realtime looks to remedy that.  The upshot?  Dokdo is ours, Japan needs to repent, but PGH needs to meet with (and talk to) Abe and an amicable relationship with Japan is important.

(Image from WSJ: Korea Realtime)

Apple cannot cure itself of its Samsung addiction

If one is to believe “a source familiar with the deal” from Korea Times, then yes.  It was announced recently that Apple and Samsung had signed a huge chip manufacturing deal for Samsung to fabricate 80% of all of Apple’s application processors (“AP” chips) by 2016.

“Apple has designated Samsung as the primary supplier of its next A-series chips powering iOS devices from 2016 as the alliance with GlobalFoundries (GF) enabled Samsung to cut off capacity risk,” a source familiar with the deal said.

It was speculated earlier this year that Apple would primarily drop Samusung as an AP chip supplier:

TSMC was expected to handle up to 70 percent of the manufacturing load, while Samsung would pick up the rest. Production problems may, however, have resulted in Samsung being removed completely from the A8 supply chain.

Samsung “being removed completely from the [Apple] supply chain” has been a fervent wish by many Apple fans since at least 2010, when they started to compete directly in smart phones.  Invariability, every year since 2010 there is always some rumor that Apple is going to drop Samsung  as a major AP chip supplier and every time that rumor ends up being false.

Part of the issue is that it is very hard to make a lot of complex chips quickly, efficiently and with very little defect rate.  Initial capital expenditures and investments are prohibitive as well.  For those type of manufacturers you have pretty much only four games in town: 1) Samsung 2) Taiwan Semiconductor (“TSMC”) 3) Globalfoundries and 4) Intel.  Of the aforementioned, Intel has very little experience in mass fabricating smart phone AP chips.  Samsung and Globalfoundries appeared to have foreseen the threat of TSMC and had thus gotten into a strategic partnership in April of this year.  This relationship seems to have paid big dividends for both companies.

MarketInsider also has interesting information on why Samsung is in a superior position:

TSMC will ramp up production of chips using 16-nnometer FinFET technology. Samsung’s technology is better in terms of efficiency and energy consumption…. Bernstein Research in a note to clients. IM Investment, a local brokerage, expects Samsung to win more orders to fabricate customized chips from Qualcomm, Nvidia and Sony, helping it generate more revenue to make up for its struggling smartphone business.

On the flip side, this would appear as if Apple is throwing Samsung a lifeline while its profitability is declining.  AP chip fabrication is difficult, but higher margin and as such is known to be among the most profitable of chip manufacturing jobs.

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