The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

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삼국사기 of cherry blossoms

China (The president of Chinese cherry blossom association/Botanical society) has recently weighed in the cherry blossom dispute by saying that cherry blossoms came from China to Japan and Korea does not even feature in the dispute.

First of all, I was not even aware that there was a dispute over the origin of a particular species of cherry blossom/벚꽃/桜 between Korea and Japan.

Apparently there is.

The species in question is King Cherry 왕벚나무 (Prunus yedoensis var. nudiflora) with its natural habitat/place of origin still in Jejudo, Korea (the only natural habitat found in the world), and the similarity it has with the Somei Yoshino (Prunus × yedoensis) which is the Japanese Yoshino cherry that is believed to be produced from crossing the two separate Japanese species of Prunus subhirtella var. ascendens (Edo higan) and Prunus lannesiana (Oshima zakura).

The JTBC report makes it somewhat clear for me. It’s whether these two species are the same or whether the Japanese one could somehow trace its origin back to include the Korean one, or distinct (I mean they have the same species name, only difference being the Yoshino cherry has the x in between) which is the question. Juvenile as always, I know, but it’s become more of a question since the Nagoya Protocol was established in 2011, with respect to paying royalty to the country of origin of the genetic material.

The funny thing about this is that this is just what just about sums up the characters played by these three countries on everything.

Japan : is the best in packaging, propagating and turning into its own many many things which sometimes (and sometimes not) originates from China and Korea, and often many things just get buried in history, likes to believe that everything just sprang out of Japan the island nation out of spontaneous generation (people, culture, craft etc) with no influence/migration from outside to contaminate them.

Korea : always late into the game, it gave away and did not look after its own properly, busy fighting among themselves, only to find out too late, that a lot of things originated from Korea and comes across as a jealous crybaby who likes to claim many good things in Japan came from Korea.

China : Everything came from China. Everything. The two countries are just being silly. They remind me of the hilarious clip of “everything comes of India” from the BBC comedy series Goodness Gracious Me. “Is the Pope Punjabi?”

It’s really sad.
I don’t know why these three Asian countries bicker so much over such trivial things.

Smoking Ban – April 1 No More Fooling Around

On January 1, 2015, South Korea by law completely banned smoking in all bars, restaurants, and cafes (including smoking rooms) regardless of size.  Starting tomorrow, April 1, they’re no longer fooling around:  the three-month grace period on enforcement ends.  Smokers could pay fines of 100,000 won and shop owners up to 5 million won for violating Korea’s anti-smoking law.

Korea has gotten serious about smoking.  In 2012, a World Health Organization (WHO) conference held in Seoul recommended South Korea change its lax laws on smoking and drinking, citing public health issues.  In December 2012, all restaurants and bars were issued one week’s warning that such establishments with a floor area greater than 150 square meters could no longer allow smoking. In 2013, Korean law banned taxi drivers from smoking  but did not specify whether their clients could smoke.   On June 8, 2013, PC bangs (PC rooms) became smoke-free zones,  On January 1, 2014, the smoking ban for restaurants and bars with an area exceeding 100 square meters became law. On December 12, 2014, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced the government planned to ban smoking in billiard halls and indoor golf driving ranges in 2015.  On January 1, 2015, the ban on smoking in all bars and restaurants, regardless of size, became law.

The backlash has begun.  On March 3, I Love Smoking, an online community representing the largest network of smokers in South Korea, filed at the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the smoking ban in all restaurants, claiming the ban infringes on people’s rights to happiness, suppresses individuals’ rights to run a business, interferes with businesses’ freedom, and interferes with businesses’ rights to profit.  Good luck with that.  In 2011, 299 internet cafe operators filed a complaint against the smoking ban in Internet cafes, and the Constitutional Court upheld the ban.

Regardless and according to Yonhap News,

“The new ban has caused all kinds of conflicts between the restaurant staff and diners who smoke,” (I Love Smoking) said at a press conference held in front of the court in central Seoul. “It has also eaten into business owners’ profits, some to the point of considering closure.”

The group said as an alternative, the government could prohibit smoking at all restaurants during the day but allow bars and clubs to seat smokers in smoking sections in the evening.

…The government could use the extra taxes smokers pay toward subsidizing the costs of creating smoking sections at restaurants, which on average cost 10-30 million won (US$9,100-27,000), the group said.

“Independent restaurants can’t realistically afford the cost without subsidies,” it said.

Yeah, good luck with that too.

OECD Daily Smoking By Gender

South Korea remains among the smokingest nations in the OECD, ranking 13th in the world in cigarette consumption and second, behind Greece, among OECD nations .  Cigarette prices, prior to the tax increase, in South Korea were among the lowest in the world by PPP.  The much needed price increase reflecting the negative externality cost in cigarette consumption and proper use of zoning laws protecting non-smokers, brings Korea in line with laws, trends, and thinking in other OECD countries.  I’m a libertarian minded non-smoker who wonders how Korea’s ajeosshi-packed Constitutional Court will rule let alone why the Constitutional Court would even hear the case.

Are Koreans really unhappy? And what should be done about it?

How happy or unhappy are Koreans? The answer seems to depend on whom you’re asking.

According to this Gallup poll, Koreans rank 118th place out of a total of 143 countries. In this poll, Koreans are ranked as being as unhappy as Palestinians and even unhappier than the Iraqis. If the Iraqis weren’t so busy trying to get out of ISIS’ way, I think it is possible that they might post a series of “first world problem” memes to mock Koreans.

However, it is not all doom and gloom for Koreans. That is because according to this poll from Bloomberg, Koreans are the fourth happiest people in the world – far happier than Americans, the people whom Tocqueville praised for their optimism.

So why the discrepancy?

It has to do with the fact that “happiness” is a vague and complex concept, which means something different to different people. After all, how many of us can truly define what happiness is; which we can all universally agree to be correct? Even if happiness could be defined in such a way that everyone in the world could agree with the definition, how does anyone measure a qualitative concept? Quantifying a subjective opinion, which could be based on numerous factors such as affluence, culture, mood, psychological conditions, the weather, etc., is impossible. Therefore, it is no surprise that when researchers attempt to define and measure happiness in order to generate something that resembles meaningful data, the results are wildly different.

As such, pursuing government policies that are meant to increase happiness levels could lead to outcomes that could make people even less happy than they were before.

So, how would the government go about to improve happiness? Raising tariffs on rice might make the rice farmers happy, but what about the consumers who will not have the opportunity to buy cheaper rice? It could lead to happiness for some, but less for others. In fact, people tend to get quite a bit upset if there is even a hint that the government is helping some people become happier while it neglects others.


As happiness is such a subjective concept, when policymakers try to improve people’s happiness, even if they have the purest intentions, as per human nature, they will naturally pursue policies based on their own idea about what makes people happy as opposed to what people actually care about. Which defeats the whole purpose of measuring happiness.

So, if the government cannot directly affect people’s happiness, at least not in a positive way, then what is the alternative? In my opinion, what the government should focus on is pursuing reforms that allow people the greatest freedom to pursue whatever makes them happy.

That way, the government would be able to deal with other pressing matters, such as national security, while leaving the pursuit of happiness to the people. After all, who knows better than the people themselves about what makes them happy?

A News Report Worthy of A Movie Script

Thanks to Kim Hyung-Eun (JoongAng Ilbo) this news report of a fire turns out to be a cross between a detective-mystery and tragedy.

The  “Hunminjeongeum” or “The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People” was written  so that the common people illiterate in hanja could accurately and easily read and write the Korean language. It was announced in Volume 102 of the Annals of King Sejong, and its formal supposed publication date, October 9, 1446 ( Hangul Day). The Annals place its creation to the  25th year of Sejong’s reign, 1443~1444 thereof.  The book has two parts: the Yeui section, which explains why Hangul was created, and the Haerye section, which details the principles, usage and gives examples of the writing system but the Haerye section is far more rare, thus very much sought after by collectors.

The story begins in 2008 when Bae Ik-gi notified the government that he had a copy of “Hunminjeongeum” with the Haerye section intact.
Curators found this to be true and noted the book even contained footnotes missing from the version that was known, however, there was a problem:

an antique dealer Jo Yong-hun claimed that Bae had stolen the book from him: “Bae bought several ancient books from me at the price of 300,000 won [$272] and sneaked ‘Hunminjeongeum’ into the books,” Jo said while filing civil and criminal lawsuits against Bae. Jo won the civil suit in 2012 and announced in May that year that he would donate the book to the state. The CHA even held a donation ceremony with Jo – ironically without the presence of the artifact, as only Bae knew where it was . . .

Jo passed away and the government held Bae but Bae never revealed where the book was and would not reveal where it was until the government cleared him of charges, saying the world will never see the book, yet – he was reportedly seen running into the burning house with a small hammer, attacking a portion of a wall . . .

. . . Gwangheung Temple in Andong, North Gyeongsang, has been arguing that one of Korea’s most notorious antique thieves, surnamed Seo, stole a group of artifacts kept inside a Buddhist statue in the temple in 1999 and that the book was (originally) one of the items.

and the house burned.


If there were a love interest, this would make a great movie but there was little love to be found therein and more so is the tragedy.

Open Thread: March 28, 2015

Spring has sprung.

An Evil Twin, Christian Hostages and Media Players that Can Get A Person Killed

Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung has an evil twin.

He sounds like him and talks just like him and he is calling women to ask for money and is getting it.

The real Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung is not amused, especially since he is not getting a cut and has warned people that this phone twin of his is evil and is actually a scam artist:

A number of people told me they received a phone call from me asking for money. Fortunately many did not wire the money as demanded to a bank account…The victims told me that the suspect’s voice and the way he talks on the phone were identical to mine.

Remember, if your phone rings and it is Kim Moo-sung asking for money, hang up on him.

The DPRK has taken prisoner two South Koreans in Dandong, China (not North Korea).

The DPRK alleges that the two are spies for South Korea but it turns out they are affiliated with a church around Dandong, thus this might explain why DPRK agents were allowed to apprehend the two South Korean citizens in Dandong, China – the same city that Kevin and Julia Garratt (Canadian couple that ran a coffeeshop) lived in.

What is the fifty-dollar gadget that can get a person killed in North Korea?

How about a hand-held media player called a Notel that can play DVDs or video files from memory sticks?

People are exchanging South Korean soaps, pop music, Hollywood films and news programs, all of which are expressly prohibited by the Pyongyang regime, according to North Korean defectors, activists and recent visitors to the isolated country. “The North Korean government takes their national ideology extremely seriously, so the spread of all this media that competes with their propaganda is a big and growing problem for them,” said Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an organization that works with defectors.

South Korea Is To Join the AIIB

Though certain people thought I was “alarmist” in describing the earlier visit of Chinese President Xi and the PRC’s efforts to engage South Korea in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), South Korea has announced their intention to join the Chinese-lead bank. (link)

Supposedly Seoul has asked for improvement in the governing structure of the bank and other safeguards, which has been done.

Currently both Australia and Japan are considering whether or not to join as well.

From Russia, With Very Little in the Way of Love

Other than the PRC intervention during the Korean War, in Korea, Russia has had a rather devious hand in Korean affairs since attempting to install a proxy in Korea (Kim Il Sung) and now Putin’s Russia has decided to be friends with the DPRK, however, it becomes apparent that Russia had sold an SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile several years ago, which the North Koreans promptly have been reverse engineering and are now attempting to develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) based upon the Russian-supplied version, thus it is a disingenuous Russia that complains about South Korea installing a THAAD system in their country, complaining that it is “destablizing” . Russia and the PRC have helped create a potentially destablizing situation in Asia through their selling of weapons technology to the DPRK but, this did not stop the Russian Government from talking garbage:

. . . Such a development (regional THAAD defense) cannot but cause concern about the destructive influence of the United States’ global missile defense on international security . . .

Though the Russians have lost much through their aggression in the Ukraine, they are not above playing the perennial spoiler by using the DPRK as a proxy, befriending them simply to spite other countries like America .

As for the latest insult to humanity that is Russian foreign policy nowadays, Russia has invited Chinese and North Korean leaders to attend their WWII anniversary in Moscow, which might be one reason why Chancellor Merkel has decided to skip the event.

Also, over time, I’ve read quite a few comments from people that claim that the US would have been more active in dealing with the DPRK if they had oil – well guess what?

They’ve might have lots of oil too and a good bit more of natural resources that could keep a Kim Dynasty in power for a long time – that is, if they can get it out of the ground and without the direct help of China or dealing with commodity price fluctuations.

Open Thread, March 22 – The Late Edition


Microsoft has finally pulled the plug on Internet Explorer.  Used (outside of Korea) as a Windows bundled software application to facilitate the download of web browsers, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is solely used in Seoul for online banking and retailing.  South Korea passed a law in 1999 requiring that banks and retailers use digital certificates created with Microsoft’s Active X and exclusively available on Internet Explorer.

IE has been in its death throes since shortly after the implementation of South Korea’s 1999 law.  Released in 1995 as an add-on to Windows 95 after Bill Gates had returned from vacation and recognized the threat Netscape’s Navigator® represented to Microsoft’s operating system, Microsoft changed course.  Microsoft’s later standard inclusion of IE in OEM packages and subsequent Windows operating systems sealed Netscape’s fate.

IE went on to command a healthy 95% market share becoming the web browser by fiat for many corporations and governments.  Microsoft and IE soon became fat (or in tech terms, bloated) and lazy (again in tech terms, slow and no innovation), ignoring the open source Firefox browser, which quickly became the browser of choice among the digerati.  Google entered the fray, and IE’s market share fell below 50% in 2010 and 20% in October.  Since then IE’s chart has looked like that of last century’s centenarian.

For those of you who feel maudlin for Microsoft IE’s demise or suffer from an unhealthy (as opposed to the healthy) necrophilia, IE will be around to haunt the rest of us for some time:  Korea will need to first legally declare IE dead and bury all entanglements.  Meanwhile IE’s rotting code will continue to plague us.

100 Years of Beauty: Korea

Following up their December 2014 viral video 100 Years of Beauty in 1 Minute:  USA , those clever folk at have released their fourth installment in the series, 100 Years of Beauty in 1 Minute:  Korea.

The videos show an actress/model in time-lapse motion undergoing a century of makeup, hairstyle, and attitude changes representative of the beauty standards and zeitgeist for each decade of the last 100 years for each depicted country and culture.

The first two videos in the series looked at American trends for both white and black women, which seemed like easy and natural choices.  The third video, released in February, intriguingly spotlighted Iran’s beauty trends for women.  In an equally intriguing choice, cut chose Korea’s for March.

Here is the first video, depicting white American female beauty, in the series:


Although the model of course ages no more than eight hours over the course of the video shoot, she seems to represent beauty representative of different aged women in the videos.  For example the representative look seemed late 20ish for the ’50’s and high school senior/late teens for the ’80’s.

Here is the video for 100 Years of Beauty – Korea:


I’m glad I wasn’t here in the ’90’s.

The Korea video splits in the ’50’s, depicting the political separation and split in beauty trends for the North and the South.  Immediate comments from my small, unscientific, not random sample include “Those Yalu girls really knock me out”, “they leave the South behind”, and “…that Pyeongyang is always on my mind”.  One stammered, “I want back in the DP, back in the DP, back in the DPRK.”

There is no word yet whether cut will feature beauty representative of males or transgenders in the series.

Using Smartphones to Rob Us?


Imagine that there was a better way to help crooks steal more money . . .

Well, now there is a new way to do just that. Apple developed a new way to pay for things by using the iPhone and a new payment system called Apple Pay.  The idea is that when a person goes into a store, instead of using a credit card, they can pay, using their iPhone,  however there is a problem with this.

Brian Krebs, a touted authority on security in today’s online world says “Apple Pay makes it possible for cyber thieves to buy high-priced merchandise from brick-and-mortar stores using stolen credit and debit card numbers that were heretofore only useful for online fraud.” (cite) The banks that Apple has partnered with are now feeling this increase in fraud (6% and growing) and the pressure is on Apple to fix this though the problem is not really their’s to fix.  To be fair, the real real weak point in security is the bank since what is really happening is stolen credit cards are being put into Apple Pay and the banks are not catching this.  Remember all of those stolen credit cards from the Target credit card heist? Apple Pay allows theives to use this stolen information in a  new way (cite).  Avivah Litan (a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc.) believes that this problem will only become worse:

. . . This problem is only going to get worse as Samsung/LoopPay and the MCX/CurrentC (supported by Walmart, BestBuy and many other major retailers) release their mobile payment systems, without the customer data advantages Apple has in their relatively closed environment.

Samsung has wooed the same bank partners Apple did to start a mobile payment service (Samsung Pay), they have released the Galaxy 6 phone as being a means to conduct mobile payments (it is a nice phone too) and they released a security layer for Android called Knox, which enables the user to securely pay for things with their smartphone (preferably their Galaxy phone).  Samsung’s Knox was even certified as being safe and secure by a part of the American Government (the guys that want backdoors into everything).  Knox had been compromised, however Samsung is working to address this problem and has made progress,  Samsung wants their cyberpayment software to use a magnetic card reader, which is not encouraging since credit cards with magnetic strips are known enablers of credit card fraud. (cite and cite)   Samsung will also waive fees for using their mobile payment system, which does encourage use.

Business does make for unusual alliances, and so Blackberry and IBM have come together with Samsung to create SecuTablet – a modified Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 bundled with security management software and a hardware encryption module, however the normally 500.00 USD Samsung phone becomes a 2,250.00 USD device called SecuTablet! (cite) This sort of device is not for the casual user that wants to buy something though, rather it is intended to be for environments that require better security (government, etc.).

Though Apple and Samsung may eventually perfect secure devices, the banks are still the biggest source of security worries, especially when they continue to use cards with magnetic strips or a chip and PIN system that has been hacked.  Even now, the Korean banking industry is finally getting around to blocking the use of mag-stripe plastic cards, in all Korean ATMs, from May.  (cite) There are still reports of credit card information being stolen by infected POP systems in business.  One place that has seen a rise in credit card fraud is Aspen, Colorado, since Aspen has so many holiday visitors from everywhere.  As one Aspen police detective notes:

A lot of these network intrusions are coming from the Ukraine, Russia, North Korea and China . . . It all comes down to the information stored on credit cards. Once a card is scanned at a business that information is sent to a server. If it’s infected with malware, that server sends the credit card information to criminals.

Considering how more and more large businesses are having their fee processing system infected with malware and how inept banks are at dealing with credit card fraud, companies like Apple and Samsung may eventually become more trustworthy than banks, especially if they don’t gouge their customers with processing fees and are more secure than banks are now in their transactions.

Open Thread: Mar. 16, 2015


Bukseong Pier, Incheon. More photos at my Tumblr blog.

Hope you all had a good weekend.

Happy Faces Make A Good Photo


I supplied captions to illustrate just what I think makes this photograph – courtesy of the JoongAng Ilbo (front page) – so good for me.  Click on the photo for the full-sized version.

Open Thread, March 7, 2015

Ceremony for the first full moon of Spring.

Ceremony for the first full moon of Spring.

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