Sunday, April 21, 2019

Of pontoon trains, comfort concerts, and headers

There was an interesting article in the Korea Times the other day by Amanda Price titled "The Japanese who fought for Korea's freedom." It details a number of Japanese academics and other figures who opposed Japan's imperial expansion into Korea. It's well worth reading, though one photo - posted below in its original form - raised my eyebrows, since it was incorrectly captioned "Japanese soldiers carried alarming amounts of ammunition through The Independence Gates." I was already familiar with this photo, having posted it here before (13 years ago), but I had also recently come across it in its originally-published form in Colliers magazine (issues from the time of the Russo Japanese War can be found here). It was neither taken in Seoul, nor was it of ammunition. Below is the photo and its original caption:


A JAPANESE PONTOON TRAIN MOVING TOWARD THE YALU FROM PING-YANG
The floats, built in sections, were carried by one pack-train of the engineers' column, the beams and flooring by another. Before the war, the Japanese Intelligence Office sent skilled engineers, disguised as coolies, through Korea and Manchuria to make detailed measurements of the width, depth, current, and tidal force of every stream which an invading army might have to cross. The Yalu was the most important river to be surveyed in this way, and the data were used to construct, at Hiroshima, complete pontoon bridges for the crossing, so that the material was ready to be carried with the army when the advance began. In brief, the Japanese prepared the Yalu crossing to measure, months beforehand, and when the bridges were needed they were flung into position without the slightest waste of time, labor, or transport.

I also decided to change this blog's header for the first time in a decade or more (from this image I took 12 years ago of apartments going up south of Magok Station) to this one, from the August 3, 1975 issue of Sunday Seoul. After the promulgation of Emergency Decree 9 by Park Chung-hee in May 1975, this entertainment magazine - little different from ones you would find today - suddenly began publishing photos of "comfort concerts" held for Korean troops that it had clearly been pressured (if not outright ordered) to organize. (The next issue mentioned guitarist / singer / songwriter Shin Joong-hyun and his band the Yeopjeons were going to dress up more in the future after their hit song Mi-in (beautiful woman) had been one of 130 songs banned in June and July as part of the government's crackdown on decadence.) All in all, the image represents the militarization of almost every aspect of life under Park's Yusin regime.


My first header was of a branch of a cherry blossom tree. The other day I was on Gaehwasan, which overlooks Gimpo Airport, and saw this stand of cherry blossom trees just outside the airport, and quite close to Gaehwa Station. It took a moment before I realized it must be a nursery for cherry blossoms. I imagine it would be worth a visit. Perhaps next year.


Friday, April 05, 2019

Gungsan Tunnel History Exhibition Hall

In 2008 the city of Seoul decided to act on stories told by local residents that the Japanese military had a tunnel dug under Gungsan, near Yancheon Hyanggyo Station (Line 9), during World War II. The tunnel was discovered and plans were made to turn it into a tourist attraction with its alcoves being used as various exhibition spaces. In 2010, however large rocks fell from the roof as construction proceeded and after examination it was decided not to proceed with this plan for safety reasons, and the project stalled for years. A smaller plan was enacted in which its entrance would be turned into an exhibition space, that allowed for a glimpse of the tunnel, and in May 2018 it opened to the public.

The Gungsan tunnel was dug by Koreans mobilized in patriotic service corps in the 1940s during the Pacific War. It was 3 meters underground, 70 meters long, and 2 meters in diameter. It was used to store weapons, ammunition and other war materials, and could also be used as an air raid shelter. The main military outpost in the area was Gimpo Airbase. A small hill near the tunnel known as Seonyubong was demolished to provide stone for the construction of Gimpo Airbase in the late 1930s.





I visited the exhibition hall last weekend and took the above photos. It’s open from 10-4 every day except Monday, and though the display material is in Korean the volunteer when I was there spoke English well. Seeing as you can't actually go into the tunnel, it might not be worth a visit for the tunnel alone, but it’s right behind the Gyeomjae Jeong Seon Museum, an art museum dedicated to Jeong Seon, who was served as the magistrate of the Yangcheon Prefecture in the 1740s (but who may be more familiar for the image on the back of the 1000 won bill). Yangcheon Hyanggyo, Seoul's only remaining Confucian school and shrine, is also just around the corner, but is closed until May for construction. The newly-opened Seoul Botanical Garden is also nearby in Magok-dong, and is free until May.

I’ll be leading a tour for the Royal Asiatic Society to the Gungsan area and Gaehwasan (near Gimpo Airport) taking in both museums, Yangcheon Confucian Shrine, temples, tombs, Korean War memorials, and spring flowers next Saturday, April 13. For more information about the tour, see here.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

A look at Arbor Day

My latest Korea Times story is about the long-lost holiday, Arbor Day / 식목일. For decades April 5 was a day off so students, citizens and civil servants could plant trees. One of the unsung accomplishments achieved (mostly) under Park Chung-hee's rule was the conversion of Korea's bare mountains into thriving forests that are today a haven for hikers - something now taken for granted.

For a decade or so Park led a ceremony on that day and was photographed planting trees, often with his children. He and others made lofty speeches, such as when, in 1968, "Seoul Mayor Kim Hyun-ok...emphasized planting trees as a sacred task for the modernization of the Republic and this generation’s sublime duty for the welfare of our descendants."

Here are a few photos and cartoons drawn from the Korea Times:

Korea Times, April 6, 1968. 

Korea Times, April 6, 1965.

Korea Times, April 5, 1967. 

Korea Times, April 5, 1970. 


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Simpsons and Family Guy do Seoul

Sunday night, the 17th episode of The Simpsons' 30th season, "E My Sports," featured Bart becoming adept at esports and, in the last 6 minutes, going with the family to Seoul for an esports tournament. My thoughts on the episode were featured in this Korea Times article, along with those of David Mason (thanks to Jon Dunbar).

There are a few plays on words in the signs (in English), and a demonstration that there is some awareness of the Korean language, but other than that there's very little engagement with Korea. A few buildings appear, like the Lotte Tower below:


The 63 Building:


Namsan Tower:


And Jogyesa:


A subplot of the episode is Lisa's sudden desire to go to Korea too to go to Jogyesa because of their amazing sand mandalas. I was fairly certain that was not a thing you'd expect to find at Jogyesa, so it was nice to see David Mason confirm that.


The esports tournament takes place at what appears to be World Cup Stadium, and when things go awry this robot appears:


Considering Korea's plans to replace foreign English teachers with robots (one of the best inventions of 2010, said Time Magazine), this made me smile a little, but I'd imagine that's not what the writers were thinking of.


The reference below is to the fact that The Simpsons is animated in Korea.


As I noted in the article, "The Simpsons Animation and Casino is a rather lame joke, but recalls the 1992 episode Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie, where a news program reviewed the history of the animation Itchy & Scratchy and showed the studio where it was made in South Korea, which featured soldiers with bayonet-fixed rifles prodded animators in the back to make them work faster, a scene which angered The Simpson's Korean animators." Here's the scene from that episode:


The arrival of riot police at the end of the episode almost seems like a modern update to the above image, particularly considering Koreans tend not to riot at sports events.


As I noted in the article, the entire appearance of Seoul in the episode just felt shoehorned in. There's really no engagement with the place at all. It could have been anywhere.

For a far-more-engaged episode of TV, 10th episode of Family Guy's 14th season, "Candy, Quahog Marshmallow," which aired three years ago, was about a trip to Seoul taken after it's discovered the character Quagmire was once a Korean soap star. The plot can be found here:

Compared to the nondescript city scenes in The Simpsons, the following establishing shots are clearly recognizable as Seoul, Busan, Incheon Airport (despite the name change) and Gwanghwamun Plaza:





Unlike The Simpsons, there are no English language jokes shoehorned into the street scenes.


And despite that not being a makgeolli bottle, there's quite a bit of detail put into the restaurant shots...


... particularly with the walls (the beer ad is spot on):


There's a certain amount of engagement with the culture, beginning with the TV dramas which bring them to Seoul in the first place (to find the last episode of the series they were watching that their friend starred in):


The main character gets some plastic surgery done:


They watch Sistar's "Touch My Body" and are quite enamoured with Kpop for some reason.



Then they make their own Kpop video, which, while pretty dumb, is still a serviceable parody and shows a level of engagement with the actual culture, unlike The Simpsons.


There are some duds, of course. Quagmire reunites with his former costar and rekindles their romance, but decides to leave when he finds out the entire extended family lives with them. Needless to say, you'd be very, very hard-pressed to find such a thing in Seoul.


The less said about Ashton Kutcher's Pet Engine Cooking Bag ad (so you can cook dogs under the hood while you drive), the better, but there is a level of detail here that balances it out a bit (the dog on the box saying "맛있는!" and the 1000 won 할인).


And, unlike The Simpsons, there may be a joke here few would get: The bus that runs down the character in the TV drama is #588. I've read that in decades past the route for bus 588 took it past the Cheongnyangni red light district, which inspired its nickname, '588.'


It's easy enough to see, despite some cluelessness and a dog meat joke, that Family Guy engaged with Korea far more than The Simpsons, and I say this as someone who has never liked Family Guy. Those interested in the decline of the once-great Simpsons are recommended to watch the Youtube video "The Fall of The Simpsons: How it Happened."

Articles in the Korea Times about Yeontan and a 1960 rift between the ROK and USFK

Last week my latest Korea Times article came out, in which I wrote about the use of yeontan, or coal briquettes, to heat houses from the 1950s to the 1980s and the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning it posed. Some of this material appeared in an earlier post I wrote in which I linked this danger of poisoning and the belief in fan death. More on yeontan can be read here (click to the next message to read the conversation).

My article from January, "Forced haircuts in 1960 opened rift in Korea-U.S. alliance," was about the shaving of the heads of prostitutes found sneaking onto a US military base and how this influenced the book P.S. Wilkinson. While I was glad the "gnawing raw bones" part was included, the last few paragraphs got chopped up a bit. This was the original ending:
Five years later, C.D.B. Bryan, who was serving with USFK in 1960 as an “Ivy League” ROTC lieutenant,” recreated the incident in his Harper Prize-winning first novel, P. S. Wilkinson. His autobiographical protagonist, “Rutena Wirkenson” (as the Koreans call him) hates being stuck in Korea, a “godforsaken place,” and hates army life even more because he is plagued by incompetent superiors who happen to enjoy Korea for only one reason. (When one says, “I didn’t realize what a bad lay my wife was until I got over here,” Wilkinson, in disgust, replies, “Oh, hell, Major, your wife isn’t so bad.”)

Confronted with break-ins, Major Sturgess, who replaced his houseboy with a young woman, asks “Where else in the world do whores cut through barbed-wire fences to climb into the sack with the GIs?” and orders that the next woman to be caught have her head shaved. In his recreation of the event, however, Bryan has his hero bravely refuse to follow the order.

In April 1965, James Wade reviewed the book in the Korea Times, criticizing it for its “fake idealism,” “stilted dialogue, wilted prose,” and lines such as “This is the foulest, goddamndest country I’ve ever seen!” and “It’s the only thing - this availability of women - that makes Korea bearable.”

He also criticized the “incredible stagey scene” where Wilkinson “lectures the C.O. with insufferable primness on the immorality of his head-shaving order” As Wade put it, “His self-righteous hypocrisy…put this reader on the army’s side for the first time in memory, head-shaving and all.”
I've been doing quite a bit of research on 1970s youth culture recently by researching weekly magazines from the time. I hope to post here more often and include some of the material I've found (such as advertisements and music charts of the time), as well as to complete some long-unfinished posts and series.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christmas in Korea in the early 1960s

My latest Korea Times article gets into the Christmas spirit by looking at Christmas in the early 1960s. Before reading through the KT articles in my archive, I hadn’t realized how raucous Christmas eve was in those days. Upon suggesting some photos to Jon Dunbar at the KT, he found the "Christmas Hangover" editorial cartoon that I’d missed.


While the evolution of Christmas cards at the time and the photo of the storefront in 1960 are interesting asides, I always planned to finish with James Wade’s twisted take on Tiny Tim, which - along with space considerations - kept me from focusing too long on the campaigns to help orphans. One of them stuck with me:

It was a chilly day in mid-December. As at other schools in the capital, Hongje Primary School launched a collection of clothes for the relief of orphans. A pile of clothes “as big as a mountain” was formed in front of the pupils on the teacher’s platform. Then, the teacher, Miss Park, picked up a new sweater from among them. “Come on, Miss Chung. It will be better for you to wear this instead of the orphans. Your needs are greater than theirs,” she said to one of the students. Miss Chung off her worn-out one and put on the new and returned to her seat. Suddenly there was a loud sobbing voice. It was from Miss Chung. Her wailing lasted throughout the day’s lessons.

Was she sobbing due to the act of generosity? Or due to being singled out for being poor?

I can hazard a guess what the answer would be if this took place today, but have no idea when it comes to that time of profound poverty.


Here are some of the articles that I used for my own article:




And here are a few other photos:

December 25, 1965

December 22, 1968

There is certainly lots of material for a follow-up next year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Foreign crime statistics in 2018 and 1969

A Korea Times article last week broke down foreign crime figures and ended with this statement:
According to the police agency, the number of crimes committed by foreigners between January and October of this year decreased by 5.3 percent, compared to the same period last year. In particular, murder declined by 22.7 percent and robbery by 31.9 percent.
This stands in contrast to a similar article from almost 50 years ago that found the opposite trend to be true:


Monday, October 22, 2018

The 2018 Seminar for Foreign Language Institute Instructors in Gyeonggi

Update:

On October 30 the Korea Times published an article on this seminar, for which I was interviewed, titled "Foreign teachers told 'Don't molest students.'"

Original Post:

Fellow blogger Zen Kimchi was forced to attend a training session for foreign hagwon instructors this weekend. At 8am on Saturday. In Icheon. He managed to salvage something from the fustercluck by writing about the experience here.

I seem to remember something similar occurring in Seoul when I worked at a hagwon over ten years ago. It may have been organized by the hagwon owner's association or perhaps by the local district. I was told I had to attend the training session early on a Saturday morning. I believe we were told it was mandatory. I told my boss I'd try to make it. I didn't try very hard, and never heard a thing back about my absence. I read later (or perhaps it was about a similar such session) of teachers being told to salute the Korean flag, and a few teachers complied...with sarcastic Nazi salutes.

There has been a legal basis for such training sessions for years now. In November 2009 National Assembly Representative Cho Jeon-hyuk submitted bills to revise the hagwon and school laws so as to require foreign teachers to take a class on Korean culture and practices. “He said the revisions are aimed at raising the quality of the nation’s English education programs by mandating that foreign teachers have better knowledge of Korea.” This was eventually included in a revision of the hagwon law passed in June 2011. As the pertinent revision read,
The following will be established for Article 13 paragraph 3

In the case of foreign instructors (non-citizens of the Republic of Korea who, in accordance with paragraph 1, are responsible for instruction in a hagwon. Hereafter the same), training will be conducted more than once after entering the country to improve their skills as those responsible for social education and aid them in adapting to Korean culture.
The amendments to the hagwon law in 2011, which not only mandated cultural classes but also drug tests for foreign instructors, were first suggested in 2009 during a period of intensely negative media coverage of foreign English teachers. Such negative coverage began in 2005 during the English Spectrum incident, when media attention was drawn to an online forum called English Spectrum, where foreign English teachers bragged about their sexual conquests and posted photos of a party featuring foreign men and Korean women dancing together. Outraged by the impropriety of both parties, netizens formed an online café called Anti-English Spectrum and, over the next few years, managed to unearth stories of misbehaving foreign teachers, share them with the media, and then petition lawmakers to change relevant laws by citing the articles they had contributed to. They were ultimately invited to a Ministry of Justice policy meeting in 2007 where they convinced the ministry to institute HIV tests for foreign language instructors on the E-2 visa.

As the number of foreign teachers rose, peaking in 2011, fears of foreign teachers committing crimes, especially sex crimes against children, were stoked by journalists and politicians. One standout example of media bias occurred in 2013, when the story of a foreign teacher suspected of having sexually assaulted a minor who was extradited to the US was covered by 80 news articles – half of them TV news reports. In contrast, during that week the case of a Korean elementary school vice principal who was sentenced to 6 years in prison for molesting nine elementary school students appeared in only 14 news reports – none of which were on TV. Despite a dramatic decrease in media scrutiny since that time, the education program the hagwon teachers were subjected to this weekend reveals that these attitudes are still alive and well among officials.

 

(Thanks to Joe for letting me repost these.)

As well, it is not clear what power those running the session have to penalise hagwons for their instructors not attending. There is nothing in the law itself which allows for such penalties. Overall, reading Joe's account, I'm left remembering Homer Simpson saying "It's the least I could do. Well, actually, the least I could do is absolutely nothing, but I went one step further!" Or something like that. I could ask, "How hard would it be to find some qualified people to give presentations that might actually be relevant and related to the ostensible purpose of the seminar?" But that would require putting in some effort and perhaps even - shudder - talking to some foreigners and asking (and actually listening to) their opinions rather than just using them as rubber stamps for already-decided on policies.

The handout for the seminar is worth looking at:

(Thanks to Joe for permission to re-post this.)

I found this interesting: "It is aimed at improving the effectiveness and trust in foreign language education." Clearly the former was not much of a concern, so perhaps the latter part I put in italics is. Because no trust in foreign teachers hurts the hagwons' bottom line (unless creating distrust of foreign teachers is part of your sales pitch). Much more worthy of note is the law used to justify the seminar. Compare the article and paragraph they cite to what I cited above and you'll realise (if you check the law) that they could not be bothered to even cite the correct part of the law!

Overall the "training" session sounds like a pro-forma attempt to follow a rule seen as annoying by both those subject to it and those tasked with implementing it. (Which probably sums up the entire E-2 visa process, except for the hospitals making money off of administering the health checks (still complete with the HIV tests that were supposedly gotten rid of).) The half-assed, ill-thought out program which was interpreted by many attendees as “please love Korean culture, you potential child-molesting drug addicts” may have indeed taught the foreign instructors something about Korea, but it probably was not the lesson the education authorities were hoping for. If those in charge can't be bothered to do their jobs, why should the foreign teachers feel any different?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Gas explosions past and present


The gas storage tank fire in Goyang a week or so ago (caused by an errant sky lantern) was reminiscent of the LPG gas station fire in Bucheon on September 11, 1998. I'd seen an article about it in the Korea Times while do research years ago, but unlike the more recent fire, a KBS helicopter news crew captured several of the explosions (at 4:47 and 7:06). One person was killed and 96 others were injured, 11 seriously.



This explosion came a few years after a series of tragedies, including a gas explosion in Daegu, collectively killed over 600 people in 1994 and 1995.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Translating 'jucheseong' in 1970 and other bits and pieces

My latest piece for the Korea Times, titled "Trying to translate 'jucheseong' in 1970," looks at struggles to translate a word closely related to the North Korean term 'juche,' though the debate in 1970 was over how to make it clearer to an English-speaking audience, whereas, according to Brian Myers, the DPRK used the term to conceal its nationalism and convince the outside world that Kim Il-sung, like Mao, also had his own philosophy. There's more to it than that of course (see Stephan Haggard's review here and here), but the debates over translating the term in the Korea Times in 1970 go to show that the term "jucheseong" was used more often in South Korea in 1970 than in North Korea.

I was also interviewed in this article about Japanese-built, American-used houses from the 1930s that are being demolished to recreate the portrait gallery of Deoksugung, despite there already being two such galleries in Changdeok Palace. While some parts of the restoration look worthwhile - Dondeokjeon was always an interesting building, and was where Sunjong was crowned - destroying actual historical buildings to build recreations of buildings doesn't sit right with me. It's worth noting that the Japanese-built homes have stood for 80 years - four times as long as the original portrait galleries that stood for only 20-odd years.





Though some parts of the house were in worse shape than others, they would not have been difficult to restore. But doing that for Japanese-built houses on former Palace land was never going to fly here.

And some interesting articles I've come across recently: This one about a half black, half Korean model who was popular in Europe in the 1980s is an interesting read.

I also enjoyed Robert Neff's article about the first airplane flight in Korea. The story of a man going out to see the plane take off and being robbed made me smile, because my favourite paper in undergrad was on the hot air balloon craze in England in 1785-86 and took its title from a mocking letter supposedly written by the pickpockets of London: 'While thousands are looking up in astonishment, we are actively diving into their pockets'; even Edmund Burke lost his wallet.

I've been researching youth culture in the 1960s and 1970s, and one of the main sites of concerts in those days was Seoul Citizens Hall, which stood where Sejong Cultural Center stands today. It was destroyed in a fire that left 51 dead in December 1972.

Also worth reading are articles by my classmate at UW, Clint Work: I learned a great deal from his examination (along with Daniel Pinkston) of the evolution of the US-ROK military relationship over the years and his look at Carter-era US-DPRK communications, and having briefly studied the evolution of UN Command into Combined Forces Command, can appreciate the clarity and conciseness of his summary of that topic.