Thursday, May 31, 2007

City and country, education and marriage


In the comments to this post, Mark Russell notes that the number of students as a whole has been dropping for some time. Right on cue, the Joongang Ilbo reports that a school in Dongdaemun-gu in Seoul is closing for lack of students. It then lists some statistics:
During the past 25 years, the number of students across the nation has dropped by 2 million even though the country’s population has increased by 10 million, the Korean Educational Development Institute announced yesterday. The number of students will continue to decline at a faster rate, the institute predicted, meaning a loss of another 2 million students by the end of 2017

[Original Post]

I never would have thought that a Joongang Ilbo article [which will crash Firefox, by the way] about a TV show where two families swap moms for a week would turn out to be so interesting. The reason is that the families are from Seoul and rural Chungcheongbuk-do. While the mother from Seoul, who has one daughter, was overwhelmed by the amount of food preparation and laundry she had to do for a family from the countryside with nine children, the mother from the countryside, while now having theoretically one ninth of her normal workload, had some very interesting observations to make about the differences between her (traditional style) family and life in Seoul.
“I thought it was an opportunity for me to take a break from the huge family that I manage,” Lee said. “However, taking care of a young daughter alone wasn’t an easy task. At home I would let the older children take care of their little brothers and sisters, but here I had to attend to a little girl at all times, and I hardly got a break.”

She also realized how family life in the city has lost traditional family values. “In the past family meant warmth, consideration for one another and enjoying each other’s company,” Lee said. “This week, I learned that families in the city respect each other’s world. Each and every person has their own thing going on and they rarely interrupt other people’s private space. In the long run I believe such a lifestyle would end up deepening isolation and loneliness.”
Or it might give kids the time and freedom to pursue... odd interests on the internet, like that group of 8 - 13 year-olds caught running an S&M website. Obviously, that's a extreme tip of the iceberg, and what she's describing is a very middle class version of life in Seoul. There used to be two families of kids down the street from me who would play outside together, with the eldest caring for the youngest while the parents worked; this pattern of life hasn't disappeared in Seoul by any means, but it's harder to maintain in middle class families with 1.5 children. Several people I know have moved to Banghwa-dong because their parents (or parents-in-law) live there and can take care of their children while they work.
“I missed having people running around the house,” Lee said. “I was really bored during the day.” She worried that the lack of conversation within the family would later lead to a breakdown in communication between parents and children, which she believes many families living in the city suffer from.

Lee said it wasn’t her first time living in Seoul. “Before I was married to my husband I worked in Seoul. But coming back after so many years I realized how complicated every thing is,” she said.
It's interesting to think of this in terms of Seoul's growth, especially considering the fact that according to this article, "more than one in two people in the country will be living in the capital and surrounding Gyeonggi Province by 2011." This is nothing new, of course, as Seoul and its surrounding area has been experiencing massive population growth for quite some time now.

Seoul's growth began to take off from around 1960 (when Seoul's population was around 2 million) and peaked in the late 1980s (at more than 10 million) before decreasing slightly as several 'new cities' were built in nearby areas in Gyeonggi-do. This, of course, was due to millions of people moving from rural areas in the provinces to Seoul, which led Seoul's uncontrolled growth as it, ironically, began to swallow the surrounding farmland which was similar to that which the newcomers had come from. Numerous illegal squatter villages and hillside settlements grew up within the city and then were pushed to the outskirts to make way for redevelopments, until those areas on the outskirts were then redeveloped, a process which continues today.

One reason to come to Seoul was not just for employment opportunities, but was also for the education facilities. Of course, now, with almost half of the population nearby, those educational opportunities now exist in just a handful of neighbourhoods (how many parents have told me they'd like to move to Gangnam (or maybe Mok-dong) by the time their child is in grade 5 in order to take advantage of the schools there?) and the same migration that once took place within Korea as a whole takes place within Seoul itself.

The mother from Chungcheongbuk-do reflects on the differences between the two households regarding education:
Lee at first was surprised at the enormous amount of study put in by Da-hye, the seven-year-old girl. After kindergarten, Da-hye would study piano every day. And once a week Da-hye went to private institutes to study Chinese, English and ballet.

“My children didn’t even go to kindergarten,” Lee said. She has no desire, however, to change her education method. “I tell my children that family comes first. Getting good grades is important but life isn’t all about getting high scores,” Lee said.
Unfortunately, with so many people moving to the cities in general, and Seoul/Gyeonggi in particular, schools in the countryside are finding it harder to give their students a decent education.

The last graduation ceremony of a rural elementary school in May 2007.
The school was due to be closed for a lack of new students. [Hankyoreh]

As the article tells us,
The number of students in farming and fishing villages dropped by 10.4 percent between 1999 and 2004. As a consequence, schools are being forced to close. Up to 2,266 schools in those villages have been closed out in the past decade. The future of about half of remaining 5,163 schools also is unclear, as the government plans to close schools with 100 or less students.
It goes on to describe the plight of Neungjubuk Elementary School in Hwasun, South Jeolla Province:
[P]resently, the school’s two double-story buildings hold only about 50 students. The elementary school only has five grades instead of the usual six, because the 2nd and 3rd graders have been combined into one classroom. Yun Jeong-hyeon, a teacher, said, "Once there were over 700 students. However, as people have left the farming village, the future of the school is at stake."
The movement within Seoul towards Gangnam is found in the countryside as well. A nearby middle school "has 20 students in all, less than seven in each grade. This is because parents who can afford the commute take their children to be educated in nearby cities such as Naju and Gwangju." One has to wonder about this draw towards Seoul and other cities. As it essentially guts the infrastructure of farming communities (a school often plays many roles in a small community), starving them of students and funding, will this, in the end, just hasten the migration of more and more people to cities where that infrastructure can be found?

The countryside isn't just being starved of students, of course; it's also being starved of women willing to marry and live there, which is making it difficult for the men living there to find wives. The solution, as is well known, has been to marry women from other, poorer, countries.
[G]overnment statistics show that the number of marriages to foreigners jumped 21.6 percent to 43,121 in 2005 -- 13.6 percent of all newlyweds. The National Statistical Office said 72 percent of international marriages involved Korean men and foreign women. Chinese brides topped the list at 66.2 percent, followed by Vietnamese with 18.7 percent, Japanese with four percent and Filipinas with 3.2 percent.
Many of these women, of course, are moving socio-economically upward by moving to Korea, much as the Korean women who previously lived in the countryside did when they moved to the city. What's interesting is that international marriage, which could be considered an indicator of cosmopolitanism, is taking place to such a large extent in the countryside. These unions will lead to a large number of mixed race children attending the aforementioned dwindling schools in the near future. What happens as that generation grows up may prove to be quite interesting.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Architectural dismemberment in five days

Near my house a tall building allows the view below - or it did two years ago. The odd, almost 'L' shaped building below housed a shipping company and a raw fish (hoi) restaurant.

The shipping company gave way to a food company a few months ago, and the hoi restaurant gave way to a duck restaurant, which then turned into the pile of rubble you see below. Note also in the first photo the long, red, four storey housing units on the far side of the street (at upper left); they were torn down a few months ago, to be replaced by the construction site you see now.

As you'll notice above, the entire western section of the building was sheared off and torn down. As I was walking by last Monday I heard the sound of smashing glass and went to investigate. The windows and frames were being smashed and pulled out. The pile on the right is waiting to be taken away.

By Wednesday a few of the main girders had been cut off and removed.

On Thursday morning they began tearing down the building.

It was torn down by the end of the day, and this was the view the next morning.

Friday afternoon, several machines were at work sorting the scrap metal from the rubble and taking it away to be recycled, while other machines scooped the rubble into waiting trucks (who knows where they take it).

By Friday evening the task was almost finished.

On Saturday morning there was no trace of that wing of the building.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Meandering musings on the Kwangju Uprising

I found the description of this photo interesting:
A young girl looks into the eyes of a boy just about her age, in a photo on display in front of Seoul’s City Hall in the commemoration of the democracy movement which started around May 18, 1980 and was crushed by the military. The boy in the photo (Jo Cheon-ho, now 32 and a Gwangju City Hall public official) holds up an image of his father, who was shot by the military in the violence that May.
This article in Hankyoreh, which describes a display of watches of dead victims in Kwangju, is interesting as well:
The other two watches on display also tell of families’ sorrow. One belonged to Jeon Yeong-jin, who was also 17 when he was killed by a government soldier. On May 20, Jeon was beaten up by government solders while he was on his way to a bookstore, but on May 21, he quietly slipped out again to join the protests; by about 2:00 p.m., he had been shot in the head and lay bleeding in the street. His watch stopped that day.

Since then, Jeon’s father Jeon Gye-ryang and mother Kim Sun-hui have also been at the forefront of the effort to restore honor to the victims of Gwangju. Two of his high school classmates, Song Young-kil and Kang Ki-jeong, are now lawmakers in the pro-government Uri Party.
The fact that the son of a victim, and classmates of a victim, are now a part of the government is interesting. Those that once were victimized by the government and opposed it are now a part of it. Arguably, these men are luckier than other survivors, as much of what Linda Lewis has written has shown; in her book Laying Claim to the Memory of May (and other essays) she describes the often miserable lives wounded survivors have had, and the ill effects the loss of a family member tended to have. As she notes in her essay "From Heroic Victims to Disabled Survivors: The 5-18 Injured after Twenty Years" (in the book Contentious Kwangju), as of 1997, 120 additional victims had died. 69 were gunshot victims in their twenties and thirties; only 17 were in their sixties or seventies. I'm not sure how many have died in the ten years since. I'm reminded also of her personal remembrances of people disappearing in Kwangju throughout the following summer months, and how many of those people had to live with physical and psychological injuries due to the torture they underwent. The immediate repercussions of the uprising were certainly not limited to May 27, the day the troops ended the uprising.

In the comments over at Dprk Studies (where I had my annual discussion about the Kwangju Uprising with usinkorea (who was kind enough to send me numerous New York Times articles from the time of the uprising)), the question of chronology came up; here's a very basic overview of the uprising:

May 18th: Paratroopers secure universities; students demonstrate in front of universities and move downtown, troops move downtown and attack protesters and bystanders. Anger over this leads to more protests the next day.

May 19: More paratroopers arrive, protests grow larger, confrontations become more violent, and several deaths occur.

May 20: More paratroopers arrive. Even larger protests with many citizens taking part. In the evening the protest by taxi and bus drivers allow the citizens more control of the streets and puts troops on the defensive. Shooting by soldiers at the train station late that night results in 20 casualties. Citizens burn MBC, KBS, and the tax office.

May 21: Troops retreat to Provincial Hall. Citizens demonstrate in front of the troops there. Troops open fire there around 1:00 pm, as well as in front of Chosun University, and later throughout the city as they retreat to the suburbs. Protesters get guns from armories in and outside of the city (different accounts say they did/did not engage the troops that day). Troops retreat to the edges of town and guard the main roads in and out of town. As Linda Lewis writes: "[On May 21] there were 62 official dead, most (54) killed by gunshot, the majority (66%) in the vicinity of the Provincial Office Building". Many, many more were wounded.

Citizen army members overlook a protest in front of the Provincial Office

May 22 - 26: Some citizens form committees to hold discussions with the army. Guns are collected, and the streets are cleaned up. Large rallies are held calling for democracy and the end of martial law. On May 25, students refusing to give up their guns take over the committee and when talks break down, choose to fight to the end.

Troops on the outskirts of the city

The untold story of the days between May 21 and May 26 is of what happened on the outskirts of the city. Though many foreign reporters made it through the semi-permeable perimeter the military had set up outside the city, none witnessed the many killings which occurred there. Soldiers fired on cars, trucks and buses leaving or entering Kwangju (sometimes at night) and other passersby, killing at least 65 civilians and 12 soldiers (that's right - on two occasions soldiers opened fire on other military units, resulting in 12 deaths and around 40 wounded).

May 27: In the pre-dawn hours the military move into the city and attack the Provincial Office and other locations. The official number killed that day is considered to be 26, though troops quickly carried bodies away.

Of the total official figures for the dead (191 known fatalities - 164 civilians, 23 soldiers, 4 policemen) 62 died on May 21, when troops opened fire, while at least 64 died on the outskirts May 21-25, and 26 died during the final battle. This adds up to 152 out of 164, leaving 12 dead between May 18 and May 20. The government, however, recognizes 47 people to be officially missing, though around 100 more people's families have petitioned to have their missing loved one recognized as a victim. It's hard to know how many more than the official number were killed (Lewis suggests a reasonable estimate would be 400-500 in total). For example, the two bus shootings on the outskirts of the city on May 23, which killed 28 people, are only known of because one high school girl survived and lived to tell the tale. While it's likely that many bodies were taken away and buried in the vicinity, this comment in Tim Warnberg's essay "The Kwangju Uprising: An Inside View" ( here; the download button is at bottom left) is rather unsettling:

[On May 26] I walked to the hospital where I worked and talked to one of the doctors from the Dermatology Department. He had been on assignment at the military hospital on the edge of town, and reported seeing fifty bodies airlifted from the military hospital morgue in a one hour period.
Who knows if these bodies have ever been accounted for?

In the discussion at Dprk Studies the question of US responsibility came up; I wondered how much the use of language like "approve" by people within the US government at the time (when it wasn't an appropriate word), and Chun's duplicity (in making it look like the US were eagerly supporting him) had in leading people to blame the US for the deaths during the uprising. Of course, a few paragraphs aren't enough to even begin to analyse such a topic - perhaps another time. A good summary of some of the issues involved can be found in Mark Peterson's essay "Americans and the Kwangju Incident: Problems in the Writing of History", from the 1988 book The Kwangju Uprising: Shadows over the Regime in South Korea (download it here; the download button is at bottom left). Peterson was in Seoul during the uprising and interviewed ambassador Gleysteen and general Wickham in the mid 1980s; the essay takes the main points from their books and communicates them efficiently.

Speaking of history, the Joongang Ilbo reported this:
On the anniversary of the event, the Ministry of Administration and Home Affairs yesterday released for the first time comprehensive and detailed official data on the Gwangju uprising in 1980, the bloodiest chapter in the nation’s modern push for democracy.

The National Archives and Records Service, which is under the ministry, opened its database to the public to mark the 27th anniversary of the beginning of the uprising. The material was compiled in 70 volumes published by the city of Gwangju
Add this to the - I'm not sure how many - volumes of National Assembly testimony from the late 80s (pictured below, at Yonsei University Library), and you have quite a bit of reading to do.

Oh, and "May 18" ('Hwaryeohan Hyuga', or 'Splendid Vacation' - the code name of the paratrooper operation on May 18) is set to be released on July 26.

A trailer can be found here. It looks a little... made for tv-ish, or at least the production values do. I think Jang Sun-woo made a good decision in his movie about the Kwangju Uprising ("A Petal", 1996) in filming the demonstrations in black and white; perhaps even the "Sandglass" tv series, which portrayed the uprising with the help of documentary footage, may look better, though I guess I shouldn't judge the film by a 2x3 inch trailer. It should be interesting to see how the uprising is portrayed now (ten years after "A Petal" and "Sandglass"), seeing how Korea, and how Kwangju is remembered, has changed quite a bit since then.

And the winner is...

And the winner of the best actress award at Cannes this year is Jeon Do-yeon. Darcy over at predicted this five months ago (here, scroll down to 2006.12.28), even though "Secret Sunshine" wasn't yet finished and hadn't been invited to Cannes yet (more on the reaction to the film at Cannes here).

Even though I don't know what kind of competition she was up against, I can't say I'm too surprised, having been a fan of her work for some time. I first saw her in "The Harmonium in My Memory", when I caught the last half of that film on tv during the world cup in 2002 (when at least one network was playing films with English subtitles). Watch that film next to "Happy End", also made in 1999, and the difference in the characters she plays is striking. Even a pretty boring movie like "My Mother the Mermaid" was worth watching just to see her play two different roles.

Anyways, congratulations to Mrs. Jeon! Hopefully this will convince more people to watch the film here in Korea...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Lee Myung-bak's candidacy and canal plan

Suggest a caption (Chosun Ilbo)

So Lee Myung-bak has finally announced his candidacy and presented his platform.
"Whether Korea is to make a leap or stagnate will be determined in five years. I will make Korea a top-class country with creative leadership,'' Lee, 66, said after registering his candidacy with the National Election Commission.
Remember - "creative leadership" mostly means "throw money at construction companies."
Earlier, Lee, a former CEO of Hyundai Engineering & Construction, presented what he called a "747 plan'' as a campaign pledge. He pledged to achieve seven percent economic growth, increase per capita income to $40,000 and make the nation the seventh largest economy in the world. He said labor reform, budget saving and his leadership will contribute one percentage point, each, to the current 4 percent economic growth rate.
"747". Catchy. Lee has been manouvering his way towards the presidency since before he was elected as mayor of Seoul in 2002; he essentially used that position as a stepping stone to the presidency. Cheonggyecheon was meant to seem environmentally friendly (and hey, Time bought it) and it was supposed to be done in 2 years in order to show people that he was a 'can-do' leader, much like Park Chung-hee (I'm not the only person who thinks so - though in the last photo he looks more like a thinner Kim Jong-il - and in some of these photos he reminds me of the paintings of Kim Il-sung's 'on the spot guidance'). What wasn't often mentioned was that Cheonggyecheon was essentially the starting point of the redevelopment of large swaths of the city center; in fact, the SNU professor who came up with the idea of uncovering Cheonggyecheon was, when he became assistant mayor, arrested for taking bribes to raise height restrictions in the Cheonggyecheon area, something that should symbolize the entire project. Lee went on to finish the stream successfully and it was eventually named the best 'product' of 2005. It cost 380 billion won.

The main aim of his new town plan, which would see 25 new towns built across
northern and south-western Seoul (with 25 more under new mayor Oh Se-hoon) was to create balanced development between northern and Southern Seoul and cool property prices, but instead it has pushed property prices up in the areas to be developed, leading quite literally to the "Gangnamification" of these areas. Note that the first three new towns were to be finished in 2007 - right before the elections. Unfortunately for Lee, these have fallen behind schedule. The 25 new towns are projected to cost 25.5 trillion won.

In another construction related episode,
Lee's recent trip to the Middle East was to remind people of Hyundai's accomplishments there in the 1970s under his leadership.

And then there's his canal plan, which he's finally unveiled.
On Monday, Lee's advisory group unveiled a draft of the waterway project at a symposium in Seoul. "The waterway will be 3,100 kilometers long and consist of 17 routes. It will take four years to build and will cost 14.1 trillion won, said Jo Won-cheol, a professor of Yonsei University who belongs to the group.

Professor Chun Taeck-soo of the Academy of Korean Studies who is also a member of the group, said the canal would bring positive effects to the tourism industry. "Once the Gyeongbu canal is constructed, 15 sightseeing areas will be established which can expedite tourist development,'' he said.
A year old article about this canal can be found here. Here's the plan for the Gyeongbu (Seoul - Busan) canal, which seems to reflect the development patterns of the Park era, which ignored Jeolla province in the southwest:

Here's the plan for the Korean Peninsula canal system, which will connect to canals in Jeolla province (which is not an obvious ploy to get votes there) and North Korea:

The Dutch ambassador and Lee - notice the Time article
Lee met with Hans Heinsbroek, the Dutch ambassador to Seoul, and public servants from the Dutch Waterways Department to discuss matters regarding the project at his campaign headquarters in downtown Seoul. "The Dutch visitors visited the Han and Nakdong rivers, which the canal will connect,'' Lee said. "They told me that Korea has the location requirements for the waterway and can expect economic benefits through the construction of a canal.''
During his visit to Germany earlier this year, he visited the gigantic Rhein-Main-Donau Kanal and met experts in canal construction to discuss the feasibility of the project.
I've criticized this project before (which would mean demolishing and rebuilding existing dams to create locks - much as Cheonggyecheon involved demolishing an expressway built by Hyundai decades earlier), and there's a great article here which declares the project to be economically unviable and a possible source of pollution. The writer also has this tidbit about Cheonggyecheon:
The people's enthusiastic response to the restored Cheonggye is a reflection of growing interest in and desire for a cleaner environment, even if the stream is just a manmade facility that requires a volume of electricity enough to serve 3,000 households everyday to pump in water.
On the campaign trail, however, Lee's been pissing off lots of people.
At a lecture held on May 7 at a Seoul hotel by the Seoul Financial Forum, an advocacy group, Lee said of a visit to Indian software company Wipro in April that he "found that its workers who were university graduates did not consider themselves as ‘laborers’ and reportedly didn’t get overtime allowances. As far as I know, they don’t form unions because they do not have the mindset of being laborers. It seems they have strong pride," Lee continued, portraying the non-unionized workers’ attitudes in a positive light.
Then he managed to anger the disabled:
Asked about his position on abortion in a May 12 interview with the Chosun Ilbo, Lee said he "is basically opposed." "But there are unavoidable cases," he said. "Such as if the child is going to be born into the world handicapped, for example. It seems that abortions that are unavoidable have to be tolerated."

This comment led to protests by disabled rights groups. While I think of it, there's more information about diabled rights here. The article lists a few other controversial comments:
Consistently the leading candidate for president in opinion polls, Lee has frequently made comments considered controversial. He recently said that people who join labor unions "have no pride" and that people who were part of the democracy movement in the 1960s and 1970s "played around with not a care in the world and now live off the legacy of their activities."
Maybe that's why he didn't go to Kwangju on the anniversary of the uprising this year, unlike every other presidential hopeful (
he did take part in a 5.18 marathon in Seoul a few days earlier, however). At least he didn't hang out with Chun Doo-hwan during the anniversary this year. Though this article reveals that "His continued mistakes in the words he chooses have caused his aides to worry over his outspoken style of speaking", he has said that "he will not change his speaking style even though inappropriate word choices in the past have got him into trouble."

I guess that means his campaign should continue to be very entertaining.

Friday, May 18, 2007


[Update] I added a few more articles.

(Photo from the Chosun Ilbo)

Today marks the 27th anniversary of the Kwangju Uprising. Here are the articles relating to it in the news today:

Watches, stopped in time, tell of sorrows of Gwangju
Roh strikes back at critics of his regime
Why are you so sad, young friend?

Korea Times:
Citizens Commemorate Democratic Uprising
Hopefuls Gather for Gwangju Anniversary

Joongang Ilbo:
Rivals on same political spectrum visit Gwangju
Gwangju records released for all

Political wrangling over alliance continues on democracy movement anniversary

Chosun Ilbo:

Pres. Roh Commemorates Gwangju Uprising

Photos and video at

I'll post something lengthier in a day or two; the dozen or so posts I've written about the uprising can be found here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"a country boy running Korea"

Today (well, yesterday) was the 46th anniversary of Park Chung-hee's 1961 coup. I'd meant to post a few photos I'd found but instead was drawn into something much lengthier when I remembered that Time magazine's archives are now free. This article, dated May 26, describes the coup itself:
It was 3:30 a.m. when the Jeeps and trucks loaded with soldiers began rolling into Seoul. At the Han River bridge, six confused military police guards made the mistake of resisting and were shot on the spot. Columns of marines and paratroopers raced unopposed to the center of the city, surrounding government buildings, blocking intersections and firing into the air to frighten the populace.

Park and soldiers in front of City Hall
One squad headed straight for the Bando Hotel to arrest Manhattan-educated Premier John M. Chang, whom the army expected to find asleep in his eighth-floor suite. But Chang and his family had slipped away a few minutes before, were already safely hidden at a friend's house. When dawn came, the coup was complete. Seoul seemed almost normal but for the heavy guards at every intersection and the orders blaring over the radio from the headquarters of peppery little Lieut. General Chang Do Yung, 38, chief of staff of the 600,000-man ROK army, who now declared himself "chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee." Proclaiming martial law, General Chang ordered the Cabinet arrested, halted all civil air flights, banned political parties, forbade meetings and decreed censorship for the newspapers.

The revolutionary committee's first communique pledged to "oppose Communism as its primary objective . . . root out corruption . . . solve the misery of the masses . . . transfer power to new and conscientious politicians as soon as our mission has been completed, and return to our original duties."
I have to admit, before reading these articles, I'd had no idea who Chang was, though the press seemed to have a good idea of what was going on:
Was General Chang the new boss? The man who planned the coup was not Chang but his powerful colleague on the junta, Major General Pak Chung Hi, 44. Reportedly, Pak's representatives went to Chang, told him that if he did not come to lead the coup, "we will have to kill you." Even as the uprising got under way, General Chang rushed off to see [US General] Magruder; for most of the first day, it was not certain whether Chang would lead the revolt or quell it.
An article a week later described the progress of the new rulers:
A week after their military revolt, South Korea's generals were full of puritanical zeal. Khaki-clad troops with rifles patrolled the streets of Seoul, arresting jaywalkers and hauling prostitutes off to the cells. Caught dancing in a nightclub, 45 hapless young men and women were herded before stern military judges and sentenced to terms of up to a year in jail; when the police ran out of handcuffs, they lashed the prisoners together with ropes. To keep people at home nights, the authorities arrested 10,000 for violating the nightly curfew—including those who had to leave after dark for medical care. "Under martial law," snapped an officer, "you shouldn't get sick."
Curfew violators in Myeong-dong held temporarily

A month after the coup came this report:
Some 1,380 village headmen, soldiers and policemen were dismissed for keeping concubines. Three thousand government officials were fired for draft dodging. More than 10,000 known gangsters have been arrested and put to work in mines and road projects. Expense accounts have been abolished for government officials, who have been warned that arriving even five minutes late for work can mean instant dismissal. Gone are the high-powered smugglers' launches that once thronged Korea's harbors. Gone, too, are the "terrible tots" who extorted money from passing women by threatening to smear dirty hands on their dresses.
Hmm. The 'terrible tots' would be a great scam outside wedding halls. The gangsters forced to work in mines sounds vaguely similar to the Samcheong camps Chun Doo-hwan ran after his coup. At any rate, Park finally 'came out' a few weeks later:
Last week, after only a month and a half, South Korea's military revolution was already devouring its own offspring. Out went Junta Boss Lieut. General Chang Do Yung, front man for the new regime. In came Major General Pak Chung Hi, Chang's former "deputy" and the real strongman behind the May coup.

Ostensibly, General Chang quit of his own free will. In fact, his retirement had been hastened by a truckload of Pak's troops, who swooped onto General Chang's home in the predawn hours and hustled the startled victim off to Seoul's capitol building. Getting the point, General Chang called an emergency cabinet meeting and made his announcement. Then, with three other members of the junta, the hapless general vanished from sight, presumably to take up residence in sprawling Mapo prison. [General Chang was actually put under house arrest, then later sent to Seodaemun prison].

Announcing a new law providing penalties up to death for Communist collaborators, the junta arrested former Premier John Chang and seven of his Democratic Party Cabinet ministers who were in his Cabinet before the May 16 coup, labeling them "proCommunist plotters." Although John Chang is a Catholic and a well-known antiCommunist, Pak accused him of "helping antistate, pro-Communist activity" by contributing the sum of $770 to a South Korean relief society. [Chang was kept under house arrest for six months after the coup and released just before Park's November visit to Washington.]
In August an article appeared about Korea's muzzled press, telling us that "The junta wasted no time in swooping down on the rampant press, quickly outlawed 76 newspapers and 305 agencies, imprisoned 200 bogus newsmen" (sounds like Chun Doo-hwan again). The funniest quote of this whole series of articles comes from a 'leading editor': "We have a country boy running Korea now. He's not sophisticated. There's no sense in getting him sore."

An article in November described South Korea's transformation under the junta:
The transformation is being pressed by an unending blizzard of decrees. The junta's latest is an order to bars, cabarets and nightclubs to install lighting bright enough to discourage any hanky-panky between male and female customers. [...]

[T]he junta is doggedly unsentimental. Engagement rings and dowries are out. Funeral services may no longer be pompous, lengthy and expensive as in the past, but should be brisk, cheap and austere; among other things, the custom of bowing three times before the funeral altar will be streamlined down to a single bow. Newly forbidden is the use of wooden, disposable chopsticks in Korea's 11,676 restaurants and teahouses—the government wants to conserve the country's dwindling timber reserves; instead, the use and reuse of plastic chopsticks is urged.

October was proclaimed "The New Life Month"; at principal Seoul intersections loudspeakers alternated martial "reconstruction music" with sermonizings ("Hello, beloved people of our city, we would like to offer you some advice on our New Life"). South Korea's 200,000 civil servants have been pledged not only to live "model lives of austerity and respectability" but also to wear austerity suits, if they are men, austerity dresses, if they are women.
Interesting that a generation later, similar ideas about frugality would surface during the economic crisis in 1997. Too bad they didn't stick with the ban on wooden chopsticks...

Though the article credits the junta for some good changes ("Seoul's normally dirty streets are now perceptibly cleaner, the once chaotic traffic is almost miraculously smooth") it criticizes things like the huge fines placed on prosperous businesses ("In one district of Pusan alone, 400 shops have closed") and the "junta-imposed embargo on virtually all imports" ("Coke and U.S. cigarettes are out, and domestic "reconstruction cigarettes" now lead the field"), though it states that
The import restrictions are theoretically necessary to redress South Korea's chronically unfavorable trade balance ; before the coup the country imported ten times as much as it exported. But the ban on imports has also denied shopkeepers the wares they need to stay in business, and backward domestic industry is incapable of filling the void.
If you combine the austerity measures with redressing the trade balance, you begin to move into the territory of Park's measures to attain self-sufficiency in rice production, which is described here.

We're also finally given a number regarding those who have broken all the new laws:
Since the junta's takeover, some 40,000 people have been arrested, and though most have been released, the police remain capricious. Recently, when a Korean professor invited some of his students out for dinner at a restaurant, cops arrested him. The charge: illegal assembly.
The ultimate punishment was carried out in December, when five people were executed at Seodaemun Prison (though if you go there today, you would think that only the Japanese did such things there). In January 1962, former Army Chief of Staff General Chang Do Yung, convinced at gunpoint to become the public face of the coup plotters before being arrested six weeks later, was put on trial and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life in prison, and then in May 1962, before the first anniversary of the coup, he was freed.

As mentioned before, Park had restricted imports, so he wasn't very pleased with smugglers, especially those bringing in luxury items in a time of imposed austerity. Thus, as a March, 1962
quotes him, "The sight of luxury goods arouses wanton desires in the mind of the people. Burn them."
Condemned to the fire were all contraband cosmetics, ornaments. Hong Kong brocade, alligator-skin handbags, Swiss watches, radios, phonographs and records, foreign-made suitings. American shirts and neckties, Japanese toys, imported liquor, American cigarettes and tobacco, imported cooking oils and seasonings—more than 200 items in all. [...] In the campaign against smugglers, twelve so far have been sentenced to death.
The story of Han Pil Kook, a smuggler who was hanged in April, is related here. On a happier note, like Chang Do Yung, 13000 prisoners were pardoned on the first anniversary of his coup.

By August 1962, according to Time, things began to slide back to the old ways (partly because the old ways made a lot more money).

Also interesting is the reaction of the US to the coup (and the use of troops under UN command to carry it out).
Almost as soon as the sound of the junta's guns rattled Seoul's windows, [General Carter Magruder and ambassardor Marshall Green] were out of bed and drafting public statements condemning the revolt and backing the government of Premier Chang. Neither waited to consult Washington. General Magruder urged that Korean armed forces chiefs "use their authority and influence to see that control is immediately turned back to the lawful governmental authorities.'' Added Diplomat Green: "I wish to make it emphatically clear that the United States supports the constitutional government."
Green and Magruder would soon find themselves having sided with the loser, much to the US government's chagrin. Eager to push the junta to become more democratic, they were not helped by retired U.S. General James A. Van Fleet, "the father of the ROK army," who visited Seoul in July 1961 and, despite the stance of the US government, stated that the coup was "The finest thing that has happened to Korea in a thousand years." The article ends with the sigh of an embassy aide: "He could have better helped both Americans and Koreans here by remaining silent."

Presumably the only person in this photo not to die from a
bullet to the head would be that cameraman ...

Park Chung-hee would visit the US in November of 1961 and find the US government slowly beginning to accept him.

The Kennedy Administration has little fondness for Park's military junta, which has dissolved the legislature, curbed freedom of the press, and taken an estimated 40,000 political prisoners (most of whom have been released). But with Communist pressure mounting in Asia, the U.S. badly needs a stable government in South Korea. Without U.S. support, General Park's government would soon topple—and the alternative might be far worse. Said one U.S. official: "What we don't want is a never-ending stream of coups and colonels in South Korea."
Korea has seen only one coup since that time (or two - was Kim Je-gyu's assassination of Park a coup?). What's interesting is that the Park family photo below, taken near the end of his presidency, contains almost all of the main players in both incidents - Kim's assassination of Park on October 26 1979, and Chun Doo-hwan's takeover of the armed forces on December 12 of that year. The only person missing is Kim Je-gyu, head of the KCIA. In the front row we have the family - Geun-hye, Geun-young, Dad, and Ji-man, as well as Chung (Jeong) Seung-hwa (army chief of staff); in the back row is Chun Doo-whan (head of Defense Security Command), Cha Ji-cheol (Blue House security chief), and Kim Gye-won (Blue house chief secretary).

None of his family was present the night he died, though everyone else, other then Chun, was. Chung was in a separate part of the compound, and had been supposed to dine separately with Kim Je-gyu that night before the dinner with Park was announced, so Kim entertained Chung separately. Kim killed Park and Cha, though left Kim Kye-won unharmed. The latter would eventually reveal that Kim Je-gyu was the killer, and at the cabinet meeting when prime minister Choi Gyu-hwa was made president, Chun Doo-hwan would be chosen to investigate the assassination. When it became clear that Chun was too ambitious, army chief of staff Chung decided to reassign him; Chun found out and decided to use Chung's unexplained presence at the compound the night of the assassination as an excuse to remove him from power and so the 12.12 coup came to be. If that's all too confusing, watching The Presidents Last Bang would likely help, as might this post about the 12.12 coup and Choi Gyu-hwa's presidency.

It's interesting that the students, who had set in motion the events that overthrew Syngman Rhee's dictatorship, were quiet during Park's coup in 1961. I suppose it helped that Park took over the government from the beginning and kept a fearsome profile backed by military power. Chun's coup was a quieter affair, in which he took over the armed forces and then began to amass more power, heading both Defense Security Command (military intelligence) and then the KCIA. Veteran activists, who had stood against Park's rule and who were allowed back on campuses after his death, organized students and made clear what Chun was doing, and eventually held large protests off campus in Seoul for the first time in 5 years, giving Chun the excuse he needed to follow in Park's footsteps and take over the government, which he did by extending martial law on May 17th, 1980. Again, the students were quieted by the show of military force, despite the existence of plans to meet in certain public areas in the event of martial law. In Seoul, these plans were never followed. In Kwangju, they were.

More photos of Park Chung-hee and his reign can be found here.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tunnel construction and other (re)development

Just south of the Han River in Banghwa-dong is the mountain in the center of the photo below, Chihyeonsan. The orderly rows of apartments, the schools, and the park were built over fields and completed by 1994. The more cluttered, smaller housing on either side of the mountain are the remains of two villages, Chihyeon-ri (left) and Jeonggok-ri (right), which have existed there for, perhaps, centuries (I'll post much older photos of this area another time).

If you compare the 'villages' (they're known today as Chihyeon Maeul and Jeonggok Maeul) in the photo above, taken perhaps 5 years ago, and the photo below, taken a year ago, there are some differences, which I've highlighted.

Slowly, the former villages are being redeveloped. When the process is complete, it will still be obvious where they once stood, as the oddly shaped clusters of apartments, twisted into strangely shaped layouts in order to fit into the cramped space, will stand out against the orderly grid of the larger, planned development from the early 1990s. The latest redevelopment is outlined in red above, and appears below.

I took the photo above a few months ago, before they were torn down (they stood empty for some time, as seen by the tatters the blankets in the fencing had become). Much better photos, like the one below, can be found at this Korean blog.

The picture below was taken from the same viewpoint a few weeks ago:

I walked by a month or so ago and saw them in the final stages of hauling away the rubble, but didn't have a camera with me. Here's a clearer shot from a different vantage point:

The apartment complex above was built a few years ago (I remember it going up but never thought to take photos of it). Here's another shot of it dominating the skyline of Chihyeon Maeul (with Chihyeonsan behind it).

You might notice above, at top right, a construction fence with part of the mountain cleared away behind it. That's because they're building a tunnel through the mountain. The following photos are taken within the circled areas below:

The location of the tunnel is made clearer by this map (from 2003), where its future path i:

In this map of Bucheon's new towns, the road running from top to bottom at far right has an arrow pointing to Seoul at the top (this road runs through the center of one of the planned new towns). The road is not actually complete; there's a kilometer of farmland between the road that runs through Bucheon (starting at Yeokgok station on Line 1) and the bits of the road in Seoul:

The road is also interrupted by a military base (near Gimpo Airport) and by the Chiyheonsan. The part in Banghwa-dong was completed only three or four years ago (and doesn't show up in the 2003 mapbook I used above). When the tunnel is complete, the road will be connected to the Banghwa Bridge. This bridge was built to connect Seoul (via the Gangbyeon Expressway, which runs along the northern bank of the Han) to the Incheon Airport Expressway. The bridge does not connect to the Olympic Expressway (running along the Han's south shore), and is of no usefulness to to anyone living in Banghwa-dong. Once this road in Banghwa-dong is connected through to Bucheon and to the bridge, however, it will provide a wide corridor connecting these areas to the Gangbyeon expressway. The fact that two new towns are being built next to this future corridor should be of no surprise.

Above is the Banghwa Bridge, and the lane that suddenly ends on it will be connected to the northern end of Chihyeonsan, where excavation began recently.

On the southern side of the mountain, more progress has been made (mainly because construction began last August).

Below you can see the tunnel walls under construction, with the wall on the left in a further stage of completion than the one on the right.

Above and below are closer views of the tunnel wall construction.

Near this site, on the mountain, there are dozens of burial sites. The one below is directly next to the site, as you can see the fence behind it.

I have no idea why the statues' heads are missing.

Speaking of missing, when I walked over the crest of the hill after taking these photos, my bike was gone. I'd forgotten the keys to the lock, but since there were only a few middle-aged or elderly couples walking around on the handful of paths, I assumed leaving it for a few minutes would be fine. I was wrong. I heard some kids hooting and hollering somewhere in the area at one point, and my guess would be that they took it, though, of course, I don't really know that. Totally unrelated to the thief who stole my bike, my students once asked me to write these letters on the board: ILLHVHL . It took me a few seconds to understand why they were laughing so hard...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On Chaebols and violence

The Lost Nomad linked to an excellent article by Donald Kirk about the Hanhwa Group scandal, which connects the dots between the scandal, the often hidden power of Chaebol families, and past Chaebol anti-union activity. It's well worth a read.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Children's Day is once a year

Perhaps not the best shirt to wear on Children's Day...

Children's Day was on the weekend (running a bit late, aren't I), and Robert Neff over at ohmynews has an article which reveals a bit of its history, which is well worth a read. It contains excerpts of a depressing Time Magazine article about Children's Day in 1951, during the war. A similar story, with a happier end, can be found here, about Sgt. Werner Krenzer and his attempts to aid homeless children in Seoul, while a more recent article about Krenzer can be found here.

The Hankyoreh makes no attempt to cheer us up:
Upon getting her grade report card, Ji-eun (not her real name), a fifth grader at an elementary school in Gangnam-gu, first thought of a hamster which she recently received as a birthday present. Her mother does not like animals, and had screamed when she saw it. So she said she could keep it on one condition, that she score 100 percent in all her subjects. Ji-eun got nine questions wrong, though, and now she has to worry what her mother is going to say when she gets home.
The woes of a number of students are described in the article (another Hani article looks at how abuse of collect calls on cell phones is driving many teens (and their families) into debt). The mention of Gangnam reminded me of the confluence there of both the real estate bubble and the hakwon industry, and led me to wonder if an area that has numerous apartment buildings, and in which Korea's tallest building (which is, of course, an apartment tower) can be found, is the best place to have arguably the most pressured children in the country living. It often fascinates me to see the pull that the vortex of Gangnam has (if I may use Gregory Henderson's concept) among parents that I know, who are happy to raise their children in Banghwa-dong up until, say, grade 3 or 4, but after that are considering moving to Gangnam so that the children can go to "good schools" and "good academies", though I have to admit I've never been able to get any clear answers as to why those schools are "good." The best school in my neighbourhood seems to have that reputation because it gives the students the most homework. I can't remember if it was that school or another where a teacher hit the (grade 4 or 5) students for every wrong answer they got. Of course, hitting seems to be a motivational technique for student atheletes as well - 70% of them, according to this article.

Oh, but Children's Day should be a happy time. Sorry. How about a heartwarming story about a 14 year old girl who learned to fly so she could be closer to her mother in heaven? [cached here].

I just feel sorry for my students who spent Children's Day at home playing computer games, whose parents had nothing else lined up for them to do...

The more things change...

Ascom City, 1958 (Today 1 km west of Bupyeong Station)

I was looking up some information on Ascom City, a former US base in what is now Bupyeong-gu in Incheon (built by the Japanese, and part of which still seems to exist today, according to Google Earth) when I came across this Time Magazine story from March 10, 1958, titled "Slicky Boy". A few excerpts:
For many of South Korea's poor, stealing from the U.S. Army is a trade and a livelihood. They steal from PXs and officers' homes, raid railroad yards, pilfer from trucks on the move, and diligently bleed oil pipelines (last year's losses were 1,500,000 gallons, enough to carry one tank company 22,400 miles). But after U.S. soldiers on guard duty, potshotting at intruders, killed several innocent bystanders, General George H. Decker ordered: "No more shooting." The thieving went on, the 40,000 men of South Korea's police force seemed unable or unwilling to catch a single thief, and the U.S. Army chafed with frustrated exasperation.
The article then describes the treatment a 14 year old thief received at the hands of his captors at Ascom city, which involved a beating, smearing with coal tar, and a helicopter ride (in a crate) to Uijeongbu so he could walk home.
Bursting with fury, Korean newspapers labeled the incident a "vicious lynching," demanded a status-of-forces agreement that would allow Korean courts to try U.S. servicemen. General Decker hastily expressed regret at the treatment given the boy, "even though he was caught in the act of stealing" (a fact most of the Korean newspapers failed to mention), and promised "appropriate action."
I liked the "unable or unwilling" police, the "fury" of the newspapers, and their ommission of the boy's crime - things which don't sound so foreign almost 50 years later. As for SOFA, there wouldn't be a US-ROK SOFA until 1966 (according to this).

Oh, and numerous photos of Ascom City, Seoul, and other places in Korea taken in 1958 can be found here, while it's location can be seen on this map (the yellow patch between Incheon and Sosa).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bits and Pieces

If you've ever wondered about the elderly people who collect newspapers on the subway, this article is well worth reading.
Until recently, the job of collecting the papers was undertaken by people _ mainly the elderly in their 60s to 80s _ who would then sell them to recyclers for 80 won per kilogram. Each collector would pick up between 100 to 200 kilograms a day.
I remember a friend telling me he had seen two women at Banghwa Station (the last stop on line 5) in the train cars, one of who left the papers in piles and then came back to pick them up; when she came back to see another woman grabbing her papers, a fight broke out. The Seoul Metro, which runs lines 1 to 4, has banned these people from collecting them, citing such behavior as one reason, though many people think this employment opportunity shouldn't be taken from these people.

I also stumbled onto an article about motorcycle couriers and how they're trying to fight for decent treatment.

Antti, over at Hunjangui Karuchim, has had his dissertation published, titled "Neighborhood Shopkeepers in Contemporary South Korea: Household, Work, and Locality". A pdf can be found here. I'm certainly looking forward to reading it.

From a few weeks ago, Mark over at Korea Pop Wars documented the absence of, and protests by, bootleg dvd sellers at Yongsan Electronics Market.

And Joe over at Paint Roller Blog discusses the intersection of chicken and nationalism (along with a Dakdoritang recipe). I mentioned Dakdoritang to some high school students today and was immediately corrected ("It's dakbokkumtang!").

A Distant and Beautiful Place

A comment upon my post about Bucheon's history made me aware that there is a collection of short stories by Yang Kwi-ja titled "Wonmi-dong Saramdeul" ("Wonmi-dong People"; Wonmi-dong is a neighbourhood in Bucheon north of Bucheon station and west of Wonmisan, one of the mountains which divides Bucheon from Seoul). This short story collection has been translated into English as "A Distant and Beautiful place", and the publisher has made the first story available on the internet as a pdf here. An informative review of this book by Stephen Epstein can be found here. Among the many aspects of the book he discusses is the difference in the English and Korean titles:
The title of the English version, A Distant and Beautiful Place, rests upon an astute decision to apply a translation of the first story’s title, Mŏlgo arŭmdaun tongne, to the whole anthology. Not only is A Distant and Beautiful Place more evocatively resonant in English than a literal rendering of the original Korean title, the phrase draws etymological attention to the Chinese characters that compose the name Wŏnmi-dong (wŏn, “far”; mi, “beautiful”). The transference to their native Korean equivalents in Mŏlgo arŭmdaun tongne (mŏlda, “far”; arŭmdapda, “beautiful”) brings out the productive dissonance in having Wŏnmi-dong as the stories’ setting and encourages the reader to reflect upon the multiple ironies involved. Wŏnmi-dong, psychologically distant from Seoul, yet a mere subway ride away, becomes a site that offers a melancholy beauty of its own: here urban sprawl collides with a tranquil agrarian past; here hopes go hand in hand with disillusion, and the invocation of dreams inevitably conjures up their failure. The title also underscores the central role of the neighborhood itself; while several characters reappear throughout the stories, the overall protagonist of the collection is clearly Wŏnmi-dong. And although each tale is firmly rooted in a sense of place, firm localization does not mean stability. Despite the constant presence of Wŏnmi-san, the mountain that looms above, Yang notes repeatedly the changing face of this suburban landscape, as fields are whittled away to make room for housing and retail developments, and new stores replace others that fail.
There aren't many fields to whittle away nowadays, as the picture below shows; Wonmi-dong is in the center of the photo, and the mountain behind it is Wonmisan. For a closer view of the neighbourhood, Joe over at the Paint Roller Blog has posted a number of photos.

There are no more fields to whittle away anymore. Now they whittle away old neighbourhoods. Behold what is to become of Wonmi-dong:

Yes, it would seem Lee Myung-bak's New Town projects in Seoul have inspired Bucheon's leaders to similar lunacy. Seoul plans to redevelop 4-5% of the city into new towns (at least for the first wave; 25 more new towns are planned). Bucheon, however, will redevelop 6.5 square kilometers, or about 13% of the city into new towns, as the map below shows:

There will be three new towns: Wonmi, Gogang, and Sosa (this has been in the works since at least last summer). While the appearance of a new subway line always guaranteed that there would be redevelopment near the subway's path, this is a bit much. I can understand redeveloping the nearby factory areas to create new residential zones (and the northern part of the Wonmi new town will see that happen) but why the rush to redevelop so many existing residential areas, especially when it's only been four years since the 3 square kilometer Sang-dong development was finished? 30 years after Yang Kwi-ja's collection was published, in which a family forced to move around Seoul in search of cheap rent finally moves to Wonmi-dong, those now renting in Wonmi-dong will be forced to move on.