Friday, November 30, 2007

MTU leaders arrested


Jamie over at Two Koreas has a worthwhile post looking at the Korean government response to the growth of undocumented workers in Korea. For example:
The Employment Permit System, designed to replace the discredited Industrial Trainee System, remains flawed in protecting migrant’s rights and encourages illegality as it has not been configured to factor in the actual costs of migration to individual workers (in the sense of hidden and illegal recruitment and brokerage costs that persist for migrants from particular regions; short, 1-3 year time horizons for employment that leaves both workers and employers with incentives to overstay the contract; and problems associated with the initial implementation of the EPS which ignored the majority of undocumented migrants in Korea by excluding them from access to permits).

Thus, a large portion of the increase in the number of undocumented year by year consists of overstayers rather than new migrants. Rather than correcting the system, the government, largely at the behest of the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Government and Home Affairs, has chosen to pursue crackdowns on the undocumented while recruiting newer workers from overseas.
Regarding those who have been arrested, they are being treated well but they may be forcibly deported, as "it seems as though the Korean government is trying to arrange consent from the Bangladeshi and Nepalese embassies, even if they don't have passports, personal belongings or money to buy a plane ticket."

[Original post]

Let's start with the Hankyoreh:
Another reckless crackdown on migrant workers is underway. Yesterday three key officers in the Migrants’ Trade Union (Iju Nodongja Nodong Johap) were taken away by immigration agents. The three were clearly targeted. Just the other day two ethnic Koreans from China jumped off the roof of a Chinese speaking church in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, while trying to ditch agents there to arrest them, who then broke their legs and ankles. For how much longer is the government going to continue this inhumane crackdown?

The reason the government is going after foreign laborers with such zeal is said to be because of the rapid increase in the number of undocumented migrant workers. This kind of ruthless crackdown, however, is as bad a policy as one could have. There are said to be some 230,000 undocumented migrant laborers in Korea; is the government going to continue this way until it has grabbed them all?

In January this year, the Seoul High Court ruled in favor of foreign workers seeking to join a trade union despite their illegal status from overstaying visas. Since then the union has been very active. In August the government began yet another crackdown on migrant workers, though this one has been carried on much longer than those in the past. The full Hankyoreh article (excerpted above) talks about the increasing power immigration officers have been given to carry this out.

In the wake of the senseless deaths of migrant workers in a fire at Yeosu detention center this past February, (and in a rising number of workplace related deaths) it was hoped the government would review their policies, but they've, predictably, continued with the only policy they know: crackdown.

Perhaps it's a testament to how much of a threat the government sees them as; it has always targeted the organizers in the hope that if the head is lopped off, the body will die. This has always been a false hope on their part. Most of the migrant worker organizers I've known have been arrested and deported, and I know one of the men arrested on Tuesday. He's a really good person, and does not deserve to have this happen to him.

For all the idiocy (some might say racism) I quoted here, be sure that migrant workers are treated far, far worse than any westerners in Korea are. What's also creepy is the degree to which they watched the men before they were arrested. One of them "takes medication for his stomach and cholesterol and when he got to the jail, they already had it prepared for him."

Two Koreas has more on this here, and a call for solidarity is here.

No names

The saga of the 'exploding phone' seems to have reached its conclusion. The Chosun Ilbo reported on the incident yesterday:
A man in his 30s was killed on Wednesday in what is believed to have been a mobile-phone explosion. Around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, a worker at a quarry in Cheongwon County, North Chungcheong Province found the backhoe operator identified as Seo (33). The worker told police he found Seo lying beside his backhoe and bleeding from the nose. His phone was on fire. The worker put out the fire and called emergency services. Seo was taken to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival.
There was a precedent for thinking the phone battery was to blame:
In June, the press reported that a 22-year-old welder was killed at a steel mill in Lanchow in China’s Gansu Province after the mobile phone in his chest pocket exploded. This was the first time a mobile-phone explosion has killed a person in Korea.
It said little about what phone was responsible:
Seo used the latest slide phone released by a leading Korean electronics company in April.
With the libel laws in Korea, newspapers not wanting to be sued can't name names. The Joongang Ilbo fudged and said
The cell phone was the product of a well-known South Korean electronics company, police officials said. However, police did not reveal the name of the manufacturer nor the type of the cell phone or battery.
Not true at all. The Korea Times let the cat out of the bag:
The phone was made by LG Electronics. The company said the battery was very unlikely to explode since it was wrapped in aluminum foil, not a solid container. The manufacturer of the lithium-ion polymer battery was also not identified. LG said a Japanese and a Korean firm are its two main battery suppliers.
The Times was also quick to report, once it became known, that it was a co-worker who accidentily killed the man in question.
Kwon, 58, said on Thursday night that he hit Seo, 33, while driving his excavator backward at a stone quarry in Cheongwon, North Chungcheong Province, the police said. The phone was on fire when he found Seo lying down on the ground, and he was too afraid to say about what had happened, the police said.

"I was moving the excavator and Seo was suddently out of my sight. I ran out and saw he was lying down bleeding and his cloths on fire,'' Kwon was quoted as saying by the police. ``All these happened in a moment, and I was too afraid about the accident. So I lied that the battery exploded and killed Seo."

A number of Korean and foreign newspapers incautiously reported that the phone explosion killed the man, even though LG Electronics, the manufacturer of the phone, flately denied such a possiblity, given that the lithium-ion polymer battery is not prone to explosion.
Well then, seeing how the media will eat up anything as fear-mongering as an exploding cell phone, perhaps the police shouldn't have announced the findings in its unfinished investigation so hastily. They won't get the blame, however.
It is not immediately known whether LG is to sue the newspapers and Internet news agencies that hastily blamed the firm for the man's death.
There may be two lessons from this: that the media (and police) should be more careful, and that the media should not be so hasty in revealing the source of public health hazards.

Article on the elderly who live alone

The Joongang Ilbo has a depressing article about the number of elderly people living alone.
According to the foundation, a 66-year-old woman living in alone in a rundown part of Mapo was found dead last month in her home two days after she died. The cause of death was starvation. She had no contact with relatives and had been refusing to get help from the district office.
Also in October, a 67-year-old man was found dead at home. Alerted by a bad smell, the landlord called police, who found a body that had been decaying for at least a month. The man had been suffering from tuberculosis. [...]

There are an estimated 880,000 elderly living alone currently, but the government expects the number to rise to 1 million by 2010.
I can't help but think of a Simpsons episode where their dog becomes a nuisance, and the family thinks about getting rid of the dog. Lisa responds thusly:

"This is our pet. We can question his integrity and disposition, but we can’t question his heart. Are you trying to teach us that the way to solve a problem with something you love, is to throw it away?"

The camera then pans across town to Grandpa Simpson in his room at the retirement home. He looks at the phone, which isn't ringing, picks it up, and says, "Hello? Is anyone there?" Though it is, to a degree, played for laughs, it was obviously commenting on a rather ugly aspect of (North) American society. Reading that "She had no contact with relatives", I can't help but think that it's too bad that this aspect of western society (or capitalist modernity in general) has become a trend in Korea as well. So much for "respecting your elders".

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

1941's "Volunteer"

Somewhere in Korea, 1941

I’ve been watching films from the box set "Unearthing the Past", which Mark over at Korea Pop Wars brought to my attention awhile ago. The box set consists of four of the oldest Korean films still in existence. Three are from 1941, and the other is from 1943. These, of course, are all films made during World War II, and were thus made when Korea was a colony of Japan. Needless to say, these films are windows into the past like no other. You get to see what Korea looked like at that time in moving pictures, but, since film was used as a propaganda device, especially in wartime, you also get to see how the Japanese tried to mold Koreans into good imperial citizens ready to sacrifice themselves for the empire.

What follows is a look at Volunteer (Jiwonbyeong), from 1941. While obviously a propaganda film, it’s also a very well crafted film. Director Ahn Seok-young and especially cinematographer Lee Myeong-woo really deserve credit – some of the shots are really well composed, and the film makes use of numerous tracking shots – not bad for a film shot in the countryside in 1941. A number of the screenshots below were chosen to illustrate how well composed many of the scenes are.

The film begins with a people waiting to see a troop train off at a station in the countryside. The main character, Choon-ho, talks with his friend who wants to become a driver, and then meets his fiancé Bun-ok and talks about wanting to get away from the countryside. He is then called to Seoul where the absentee landlord, (whose father respected his father) turns over the job of overseeing the land to the crafty Kim Deok-sam. The landlord’s sister, who obviously has a thing for Choon-ho, reproaches her brother for this decision, as she realizes this will affect Choon-ho’s financial situation negatively. Choon-ho returns home, and on his way sees young students doing military training in a field; he looks on wistfully.

He arrives home with gifts from Seoul and, while sitting with his mother, sister, and Bun-ok, has this exchange with his sister, who asks

- Did you buy a comfort kit?
- Yes. So you can write your name on the cover and send it.
- I have something to show you. I wrote a letter to a soldier at school the other day. He replied.
- [reading] “I am moved by your innocent, sincere letter.” Would you like it if I became a soldier too?
- That would be so nice. You would be a Korean soldier then?
- Yes, if I became a soldier
- Then I would write you a letter and send you a comfort kit.

But in a conversation with his friend after leaving a building with flags out front after a ‘lecture’, he reveals why he cannot become a soldier.

- The annexation is complete now, but young koreans should serve the empire at war too. Even if we want to, we are not allowed to do so. We are not eligible. How can we really work in unity like this?
- If such a time comes, are you willing to step forward?
- Don’t you know me yet? […] We have our duty.

The accompanying essay in the DVD set calls this scene “a rupture in the militarist propaganda film”, because it reveals that discrimination exists in the empire, which bars Koreans from joining the military. Have no fear; this will later be "surtured".

The landlord’s sister comes to visit and when Bun-ok sees her (a city girl) and Choon-ho together, she trails behind them, feeling rejected.

After seeing the sister off, Choon-ho runs into a Japanese friend who shows him a newspaper announcing the news that Koreans can now volunteer.

The smile on his face after reading this news disappears after he sees his friend, who was trying to hit on Bun-ok, sitting next to her.

After staring at each other for a full minute (in a scene that's unintentionally funny, recalling as it does so many TV dramas), they all part ways. Bun-ok then hears the crafty Kim Deok-sam trying to get her father to forget about Choon-ho and marry her to one of his sons. The following scene in his house is quite fun, as he’s obviously the ‘bad guy’ whose greed and lust are readily apparent (not for nothing is the chain of restaurants named after Nolbu, right?).

Meanwhile, Choon-ho is sitting at home in front of a map of Asia.

In one of the more bizarre, yet fascinating scenes, Choon-ho, dreams of joining the army. What follows are numerous shots where the soldiers march by in rows (several tracking shots are used), and the nature of this scene, with its military order and repetition, is utterly different from the rest of the film.

After this abrupt fetishization of the military, Choon-ho’s friend apologizes to Bun-ok, and she and Choon-ho eventually make up. In a nicely composed shot, the camera pans from her walking down the road, down to her shadow, which is joined by his, and back up to the couple again.

He admits that he will join the military. The results of the recruitment exam are published in the newspaper, which the landlord sees when shown it by his sister.

- Choon-ho passed the exam.
- See. You treated such an able man unkindly.
- I never knew.
- Who will look after his family after he joins a training camp?
- I should change my mind. I will help.

And just like that, joining the army is the deus ex machina which solves all the problems which arose from the landlord giving Kim Deok-sam the overseeing position.

The film ends as it began, with a crowd of people at the train station seeing off a troop train, except this time Choon-ho is on board. Bun-ok and his sister are there to see him off. What’s interesting is how stoic they are. His sister looks neither happy nor sad.

"Go off and die for the empire then, jerk."

In the final shot of the film, Bun-ok’s face is just as mysterious. Again, she’s neither happy nor sad, though perhaps the beginning of a smile can be discerned. Is this failure to cheer or bemoan his departure an example of sullen resistance to the Japanese propaganda effort (and censorship)? Or does it reflect a time when people were less likely to show emotion in public?

Whatever might explain the above shot, this shot is worth looking at:

The Japanese character (the one who told Choon-ho about the opening of the military to Korean volunteers) would likely be termed a caricature of a Japanese person today, except that this film was made at the height of the Japanese military control over every aspect of society in the Japanese empire. What the censors missed was this: in the final shot showing the Japanese character, he’s standing next to the crafty Kim Deok-sam and his sons, who were so clearly identified as the ‘bad guys’. Perhaps, in 1941, that was as much resistance as anyone could hope for.

It would get worse, however. In the aforementioned box set, three of the movies, including Volunteer, are from 1941. The other, Straits of Chosun, is from 1943, a year after it was deemed that every line in every movie had to be spoken in Japanese.

This film (like the other film from the box set I've seen so far), likely began as a typical story - in this case, of a man who loses his position and tries to get it back - which the Japanese authorities insisted be changed to add military propaganda elements. Those elements, which have all been described above, are easy to see in the film because they're so abruptly added in, often interrupting the flow of the story. Choon-ho's conflict with Kim Deok-sam likely would have made for a more interesting story, but the film as it stands is still well made, and is fascinating to examine as a piece of propaganda. It's because of these propaganda elements, however, that this film will never be considered a "worthy" piece of Korean cinema history. It certainly doesn't appear in the Korean Film Archive's top 100 films. Unfortunately, nationalist criteria seem to trump artistry or historical importance every time.

Up next: 1941's Homeless Angels, which weaves military themes into the story in a much more subtle way.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Hoihyeon Sibeom Apartment

Photo from here.

Looking for something else, I came across this Kyunghyang Sinmun article about the the Hoihyeon Sibeom Apartment on the slope of Namsan south of Myeongdong. It's apparently the oldest such apartment still in existence (I think they mean the oldest 'Sibeom' or 'model' apartments that began appearing in the late 1960s - other projects, like the Seun Sangga predate it, though Seun is a mixed housing/retail project, perhaps disqualifying it). It dates from 1970, and certainly looks unique, built into the hill as it is.

To see for yourself, there are a number of photo blogs, such as here, here, and here, which have numerous photos of the apartment. The one with the nicest photos (such as the ones above and below), however, is here. Be sure to look at photos in other posts listed at the bottom - they're all pretty impressive.

The first apartment complex was the Mapo Apartments, completed in 1963. What's interesting about the photo below is the absence of the long, rectangular apartment buildings which surrounded the complex - they were obviously built later.

Below is a shot of the area from 1970, with the Mapo Apartments on the left.

The area would change considerably over the next few decades, a process I looked at in more depth here.

As for my neighbourhood, the oldest apartment building is the Gonghang Apartment, built in 1975. It's slated to be demolished to make way for the Banghwa New Town.

Please make an exception - just this once

For more recent criticism of the media, Feetman Seoul looks at the poor photos the local press took of Paris Hilton in a Hanbok, While Korea Beat looks at the shockingly inappopriate headline of a Sports Hankook Ilbo story about a 15 year-old girl who was forced into prostitution.]

This Donga Ilbo article is amusing:
Korean figure skating sensation Kim Yu-na (17, Gunpo Suri High School) is rewriting the history of her sport.
Yes, I did say the Donga Ilbo, and not the Rodong Shinmun. And thanks, Kim Seong-gyu, for letting us know she was Korean. That was really necessary.
In March, Kim received a short program record score of 71.95 in the Tokyo Figure Skating Championships, and now is the record holder in both short program and free skating scores.

Kim set a record score in the free skate competition with 133 points to take home the Russian Cup in the fifth 2007-2008 Grand Prix at the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow yesterday. She won the Cup with a total of 197.20 points, including the 63.50 she received in the short program the day before. 197.20 is Kim Yu-na’s best aggregate score ever.[...]

Although her world ranking is second, trailing behind rival Asada Mao of Japan, this record is as good as ‘proclaiming’ her the current world champion.
No, it's not. Next we'll be told that the fact that she performed flawlessly during all of her practices this month "is as good as ‘proclaiming’ her the current world champion". The same logic is to be found in people saying, "Well, in the 2006 World Cup, Korea tied France, and France beat Brazil, so therefor Korea beat Brazil." Sure it does. Sorry, but the way sports events work is by choosing one competition to be "the big one", the one that determines the world ranking of the participants. All the first place rankings in competitions this year don't mean anything when it comes time for the world championships. It's like the university entrance exam - your 98% average for the past three years of high school means nothing if you blow the exam. I realize that for a great many things, knowing someone and appealing to them can give you a leg up. I know that, quite often, asking for a favour from your cousin's friend's elementary school classmate will allow you to bend the rules in Korea. Korea is not the world, however. I would be surprised if Kim Yu-na didn't bring home a gold medal or world championship at some point, but while she's proven herself to be ready for the big leagues, the attention craving cheap nationalism and faulty logic that lies behind this article shows that the media in Korea, and a whole lot besides, is not.

At least the Joongang Ilbo remembered that there was more to the Cup of Russia than just the ladies competition.

Kim's programs can be seen here and here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Foreign language high schools

The Joongang Ilbo has a worthwhile article about foreign language high schools, which brings up the recent scandal related to the entrance exam for the Gimpo foreign language high school (which Korea Beat has a good post about here), as well as the Korea Teacher's Union's opposition to the schools.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Horace H. Underwood on Korean and American culture

I found a link to this page in a comment by suddenly susan to this Metropolitician post.

In these articles, Horace H. Underwood the differences between Korean and American culture in a very clear way. They're well worth your time.

Korean Culture: "In" and "Out"
No Men Are Created Equal
Honesty vs. Loyalty: Which is More Important?
Heredity and Environment
(The second sentence of the conclusion to this piece really needs updating.)
Ch’emyon or Social Face in Korean Society

As useful as a candle at noon

[update at bottom]

The police are, that is, when it comes to dealing with incidents involving foreigners and Koreans. Now, I'm sure that's not true all the time, of course, but there are enough examples out there to convince you that choosing the Korean side in an incident involving a Korean and a foreigner or simply ignoring a foreigner if they've been assaulted and the perpetrator has fled is not an uncommon occurrence.

Numerous stories, especially involving foreign women, appeared in the comments section of this Marmot post about a Misuda panelist who was assaulted in her apartment in 2005 (photos here) and who brought her (lack of) treatment by the hospitals and police to light on TV recently, though the media didn't bother to comment on this at first, as she relates in comments here (and below, #88) at the Marmot's.

Usinkorea covers many incidents involving USFK members and Koreans, such as two subway incidents in 1994 and 2002, as well as the indifference of the police after a group of Irish customers in a bar in Itaewon were beaten by bar staff. There's also the case of Ali Khan, who insists he is in prison for a murder he didn't commit, due in part to the fact that the police beat or scared off people who could have testified on his behalf, and in part to their ignoring a confession made by someone else after his imprisonment.

The most recent episode is the arrest of Michael, the Metropolitician, after he called the police to deal with a drunk who was following and harassing him and his companions. There are many other such stories related in the comments to that post, while his follow-up post relates other such stories from people he's known.

Several factors are worth noting, most obviously the xenphobic or racist perceptions of foreigners in which foreign men are 'stealing' or 'insulting' Korean women and foreign women are easy, perceptions helped along by the media and government*. A group of female friends were accosted in McDonalds by a drunk man who pointed at the three of them and motioned towards the door, saying "Come with me now," obviously thinking they were prostitutes. Another girl was followed home from work, tried to lose the man by running up the stairs, then realized she didn't want him to know where she lived and tried to leave, only finding sanctuary in a bakery where she called her boyfriend in tears. Another Korean-American woman was attacked in the elevator of her building, but she fought off the man and he ran away. When she told the security guard and pointed at the man running away, he said it would take too long for him to put his shoes on.

Another factor is the way in which conflicts are resolved. Allow me again to quote what anthropologist Linda Louis wrote in Laying Claim to the Memory of May:
As a social process, the Korean cultural scenario for conflict resolution involves the public expression of grievances by both sides, as a means of informing the neighbors, of shaping local consensus, and of mustering popular support for each side of the argument.

It is above all else also a process that relies heavily on the involvement of a third, mediating party for a sucessful outcome. In fact, it is through the public airing of the dispute that the antagonists solicit the intervention of others. Intense verbal aggression and the public expression of grievances serve not as a prelude to physical violence, but function to mobilize third party intervention, to prevent just such an escalation in the dispute.
Many foreigners are never going to get a fair hearing in such situations, because they can't speak Korean well, on top of being foreigners. I think it does a good job of explaining how "concerned citizens" often appear to help Koreans who get into an altercation with a foreigner.

Another thing common to many descriptions is how people attack foreigners and no one does anything. This is not just confined to altercations with foreigners, but occurs often between Koreans (which may reveal a breakdown in "third party intervention", perhaps due to urban settings where people don't know each other, unlike in the villages where this social practice originated). I've heard several stories like this. In one, a friend was on the subway and saw a drunk man harassing a high school girl. When no one intervened, he chose to, and made the man go away. When, in a conversation with another man, he said that he was a student, the man asked him, "Why did you speak to your elder (the drunk) that way?" Another friend saw a drunk man beating a woman in a girly bar district while a small group of bystanders watched. He was the only one who intervened. When the fight ended and people left, a man ran in and out of a convenience store and gave him some yogurt and said, "Thankyou for doing that." To which my friend thought, "Why didn't you do something?" The friends in both cases were foreigners.

And then there's the belief that the police will almost never take the word of a foreigner over that of a Korean. So when you mix the likelihood of people coming to the aid of a Korean who's in a confrontation with a foreigner, the likelihood of everyone ignoring a situation when a foreigner (or another Korean) is being assaulted by a Korean, and the fact that most foreigners don't speak the language well and aren't considered reliable witnesses by the police, the advice a police officer gave Michael sounds pretty good:

"You should have just gone home. You shouldn't have called us. Next time, just leave."

(Over at eclexys, Gord comments on "the fact that essentially, the foreigner is supposed to run and hide in his home whenever some jerk feels like harassing someone.")

* The Government has nothing but good things to say about foreigners and does everything in its power to combat stereotypes propagated by the media, of course - just look at the language in a release about new E2 regulations from the Ministry of Justice titled "No More Illegal Native English Teachers":
The Korean Government will prevent illegal activities by verifying requirements of native English teacher and tighten their non-immigrant status [...] [and will] eradicate illegal activities of native English teachers who are causing social problems such as ineligible lectures, taking drugs and sex crimes. English teachers, who disturb social order during their staying in Korea such as illegal teaching, taking drugs and sex crimes, will be banned from entering South Korea.[...] [They will] prevent illegal English teaching activities and the taking of drugs and sexual harassment of English teachers, [...] teachers who disrupt the social order by taking drugs, committing sexual harassment and alcohol intoxication [because we all know how alcohol disrupts the social order here].

It is expected the uneasiness of citizens incurred from ineligible English teachers will be mitigated [...] thanks to this measure on the native English teachers by the Ministry of Justice.
I'm sure the "uneasiness of citizens" towards foreigners in general has come from more than just the actions of some bad apples. Such notices as the one above, or especially articles like this one are more likely culprits:
The person who was searched for around the world for molesting children taught children in a Korean school, and now a native speaker teacher at a public elementary school says other nations are better than Korea. Korea, working hard to learn English, is in a sad state.
Add the 'news' media and police attitudes to that 'sad state', NoCut News.


I just read this post over at Smee in Jeollanam-do and found something that stood out in the light of having just written the above post. He mentions the truth commission that last year cleared 83 of 148 Koreans found to be war criminals by the Allied war crimes tribunals at the end of World War II, and went on to quote Oranckay's reaction to it:
What annoys me is that one hears sympathy for men who would be called collaborators if they had been working in prisons that held fellow Koreans during colonial rule. Their prisoners were (largely) white, however, so they are afforded as much understanding as possible. And they get to be called “victims.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Changing communication technology and its effects

There have been a few articles about changes in how communications technology is used in Korea (and the effects thereof) over the past few days. The first... oh, hold on. I just noticed the date - November 28, 2004 - and realized I found it in the "most read articles" part of the Chosun Ilbo's website, likely meaning that some popular website linked to it and made it temporarily popular again. Anyways, the article mentioned the decrease in popularity of email, and has some stats:
The ebb of email is confirmed by a diminishing trend in pageviews, a tabulation of frequency in service used by email users. Daum Communication, the top email business in the country, saw its email service pageviews fall over 20 percent from 3.9 billion in October last year to 3 billion in October this year. By contrast, with SK Telecom, the nation's No. 1 communication firm, monthly SMS transmissions skyrocketed over 40 percent in October from 2.7 billion instances last October. Cyworld, a representative mini-homepage firm, witnessed its pageviews multiply over 26-fold from 650 million instances in October last year to 17 billion in October this year.

I was confused as to how Cyworld could have such explosive growth in the last year, but knowing that the Octobers mentioned above are 2003-2004, it all makes sense. Also It would seem SMS per month at SK went from 2.7 billion to 3.78 billion per month in the year ending in October 2004, averaging about 4.8 and then 6.8 messages per day per subscriber (keep in mind SK makes up about 50% of the cell phone market - more figures here). In June of 2005, it was announced that
Koreans send and receive some 370 million text messages a day, and assuming that an SMS costs W30 to send, the country spends over W10 billion (US$10 million) a day on sending text messages.
That worked out to 10 messages per day per subscriber. A link to an article in May of this year says that "According to a recent study, Korean teenagers aged between 15 and 19 send an average of 60.1 text messages a day." I doubt anyone who teaches kids that age would be surprised by that figure.

Actually, I was fascinated the first time one of my students gave me her Cyworld address. Looking through her photos, it was clear that those taken using her cell phone camera were not meant to stand alone on her site, but were intended to be commented on by adding text or lines and colour to the photos:

"(Miss) Kim's fine feet"

A few of them went for a more traditional style of affixing words to the photo:

"I have a lot of dandruff - please buy me Nizorol"

Some kids' ideas of fun might not appeal to everyone, however:

A parody of Kim Seon-il's beheading (from here).

Students have used their cameras to record other aspects of classroom life as well, such as beatings by teachers. Of course, the inclusion of cameras (and later video) in cell phones has had other effects as well. Combining the cameras with blogs led to the notoriety of these photos -

- showing that you can use cell phones (or their cameras) to enforce norms (or direct cyber-mobs), either intentionally, as in the dog poop girl incident (the poster likely hoped the girl would receive some sort of comeuppance, but certainly did not expect the overwhelming response, which forced her to drop out of university), or unintentionally, as in the case of the girl who took a photo of herself with a member of Superjunior and was hounded by their (rabid) fans.

They can also be used as a weapon to shame people by recording them being humiliated and beaten (a post for another day)...

...or used for political purposes, such as when you catch national assembly member groping a girl at a room salon... (also part of an unfinished post).

But I digress.

The Joongang Ilbo has a recent article on pay phones and their decline in Korea:
According to KT, the number of public phones in Korea has steadily declined from 515,787 units in 2001 to 217,748 as of last year, including some 110,000 at stand-alone booths and the rest inside convenience stores or other outlets. Total calling minutes diminished from 3.6 billion minutes in 2001 to 570 million minutes last year. Not surprisingly, the business has been in the red for the past six years with an operating loss of 50.7 billion won ($55 million) last year, which is expected to be 40 billion won this year. [...]

“A lot of pay phones out there do not make one single phone call throughout a whole month,” said one KT Linkers official. “But we can't just give the business up, since it is a basic public service like transportation and electricity. But there are not a whole lot of people who need it now.”
Lost Nomad links to a New York Times story about a rehabilitation center/boot camp for youth suffering from internet addiction.
Up to 30 percent of South Koreans under 18, or about 2.4 million people, are at risk of Internet addiction [...] They spend at least two hours a day online, usually playing games or chatting. Of those, up to a quarter million probably show signs of actual addiction, like an inability to stop themselves from using computers, rising levels of tolerance that drive them to seek ever longer sessions online, and withdrawal symptoms like anger and craving when prevented from logging on. [...]

To address the problem, the government has built a network of 140 Internet-addiction counseling centers, in addition to treatment programs at almost 100 hospitals and, most recently, the Internet Rescue camp, which started this summer.
One can only imagine the problem will get worse, considering the age at which kids are getting started using the internet. As this Chosun Ilbo article from August tells us,
According to the survey by the Ministry of Information and Communications and the National Internet Development Agency of Korea on Thursday, 51.6 percent of children between three and five are web surfers.
Lastly, Lost Nomad (again!) links to a Reuters article about the "death of the TV" in Korea, as more and more young people turn to the internet to find movies and TV shows, either to watch on their computers or to download to portable devices.

My least favourite development would have to be DMB phones - at least when their owners decide to watch TV on the subway without headphones...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The death toll of those injured in the Kwangju Uprising

I just noticed this article translated over at Korea Beat, misleadingly titled "10% of People Injured in Gwangju Massacre Have Committed Suicide". Some excerpts:
Among the 376 dead of those injured on May 18, 39, or 10.4%, committed suicide — the leading cause of death, the study found. That is five times the national suicide rate of 24.2 per 10,000 people.

Besides suicide, 34 died of disease, 26 of traffic accidents, and 6 of violence. Alcohol abuse, disease, and despair with life were the reasons for death.

On the situation of those who suffer from mental illness due to their experiences during the movement, little research has been one the 56 of those people who have died, 13 of whom committed suicide.

The titled should be "Of those who were injured during the Kwangju uprising and have since died, 10% committed suicide". It's also a bit misleading to refer to it simply as May 18, as it took place over 10 days. The article also refers to other figures, perhaps related to the number of people who received compensation.

As of 1998, 4,540 people were paid compensation according to the 5.18 Compensation Law, of whom 154 were killed, 66 were missing, 94 were dead after injuries, 3059 were injured, and 1,168 were detained and tortured.[...] 639 of the injured victims fall under the groups of the 1st (100% disability) through 9th (50% disability) impairment, who are judged to be incapable of doing any work due to physical impediment or to be pretty limited in finding physically suitable jobs.
The above statement comes from the book below, edited by Juna Byun and Linda S. Lewis.

This book looks closely at those who had to live with injuries after the uprising. As Minoh Lee puts it,
no systematic governmental treatment plans for their injuries were formulated until the early '90s. These victims were socially and politically ostracized as rebels and spies and were not able to come forward for treatment before the 5.18 Special Law was enacted in 1995. Also, most of the governmental measures concerning 5.18 related issues were largely intended for patching them up with compensation payments and superficial memorial events rather than fundamentally healing the victims' trauma.
In considering the number who have died due to their injuries, it might be worth mentioning the official death toll, which Lewis discussed in her book Laying Claim to the Memory of May:
The official government death toll (in 1997) was 238; that includes 191 known fatalities (164 civilians, 23 soldiers, and 4 police officers), as well as 47 of the missing who have now been classified as victims. Responsible estimates in Kwangju would now put the figure up to only about 200 more, or between 400 and 500 victims.
As I mentioned here, she noted in her essay "From Heroic Victims to Disabled Survivors: The 5-18 Injured after Twenty Years" (in the book Contentious Kwangju), that 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. As the article above noted, 376 people who suffered injuries during (or who were imprisoned and tortured after) the Kwangju Uprising have since died. As we see above, 120 died between 1980 and 1997, while 256 have died in the last ten years. The figure 376 is quite a bit higher than the the official death toll of 238.

The quote which opens the introduction to The 1980 Kwangju Uprising After 20 Years, is pertinent when considering the high rate of suicide among the survivors:
"Had I died then, I wouldn't have suffered like this.." (Sang-chul Park, 13 years old when paralyzed from the waist down due to a gunshot wound, Chonnam Provincial Daily News, May 20, 1995).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cheering on the test takers

I thought I heard some jets flying overhead this evening, but it may have been the sound of 584,934 test takers collectively sighing in relief.

A few years ago I walked by a nearby high school on the night before the suneung, or university entrance exam, and saw several students sitting in front of the school's gate. I didn't have a camera at the time, but I found photos online which depicted the same sort of thing:

I decided to walk by that school last night to see the students at work again, but instead...

I'm not sure why this was. Perhaps the schools chosen to 'host' the test change every year? Cheering for test takers took place elsewhere, as this photo from Myeongdong shows.

There's a more enthusiastic cheering section (complete with drums) pictured in this post. The Joongang Ilbo reported on some new guidelines for test monitors:
At today’s national College Scholastic Ability Test, female proctors have been asked not to do anything ― or wear anything ― that might distract anxious students from the difficult task at hand, according to the Education Ministry. Test takers in the past complained that they could not fully concentrate on the crucial test due to the distracting sound of clacking high heels and the smell of thick perfume, the ministry said.
I wonder if the smoke from this presumed electrical fire at a school in Daegu was distracting? If it was just an accident, then wow, what a terrible day for it to occur. The reporters were also out for the obligatory photos of students being escorted by the police to test sites, and of celebrity test takers (two years ago it was Moon Geun-young, this year it was two members of the Wondergirls).

One of the more worthwhile explorations of test day is the Metropolitician's video from last year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yu-na the Vampire Slayer

According to the Korea Times,
South Korean figure staking sensation Kim Yu-na rallied to win the women's title Saturday at the Cup of China, as she stayed on course for a berth at the Grand Prix final in December in Turin, Italy.

Kim Yu-na demonstrates her staking skills

Between those blades of steel and her sensational 'staking' skills, I think Kim Yu-na should be up to the challenge if the forces of evil should ever seek to invade a skating rink.

Her short program is here, and the long program is here. The stake was edited out of the performance on Giles Brian Orser's orders.


I have to say - I've really come to like eunhaeng namu (gingko trees) at this time of year...

The picture above shows a tree growing from the (sort of) pojang macha part of a former restaurant named, appropriately, the Eunhaeng Namu Jip. The owners moved awhile ago, leaving it empty. Below are some trees in a large park near Banghwa Station.

Now if we could just get some red in there...

Jaeil Jutaek redevelopment completed

The structure of the Seungyun 노블리안 ('Noblian,' meaning 'rich') apartment near my house, built over the last few months, was finished at Halloween. Here are the most recent photos of its rise (with some cribbing from a previous post). A more complete set can be found here, while all of the shots I've taken of this redevelopment, including those of the area before it was demolished, can be found here.

Aug. 15

Aug. 31

Sept. 9

Sept. 22

Oct. 6

Oct. 12

Oct. 23

Nov. 8

Here's a shot of the neighbourhood in May, 2005:

Below are more recent photos. Among the changes since then is the large building at bottom right which has been dismembered; above that, shrouded by trees, are row houses which have been demolished (and are currently being rebuilt as Dongbu Centreville apartments); the green-coloured apartments at top right which have been repainted and rebranded (from Shin-donga Apateu to Shin-donga Pamilie); across the fields at top left the massive Balsan development has been built (and is visible in the photos below); and of course, the Jaeil Jutaek redevelopment seen above - below you can see it's growth in the context of its surroundings.

Aug. 17

Sept. 17

Oct. 23

Nov. 8

It's not supposed to be finished until August of next year - I guess the interior work will take as long as building the external structure did.