Thursday, January 31, 2008

Locked out

I first came across the story of a girl who was forced to stand outside naked in below-zero weather as a punishment at a daycare center in Itaewon via Korea Beat, which translated an ohmynews article. Zen Kimchi's post made it clear that the foreign woman who took the photo above had first posted it on Dave's ESL Cafe, where another poster helped get the photos to the press. The best summary with all the relevant links would be over at Brian in Jeollanam-do. Worth noting is that the story has finally appeared in the English language press. The Joongang Ilbo (unsurprisingly) printed a story here. We're told that
The Yongsan District Office, which operates the day care center, filed a complaint against the 25-year-old teacher on Tuesday and also asked the Gender Ministry to cancel the certificates of the teacher and the center’s 71-year-old principal.
What exactly the Gender Ministry has to do with this I'm not sure.

I was happy to see that the local district office was actually doing something (ditto for the police), but it seems to be due to the fact that the photo appeared in the media (and attracted a lot of attention). A former co-worker used to work at an orphanage west of Yonsei University. She was a caregiver for a group of girls there, and found out that another caregiver had beaten a 9 year-old in her charge and left her covered in bruises. She photographed the bruises and made a complaint to her superiors. When city hall (which was responsible for the orphanage) found out, they called the orphanage’s management and told them how to get away with it, because it was city hall that was ultimately responsible. This would have been around 1999 or 2000, and I have no idea if things have changed since then. To be sure, she didn't take the photos to the media.

I wonder, had complaints had been made through the 'proper' channels instead of turning to the media, would this incident be under investigation now? Mobilizing the public as a 'third party' certainly got results for the person who posted the photo of the Dog Poop Girl (as well as the Human Rights Commission). It's nice to see that the expats at Dave's ESL Cafe were able to collectively bring the incident to light. So far there's been an absence of media spin along the lines of "Stoned English teacher takes photos of naked 4 year-old." This is a good thing.

Some comments have mentioned the difference in punishments between North America and Korea, with North Americans opting to ground kids to keep them at home, and Koreans choosing to kick kids out of the house. I can only think of one student (a ten year-old girl) who's ever mentioned being locked out as a punishment. I've seen this punishment in two Korean films (that popped into my head at a moment's notice - there's surely more). The first would be in an animated sequence at the end of Wanee and Junah (2001):

The girl in the film was stripped and kicked out after her mother caught her stealing from her purse. The other is the short "Man with the affair", by Jeong Jae-eun, which was part of the human rights omnibus "If you were me" (2003). In it a girl, dressed only in a shirt, who has wet her bed has to undergo the supposedly traditional punishment of being locked out until she fills a bucket with salt from her neighbours.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sanullim member dies

The Korea Times reports that
Kim Chang-ik, 50, a member of the Korean rock trio Sanulrim, has died in Vancouver, Canada. The cause of his death has not yet been confirmed.
One of my favourite albums is Sanullim's second lp. I fondly remember, after requesting a song from it, having the staff at this great little drinking shack in Apgujeong proceed to play the entire album - on vinyl. That drinking shack is gone now, as is a part of Sanullim. May he rest in peace.

Several concert videos of the band can be found here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Razing the prospects of ghettoes

From the Korea Times:
The Seoul metropolitan government Friday designated six "Global Villages'' to provide various tailor-made services to foreigners living in the capital. The villages are "Americatowns" in Itaewon-dong, Hannam-dong and Yeoksam-dong; a Chinatown in Yeonnam-dong [north of Hongdae station]; a "Francetown" in Seocho-dong; and "Japantown" in Ichon-dong.

The Seoul government also announced four locations in which foreign-invested companies are mostly located as "Global Business Zones," namely Gwanghwamun (in central Seoul); Yeouido, Samseong-dong; and Yeoksam-dong.

The Seoul government also named five places ― Myeong-dong, Namdaemun, Dongdaemun, Insa-dong, Itaewon ― as "Global Culture Sharing Zones.''

These are part of the local government's efforts to transform Seoul into a "foreign-friendly'' city.
In a November 13 Korea Times op-ed titled "Korea Eager to Embrace Foreigners," Choo Kyu Ho, Commissioner of the Korea Immigration Service, seemed to suggest that the city's newest plan was the last thing Immigration wanted:
Low-income immigrant workers are beginning to congregate in cheap neighborhoods, raising the prospect of ghettoes.
Of course, he was describing "low-income immigrant workers," who most certainly do not fit into any of the new 'villages' mentioned above.

An example of such workers can be found in this December 13 Joongang Ilbo article about Chinese Koreans living in Garibong-dong:
Garibong 1-dong is one of those rare areas in Seoul where you can find many second-hand stores selling everything from clothes to electronic goods. There’s also a strong sense of community since many settlers have set up restaurants and stores full of imported Chinese goods. This makes it a congenial district for new migrant workers from China to find their feet.

But more importantly, especially for a city as expensive as Seoul, the biggest attraction is the cheap rent. Most accommodation consists of a single room and kitchen. During the massive industrialization of the 60s and 70s, the rooms were built for workers who flocked to Seoul for work in the huge factory compounds nearby. Those compounds have now been transformed into high-tech industrial complexes and neighboring fashion outlets.

Out of 30,000 ethnic Koreans from China living in Korea, 7,000 are currently settled in this neighborhood, an area that is also known as “a beehive town.” Most accommodation consists of a single room the size of a prison cell, originally built for migrant factory workers. The rents are among the cheapest in Seoul.

It was shortly before the Seoul Olympics in 1988 that ethnic Koreans from China began to settle in this neighborhood, according to the Guro District Office. They were mostly peddlers who went back and forth between Korea and China, selling clothes and miscellaneous goods. The number dramatically rose in 1992 when Korea and China opened diplomatic ties. As of September 2007, the Ministry of Law said there were 288,000 migrants from China in Korea. One out of three foreign citizens in Korea is an ethnic Korean from China, the ministry reported.

Some Koreans in the construction industry say they should get paid more than ethnic Koreans, a claim that has outraged the migrants. “Many Koreans treat us like foreigners.”
One of the reasons this town has not been designated a "global village" is because, as I've mentioned before, there are other plans afoot for the area:

Joseonjok Town in Garibong-dong, Guro District, western Seoul is scheduled to be destroyed in 2009 as part of a city redevelopment project. Under the plan, the Garibong area will be transformed into business and residential centers to support 859 information technology start-up firms operating in the district.

“The area is designed to provide convenience to information technology businesses in the district. There will be hotels, convention centers and shopping malls, as well as a residential area,” said Jeong Woo-seok, an official at the Korea National Housing Corporation in charge of the redevelopment project.

While the immigration commissioner was worried about such a settlement "raising the prospect of ghettoes", the obvious solution is to simply bulldoze the area to the ground - a fate that does not seem to await the settlements of foreigners from western countries, which are instead rezoned as "Global Villages." My question is this: when the residents of Garibong are working on the construction crews destroying their old homes, will they be paid less than Koreans born within the ROK's borders?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dongdaemun Stadium Redux

The Joongang Ilbo has a very good (and lengthy) article on the redevelopment of Dongdaemun Stadium, looking mostly at criticism of the design of the new development. I've already written about this redevelopment, so I'll just post a few excerpts of the article here:
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon announced plans to build a “World Design Park” as part of his campaign manifesto in the 2006 elections. The park will house a state-of-the-art convention center, galleries and an underground mall. [...] Zaha Hadid, a renowned British architect and the 2004 recipient of the Pritzker Prize ― the architectural equivalent of a Nobel Prize ― won the competition with her project “Metronymic Landscape.”

Local historians and architecture critics are upset at the decision to raze the historic stadium, especially as taxpayers’ money is involved. In addition, they say Hadid’s design, which is expected to cost 340 billion won ($358.7 million), fails to reflect the location’s history, which is a living witness to Korean sports and political gatherings. But more importantly, experts argue that Hadid’s futuristic model, a fluid structure covered in titanium, will jar with the existing historical buildings in the area.
“I lose my sense of place every time I walk out of this subway station,” says Kim Ui-tae, the owner of the area’s Samsung Sports, referring to Hadid’s designs posted on the walls of Dongdaemun Stadium Station. A slogan on one of the posters reads, “Architecture Beyond Imagination.” “There’s nothing in the picture that tells you that you’re in Seoul. Everyone is Caucasian. It’s good that the development will attract a lot of foreigners into town, but we live here, too,” Kim adds.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hapjeong Redevelopment

On Sunday I was at Hapjeong station and noticed the redevelopment there. With a camera and some time on my hands, I decided to have a look around. I'd found these renderings of the planned redevelopment awhile ago:

The Han River is at bottom left, and the street running towards top right leads to Hongdae and Sinchon.

The pink section in the map above is the area that has been mostly demolished, and is marked off on the map below. Hapjeong Station is at the intersection. Also, a few of the tall buildings seen below at the bottom of the map seem to be part of the development.

They can be seen upon entering the area:

As you can see only a few buildings remain standing.

Notice the single house cordoned off with a fence in the center of the photo below. It seems its owners haven't settled for compensation yet.

The single building standing at the far left of the photo above seems to have once contained bars on several levels. Here's a shot from the stairs inside:

This photo was also taken from an upper floor in the same building:

Two more shots of the shell of a building seen on the right in the photo above:

The shells of buildings facing a street which forms a boundary of the development:

The roads are still in use by people living in the surrounding neighborhood.

The road on the left above is seen at right in this photo, taken from the other side of the area.

It will probably be years before this section of the planned development is finished, to say nothing of the other sections.

An uphill battle?

The Korea Times has an article about YouTube's entry into Korea (heralded by the Metropolitician as well):
It is a belated arrival for YouTube in Korea, considering it is already operating localized services in 18 other nations. Google, which owns YouTube, has been cautious about expanding in Korea knowing that many other globally popular Web services of YouTube's caliber have failed to win over the Korean market.

Since the early days of the Internet boom in the late 1990s, Korean Internet users have shown a strong favor for locally grown sites. For example, Google and Yahoo respectively have less than 5 percent of the search-engine market share, while Korean search engines Naver, Daum, and Nate continue to prosper.
I recently discovered the well-written blog A Year in Mokpo and found a post about Google's failure to succeed against Naver in Korea, which addresses one unspoken reason why Korean internet users favor locally grown sites - they have no other choice.
However, the real reason behind Google's difficult path in Korea is that its highly praised search technology was rendered practically useless in the Korean language sphere when major portals decided to block Google search robots from crawling around the content they hold, industry observers universally note.
It'll be interesting to see how YouTube does in Korea.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rebranding Apartments

It's long been clear that the most expensive consumer item in Korea is an apartment. The Korea Times has an interesting article on rebranding apartments.

Dongbu Ichon-dong resident Kim Ji-na says her apartment value edged up about 20 million won (approximately $21,000) two summers ago at a time when the central Seoul, riverside area's overall real estate prices were at a standstill. What was the magic factor?

"The only recognizable change was that my apartment had gotten a brand facelift,'' she said. From plain "Daewoo Apartment'' to "Prugio,'' the Daewoo Engineering and Construction apartment buildings were slapped with fresh paint and a newly designed logo. [...]

Samsung E&C, the first builder to front its apartment brand "Raemian'' in 1998, enjoyed a significant boost in its properties' value, which triggered others, including Hyundai, Daewoo, POSCO and GS, to follow the same strategy.

And those efforts gave birth to GS' "Xi,'' Hyundai's "I-Park'' and "Hillstate,'' POSCO's "The # (Sharp) and Samsung's "The Tower Palace,'' all of which boast a luxurious image, posh living and unconventional design.
Of course, one bit of information about this, which Antti noted back in September of 2006, was left out:
A recent piece of news in Hankyoreh was that apartment blocks are forbidden to repaint their old names to match the "apartment brands" that the original construction companies are currently sporting. [...] Seems that those already did the repaint job are allowed to remain so, while the future offenders are levied a hefty fine of five million won (4000 €). (What is 5 mil W compared to anticipated housing price hikes?)
It would seem, considering the price hike mentioned above, that this rule is being ignored.

For an example of rebranding, here's a shot of a (very ugly - I like the green translucent covers on the balconies) Shin-donga apartment near my house taken in 2005:

Here's a shot of the same apartment taken a few days ago, now branded as Shin-donga "파밀리에" (Familie):

If having a look around the Familie website doesn't convince you of the degree to which apartments have become consumer items in Korea, perhaps this ad at a bus stop near Mapo Gu-cheong station for Hyundai's Hillstate apartments (in Paju) featuring Ko So-young will help:

The icing on the cake is the ad for home tutoring taped to the Hillstate ad - the two largest drains on household finances together at last!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Last Year's Models

From the Joongang Ilbo:

Discarded cellphones at a KTF mobile phone recycling center in Uiwang, Gyeonggi, await reassembly for export or disassembly to retrieve valuable parts, such as gold. About 14 million cell phones are discarded every year, of which 24 percent are recycled.
If there are about 40 million cell phones in use in Korea, then it would seem around 30% of them are replaced every year.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Gimme a break

This photo (from here, via Korea Beat) shows some foreigners taking part in a "Winter Sea Penguin Swim" on Jeju-do. Interestingly enough, Lost on Jeju tells us that local English teachers working under the EPIK program were convinced to take part due to the offer of an extra vacation day for doing so. I have no idea if the people in the photo above are related to that or not, but I can't help but see such photos and think of this painting from the 1984 book "The People's Great Leader" (from here) titled "All the peoples of the world praising Kim Il Sung."

Did this artist in North Korea realize that this painting was for domestic consumption only? Do the photographers and editors who published the photos taken on Jeju-do realize that such photos serve the exact same purpose here in Nam Choson?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Back home again

I spent two weeks at home in Ontario and I have to say I miss landscapes like these sitting outside the front window.

Who needs a tv when you can watch animals from the comfort of your living room all day?

Of course, my parents' bird feeder also gets visitors other than the chickadees and nuthatches seen above - it also draws lots of black squirrels:

The pie plates and plastic enclosures are designed to keep them out, but the squirrels tend to learn quickly and circumvent any obstacles in their paths.

At my grandparents' house they get other visitors as well:

There were in fact three deer there at that moment, but only one was in the open. I headed to southwestern Ontario to visit other friends and spent new years day around a fire in a nearby valley (odd for that landscape as it's so flat there).

The photos (panoramas) above were taken on my video camera, which normally takes video quality photos which don't look great at all, but when the landscape is nothing but black and white, it turned out quite well, I thought. The photo below looks a bit different, taken on my digital camera as it was.

It's been busy since I returned to Korea, but hopefully I'll get back to my typically sporadic posting from now on.

And as for whether the title of this post refers to my trip to Canada or my return to Korea, I haven't quite worked that out yet.