Friday, November 28, 2008

Angry mothers correct education officials' distorted point of view

From Seoul Through Pictures 4: Seoul, To Rise Again (1961-1970) pgs 304-5:
In December of 1964, elementary school students in Seoul took junior high school entrance examinations. Question 18 in the Science section asked, "What can replace malt when making rice taffy?" Choices included 'diastase' and 'radish juice,' the correct answer being 'diastase.' However, 39 parents of those studnets who chose 'radish juice' filed a lawsuit, presenting rice taffies that were made with radish juice as a piece of evidence. The Supreme Court accepted 'radish juice' as a correct answer and the students who passed the examination by earning the extra point were able to enter their desired schools in May of 1965.

What exactly is 'rice taffy'? Is it ddeok? [Edit: It's yeot.] Anyways, you've got to love the never give up, ignore the boundaries put in your way, bullying spirit of those parents. As Arnie Pie put it once on the Simpsons, 'It's a silent testament to the never-give-up and never-think-things-out spirit of our citizens'. I'd love to have been present for those supreme court proceedings. I wonder if transcripts still exist.

What I find notable is that not only was there once a high school entrance exam for middle school students (which was done away with in the 1990s, if I remember correctly) , but there was once a test for elementary school students entering middle school! While the system now might seem less harsh seeing as those two exams are now done away with (for the most part), I have to wonder if the 'SKY university as a gateway to your entire future' system was as entrenched at that time. To be sure, the incident described above goes to show how important education and testing is and has been in Korea.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lies and Rain: One step forward, two steps back

Sexual Curiosity-filled Pornography!

I just noticed that eight years after it was released in theatres, Jang Sun-woo's Lies, about a sado-masochist relationship between a high school girl and a 38 year-old sculptor, is finally being released on dvd. Judging by its running time, it appears to be uncut (but has no English subtitles, likely because of the existence of a US dvd).

The film was released in 2000 only after having, according to this review, five minutes cut from the film, including having the sound cut during a conversation about sex between two high school girls and the removal of every reference to the girl being a high school student (the Korean-released VCD of Lies had 20 minutes cut from it). The fate of the book that the film was based on is rather interesting as well:
Lies was intended by its producer Shin Chul as a deliberate challenge to Korean censorship; the novel (Jang Jung-Il's fourth) was banned, recalled and pulped less than a month after it was published in 1996, and the author subsequently had to serve two months in jail as a "pornographer".
Jang was the first Korean writer to be convicted of pornography, and the film based on his book certainly riled conservatives up. Speaking of the appointment of a female police chief to crack down on teenage prostitution in Miari Texas, a former AP reporter wrote in the Korea Herald on January 18, 2000:
What was more ironical, even senseless, however, is that her appointment came at the time when the controversial movie, "Lies," was allowed to be shown in theaters around the country after public censors snipped out some part of the allegedly offensive pornographic scenes.

The movie, I understand, is about a high school girl - naturally, she is not yet an adult - who engages in an explicit and perverted sexual adventure with a married artist in his late 30s. I have not seen the movie for fear that I might throw up in the theater. Nonetheless, I feel I can express my opinion as I have read enough about it in newspapers and magazines, including a synopsis and graphic description of scenes.
This attitude is mentioned in an opinion piece in the Korea Herald from January 22, 2000 by Cho Woo-seok, an employee at Incheon Immigration (!):
Son Bong-ho, a well-known professor at Seoul National University and a leader of the civic group which filed suit against the director, has been highly critical of the movie. Son said: "How did Korean's morals drop down to such a low level? How can you accept as art a movie in which a married man in his 30s has sex with a high school girl? How could they make such a nauseating movie just to make money?" Most leading newspapers and media groups have expressed similar criticism of the movie. While reading their attacks, I noted a key irony: most of the writers said they hadn't watched the film because it was too dirty.
The AP writer noted that
according to an exit survey conducted by a television network shortly after they began to screen "Lies," an overwhelming majority of them said the movie was pornographic and that they would not recommend it to their friends.

We all know how influential movies and dramas on television are, especially on sensitive and impressionable young people. That is why I thought it was unfortunate and unwise for the movie industry to show pictures like "Lies," at a time when the whole country is undertaking a nationwide campaign to root out teenage prostitution.
Well, like all crackdowns, the campaign failed, and teenage prostitution is still with us. It's interesting to see that, unlike the "20 minutes missing" vcd released in 2001, an uncut dvd of Lies can finally be released here (just like it's nice to see that - I think - foreign movies aren't being ridiculously cut to pieces any more (watching a movie like Starship Troopers on video in 2001 was just hopeless)). On the other hand, fears about "sensitive and impressionable young people" are still with us, or so says the Korea Times:
The entertainment industry is abuzz over "dance machine'' Rain's hot track "Rainism,'' which has recently been banned from sale to teenagers over its lewd lyrics. The singer agreed to change a few phrases for his underage fans at concerts but expressed regret over the government's decision on the already chart-topping record.
"Dance machine?" Nice to see the KT fulfilling its role as a PR machine for the Korea Wave [goodbye].
The Youth Protection Committee of the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs said Monday that the lyrics of "Rainism'' are lewd and harmful to teenagers. The record will be sold with a red sticker and will be banned from sales to those under 19 years old, according to the committee.
Problem solved. The Youth Protection Committee are geniuses! Forget the massive decline in cd sales over the past eight years - stickering cds is sure to stop kids who don't even know what a cd is from downloading the song! What a thoughtful use of taxpayers' money! This rates up there with the webpage on their site years ago that listed all the 'off limits' areas for youth across the country - essentially giving a guide to all the large red light districts across the country in both Korean and English (they beat the KNTO at their own game!). But let's see what set them off:
The parts that the agency did not like were "Spinning is my magic stick inside your shaking body/ The body shake that feels the limit it cannot go beyond,'' in which the writer, the singer himself, is allegedly describing sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.
What a wonderful, medical textbook-like description of what the lyrics are 'allegedly' describing. And pointing out that Rain was referring to "sexual intercourse between a man and a woman" and not between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or a woman, a man and another man, or a woman, a woman and a man, or any other combination (no, don't list them in the comments, thank you) really is helpful. It was good of them to narrow it down.
However, Rain and his agency, Jtune Entertainment, explained such wording is quite common in Western pop songs and Korean fans are mature enough not to be affected by them. The song passed three major broadcasters' screenings and swept domestic pop charts.
Sorry, but this really is necessary to point out just how correct Jtune Entertainment is:



Wonderful. I had to crank up the Jesus and Mary Chain's "Never Understand" to scrape out my eardrums after that. When I heard "I'm gonna be a bad boy - a bad, bad boy," I suddenly realized that this was the song that a 10 year old student was singing last week (she thought it was funny, though I think she understood 'bad' to mean simply the opposite of 'good' - of course, I could be wrong). Just in case you didn't catch it, the offending lyrics are "Spinning is my magic stick inside your shaking body/ The body shake that feels the limit it cannot go beyond,'' but the most 'offensive' parts - 'magic stick' and 'body shake' - are in frickin' English. If the Youth Protection Committee is going to go after lyrics which are partially in English and combat them by preventing youngsters from buying a music format they rarely buy anyway, they'd better make up for it by raising holy hell over this sentence, because, to my naive mind, nothing is more lewd or harmful to a teenager than being raped by four relatives between the ages of 9 and 16.
Jtune said Tuesday that Rain would change the criticized parts for performances but leave them on the album. "He will rewrite several phrases because he obeys the law. However, the committee's idea of sex appeal is totally different from that of Rain's. Is there a clear criterion to assert lewdness?" it asked in a press release.
On the one hand, the argument over what is lewd harkens back to the Lies debacle, and on the other hand, the assertion that "he obeys the law" would appall Bill Hicks. How clean-cut of him.
Some Internet users allege that the government is helping boost sales with the announcement. "Now everyone will try to listen to Rain's song to see what's so lewd about it. The government is actually a secret supporter of the singer," ID:Jackie said.
You can't help but remember the effect of the Ministry of Defense's ban on 'seditious books' this summer which caused them to soar in popularity. I certainly hope Jackie's not on to something; the world does not need a Korean government conspiracy to augment the Korea Time's PR activities on "dancing machine" Rain's behalf.
However, some defended the decision, saying K-pop needs to watch its wording. "I hope this will influence some other singers who talk about all lousy things ― teenage singers talking about mating and showing off their legs or breasts seems too much,'' ID: sincerely said.
I hope"showing off their legs or breasts" doesn't refer to the Wondergirls, because that's, like, totally wrong. Wait - "talking about mating"? I sort of hope there isn't a Korean version of the Bloodhound Gang - the world only needs one.

Digging up the past

Literally; some neat centuries-old foundations on the grounds of Gyeongbok Palace have turned up as they restore Gwanghwamun.

From here.

The Joongang Ilbo has an article about master carpenter (and Intangible Cultural Property No. 74) Shin Eung-su, the executive director of the Gwanghwamun restoration project, which is slated for completion in 2010. Last year ruins were found as they excavated near the walls of the palace, and now, as they dig behind Gwanghwamun gate, more foundations have been found.

From here.

Mr. Shin is also overseeing the restoration of Namdaemun, which is to be rebuilt by 2013. As this lengthy article reveals, he took part in the restoration of Namdaemun in 1962-3 as a 20 year-old apprentice. The restoration there has also turned up foundations, in this case of a Joseon-era road and the base of a house.



This shouldn't be too surprising, considering how the area near the gate was laid out 100 years ago...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The battle of Seodaemun

It would seem others would like to challenge Ji Man-won for 'asshat of the week award*,' at least if this article is any indication:
Since 2003, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan has been hoping to build [a] museum [for the comfort women in Independence Park in Seodaemun District, northern Seoul], which is to be called the War and Women’s Rights Museum. The aim is to raise awareness about sexual slavery during the colonial period. Last month, the Seoul city government gave the green light to the project.

Earlier this month, former independence fighters and their descendants held a press conference to harshly denounce plans to erect [the] museum for the comfort women [...] The press conference was organized by the Korea Liberation Association.
“The proposed museum denigrates the independence movement and the men who gave their lives as patriotic martyrs for the liberation of Korea,” said Kim Yeong-il, the association’s president, at the Nov. 3 press conference. “The museum will surely create a false image about our history by highlighting our suffering rather than our many military achievements,” Kim added.
We wouldn't want those instances of assassination and terrorism to be forgotten, would we? Yes, I know, there were larger scale battles that took place during the days of the Righteous Armies and later in Manchuria, and many people did stand up to Japan in other, smaller ways, leading to their imprisonment or death, but this narrative of independence movement resistance often papers over how ineffectual much of the violent resistance was, and overshadows, or erases completely, the role of the U.S. in the liberation of Korea. Happily, the Seodaemun Prison Museum actually includes this photo, which I remember being the only such photo - or reference - there:

The Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri, Sept. 2, 1945

I documented my second visit to the Seodaemun Prison Museum last month, as I wanted to record one aspect of it in particular...



Please allow me to quote the Korea Liberation Association once again:
“The museum will surely create a false image about our history by highlighting our suffering rather than our many military achievements,” Kim added.
Is it just me, or does the museum "highlight suffering" already? I honestly couldn't believe it the first time I went, terming the re-enactments "Disneyland on crack." Or perhaps it could be called "method for inducing hatred for Japan in the young # 3852." The guide map describes one of the highlights of the exhibition: "Torture Room (experiencing nail picking and tortures with boxes and electricity)."

At any rate, the article points out that some of the independence fighters' descendants view the prison as being separate from the park near the Independence Arch (where the fighters' memorial tablets are housed), but I think that the prison is generally the big attraction, and is what the park is known for (besides the Independence Arch). The article continues:
Needless to say, surviving comfort women are furious with the freedom fighters.

“Who are they?” Gil Won-ok, 81, shot back when asked what she thought about the conflict during an interview with the JoongAng Daily at this week’s rally. “Aren’t they freedom fighters who fought for the weak?” Gil asked indignantly. “I like the site [Independence Park]. The park also has Seodaemun Prison where the Japanese tortured Koreans. So it’s appropriate to have a museum about us [there],” the 81-year-old argued.

On the day the Korea Liberation Association held its press conference, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan also held a press conference denouncing the association’s opposition against the museum planned for Independence Park.

[...]Acknowledging such outcries and not wanting to aggravate the already heated debate, the Korea Liberation Association has adopted a more softer stance. An official at the association emphasized in an interview with this newspaper that it is not against the museum, but it is concerned about the location. He said that the association’s stance has changed slightly: It will not seek to block the construction of the museum, as previously declared. Instead, the group will work together to devise an alternative plan.
How thoughtful of them.
“I think it’s great that they will build such a museum, but I think it should be built in a different place as it doesn’t fall in line with the characteristics of Independence Park,” echoed Ryu Geun-chang, the president of the Yu Gwan-sun Memorial Committee.
Yes, we wouldn't want to treat Yu Gwan-sun irreverently, now would we?


Above is a poster on the wall of the Yu Gwan-sun Underground Cell building. It reminded me of this equally irreverent use of Yu to sell chicken:

Yes, she's protecting those rocks.

I couldn't help but remember the cartoon treatment that another young woman who was forced into the role of a patriotic sacrifice after her death.


Okay, I'd say the candle girl looks more like Mi-seon (on the left). Some might argue that the candle girl was supposed to represent the middle school kids taking part in the mad cow protests, but it would be hard not to equate the candle girl with the girls whose deaths led to the first politicized 'candlelight vigils' in Korea back in late 2002. This person obviously thought the same (as he painted a candle girl mural at the site of the 2002 accident).

I couldn't help think that it was interesting that such women have been turned into cartoon caricatures, but I couldn't think of any men being treated that way. Perhaps it would be considered too insulting, much as the degrading treatment of men in this video in 2002 could never be portrayed as happening to Korean men. I then remembered a post Oranckay wrote in 2004 looking at a feminist critique in the magazine Ilda of the government censorship of Kim Sun-il's beheading in Iraq and the use of the images of dead women for propaganda purposes:
Quickly, it notes the contradictions. Yun Geum I (female) is pictured dead, naked with her legs spread, an umbrella in her anus and a beer bottle in her vagina. Sim Mi Seon and Sin Hyo Sun (female) are pictured dead, their bodies partially crushed and shredded on a country road. Kim Seon Il (male) gets his head cut off on video and society is suddenly concerned about "respecting the dead" by not circulating the video. [...]

[T]he Ilda piece examines the contradiction based on sexual politics, suggesting among many other things that the effect of the picture of Yun has "similarities with the rape motif in pornography."
It's interesting that "rape motif in pornography" is brought up, especially when you consider that someone actually thought it would be a good idea to do a 'comfort women' themed erotic photo spread back in 2004, just a few months before Kim Sun-il's murder. Also, one has to wonder why the women in the torture exhibits at Seodaemun Prison need to be as exposed as they are:


Needless to say, there's a lot more going on in this argument between the families of independence fighters and former 'comfort women' - a euphemism for forced military prostitution - than meets the eye. And all of this helps point to one of the reasons Korea rates so poorly on this list.



* [From the beginning of the post] Actually, as it says above, this brouhaha started on November 3, so Ji Man-won is still last week's reigning asshat. This week's asshat would appear to be the judge behind this incomprehensible decision.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Guess I'll be avoiding Seoul Plaza this winter...

This Korea Times headline says it all:

Seoul Plaza Staking Rinks to Open Dec. 12.



This isn't even the first time the Times has made this mistake. 'Skating' is obviously somebody's spelling Achilles heel...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Philanthropy, red scares and cyber bullying

[Update - Ask A Korean has posted translations of the best of the worst of Ji Man-won's writing regarding Moon Geun-young, as well as netizen commentary.]

So last week, we were told that
The anonymous donor of W850 million over the last six years to the Community Chest of Korea stands revealed as 21-year-old actress Moon Geun-young. The Community Chest of Korea on Thursday said the actress denied online rumors that she was the donor, but her agency okayed the disclosure, so the organization decided to make it public.

Since Nov. 2003, Moon has been donating all or part of her earnings from commercials, films and soap operas. Her donations were used to build children’s libraries and subsidize hospital costs for children suffering from leukaemia or cancer. Apart from the Community Chest of Korea, Moon has also given several hundred millions of won to scholarship foundations.

She's also donated money to build a Korean library in Sydney and visited North Korea to donate 50,000 blocks of compressed charcoal back in 2004. Her charity work was brought up in a 2005 Joongang Ilbo article:
Ms. Moon also made quite a name not only on screen but also as a philanthropist, as the news of her charity got out last year. But Ms. Moon, however, just smiles shyly and plays down her contributions, saying that they are not as significant as people say.
Another Joongang Ilbo article from last week brings up her family ties and Koreans views of philanthropy:
One of the reasons she didn’t want to reveal her name as a donor lay in having suffered from vicious rumors that accused her of pretending to be good, talk that followed her good deeds after her debut.

Instead, praise is pouring in, and there is even mention of her family background: Her maternal grandfather was a unification activist.

Moon’s good deeds seem to have challenged some of the public’s disjointed views of celebrities’ charity. Here, we mean the skepticism over the truthfulness of celebrities’ good deeds, accusing them of greed for honor and ostentation.

Of course, hidden here is the public’s mistrust of powerful people “doing good” and a sense of inferiority, the idea that people can’t succeed by only being good. Moon has proved this way of thinking to be invalid and hypocritical. She has made people believe in the power of a good heart.
Apparently, believing in the power of a good heart is no longer in style this week. According to the Korea Times,
Following the revelation, however, she was subject to cyber attacks by people who called her donations politically motivated. Her private blog and articles praising her behavior were bombarded with numerous nasty comments belittling the donations as a way to enhance her reputation and her career.
This Chosun Ilbo article notes that "Some are posting comments saying her good deeds were merely a moneymaking publicity stunt, while others accuse her of hogging the limelight. Moon is also being accused of regionalism with her donations." Yonhap provides quotes like "It is only an image-making stunt to raise her pay," or, "She pretends to donate anonymously as the only good girl."

That Yonhap article, "Donations by Korean Actress Raises Specter of Red Scare," is especially good, delving into Korean views of philanthropy. Before we get to that, we should mention that
Some of her liberal fans linked Moon's exemplary deeds to her grandfather, a teacher-turned-political prisoner. Ryu Nak-jin, who died of old age in 2005, was a pro-North Korea guerrilla fighter operating around Gwangju, a traditional progressive stronghold, before he was jailed at the end of the Korean War. He was released but imprisoned again on charges of spying for North Korea in 1971 when then authoritarian government of Park Chung-hee apprehended more than 150 such suspected spies. He was released on a special amnesty in 1999.
According to wikipedia, he joined the South Korean Workers Party in 1947 and after being caught while fighting as a guerrilla, served five years in prison between 1952 and 1957 (after initially being sentenced to death). Also worth noting is that his brother was killed by soldiers during the Kwangju Uprising in May, 1980. That such a well known actress (who is from Kwangju, and who was only allowed by her mother to begin attending acting classes in 1997 if Kim Dae-jung won the election) has such a pedigree, and that such descriptions as "Her maternal grandfather was a unification activist" were being bandied about certainly grated on at least one commentator:
Some critics suspect a masked ideological campaign behind the donations. Ji Man-won, an ultra conservative military critic, wrote in his blog (www.systemclub.co.kr) that Moon serves as partisan propaganda material for leftists.

"Not only do they beautify the deeds with videos and messages on the Internet, but they are also playing at a kind of conspiracy. There is a hidden message to sublimate a non-converted Communist prisoner into a unification activist," Ji wrote.
As the Times quotes him,
"This is part of communist-led psychological warfare aimed to beautify a descendant of the communist. Articles speaking highly of her donations help make people respect communists as activists striving to reunite the two Koreas."
[Translations of longer excerpts of several of his posts can be found here.]

Ji Man-won fought in Vietnam (a photo of him then and a story he wrote can be found here) and eventually received a doctorate in system engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in California (his thesis abstract is here). A Hankyoreh cartoon in 2006 criticized him for saying that the authorities in Pyeongtaek should have fired upon protesters there during demonstrations against U.S. base expansion. As Robert Koehler notes in the comments to Brian's post on this topic (love the picture of Ji that he found),
To hear his side of the story, he was taking exception with some of the reports and posts claiming she came from a good family of "pro-unification" and "democracy" activists, when the reality is a much more complex. And yes, Moon did take all the condolence money she got from her grandfather's funeral --- about 50 million won --- and donated it to a pro-North Korean group legally designated an "enemy organization" (although I seem to recall at the time this was in accordance with her grandfather's wishes).
It all goes to remind us that in Korea, history is not just something that is sitting in a book, unread - it's very alive and very unresolved (alive precisely because it's unresolved), and the place in history of leaders, pro-North guerrillas, the Kwangju Uprising, and the place within Korea of the entire Honam region are questions that are posed at certain junctures such as this one. Of course, I don't agree with Ji's views, and blaming a young woman who had nothing to do with the events of 60 years ago for the perceived sins of her grandfather - and in doing so encouraging a wave of cyber harrassment - is pretty revolting. Of course, with all the blogs with titles like "Garbage Ji Man-won" out there, I'm not the only one.
Shin Jang-sik, spokesman of the Democratic Labor Party, said in a statement, "The irrational and violent trend, fanned by an ultra right-wing critic, is dominating the Internet." Chin Jung-kwon, a German professor at Chung-Ang University and outspoken liberal critic, suspected anti-Communist paranoia planted by past military leaders may still grip Korea. "Even for the nation's little sister who willingly gave away a large amount of money, which won't be easy for others, they can't resist encircling her with a red backdrop," Chin said on the Web site of the New Progressive Party.
The article also looks at views on philanthopy, writing that, "the backlash poses some resounding questions in a country where the western tradition of philanthropy is just taking root: Why are the good deeds not simply welcomed?" As the Joongang Ilbo article above noted before the backlash,
Moon’s good deeds seem to have challenged some of the public’s disjointed views of celebrities’ charity. Here, we mean the skepticism over the truthfulness of celebrities’ good deeds, accusing them of greed for honor and ostentation. Of course, hidden here is the public’s mistrust of powerful people “doing good” and a sense of inferiority, the idea that people can’t succeed by only being good.
The Yonhap article continues:
"She did it out of good will, but some people don't see it as it is but twist it," said Yu [Soo-kyung, the charity's spokesperson]. "We are embarrassed."

Some criticize the media frenzy that forced the charity to identify her name and have demanded that the privacy of individual donors be respected. Hwang Sang-min, a psychology professor at Yonsei University, said Korea is not yet accustomed to the culture of philanthropy. [...]

"Our society is not yet accustomed to Ms. Moon Geun-young or anybody making donations," Hwang said. "For ordinary people in Korea, when we have to accept something that is not familiar, we tend to take it not as it is, but with some negative interpretation. Koreans tend to be unwelcoming toward new things."
Yes, McDonalds, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, cell phones, the internet, noraebangs, starcraft, wonjo gyoje, Emart and Seo Taeji and the Boys all bombed here when they first appeared here. Colour me skeptical. I might suggest a rereading of the Metropolitician's post about Choi Jin-sil's suicide and the jealousy and extreme frustration manifest in Korean society both online and offline. A comment I saw earlier said something along the lines of "people are just jealous and trying to drag her down to their level," which reminded me of a comment at the Marmot's Hole years ago about the game Kart Rider:
Kart Rider [is] an unintentional work of art. The gameplay itself is a perfect metaphor for Korean society - to succeed in a race you have to adopt the same strategies and mores that dictate domestic culture.

An example: The game grants you a number of power-ups with which you can cause others ahead of you to stall, thus letting you (and everyone else) catch up to their level. There are four of these. But only one power-up grants you super speed, allowing you to quickly advance to the forefront along with the other overachievers.


Is this kind of online venom directed at those better off the equivalent of the 'stall' button? If so, as long as everyone is competing for first place within such narrow parameters, the desire to hit that button in frustration will continue to be very strong. Some are more optimistic, however:
Moon and her family say they will not take measures to deal with the malicious comments, hoping they will fade away in time. Moon and her family likely made anonymous donations until now for purely philanthropic reasons. Hopefully such warmth will eventually prove sufficient to melt the cold hatred driving such malicious postings.
Others, like those who wrote the Democratic Labor Party statement, are more blunt: “Calling Moon Geun-young a commie is a sign of social pathology… We as a society must stop these abnormal personal attacks.” Whether or not the red baiting was the main reason for the statement, they're right.

Oh, and if Ji Man-won knows what's good for him, he'll put an end to his posts quickly. I mean, would you really want to run into an angry Moon Geun-young in an dark alley?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

6.5% of middle and high school girls have sold sex?

Today's Korea Times has an interesting article titled "Female Students Vulnerable to Sex Trade on Internet."
One in every three female secondary school students in Busan were found to have received sex trade proposals while chatting online, according to a survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality Monday.

The ministry questioned 2,012 female students in the southeastern port city and found 33.4 percent, or 672, answered they received prostitution offers. Among the female students who received the offers, only 35 percent said they ignored them. Nearly 20 percent said they were actually engaged in the sex trade, while the rest said they were "intrigued" by the offers.
Perhaps some of the girls intrigued by such offers might not be if there was a viable sex education program in Korean schools.
"It's a survey of students in Busan and it could be difficult to generalize. But it's obviously a case in point showing how serious online sex trading is," a ministry official said. It also shows that many teenagers are vulnerable to the online sex trade, he said.
It's "difficult to generalize." I hope so, because let's do the math. "Nearly 20 percent" (actually 19.6%) of the 672 who were propositioned said they sold sex, which means about 130 out of the total 2,012 girls sold sex, which is about 6.5%, which is a disturbing figure. Perhaps it's higher in Busan (where Mee-hae Kong did the research for her 2003 article Material Girls: Sexual perceptions of Korean teenaged girls who have experienced 'Compensated Dates', which can be found here); it would be interesting to see a similar survey done in Seoul.

As for vulnerability to the online sex trade, this Kuki News article in Korean on the same topic illustrates this vulnerability a little more concretely by relaying the story of third year high school student 'A' from Daejeon who in August was offered 200,000 won to meet a man for sex. Curious, she met the man, Mr. Kim, a doctor, at an officetel and slept with him. He then offered to pay her 200,000 won to meet once a week, and she met him 7 times, earning 1,050,000 won. Then he was caught. For some reason the Korea Times didn't want to illustrate the problem at hand with such an example.

The Kuki News article has the above graphic titled "Action taken after receiving prostitution proposition:" 35% ignored it, 31.1% were curious about it, 19.6% had met the person and engaged in prostitution, 3.3% had reported it to an 'agency', and 3.6% had asked someone nearby for help, and 7.3% offered no reply to the question.

Also worth noting is that the survey is of both middle and high school girls, and they gave interesting answers about their views of selling sex. 72.3% said that 'It's bad. It's a Crime,' 11.4% said 'It's bad but it's a part time job,' '10.4% It's neither good nor bad,' and 5.9% said 'If you can earn money it's good.'

The Times article continues:
Among those who sold sex, 37 percent said they did so on impulse, 25 percent did so for money, and the rest out of curiosity and other reasons.

Asked about the reasons for the frequency of sex transactions online, 37 percent cited easy accessibility and 33 percent anonymity. The rest answered that they can sell sex with little worry of being caught by police.
It's worth remembering this article translated by James at the The Grand Narrative, titled, "3 out of every 10 dating sites are being used by teenage prostitutes to find clients." There was more going on than that, of course:
In addition, Daegu YWCA opened a chatroom on one site for 2 hours, and of 48 male users that entered, 25 were blatantly looked for teenage prostitutes, 19 chatted about sexual acts, and only 4 chatted about non-sexual subjects.
It's interesting that the term seong maemae, a generic term for prostitution, is used here instead of wonjo gyoje ('compensated date'). Has that term perhaps been retired? Much more on teenage prostitution, especially under the guise of wonjo gyoje, can be found in a post I did a year or two ago here (scroll down).

The sad thing is that by not including the upper grades of elementary school, they're probably missing out on useful data. Needless to say, articles like this (from 2003 - which has three stories of 12 year olds meeting up with men in their twenties) are pretty disturbing, and statistics I've seen but can't find right now suggest that they are rising.

Crossposted at Hub of Sparkle.

Beaten to death... in middle school


I was curious to know if this story had gotten much attention after it was at the top of Naver yesterday (one of those stories that gets rotated into view). On the afternoon of November 6 near ‘an apartment building’ in Bongmyeong-dong, Heungdeok-gu, Cheongju city, a second grade middle school student, a 14 year old with the last name of Kim, was beaten by at least three of his classmates before falling into unconsciousness. He was sent to a local hospital, and eventually to Seoul, but nothing could be done to help him, as he was brain dead.

There were apparently 9 other students from the same class around the same area when the attack occurred, but at the time of an earlier article the police had not confirmed whether they were involved. A later article says that the police are planning to apply for an arrest warrant for Lee on charges of assault causing death.

His parents chose to donate his organs on the 13th, which were given to 9 people. This article also mentions the effect on his family, as he was the only son and the oldest grandson in his family, but, despite the fact organ donation after brain death isn’t so common here (according to this abstract) his family thought giving the gift of his organs would make it so his death wasn’t for nothing.


The photo above is taken from here, and another article about the funeral, which took place on the 16th, is found here. One wonders how much the cries of ‘My friend, I’m sorry’ from his classmates are coming from protocol, and how much they’re coming from the fact that they may have known what was going on.


Above, Kim's body arrives at the school before leaving for the crematorium. As for the picture below, I guess that answers the question about whether the story had gotten much attention.


Of course, the media normally pushes its cameras into the faces of those mourning the loss of the of their children, classmates, or... the Winter Olympics. A quick search turned up another group beating in Cheongju in 2006 of a middle school girl, complete with video of her bruises. These kind of beatings aren't rare, and it was just last week that a post about a beating in Bucheon (by his schoolmates) that left a student in the hospital but was covered up by the school lead to a much larger discussion of violence by teachers against students in schools. Who knows if the school would have preferred that in this case, but when the student is dead, it's much harder to cover up... but not impossible.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Admission test omission

Thursday was the college entrance exam, which I've looked at in years past here and here. The English language press here have published a few articles (Michael Breen's article is worth a look) including a Korea Times article titled "Korean Test Culture ― Too Unique." This differs from a 2005 KT article titled "Foreigners Taste Unique Culture in College Entrance Exam Here" (the link is dead) in that this year's article actually quotes a foreigner or two. It opens with a sentence so painful you might just want to skip it:
Not only to foreigners who are unfamiliar with Korea but those who are already accustomed to the country think the state-administered college entrance exam is a unique cultural experience that they can hardly understand or witness in other nations.
Company workers and civil servants were supposed to report to work one hour later than usual to ease traffic jams which could disturb test takers. Drivers were restrained from honking their horns when passing by schools and aircraft had to delay landing and take-off during Korean and English listening tests.

The government mobilized all measures to support university hopefuls Thursday. To help transport test takers and secure the safety of exam places, some 14,000 policemen were positioned with 4,200 motorcycles and emergency vehicles. The National Emergency Rescuers were also called in to help provide transportation for test takers in their ambulances.
Police escort a student to the test (from here).

It goes on to tell us that "Some 590,000 high school seniors and graduates took the College Scholastic Ability Test at nearly 1,000 schools across the nation starting at 8:40 a.m." This Chosun Ilbo article tells us more:
All students must be inside the test rooms by 8:10 a.m., carrying admission tickets and ID cards. Mobile phones, digital cameras, MP3s or electronic dictionaries are not allowed.

The ban on phones and mp3 players is due to a scandal in Kwangju in 2004 when a cheating ring was caught. The KT article continues:
Many parents remained outside even after their children entered the test venue, some praying for their children’s success in the life-decision test. Temples and churches across the country were packed with mothers praying for their children.

Parents pray at Jogyesa in downtown Seoul (from here).

(From here.)

One of the things left out of the KT article (though it was illustrated) was the 'unique' cheering culture, where first or second grade high school students stay up all night waiting for the test takers to arrive and cheer them on. The girls in the photo below wrapped in blankets were likely there all night.

(From here.)



(From here.)

This video gives an idea of what this all sounded like this year.



Of course, the Metropolitician made a video last year that looks at the same subject. For the weirdest photo of cheering, well...


This photo of students in Chuncheon is also in the Korea Times article, where in the comments Scott Burgeson writes:
10 or 20 years from now they will literally be dressed exactly like that when they are all sitting in their local "business club" or "room salon" getting wasted and debauching themselves after a hard day's work. This picture is more prophetic than even those boys can imagine.
Well, if they've been on field trips to China, maybe they can already imagine that future. In truth, the way they are lined up rank and file reminded me more of this (and of the way in which kindergarten children I've seen running around a large room doing a fitness program would be all spaced out when the foreign teacher was around, but as soon as they were observed by a Korean teacher, immediately formed a tightly packed line, which made the exercise pointless).

Beyond the cheering (which was an odd omission) one aspect of the university entrance exam that was left out was the suicides that follow the test (or preceed it, or which come after the test scores are announced in December. There's a good post looking at this over at the Hub of Sparkle, which looks at a protest against the competitiveness of the education system and the test which took place on test day (I looked briefly at the subject of exam related suicides last year). It's not difficult to find articles in the Korean media that deal with this subject (such as this one which looks at mental health issues surrounding test takers and the possibility of suicide), but it shouldn't be surprising that an article touting the 'uniqueness' of the 'test culture' for foreigners would overlook this rather negative ( and totally predictable) aspect of it. It's odd that they forgot to mention the fact that after the test students could get discounts at family restaurants like VIPS.


While it might look like the girl is shouting in relief at being finished the test, she's actually screaming in rage, and the banner reads, "I sacrificed my childhood and all I got was a free red orangeade!"

Anger at foreign coverage of Korea in 1988

I came across a New York Times article titled, "U.S. Olympic Reporting Hits a Raw Korean Nerve" from September 28, 1988:
Charges that American television coverage is unfairly focusing on this nation's dark side during the Olympics are prompting a spasm of anti-Americanism here. The public outcry prompted NBC to ... warn its staff not to display their peacock logos in public.

The uproar began after American television audiences watched a Korean crowd explode Thursday night after a referee's decision to penalize a Korean boxer. Enraged Korean boxing officials punched the referee, some threw chairs into the ring, and a disconsolate boxer staged an hour long sit-in to protest the decision.
Remind anyone of the comment - "We will use all measures necessary to rectify the misjudgment" - made by the leader of the South Korean olympic team during the 'Ohno' brouhaha at the 2002 Olympics?
Koreans' shame at the incident has turned to rage at NBC and other foreign news organizations' coverage both of the boxing imbroglio and of South Korea itself. Ever sensitive to their international image, South Koreans are particuarly angry about any coverage they deem negative because they see the Olympics more as a potential public relations bonanza than a sports event.

South Korean ruling party officials and Park Seh Jik, president of the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee, issued denunciations of NBC for devoting too much time to the ringside violence. South Korean politicians are also complaining that NBC's non-sports coverage focused on such topics as sweatshops, prostitution or foreign adoption of Korean children. NBC officials reply that they were simply reporting a shocking Olympic incident and trying to present a balanced portrait of today's South Korea. [...]

Koreans can watch NBC coverage live on the American military station here, although many of those questioned said their reaction was based on South Korean news reports and hearsay.[...]
South Korean newspapers have run dozens of highly emotional articles warning that distorted reports are fueling anti-American sentiment. Today at Yonsei University, students protested American news coverage. [...]

''This is a bad omen for future Korean-American relations,'' the Dong-A Ilbo, a leading daily, said on Monday. ''The American press has to know that this kind of distorted reporting is hurting the dignity of Korean people who have been preparing for the Olympics for seven years and is fanning anti-American sentiment.''
Yes, it's the distorted reporting of the U.S. media that's the problem. That's why so many people were angry.
''I heard that NBC repeated the boxing scene for an hour,'' Chung [Kang Hong, who runs a law office here], said. ''It was news, but it was not something to be picked over like that. A lot of Koreans consider Americans as the elder brother. An elder brother should try to cover the mistakes of the younger brother.''
Much as a school principal should try to cover up the (repeated) mistakes of students.
Public anger at misbehavior by American servicemen and athletes is merging with resentment about the boxing incident to form a potent mix. Before the Olympics began, two teen-age children of Americans stationed here beat a pregnant Korean, an incident that prompted widespread outrage. This week, four American servicemen beat a Korean taxi driver and refused to pay their fare.

If anything, the Olympics have hurt the image of Americans in Korea even more. [ㅡ[Many Koreans were] offended when American athletes marching into the stadium broke ranks and held up signs for the television cameras. Koreans were horrified when two American swimmers were reported to have stolen a statue from a Seoul hotel. And many felt insulted when the swimmer Matt Biondi refused a glass of water for fear of becoming ill and when the runner Carl Lewis shoved Korean security guards at Kimpo Airport.
It's a good thing they didn't know about this; but then, seeing as it was the British team, and not American, I suppose no one would have cared.
In newspaper articles, letters to the editor and telephone calls, South Koreans have complained that NBC devoted too much time to the boxing fracas and too little to the American swimmers' theft. NBC officials reply that the network interrupted a live broadcast to announce the news of the swimmers' arrest and that NBC devoted even more time to an American boxer who failed to show up for his bout on time. They say they repeated the boxing brawl because it was nearly unprecedented for the Olympics.
Ah, NBC. You Americans and your love of "facts" and "logic," which you always think will triumph over inflammatory, emotionally satisfying tabloid journalism.
''It was news and we covered it as news; it wasn't viewed as a condemnation of the Korean people,'' said Terry Ewert, coordinating producer for the Olympics for NBC Sports. ''But they're very sensitive about their country. You say anything wrong about Korean society and it's like taking a swipe at their whole culture.''
That observation is nothing new, of course, but that attitude was likely exacerbated by viewing the "Olympics more as a potential public relations bonanza than a sports event" - as well as the heightened nationalism of the time. Commenting on a post about the 2002 World Cup by the Metropolitician, Seouldout left this comment:
The Koreans were really whipped up for this event, and went to great lengths to set the "correct opinion". (I remember Koreans dressed to impress in hanbok with sashes that read: Korea is the Grandfather of world culture.) Things went awry. The Americans didn't march orderly in Seoul Olympic Stadium. Foreigners--Americans--wore shorts and took off their shirts. NBC's "We're Bad" t-shirt was reported in the vernacular press as insult to Korea. There was the Korean's boxing-ring protest--televised second by agonizing second--and Biondi's theft of a mask from JJ Mahoney's. The Koreans were really prickly, slights were perceived, and things were blown out of proportion.
As that post by the Metropolitician points out, the heightened nationalism during the 2002 World Cup did lead to numerous acts of violence against foreigners, but the media here was fairly restrained, at least in comparison to coverage in 1988. One wonders how the mood in the media and on the street (with the former most certainly affecting the latter) would have been if the Korean team had not advanced so far in 2002.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Overseas pep squads, sports media and eoljjang

The weekend before last I glanced at naver.com and saw on the front page a shot of skater Kim Yu-na, reminding me she was then competing in the U.S. The blog "Axels, Loops, and Spins" commented on the 'Pep squad' that materialized for Kim's performance:
Between the end of the Pairs competition and the start of the Ladies short I went and grabbed some dinner. Upon returning to the Arena, I found a sea of Korean flags! I must tell you I've never been to an event where Yu-Na Kim competed. I asked a couple who was sitting near me who also travel to lots of skating competitions and they said "Oh yeah, she has a traveling entourage of superfans! Where she goes, they go!" Once we got inside the Arena, the walls were instantly decorated with Yu-Na signs and messages. It's like the Arena underwent an instant transformation. At the same time, all those people outside with the flags took seats bunched together in one corner of the arena...suddenly Yu-Na had a pep squad!
"Ice Princess Kim Yu-na Fighting!"
[...] I think the Gold is wrapped up already. Yu-Na Kim was mesmerizing. She had a little flub up on her double axel but nobody cared because the rest was just so good! When the marks went up she was close to 12 points ahead of Miki Ando! The Korean pep squad went berserk! Yu-Na just sat there in the kiss and cry and shyly waved at the camera...geez! As soon as she left, the superfans quickly dispersed. I asked the couple behind who had some experience with the superfans and they noted they were now on their way to the hotel to stalk Yu-Na there!
A video of her short program is here. After she won with her long program and received the gold medal, the English language media in Korea made a few references to her, and the same blogger wrote (despite the "stalking") that "The Yu-Na Kim superfans are amazing!". Gathering in one section to cheer a Korean athlete is by no means a new, post World Cup phenomenom. Here's a photo of Koreans in Las Vegas cheering boxer Kim Deuk-gu in 1982 (at the match which cost him his life).


You can be certain that the fans who come to cheer these athletes have a better attitude toward athletics in general than the editors who almost uniformly ran pictures of Kim Yu-na's fall in the 2007 world championships ("Hmmm, do we run a photo of the 99% of her routine which was successful, or the 1% that was not?"). Whether in online newspapers or the front page of naver, it was the fall which everyone saw first, along with the text announcing her bronze medal, which, if we haven't forgotten the Olympics two months ago, is seemingly worth almost next to nothing, though things are probably better than during the 1988 Olympics, when this description of Korean medal winners appeared in the New York Times:
Champions have been feted and paraded before the nation, their lives chronicled and rigorous training methods reviewed. But the second- and third-place finishers have either apologized for not having taken first or have seen their performances characterized as failures.

These days, the narratives of struggle and success can take on a different tenor if the winner is female. When Lim Su-jeong (above, with her moptop influenced by the Suh In-young cut which has infected the nation for far too long) won a gold medal in taekwondo in Beijing, we certainly got the story of the sacrifices she made when she was training, but there were also numerous inane headlines accompanying her photos, talking about her 'pure smile' or her 'cute sticking-her-tongue-out pose.' While commenting on her purity isn't such a stretch, the tongue pose headline is a bit odd. One of the reasons this form of coverage was decidedly uncommon in 1988 would be because there weren't many women sticking their tongues out in a 'cute' fashion for the cameras in the first place, a reaction no doubt influenced by cutesy sticker photo machines (Japan strikes again!) but perhaps even more so by eoljjang websites, which are discussed in a 2004 article here and more recently here (while the selka (self-camera) aspect of eoljjang is discussed here. Of course, these sites don't just have still photos, but also feature animated gifs which both encapsulate the nature of some of these poses by showing them all at once, and unwittingly illustrate the hyperspeed at which this society can move.


I can't decide whether it's hypnotic or disturbing...