Saturday, February 28, 2009

Angry sidewalk

I wasn't expecting to see this on the ground:



It was out in front of a hagwon, but not one that teaches English.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Behead the King!

The Korea Times looks at a 2 volume history book titled "Behead the King'' written by historian Baek Ji-won, which examines Joseon dynasty-era Korea from the point of view of the lower classes and slaves. It also looks at the negative effects this forgotten history has had on modern-day Korea. It's certainly a catchier title than "A People's History of the Joseon Dynasty." It was nice to see this:
He also blasted the Korean fantasy of "minjok,'' based on the perception of a one-blooded nation, saying that Korean ethnic roots can be traced back to a mixture of various tribes such as Kitans, Malgal, Mongolian, Han and Yemaek.
It's not uncommon to see the sentences "Koreans are a homogenous race" and "Korea was invaded many times" in the same paragraph, with little thought given to the effect the latter must have had on the former.

The article ends with this:
The author commented that both historians and the public turn deaf ears on telling the truth of history. ``Historians conceal the disgraceful facts of history, while the public don't want to look into their shameful past. But by exploring the past, we can see the way of the future and not repeat the same mistakes,'' he said.
Sounds good to me.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hanging out with older men at Jongmyo Park

The abstract for an essay in the latest Korea Journal titled "Stigma, Lifestyle, and Self in Later Life: The Meaning and Paradox of Older Men’s Hang-Out Culture at Jongmyo Park" by Chung Gene-Woong can be found here (hat tip to Mark).

The abstract makes no mention of the nearby bars where "men's hang-out culture" takes place, and certainly makes no mention this aspect of later life.

Fun tidbit: This photo reveals that there were still lots of houses in front of Jongmyo in 1945, though a small open area can be seen. It's likely the result of a fire break built (or demolished, really) by the Japanese in preparation for US firebombing during World War II.


More on aerial photos, and a list (and a photo) of the fire breaks can be found here. I don't know when the park in front of Jongmyo was built, but it may be a part of the legacy of the fire breaks, much like the Seun Sangga.

The cardinal and the first lady

[Update - In the comments, Park's letters are mentioned. A Joongang Ilbo article looks at his letters here.]


Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan's funeral is now past, but one of the interesting things about his passing is this:
The posthumous cornea donation by Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan has inspired many Koreans to sign up as organ donors.

Dr. Joo Choun-ki of Kangnam St. Mary’s Hospital, who performed the procedure and examined the corneas, said Kim had cataract surgery in 2001 but his corneas were good for transplantation. Two people at the top of the waitlist received a cornea each.
As a result of his example, many more people are registering to donate organs, and, perhaps being influenced by this, the government wants to make it easier to declare someone brain dead in order to get more organs to people on waiting list. As the latter article notes, "A shortage of organ donations has been a chronic problem in Korea," something that I looked at briefly here, so one hopes the effect of the late cardinal's example is a lasting one.

Regarding his funeral, a Korea Times article asked, "Have We Mourned Like This Before?" The answer is, of course, yes. The most recent example would be this, from a year ago:

Of course, the masses of people who came here were paying their respects to a building, not a person

Other funerals came into my head, such as Park Chung-hee's, in 1979. Upon searching, I found this article (and others), which suggested Park and Kim Ku (whose 1949 funeral can be seen here) as precedents. It also suggested a third person, and the first that came to mind for me.

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan at the Blue House in 1969 celebrating
Park Geun-hye's graduation from (the Catholic) Sungshin High School.

In the center of the above photo, standing next to her husband Park Chung-hee, is Yuk Yeong-su, the first lady. Here are some photos of her from a book I found at Yonsei University Library a few years ago:








She has been described as being "widely revered," and the photos above may suggest why. On August 15, 1974, she accompanied her husband who was giving an Independence Day speech.



As you saw, Park's speech was interrupted by Mun Se-gwang, a Korean resident of Japan, who fired shots at him. Park ducked behind the bulletproof podium and as shots were exchanged between Mun and security, his wife was hit.

(Photo from here)

She died later that evening. Also killed by a ricocheting bullet was high school student Jang Bong-hwa. As can be seen in the video, her funeral was attended by thousands of people.


The western media often referred to Park as being 'tough', and in the video it's not hard to see why, as he stepped up and continued his speech.


What I like about the above photo is that it reminds you that, yes, he was not some mythical figure (despite the arguments of those who like to posthumously canonize or crucify him), but very human.

Other photos of Yuk Yeong-su, in her childhood or with her husband can be found here and here.

One wonders, however, what Park would have thought of people referring to him as "몸짱!"

See See Tee Vee


The Joongang Ilbo looks at how the use of CCTV and other information gathering systems threaten our privacy (but increase our security). I liked what the manager of Kookmin Bank's Fraud Detection System had to say:
“Kookmin Bank has all the details of its clients dating back to 1984.”
Interesting date.

Korea Beat also translated a Donga Ilbo article looking at the difference in the number of surveillance cameras found in Seoul's richer areas as compared to its poorer areas, with possible implications for the security of the poorer areas.

If you want to get in on the surveillance fun, use Daum's map service, click on 교통정보 (in the top right corner) and then look at the window that pops up; at the bottom of the window you can click on CCTV and choose from several different expressway cameras around the country.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Mapo Apartments and Dohwa-dong in 1969-1970

Almost three years ago, I wrote a post showing how Dohwa-dong, near Mapo, had changed over the years. For those who have studied Seoul's history, it is best known for being the location of the Mapo Apartments, Korea's first apartment complex. Quite some time ago I received an email from Julia Welch, who wrote:
I am an American citizen who lived in the Mapo apartments with my 2 young boys in 1969 and 1970 when my then husband was serving in the US Army and stationed south at a missile base at Reno Hill. I have fond memories of my lovely neighbors. ... When you entered the complex we were in the first long building to the right on the second floor.

She was kind enough to send me several photos, and wrote, "One is hanging on the wall by my front door - it is our view out the children's window to the maze of traditional homes." Here are some of them.


Above is the view out the front window, which I made by stitching two photos together. Below is the same view in another season:


While those views might seem familiar to those who live in Seoul today, the photos taken from the other side of the apartment showcase a very different view than what we can see today:


View from the boys' bedroom.


Buddhist Temple


View from the kitchen.


View from the bathroom.


View from the back window.


The Mapo market, behind the apartments.

Thank you very much for the photos, Mrs. Welch! It's great to be able to see these scenes, especially in colour. The neighbourhood reminds of parts of this one, at least before it was destroyed.

As documented in my aforementioned post, this neighbourhood would, by the late 1980s, see numerous office towers sprout up along the main street.


The golmok neighbourhood surrounding it would soon be destroyed...


... a fate shared by the Mapo Apartments themselves. The area then became covered with villas and much taller apartments.


These apartments today tower over the landscape much as the Mapo Apartments dominated their surroundings in the 1960s. And here ends the latest installment of "Korea's apartment complex."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Too bad I don't have cable

Hip Korea, a documentary series which "examine[s] Korean culture through some of its top stars," premiers tonight (in Korea) at 9pm on the Discovery Channel with a look at Rain. Mark Russell does a much better job of explaining the series than the Korea Times, what with its calling the Discovery Channel "the world-renowned cable channel." (Why does the English language Korean media always have to write a panegyric to any foreign media outlet that gives good press to some aspect of Korea?) Hopefully I can find it on the internet before too long.

Here's the preview:

"Let's not forget the grudge over Hongdae!"

[Update - a very incorrect figure has been excised below]

"When you are alone, that is your cue."

It was four years ago last Thursday that the SBS show 그것이 알고싶다's episode about English Teachers, titled "Is Korea their Paradise? Report on the Real Conditions of Blond-haired, Blue-eyed Teachers," was first broadcast, which helped shape the image of English teachers as unqualified, pot-smoking child molesters.

The show begins with a excerpts from 'Lucky Guy's "How to mollest your students [sic]" post (reprinted here) and continues with a dramatization of a male English teacher getting a kindergarten student alone and giving her an ill-intentioned massage.


Note that it then moves on to, "When you are in your place making dinner for them, spike the dinner. Yes, cook with rum or something," which is not connected (in the original post) with younger children at all. We then see - gasp! - foreign male-Korean female couples on the street in Hongdae:



We're also presented with this genius talking about his sex life:

Andy's screwed 50 girls this year, or 2-3 a week.
Clearly, he's not a math major.*

Later, we have some students who are interviewed about their teacher, 'Peter', who has them and two high school girls over for a lesson, then drinks with them, all shown in a re-enactment:


He gets one girl drunk and stoned and then they're discovered in the same bed.


Then the police raid his apartment, news crew in tow, and find a pipe. I am curious: what's to stop the guy from telling the camera crew to get the hell out of his apartment? The show goes on and on from there, with lots of hearsay and second-hand stories. With its varied look at the evils of English teachers (sex criminals, pot smokers, fake degrees, few working hours, high pay, seeing Korean women as being easy, being spoiled compared to migrant workers, etc etc) I still think it sets the standard for these kind of shows, but, also on Thursday, Mongdori posted a comedy show called 'Sin Hae-cheol's Damage,' which almost gives it a run for its money. This fake tabloid news show ( like an even sleazier 그것이 알고싶다) opens with the re-enactment of a Korean 22 year old woman being gang-raped by foreign English teachers, with, as you can see below, "Foreign teacher and club girl" emblazoned at the top of the screen for its entire running time.

Memories of an unforgettable gang rape!


I don't know who should be more offended by this - foreign teachers, or Korean women (in this case, 'club girls'). Since when is gang rape comedy? Well, since now apparently. And perhaps we should applaud such daring steps being taken (obviously by male writers) to broaden the horizons of Korean comedy and finally move away from the dominance of physical comedy. I might perhaps suggest that they use Chris Morris' mock news series Brasseye as a model (its Drugs and Paedogeddon! episodes are classics).

Seriously, though, it's interesting to look at the stereotypes found in these two shows, which portray white males with big noses as having only one thing on their minds: the defilement of Korean womanhood (with '그것이 알고싶다' making it clear that this category includes children (but not boys!)).


Of course, I've seen this kind of thing done with more panache by Korean artists using a different medium**:


Big nose, menacing, preying on innocent Korean women? Check. But where are the children?

Let's not forget the grudge over Sincheon!

Ah. There they are. Man, they don't just hold a grudge over Hongdae, but even Sinchon! (Actually, the Sincheon (North Korea) Massacre during the Korean War was blamed on the US, even though it was actually Korean neighbours who turned on each other and subjected each other to two months of horror.)

Then again, I suppose the pendulum swings both ways. CSI's episode about a double murder in Koreatown could, possibly, bring to mind the image of a certain Korean American who posed with (and used) handguns.







These images (two of which are only hypothetical) make sense in the context of the (very complicated) story, which involves a prostitute, gangsters, an ex-con and a boy with AIDS (all Korean-American) who is being used as a guinea pig by a pharmaceutical company (the white representative of which likely comes off as the most despicable character). Plastic surgery is also brought into the story, but it becomes unintentionally amusing due to a character's response to it. One of the CSIers finds surgical scars on a female corpse's eyes, and says something along the line of, "That's some pretty fancy plastic surgery for a prostitute," something akin to an American male corpse being examined in some other country and upon noticing that he's been circumcised, saying, "Wow, that's some pretty fancy surgery he's had." Anyways, while I could see how Koreans and Korean Americans might be displeased with some aspects of the episode, unlike 'Damage' or '그것이 알고싶다,' not every 'foreign' person on the show is portrayed as a criminal (in fact, one person who just got out of jail is arguably the most sympathetic character in the story). In 'Damage,' on the other hand, the foreigners are all gang rapists.

As I said, I'm not sure what I find more disturbing: portraying white English teachers in such a way (with 'Foreign teacher and club girl' emblazoned at the top of the screen for the entire show), or the fact that the (presumably male) writers of the show think so little of rape that they would go so far as to have rape scenes graphically re-enacted in what is meant to be a comedy. If they think that's funny, why not make a comedy out of this? I'm sure it would be just as hilarious to change the girl from a 22 year-old to a 14 year-old, the setting from present-day Hongdae to 1940s China, and the foreign rapists from English teachers to Japanese soldiers. Somehow (especially since a 'comfort women'-themed erotic photo spread in 2004 turned out to be a tad unpopular), I doubt "Comfort Station 17" would be quite as big as "꽃보다남자 (Boys Over Flowers)." Both shows would have something in common, however, considering the first episode of 꽃보다남자 ended with an attempted gang-rape:


This on a show watched regularly by elementary school students. Perhaps foreigners are making too big a deal of being associated with such a crime, one which may be more common in Korea[.] [films than in American films; a search of the Korean Film Archives "100 Korean Films" (from 1936 to 1996) turns up references to rape in 42 of them. [This is wrong: the figure is 9 out of 100] The Chosun Ilbo tells us that "Some 50 percent of teenage rape cases occurred in groups, compared to 30 percent for adults. Experts say that this tendency is higher in Korea than in other countries."

Consider also how exposed the female independence fighters are at the Seodaemun Prison Museum and the implications of that exposure.


Depicting women being treated in such a way (even if its by foreigners) in a comedy show unfortunately says quite a bit about how women are viewed here. There has been at least one other case, before the English Spectrum incident and 그것이 알고싶다, where foreigners have been (literally) whipping boys - at the hands of women - either to express anti-American feeling or sublimate frustration with Korean men and with being ranked so poorly on this list.

The question of why it is only white men who are targeted (and why its considered acceptable to target them) is talked about by Robert Koehler in this Seoul Podcast (about 44 minutes in) where he mentions that the murder of a 13 year old girl last March by a illegal Filipino migrant worker in Yangju brought to light the biases of the mainstream media, who refrained from reporting on it until local media reports led to it becoming an "internet sensation." As he describes "Korean-style political correctness,"
there is, at least within certain segments of the media, the feeling that guest workers, because they’re coming from Asia, because they’re coming from third world countries, are a disadvantaged class, while G.I.s and English teachers are a privileged class because they’re white and coming from western countries.
Another time I'll look at how groups opposed to illegal immigrants have been capitalizing on the murder of middle schooler Gang Su-hyeon and using her photo to promote their agenda. As for groups with similar agendas, at the Marmot's Hole, Robert translates a Weekly Kyunghyang Shinmun article by Lee Eun-ung of the “Citizens Group for Proper English Education” (or “Citizens Movement to Expel Illegal English Teachers”) otherwise known as anti-English Spectrum:
Foreign teachers with AIDS have actually been confirmed, too. In spring of 2007, our group received a tip from a woman who wanted help. A teacher from Australia threatened her, saying he’d had sex without a condom in southeast Asia and she should be careful of AIDS, too. The tip also said the teacher was loitering around her place, trying to terrify her. After this writer and others pursued him with the cooperation of relevant authorities, he was finally arrested by police in the capital region after living at a guest house in Seoul. It was learned that the teacher had before been fired for molesting a child and had been added to the Korea English Teacher Recruitment Association (KETRA) blacklist.
In the comments to this post by Roboseyo, Anti-English Spectrum member Liveswithpassion left 8 links to articles about English teachers molesting children (of which only three of them actually had stories about foreigners being arrested (here, here, and here)). Two others referred to 'A', the Australian teacher who 'threatened' his ex with AIDS, which was a bad breakup turned into news by an angry ex and xenophobic news media (with a little help from Anti-English Spectrum, according to Lee). 'A' is used by Lee as his sole example of "Foreign teachers with AIDS [who] have actually been confirmed" but does not say if he was ever tested, or if anyone saw the results. It might also be worth looking at the claim that "It was learned that [he] had before been fired for molesting a child." Actually, according to this article, a co-worker said that he poked high school-aged girls with paper (?) and read their palms, while in this article it says that the blacklist read, "he often puts his hand on the students’ bodies. It does not rise to the level of sexual harassment but it is absolutely inappropriate. Students and parents said they were suspicious of him.” Inapropiate, yes, but you certainly can't say he 'molest[ed] a child.' Unless you're anti-English Spectrum, I guess. To be sure, with his comment, "Many people were outraged... at the lewd clubs in front of Hongik University that degraded Korean women," Lee makes it clear that he has not forgotten the grudge over Hongdae, and is doing his part to keep the Han River free of ink. And if he or 'Damage' or '그것이 알고싶다' err on the side of exaggeration or gross generalization, remember - they're doing it for the children.

Do not forget the US imperialist wolves!***

We won't forget. And no one will forget Hongdae either. We can count on them for that.



* Well, if we're imagining a string of one night stands, that is.
** The posters are from North Korean Posters: The David Heather Collection.
***In his book Han Sorya and North Korean Literature, Brian Myers translates 'seungnyangi' as 'jackal'