Thursday, April 30, 2009

How to focus on two Canadians at the expense of 34 Thais

[Update, May 1]

Photo from here.

Yesterday there were 14 articles (such as this one) about the Korea Customs Service and its plans to intensify the control of drugs brought into the country by entertainers, English teachers, and students returning from overseas. These three demographics are not represented in all of the headlines, where entertainers appear 13 times, English teachers appear 11 times, and students returning from overseas appear 5 times.

Every article then mentions that of 225 foreigners arrested for smuggling from 2005 to 2008, 66 (or 29.3%) were native speaking English instructors from countries like America, Canada, and England. The nationalities of the other 70% are not mentioned.

[Original post]

In my last post I looked at drug busts among Thai workers, among other things. My remark that Thais needn't worry about media attention as long as they're arrested with (foreign) English teachers was illustrated with this example in the Korea Times (and Marmot's Hole), which was criticized here. I decided to look more closely at the Korean language reports to see if there was any more information about those arrested than what the Times wrote:
Police arrested two Canadian instructors Thursday for the violation of the Drug Law, while booking a Korean English teacher who had studied abroad and 36 others including Thai migrant workers on the same charges.
What I found was rather interesting.

No Cut News published the first article about the two Canadians who were arrested on April 16 at 9:16 AM. It was titled “Gangnam Elementary School native teachers drug taking prosecution - philopon adulterated with salt sold."*

In it we’re told that Canadian Elementary school English instructor P and hagwon English instructor H were busted for taking drugs and were caught with lots. Then it mentions that H was supplying the drugs, along with Mr. Park, and all three were arrested and detained for taking ecstasy. It also mentions that Yaba dealer Mr. S, a Thai, was one of 40 others booked without detention. More is mentioned about the schools the teachers worked at and that they took ecstasy. It then mentions Mr. Park had sold philopon adulterated with salt in March, and that they all had tested positive for it, but strongly denied using it.

Then, at 10:29, Yonhap published an article, titled "Gyeonggi Police, English teachers drug crime, 39 prosecuted." This time we’re told that P, H and supplier Mr. Park have been arrested for selling and taking drugs, and that Mr. S, the Thai worker, was one of 36 who were booked. It adds that Mr. S was one of 13 illegal Thai workers who were deported. We’re told more about P and H and that from December to February they sold ecstasy in a Samseong-dong club for 70-80,000 won a pill. We’re again told the story of the salt in the philopon, but this time 2 others, including Mr Baek, who were not detained, took part (and they were selling pot too). Mr. S, the Thai seller, had, with others, been selling philopon and yaba to other Thais since last October. 34 Thais were arrested for either selling or taking drugs.

At 11:55 Newsis published an article similar to No Cut News' titled "Drug taking native speaking English instructors prosecuted." It mentioned that 13 illegal workers had been deported.

At 1:13 YTN posted a broadcast with the same title as the above Yonhap article. It began by talking about the English teachers, mentioned the Thais dealing Yaba and philopon and the deportation of the illegal workers, and ended by saying that the police said there may be more drug-dealing and drug-taking foreigners in the capital’s schools and hagwons, and would continue to expand the investigation. Interesting that the focus was on rooting out more teachers like the two they arrested, and not on rooting out more methamphetamine-taking workers, like the thirty four that were booked. I guess YTN ran out of time before they could mention Mr. Park or Mr. Baek and their salt-selling adventures.

At 1:48 Yonhap published a new article titled “Elementary school native speaking English instructor drug use ‘shock.’” This article says that three people had been arrested for selling and taking drugs. But this time, we’re told that only P and H have been detained, and that a Korean English instructor who had studied abroad, Mr. Han, and a Thai worker had been booked without arrest along with 35 others. The article also recounts police statements that the teachers may have taught while high, and talks about them being drawn to the drug because it made the lights of techno clubs in Gangnam, Itaewon, and Hongdae look like laser light shows. The article was covered in more depth at the Marmot’s Hole.

Notice that, moving in the direction of the YTN news video, the Koreans (Mr. Park and Mr. Baek) of the previous article, and now the Thais have disappeared. Mr. Han, another English instructor, has been arrested and is included in Mr. P and Mr. H’s misadventures, which have been greatly expanded and focused on, with much effort being put into describing the purported hallucinatory effects of the drugs they took, as well as trying to make it seem like they could possibly have taught while high (such as, after saying they went out partying on weekends, putting 'Saturday, Sunday' in brackets after the word 'weekend' in order to suggest that they might have gone out on Sunday night and still been high Monday - unless of course Yonhap routinely treats its readers like five-year-olds and explain to them that the weekend means 'Saturday and Sunday.'). The Thai worker makes only one appearance and the other Thais and their deportation goes unmentioned, as does the fact that most of the people arrested were in fact Thai. No mention is made of Mr. Park, who had been one of three people detained in the first Yonhap and No Cut News article.

At 2:06 Asia Today published the second Yonhap article.

At 2:09 the Herald Gyeongje published a short article saying that 3 foreign English teachers, two Koreans, and 34 Thais had been arrested.

At 2:36 Maeil Gyeongje posted its MBN broadcast about the busts, based on the second Yonhap piece, which looked at only Canadian English teachers H and P, and the Korean teacher who had studied abroad.

At 2:47, the Gukmin Ilbo published the second Yonhap article.

At 3:30 No Cut News published a Capital Radio News broadcast which opened with this story using same headline as their 9:15 article. This version of the story made no mention of any Koreans or Thais, discussing only the Canadian English teachers who were arrested.

At 3:58 the Kyunghyang Shinmun published the second Yonhap article.

At 5:04, Yonhap posted a broadcast of ‘Today’s News,’ which included a one minute segment using the headline and much of the text of the second Yonhap article. One difference is that there is no mention of the Thai worker, and the paragraph about the teachers having possibly taught while high was moved to the introduction. It also provided a blurred video of a white teacher in front of a blackboard.

At 5:35, Bizplace published the second Yonhap article.

At 7:29 Maeil Gyeongje reposted its MBN broadcast.

At 9:00, and 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00 AM the next day, Yonhap posted a short 'Today's News' video showing headlines; this time the headline is that of the first Yonhap article.

At 5:48 am on April 17, the Chosun Ilbo published a brief article titled “Drug-taking English-teaching native-speaking instructors.” It reiterates the tale of Canadian English teachers H, P, Mr. Park and Mr. S, telling how the teachers sold ecstasy for 50,000 won a pill in the Samseong-dong club. We’re told Mr. Park sold philopon to a Mr. Kim in the bar near Seolleung station, but no salt is mentioned. For some reason this article sounds closer to the first No Cut News article, and makes no mention of the Korean instructor who studied abroad. Interesting.

So to recap: All of the articles have headlines focusing on the foreign English teachers. No Cut News has the first story telling about them and a Korean dealer selling philopon being detained, and a Thai dealer among 40 others booked. Yonhap expands on this so we have 2 Canadians and one Korean dealer detained, 2 Koreans and 34 Thais booked (13 of those, deported). YTN focuses on the foreigners (Canadians and Thais) but notes that more English teachers will be looked for. Yonhap's second article all but ignores the Thais, the Korean detained dealer disappears, and a Korean English teacher is arrested, with a focus on the English teachers clubbing and possibly teaching while high. This article is published by 4 other papers, while MBN and a No Cut News radio show crib from it and focus only on the English teachers. Yonhap has TV news (YTN?) focusing on the English teachers with no mention of the Thai and an emphasis on the possibility that they taught while high. From 2 Canadians, 3 Koreans and 34 Thais to 2 Canadians and 1 Korean in eight hours. Impressive.

This is especially interesting considering that more Thais have been arrested for drug crimes than any other nationality. According to this article, in 2008, 928 foreigners from 29 countries were booked for drug-related crimes. Of them, 711 (or 76%) were Thai nationals arrested for taking Yaba or selling it to other Thais.

From here.

While many nationalities helped raise the number of drug arrests for foreigners from 73 in 2006 to 299 in 2007 (Chinese, Americans, Canadians and Fillipinos, especially), it seems the spike from 299 to 711 arrests in 2008 is due to many large scale Yaba busts involving Thai workers. (More statistics are here and here).

One thing I wonder about is why the English teachers were detained. Couldn’t they just place a travel ban on them until their trial? Compare the treatment of the two English teachers to the Thais caught taking or selling drugs in Busan last November. As this Chosun Ilbo article points out, of 221 people arrested, 6 were detained and 215 were booked without detention. As this article mentioned of the Thais, "When found guilty of using or selling drugs, illegal migrants are immediately expelled to their home country. Those who stay here legally are sent to a detention center for foreigners and are usually fined." This seems lenient, but I have no idea how different groups are treated for drug crimes in Korea (could foreign workers, even though they're booked and not detained by police, simply be turned over to immigration to sit in a detention center?). This quote from an investigator who "sometimes feel[s] sorry for" the Thais he arrests is interesting: "They don't feel any sense of guilt in using drugs because most of them have experienced drugs in their home country, which is relatively lenient on drug use."

It reminds me of a story from March, when the Hankyoreh reported that a Spanish dancer was arrested for importing and smoking hashish with three castmates from the international musical Don Juan. He was caught when almost 5 grams were intercepted in the mail. The interesting thing was that the dancer was indicted without detention, while the other three were not charged because in Spain, according to the prosecutors, smoking cannabis is not punished. The perception here is that foreign English teachers get the book thrown at them, even for possession, but I'm not sure how true that is. In this case it's clear that the foreign English teachers were the only ones arrested and detained (not including the disappearing Mr. Park) while the illegal workers were quickly deported.

As for why that might be, and why the media (basically Yonhap and YTN (responsible for this look at foreigners in Hongdae), but with No Cut News and Maeil Gyeongjae playing a part) decided to focus on the 2 foreign English teachers instead of the 34 Thais, Robert Koehler may provide some insight (from about 44 minutes into this Seoul Podcast) when 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.
To be sure, this media treatment doesn't always happen. For example, look at these people who were arrested yesterday. The writer of the article decided the ‘people using websites to learn how to grow marijuana and arrange parties’ angle was more interesting than the fact of one of the six being detained was an American English instructor. The focus on the two Canadians two weeks ago may also be partly because pot busts have happened many times, while ecstasy busts are rarer and more attention-grabbing and easier to sensationalize. On the other hand, it's not like Yaba busts are a particularly run-of-the-mill event in Korea either. Perhaps the Yaba arrests reported on April 16 might have been looked at more critically, instead of being practically erased by the end of the day, if they had happened a week later, after the prosecutors office released statistics showing that Thais made up 76% of all foreign drug arrests. Perhaps not.

Oh, and related to this, in the last post I linked to this article saying that ecstacy is the most popular drug in Korea (among Koreans). I assumed that was wrong; this article tells us that "the number of known drug users in 2007 is 10,649, which is a 38% increase from the 2006 figure of 7,711. Out of that 8,521 were philopon users and 1,170 were marijuana users[.]"

*I'm not sure if that's supposed to be "philopon adulterated with salt" or whether salt was simply sold and said to be philopon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A few articles about birth, death, and the troubles between

The Joongang Ilbo has a lengthy article about sanhujoriwons, or postpartum clinics, where mothers can rest for two weeks after birth - for two million won and up.
There are 415 registered sanhujoriwon nationwide, according to the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, and although the national fertility rate remains very low, industry officials say women have to book well in advance if they want to stay at one of the better-known facilities.

An official said the ministry doesn’t keep precise figures on the number of women who use postpartum clinics, but a survey by the National Health Insurance Corporation in 2007 found that 41 percent of the 200 women polled around the country said they went to a postpartum clinic. Kim Jung-wook, the secretary general of the Organization of Postpartum Care in Kore,a said the figure was around 30 percent.
There are some complaints about these clinics, however:
“In 2006, a total of 202 complaints regarding sanhujoriwon were registered but the number dropped to 132 in 2007 and rose to 153 in 2008,” said Yun Jun-sik, an official from the Korean Consumer Agency. The majority of complaints are about infections. Newborn babies often come down with enteritis, pneumonia and cold while they stay at sanhujoriwon. Back in late 1990s and early 2000s, some deaths were reported.
Still, one hopes that at sanhujoriwon things like this don't happen:

As the Chosun Ilbo (or Ohmynews, in Korean) reported in May 2005,
Korea's active netizens are outraged about shocking pictures posted on a website that show nurses treating newborn children like toys in an obstetrics and gynecology hospital. A nurse identifying herself as Lee, 24, posted on her homepage on Cyworld about 20 photos of women who look like nurses appearing to treat newborn children like objects.
Police were to investigate, but I don't know what the outcome was.

Moving from birth to the other end of the pendulum's swing, the Korea Times brings us an article titled "672 People Die Everyday," the daily death average for Korea last year.
The National Statistical Office (NSO) said Tuesday that the number of people who died in 2008 totaled 246,000, up 2,900 from a decade ago.[...] The number of senior citizens aged 65 or older who died last year totaled 170,100, or 69.1 percent of the total, and has grown by 28,200 from a decade ago.

The ratio of the productive population, between 15 and 64 years of age, accounted for 29.7 percent of deaths, down 10 percentage points from a decade ago. [...] The number of infants one year old or younger who died last year stood at 1,570, decreasing by 140.

Koreans were increasingy covered by medical services. The ratio of people who died in hospitals recorded 63.7 percent. In 1998, only 28.5 percent of deaths occurred in hospitals, with 60.5 percent occurring at home.
The Joongang Ilbo looks at some of those figures in another way, writing that "the mortality rate stood at 5.0 last year, where it has remained since 2004," and "Deaths among young people under 14 stood at 1.2 percent of the total, or 2,800, with the infant mortality rate dipping to 3.4 babies out of 1,000 born, a slight improvement from 3.5 in 2007."

Speaking of death, the Korea Times tells us that "Actress Woo Seung-yeon, 25, was found dead in her home in Seoul in what appears to be a suicide, police said Monday. [...] Woo debuted as a model for fashion magazines and appeared in minor roles in the movies "Herb'' (2007) and "Private Eye'' (2009)." I think what's tragic about this, beyond the fact of her suicide itself, is just how accustomed people become to celebrity suicides. I posted a list of celebrity suicides here. The number, as far as I know, is now 13.

The Joongang Ilbo adds this:
Also yesterday, a 29-year-old woman who was trying to get into show business was prevented from killing herself at her home in Gangnam, southern Seoul. Police said that the woman, surnamed Park, attempted to hang herself after a phone call with an unidentified person.
In another article, the Korea Times looks at actors recently busted for drugs. I love the excuse those arrested have given for smuggling ecstacy and ketamine into the country:
Police officiers said the entertainers appear to have been tempted to use drugs on assumption that that ecstasy and other drugs kill the appetite, helping them reduce their weight. Ecstasy is a mildly hallucinogenic amphetamine and the most popular illegal drug in Korea, while ketamine, also illegal here, is a veterinary medicine that has a strong hallucinatory effect on humans in dilute doses.
Ecstasy is the most popular illegal drug in Korea? Interesting. The Korea Herald has an article about the use of the Thai drug Yaba, a form of methamphetamine, by Thai migrant workers in Korea.
Despite the Thai government's ban on the drug since 1970, Yaba has been widely used in Southeast Asian countries and was discovered in Korea last year [...] Last year, a total of 928 foreigners from 29 countries were booked for drug-related crimes, according to statistics from the Supreme Prosecutors' Office. Of them, 711 were Thai nationals captured for taking Yaba or selling it to other Thais.

Along with Thais, Chinese and Americans are most frequently arrested for illegal drug use in Korea. While there were slight fluctuations in the number of Chinese and U.S. drug offenders for the past two years - the Chinese figure down from 63 to 43 and the U.S. figure up from 47 to 63 - the number of Thai offenders increased almost 15 times last year from 52 in 2007.

The increase in Thai people here in recent years is cited as the main reason for the rising number of drug crimes committed by them. The Thai population in Korea has continued to grow, reaching 45,198 last year, with 14,346, or 31.7 percent considered illegal migrants.
An investigator notes that Thais tend to trade yaba among themselves (unlike westerners who buy drugs from the internet or from Korean dealers) so its easier to round up many at once, such as a case last November when 215 Thais were arrested in Busan. I found this interesting:
When found guilty of using or selling drugs, illegal migrants are immediately expelled to their home country. Those who stay here legally are sent to a detention center for foreigners and are usually fined.

"They don't feel any sense of guilt in using drugs because most of them have experienced drugs in their home country, which is relatively lenient on drug use. [...] "I sometimes feel sorry for people who didn't realize the seriousness of the crime and come to regret their behavior. But as an investigator, it's impossible to take care of all the individual cases."
I wouldn't have considered Thailand to be very lenient regarding drug use, but perhaps my perception is wrong. At any rate, Thais can be safe in the knowledge that, even if there were dozens of them arrested, the presence of a single English teacher would guarantee that the headline - and article - would focus on the English teacher instead.

As for something non drug-related, the Donga Ilbo (and Korea Beat) look at the government's plans to expand non-smoking areas.
Smoking will be banned as early as this year in all public areas and inside buildings. The Health, Welfare and Family Affairs Ministry said yesterday that it will designate 16 types of public facilities as non-smoking areas under a government roadmap on anti-smoking policy.

The facilities where smoking will be banned are large buildings; performance halls; private academic institutes; large sales outlets; lodging facilities; schools; indoor sports facilities; medical institutions; social welfare centers; public transportation venues; public bathhouses; game arcades; large restaurants; comic book stores; government buildings; and childcare facilities.
Certainly one of the things a friend who came back to work in Korea had to adjust to after living in Canada - with its smoke-free bars and restaurants - was the omnipresent cigarette smoke.

[Hmmm. In coming up with the title I was reminded of 'Birth School Work Death' by The Godfathers, a band I haven't thought of in over a decade. Funny how that happens.]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Couples gather by night to take in 'frothy spouts'

The Banpo Bridge fountains by night, from here.

I briefly mentioned the plan to turn the Banpo Bridge into the longest fountain in the world (or some such thing) in this post about the Han River Renaissance plan. The fountains were turned on yesterday for the first time (though according to this article, they're about two years late). There's video of the ceremony here (though I'm mystified as to why the microphones in front of mayor Oh Se-hoon didn't start shooting jets of water at him, like the game/variety shows you see on TV).

As the Joongang Ilbo's caption for the photo above, titled "Frothy spout," reads,
A water fountain spurting from both sides of the Banpo Bridge is unveiled to the public yesterday on the Han River, Seoul. The cascade’s 380 nozzles are programmed to keep time with music.
I don't know about the choice of a couple of the words above... though it might explain why there are already couples going down there.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Correction: Russo-Japanese War Correspondent R.L. Dunn

Last fall I began writing about the three foreign correspondents - Jack London, Frederick Arthur McKenzie, and Robert Lee Dunn - who were the only foreign correspondents to arrive in Korea in time to report on the first two months of the Russo-Japanese War. While London and McKenzie both wrote books or articles about the war, only Robert Dunn's photos were available to me, and information about his past was difficult to find.

Robert Lee Dunn

The index of papers in the Dartmouth College library for Robert (Steed) Dunn seemed odd (Dunn's middle name was Lee, not (Steed), but the brackets raised questions), but the inclusion in those papers of a folder titled "1904, Korea, Japan" seemed to confirm that this was indeed the same Robert Dunn. Or so I thought until Scott Dunn, a relative of Robert Lee Dunn, emailed me and pointed out that this was incorrect (due, it seems, to the mistaken inclusion of material belonging to Robert Lee Dunn in the papers of Robert Steed Dunn). Here is information about Robert Lee Dunn, about whom there is very little information on the internet. Many thanks to Scott Dunn for this information:


Son of Franklin Pearce Dunn (1840-1901) & Mariamne A. (Furr) Dunn (1839-1878), Robert Lee Dunn was born on 10/15/1874 in Memphis , TN. One of 8 children.

He married Edna Estelle Pollard, (1876 – 1963). They had three children, Lura Lee Dunn (Kelly), Robert Lee Dunn Jr. and Idris Mariamne Dunn (Holcomb)

Robert Lee Dunn was a photographer and correspondent for Harper’s and Collier’s Weekly and also covered a variety of other photography assignments, some listed below.

1874 Born in Memphis , TN

1898 Governor Theodore Roosevelt

1901 President McKinley crossing San Francisco Bay

1902 Prince Henry of Prussia tour

1902 President Theodore Roosevelt tour [If it was his New England Tour, some photos (not necessarily taken by him) can be seen here].

1904 Russo-Japanese War (with Jack London)

1904 Sen. Charles W. Fairbanks

President William Taft (before and during presidency)

[Dunn accompanied then secretary of war Taft on his round the world tour in 1907, leaving Seattle on (Friday) September 13, visiting Yokohama, Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nagasaki between September 28 and October 5, visiting Shanghai October 8, Hong Kong October 12, the Philippines between October 15 and November 9, Vladivostok on November 17, taking the trans-Siberian railway to St. Petersburg between November 19 and December 3 (with a two day stopover in Moscow) passing through Berlin on December 6, Hamburg on the 7th, and Bolougne on the 9th before arriving in New York on December 20.]

He authored numerous articles and the book William Howard Taft, American (which used many photos from the 1907 round the world tour).

1953 Died, Tuolumne County , California

Some of his photos can be viewed by searching the Library of Congress photo files searching under his full name and RL Dunn.

Robert Lee Dunn was very entrepreneurial and moved around the east coast and then eventually moved to California . He proposed building plans for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and eventually settled just outside of the town, Columbia , Tuolumne County, CA . His property had a sizable limestone deposit and he developed the Port Stockton Cement Company. He attracted numerous stock holders but never really produced any cement. He lived there up until his death on 5/27/1953. He and some family members are buried in the cemetery which is within the boundaries of the Columbia State Historic Park .

Unlike Robert Steed Dunn, R.L. Dunn seems to have never gone to Alaska, but he does have one Alaska connection: In 1904, after returning to the U.S. from Japan, he photographed Sen. Charles Warren Fairbanks, after whom the city of Fairbanks, Alaska, had just been named.

Using this information, the original post will have the following added to it:

Meanwhile, by this time back in Japan, Colliers photographer Robert Dunn had been dispatched to Chemulpo, leaving soon after the Siberia reached Yokohama. Dunn, who was 29 at the time, was born on October 15, 1874 in Memphis, Tennessee.

He became a photographer and correspondent for Harper’s and Collier’s Weekly, covering Theodore Roosevelt when he was Governor of New York, President McKinley's visit to San Francisco in May 1901, and Prince Henry of Prussia's visit to the U.S. in 1902. He covered Theodore Roosevelt taking the oath of office after the assassination of President McKinley in Buffalo in September 1901:

As Frederick McKenzie wrote of him,
Dunn is American every inch. A Tennessee man, trained in New York, he will do anything, bear anything, go anywhere, to get a beat. He is capable of asking a General to delay a bombardment until the light grows better for picture taking.
The qualities that McKenzie describes are what helped make Dunn one of the only three correspondents to slip out of the Japanese military's grasp and sneak into Korea before the war started, and would serve him well on the arduous journey ahead.

Friday, April 24, 2009

They can go anywhere in the world... except home.

[Another update: There's an exhibit of photos of North Korea over six decades in Jongno until May 5. More information is here.]

[Update: I forgot to mention Roboseyo's other North Korea-related video find: a subtitled version of the 1986 North Korean film Pulgasari, which was directed by Shin Sang-ok, the South Korean director who was kidnapped to North Korea (along with his wife) by Kim Jung-il in order to make movies.]

The former residents of the vanished village in my last post can't go back to the buildings that once stood there, but they can at least return to a familiar landscape. The students in the video below would face prison or worse should they try to return to their homes in North Korea. The video shows a school for North Korean students (living in South Korea) taking a trip to the DMZ - the closest they'll ever get to their former homes. The juxtaposition of the bright-eyed teen and her story - leaving her family behind to escape to South Korea - is what makes this video work so well. It's less than ten minutes long, and is really worth watching. Many thanks to Roboseyo for posting this video at his site (and Hub of Sparkle).

If you have another ten minutes or more, allow me to suggest this 2003 NYT article titled "Flight of the Fluttering Swallows." The title is a translation of the name for homeless North Korean childen, "kotjebi"(꽃제비). When K-blogger Oranckay posted about it back in 2004 or 2005 I remember him writing that it was the best article he'd read about North Korean defectors living in the south - in this case, teenagers. Years later I saw the omnibus film 'If You Were Me 2', which had a short titled 'The Boy With The Knapsack,' about young North Korean refugees in Seoul, one of whom, a teenage boy, likes to ride his motocycle - at top speed - because that's the thing he can do better than any of the South Koreans. An incident mentioned in the NYT article provides the basis for this short film.

"We will crush Google like the cyber insects they are"* and other tales of Korean internet regulation

A few weeks ago, on the eve of Youtube Korea having to implement it, I looked at how Korea's 'real name' internet system evolved. As it turned out, of course, Google decided not to implement the system after all:
Google’s Korea unit, however, has found a way around being subjected to the country’s Internet real-name system, voluntarily shutting down some of the Web site’s functions. A notice was available on YouTube Korea Web site’s on April 9 saying, “YouTube has decided to restrict its video upload and comment functions in South Korea.” It also stated, “Because there is no upload function, users won’t be required to confirm their identification.”
As the Korea Times continued,
However, since the changes are only effective for YouTube's Korean-language site, domestic users are still able to post videos on it if they set their country preference to one other than South Korea.

Google's decision to bypass local censorship laws may contribute to inciting Internet users to flock to foreign sites as a means of avoiding censorship. [...] Internet users are increasingly concerned about the level of Web surveillance here and many bloggers are contemplating "cyber exiles.'' "

Not so many users go to foreign sites,'' said an official from Daum. "However, if their Web activity is suppressed more, more and more users could become more willing to venture out of their habits and try other things. And Google may benefit from its clearer position in the long run.''
I'd tend to think that getting out of the Naver and Daum ghetto would be good for Korean netizens. It's the fact that they stay in the same corner of cyberspace that made it so easy for those wanting to sow misinformation about U.S. beef to have such stunning results last summer. While plans for the regulations making it necessary for sites with 100,000 visitors to register their real names predate the beef protests, the expansion of the real name system is sometimes perceived to be part of the Blue House's attempts to control the internet. Of course, this story (via Extra! Korea) is rather amusing.
While YouTube has restricted South Korean users from uploading video clips and posting comments on its Korean-version of its Web site since April 9, the Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) keeps posting public relations (PR) videos of President Lee Myung-bak on the site by registering its ID as a foreign user from another country. Internet users criticize the Cheong Wa Dae of undermining the intention of its real-name system.
According to the Blue House, its Youtube account has always been meant for more of an international audience, and has always been set to 'international.' We're then told the reaction of the KCC to Google's move:
Hwang Cheol-jeung, an official in charge of Internet network policy at the Korea Communication Commission, says, “There is no plan to punish either users who upload content on YouTube by setting their location in another country instead of South Korea, or Google Korea which facilitates such a route.”
A few days later, this same official would have a different attitude:
KCC network policy official Hwang Cheol-jeung says that the commission will be examining whether or not Google has engaged in illegal activities in any of the various services it operates in South Korea. Since Google’s Korea Unit is conducting many activities in South Korea besides operating the YouTube Korea video site, including search and keyword-based advertising, observers are concerned that this investigation could potentially turn up illegal practices in areas such as internet obscenity, unwholesome advertising, and copyright infringements.
In other words, they're saying, "Trust me. We'll find something to hang them with." As quoted at the Marmot's Hole, this description of a meeting last week of the National Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Sports, Tourism, Broadcasting & Communications was rather amusing:

At the CCSTB&C meeting, Grand National Party lawmaker Na Kyung-won [left] said that with Google’s measure, “They are speaking as though Korea is a backwards Internet nation that is intensifying its Internet censorship. Why are you just standing around doing nothing?” Choi responded that plans were underway to “send a message of severe dismay to Google about their terribly commercial approach with which it has tried to deceive people by a transparent guile.”
Somehow, I doubt a 'message of severe dismay' will do much to change Google's position. Other Korean internet companies are not happy with the way Google has managed to get around the real name system:
Han Chang-min, Korea Internet Corporations Association secretary-general, expressed the frustration experienced by several Internet companies, “The fair thing to do would be to apply the real name system to all foreign sites accessible to users in South Korea, or else remove the regulation for South Korean businesses.”
Considering the government once thought that the best way to stop rising drug use by teens (in the mid 1990s) was to give drug tests to every single student, I don't think I would make a statement like the one above expecting the latter choice to happen. On the other hand, it's funny that an organization representing the likes of Naver would complain about lack of fairness in regards to Google, considering Naver essentially locked Google searches out of its fiefdom for years.

Google responded yesterday in interviews. While talking about commitment to freedom of expression, I'm sure it's the fact that Google (according to this article) has only a 3% market share in Korea that makes it willing to stand up to the government - unlike in China. This article notes something interesting:
The Lee Myung-bak government has been looking at more ways to monitor the Internet, after being repeatedly attacked by bloggers, first for its controversial decision to resume U.S. beef imports and more recently for its supposed ineptitude in economic policies.

The latest attempt comes from the efforts by GNP lawmakers to rewrite the communication privacy law and allow authorities further power to observe and track Web browsing habits.

According to the bill, law enforcement authorities get expended surveillance power beyond fixed-line telephone calls and are enabled to intercept mobile phone and Internet communications, which include e-mail, chats and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calls.
This is in addition to a new copyright law, which ROK Drop looks at here:
According to the bulked-up copyright law, the government has the power to shutdown an online message board for a maximum six months after the site is warned for a third time to delete pirated content and prevent its movement. In addition to the “three-strikes” rule, Internet users who repeatedly upload copyrighted content without permission could lose their Internet accounts.
There has been quite a bit of commentary wondering about the possibility of the government abusing the power this law would give it. In mid-March, people wondered why the police were so intent on arresting three bloggers who had supposedly manipulated the number of hits they got to make their writing appear more widely read, and wondered if it was because the posts had been critical of the government. Of course, it was just a few days ago that someone else was convicted of something similar:
The Supreme Court said Sunday it has convicted a Seoul man on charges of manipulating the number of clicks into a company's Web site in a scheme to lift its popularity ranking on domestic Internet portals. The top court upheld a lower court's decision to impose a fine of 3 million won (US$2,300) on the 38-year-old man, identified only by his family name Lee, court officials said.

Lee was indicted on charges of using a self-developed program to intentionally multiply the number of clicks and page views of an unidentified company Web site between September 2005 and March 2006. The top court said Lee has been found guilty of interrupting the conduct of business at local portal sites by illegally influencing the popularity and page view rankings through his click manipulation program.
I guess those who are against the heavy-handed way the government is trying to regulate the internet can't really argue that others haven't been arrested for manipulating hits. Manipulating the comment rating function at was one of the ways 'mad cow rumors' were spread quickly on the internet a year ago.

My post on the history of the real name system referred to one of the first posts I wrote on this blog in June of 2005, about the Dog Poop Girl. A Joongang Ilbo article linked to in that post also told the story of another victim of an internet witch hunt:
[In] April, relatives of a 30-year-old woman who committed suicide after her boyfriend broke up with her wrote about him online. Soon, the location of his workplace and even his cell phone number were being circulated. He eventually quit his job.
A case related to this was the subject of a supreme court ruling last week:
The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling Thursday, ordering major Korean portal sites to compensate a man for failing to take steps to stop the spread of defamatory articles. The judgment, the first of its kind in the top court, means that portals are to be treated the same as mainstream media, which are held liable for damages caused by articles they display on their Web sites, even if the stories were originally created by writers not affiliated with them.

"Portals are to compensate the victim because they did nothing, although they knew that the articles were apparently defamatory and in wide circulation,'' the court said in the ruling, ordering the accused to pay 30 million won ($22,500) to the victim in compensation.
Real name systems to deal with, Google using "transparent guile" and not playing fair, and being held liable for users' content - those poor portals.

Of course, one of the bits of good news was that the blogger Minerva was found not guilty this week (for now - the prosecution is appealing). In the wake of this there are suggestions that a new
cyber defamation law may be scaled back.
The government's overzealous move to control cyberspace through the introduction of a cyber defamation law faces an uphill battle following a Seoul court's freeing of Internet blogger "Minerva'' from jail Monday.

The cyber defamation bill, first suggested by the Ministry of Justice last year, is part of a revisions to the Telecommunications Law that are currently being pushed by the ruling Grand National Party (GNP).

Under the provisions, a person accused of "insulting'' others on the Internet and other telecommunications network could be punished by a prison term of up to three years or a 30 million won fine.
Some within the GNP and KCC are questioning aspects of this law, however.
"The problem with the cyber defamation law is that the rules could be imposed by arbitrary will, with some punished and some not under the same conditions, just as it is with the National Security Law,'' said Hwang Guen, a mass communications professor of Sunmoon University, who is a GNP advisor for media policies.
Kind of like investigating Google just to see if you can find something to pin on them?

(* The title isn't a real quote; I just like the song 'Cyber Insekt,' by The Fall, though this one is even better.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ogok-dong's lost landscape

This past weekend I went on a little road trip with my friend Jae-ho and his daughters. He'd initially suggested going for a walk on Gaehwasan, but I suggested something a little more off the beaten track. I've been documenting some disappearing neighbourhoods, mostly in the farmland near Gimpo Airport (but still within Seoul's boundaries), and I suggested going to see one of these areas. We ended up, after some spur of the moment decisions along the way, circumnavigating Gimpo Airport.

(Start from top left and go clockwise)

We first drove south and drove around a nearby military base (one which is to be moved at some point to make way for this street) and down to Osoi-dong, at the southern end of Gimpo Airport. A large mound of sand makes for a good view of the airport runways... well as a great place to play.

Plus there's the fun of having low flying airplanes come in for a landing.

We then went down the road a kilometer or so and parked near this field (though the photo was taken another time I went). What you see is actually Bucheon; if I backed up a few meters, I'd be in Seoul again.

There are still several farm roads winding through the fields.

This is a bit rustic, but hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go, I guess:

There were lots of people out in the field (as there have been for the last few weekends) picking minari, or dropwort. In the distance you can see apartment buildings in Bucheon's Wonjong-dong.

After walking around for awhile (and waiting for the person who parked their car behind us and boxed us in to answer their phone) I remembered seeing, on Google maps, a village south of the airport - in the north of Bucheon - that I'd never got around to visiting. Off we went. On the outskirts of the village is the Daejang branch of Deoksan Elementary School, where the kids played on the swings for awhile. The main branch of the school is a kilometer or so south, on the outskirts of the urbanized part of the city.

The village is part of Daejang-dong, and was once Daejang-ri. The school is just off to the right, on the other side of the river.

We drove through the eastern half of the village; here's a view of the western part:

Leaving the village, we headed north, into the surrounding farmland. Next to the roads were rice seedlings:

To the west we could see Gyeyangsan, in Incheon.

Below, looking east, beyond the fields you can see Gaehwasan (in Banghwa-dong) in the distance on the left, and the Gimpo Airport's control tower on the right.

I'm not sure what this river / canal's name is. I might call it canal because the northern part, before it reaches the Han river, was rerouted around Gimpo Airport when the runways were lengthened at some point in the past.

The same river, this time looking south.

This was taken as we crossed a bridge. On the other side was a strange concrete structure, possibly a guard tower.

On the west side at this point was a 'weekend garden,' where urban folks can rent a small plot and grow food. I was surprised to see that we had once again crossed back into Seoul.

This certainly caught my attention:

This is the 'worldwide headquarters' of Younggu Art, Shim Hyung-rae's company, which did the special effects for D-war.

A video showing the interior (briefly) of this dream (or nightmare) factory can be seen here.

We soon found our way out to a major road and headed home. Later on, I decided to search on Daum maps to see exactly where we had gone that day. At the location of Younggu Art and the weekend farm, something strange showed up on the map: "Ogok Elementary School." I thought this was odd, because we certainly did not see any school there. Suddenly, that school's name came back to me, and after some searching, I found the article where I'd seen the name before - about creating computer and multimedia classrooms for Banghwa Elementary School. The article notes that the funding for these classrooms came from the government, which gave the school money to merge with Ogok Elementary School in 1999. When I first found that article, I'd wondered where the school was, but never followed up on it. This time, I did a quick search on Naver and found this blog, which has several photos of that neighbourhood. The reason for this is that Ogok-dong is the blogger's home town. He has several posts with pictures of Ogok Elementary School taken several years ago, such as this one:

Reading his posts, we find that the school was opened in August 1972, and closed in March of 1999. Over 27 years 1092 students were taught there. Other photos reveal what has happened to the school since:

Why, the school was bought by... Younggu Art, refurbished, and turned into its worldwide headquarters. In the photo below, the building in the center, in the distance, is the former school:

A digression: May I suggest the track titled 'How I long' below?

What's quite interesting about the blog is that the blogger also posted photos of himself at school, on the day he started elementary school (here and here). I don't see such old, personal pictures posted very often in Korea for the purpose of showing how the landscape has changed (or maybe I just don't look enough). Anytime I meet people who have lived in Banghwa-dong for a long time, I usually ask if they might have photos of the area from 20 years ago, and the answer is always no. Of course, most people don't think to take photos of their own neighbourhoods - you wouldn't find many old photos of my parents' - or even my - hometown in my family's photo collection, for example - and when you mix this with the fact that cameras would have been a luxury for many people here 30 or more years ago, you end up with a situation where photos like the ones linked to above are not so common. You would usually have to find someone who had the urge to document their neighbourhood, which is not so easy the further back you go.

Oddly enough, in some ways, my great grandfather was one of those kinds of people - around 1910.

These photos - on glass plates - were discovered in a box in a barn years ago and printed by my uncle and grandfather. The photo above shows a friend of my great grandfather (in a boat my great grandfather likely made) in front of the boathouse he had on the Don River very close to the waterfront in Toronto. The photo below was taken near the house he built on Rhodes Avenue, which is now close to Toronto's center - but was then on the edge of the city, in the countryside. That's my great, great, great grandmother (she lived to be 93) next to my great grandfather's friend.

Out of all the photos I've seen in the family, my great grandfather probably documented much more of his life at that time than following generations, but that's probably because it was such a new technology at the time. But I digress.

What's even more interesting about the aforementioned blogger is that there are several photos of his neighbourhood as a child. One photo is of him in front of his village (likely taken close to that strange concrete structure/guard house), and another is in front of his house. Very cool.

I was curious if the village might be on an older map, so I looked at this one.

The location of the village on that map seems to be Norume. According to the only 'cafe' option when you do this search, Norume was also known as Jangsan-ri. A closer look, using this map of Kimp'o Airbase (likely from the 1960s) shows Norume and Ogong-ni (Ogok-ri). While the area of the village is known as Ogok-dong, it's clear from the map below that Ogong-ni would have been paved over by the widening of the airport at some point, so the location of Norume would seem to be correct.

Photo from here.

It's entirely possible that this village seen looking west towards the previously photographed Gyeyangsan (known to U.S. soldiers at Kimpo Airbase as 'the witch's tit') is Norume - the same village the blogger was photographed in front of decades later (after the Saemaeul Movement had replaced all the thatched roofs with tiles or metal).

Photo from here.

Photo from here.

You may ask yourself, 'Why is it hard to be sure of what the village's name once was?" The answer to that is related to the reason that Ogok Elementary School closed. The village no longer exists. In this older photo (from here), you can still see traces of the village:

In this more recent photo, there is almost no trace of the village:

(note also the now non-existant Gwahae-dong residents' center)

This drawn map on the blog shows what the village would have once looked like. The school is on the other side of the river.

In the background of this photo is where the village once stood:

The commenters on the blog also seem to have grown up in or visited the area, and looking through the old photos and reading the posts, you really get a sense of the nostalgia they have for a place which is some ways no longer exists . Considering how much Korea has changed - and keeps changing, and how many neighbourhoods are being demolished on a daily basis, there must be a lot of people who have experienced this. At least in Ogok-dong, the countryside remains the same, unlike areas that get razed and replaced with apartment blocks, so I imagine there's less of a sense of the disconnect Yang Kwija described in "Cold Water Pass," the last story in A Distant and Beautiful Place:
My hometown was almost unrecognizable to me now. If not for the road signs visible from the express bus that I took to attend my father's memorial service in Chonju once a year, I wouldn't have known where I was. The family home was completely different now, alone amid the inns and stores that had sprung up after the roads were widened. In fact, the old house had been torn down and replaced by a western-style home, and the lot had long been conveted by a man who wanted to build a motel. After the stream that ran in front of the house was covered by a road, our neighbourhood was rapidly incorporated into the city. The transformation was complete with the rerouting of the railroad tracks. The old neighorhood was gone.
At our first stop of the day, in the fields of Osoi-dong where planes fly overhead constantly during the day, the erasing of another rural neighbourhood is almost finished taking place. One of the empty houses can be seen below:

I'll save that neighbourhood for another day, though.

(The title of this post is taken from Kim Ki-chan's book of the same name which I looked at here three years ago.)

Britain's most important battle of the Korean War

Today marks the 58th anniversary of the beginning of the Chinese Spring offensive during the Korean War. On April 22, 1951, Chinese forces began the largest offensive of the war with the aim of recapturing Seoul. One of the battles where they were stopped was the Battle of Kapyong, which I mentioned in this post last week (more on it here). Another important battle was the Battle of the Imjin River, which is the focus of a new book by Seoul-based British journalist Andrew Salmon titled "To The Last Round: The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951." As this Korea Times article relates,
"British forces have fought all over the world since the 1950s, but Imjin River remains the bloodiest battle since World War II. Of the brigade's 4,000 men, 1,091 were dead, wounded or captured… However, today in the United Kingdom this tragedy is almost forgotten," said the author. Back home, he said, military history is a popular genre but there are barely any books on the Korean War.
When I met the author a few weeks ago, he mentioned that this book would be coming out soon, and it sounded interesting; what I didn't know was that the book is being made into a documentary by Daniel Gordon, known for his documentaries about North Korea ('The Game Of Their Lives,' 'A State Of Mind,' and 'Crossing the Line'). I also found this interesting:
The filmmakers are seeking private investment because South Korean governmental bodies refused to fund the movie, reasoning that "the Korean War is not in line with the 'brand image' (they) want to promote," Salmon said. "I think if you want to understand how prosperous and free Korea is, you need to contrast it with the brutality and poverty of the war," he added.

"Korea is now a rich country, one of the richest countries in the world. To fully understand that, you have to contrast it with the way it was 50 years ago. That is a tremendous achievement by the Korean people. On a different angle, war is the greatest human drama. Much of the great poetry, literature and film are on the drama of war. I'm surprised Korea doesn't package its tourism toward the Korean War," he said.
Salmon has also written one of the more down-to-earth articles I've read about branding Korea (in this case, food) here. Back to the film:
The filmmakers hope the film will be ready to be screened by the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War next year. "I truly hope the Korean government and society will unite to commemorate next year's 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. For next year will be the last significant event that living witnesses will be able to participate in," said Salmon.
The article manages to mess up both the name of the book and the website, which is here. Be sure to read the introduction here - it looks like a promising beginning.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Minerva found not guilty

Though prosecutors wanted an 18 month sentence for Minerva, Seoul Central District Court found him not guilty today:
"When considering all the circumstances, it is hard to conclude that Park was aware the information was misleading when he wrote the postings," Justice Yoo Young-hyun of the Seoul Central District Court said in the ruling.

The judge also said that even if Park had realized that the information was false, it cannot be concluded that he had the intent to hurt public interest, considering the circumstances at the time or the special characteristics of the foreign exchange market.
Good news all around, but he never should have been arrested in the first place.

[Update: There's more on the case here.]

419, 49 years later

Today (well, okay, yesterday) was the 49th anniversary of the 1960 student revolution (known as 419 (사일구) in Korean, after the date). On this day in 1960 students rose up against the government of Syngman Rhee for election fraud after the discovery of the body of 16 year-old Kim Ju-yeol - who had been killed by police in an earlier protest - in Masan harbor. Upon attempting to march on the presidential mansion, police fired on students, killing 130 and wounding hundreds, removing any lingering legitimacy the Rhee regime might have had. I've looked at the events of the uprising here and here, and at its aftermath, when Syngman Rhee was forced to step down, here. Photos of the uprising can be seen in this video. This photo from the Korea Times reminds us that the events of this day 49 years ago are not as distant as we might think.

Kim Byeong-ji, 96 years-old, weeps in front of the tomb of her son, Choi Dong-sup, who was among those killed during the Students Uprising on April 19, 1960, at a national cemetery in Suyuri, Seoul, Sunday.
This article adds that "Her son was killed by gunshot while taking to a hospital student activists [who were] injured..."

Some beautiful photos of the cemetery can be found here.

Photos of the ceremony commemorating the 49th anniversary can be found here and here, while this article has photos of the president visiting the cemetery early in the morning; in the first he's standing in front of Kim Ju-yeol's grave. His speech, which was read at the ceremony (which he didn't attend) spoke out against corruption. While I can't disagree with the sentiment, the anniversary of the 419 uprising seems an odd time to bring up such a topic, other than to gloat over the fact former president Roh is being investigated for corruption. Call me cynical, but I have a hard time believing Lee Myung-bak will be the first president to break out of the very established pattern of presidential corruption.

[Update: Michael Breen writes about the Roh investigation here.]