Monday, November 28, 2005

I must be hallucinating

The Chosun Ilbo wrote an editorial titled "GNP Has no Moral Right to Protest Eavesdropping"?
The party has made no apology whatsoever to the people for the illicit tapping done by the ANSI on its watch. How much more clueless about public sentiment can the GNP be? The party must recognize that it was a perpetrator long before it became a victim. Just because the statute of limitations on its crime has expired does not mean the crime itself has somehow evaporated, nor that the people have forgiven it.
Never thought I'd see the day when the Chosun Ilbo started sounding something like Oranckay!

Strange indeed...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Test Day at Last!

As I mentioned last night, I saw a group of girls sitting outside the front gate of the local high school, planning to stay all night and greet the test takers in the morning. The Korea Herald described the outcome of the scene I saw (as does the above photo) :
Many students arrived in the early morning to be cheered on by fellow schoolmates. [...] "I came here at 3 a.m., but many sophomores from my school came during lunch time on Tuesday, reserved their territory with green tape on the ground and stayed over night to hold the best spot for cheering," Kim A-ra, freshman at Baiwha Girls' High School, said. "It is very cold, but it's a great feeling to cheer the seniors and wish them high scores."
Yonhap was nice enough to take lots of pictures of students gathered outside a high school (it almost looks like a protest, doesn't it?), cheering on the test-takers and wishing them high scores, as well as photos of police escorting late students to the test ('over 10,000 police were stationed near exam venues and subway stations throughout the country to help students get to the venues on time').

I'm not sure if there were any reporters getting shots like this in Kwangju, as they all seemed to be waiting to get photos of "the nation's little sister", Moon Geun-young. One has to wonder where she finds the time to study, considering how much modelling and acting she must do.

Back to that Herald article.From it I learned something I hadn't known, namely that testing began at 8:40 a.m. and ended at 6:15 p.m. That's... a long time to take a test. Just thinking about having to write a test for that long seems stressful. I haven't mentioned the title of the Herald article yet: "Student kills himself ahead of college entrance exam". Needless to say, the alliterative associations one draws on this day are suneung, stress, and suicide, and all have come to pass today:
As students prepared to sit the national university entrance exam yesterday, a 19-year-old high school graduate, who was due to take the test for the second time, committed suicide in Seoul at around 6. a.m., police said.

"His parents found his body on the ground after he jumped off the 16th floor of his apartment building," a policeman at Seoul Bukbu Police Station said. "We're considering it as a suicide case due to his parents' testimony that Lim was under high pressure because of the exam."

Should I mention that next to the above paragraphs on the website there was an ad for an apartment complex complete with photos of tall apartment blocks? Perhaps not, but it unintentionally provided a visual aid to a rather grim, if predictable, article.

As you might tell from the many pictures linked to above (if you scroll down on each picture page there are more), every Korean media outlet reported on the 수능 today. While online Korean language papers like the Chosun Ilbo have literally dozens of articles, the English language press have managed to print one or two pertinent articles.

The Donga Ilbo posted an article titled "CSAT Preparation for Disabled Students", and kudos to them for reporting on a subject (in English) which often gets little press - in any country. The article looks at students with cerebral palsy, and informs us that it was only 3 years ago that people with such disabilities were allowed to take the entrance exam.
They will take the test at the school together with 16 other students with cerebral palsy living in Seoul. The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development ensures that students with the same disability will take the test together at the same school.

The enthusiasm and expectation for the class is higher than expected. In 2002, the first year the special admission was implemented, 15 students took the test and 10 of them succeeded in entering universities. In 2003, nine out of 15, and last year, 2004, all 14 students were admitted to universities.
Photos of some of these students arriving for the test today can be found here and here.

The Korea Times posted an article titled "Foreigners Taste Unique Culture in College Entrance Exam Here" (foreigners are not once mentioned in the article), which gives an overview of test day and different traditions which revolve around it (like parental visits to temples and affixing yeot (taffy) to the school gate where tests are being written). The accompanying photo shows students being checked with a metal detector, which is better described in a Joongang Ilbo article:

Supervisors armed with metal detectors watched the halls, checking that students going to restrooms did not have cell phones with them. "Many female students were offended when they were scanned with the detector."
After last year's cheating scandal in Kwangju, when answers were passed to students by text messaging, all cellphones were banned from testing rooms this year. The Joongang Ilbo article says that 12 exam takers were expelled from the test for carrying phones during the test today. One student in Busan who forgot nearly faced punishment from authorities wanting to follow the letter of the law:
The Busan Metropolitan Office of Education said, “He must be punished for cheating in accordance with the CSAT Guidelines, but some have pointed out that it would be too cruel to punish any examinee for the simple mistake of carrying his cell phone. So we have suggested that the Education Ministry allow [him] to take next year’s CSAT”.
The student has no choice but to try again next year because despite being allowed to continue with the test, he was so unnerved he gave up halfway through. While the above quote may seem like bureaucrat-speak which is stating the obvious (that a mistake like forgetting about your phone shouldn't invite harsh punishment), few other schools, according to the Joongang Ilbo, allowed the students caught with phones to finish the test. Just for fun, it's worth looking at how (in English) the different papers described these students. While the Herald called them students "who forgot to turn in their mobiles", and the Chosun Ilbo spoke of students who where "expelled for carrying mobile phones", the Joongang Ilbo's article was titled "Students try cheating by cell phones despite ban". The Joongang even has a ministry spokesperson back up its 'zero tolerance' viewpoint.

That some students would forget something that is so embedded into the fabric of their daily life shouldn't really surprise anyone. The idea that they can't carry their personal window to the world with them on the 'most important day of their life' may seem so inconceivable to some students that they just forget it's there - or they may be so nervous that they just forget. If some students get so stressed out that they jump off of buildings, it doesn't seem far fetched that they they might forget about their phones. It doesn't seem right to make them defer university for two years over a simple mistake.

While high school students slugged through the test, my middle school students had a great day, as all classes were cancelled, while elementary students got to start school an hour later than usual. I'm sure those pleasant associations with test day will be forgotten in a few years, however.


27 students who were found to have cellphones will have their test scores disqualified and be prevented from taking the test next year. Authorities concede that most of them likely had no intention to cheat. A Joongang Ilbo article on the same topic describes two rather unfortunate situations:
A 20-year-old woman in Gyeonggi province left an MP3 player in her bag beside a lectern at the front of the test room after the exam supervisor only ordered "cell-phones and calculators" to be collected. When another supervisor monitoring an English test later asked for MP3 players to be submitted, she did so. The next day, however, the Education Ministry disqualified her and banned her from taking the test next year.
An 18-year-old male student in Gangju was also disqualified after taking the test wearing his brother's coat, which contained his father's cell phone. The father called the cell-phone to find out where it was as the student was taking the test.
Quite obviously, these situations are not the students' fault, but they're going to have to delay their lives for 2 years anyway. The education ministry might be better off rethinking this hastily-passed law, which interprets mere possession of an electronic device as intent to cheat. The Joongang Ilbo also has an excellent article on cellphone culture amongst teens in Korea, at one point describing them as "a part of their owner's psyche."

Oh, and Oranckay had an... interesting photo of a mother bidding her daughter good luck before the test.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cashing in on the Big Test

Today's the big day. In just a few hours, the test that thousands of kids have spent years studying for will be over. The Chosun Ilbo tells us that
The College Scholastic Ability Test for the 2006 academic year will start simultaneously at 966 schools in 75 districts across the country at 8:40 a.m. on Wednesday. A total of 593,806 people will take the test this year.
On my way home tonight I saw a half dozen students covered with blankets sitting outside the gate of a nearby high school, where, in a show of support, they will wait until morning for the test-takers to arrive. It's the first time I've seen it, (guess I haven't walked in front of high schools the night before the 수능 (CSAT) in previous years) and my obvious question would be, 'Does anyone know where this tradition comes from?' It doesn't seem like the most pleasant time of year to be outside all night (though I guess tonight's temperature of 5 degrees isn't as cold as it could be). It looked a bit like this:

At any rate, this time of year brings the requisite pictures of parents praying for the success of their children at temples and churches, workers loading boxes of these agents of destiny onto trucks, and students checking name lists onto the front pages of newspapers, along with other articles, in the days leading up to the test (very slight variations of the latter photo appeared on the the front pages of both the Joongang and the Chosun...why I'm not sure). It's in the days after the test that we get to read about students killing themselves, usually by jumping off buildings, in response to worse-than-expected test scores.

Happily, the Korea Times has something much more heartwarming to report. After dragging Valentine's Day out for 3 months (much to the benefit of the chocolate, flower, and Chinese food industry), and turning a fun exchange of pepero started at a school in Pusan in 1994 (according to this Joongang Ilbo article) into another consumer goldrush for Lotte, corporate Korea has discovered the consumer possibilities of another event: after-test celebrations! Yes, Lotte World and Seoul Land are giving 50% discounts today on students with exam IDs! CGV is giving a whopping 1000 won discount! Family restaurants are giving out free food! Megabox is letting test takers roll giant dice! "We've sucked your childhood, blood, and sweat from you, prevented you from having a social life for the last year or more, but now we'll give you free food and 1000 won off if you have your ID card with a coupon which you can download from our website, or 2000 won off if you bring the test ID and death certificate of a friend or relative who recently (dated to within 2 days of the test) jumped off a building! Have a nice day."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Revoking 12.12 and 5.18 Medals

Back in May, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Kwangju Uprising, Oranckay mentioned the fact that the many of the paratroopers who carried out the bloodshed were awarded medals, which have never been revoked. A Hankyoreh editorial which he linked to mentioned efforts by lawmakers to amend the law on awards and citations.

A September 7 Chosun Ilbo article confirmed that the law had been amended, and that it had been amended with not only paratroopers, but with former presidents Chun and Roh, in mind:
An official with the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs said Tuesday (Sept. 6) that when the amended law goes into effect on Nov. 5, the government would have to decide whether to strip the two disgraced former leaders of their decorations.

Decorations have so far been given -- and withdrawn -- at the request of particular bodies. But the new law amended in June gives the power to the home affairs minister independent of any requests, in this case from the Defense Ministry, which awarded them in the first place.

But the interior ministry is being cautious, saying it would “not be too late” to make the decision once a truth commission in the Defense Ministry has completed its reinvestigation of Chun’s Dec. 12, 1979 coup and the May 17, 1980 declaration of martial law. That probe... has just got under way.

Two weeks ago, on Nov. 6, the Korea Times reported that the law had just come into effect which
gives the [Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs] authority to take away awards from individuals if their achievements turn out to be exaggerated or if they are later held responsible for crimes that result in prison terms of more than three years.
Two days after it came into force, the aforementioned ministry
asked the Ministry of Government Legislation and a fact-finding committee of the Defense Ministry to evaluate the legality of awarding military medals to former presidents and 79 others for their roles in military coup in December 1979 and the Kwangju civilian massacre in May 1980. [...]

Two former presidents and 12 others were found to be guilty in 1997 for their roles in the 1979 military coup, while 69 other military officers received guilty verdicts for suppressing the democratic movement in the southwestern city of Kwangju.
The article confirmed that it would wait for the results of the Defense Ministry’s investigation before making a final decision.

In the scheme of things, I wonder if those who killed other ROK soldiers (in the 12.12 coup in 1979, as well as at Kwangju - 12 out of 23 soldiers killed in Kwangju were killed by friendly fire)
got higher decorations than those who killed civilians.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Save the Youth! Cripple the Film Industry!

I found a lovely editorial in the Joongang Ilbo titled 'Film filth and our youth':
The administration and the ruling party stepped back a bit from their plan to regulate movies depicting school violence in the face of public criticism against such a move. The administration and the party said they would not try to change the law on movies immediately, but that they would look for other measures to prevent children from being exposed to such films.
Recently, a high school student in Chungju, North Chungcheong province, committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates. But the idea of regulating movies to prevent school violence invites opposition for reasons of freedom of expression and adverse effects on the film industry.
Still, we believe that movies that can give impressionable teenagers the idea that violence is acceptable should be controlled in some way. Movies with excessive violence and foul language do influence young minds and the result is the present violence- and obscenity-prone generation.
Yes, that will solve the problem of youth violence, for which movies are entirely to blame. I'm sure growing up in an increasingly commercialized, materialistic society, living in monotonous concrete cities, being forced into a pressure-cooker educational environment which robs them of their childhood, while being exposed to foreign ideas which challenge almost every aspect of the societal order has nothing to do with it. Ending the depiction of youth violence in films will most certainly bring about the end youth violence in Korea, just like the lack of films depicting teen sex has guaranteed that teens here aren't having (unprotected) sex in greater and greater numbers.

(I also enjoyed the non sequitor about the girl from Chungju who committed suicide after being bullied).

Considering how well Korean films have been performing at the (Korean) box office over the past few years, and how well Korean films have been doing at foreign film festivals, and how the film industry's achievements are seen by the government and media as both a valuable cultural asset that is improving Korea's image abroad and as an important industry, it seems like idiocy that politicians would want to do it harm. "Hey, remember when nobody watched our movies because of their cheap production values and because censorship guaranteed we couldn't deal with juicy political and sexual topics? Let's relive those days!" "And hey, remember how the film quota helped pave the way for today's successes? Let's scrap it! (or reduce it at any rate)".

Perhaps the Unification ministry is behind this - they certainly seem to agree with censoring the media, as well as calling only for 'cheerful and admirable stories'.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Guerrilla Conflict in Korea 1966-69

Lost Nomad links to an article about the 1966-69 'Second Korean conflict', when, hoping to create a guerrilla uprising in the south similar to the Viet Cong insurgency in South Vietnam, North Korea began initiating small-unit battles along the DMZ and inserting Commandos into the south, which culminated in 1968 when some 600 incursions by the North took place.
In barracks bombings, ambushes, firefights, booby traps and other attacks, 75 U.S. soldiers, sailors and air crew members were killed and 111 wounded. South Korean forces, defending a far longer stretch of the 151-mile DMZ, had a longer casualty list -- 299 soldiers killed and 550 wounded.
The article is from a US military website and focuses on the conflict from the point of view of the American soldiers who fought there, examining, for example, the fact that many of the US soldiers who took part in the conflict were never considered to have seen combat and were never given combat pay. An article by Andrei Lankov also briefly covers this conflict, but from a Korean perspective.

Each article fills in the gaps left by the other (and make interesting cases about historical memory in each country). As the Lankov article points out, for example, these more aggressive incursions (targeting ROK troops) began a month or so before the first US patrol was ambushed, from which time the US article dates the beginning of the conflict. That article also describes the ways in which the US military dealt with the North Korean incursions (by building an 18-mile, 10-foot-high chain-link razor wire-topped fence, for example) and credits "the allies' savvy tactics and the South Koreans' animosity toward their northern neighbors" for North Korea's defeat.

Lankov, on the other hand, argues that it was not so much animosity toward the north (as the south in the 60s was full of poverty and inequality and ripe for Marxist agitation) but the poor and hurried propagandizing techniques of the northern commandos sent to foment a guerrilla rebellion. Another factor he cites was the difficulty of waging a guerrilla campaign in a land of barren hills and paddy fields, which is what the south looked like before the success of the re-forestation program. The US article makes mention of the Pueblo incident, but fails to mention the 1968 attack on the Blue House by North Korean Commandos (which was the subject of another Lankov article).

What's interesting is that the (foiled) attack on the Blue House culminated in a shootout 300 meters from the target on January 21, 1968 - 2 days before the capture of the USS Pueblo and its 83 crewmen by North Korean patrol boats on Jan. 23.

Learning that these two rather important events took place within days of each other during a three-year-long guerrilla conflict waged by the North lets you see them as being part of a larger whole, instead of the separate incidents they're usually presented as.

Marmot has a post about the response South Korea planned to get revenge for the attack on the Blue House.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Boared Again

Yesterday the Chosun Ilbo posted a hilarious article titled "Seoul Trembles at Wild Boar Invasion". If this isn't a perfect example of "Blowing it all out of proportion", I don't know what is:
The capital is under threat from an unlikely invasion after wild boars were sighted at several locations around the metropolitan area. Last month there were repeated sightings at the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill Hotel; now a den that is home to scores of the aggressive beasts has been discovered in Achasan. [...]

The mountain in the Achasan area is closed to civilians because it houses an emergency oil reserve, and its thick oak and chestnut cover make it an ideal habitat for the animals. "It appears that rogue males that were kicked out of the group due to territorial fights left in search of food and territory of their own," Seoul City said.
Well, there is some new information there, about the den in Achasan. But those 'repeated sightings' near the Walkerhill Hotel were of the same animal on the same day (the one that drowned). Before it gets more ridiculous, the article does provide a new nugget of information about the Guri 'invasion' last Thursday:
In the Guri area of Gyeonggi Province, which borders Achasan, a boar entered a subterranean parking lot on Oct. 27, ramming a parked car and romping around for a while before disappearing back into the woods.
I didn't know it had rammed a parked car, though I'm curious to know just how much damage was done, and whether it was covered by insurance. What with 2 cars damaged by boars in the last week or so, perhaps a new 'wild boar damage' clause will appear in car insurance coverage. At any rate, here's the winning paragraph:
On Oct. 24, wild boars showed up in Changkyong Palace, sending more than 300 visitors scampering for shelter, and on Oct. 19, there were several sightings of wild boars near the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill Hotel in Gwangjang-dong, Seoul. On Sept. 29, wild boars had ventured as far as Amsa-dong on the Han river and injured two people.
Let's see. Scampering for shelter? That sounds somewhat different from the Joongang Ilbo article which read, "palace administrators evacuated the 300 visitors on the grounds". Then it mentions the Oct. 19 sightings of "wild boars" (again, there was only one), and then describes the first incursion by a wild boar on Sept. 29, once again portraying the single boar as plural. Last week's Reuters article mislead readers into thinking the 'invasion' was much larger than it actually was, as it straightforwardly described 3 of the 4 incidents, and then described aspects of those incidents, referring to "sightings in apartment-block gardens, schools and underground parking lots" as being in addition to, or separate from, those 3 incidents. The Chosun Ilbo, however, takes things a step further by making the boar in each incident into 'boars', which is a little more dishonest. And if we can't trust the Chosun to be honest about wild pigs, what can we trust them to be honest about?

At least they provide some advice on dealing with the invaders:
Experts say an encounter with wild boars, which can weigh hundreds of kilograms, is a frightening moment, but if people keep calm they stand a good chance of escaping unhurt.

The most important thing, they say, is never to turn your back, since the beasts have weak eyesight and may not realize that you are running away, while moving objects upset them.
Is it just me, or does "stand a good chance of escaping unhurt" sound a little... less than positive?
They are large, heavy, hooved animals, and they do have some sharp teeth (though I questioned (in the comment section of the last post) whether Korean boars had the same teeth seen in other, foreign species, the second photo on this page seems to answer the question) , but when you consider that one ran around an apartment complex for 90 minutes and no one got hurt, maybe you're more likely to escape unharmed than not.

And while both the Chosun and the Korea Times tell us not to turn our backs or run away, respectively, the Chosun tells us that boars have weak eyesight, and the Times tells us that we should look straight into the boar’s eyes, which seems a tad contradictory.. Who is correct? Perhaps only an encounter with one of the porcine (my new favourite adjective) invaders will provide the answer. And if the Chosun Ilbo is to be believed, that encounter could happen at any time.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Seoul has had a number of visits from wild boars in the past month, where they have come out of the mountains and into the newspapers. In the English language press, the Joongang Ilbo has definitely found its niche as the online paper that reports on all things boar. If I sound like I'm poking fun, I'm not, really. I remember seeing a boar on a tv news show years ago (when I watched TV) and was fascinated, partly because they aren't to be found where I come from, and partly because Korea has very few large wild animals. Some deer, some reintroduced bears down south, and wild boars, and that's about it for larger mammals. All I've ever seen while hiking throughout Korea were a few chipmunks, a squirrel... and that's about it (though I did see a woodpecker last weekend while hiking at Bukhansan). A few of my students have seen boars in the countryside before; numerous photos of boars in Korea can be found here. A wild boar also played a rather important part in the hit film Welcome to Dongmakgol, the only Korean film I can remember seeing one in (for a photo, scroll down).

The first appearance of a boar (this year - the above link to boar photos makes clear that this has happened in past years as well) was on September 29, when one weighing 130 kilograms appeared in Southeast Seoul and injured two people before swimming across the Han river. By the time 90 police officers were mobilized, it had swum back across the river. Around noon, after a 12 hour 'spree', it was surrounded by police and killed by a hunter. A photo of it swimming across the river is here. Another Joongang Ilbo article from 4 days later stated that Seoul City officials had said that the 160 cm long boar would "be stuffed and displayed at Gildong Ecology Park in Gangdong-gu, Seoul in about 40 days". The official added that "Wild boars are rarely seen in the city."

Just over 2 weeks after this statement, on October 19, another boar appeared in the vicinity of the Walkerhill hotel, likely having come down from Achasan. After an hour long chase by police, it tried to swim south across the Han river and drowned.

(Pic from Hankyoreh)

Five days later, on October 24, a 200-kilogram, 150-centimeter long pig appeared on the grounds of Changgyeong Palace in central Seoul, causing the evacuation of 300 visitors before it was quickly killed by hunters. It was assumed to have come from the mountains to Seoul's north; after three sightings in such a short time, suddenly wild pig experts found themselves getting phone calls from media outlets.
A naturalist said that with tigers extinct and bears nearly so in Korea, the pigs face fewer natural predators and have multiplied quickly.
Choi Sung-gyu of the Korea Society for the Protection of Wild Animals said he thought that population pressure was driving more animals into the cities in search of food.

According to Environment Ministry, there are about 254,000 wild pigs in the country. They caused damage to crops estimated at 8.2 billion won ($7.7 million) last year. Some experts are urging a culling of the country's wild pig population.
With no less than three sightings in almost as many weeks, it was time for the Korea Times to edge into the Joongang's niche, with an article titled 'Citizens on Alert Over Wild Boars', which informed us of Seoul city's plans to establish an emergency task force in November to cope with the appearances of wild boars. An official said
"We will produce and distribute pamphlets and other materials that contain information on wild boars, such as their characteristics and habitats. Citizens should be well informed about how to handle the situation if they encounter boars"...

[A] researcher advised people not to run away or shout when they are faced with a boar on the street, adding that they should look straight into the boar’s eyes and promptly hide behind rocks or trees.
So there you have it, just in case you were wondering what you should do if you see one. The article also mentioned that "[f]armers and professional hunters usually hunt wild boars around this time of year to prevent them from gorging on harvest-ready crops." I was wondering how legal this was until I found this article, from last January, which said that "wild-animal hunting has so far only been allowed if beasts were found to be damaging crops or threatening farm animals and human life". The article said that hunters would soon be able to hunt them if they were damaging tombs.

On October 27, a boar appeared in an apartment complex in Inchang-dong, Guri city, on Seoul's eastern border, and ended up in an underground parking garage before running off, presumably back into the hills next to the apartments.

This suddenly became international news when Reuters covered the story on October 28, with the memorable opening lines "This wild piggy went to an upmarket hotel. This wild piggy went to an historic palace. And all the wild piggies were chased by South Korean police." The use of the word "invasion" and its somewhat misleading descriptions of the 4 sightings make it sound as if dozens of them are running amok in Seoul on a daily basis, which simply isn't the case. It certainly makes for good entertainment however, which is likely why the story has appeared in online news all over the world (just google it).

The most recent boar sighting was not in Seoul, but in North Gyeongsang province, on October 30, where a man driving an SUV driving from Daegu north to Andong suddenly encountered about 20 boars crossing the highway as he rounded a curve. Five 6-month old wild pigs (each weighing 50 kg) were killed when he was unable to stop in time and hit them. A (not entirely pleasant, though censored) photo of the aftermath can be found here.

At any rate, if they're becoming such a nuisance, especially in the face of a lack of predators, allowing hunting to cull the population might not be such a bad idea. According to this site, in 2004 the whitetail deer population in my home province of Ontario was estimated to be between 350,000 to 400,000 (and one might imagine that in an area of the province the same size as South Korea, there would be less than 254,000, the estimated number of boars in Korea); 80,000 deer were killed by hunters in Ontario in 2003. I have doubts that the boar population here could recover as quickly as deer in Ontario do, seeing as the terrain and settlement patterns are very different, but the stories above (and Antti's comment below) make clear that the boar population is getting a little too large, for both city and country dwellers. I can't help but wonder, if they are such a problem in the countryside, that people living there might be annoyed that the boar problem is only getting attention because it's beginning to affect Seoul...

(Hat tip to Lost Nomad for the Reuters link)


Kotaji provides some more information about the intimate link between the Joongang Ilbo and wild boars.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Witness to An Assassination

The Korea Times had an article today about an upcoming concert by singer Sim Soo-bong:
At a college campus talent search in 1978, the then-23-year-old student struck a chord with the audience and television viewers watching across the country with ``That Person From Back Then (Kuttae Kusaram),'' a song that remains to this day one of her most famous songs.
The name of the song immediately made me think "Waitaminute...", and of course the article went on to relay the moment she is best known for - the fact that she was sitting next to Park Chung-Hee when he was assassinated by Kim Jae-Gyu on October 26, 1979. This review gives a more detailed description of her past up to that point:
Shim Soo-Bong was just a debutante when Na Hoon-Ah, the king of trot, discovered her. She was still using her real name, touring festivals promoting herself. He thought she could make it, become one of the greats, like Patty Kim and Lee Mi-Ja. When Shim, at the height of her popularity, was called to entertain the President, she had a reputation for being a great enka singer. He asked for her specifically, because of his love for Japanese culture and music. But after that momentous night, Shim denied ever singing enka to the President. She said all she sang was that famous song, 그때 그사람 (That Person Back Then). Since then, that song has become synonymous with 10/26.
Though the KT article goes on to perpetuate that myth ("The song she sang that night to entertain the President was none other than `Kuttae Kusaram'"), it also describes how Chun Doo-Hwan banned one of her songs, and also barred her from performing on TV for several years ("I later heard that he had said, `that singer performing will remind people of President Park Chung-Hee and may become a problem for my image,’" she said). 

Park's assassination has of course been brought back into the spotlight this year due to it's dramatization in the film "President's Last Bang" (그때 그사람들); it's Korean title was based on the aforementioned song by Shim Soo-Bong, which is further described in an interview with director Im Sang-Soo here. While most films released in Korea are publicized even before they begin shooting, no information about President's Last Bang was made public until about 2 or 3 months before it was released - something which had never occurred with any other Korean film, to my knowledge. The caution was warranted, considering the film had documentary footage cut from the beginning and end by court order after a suit by Park Chung-Hee's son, and was reviled by rightist critics as being slanderous and full of untruths. Im Sang-Soo goes into quite a bit of detail about this in an excellent interview here (where he says, "I don't really think the film is political. I think it's more of a mob film").

What's funny is that, in this case, the right itself has provided English speakers with the means to see that the film is in fact quite accurate in it's depiction of Park's final hours. Years ago the Chosun Ilbo had a series about the life of Park Chung-hee written by Cho Kap-Je, which began with a very detailed retelling of his final hours, based on the investigation records (which have got to be accurate, seeing as Chun Doo-Hwan was in charge of the investigation, right?). Anyways, the entire story can be read here. Start at the bottom and work your way backwards through the posts, where you can find many photos of the re-enactments as well. 

 (Hat tip to Oranckay for the final link)