Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Another Three Generations Update

Robert over at the Marmot's Hole has another great collection of photos of Seoul's early modern architecture taken around Myeongdong (especially the panorama taken from in front of the post office). What caught my eye was the Korean blog he linked to showing pictures of the Keijo Post Office, some of which I'd never seen before. The title of this post? [염상섭 - 삼대 (4)] 경성우편국, or "[Yeom Sang-seop - Three Generations] Keijo Post Office". It turns out this blogger has done something similar to my Three Generations walking tour post, but has turned up more exact locations and some better photos. Slightly aggravating is the fact that he posted these several months before I spent hours researching my post. Oh well. I posted photos and references to things he didn't, and vice versa, so they compliment each other nicely, I think.

He has posts on Cheongmokdang, the restaurant where Gyeong-ae and Maedang first meet, the hospital where Pil-sun's father is taken (near Gwanghwamun), Namsan Shinto Shrine, the aforementioned Keijo Post Office, the Governor General Library, Hwanggeumjeong intersection, Gyeongbokgung's Yeongchumun, Junganggwan theatre, Gyeonggi Provincial hall, a rubber factory similar to the one Pil-sun worked in, and the Hyoja-dong streetcar line terminus.

These two photos, which I think I'll add to the original post, seem to be taken from the same vantage point, just north of the post office, one looking south at the post office and the mitsukoshi department store...

...and the other looking southwest towards Cheongmokdang restaurant (far left) and th Bank of Korea.

Do compare them to Robert's panorama of the area now, from a vantage point just south of the one above; these days there's a little more traffic than in the past.

Speaking of old photos, the Chosun Ilbo has an article about a book documenting 100 years of overseas Koreans, which has some interesting photos. I do wonder of the Kanto earthquake photo is actually of murdered Koreans (such pictures do exist, of course) or of someone pulled out of the water after the tsunami (notice the netting and ropes and pulleys by the bodies).

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Shinsegae Department Store's Renovation

The Mitsukoshi Department Store in the 1930s

The Joongang Ilbo has a good article about the Shinsegae Department Store's reopening tomorrow, after more than 4 years of renovation. Opened in 1930 as the local branch of the Mitsukoshi Department store, it has finally been restored to its former glory, something that should be applauded in a city that has a tendency to bulldoze historical buildings to make way for parking lots and the like. The article includes some interesting photos and historical tidbits, like how it was represented in certain novels during the colonial period, as well as its postwar history. To see what the neighbourhood looked like in the 1920s and 1930s, I posted some photos here; to see what the renovated store looks like, do look at this post over at the Marmot's Hole, where Robert posted some great pictures of the area recently.


From the Korea Times:

New culture: Foreign residents and Koreans salute the Korean national flag during an event to commemorate the 88th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement of 1919 against Japan’s colonial rule (1910-1945) at the Independence Hall in Chonan, South Chungchong Province on Monday. This is a symbolic scene of South Korea’s increasingly multi-racial and multi-cultural society. The number of foreign residents in South Korea accounted for 1.1 percent of the nation’s total population last year.

Memorial photos of the nine illegal foreign workers who died in a fire at an immigration "protection" facility.

(The top photo is almost as good as the Korea Times article Migrant Workers Enjoy Their ‘Sollal’, published 4 days after the fire.)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Railway Update and Holiday Wanderings

I hopped on my bike on Monday afternoon to take a few photos of the Incheon Airport Rail Bridge to show how it has come along since taking photos back in the summer. Along the way I stopped at the bird sanctuary along the Han River just north of where I live.

It used to be a little more picturesque, with bushes and tall reeds everywhere, but it still hasn't recovered from last summer's flood, which scoured the riverbank and carried off a large portion of the vegetation. To the right is the Banghwa bridge (at 2 km, Seoul's longest), while just beyond the walkway on the right the Haengju bridge can be seen. In the center, on the north side of the river (in Goyang city) is Deokyangsan, where the Haengju Sanseong, or mountain fortress, can be found. It was there, in February 1593, that one of the few Korean victories on land took place during the Imjin War (Photos of the present day memorial are here).

I didn't see many birds around the bird sanctuary, but further down the river there were lots of ducks to be seen (perhaps it was smart of them to be upriver from the sewage treatment plant?). I haven't a clue what kind they are, though those in foreground look similar to mallards. Having grown up next to a river, it was nice to be by the water; there's a certain smell that I can't really define but when I was there I realized I that I missed it.

Further upriver can be found the Magok bridge, which has changed since I last photographed it in the summer.

After leaving Gimpo Airport, the train will run under the Magok fields near my house and then come out of the tunnel just south of the bridge. It was dark when I took this photo, looking north towards the bridge (the lights on the horizon line the Olympic expressway), but you can see from the incline that the opening to the tunnel will be close to where I was standing when I took the photo.

To help visualize, I marked the vantage points of the photos I took below. The map is essentially an enlargement of the top right corner of this map. The piers for the bridge can be seen at the top in the center, and if you go south from there and follow the stream until it meets the road at bottom left you can see where the above photo was taken. If you look at this area in the map I just linked to above, you'll see that the mountain is mostly surrounded by apartment buildings, but as you can see below, the neighbourhood to the south of it is quite a bit older. The mountain is Gungsan, which was the location of a Baekje era mountain fortress, and the neighbourhood was once known as Yangcheon. The street running diagonally across the bottom of the map is Yangcheon-gil, and the school visible at bottom right, Yangcheon Elementary, dates back to 1900, making it among the first elementary schools in the area (if not, perhaps, the country).

Part of this is due to the fact that Yangcheon was the center of Yangcheon Hyeon (county) during the late Goryeo and Chosun eras, an area that fits within modern Gangseo-gu in Seoul (ironically, Yangcheon-gu is several kilometers south) More information on the area's history can be found halfway down this page. If we look at the 1875 map below, the mountain at top center is Gungsan, while the mountain at top left is the Haengju Sanseong; south of it, on the other side of the river is Gaehwasan, which is where Banghwa-dong is. Just south of Gungsan are a number of buildings representing Yangcheon, and it's obvious from the arrangement that it's the center of the area. As you might see in the map above, however, these days it's rather run down in comparison to the large, early 1990s apartment complexes surrounding it.

All that's left that harkens back to the prominence of the past is the park on Gungsan and especially the Yangcheon Hyanggyo. Hyanggyo is defined as 'a local school annexed to the Confucian shrine.' These days it's nestled in between several houses and a field on the slopes of the mountain.

While it's not much to look at from the outside, it looks nice enough on the inside.

As the text below tells us, it was built in 1412 and is the only school of its type remaining in Seoul.

There's quite a bit of interesting history in this area if you know where to look; it just doesn't get mentioned much. It's also nice to go from the concrete jungle to a river full of ducks, past massive construction projects and historical buildings nestled in old neighbourhoods, to farmers' fields and back to the city in the space of an hour or so...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Incheon Airport Rail Line

The Chosun Ilbo reports that
On Tuesday at 11:05 a.m. a train left Gimpo Airport in a trial run of the new Airport Railroad. The railway is scheduled to begin operations March 23, some six years after construction began in April 2001. The 37.6km line from Gimpo Airport to Incheon International Airport is the first segment of the two-phase construction project of the country’s first private railroad. The other line connecting the Incheon airport and Seoul Station is expected to be completed by December 2009. The project will cost W3.95 trillion
More information can be found at the website of the Incheon International Airport Railway Company. There you can find what the new subway maps (Korean) will look like (the subway employees must get annoyed having to replace them every few months), as well as have a look at renderings of the train interior which looks quite different from the picture seen in the article above.

I wasn't surprised to see that Jon over at I'm a Seoul Man had already posted about this. I enjoyed his descriptions and photos awhile back of the construction sites around Yeouido - it's always good to get information about the different developments going on around the city, but not many bloggers share this interest (though Skyscraper City's Korea forum is very useful in this regard). Also, his trip on a randomly chosen bus was interesting (in part because the bus's route finishes a two minute walk from my house); I can never seem to make the time to do something as random as that, and it reminds me of this diagram from the book The Situationist City:

"Plotting of all the trajectories effected in a year by a
student inhabiting the 16th Arrondissement" (1952)

The main triangle above is between the student's home, school, and piano lessons. Guy Debord used this diagram in his article on the Theory of the Derive, and hopping on the first bus that comes by is a step away from that triangle, so to speak. But I digress.

Regarding the airport train, Jon points out that the train doesn't seem that much of an improvement over the buses, especially for those who live outside of Seoul. Once the second part of the railway is complete, however, it may be much faster, at least for Seoul residents north of the river, as the second part is where buses would encounter all the traffic. Still, there's the whole problem of hauling your luggage underground and back up again, which doesn't seem very enticing. I remember using the subway when I first arrived at Gimpo airport, luggage in hand, six years ago, before there were elevators. I never repeated the experience.

Here's a map of the route of the second part of the railway. I've taken a few pictures at a few points on the route (marked in yellow). (A mistake - the Incheon Line doesn't go to Yongsan, though the Seoul-Sinuiju line, which will run alongside it underground as far as Susaek, might.)

Where it crosses the Han River, the new Magok Bridge is being built. The photo below is from last summer, but it hasn't changed too much since then:

More photos can be seen by looking through the galleries of the construction on the Railway's website (here and here). Pictured below is an entry point to the tunneling not too far from my house (and marked on the map above near Gimpo Airport). Essentially, first they drive in the piles, then excavate, then built the framework, and then excavate further, until they get deep enough for tunneling (which must be fairly deep, as the railway will have to go under the new subway line 9).

Here's a photo I took a few weeks ago of this site:

I'm assuming, since it was in the same group as the other photos, that this is what it looks like at the bottom:

Closer to downtown, the route is being tunneled underground beneath the railway I mentioned in this post, the one what will be turned into the New Daehangno park which will run by Hongdae and Shinchon. I took some photos of the area where the tracks once were (from the street with the Sexy Pig restaurant on it).

As you can see, there's not much going on. I don't know if this area will look like the example above, consisting of tunnels with a few entry points from the surface (allowing them to start working on the park sooner), or whether the entire area will be excavated (something I doubt).

It's in this strip running through central Seoul that the other effects of this railway, including new parks and gentrification, will be felt.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Yeosu Fire Update

This is an update to this post.

The Korea Times reports that arson is the most likely cause of the Yeosu fire:
A 39-year-old Chinese-Korean detainee is suspected to have started the fire at Yosu immigration detention center [...] The interim conclusion was made after police found two cigarette lighters in the cell of the detainee named Kim Myong-sik who died on the scene together with the other detainees.

Kim entered the country through Inchon in October 2005 and worked as a construction worker in Kwangyang, South Cholla Province before being taken to the center last month. He had been behaving suspiciously weeks before the fire, according to officials at the detention center. He was caught two times smothering tooth paste on the cameras. He was alleged to have flooded his cell with water after breaking water pipes in his cell. However, Kim did not receive any disciplinary measure other than being sent to a solitary cell for five days in January.
I've also found more information on the layout of the immigration center:

The map above is scanned from Monday's Chosun Ilbo (we have a subscription at work... honest), but wasn't accessible on their website. It gives a good idea of where the fire started, which cells people died in, and how many were in each cell (which is in brackets after the cell number). To put it in numbers, four out of eight died in cell 304, where the fire started, while one out of nine died in the cell 305, compared to four out of nine in the cell 306. 26 people were in those three cells, and it would likely be them, along with one other, who make up the 27 injured or dead. For a better idea of how cell 304 was laid out, look here.

In other news, the Chinese government, known for its concern for human rights, has "called for a thorough investigation into [the] fire [...] and to take proper measures against those responsible." Hopefully the Chinese ambassador remembers that South Korea hasn't executed anyone for the last ten years; he might be disappointed otherwise.

Anyone who's been anticipating a flood of stories about how badly treated illegal workers are won't be disappointed, however. The Hankyoreh has two good stories: one about the poor conditions of the detainment centers, and another about the "culture of fear" created by immigration raids which rarely are accompanied by warrants and which may well be illegal.

The Times article linked to above is an updated version of this one, which has a few extra tidbits like this:
In a study of 16 immigration centers around the nation last year, the Human Rights Commission reported that foreign nationals kept at the facilities stay for an average of 24.9 days, which is higher than the legal limit of 20 days.
The Chosun Ilbo has an article about the complaints of relatives of those who died, some of whom weren't contacted as next of kin.
Wreathes sent by Justice Minister Kim Sung-ho and Foreign Minister Song Min-soon were laid at a temporary altar for the victims at Yosu Seongsim General Hospital. "We want to remove those wreathes," said family members. "The justice minister visited the altar Monday evening, served a cup of liquor and left without exchanging any words with the bereaved families."
This article almost makes up for the Chosun Ilbo editorial which talks about how “embarrassing” it is for Korea to have such a tragedy occur at a government facility, and ends by wondering "how many more horrible tragedies must happen before Koreans take fire safety regulations seriously." No mention is made as to why those people who "had come in search of the Korean Dream" were stuck in those cells in the first place.

The Korea Herald also has an article titled "Maltreatment of illegals shocks Korean society", which is the first in a series of five articles on the topic. These are just the articles in English. There are dozens and dozens of articles in the Korean press about this fire, so hopefully, as usually happens during a media event in Korea, the spotlight on the treatment of migrant workers will create a space for civil society to press for and achieve positive change of some sort.

Also, it wasn't until I saw this article that I realized that the English teacher who wrote the Yeosu "Prison Diaries" was known to the media here.

I'm sure there will be more to add to this in the coming days.

(Crossposted at Two Koreas)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Even the androids aren't safe

EveR-1 and EveR-2 - spot the difference

I don't mean to talk about plastic surgery all the time these days, but the title of this article in the Korea Times is hard to ignore: "Android to Get Plastic Surgery". We're told that the
Korean "female'' android, dubbed the EveR-2 Muse, [will] undergo [...] plastic surgery for more attractive looks, according to its creator Baeg Moon-hong at the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology on Monday.
Actually, you might want to think about dressing her in a way that doesn't look like she lost a really ridiculous bet. As for her looks, you be the judge.
As the country's second female android (technically gynoid), the EveR-2 Muse gained prominence late last year with its ability to sing a song.
"Gained prominence" in what way? Do you mean the way in which the Korean media took part in lots of photo ops and the chance to extoll the virtues of Korea, the hub of (technological) Asia, after coming up with the "World's Second Android"? Hey, second comes right after first! I seem to remember her being able to sing being linked to the Korea wave as well, but I could be wrong.
In response to opinions that it looks homely in comparison to its predecessor EveR-1, however, EveR-2 has not appeared in public events for the past couple of months.
Luckily, androids aren't yet capable of killing themselves.
"Originally, I thought that EveR-2 is prettier than EveR-1 because the former looks like a real, flesh and blood human being while the latter looks like a doll,'' Baeg said. "But the public seems to disagree with me and has favored EveR-1. So we decided to conduct the facelift of EveR-2 while making its hands smaller,'' said Baeg, who also crafted EveR-1.
I'm curious as to why Baeg (what in Gorea is up with that romanization, anyway?) is surprised that the public prefers dolls to "real flesh and blood human being[s]", considering the number of women who feel presssured to undergo plastic surgery to make themselves look like every other mannequin they see on TV and billboards. Did anyone notice that the EveR-1, the doll-like android, looks quite a bit younger (like a student?) than the one in 'need' of plastic surgery? Or that she cannot move her lower body? Does anything seem vaguely disturbing about any of this? Baeg does give a reason for an android needing plastic surgery, however:
"Unlike humanoids geared mainly toward developing a variety of functionalities, androids need to look good since they meet people face-to-face,'' Baeg said.
Nice to see that the female androids of Korea are going to face the same problems and need for 'image enhancement' as many Korean women, especially those working as secretaries or who are in the media, such as actresses.

Yes, what follows is a bit off on a tangent, but not one that seems totally unrelated in my head. I haven't a clue if the aforementioned pressures upon Korean women and androids affected Jeong Da-bin, or played a role in her suicide on Saturday. I hadn't realized I'd seen a lot of her TV shows and films until the events of this weekend. Arirang played Non-stop with English subtitles four or five years ago, and I've seen some of Attic Cat as well. My standout memory of her is in the (rather lacklustre) film "The Guy was Cool", where, after humiliating herself by dressing up in a ridiculous outfit and getting stuck in the fence of her boyfriend's highschool, runs off to a noraebang and sings a horrendous version of the Hwang Shin-hye band song 'Jambbong' (yes, the food), the original version of which can be heard here. Her portrayal of the character shrieking off key and beating the tambourine randomly is hilarious, and it's how I'll always remember her. I hope she doesn't mind.

Now that I think about it, it's odd to consider that her character in the film tried to dress up in order to look older and "sexy", and got chastised for it, just as the second Korean attempt at an android, the older looking EveR-2, was also rejected by the public. I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Yeosu: An entirely preventable tragedy

Handprint on the wall (Chosun Ilbo)

Regarding the tragic fire that occurred yesterday morning in Yeosu, the Korea Times tells us that
A predawn fire at an immigration detention center in South Cholla Province on Sunday killed nine foreigners and injured 18 others, police said.[...]The deceased were eight Chinese nationals and one Uzbek. The death toll is expected to rise as some of the injured are in critical condition.

The fire started at around 4 a.m. and most of the victims are believed to have suffocated from the fumes. About 55 foreigners were detained in the facility, including 42 Chinese, four Uzbeks, two from Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka, and one each from Russia, Kyrgyzstan, India, Vietnam and Iran.
The Joongang Ilbo adds that the fire broke out
on the third floor of the center, which housed male detainees. The fourth floor was a detention area for women. The nine guards on duty at the time attempted to fight the fire with extinguishers, but were reportedly unable to find the keys to the steel-barred room where the fire broke out. It was extinguished by more than 100 firefighters in about an hour, after it had spread to two other rooms on the same floor.

I take it these are the keys the article is referring to? At any rate, the Times says that the firefighters
failed to put out the fire early because each detention room was blocked with iron bars to prevent detainees from fleeing. It is believed that the high number of deaths was due in large part to the detention center's floors, a fireman said. The floors, which were said to have contained urethane, emitted toxic gases when on fire.
Yonhap, via the Hankyoreh tells us that
An investigation is underway to determine the exact cause of the fire, but detention center officials said a short circuit from a television set on the third floor is believed to be the cause of the blaze.

Police are also looking at the possibility of arson, as closed circuit television (CCTV) footage shows a foreign detainee covering a CCTV camera on the floor with wet toilet paper just before the fire broke out.
For most news sources, the arson possiblility seems to be the one being trumpeted as most likely (No cut news even put 'possible arson' in an article's title).

The Joongang Ilbo adds some pertinent information regarding what may have helped the progress of the fire:
Fire officials said yesterday that the building had passed a fire safety inspection in December, although it had no sprinkler system installed; under Korea’s fire safety regulations, those systems are required only for buildings more than 11 stories tall, regardless of their use.
So we're left thinking that the building, pictured here, must have been built back before such modern fire prevention equipment was standard in such buildings. Well, no, it was built in 2005. Are we seriously being told that there aren't slightly different regulations for buildings that have iron bars caging the dozens of people who spend their days and nights there? Let's review the numbers: Nine dead (well, ten now, it seems) and 18 injured (some of whom may yet die), out of 55 inmates. That's 27 injured or dead and 28 uninjured. Stunning odds.

Worth mentioning, according to the Times, is that
Civic groups have criticized the government for their lukewarm efforts in protecting the rights of detained foreigners. Last year the immigration center was criticized for housing 18 foreigners in a room designed to accommodate only 10.
The Korea Herald adds that
The immigration office also received a warning from the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in 2005 for maltreatment of detained immigrants. Foreigners had made an official complaint to the human rights watchdog, claiming that they were being treated like "pigs in cages" in the overcrowded and unhygienic rooms, with poor meals and limited space.
The Times continues:
But a Justice Ministry official said due to a tight budget and a sudden influx of illegal foreigners, the government has been unable to expand facilities for housing those detained.
A sudden influx of illegal foreigners? Whose fault is that, Justice Ministry official? Remember that month when the number of drivers charged with failing to stop behind the crosswalk suddenly increased drastically? Ah, yes, that was the month of your crackdown on that practice. Any sudden influx of illegal foreigners into your detainment centers is due to the Justice Ministry deciding to hunt down and arrest masses of those foreigners. Over the years there have been periodic crackdowns on illegal migrant workers (especially prior to the implementation of the Employment Permit System in 2003-2004), while the reaction to the 'English Spectrum' incident in early 2005 led to an increase in arrests of English teachers without visas (though the number of those arrests pale in comparison to those of migrant workers). Any massive increase in the number of foreigners in detainment centers due to immigration violations has always been due to the Justice Ministry's decision to periodically arrest large numbers of people, so such an excuse for poor detainment conditions is pathetic. Other structural reasons as to why there is such a large pool of illegal foreign workers are mentioned in the Migrant Trade Union's reaction to the Yeosu fire.

One of the first documents I thought of when I read about the fire in Yeosu was one that predicted the deaths that occurred yesterday: the prison diary of an English teacher held in Yeosu's immigration detainment center that was published by Ohmynews (part 1, part 2) back in May of 2005. The writer notes other reasons for there being so many people behind bars there, related to the government's policy of doing nothing to help arrested migrant workers get their paychecks so they can return home, resulting in long stays for those left in limbo for months. On top of that, the Korean government only pays for deportation airfare when a prisoner harms him or herself. The possibility exists that, if arson was involved, the arsonist wasn't trying to escape.

Regarding the toxic gas emitting urethane floors, the writer of the prison diary tells us that "The floor is covered by giant 1x1 meter foam rubber jigsaw puzzle tiles." He also describes the neglect of detainees' medical needs:
Once, when I asked a guard for something to put on a wound I had on my hand, I was told that because it was late, nothing was available. The medical staff had gone home for the day. I asked him if there was an emergency medical box -- he said no.
No emergency medical kit in a detainment center? He says more regarding the staff:
I have been told on more than one occasion that this facility is understaffed and under funded. There are not enough staff, guards or otherwise to safely run this prison. Which, in my view, cannot be lawful, let alone safe for staff or detainee. When a repairman comes to fix the phone or TV, he is locked inside with us. This is only because the guards trust us not to harm that person. (This is also the case whenever one of the staff enter our cells.) [...] The shortage of staff to run this facility is a danger, especially at night when there are less staff on duty.
This is all illustrated in this story, which foreshadows the events of Sunday morning:
Last night (April 22 [2005]), there was a fire (I believe in cell 201). It happened around 3:30 a.m. I learned later that is was probably started by three Russian men (who are now in solitary confinement). Before this fire occurred I could hear people shouting downstairs, complaining and demanding that the TVs be restored. (I'm not sure if the people who started the fire were among their number.)

Luckily, the fire was contained. But what if it wasn't? Everyone, behind bars, have no ability to escape to safety. During the fire, the guards on our floor seems to be at a loss as to what to do (or rather, they were waiting to be told what to do.) One guard, if my memory is accurate, sat down at the office computer and played solitaire.

Truth be told, if any detainee had a mind to harm him/herself or another detainee, cause damage to any of the fixtures or objects inside the cells, or start a fire, then it is not impossible. We are not supposed to have lighters or matches, yet a fire was started. How?
The picture of Yeosu's detention center that the writer paints is one unfair for all sides, of detainees left in limbo for months and staff on 24 hour shifts unequipped to provide help to detainees. Yet we're told by Yonhap that
Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook ordered a thorough probe into the case after expressing regret over the deaths of the foreigners, her office said. "Han instructed Justice Minister Kim Sung-ho to examine detention centers for illegal foreign workers and work out measures to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents."
Ah yes, a post-tragedy government probe to see how the preventable tragedy could have been prevented. It gets better though, according to the Times, which tells us that
If [the fire] was caused by arson, the government will pay out minimum compensation to survivors and family members. However, if the fire was caused by negligence of the center's staff, the compensation awarded will be significantly higher.
So the choices are to collectively punish the survivors and victims' families for the actions of one possible arsonist, or place the blame on the overworked staff. Let me get this straight: a government agency decided that sprinklers weren't necessary in a detention facility, one which they've been warned by the Human Rights Commission is too crowded, one which is understaffed by people on 24 hour shifts, where fires have happened in the past, and where people are given a plane ticket home if they harm themselves, but the choices are to blame the victims or lower level employees while "work[ing] out measures to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents"? A lot could be said to criticize the structural reasons for there being so many illegal workers in Korea, but in the case of the deaths caused by this fire in a government detainment facility, there are very specific policies and regulations that should have already been in place, and the lack of these, along with a good dose of negligence, led to yesterday's tragedy. For these problems to be addressed, (or even acknowledged) was this really needed?

(Crossposted at Two Koreas)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Discount Price

After reading about YTN's report on the problems caused by drunken foreigners in Hongdae, I remembered this picture, showing two passed out people in Hongdae; however, I hadn't remembered their humorous juxtaposition with the sign behind them. Anyways, it just goes to show what kind of shenanigans foreigners get up to in Hongdae. Oh, wait - those are Koreans.

Never mind.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Balsan development

As I mentioned in my first post about Banghwa-dong, the area has a number of large redevelopments and farmland developments occurring presently or about to begin soon. If you look at the map below, you can see the three or four square kilometers of farmland that will be turned into the Magok R&D city (the Han River, along with the posts for the Magok Bridge (being built for the Incheon Airport train line) can be seen at top right).

Just below the open space of the fields can be seen a lighter-coloured area, seen in more detail here:

This is the first phase of the development of the Magok area farmland, though it's not considered part of the Magok development proper. If you want to learn more about the development, this page has lots of information, telling us, for example, that it's spread across more than half a square kilometer (580,000 square meters), and that it will provide 5592 households when complete. Below is a rendering of the development:

The satellite photo above was taken just under a year ago, when the foundations (and underground parking lots) were being built. Presently, the buildings are almost finished:

Above you can see the development stretched out for over a kilometer, whereas below, from the angle I'm viewing the development, many of the buildings are hidden from view. Despite that, I'm pretty happy with the way the photo turned out.

Occasionally, as they encroach upon the surrounding farmland, they almost look picturesque...

As I've pointed out before, Kim Ki-chan captured the Gangnam area as it was turned from farmland into apartment buildings back in the early 1980s (among many, many other subjects), and his work (kudos to the Metropolitician for introducing me to it), as well as Antti's over at Hunjangûi karûch'im have gotten me interested in documenting both the developments and those places about to fall under the wrecking ball. As it turns out, I live in an area that will give me lots to document... but more on that later.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Park Yeol, Kaneko Fumiko, and Korean Anarchism

I've updated this post by adding photos and more information about the rice riots and the earthquake.

Park Yeol and Kaneko Fumiko together,
possibly in prison during their trial in 1926

[Update - It's actually taken in the courtroom (!)]

Last weekend, the Korea Times had an article about the publication of a new book about Korea's anarchist movement, and brought up the names of a few prominent historical anarchists. To expand on what was written there, you can read this summary of the movement (in the 1920s and 1930s), which was taken from Ha Ki-rak's A History of the Korean Anarchist Movement (1985), a very rare book that I photocopied several years ago, and which the Times article prompted me to reread. Ha met British anarchist John Crump in the 1990s, which led him to write an article titled "Anarchism and Nationalism in East Asia", published in 1996. The aforementioned book and article form the basis of this essay, written by a New Zealand anarchist who lived in Korea a few years ago (which was originally written for and published in Bug 5). Other sources, for the multilingual, are listed here.

This topic is too large to discuss in a single post, so for this one I'm just going to look at the Japanese influence on Korean anarchism, specifically at the Park Yeol/Kaneko Fumiko case. And just for fun, Kropotkin's article about anarchism from the 1910 Encyclopaedia Britannica can be found here.

The aforementioned John Crump wrote a history of the Japanese anarchist movement, which can be found here; it provides the basis for the following few paragraphs:

Kotoku Shusui, at the time a social democrat, organized an anti-war journal called the Common People's Newspaper in 1904 in response to the Russo-Japanese war. After spending time in prison, where he read Kropotkin, and a visit to the US, where he met many anarchists, he returned to Japan in 1906 an anarchist and began organizing like minded people and publishing various newpapers. In 1910, after four anarchists were found to have acquired bomb-making equipment, the government rounded up and prosecuted 26 anarchists in what was known as the High Treason Case, executing 12 of them, including Kotoku, the next year. After this, the Anarchist movement went underground for several years (Interestingly enough, this style of 'judicial murder' would be emulated in South Korea, especially during (but not limited to) the Yushin years (1972-79), most notably with the People's Revolutionary Party Restoration case in 1975, which was designed to frighten the student movement in Korea into silence, much as the Japanese authorities had hoped for in 1911).

The anarchist movement, along with other social movements, would see a resurgence in Japan after the 1918 rice riots, the greatest mass uprising in modern Japanese history. During the final months of World War I (and prior to Japanese troops being sent to Siberia to try to contain the Russian Revolution) inflation combined with market speculation and hoarding pushed rice beyond the purchasing power of millions of Japanese citizens. Protests, in which people rallied to force merchants to lower prices, first broke out in Toyama in July 1918, and spread quickly among communities along the coast ringing Toyama Bay. When newspapers gave national exposure to the Toyama riots the following month, similar riots rapidly erupted around the country. As Roger Bowen writes in his review of Michael Lewis's book Rioters and Citizens: Mass Protest in Imperial Japan,
Between July and September 1918, 42 of Japan’s 47 prefectures reported incidents of rice riots, many of them violent, and all told involving over a million people. The military had to be mobilized in twenty six prefectures. Some 20,000 citizens were illegally detained, over 8,000 were prosecuted for rioting, and more than 30 people were killed.
Aware of the Suzuki Trading Company’s involvement with the government in its rice price manipulation policies, a crowd of rioters burned its headquarters to the ground on August 12, 1918, along with 26 other Suzuki buildings in Kobe.

After, as Richard H. Mitchell puts it, "an unprecendented series of strikes and explosive riots ripped open the social fabric so carefully woven by the Meiji leadership," "the blanket suppression of all activity was no longer possible and the anarchists were quick to seize the opportunities that presented to regroup, launch new journals and involve themselves in the workers' and peasants' movements" (according to Crump).

There's an interesting parallel here: just as the rice riots of 1918 led to the slight easing of restrictions in Japan, the 1919 March 1st independence protests in Korea also led to the implementation of the Cultural Policy, which also led to the relaxation of political and publishing controls in Korea. What's interesting is that a major influence upon the March 1st independence movement in Korea came from a declaration of independence by Korean students in Tokyo a month earlier:
Living in Tokyo under a liberal atmosphere and having free access to international news, which were denied to their compatriots in Korea, the Korean students studying in Tokyo were destined to be forerunners of the Korean independence movement. Some 828 Korean students were studying in Japan in 1920, of which 682 were concentrated in Tokyo.

[These students] formed the Korean Youth Independence Corps and laid out a course of action. In consequence, about six hundred students met at the YMCA Hall in Kanda, Tokyo on February 8, 1919, where they adopted a series of resolutions and issued a declaration demanding independence for their country.
The students who issued the declaration.

Another account here goes tells us more:
At 2 p.m., the YMCA auditorium was packed with some 600 Korean students who were studying in Japan. It was snowing. The participants gathered under the pretext of a general meeting of students to escape the attention of the police, who were standing guard at the entrance. Once the meeting opened, the organizers carried out their original plan and held a rally for Korean independence. The declaration of independence was posted on the stage. When a student representative read it, the auditorium roared with applause and cries of joy.
The declaration was written by future novelist Lee Kwang-su.
"Compared with the text that was read (in Korea) in the 3.1 independence movement, the content is much more aggressive," said Kim Hong Myong, deputy director of the YMCA. The declaration ends with the following statement: "If our demands are turned down, we will fight an endless bloody war."[This has also been translated as "we shall fight to the last drop of blood in the cause of liberty."]
The students also sent delegates to Korea and Shanghai to publicize the declaration, the English version of which can be found here. It's interesting to consider than the organizing which produced the 2.8 declaration in Tokyo (which influenced the Samil uprising to a great extent) was possible due to many people in Japan taking part in 'riots' and strikes only five months earlier. In other words, if not for the actions of many people in Japan, perhaps the independence movement would have turned out quite differently, and the protests pictured below might never have happened.

Independence protests in front of what is now city hall

These connections may not be spoken about much these days, but they were likely obvious to many at that time. As there were no universities in Korea then, students wanting a post-secondary education had to go to Japan, which was less oppressive than in Korea, especially after 1918. It was in Japan that many Koreans first came into contact with anarchism and communism in the post-WWI period.

Over at the Korean Studies email list, Frank Hoffmann posted a great deal about the Korean anarchism movement recently, listing a number of memoirs by anarchists and relating some of the insights they imparted as to why these people chose to become anarchists (mostly in the early 1920s):
They all give the same two reasons. Here a quote from [the] memoirs (p. 50) by Yu Cha-myông giving the first reason:

"Because the fight for national liberation against the Japanese imperialist invasion had had become our foremost duty at this time [1920/21], I thought of the racial [or 'national'] conflict as being as being an important matter. Consequently, I did neither understand some parts of the doctrine on class struggle presented in the Communist Manifesto, nor could I agree with them. From this time on I became more and more attracted by anarchism."

The second reason was the news [...] of what had happened to the Kronstadt sailors after the Lenin and his group had successfully taken the revolution in their own hands. Japanese authorities, of course, were more than happy to publish extensively about the massacre, and this did indeed have a big impact then, as we see in many memoirs.
Kronstadt represented the final consolidation of power by the Bolsheviks, and their betrayal of other leftists (and, in the eyes of the anarchists, the betrayal of the revolution itself); it served to warn that the Bolsheviks could not be trusted.

This was the milieu in which Park Yeol found himself when he arrived in Tokyo in 1919. Park was born in Mungyeong, Gyeongsang-do, in 1902. He attended Seoul Normal High School, which he dropped out of in 1919, due to the suspicion he had taken part in the Samil demonstrations. He then left for Japan and went to school in Tokyo. There he fell in with socialist and anarchist circles among Japanese and Korean students living there. He eventually formed a group called Futeisha, or 'Revolt', which was made up of Korean and Japanese members. One of the members of this group was Kaneko Fumiko.

Kaneko Fumiko

Unlike Park, who seems to have written very little, Kaneko wrote an autobiography in prison during her trial at the request of the judge, eventually published with the title "What made me do it?", but which is available in English as "Prison Memoirs of a Japanese Woman" (which is certainly on my 'to read' list). In her review of this book, Patricia G. Steinhoff provides many details about Kaneko's life. Kaneko was born in 1903 to a poor family and lived in poverty for much of her life, barely avoiding being sold into prostitution at one point. She was sent to live with her affluent grandmother, a well-off colonist in Korea, when she was nine, but was mistreated by her relatives, and returned home after finishing higher elementary school. She bounced back and forth between her mother's family and her father, trying to find ways to continue her education. She eventually made her way to Tokyo, working odd jobs and studying math and English. There she fell in with some radical Korean students, and first met Park Yeol, "[who] first entered her life as the mysterious author of some powerfully moving poetry, and then as an elusive revolutionary. Like many other young women before and after, Kaneko was drawn to the nobility of Pak's cause and to the vulnerability of the man pursuing it." They eventually moved in together.

Then the great Kanto earthquake struck. As Sonia Ryang writes,
On September 1, 1923, at 11:58 A.M., the earthquake of magnitude 7.9 violently shook the Kanto region encompassing Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, and other prefectures in the vicinity. During that day a total of 114 tremors were felt. In Tokyo only, a total of 187 major fires were recorded, which spread all over the metropolis in no time, burning down residential homes, industrial premises, and public buildings. It is said that the death toll reached somewhere between 100,000 and 140,000. The authorities and residents were totally unprepared for a disaster of this magnitude.
(Photos taken from here; others are here)
Due to a complete lack of reliable information people panicked and became extremely susceptible to rumors. Amidst this chaos, one population group was singled out as the object of persecution, or extermination to be precise—Koreans. It is said that at least 6,000 Koreans were killed in Tokyo and Kanagawa alone. (There were 20,000 Koreans living in Tokyo and Kanagawa at the time).
A Ryang points out in her essay, while some in the police and army helped Koreans, many took part in the massacres. Fukushima Zentaro, a witness of the military's action in Tokyo, recalls:
In the afternoon of [September] 2nd I was walking along the paddy field after having received rationed food... [Someone said] they are beating Koreans to death. All of us who had been walking very slowly with fatigue began running fast. After a while, from behind the crowd, I clearly saw a horrendous and brutal event. Seven men, all wearing very thin and old clothes, were dragged together with hands tied at the back. All tied up in line, they were laid on the ground. They were Koreans. Completely lost color, they were talking desperately some language, which I did not understand. "Stop yapping, you fucking..." One soldier raised the sword and dropped it right on the head of a man who was restlessly moving. The crowd could not even utter the voice. Everybody turned away. When I slowly opened my eyes, [I saw that] the man's head was broken open and his bright red blood spilt all over. His limbs were still moving convulsively. "Ha, ha, ha. Just what they deserve." "All of them, kill all of them." "You fucking animals." "You pigs go to hell." About ten soldiers raised their swords high in one action...
The majority of those killed were lynched by the armed citizens who formed the vigilantes, who were armed with homemade weapons such as bamboo spears, knives, and clubs, and bodies of horrifically mutilated Koreans began to turn up throughout the Kanto region. As so many people died in the earthquake, it's hard to know if pictures of bodies are in fact Koreans murdered at the time, or earthquake victims; some can be found here, here (I have doubts about the last photo), and here (where a sign cautions people that Koreans are poisoning wells). Foreign accounts of the violence can be read here, while an essay about how this event has been remembered in Japan can be found here.

Koreans, however, were not the only victims of the post-earthquake chaos. As Crump tells us,
In this situation of panic and chaos, the authorities were presented with another golden opportunity for eliminating enemies of the state. Ôsugi Sakae [who, after Kôtoku's death, was indisputably the most talented thinker and writer in the anarchists' ranks] his partner Itô Noe (who was herself an outstanding anarchist) and Ôsugi's six year-old nephew Tachibana Munekazu (who happened to be with them) were seized by a squad of military police and all three were brutally put to death. Taken into custody on 16 September 1923, their battered bodies were discovered four days later where they had been dumped in a well.
As Steinhoff tells us,
As the leader of one of many small radical circles of Koreans in Tokyo, Pak Yeol was detained by the police without charges shortly after the earthquake. Two days later, Kaneko Fumiko, who lived with him and participated actively in his movement, was also detained.
In this essay, Hélène Bowen Raddeker tells us
The circumstances of the arrest of this group of mainly Koreans are therefore complicated both by Pak Yeol's nationality and by the fact that they were arrested just after the earthquake. [...] Pak and Fumiko's group had called themselves the 'Futeisha' ['society of outlaws, rebels or malcontents'], satirising the way Koreans were referred to by the authorities as troublemakers. If it had not been mostly comprised of Koreans, the group probably would not have been arrested, supposedly for their own 'protection'; furthermore, the charges may not have escalated from vagrancy, to an explosives control law violation, and then to treason, with which Pak and Fumiko were ultimately charged. Pak was not entirely innocent of the charges of trying to import explosives, even of hoping to use them on the emperor or crown prince. However, sympathisers had good cause to suspect a 'lawful' conspiracy to use his case both as warning to others not to resist Japanese imperialism and as a post-hoc justification of the massacre of mostly Koreans. The Japanese authorities had been censured by the foreign press and diplomats for allowing such an atrocity to occur, so the case enabled them to claim that Koreans had indeed been plotting subversion: the Pak Yeol/Futeisha case was proof positive of the real danger of Koreans' 'causing trouble' amid the post-earthquake destruction and mass confusion, trying to take advantage of it for their own rebellious ends. Nevertheless, it was Pak, not Fumiko, who had always been the main target of the authorities.
Steinhoff explains how they came to be charged with treason (click to enlarge):

From the Korea Times

The case came to court in early 1926, and after the opening ceremonies the court was closed to the public. In court, they both wore Korean clothing, and said they were there as representatives of the Korean people (which would explain the photo here). The case was covered a great deal in the Korean media, as this montage of contemporary Chosun Ilbo articles shows:

They were sentenced to death in March 1926, two days after they had registered their marriage in prison. The sentence was commuted to life in prison, but Kaneko refused to allow the government power over her life and death. Radekker quotes one of her poems:
One's limbs
may not be free
and yet—
if one has but the will to die,
death is freedom.

This was one of Fumiko's prison tanka, traditional short poems of 31 syllables.
On July 23, 1926, Japanese authorities announced that Kaneko had hung herself in her solitary confinement cell at a prison in Utsunomiya.

As the Marmot tells us,
After her death, Park’s older brother went to Japan and brought Kaneko’s body back to Korea, where it was interred at the Park family’s burial area in Pallyeong-ni, Mungyeong-eup. In November 2003, her body was moved to Maseong-myeon, in back of Park Yeol’s birth home.
Park would not be freed until 1945. He returned to Korea in 1945, only to go north in 1950 during the war. He died in North Korea in 1974.

The story of Park and Kaneko's comrades from the Futeisha group continued, however, and it's worth prefacing their (brief) story with this observation by Frank Hoffmann:
Same as with the Communist movement, if you look at the organizational structure you will see that regionalism and school and family ties played the most important role. That might not be so evident if only reading the "official" histories (mostly published by anarchist and pro-anarchist historians) but when you go through all the many volumes of Japanese Secret Police reports, Chinese Communist Party sources, and biographies of anti-Japanese independence fighters you will see that it was *largely* based on school ties, region (e.g. Taegu) and family ties -- not on political conviction per se, or social backgrounds, etc. The driving source was, this will not be surprising, nationalism and Koreans' desire for independence. We therefore find a wide spectrum of shadings within the anarchist movement -- some groups that understood themselves as anarchists, others that were later considered anarchists but understood themselves more as terrorist independence fighters but cooperated with the "real" anarchists, and so forth.
It's worth thinking about the influence of those ties of region, family and friends when considering what Ha Ki-rak wrote (in A History of the Korean Anarchist Movement) about Park and Kaneko's friends (who were arrested but not prosecuted) when they returned to Korea. The details of the prosecution of the following groups are from Donga Ilbo articles.

Seo Sang-gyeong and Hong Jin-yu, who were part of Park Yeol's group in Tokyo, returned to Korea and formed the League of the Black Flag, and due to this were among 10 defendants arrested and sentenced to 1 year in prison in October 1925.

Seo Dong-song, another freed after the preliminary investigations into Park Yeol and Kaneko Fumiko's group, returned home in 1925 and joined the League of Truth and Fraternity, founded in September of that year in Daegu (which would continue to be an area with an anarchist community into the present). The group sent a member to Japan that November to visit Park and Kaneko in prison, who returned to Korea to raise funds for them. A Japanese activist named Kurihara visted the area that year and made contact with Seo's group to arrange a meeting with Park Yeol's brother, Park Jeong-sik, to arrange for him to receive Park and Kaneko's bodies should they be executed. The group had contacts with anarchists Seo had known in Japan, and whether they were planning some mayhem or not is rather unclear. What is clear that the Japanese began investigating them in 1926 and arrested the whole lot (excluding Park Yeol's brother) that summer, sentencing 13 of them (including two Japanese) to prison terms of between 1 and 5 years in July, 1927. Seo, having escaped prison during the Park Yeol affair, was sentenced to 3 years; Kim Chung-gun died in prison of pneumonia a few weeks after being sentenced.

A group of friends influenced by this case formed a group in Anui and made contacts in Japan, eventually forming a Cooperative union which was still in existence in 1946.

Jeong Tae-seong was another member of Park Yeol's group in Tokyo who was set free. He returned to Korea and in Jinju formed an anarchist circle. The group's members were arrested in December of 1928, only to be set free for lack of evidence.

In March, 1930, 6 members of the Chungju Artists movement society were sentenced to 5 years in prison, as the presence of the aforementioned Seo Sang-gyeong and another member of the aforementioned League of the Black Flag who had also served time in Seodaemun prison, Seo Jeong-gi, made it clear to the authorities the nature of the society.

As can be seen, a handful of Park Yeol's comrades managed to leave Japan (while often maintaining ties there) and spread such radical circles amongst friends and colleagues. This activity would continue until the early 1930s, when the authorities drove such activity underground in both Korea and Japan. I'll delve into that and other aspects of Korean anarchism next time around.