Thursday, September 30, 2010

Which is the Korean race's biggest holiday?

Old news, I guess, but I was just looking through this article and came across this statistic about the rainfall last Tuesday:
The Gangseo region in southwestern Seoul and Gangnam area in the southern part saw 293 mm of rainfall[.]
I live in Gangseo, and had had no idea how bad it really was until later. I woke up to the wild sound of the wind and rain and went back to sleep, opting to stay in until it had mostly stopped. I'd noticed that the ground floor of my building was quite wet, and figured water must have gotten in (it's on an incline, where you need to go down two steps to the back door, and up four or five steps to the front). There didn't seem to be any sign of flood or water damage in the area, however (including a nearby basement supermarket).

A few days later, a friend of mine showed me his cell phone photos of his trip back to Banghwa-dong from Bucheon that day, which revealed streets that resembled rivers, and shots taken from the rear door windows of the wake of the taxi in this river.

I decided to look around and found this article which has quite a few photos of the effect of the rain on the Gwanghwamun area, Gwanghwamun subway station, and Kyobo bookstore, as well as Cheonggyecheon.

I believe the last time it looked like this was during the flooding in 2006, when the Han River overflowed its banks.

One thing that got my attention was this caption on almost all of the photos in the Ohmynews article: "민족 최대 명절인 추석 연휴 첫날인 21일 오후..." As an introduction to the photo, it reads, "On the afternoon of the 21st, the first day of [our] race's biggest holiday..." Okay, I guess minjok could also be translated as 'nation,' (as it may be here, where "the nation's biggest holiday" is used) but it seems to be an example of how overused the word minjok can be. I can understand a description like that being in English-language articles, as there might be an expectation that the fifteen or so foreign tourists who read the KT, KH, and Joongang (combined) might not know much about Chuseok, but it seems rather odd to use it for Korean readers, though a Naver search reveals that it is widely used.

That it might be little more than a rhetorical flourish, however, is revealed in a cafe post (first result here) where the poster says that last Lunar New Years, an announcer on TV clearly said that Seollal is the minjok's biggest holiday, only for announcers to say last week that Chuseok is the minjok's biggest holiday. He asked, "So which one is it?" and then complained that he'd fought with his wife for two hours due to this broadcast and the question it raised. There was no complaint about the use of the term minjok itself, of course, but it does seem that there's awareness that some media outlets overuse superlatives attached to the term.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Glory be to thy hallowed DNA

[Update: The Joongang Ilbo has an English-language editorial titled "Football may be in our girls’ DNA too."]

As we can see from yesterday's front page, the Maeil Gyeongje has let its readers in on why the South Korean team won the U-17 Women's World Cup:

Korean Women's DNA is Different

Out of only 345 women, 21 were picked, and in the end they did the job.
The splendid achievements in golf, figure skater Kim Yu-na, and the soccer Taegeuk Girls are connected.

Well now, I guess that may explain why Roboseyo "personally was told "foreign blood and Korean blood together has problems" [by] one of the nurses at a blood clinic[.]" It all makes sense now - Koreans' DNA is different. What a simple, obvious explanation.

Actually, while the article tells us that "Questions arise each time Korean female athletes accomplish great things on the world stage," it (sadly) does not follow up on the promise of the headline, instead dwelling on more mundane cultural and social influences. Mind you, the fact that "Korean women's DNA is different" was a headline on the front page of a newspaper should go to show that the idea of genes and bloodlines was dominating the writer (or editor)'s thinking, and that they figured others would agree.

Not that that should be all that surprising. It's interesting to note that as of a year ago, according to this, of the seven published sequences of individual human genomes in the world, two were from Korea, indicating a certain interest in the topic. As the introduction to this article in Nature by an SNU scientist states
"The integration of several human whole-genome sequences derived from several ethnic groups will assist in understanding genetic ancestry, migration patterns and population bottlenecks."
If I had to make a guess, "understanding genetic ancestry" will be at the top of the list; more on the history of the focus in Korea on bloodlines and race can be found here. Of course, as far as understanding genetic ancestry goes, it seems some Korean groups are more certain than others of where they come from, as this pamphlet given by a proselytizer to Ian Baruma during the 1988 Seoul Olympics (and related in his article, "Playing for Keeps") reveals:
To All Mankind!—We proclaim that the Republic of Korea is the country where mankind was first created and civilization was cradled, and the parental country of all mankind. All mankind now participating in the '88 Olympic Games! We advise you to realize the fact that the Republic of Korea having about 5000 year [sic] long history, is your parental country."
Well, there you go.

It's interesting to note the different uses in the media for genetic references. This article examines how the U.S. media overlooked Norway winning 27% of the medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and compared this to the reaction to Kenyan men taking home 27% of the running medals from the 2008 Olympics:
[A] key difference is that when Kenyan athletes fare extremely well the tabloid press erupts with the news that Kenyans probably possess the right genes for performance, that they are genetically superior to runners from the rest of the world. [...]

The Norwegians, of course, are a different story altogether. When they out-compete big-brother Russia to the east, garnering 50-percent more medals than their Russian counterparts (despite Russia’s population of 142 million), the lofty Norwegian performances are simply the result of discipline, hard work, scientific training, culture, and the unique Norse environment. While Russian heads roll, not a whisper is heard about Norwegian DNA.
The Kenyan genetic connection has been taken further with a study that concluded that the Kenyans had a born advantage and speculated that it might have something to do with their "birdlike legs," and not the Kenyan work ethic. In this case, the genetic explanation has been used to explain away the Kenyan victories, while in Korea genetic explanations serve a different purpose.

It's not for nothing that the Maeil Gyeongje article, with its headline about Korean women's 'different DNA', also noted that subtlety and perseverance are traits unique to Korean women, as this seems to be the point of this focus on genetics and bloodlines - to prove the uniqueness of the Korean race. This uniqueness has sometimes placed Koreans at great risk, such as when people (mistakenly) believed that Koreans were more susceptible to mad cow disease due to their genes (note the similarity to B.R. Myers' description of North Korean mythology wherein their virtue and purity makes them easy targets to a cruel outside world). Of course, it's often seen as a good thing, and this case this uniqueness has given Korean women the ability to excel in sports, even if the list of medals Korean women have racked up might seem scanty considering it stretches back to 1976, and oddly enough this "Korean Women's gene" did not allow their sisters to the north to do any better than fourth place in the U-17 World Cup. Odd how North Korea, with the same genetics, hasn't produced any star golfers or figure skaters.

Moving along from genetics, the Maeil Gyeongje article most importantly also informs us of the true value of these girls' achievement:
"Now 'Korean women' has become another unique brand which informs the whole world about South Korea."
That's nice to know, considering the number of people watching their opening games probably could have fit into a Nolbu Bossam restaurant. As Oranckay put it here, "[B]ringing glory to Korea is the ultimate standard for everything." He also quoted a worthwhile Hankyoreh article about "the sudden respect Korea's break dancers received after they starting winning competitions."
What has made B-boys so famous? Why is it that these low culture dancers are suddenly being praised by TV news anchors, introduced with no small amount of excitement by entertainment world gossip reporters, and are being embraced by the advertising industry? I myself think it's because Korean B-boys won the world championships. And I think it's because people were moved by the sight of white people waving Korean flags and cheering them on. Put differently, had these guys not won medals at an international event they'd have found it hard to shed the image that follows them around, one that sees them as hoodlums and losers.
It's hard to know if the pressure to succeed has gotten stronger or relaxed since the days of the 1988 Olympics. As Baruma relates,
The pressure on the Korean athletes was even worse. Not to win gold was regarded virtually as a national disgrace. Several Korean winners of silver and bronze medals actually apologized for their failures. [...]I thought of the images I had seen in the papers of Korean athletes being drilled in boot camp, wearing full military gear, and screaming "Fight, fight, fight!"
Of course, how victories are reported hasn't changed much, as a Korea Times columnist at the time wrote that, "We must say we are proud that the miracle-maker of the East, Korea, has done it again."

Thinking of such miracle-makers, or how subtlety and perseverance were said to be traits unique to Korean women, I was reminded of how the Korea Times reported Kim Yu-na's Olympic gold medal victory, referring to her as
“The Great Leader, the Sun of Korean people, Undefeatable Steel Commander, Legendary Hero Sun of the Nation, Father Marshal, Prominent leader of the International Communist movement, Genius for Theory and Practice of Management, Cresset of the Union, Successor of the Great Revolution Pursuit, The Greatest Hero of the Humanity.
Whoops. Sorry, that was from a blog entry about how North Koreans refer to Kim Il-sung. Here's what the KT had to say about Yu-na:
Kim Yu-na's Olympic triumph cements her status as the megastar of figure skating and the sport's most transcendent personality since Germany's Katarina Witt.

She became the first female figure skater to achieve the "grand slam," winning the World Grand Prix Final, Four Continents Championships, World Championships and the Winter Olympics. She is the first South Korean to win an Olympic medal in figure skating, and gold at that, while setting a new world record in the process.

And barring an injury or career-altering slump, Kim has to be considered a favorite to defend her Olympic title in Sochi, Russia, four years from now, which would allow her to join Witt as the only two-time Olympic figure skating champions.

[Not getting ahead of themselves at all, are they?]

Kim, who says she idolized Michelle Kwan growing up, now seems to be on course for a more productive career than the American figure skating great, while having a real shot at establishing herself as the best ever.

It remains to be seen whether anyone will emerge to challenge Kim ― her rivalry with Asada is now looking as lopsided as a Pyongyang election.

Of course, Asada is the only female skater in the world who consistently lands the triple axel, but Kim clearly does everything else much better, displaying a deft triple-triple (triple lutz-triple toe loop combination), poise and artistry.

It seems that the world has already seen the best of Miki Ando, another Japanese contender, and Canada's Joannie Rochette, who finished behind Kim and Asada for the bronze in Vancouver, has never managed to beat Kim in an international competition.[Emphases added]
And all a few days after Rochette's mother died - stay classy, KT. But then, it's understandable - nothing must stand in the way of showering praise (and the opportunity to shill for a soda or phone) upon those who bring brand recognition to Korea and glory to those with Korean DNA.

Christians aren't the only missionaries Korea exports, now are they?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The latest plans for Yongsan Dreamhub

I've mentioned before the plans to build a 'waterfront town' in Yongsan in conjunction with the Han River Renaissance Plan, and a week or so ago new renderings of this plan turned up. Previous renderings looked like this (from 2004):

More recent renderings, linked to the Han River Renaissance Plan, show the planned ferry terminal...

...or feature more... unique designs:

Here's the most recent design:

The Chosun Ilbo reported on the release of the latest plans not long after Samsung C&T pulled out of the project.
A giant underground strip mall six times larger than COEX will be built in the planned international business district in Yongsan, Seoul. Dream Hub, a project financing vehicle for the development project, in an investor blitz on Thursday unveiled the new master plan. [...]

Dream Hub said the total area for business facilities in the district will be 1.428 million sq. m and accommodate some 70,000 workers. Residential space will take up 26.6 percent with some 5,000 apartments for existing residents of the area and low-income earners as well as luxury clients.
Three landmark buildings will stand in the center, and will be 100, 72 and 69 stories tall.

From here.

From here.

Here are views of the plan from the ground:

From here.

And here are views of the interior of COEX x6:

From here.

Of course, one wonders whether the area really needs so much retail space, especially since the I'Park mall at Yongsan station is nearby. On the other hand, since most of Yongsan-gu is scheduled to be torn down at some point, perhaps there will be enough residents nearby to support the businesses.

Monday, September 20, 2010

New drug to be banned

The Joongang Ilbo has a story about the growing popularity of the drug propofol and how hospitals and clinics have been illegally distributing it, resulting in arrests. It then goes on to say that - as always - the investigation is expanding:
Prosecutors are now looking into Korean celebrities and adult entertainment establishments, where they believe the drug can be easily found. Korean celebrities are seeking propofol because the drug is supposedly good for stress or insomnia, according to prosecutors.

The spread of propofol will continue to cause trouble for prosecutors until it is designated as a narcotic next year by the Korea Food and Drug Administration because there is no legal punishment for those who use the drug.
Um, silly question: If "there is no legal punishment for those who use the drug," then why are they tracking down possible users such as Korean celebrities (who have been the target of drug crackdowns for 35 years)? What's interesting is during that 1975 crackdown, celebrities and adult entertainment establishments were among the targets as well. The more things change...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Using manhwa for PR

The government released some new reading material the other day:
South Korea’s latest weapon in the fight against Kim Jong Il’s regime is a 32-page manga comic strip that seeks to dispel public doubts about North Korea’s responsibility in the deadly sinking of a patrol boat.

The Ministry of National Defense yesterday began distributing the cartoon story to schools, libraries and government offices in a bid to turn back a wave of skepticism among the nation’s youth. More than half of South Koreans in their 20s don’t trust their government’s latest account of the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, according to a poll by Seoul- based research company Realmeter.
The Truth about the Attack on the Cheonan

The comic can be read online here. Whether this will help communicate the government's position or simply be perceived as propaganda remains to be seen.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Teacher gets suspended sentence for drugs

Newsis published an article three days ago about the fate of this teacher, saying that on the 14th, a Busan court gave 26 year old American middle school English teacher ‘A’ a two and a half year sentence suspended for 3 years for ordering a new kind of drug from overseas via the internet.

Interestingly enough, the judge said that though the bringing in and smoking of drugs banned in Korea was a serious crime, he took into account that most of the drugs were seized, they weren’t spread on the market, and the teacher had sincerely taught his students since coming to Korea, so he gave him a suspended sentence.

A came to Korea in September 2008 to teach at a middle school in Busan’s Buk-gu, and in May and June he ordered a total of 29 grams of the new drug JWH-018 on two occasions and smoked a gram of it himself.

Interestingly enough, Newsis was the only media outlet to cover this (though only three covered his arrest). Perhaps a teacher getting a suspended sentence partly for his "sincere teaching" isn't news (or perhaps there were bigger stories that day).

For comparison, I was going to link to this story and mention the female American teacher in Jeju who got a 3 year jail term (and four years probation, which made little sense) for importing 388 grams in a cake, but upon re-reading the Korean language article, I realized that this translation about her sentence isn't correct (at least according to Naver's dictionary). Much like the teacher described above, she got a three year sentence suspended for four years. In that case as well, according to this article, the judge said that he took into consideration that all of the marijuana was seized, she had confessed to the crime, and deeply regretted her mistake.

Here's the difference in how suspended sentences and jail time with probation is rendered:

그는 징역 1년 집행 유예 2년을 선고받았다.
그는 징역 1년, 집행 유예 2년을 선고받았다.

He was sentenced to one year in prison suspended for two years.
He was sentenced to one year in prison and two years probation.

If there's a comma, it's a jail term and probation; if there's no comma and the '에' tagged onto the jail sentence, it's a suspended sentence. Not that I pretend to be very knowledgable about this - I've just been looking at articles from the 1970s which feature a lot of jail sentences, and had to learn that vocabulary earlier this week to understand them. Hopefully the fruit of that research will be posted next week.

Opposition to interracial dating and 1970s bikini photos

As has been noted by Roboseyo, there's quite a lively discussion about interracial relationships going on, starting here, where commenter Jake (a co-founder of Asian Male Revolutions) left comments painting white men and especially the Korean women who date them in a less than positive light, followed by James' rebuttal at the Grand Narrative, and this response by I'm no Picasso, who I agree with Roboseyo is the best blog I've come across this year.

I left a comment at Grand Narrative yesterday, and I'm going to expand on it here. In the comment I pointed to an article that needs some setting up first. Three years ago, several articles appeared in the Korea Times written by Jason Lim. He seemed to have a dislike for English teachers, which came out in this article in late 2007.
I still remember being chewed out by the president of the language institute I worked for 10 years ago because I hired a Korean American UCLA graduate who was far more qualified than one of those 'Let's travel through Asia while earning money as English teachers and score some women at the same time, dude!" types of instructors that were so prevalent in those days.[...] Many lacked professional qualifications, lied about their academic training, and enjoyed less than exemplary lifestyle involving the proverbial sex, drugs, and rock n roll.
This article was criticized by Brian Deutsch at the time. Also worth reading is this article, which did a great job of taking Yonhap to task for this hatchet job (which expressed similar attitudes as Lim's article):
This article is not a search for the truth but a list of disparate episodes that have been connected in such a way as to create a narrative that is unjustified, inaccurate and dishonest. It's alarmist. Worse, it's outright racist because it attributes certain failings ― in this case, nothing less than a failure of character ― to a whole group of people based on the actions of a few individuals because they bear superficial physical resemblance, come from comparable cultural backgrounds, or share a similar language skill set.
It's a well written article, but most surprising is that it was written by Lim himself. He explains his change of heart in this article, where he elaborates on his feelings towards foreign men:
I was a bigot because there was an ingrained prejudice deep in the darkness of my mind that, somehow, Korean women were the exclusive property of Korean men. I was the self-appointed knight in shining armor protecting those who needed no protection against those who weren't even threats, except in the irrational and selfish recesses of my mind. And if you didn't need my protection, fie on thee. I am going to marginalize you as sub-Korean and insult you as a Yankee lover. So the betrayal I felt was toward the Korean women who would debase themselves with foreign men, and the violation I felt was an attack on my bigoted sense of what ought to be.
Do read the rest of his article, and more articles can be found at the Times by doing a search for his name.

One wonders what people of this mindset (and I don't just mean a dislike of interracial relationships, but also the offering of pseudo-academic justifications for such relationships that attempt to rob them of legitimacy and their participants of agency) would react to this film (the sound isn't great, but it's worth watching):

Then again, people who are opposed to such unions probably rarely (never?) have the opportunity to see them from the inside, as that film allowed its viewers to do. This video by T(Tasha) (Yun Mi-rae) talking about her childhood gives a pretty good idea of what it was like to be "marginalize[d] as sub-Korean." [I just noticed this was posted in the comments of James' post as well.]

I've written before about negative portrayals of white male English teachers as sexual predators, and the reactions to them in the Korean media, as well as a comparison of media portrayals of western men and western women, with women invariably being portrayed as sex objects. How long this portrayal of western women has been going on, I'm not certain. Perhaps when Seo Jae-pil returned to Korea in 1896 with an American wife, people started getting ideas (his protege, Syngman Rhee, certainly followed in Seo's footsteps, and thinking of the opinion that "A Korean man dating a white woman is an indication of self-hatred" (from I'm no Picasso), I can only chuckle at the idea of a self-hating Syngman Rhee, first president of the ROK ).

Okay, it likely didn't start there, but what I did find interesting was, while searching through 1970s-era newspapers, I kept coming across pictures of foreign women in bikinis. Here are a few examples, with some translations:

"This summer’s fashion, hot pants. Hot pants are going to be exclusively popular with young, captivating, voluptuous girls."

[That one is amusing to read since it reads in hangeul as '핫팬티,' which sounds like 'hot pantie(s)' in English.]

'Miami Pixie.'

"Holly Kimel (19), another pixie who appeared at Miami beach. Enrolled at Miami University, she sunbathes and swims in her spare time, playing the part of a model."

Liza Hart, whose hobby is boating, sunbathes sitting on a boat after a boat ride at Sorrento Beach in Australia. [AP]

“(I) enjoy the freezing sea”
"The voluptuous body of Debbie Pepper, enjoying the sun, sea and waves in below zero winter temperatures at a beach in Florida, USA. [UPI]"

That year’s Miss Paris.

Just in case you think they are all white women, that isn't the case:

Island beauty Jacqueline Simmons (22) sunbathes on a boat while wearing a cool bikini on the sea near Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. [UPI]

Some of the photos come from places other than AP or UPI, however, and feature somewhat more 'local' girls:

"Bewitching female US soldier."
"Proud of her curvy measurements of 38-24-35, Female US sergeant Gale Jones (22) has a captivating figure. She is currently serving in the USAF at Osan AB. [Stars and Stripes]"

"This captivating young woman is not an actress or model, but a soldier."

Now, compare this to Korean swimwear ten years later:

In fact, it could have been 20 years - or perhaps almost 30 years later, and you might have seen almost the same amount of skin.

This 1976 advertisement, showing a mother and daughter, show how far along the western beauty ideal had come by that point.

At any rate, I'm not sure when this practice of publishing photos of western women in bikinis started (all of those photos are from the Kyunghyang Sinmun - I didn't look through the Chosun Ilbo's archives, so I'm not sure when they started with their galleries of school girls), but it suffices to say that western women have been portrayed like this in newspapers here for at least three decades, and for most of that time Korean women were most certainly not seen scantily dressed in newspaper photos - and neither were western men. I can only imagine that portrayal of western women filtered into the culture in other ways (Hollywood movies, for instance, though really racy stuff would have been censored back in the day), and I don't think it's that difficult to start connecting the dots between this selective portrayal, the fact that only foreign women were used as models for lingerie (though this is apparently changing), and, "Are you Russian?" Still, there's an irony in the fact that the images published in these Korean newspapers (or the films showing western women as sex objects which might have been shown in Korean theatres) were made in the west (AP, UPI, Hollywood), so the west's own sexism (ie, in the Toronto Sun, the Sunshine Girl is on page 2, while the Sunshine Boy is buried somewhere in the back), has helped shape the Korean view of western women as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Covering traditional markets

The Joongang Ilbo published an article the other day about covering and modernizing outdoor traditional markets:
[M]any of the 1,550 traditional markets around the country have gone through [...] renovations during the past decade.

Leading the effort to transform Korea’s regional markets are the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business, or Kbiz. The two collaborated to launch a project to transform traditional markets into more than just retail spaces and is trying to add “culture” to the mix.

The project is called Culture-Tourism Markets, and it was launched in 2008 with initiatives for 18 traditional markets in Korea worth up to 20 billion won ($17.1 million). Both the government and private sector are investing in each market, and the Agency for Traditional Market Administration, under Kbiz, is handling the actual execution of the projects.

As part of the mass-makeovers, markets introduced cultural programs like merchant theater groups that perform inside the markets. In addition to remodeling the exterior and interior of the markets, famous regional tourist attractions have been specially branded and connect to the markets.
It also has a nice photo of Jjimdalk cooking in the Andong market - a dish which makes it well worth visiting. A year ago I posted about the covering of Bangsin Market it Banghwa-dong. Here are some more photos of it after the renovations and covering were finished.

There's now standardized signage and lighting, and the entrances all look similar:

Above is the new building which was erected after a fire destroyed the previous buildings in March 2009.

The article goes on to mention that in Japan some covered markets are not being uncovered so as to become more 'authentic.' I'm not sure if the covered shopping arcades I've walked through in every Japanese city I've visited are the same as the markets the article refers to, but it's interesting that the Japanese are moving in the opposite direction. It's hard to believe that 15 years ago most shopping was done in markets or small stores, while the market share of modern retail formats such as department stores was only about 14 per cent. More on that change can be found here and here.

I just look forward to the day when they start tearing down apartment complexes to build modernized hanoks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Unfavorable weather blamed for high vegetable prices

The rain gets blamed for everything. The Korea Times has an article on the rising cost of vegetables, due in part to the poor growing weather this year.
This year the spring season was unusually short, chilly while the summer was extremely hot and accompanied by heavy rainfall. According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, the average temperature this past April was the lowest since 1973 at 9.9 degrees Celsius. The average duration of sunshine across the country in April was 176.5 hours ― much shorter than 215 hours last year. [...]

In the meantime, the prices of ssam or leafy vegetables for wrap dishes are greatly affecting restaurant owners. Lee Mi-kyung, an owner of two restaurants, says that five kilograms of sangchu or lettuce reached 130,000 won.

At one of her restaurants, she had to stop serving lettuce, replacing it with sesame leaves and small cabbages because of the price hikes.

According to the Seoul Agricultural & Marine Products Corp., the average price of green lettuce auctioned at the Garak market for the last seven days was 40,200 won ― up from 3,943 won during the same period last year.
Ouch, though a ten-fold increase seems ridiculously steep. Can we be sure the KT got that right? A similar story was on the front page of the Chosun Ilbo Saturday, titled "These days, the scariest words for restaurant owners are "More lettuce, please."" It included this graphic, which has the average retail price for the vegetable over the last five years compared to its retail price on September 10.

The statistics above suggest the price for lettuce has increased three times, while someone interviewed in the Chosun article described an increase from 14,000 won (for 4kg of lettuce) last year to 60-70,000 won this year (or it would if there wasn't one too many '만's in it: '1만4000만원').

I can't say I've ever seen a Korean Hare, but I don't imagine they'd be popular with farmers this year. Oddly enough, if you put that last sentence in a mirror, you might end up with this.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A guide to Seoul's nightlife - in 1965

Here's another James Wade piece:

I can only wonder if perhaps Wade wasn't much of a beer drinker, considering the comment he made above about Korean beer!

On the topic of Wade, a visit to the Seoul Foreigners' Cemetery awhile ago answered a question I had about him (and a few other people):

Not exactly a ripe old age, unfortunately...

Friday, September 10, 2010


I liked the final sentence in the blurb under this photo in the Joongang Ilbo:
A retaining wall for a school building under construction at the Ulsan Foreign Language High School collapsed yesterday. City officials blamed recent rain for the collapse. Construction will likely be delayed.
Likely be delayed? I certainly hope so. The image reminds me of this case in China. And I really hope the title of that page, "Blame the Rain," wasn't a reference to this.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tax dollars well spent

Rumors on the internet said that escaped convicts were killing high school girls in Incheon. High school girls who read the rumors were scared. Instead of confirming that escaped convicts were not killing high school girls, police found another solution:
[L]ast week, police arrested a high school girl surnamed Lee, 17, on charges of fabricating and spreading false rumors on the Web. Lee told investigators without remorse that she “just created the story simply for fun.” [...]

The arrest in the fabrication case came four months after the initial postings, showing a weakness in the police investigation. Police had narrowed the number of potential suspects to 36 by searching stories posted on the Web, but they had a difficult time nabbing the most likely suspect because the postings were written using stolen IDs and fake user names.

The police officers blame local regulations for the slow pace of the investigation. To search a person’s e-mail messages and online instant messages, police need to obtain an arrest warrant. “It took us 10 days to seek a warrant for each suspect,” said Kim Yang-ho, a police officer with the Incheon cybercrime investigation bureau. [emphasis added]
Four months spent catching the person spreading rumors that could have been dealt with by making public announcements that none of it was true? What a useful way to spend the police budget! And all of this followed by an appeal to find ways to circumvent these annoying hindrances to police investigation called 'arrest warrants?' Lovely. Perhaps I'm underestimating the dangers that untruthful rumors pose in Korean cyberspace (defamation, malicious rumors or harassment that push people to commit suicide) , but it seems a rather heavy-handed response to one that, in the end, harmed no one.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Bits and pieces

The Korea Herald has an article about a visit to Korea by the daughter of Marguerite Higgins, one of the few female war correspondents at the time she covered the Korean War, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

Last week, Michael Breen wrote about the 1973 kidnapping of Kim Dae-jung from Japan by the KCIA (something I looked at here as well).

The Joongang Ilbo reports on the results of a four year investigation which resulted in assets being seized from 168 descendants of pro-Japanese collaborators. What interested me was how it all started:
The Korean government held the Ancestral Property Recovery Program to find owners of abandoned land in order to spur development. It seemed there was a lot of land around the country that did not have an owner.

The program started in municipal areas in 1995 and soon spread nationwide in 2000. Descendants were allowed to claim property they had not known about if they reported to local government offices and went through a search based on their family information. [...]

Instead of keeping quiet for fear of backlash, descendants of Lee Wan-yong, Song Byeong-jun and Lee Ji-yong, all infamous pro-Japanese collaborators, even made land claims.

As the news spread through the country that descendants of three of the biggest “traitors” in the nation’s history were seeking compensation for lost land, the question quickly arose whether or not they should have the same rights to lost property as others, since it was believed the method of acquisition was considered unethical and even immoral.
Some of these descendants won 'back' their land, which prompted the formation of the Investigative Commission on Pro-Japanese Collaborators’ Property.

A Hankyoreh journalist reported on what it was like to live on the government minimum cost of living allowance of 1,110,919 Won for a month. Eating on a budget of 3000 won for lunch and 3,500 won for dinner for three was difficult, and other costs were problematic:
Education costs seemed utterly insurmountable. The minimum livelihood schedule puts education costs for a three-person household at 49,844 Won, which is supposed to cover study and reference materials. [...]

In any case, education expenses came out to more than 125,156 Won. According to National Statistical Office figures, some 87.4 percent of elementary school students received private education in 2009, and private academy expenses averaged out to 245,000 Won per person. It is a reality that cannot be ignored, but it is not reflected in the minimum livelihood schedule.

And the Chosun Ilbo reports on post-flood conditions in Sinuiju in North Korea. Here's a photo taken during the flooding, and a hidden camera video of Sinuiju can be seen here.

Interesting inclusion into a pre- G-20 crackdown

Back in May, the government launched an incentive program aimed at encouraging foreign workers who overstayed their visa to leave the country "voluntarily":
Under the program, those who exit will be exempt from fines and will not be regulated on a possible revisit to the country. The authorities are aiming to reduce the number of illegal sojourners here ― estimated at 180,000 ― before the G-20 Summit slated for November. The program will run from May 6 to September 31.

Employers who come clean with such workers will also be granted exemptions from fines and be given priority in recruiting substitute workers.
There was an amusing comment left by 'ninjalo' below the article:
Wow, they consider this to be so important that they even added an extra day to September! Way to maintain your constant level of quality, Korea Times!
I digress. Last week it was announced
South Korea will extend a temporary grace period during which foreigners staying in the country illegally can leave and return with a visa without getting punished, the Justice Ministry said Tuesday. The grace period, which began on May 6, was to expire Tuesday, but the ministry has decided to extend it to the end of October to handle a growing number of illegal aliens who were leaving to be exempted from fines and a ban on future reentry.

A total of 8,958 illegal immigrants have left the country as of Aug. 25, showing a 12 percent increase compared to the same period last year, according to the ministry. As the deadline neared, an average of 113 people left the country daily in August, it said.[...]

By nationality, 3,169 ethnic Koreans from China, 780 Mongolians and 682 Thais went back to their home countries, the ministry said. About 180,000 were estimated to be residing in South Korea illegally before the grace period began in May.
The earlier article made it clear the government was taking a two-pronged approach, using both the grace period and a crackdown to reduce numbers. It seems another crackdown will start at about the time the extended grace period ends, according to the Gangwon Ilbo:
Organizations such as the Gangwon regional police, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labor, and Maritime Police will conduct a joint government crackdown on illegally residing foreigners for two months starting October 22.

The targets of the crackdown include brokers who facilitate illegal entry and employment, illegal conversation teachers, and businesses which help the illegal foreign workforce [get jobs], including foreigners who take part in illegal rallies or terror and outlaw union activities.
I wonder what exactly "illegal conversation teachers" means. Perhaps teaching without a work visa, or those with visas teaching privates? At any rate, you rarely see foreign teachers included in such crackdowns, especially in the same sentence as people taking part in terror activities.

This article seems to suggest that the government is trying also to sweep homeless and street vendors off the streets prior to the G-20.


This KT article makes it a bit clearer:
The Ministry of Justice, police and other government offices have teamed up for months to "wipe out" unauthorized street vendors and homeless people spotted around meeting venues in central and southern Seoul.
Lovely. The phrase "wipe out" reminds me of a sentence in the first article linked above where immigration announced there would be "no mercy" for illegal overstayers caught during the concurrent crackdown. Such language seems more suited to a dictatorship or a colonial overlord than government ministries in a democracy.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Response to the Donga Ilbo interview with AES

Yesterday I posted a translation of a February 5, 2010 Donga Ilbo interview with Anti English Spectrum's Lee Eun-ung. A response to the claims made in the article follows. Here are links to the original foreign media articles (National Post, Vancouver Sun, LA Times (Feb. 2009, Jan. 2010)) referred to in the Donga Ilbo article.

At the beginning of the article, it asks “Why are foreign media “attacking the citizen’s group?”” and “attacking” is in quotes; not so a few sentences later: “Why are you receiving such attacks?” The reporter decided to turn the debate into "us vs. them" - "malicious foreign press reports are distorting things Korean." This is amusing when you realize that in reality, one of the most critical statements made about Anti English Spectrum came from an ROK diplomat, Younggoog Park, Minister-Counsellor of Public Affairs at the Korea Embassy in Ottawa:
"Their reactionary views and opinions do not represent the sentiment of Koreans toward Canadians or other foreign teachers," Park told the CBC’s The Current.

Lee then takes the chance to once again reiterate the reason for forming AES - the English Spectrum incident: “During this incident, postings like “Picking up Korean women is easy… I had sex with a middle school girl” enraged Koreans.” He fails to mention, as always, that the “How to mollest[sic] your students” post on Korean ESL (from which the “I had sex with a middle school girl” quote came) also enraged the foreign English teachers who read it when it was first posted a year and a half before it was discovered by Koreans. For once, due only to the criticism brought up in foreign media reports, Lee does actually admit something he never has before: “[A]mong the people who first joined our group, some concentrated only on attacking and degrading women who date foreigners.”

The women who appeared in photos with western men taken at a sexy costume party (which were posted at English Spectrum and discovered by netizens in January 2005) received threats via phone and email at the time, such as
'Why don't whores like you just die quietly.'
'Foreigners' whore! Why don't you shut down your club?'
"Whores, are Western bastards that good?"
According to the Chosun Ilbo,
A 27-year old also in the pictures said, "It's true that I enjoy dancing to relieve stress, but isn't it going overboard to treat me like a whore?" Fighting back tears, she said, "My co-workers point at me behind my back. "I don't know how they got my email address, but I get tons of emails with frightening titles, so I don't even turn on my computer these days."
Ohmynews interviewed the women in the photos and the owner of Mary Jane bar, who told them, “It wasn’t a secret obscene party” and “In some online articles and at the Anti English Spectrum cafe it was said that we were prostitutes, yanggongju and brothel keepers.”

More damning is a screen shot of Anti English Spectrum's main page taken by Dalian for this article at the time of the English Spectrum incident:

It's difficult to read, but post 366 from 2005.01.14 is entitled "미친년들 이번 기회에 망신한번 당혜봘아," or "This is the chance to humiliate those crazy bitches," first-hand evidence of the type of venom the "citizens' group" was spewing.

So it went, though Lee tells us that
After this, through efforts at self-purification, it was settled on that our group would have the educational purpose of protecting our children from unqualified native-speaking teachers. However, foreign teacher organizations and foreign media still focus (only) on the issue of foreign men dating Korean women, which stood out at that time.”
Perhaps the focus on that is due to the fact that it was only early in 2010 that they removed their original statement of purpose from their site, a statement which included such things as
Until the degradation of Korean women by English Spectrum stirred an uproar, we were just common citizens of the republic of Korea. … one day, we witnessed English Spectrum’s arrogant and base statements degrading Korean women and we felt something beyond rage, a feeling of unendurable humiliation. And so, because of our burning consciences, our ‘active consciences,’ that we just could not ignore, we are gathered here together.

They also say that they are “waging a wearisome and very difficult fight against English Spectrum, a group that has debased the image of Korean women in such a dirty and humiliating way that is enough to have soiled the country’s national brand, and also against illegal, low quality English instructors who prevent proper English education from happening in this land!”
In fact it was in late October 2005 that they changed their name to “Citizen’s group for upright English education,” though posts thoroughly criticizing baekbba ("white groupies," or women interested in sleeping with white men) continued into late 2007 (with discussions using the term taking place at least as late as mid 2009). I’ll save a closer look at how AES members identified, targeted and shut down site they deemed a baekbba site for another day.

Also, after Anti English Spectrum tried to get Scott Burgeson fired from his teaching position at Hongik University in 2007 after taking offense at things they read about his book Daehanminguk Sayonghugi, in July 2009 a member of Anti English Spectrum posted personal information about him and a quote taken selectively from this conversation at Dave's ESL Cafe about dating in Korea, suggesting their "efforts at self-purification" (supposedly aimed at putting a stop to focusing on relationships between foreign teachers and Korean women) were not particularly strenuous. Also, in an email Scott noted to me that at that point he had stopped teaching a year-and-a-half earlier, "so why they even mentioned my post, when I was a non-teacher at the time, underscores the fact that their rhetoric about 'championing quality teaching' is often more of a smokescreen."

Then the Donga Ilbo claims that "They [ATEK and foreign media] also claim that the compulsory criminal record checks and medical certificates instituted as native speaker conversation instruction (E2) visa requirements in late 2007 discriminate against foreigners."

No, ATEK claimed the drug and AIDS tests were discriminatory – they did not say that medical certificates were in and of themselves were problematic. As for criminal record checks, in his report to the NHRCK, Ben Wagner in fact wrote that "Teachers of children, however, should be required to submit criminal background checks of sufficient scrutiny and authenticity rather than the current pro forma requirements." That same opinion had already been offered in January 2008, when Kookmin University law professor Sean Hayes wrote in a Korea Times article that requiring only a “local police station” criminal background check would allow a “smarter than immigration ‘pedophile’ [to] simply request a record check from a town police department in a state where he has no criminal record and [he] would then receive a clean ‘no record’ statement.” So in fact you had the report to the NHRCK - which ATEK cited - arguing for stricter criminal record checks (put in place this July), which is the opposite of what the Donga Ilbo stated. Anything to make things easier for AES to explain away, I guess – or just plain laziness on the part of the Donga Ilbo reporter – or both.

Lee then says he doesn't understand why teachers consider the health exams to be discriminatory, saying that,
Our (Korean) physical examination includes tests for sexually transmitted diseases including syphilis, and teachers are even fingerprinted. Also in the case of hagwon teachers, it’s necessary to verify that there are no sex crimes against children in their past.
Since syphilis (매독) tests often are a part of of government employee tests, including public school teachers (on this form, above where it says "기타" and you will see "매독"), it is fair to say that "public school teachers are tested for syphilis". However saying they are tested for "sexually transmitted diseases including syphilis" is being disingenuous, as syphilis is the only STD tested for (The government used to test for hepatitis-B (간염), but this was a human rights issue and in 2003 the NHRCK recommended to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security that they alter this policy, and in 2005 the hepatitis B test was removed). Also, the Deputy Director of the NHRCK’s Human Rights Division, who was quoted in this article in June, said, “I am positive that immigration authorities would be advised to revise the controversial visa regulations regarding the AIDS check-up.”

In response to the accusation that “ATEK says the members of the citizen’s group engage in stalking by roaming around foreign teachers’ homes and workplaces,” Lee replies that:
When a tip about an illegal teacher comes in through the cafe, to verify if it is true, the managing members only inquire with the hagwon to see if the ESL teacher works there. Then we relay the tip to law enforcement. In fact, it is likely that whoever teachers claim is following them are actually members of law enforcement.
First of all, this contradicts what was said about Lee in the L.A. Times story about Anti English Spectrum, an article that "reflects much of our position," as Lee put it. One wonders if the reporter even read it:
He uses the Internet and other means to track personal data and home addresses of foreign English teachers across South Korea.Then he follows them, often for weeks at a time, staking out their apartments, taking notes on their contacts and habits. He wants to know whether they're doing drugs or molesting children. [...] Yie waves off the criticism. "It's not stalking, it's following," he said. "There's no law against that."
Lee's response to the Donga Ilbo also contradicts the “150 day stakeout” described in this 2008 Seoul Shinmun interview (in fact, it’s mentioned in the title):
To track down the locations of foreign teachers using drugs he spent 150 days in bitterly cold weather, outworking the police, not going home. [emphasis added]
In an article he wrote for the Monthly Chosun last August, Lee wrote that “Last May… members of our community set out to track down a “native speaker teacher who habitually engaged in drug use [and] conduct[ed] a stakeout for five months at one hagwon[.]”

Or, as this No Cut News article from November 2009 put it,
If members discover problem foreign instructors, they use their cafe pseudonym to leave a tip for the manager or send him a note, who then tracks the teachers with others for two to three months on average. The cafe’s method involves relentlessly pursuing them and finally when evidence is secured and the location of the crimes confirmed the police are called. [emphasis added]
“Relentlessly” is paired with “pursue” twice in that article.

Also, as far as I know, no one actually complained about being followed – ATEK’s complaint about stalking came from the images and descriptions of stakeouts on AES’s own site. While they routinely would post images of teachers they were after (with eyes or other defining features blotted out), they also took photos of the buildings these people lived in, such as these:

"The photo below is of a drug teacher's residence."

They also took photos of these people from a distance, and from behind, suggesting they were following them, such as these (with the first one appearing in a Lee Eun-ung-penned 2009 op-ed article in the Kyunghyang Shinmun (translated here)):

They would sometimes go further and photograph themselves doing things like skulking around dark hallways.

Lee also declared in the November 2008 Seoul Sinmun interview that he would “pursue an illegal foreign lecturer, braving fire and water and working until past midnight.” Most of these photos are accompanied by text explaining that Lee had been out until 1 am, or 2 am, or 4 am on a stakeout.

1:00am, [waiting for] an illegal teacher to come home
to discover [where he lives].

And who can forget the post where they said they were on a stakeout due to a tip that a female teacher was using drugs, and said “No drugs turned up, but a used condom did,” suggesting they went through her garbage.

As for the accusation that Anti English Spectrum was related to the death threat against English teachers (which used ATEK president Greg Dolezal’s name and phone and accused him of having AIDS and being a sex criminal), Lee said,
"In December of last year, ATEK representatives even accused and sued me for spreading false rumors that 'an (ATEK representative) contracted HIV by having sex with a minor. They claimed it was defamation. Someone cleverly edited a site capture of a piece of writing regarding foreign teachers that I posted on our cafe and disseminated it. Everything about the threatening e-mail and this case is a fabrication by someone to denigrate our group. When the police investigation ends in 2 to 3 months, the entire truth will be revealed."
More about the death threat can be found here and here. As for the outcome of the investigation, according to ATEK president Greg Dolezal,
I filed against Lee Eun-ung for cyber libel and making a death threat because of a doctored image of me along with an note that called for my death along with other English teachers. I reported the incident to the Gimhae police (where I was living at the time). I submitted a 4-page detailed document in Korean explaining the nature of the threats and the history of AES along with an explanation of ATEK and how we might have attracted their attention. I focused not only on the threats of violence but also the damage to my reputation.

The Cyber Crimes Unit investigated this case and was behind me at the start. Then everything changed suddenly. The Gimhae police called Lee Eun-ung to come to Gimhae to be interviewed and when he arrived they found him to be a respectable and likable guy. After the interview they told me he seemed decent and wouldn't have done something like this and that clearly I was making the whole thing up. The police gave my personal phone number to Mr. Lee and then they called me to come to the station to accept an apology from him for the 'misunderstanding'.

I rejected that because I knew if I accepted the apology then I would be expected to drop my complaint. I was not prepared to do that. Also, I feel it was unprofessional of the Gimhae police to share the contact information of a victim with an assailant. It's clear to me that nationalism trumped justice in my case, but I felt helpless to do anything more about it.
Dolezal makes clear, however, that while he was disappointed with the way the Gimhae police handled the case, ATEK currently has a good relationship with the Seoul and Busan police, and is confident ATEK would be treated fairly in the future.

In response to the statement by ATEK that “The crime rate for teachers with E-2 visas is less than 0.5%, which is much less than the overall South Korean crime rate,” Lee said that “the crime rate of 0.5% is in fact a statistical trap. In truth, the majority of problems are caused by teachers who have not legally obtained E2 visas. Statistics do not catch these."

In truth, no one ever said those statistics were specifically for E-2 visa holders. When I used the number of E-2 visa holders as a comparison, it was because they were the only sure stats available, and because the results would in fact be the highest possible crime rate (using a larger sample, saying guessing at an extra ten or fifteen thousand F-4 and F-2 visa holders would have resulted in an even lower crime rate). No one actually knows how Rep. Lee Gun-hyeon got his statistics for English teacher crime, but it is not for certain that it only applied to E-2 visa holders, meaning those statistics may well have ‘caught’ the non E-2 visa holders Lee seems most concerned about. Lee also notes that major hagwons and kindergartens have seen few problems; the main source of problems are “cases of illegal employment at so-called “Education facilities that mimic English-teaching establishments” such as day cares, general kindergartens and English play rooms,” especially in the provinces. Left unsaid is that the problem then lies with the Korean owners of such establishments hiring these teachers illegally.

Lee also mentions that he felt sorry that good teachers got a bad reputation due to the actions of the bad teachers, and says, “We even persuaded and sent back one reporter who wanted to do a story on our group with just the goal of degrading foreign teachers.” I take it he’s not referring to the series of articles which AES contributed to by Break News in 2006 talking about the “damage beyond imagination” caused by foreign English teachers (such as this one), or the "Beware the 'Ugly White Teacher'" Sports Chosun article from 2007 about the white teacher threatening his girlfriend with AIDS, or the five articles last July, including the first one - which was featured at the top of Naver's homepage - where Lee was quoted as saying
“Foreign instructors of low character frequently toss women away without compunction after attaining their goal of meeting them for money and sexual relations, so many of the women have their lives ruined by abortion or, of course, sexually transmitted diseases.”
Lee has made statements like this on many occasions, such as describing "foreign teachers who make a hobby out of having sex at knifepoint" in this interview, or posting rumors on the Anti English Spectrum website that "foreigners who are infected with AIDS have been deliberately approaching other foreigners or Koreans in places such as nightclubs with the goal of spreading the AIDS virus," as well as saying, "Koreans who have had sexual contact with a foreigner will almost all contract AIDs." Fliers posted on their site said illegal foreign teachers "are targeting your children" and listed the attributes of such teachers: "Illegal drugs and sexual molestation, various diseases, AIDS, violence and seduction by promise of marriage, fake academic qualifications." And when they weren't contributing to TV shows which sported captions such as "Illegal foreign instructors are violating Korean women!!!", they - Lee in particular - were taking credit for articles with titles like these:

"To foreign English teachers, Korea is a depraved heaven." [Link]
"Korean society is too easy on white people." [Link]
"Faked backgrounds, molestation...'Wonderful native-speaking teachers.'" [Link]
"From molestation to AIDS threats - Shocking perversion of some English teachers" [Link]

While Lee has tried to portray "some members" as having caused problems in the past by doing things like "attacking and degrading women who date foreigners," it's been Lee himself - with the comments he has made in interviews and the things he has posted on the site - who has acted as a chief instigator in "degrading foreign teachers" and spreading anti-foreign teacher sentiment. Eliminating 'misunderstandings' about the group can hardly come about without acknowledging some of the more inflammatory and disparaging statements he has made.

He also has the nerve to say,
"I’m most concerned that a movement started for educational purposes has been distorted and is deteriorating into a collision between Koreans and foreigners".
If we remember correctly, “the movement” was not started for educational purposes, but because of “arrogant and base statements degrading Korean women [that caused them to feel] something beyond rage, a feeling of unendurable humiliation [because of] English Spectrum, a group that has debased the image of Korean women in such a dirty and humiliating way that is enough to have soiled the country’s national brand”. And as Lee put it, “[A]mong the people who first joined our group, some concentrated only on attacking and degrading women who date foreigners. After this, through efforts at self-purification, it was settled on that our group would have the educational purpose of protecting our children from unqualified native-speaking teachers.” As he himself had said elsewhere in the very same interview, it was hardly "a movement started for educational purposes"

Lee also said, "Among our members are foreign teachers who have joined who want to cooperate as a foreign teachers' “purification movement." I doubt there are many (any?) foreign teacher members of AES, though foreign teachers have certainly sent them tips before. And when Lee says they are "making an "introducing good foreign teachers" corner at our site," what this means is that once or twice a year he asks members, "Do you know any good teachers?" and does a quick post about them. You have to appreciate how the final paragraph was set up:
How long will the conflict between the citizen’s group and ATEK continue? Lee said, “It would be good to at least get into the open and clear up misperceptions about our group.”
As long as the media takes at face value everything Lee says, I doubt any misperceptions in the Korean media about what the group really stands for will ever get cleared up, especially when papers like the Donga Ilbo take a knee-jerk, circle-the-wagons stance of painting the situation as a "conflict" and an “attack” on a Korean “citizen’s group.”