Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Namdaemun restored

It was over five years ago when a man angered over lack of compensation for his property set Namdaemun on fire, severely damaging it. It's set to reopen this Saturday after years of restoration work:
The Cultural Heritage Administration said it will hold a ceremony to mark the completion of the restoration of Sungnyemun, also known as Namdaemun meaning "south gate" in Korean, at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the site in central Seoul.

Severely damaged in the arson attack by an elderly man in January 2010, the gate underwent restoration with the participation of the nation's top-notch master carpenters and craftsmen, including those named intangible cultural treasures.

The administration said the gate made of stone and wood was restored to resemble its original form when it was first built in the late 14th century.[...]

The team also broadened the width of the stairway on its east side and lowered the ground around it by 30 to 50 centimeters in an effort to restore the gate to its original shape, officials said.
One of the good things to come out of the reconstruction was the excavations which took place around the gate, which revealed that the streets around the gate had risen by 1.4 meters during the past 500 years. It's nice to see that the restored gate will take that discovery into account.
Despite the restoration, the gate's value as a national treasure remains intact, according to experts.

"Many people think Sungnyemun was totally burnt down in the fire, but that's a misunderstanding," said Park Eon-kon, architecture professor at Seoul's Hongik University who headed the advisory group for the project. "Only part of it was destroyed."[...]

Lee Eui-sang, a 72-year-old mason who participated in the project, said the government's plan to restore Sungnyemun in a traditional way perplexed him at first.

"I didn't know what to do because all the tools used by the nation's traditional masons disappeared in the middle of 1970s," he said. So, he had to travel around the country in search of old tools.
Hopefully those tools and his knowledge get passed on.
The walls on both sides of the gate, which were demolished during the 1910-1945 Japanese colonial rule over Korea, have been rebuilt as well.
Actually, the walls were demolished in 1908, ostensibly at the behest of Korean government ministers, though the Japanese did have control of much of Korea's internal affairs by that point. Mentioned in the linked post is the assertion by the city that when Namdaemun's doors were opened in 2006, it was for the first time in 99 years, something which turned out not to be true at all. Here are photos of the restored gate:

When I saw the above photo, I thought it nice to see the walls restored, especially since they recall the image of Namdaemun from over 100 years ago:

On the other hand, I also regretted the loss of its iconic shape. As it turns out, however, the 'inside' part of the gate does still keep that shape, which is a pretty inspired compromise, I think.

 From here.
After the ceremony [this Saturday], the restored gate will be open to the public every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except Mondays. The hours will be extended by one hour till 7 p.m. in May, the month it reopens.

On May 4, all four royal palaces -- Gyeongbok, Changdeok, Changgyeong and Deoksu -- and Jongmyo Shrine will be opened for free admission in celebration of Sungnyemun's reopening, the office said.
There you have it.

Give me a break

A bill extending the retirement age to 60 was passed in the national assembly Tuesday.

[Original Post]

The Korea Times reported yesterday on a "bill proposing workers be granted another holiday when a national holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday":
Saramin, an online recruiter, said 94 percent of respondents said lawmakers should approve the “alternative holiday bill” in the survey conducted by the company on 999 employees in the country between April 16 and 25.

“Six out of 10 respondents expected ‘alternative holidays’ would boost their quality of life while 40 percent of them said the holidays would help them focus on their jobs more efficiently,” said the company.

Asked how they would spend the days off, about a quarter of the employees said they would rest. Twenty-one percent said they would take trips, followed by 19 percent who wanted to spend more time with their families. The others said they would study or enjoy hobbies.

The survey result came two days after the nation’s five major employer groups announced their opposition to the bill, pressuring lawmakers not to approve it. They argued that, if the bill is passed, it would cool business sentiment seriously. [...]

Last week, lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties at a subcommittee of the National Assembly agreed to seek approval of the bill at the plenary session, reigniting the debate on alternative holidays.

However, pressured by the business groups, they decided to postpone putting the bill to a vote until later in September. The bill needs to be approved in the committee and the plenary session before going into effect as a law.
An Arirang report quoted a Korea Employers' Federation spokesperson who said, "Firms with shift operations will suffer a four billion dollar loss because of higher labor costs. Productivity will be compromised, too, because workers will work less."

I imagine he's happy with the delay:

(Notices blood on lips, licks them, says, "Ah, precious blood.")

It should be remembered that when Korean companies and the public sector switched to a five day work week (in 2005 or so?), which gave employees Saturdays off, Arbour Day (April 6) and Constitution Day (July 17) lost their public holiday status. The inclusion of Hangeul Day as a public holiday is nice, but it's not like another holiday in October was really needed, was it? Not that I'm complaining, of course.

According to this SBS report, the bill is a little more complicated - if the Lunar New Year or Chuseok holidays fall on a Saturday or Sunday, they will be made up for, but all other holidays will only be 'replaced' if they fall on a Sunday. In other words, if the bill was in place, in 2013 there would be three extra days; in 2014, two; in 2015, three, and in 2016, four. Over the next four years, then, there would an average of three extra days off a year. Clearly, this must be stopped.

A Donga Ilbo article delves into some of the complexities surrounding the bill:
The proposal to designate a weekday as an “alternative holiday” if a national holiday falls on Sunday was a campaign pledge by Moon Jae-in, the former presidential candidate of the main opposition Democratic United Party, not President Park Geun-hye’s. During last year’s presidential campaign period, Moon pledged to introduce alternative holidays to promote the leisure industry as an economic growth engine.

However, the alternative holiday system has been included in major state tasks drawn up by Park’s presidential transition committee in February, even though it was not a promise made by the president. As the National Assembly is moving to pass a bill on the alternative holiday system, the administration, which is supposed to implement the major state tasks, is trying to dissuade lawmakers from enacting the bill.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has long been trying to introduce the alternative holiday system, as nothing is more effective in promoting culture and tourism industries than to have more holidays. The Culture and Tourism Institute, a state-funded think tank under the ministry, claimed in 2010 that the introduction of alternative holidays would create 85,000 jobs and the effect on production inducement worth 4.9 trillion won (4.4. billion U.S. dollars). However, the ministry’s attempts have been foiled by the business community and other economy-related ministries and agencies.
It's interesting how the amount mentioned above as a benefit is similar to what the Korea Employers' Federation spokesperson said would be lost. The article goes on to describe how there was disagreement within the presidential transition committee regarding including the alternative holiday system into the major state tasks, and now the Park administration has excluded this bill from a list of 204 tasks that require legislative action, likely due to the complaints from business organizations.

The article also mentions that "Some said that the system required only a revision of a presidential decree, rather than enactment." This is also echoed in the SBS article, which notes that there is no Law regarding public holidays, only a presidential decree. The SBS article also mentions that, while the bill would benefit people working for large companies or government employees, the self-employed and day labourers opposed it, as did housewives. I can understand the first two, but am scratching my head regarding the latter. There must be a lot of unhappy housewives out there who don't want to spend three more days a year with their families. Happy early Children's Day and Parent's Day, indeed. Too bad the former is on a Sunday this year...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Watch the Andrei Lankov lecture on 'The Female Face of North Korean Capitalism'

Anyone who missed Andrei Lankov's RAS lecture titled "The Female Face of North Korean Capitalism" from a few weeks back can watch it here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Oops: An Asian American fraternity has gotten in trouble for posting a video which includes blackface, and a lot of people aren't happy. Korean networks have received complaints in the past for performers using blackface in the last decade, though it's been going on for decades (and do read Gord Sellar's post here). Worth noting, though, is that none of the performers in this newest video have Korean surnames. (Hat tip to brent.) 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Fundraising for seriously ill foreign teacher in Gwangju

The Korea Herald reported on this earlier this week:
Expats have rallied to save a teacher who was severely ill and in need of blood donations and funds.

Gwangju-based teacher Sarah Graydon needed B-negative blood to help treat her ulcerative colitis ― a problem with the large intestine ― which had been complicated by blood clotting.[...]

Sean McGrath, who is helping to coordinate efforts to help Graydon, said that after an online blood drive they have enough blood for now, although more could be required depending on her condition.[...]

Graydon, originally from the United Kingdom, had come to Gwangju after teaching in Colombia, leaving her husband and 4-year-old son behind. They had sought to reunite, but were unable to do so because of visa issues, McGrath said. [...]

The financial aspect adds to the toll of Graydon’s illness. Graydon is the sole provider for her family, and has lost her public school job as a result of her illness.

Gwangju EPIK coordinator Joseph Cutler said that Graydon had already elected to travel back to the U.K. for further treatment when she could, but confirmed that he was legally required to terminate the contract after the maximum leave for sickness, 30 days, had been exceeded.

There were some concerns that this would leave her uninsured, but the National Health Insurance Corporation said that foreign workers who have been in the country for more than three months could transfer to self-employed status after leaving their jobs by contacting their local branch. [...]

Even with this, McGrath says they estimate Graydon will need about 15 million won to pay for treatment and travel back to the U.K.

Cutler pointed out that the national health insurance scheme only paid part of the cost, and advised other foreign teachers to consider additional private insurance.

McGrath said that many locals had been raising funds through busking and sales, and that auctions were planned by the Korea MacPC Guys ― a pair of Gwangju expats who repair electronics and sell them to raise money for good causes. A page had been set up on indiegogo.com but direct donations can also be made. So far about 3.5 million won had been raised, he said.
There's a Facebook page here and more information here.

Oddly enough, I found out about this through Korean language news reports. Yonhap reported on this yesterday, followed by Newsis, NoCut News, News 1, and Asia Gyeongje, and Newsis even provided a number to call, which is certainly nice to see.

In other Gwangju-related foreign teacher news, News 1 reported earlier this week that at around 11pm on April 22 a female Canadian middle school native speaking teacher living in Ssangchon-dong in Gwangju opened the door after somone knocked on it. At the door was a man in his 30s who suddenly tried to cover her mouth and punched her in the face. When she fell on the floor, she kicked him several times and he fled. As it turns out, in Canada she had learned and become good at taekwondo, and fortunately she wasn't badly injured. Police think the assailant was trying to commit robbery or sexual assault, and are trying to trace his whereabouts using local CCTV cameras.

As well, Gwangju News has an article about teaching English in public schools back in the 1970s during the Peace Corps days which is worth reading.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Anti-American rhetoric accompanies firebombing of English hagwon

Interesting news yesterday about the firebombing of an English hagwon in Daegu Monday. As the Joongang Daily describes it,
At 7:07 a.m. yesterday, an explosion went off on the third floor of a nine-story building in Suseong District, Daegu, starting a fire. Two arsonists had gotten access to the floor and hurled glass bottles filled with flammable liquids.

A janitor alerted local police, who dispatched officers to the scene. They suspected terrorists because the target of the attack was the American Cultural Center, located on the third floor of the building.

The intention was indeed to strike against America. Unfortunately for the terrorists, they ended up torching a private, Korean-owned English academy.
As the Donga Ilbo describes it,
Housed at the building is 'American Culture Center' (in Korean), or 'Independent Center for American Studies Daegu' in English.

Police believe that anti-American activists mistook the building as an American culture center operated by the U.S. government, and installed handmade explosives there. The academy, however, is a private English cram school for elementary and middle school students, which has about 100 students enrolled.
It's hard to know what kind of 'handmade explosives' they were exactly. While there were certainly 'glass bottles filled with flammable liquids,' this paragraph from the Donga Ilbo makes it seem they didn't just hurl them and run away:
Surveillance camera footage showed that two men with large physique, seemingly in their 20s and early 30s, went up stairways at around 6:39 a.m. on the day, carrying sags and pulling down their hats, and hurriedly ran away from the building about two to three minutes later.
There seems to have been 25 minutes between them leaving and a popping sound being heard. As the Joongang Daily relates,
The fired burned parts of the school's front door, walls and floors. Firefighters arrived at the scene quickly and put the fire out. No casualties were reported.[...]
Armed soldiers from the 50th Division of the Korean Army were dispatched to stand guard in front of the building yesterday.

The police poster above shows the suspects; another flyer can be seen here.
MBC's report shows one of the flyers left behind by the arsonists:

The Hankyoreh's article reprinted most of it; here it is transcribed:
미국은 각오하라

미국은 지난 100년 넘게 우리 민족에게 천인공노할 야만적 범죄를 저질러왔다. 그것도 모자라 이제는 이 땅 위에서 핵전쟁까지 일으키려 하고 있다. 이제 더는 참을 수 없다. 미국과의 악연을 끊을 때가 왔다. 미국 놈들은 각오하라. 너 놈들이 이땅 위에서 또 다시 전쟁을 일으킨다면 그때는 한 놈도 살아서 돌아가지 못할 것이다.

반미반파쇼 투쟁위원회
My translation:
- Stand resolutely against the US! -

The U.S. has committed barbaric and unpardonable crimes against our race for over 100 years. As if that wasn't enough, they are now attempting to wage a nuclear war over this land. We can't bear this any longer! The time has come to end this ill-fated relationship with the U.S.! Stand resolutely against the American bastards! If those bastards start another war over this land, not a single [American] bastard will come back alive!

Anti-American Anti-Fascism Struggle Committee
Police (unsurprisingly) reported there is no such committee registered with authorities, and the incident has even gotten some international attention (The Express has an article titled 'Korean terrorists target US but mistakenly fire bomb a school').

It's hard to know what to make of it. It's been suggested that it's a former employee seeking revenge, others call them terrorists. The rhetoric above is very similar to North Korean rhetoric, or the rhetoric of NL pro-North Korean nam Joseon progressives of the sort who did burn American Cultural Centers or information centers in places like Gwangju, Busan and Daegu in the 1980s. (Just for fun, the rhetoric is also similar to WWII Imperial Japanese rhetoric against Anglo-Americans (who carried out 'brutal crimes of exploitation for centuries'). The last sentence was translated by the Joongang Ilbo to say "No single American will leave this country alive if Washington wages another war here," while the Donga Ilbo ended saying of Yankees, "you should be ready to leave," making it seem as if American residents here would be targets, though I think 'not a single [American] bastard will come back alive' refers to US soldiers. Still, if a hagwon was their actual target, perhaps they do have civilians in mind.

It might be worth remembering the 'Yankee Strike Force' proposed during the English Spectrum Incident in 2005 (looked at in context here) which was to target "the Yankee bastard who posted the instructions on how to carry out sexual violence against female Korean students and his sympathizers" and the "Yankee bastards who threw the promiscuous party" on the streets of Hongdae or Sinchon.

On the other hand, it really isn't clear if these guys are actually some anti-American group against the US military who targeted the wrong place, if they're against Americans in general and targeted the right place (one wonders if a native speaker works there), or if they're just using this rhetoric to cloak other intentions against that hagwon. Time will tell.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Some reading material on North and South Korea

Last week Newsweek published an article by B.R. Myers titled "Planet Pyongyang" (seen via the Marmot's Hole). I found this interesting:
During much of his father’s reign the obsession with unification exerted a mildly moderating influence. Being poor and weak, yet popular with the South Korean left, the North figured it could better achieve its goal through pan-nationalist propaganda and subversion than through naked intimidation. Things have changed dramatically in the past five or six years. It isn’t just that the nuclear program has taken such a big step forward. Pyongyang’s ally is now so obviously in the ascendant, Seoul’s so obviously on the decline; Washington’s growing deference to Beijing is no secret to anyone in North Korea. At the same time, the South Korean electorate has aged into a more conservative demographic than it has been since the 1970s. The second successive election of a pro-American president was a bitter disappointment for Pyongyang.

This could well explain certain changes in the North’s invective. Last year the death threats were mainly leveled against the then-South Korean president himself. His successor, Park Geun-hye, has been getting off lightly in comparison, for lexical more than political reasons. It is one thing to say, “Tear the rat bastard apart!”—a favorite slogan on last year’s grisly posters—but with female-specific curse words it becomes too harsh even by the North’s standards. This restraint is more than made up for with blanket threats directed in the same breath at Seoul and Washington, as if they were equally hostile territory. The party daily talked in March of leaving “no bastard alive to sign the surrender.” (Imagine, by the way, the U.S.S.R. or East Germany talking like that.) It goes without saying that we need not take all this rhetoric at face value, but the North Koreans are dead serious about wanting to intimidate the enemy state into submission.
Reading that last sentence, I'm reminded of Tom Coyner's article in the Joongang Ilbo about economic warfare involved in North Korea's recent provocations (via ROK Drop):
From the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War, the North has relied upon asymmetric tactics. With the recent change of engagement rules by the South to immediately respond militarily to North Korean attacks, we have anticipated some other kind of provocation. We now are witnessing a new class of warfare via the media.
I recently came across this fascinating interview with Myers on the Korea Realtime Wall Street Journal blog from late last year, in which he discusses the lack of state patriotism in South Korea (as opposed to identifying with the 'nation' or 'race') as opposed to a strong sense of patriotism in the North. I heard a talk he gave on the topic a year and a half ago, and it's clear he's been developing his ideas on it:
Well, people tend to overlook the fact that North Korea’s economy collapsed at about the same time as South Koreans lost faith in their own state. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a time when South Koreans were questioning the very legitimacy of their republic. People who had grown up under the right-wing dictatorships were learning just how horrible they had been. They were also learning that North Korea was not as bad as it had been made out to be. It was not, for example, the lackey of the Soviet Union that Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-wan had portrayed it as being. [...]

Kim Il Sung invaded South Korea in 1950 because he believed South Koreans weren’t going to fight. He kept his troops in Seoul for three days because he thought the South Korean masses would rise up and do the rest of the job for him. And he kept lapsing back into this way of thinking. He wanted the East Bloc to green light another invasion in the 1960s and another in 1975, even though the U.S. had nuclear weapons on the peninsula back then.

The South Koreans don’t seem to realize this. I think if there had been mass candlelight demonstrations in the weeks after the Cheonan sinking, the attack on Yeonpyeong-do wouldn’t have happened. The North Korean regime is keenly sensitive to South Korean public opinion and does not want to alienate it. It now feels that by acting up, it can help the South Korean left to do well in the elections. The election held after the Cheonan sinking and the one held after the Yeonpyeong attack both resulted in massive victories for the South Korean left. You could say there were other issues at stake there, but the North Koreans don’t know that.
I thought this part of the second half of the interview was worth posting:
WSJ: It’s pretty difficult for foreigners to talk about the difference between nationalist-based ideology and an economic or political one with South Koreans, isn’t it?

Mr. Myers: As an American, of course, I have no right to tell the South Koreans to do anything. My quibble is with my own country. Why do we treat these South Korean nationalist frenzies, which happen every two years or so, as if they were natural disasters that we just have to sit out? [...] The U.S. needs to say to the South Korean people, “Our mission on the peninsula is not to protect moderate nationalists from radical nationalists. That is too unstable and dangerous a position for us to be in. We’re not allied with half of a race, we’re allied with a republic. If you’re not interested in defending it, how can we tell our own troops to lay their lives on the line?” If South Korea’s main enemy is considered to be free and democratic Japan, and not the dictatorship in the North that has attacked South Korea twice in the last few years, I really don’t see much hope.
Another lengthy interview with Brian Myers (here and here, also translated into Korean) can be found here, but I'll save a closer look at one particular sentence in it for tomorrow.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Psy's cone kicking ushers in end of world

The above song would appear to be appropriate theme music for this post.

The Korea Herald reports that
state-funded broadcaster KBS announced on Thursday that it had banned [Psy's 'Gentleman'] video because of a scene in which the rapper is seen "defacing public property" by kicking a traffic cone.

"It is against our policy to broadcast the destruction of public property," according to a KBS representative. "As public broadcasters, there are concerns that this could have a negative impact on the public."
For some reason, this decision is being mocked in the press worldwide (National Post headline: "Psy’s Gentleman music video banned on South Korean television for abuse of traffic cone"). I rather liked this take on it at Fark:

 Needless to say, KBS has the right of this. It's a slippery slope once you start misusing traffic cones. It quickly goes from this:

To this:

To this:

To this:

(In truth, many neighbourhoods in Seoul already pretty much look like that.)

It appears there are more objections to the video, according to the Korea Herald (hat tip to reader):
Concerns have been raised about the entertainer's comedic "Gentleman" music video in which the rapper is seen dancing in a public library as well as "defacing public property." Seoul City Councilman Jung Sae-hwan brought the issue of Psy dancing in a public library up at a city council meeting held on Wednesday, stating that the video could cause foreigners to want to go to the library and mimic the scene.

"Psy is dancing in the library. When foreigners see this music video there is no guarantee that they won't be compelled to go to the Seoul Metropolitan Library and dance and take pictures with their smartphones," the councilman is reported as saying. "Through this video, the public may get the idea that running around in the library is okay."
Anyone wondering why Koreans generally have little respect for elected officials need only read the above paragraph. The contempt lawmakers have for the intelligence of the electorate is rather astonishing (though, since that same electorate voted them into power in the first place, perhaps their attitude is understandable). "Oh no! Our citizens won't be able to help themselves if they see this on TV! It will lead to non-stop dancing and a traffic cone holocaust!" It also speaks, to some degree, to the distrust the Korean state feels towards its citizens and its belief that it can expand its jurisdiction in whatever direction it desires. Good times.

Plus there's the "there is no guarantee that [foreigners] won't be compelled to go to the Seoul Metropolitan Library and dance and take pictures with their smartphones" comment. They'll be compelled! They won't have a choice!

Should you feel compelled, like the Pavlovian dogs you are, to go to that library and dance, it would appear (from this comment) that it is the new Seoul Metropolitan Library, inside the old city hall building (yes, this one). As a public service to readers, you should go out of exit 5 of City Hall Station to get there.

According to interviews with library staff in the Korea Times, it would appear the library is supportive of the video (they did allow him to shoot it there, after all), though it has attracted more visitors interested in the video in the short term.

I also think it's amusing, as other people have noted, that kicking traffic cones and dancing libraries raises criticism, but asking if pulling off women's swimsuit tops or whether some of the dance moves or lyrics might be a little raunchy for the kids seems to be beyond the pale. Of course, we must remember that 'sexy dancing' in Korea has nothing to do with sex, right?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Afraid you may be hiring a drug addict? Let us help!

I was searching through my draft posts and came across this post written last July. I'm not sure why I never posted it, but seeing as I translated it, I might as well put it up. Up first is an article published by Hanguk Gyeongje on June 29, 2012:
Now you can accurately know what kind of person the English native speaking instructor is [when] hiring.

Recently, English conversation or English lectures with native speakers have been drawing popularity but their standing/identity has not been accurately revealed which has negative effects.

Recently in Busan police caught foreign English instructors for selling and habitually taking drugs. This is why the verification of native speaking instructors' background and standing/identity is urgently needed.

Regarding this, 'Work and Asia,' a company specializing in recruiting native speaking English instructors, has announced plans to operate tests through the native speaking social network site 'Hukeom (whocome.com)' from mid July to provide information about high quality, reliable instructors.

This site updates in real time [stats like] accurate personal information and experience from the time of the job announcement to the time of hiring, and all information can be confirmed with an open platform through which one can sound out the possibility of realizing the building of an active market infrastructure.
The article then goes on to say that the site will be launched in three Asian countries and will expand to those countries where there is demand for native speakers. A look at the website would suggest it's not exactly busy, with the last teacher profiles having been uploaded - en masse - more than seven months ago.

The company's pitch ('foreigners are dangerous - let us recruit them for you in a reliable manner') is reminiscent of a series of ads published in the summer of 2011 which masqueraded as 'articles' published at Bizplace that presented foreign teachers as potential threats, and in which the "head of the native speaking instructor recruiting company Job and Consulting" suggested using recruiters like themselves as the only "safe" way to "thoroughly prevent the harm caused by illegal native speaking instructors." Several more articles followed on July 18, July 26 ("The possibility of a serious crime being committed at any time cannot be ruled out"), August 9 and August 10. The company also used photos found on the internet to highlight the racial attributes of what one assumes they consider to be ideal native speaking teachers (blue eyes) while insinuating that their services are needed because one cannot tell based on appearance alone whether a teacher is a criminal or not. Good fun.

Here's a paragraph from a Chosun Ilbo article from July 2 last year about the effect of free lunches:
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education slashed the budget for native speaking teachers. This year, the budget for high school native speaking teachers was cut by about 4 billion won and in most schools native speaking teachers will disappear, while from next year middle schools and elementary schools will also see native speaking teachers disappear [via annual decreases in numbers]. SMOE said, "It's because, in the long term, Korean teachers who are good at English are more effective," but parents and schools have criticized this, saying, "It's because there's no money to spare because it's wasted on free lunches."
It goes on to say that SMOE argues that the reduction is not only due to the free lunch budget, but to things like increases in labour costs. It was nice to see someone making that connection, however.

And also in the unfinished post was a note about a 'training' session at work in which images of a Korean comedy troupe on TV were used in a powerpoint (with text inserted over the images) to convey examples to illustrate 'sexual harassment prevention.' The juxtaposition of these images of goofy comedians with text explaining why offering to do 'love shots' is bad... was just weird. But I couldn't help noticing the introductory slide in the presentation which had 'sexual harassment' written above a photo of a white man leering at an obviously uncomfortable white woman. Because, obviously, if you're going to introduce sexual harassment in Korea, I guess it would best to use a white male to do this. Too bad certain aspects of sexual harassment in Korea are unique to Korea and they couldn't find images of white males doing 'love shots' to use in the rest of the presentation.

I could write, "On the bright side, if an image of a creepy looking guy is needed for a 'don't talk to strangers' presentation for students, one is available at the top of this post," but we wouldn't want to judge anyone by their appearance, now would we?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

More on the MBC report

I missed this, but yesterday morning, the MBC program 'News Today' broadcast the same report about foreign teachers that I posted about yesterday (with a slightly different title):

"'Numerous' unqualified native speaking instructors"

In searching to see if they broadcast it any other times, I discovered the source of the this scene of the "native speaking instructor [who] was caught for secretly smuggling drugs":

It's from this MBC report from last July which part of the substantial media response to a dozen or so foreigners being busted for marijuana (during which calls were made by media outlets to impose random or hair testing upon foreign teachers - see here and here for more details).

The interesting thing about the MBC report from last July is that there's no mention at all of the person in the photo being a foreign teacher; in fact, from the mentions in the report of 'J', the main dealer who was busted, corresponding with images of this person, we're led to think it's him (and he was not reported to be any kind of teacher). So, basically, the MBC report yesterday took an image of a white person arrested for marijuana and declared him to be a foreign teacher, because, hey, the media have done a pretty good job of making that connection over the past few years. (That's not to say foreign teachers haven't been arrested at rates higher than the population; only that the media tends to pay much more attention to them when they are busted (perhaps more than any other group, excepting Korean celebrities).) The interesting thing is, when I did a news search at MBC's site, the report about the drug bust was one of the first to turn up. If I had to guess, I'd imagine it was also the first thing our intrepid reporter came across and decided to use.

So that leaves us with an image of a "native speaking instructor [who] was caught for secretly smuggling drugs" which doesn't show a foreign teacher, an image of Christopher Paul Neil to illustrate another molestation case, a person who admits being on a tourist visa but who is almost certainly not teaching on that visa, statistics with no attribution other than being from the 'hagwon industry,' a mom who is angry about some unstated thing, and finally a recruiter who says hagwons can get around registering foreign teachers. And all of this is tossed into the report with no real rhyme or reason, lacking any kind of point, such as (justifiably) saying that unverified teachers may have criminal backgrounds and be a threat to children.

I'd say that Koreans truly deserve a better news outlet than this, but I'd be unfairly singling out MBC in that regard.


I've been asked by a reader whether I think this sudden spate of reports has something to do with the 'foreigner friendly' former president Lee Myung-bak leaving office (and a grace period following his departure expiring). My answer would be 'absolutely not.' The worst year for negative media reports about foreign teachers was 2009, followed by 2010 - the middle of Lee's presidency. It should also be added it was under his presidency that the National Human Rights Commission rejected petitions by foreign teachers to find the drug and HIV tests discriminatory, and it was also under his presidency that HIV testing for all foreigners was officially lifted - except for foreign teachers.

The reason things have been quiet may be because USFK has been getting a lot of negative attention, but I think it more likely that foreign teachers have simply not been caught doing anything 'wrong.' Most reports, like the aforementioned report about the drug bust last year (which was covered in 30 different media reports), are published because of an arrest. Yes, some outlets (NoCut News in particular, though it's hardly the only offender) like to publish negative reports for the sake of sensationalism, but they usually stem from a crime or other transgression (consensual sex, etc) committed by a foreign teacher. There haven't been any so far this year, apparently, which has just left us with a negative report about foreign kindergarten teachers, the JTBC report (with its unnecessary 'targeting Korean women' clip), and this latest MBC report.

Another question was of how foreign media criticism affects this process of negative media coverage in Korea. Short answer: it doesn't. When the Donga Ilbo interviewed AES leader Lee Eun-ung in 2010, it revealed how it perceived foreign criticism of the group:
It seems that foreign teacher groups and the foreign media have ruled that your “citizen’s group” is a xenophobic group. Why are you receiving such attacks?
Yes - foreign media 'attacks' Korean xenophobes. Another reaction is to feign concern and promise changes and then simply fail to carry them out (as in the case of a promise to pull an anti-Semetic comic from shelves and change it, which never happened), or to make minor changes or a quick non-apology apology. They also might simply ignore it, as the Korean government is doing with the CERD case. In the end, foreign criticism will be simply co-opted or ignored. By that, I mean, of course, criticism not in Korean, though I wouldn't pretend to be optimistic about how much of a difference criticism in Korean would make - it's quite the deluge of media to be heard in.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Unqualified reporters abound... unbelievable MBC report about foreign teachers

[There's an update to this post here.]

Last night, MBC broadcast a report about unqualified foreign instructors running amok. As to why this was, was it due to a drug bust? An arrest of someone with a fake diploma? A teacher who had consensual sex with a Korean woman? Since the answer involves none of the above, it appears MBC simply decided it was time to remind the public not to trust foreign English teachers.
Unqualified instructors abound... unbelievable English native speaking instructors

"Unqualified instructors abound"

Anchor: "How much can you trust the native speaking instructors who teach your children? You may have had suspicions like these one or two times. Things have improved a great deal, but there are still doubts about their qualities and not a few circumstances in which there are native speaking instructors lacking qualifications. Reporter Seo Yu-jeong reports on the problems with the hiring process for native speaking instructors."

"A native speaking instructor was caught for secretly smuggling drugs.

"There was also a case in which [an instructor] molested children and fled overseas but was caught after several years.

"One native speaking instructor hates teaching grade four and five students. It was posted on a blog that the children smell.

"We met a recruiter of foreign and native speaking instructors. They don't have a degree, just a few sheets of copied documents.
The recruiter basically says that they can get around the rules and the need to register the instructor with the office of education by keeping quiet, and so they can elude enforcement. He also says at hagwons there's little interest in qualifications, only in how much experience someone has.

There's then what appears to be hidden camera footage of an interview with a native speaker by a hagwon owner.
"How long can you work for?"
"I would like to work for at least 6 months."
"If you work here you can work here part time, three days a week. You will not have any trouble."

Because of salary, one third [of hagwons] quietly want unqualified instructors.
Interview: "It's hard for hagwons and many are closing their doors, so they put a lot of hope into unqualified instructors."

Reporter: Kindergartens, public schools and hagwons need 30,000 native speaking instructors. However, there are only 25,000 people with qualifications like the E-2 visa. There are around 5,000 spaces for instructors being filled by the unqualified.

A native speaker is then interviewed.
"Now I have a tourist visa. Yeah, there are a lot of people who want to become teachers, some of them work illegally."

A mom is then interviewed in Mok-dong:
"That really makes me angry. As a parent, it would be good if you went right now, grabbed them by the collar, stopped them, and threw them out."

With authorities unable to take action, classes by unqualified native speaking instructors continue even now.
For MBC News, this is Seo Yu-jeong.
Oh no! Authorities can't take action! Koreans are helpless against hagwon owners who hire foreigners on tourist visas untrustworthy, unqualified foreign teachers! I love the opening:
"How much can you trust the native speaking instructors who teach your children? You may have had suspicions like these one or two times.
Christ, MBC, in this case why do think that is? It was nice of them to bring up Christopher Paul Neil (at least visually - the "case in which [an instructor] molested children and fled overseas but was caught after several years" actually refers to this case from 2010 - nice of MBC to conflate the two). I also enjoyed the reference to the teacher who "hates teaching grade four and five students" and who "posted on a blog that the children smell." While there's lots worse they might have found in that post, it might be pointed out that the word "obnoxious" does not mean "to have a nasty smell," which is how MBC translated it below:

They did get 'dicks' right though, which I suppose is a good thing - it could have been a much worse translation, I guess. Still, looking up 'obnoxious' at Naver's dictionary doesn't offer that translation. I also enjoyed the "5,000" illegal teachers running amok statistics:

It says literally that there is demand for 30,000 native speakers, but only 25,000 legally registered. It also says these statistics were provided by the "hagwon industry." Would you really trust the "hagwon industry" (whatever that means) to be knowledgeable about the public school system? My guess would be that - since there's no real attribution for those statistics - that they're, shall we say, less than accurate. Especially since there were only 23,000 people on E-2 visas in 2011 (and no one really knows how many F-visa people work as teachers. Not only that, 30,000 is the number of teachers in demand - they may not be actually filled. As well, while there may be people on tourist visas working, it's more likely that you're dealing with E-2s or foreign students doing extra work on the side than people on tourist visas (it's been at least eight years since I've met anyone working on a tourist visa). And of course, we see little condemnation of the people who hire the teachers (and the online article's addition to the title - "unbelievable/untrustworthy native speaking English instructors" - makes clear who they're placing the blame on).

You also have to enjoy that edit in the interview with the native speaker, from, "Now I have a tourist visa." to, "Yeah, there are a lot of people who want to become teachers, some of them work illegally." I highly doubt he would be referring to himself with "some of them work illegally." More likely he is here on a tourist visa looking for a job before making a visa run (hence the sudden cut).

Lasty, you have to like the angry parent who says that "it would be good if you went right now, grabbed them by the collar, stopped them, and threw them out." Grab them by the collar! Kick them! Grab them by the balls!

Though the other thing that should be mentioned is that we didn't actually hear the question that set the parent off.

As for the title of the report -

"Unqualified teachers abound" (with the online article adding "unbelievable/untrustworthy native speaking English instructors") - the use of 핀친다 (abound, run amok, are taking over) in headlines regarding foreign teachers isn't exactly new:

영어학원 무자격 외국인강사 판친다
"Unqualified English hagwon foreign instructors abound" (Donga Ilbo 1996.10.15)

무자격 외국인 강사 판친다
"Unqualified foreign instructors abound" (Munhwa lbo 2002.11.23)

외국인 불법과외 판친다
"Illegal tutoring by foreigners abounds" (Chungcheong Today 2003.02.03)

원어민 강사 불법.짝퉁 판친다
"Illegal, fake native speaking instructors abound" (Hanguk Gyeongje 2004.11.11)

무자격 외국인 강사 판친다!
"Unqualified foreign instructors abound!" (YTN 2005.04.11) (This story was so important YTN ran it a half dozen times)

무자격 외국인 강사 판친다
"Unqualified foreign instructors abound" (2006.09.11 - dead link)

'무자격ㆍ불량' 원어민 강사 판친다
"'Unqualified, poor' native speaking instructors abound" (Yonhap 2006.10.23)

자질 시비 원어민 교사 판친다
"Native Speaking teachers of Questionable Quality Abound" (Yonhap 2009.06.11) Translated here, and commented on here.

I guess MBC felt four years was long enough to go without a '핀친다' report. It has been a slow year for negative news reports about foreign teachers, but obviously MBC decided that though foreign teachers have apparently been behaving, this was no reason not to report the 'truth' as they see it.

Oh, and there's a petition against MBC here. If they wanted MBC to pay any attention to it, perhaps writing it in Korean might help? Not that I think they would pay any attention, but still, much like the 'protests' against the infamous MBC hit piece last year, carrying this out in English isn't going to be helpful.

Friday, April 12, 2013

'The logic of this story is the logic of a Dream Hub... or a nightmare'

Back in 2008, I posted about the Yongsan Dreamhub. According to the Joongang Ilbo,
The project, proposed in 2006, was deemed to be Korea’s largest property development project, turning the area into a large international complex of offices, malls, hotels and apartments.
In another post in 2010 , I looked at some of the updated designs for the project:

 In December of 2011, a new design for twin towers was unveiled:

Unfortunately for the designers, Americans were immediately reminded of the 9-11 attacks, and though officials said "we have no plans to change the design," a day later they were backing down.

In May of 2012, new designs were unveiled:
Along with a 620-m landmark tower, 13 more high rises over 200 m will be constructed at an international business district in Seoul's Yongsan. A shopping mall of 1.04 million sq. m, which is six times the size of the COEX mall in Samseong-dong, also in the capital, will be built below street level. 

Doing a Google image search turns up many, many more designs.

By this point, however, problems were already being run into. The development was to be connected to the Han River Renaissance Plan, a plan which fairly quickly sputtered out, and was also supposed to have an international ferry terminal for ferries which would pass through Incheon-Seoul canal. Though this canal is finished and can accommodate reasonably large ships, and they're still building cargo facilities near Gimpo Airport (a post for another day), it doesn't seem economically feasible (especially with two trillion won spent on it) and Seoul mayor Park Won-soon questioned finishing it during his campaign. I've ridden my bike along it a few times, and regularly see it from the top of Gaehwasan, my neighbourhood mountain, but I've only ever once seen a boat on it (and a local tourist 'come see the canal' one at that).

At any rate, the Dream Hub is no more:
Korail, the state-run railway operator and largest shareholder of the project, decided to scrap the nation’s largest-ever property development initiative on Monday after its normalization plan failed to get support from private investors. 

The decision of Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) to liquidate the 31 trillion won ($27 billion) Yongsan International Business District development plan is a huge blow to local construction companies which stand to lose 200 billion won worth of investments in the project.
Here's a photo of the site:

While construction companies aren't happy, they aren't the only ones:
The area in Yongsan containing train warehouses will be returned to Korail. The rest of the land will go back in the hands of residents of Seobuichon-dong, central Seoul.

The residents held a press conference yesterday, saying that they will demand at least 220 billion won in compensation to make up for their losses for the past seven years.
Some residents are luckier, however (or so I assume) since they're still living in their homes. Essentially, as seen in the photo below, the entire neighbourhood between the empty site and the Han River was slated for demolition:

Note that this includes two sets of apartments running along the river: the Daerim Apts, built in 1994, and the Buk Hangang Apts, built in 2001. I can't imagine that the owners of the latter apartments were thrilled when told in 2006 that their five year-old apartments were going to be demolished. A walk through the area some time ago revealed the residents' feelings on the subject:

"Oh Se-hoon's autocratic development is an even bigger Yongsan tragedy
Help us! The city of Seoul and Samsung want to take away our houses!"

"Killing middle class people and making an international business
 district, what kind of movie do you want?"

"We want to live here."

I can't read all the messages above, but there's stuff along the line of forcefully stopping the reconstruction and defending their houses until the end. Note the placement of the message on the side of the Buk Hangang Apts above, next to the Gangbyeong Expressway, as well as the size of it:

Once again, another plan to rebuild Yongsan-gu bites the dust. As can be seen in this map from 2008, most of the district was planned to be razed and rebuilt, but the Hannam New Town and Dream Hub have failed, and who knows when USFK will ever move out of Yongsan.

I should also note what commenter Sperwer said three years ago of the Dream Hub project:
Anyway, as I've said before, this is never going to happen, at least in anything like the comprehensive, integrated form projected in the drawings.
Right you were, sir!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

CERD update and notes on HIV-related cases

On July 10, 2012, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination accepted a complaint from a foreign teacher who refused to take an HIV test to renew her contract at a public school in Ulsan in 2009 and lost her job. As of yesterday, six months have passed since the October 10, 2012 deadline for the Republic of Korea to submit a response to the CERD case, and they're continuing their stonewalling in this regard. (Also worth remembering is that the Korean media did not respond to a press release in both English and Korean about the case which was released last summer.) The Committee is supposed to send out three reminders to the state party before the case can be considered without a response, and as far as I know two have been sent so far. There won't be any movement on this front any time soon, unfortunately. Even if Korea were to submit a response tomorrow, due to a number of older cases awaiting consideration, the Committee won't be placing it on the agenda of their next session in August, and I'm not certain when the next session is. At the same time, there may be some developments in the near future.

In related news, a court in China recently awarded compensation to an aspiring (Chinese) teacher for discrimination related to HIV status:
An aspiring teacher in south-east China has become the country's first person to win compensation for an HIV-related employment discrimination, according to state media reports. The ruling presents a milestone in the country's long-running effort to overcome its notorious employment discrimination problems and intense social stigma associated with the disease.

The man, known by the pseudonym Xiao Hua, received 45,000 yuan (£4,600) in damages from the Jinxian county educational bureau in Jiangxi province for being denied a teaching post because a pre-employment health check showed that he was HIV-positive, China's state newswire Xinhua reported.
The CERD case could be the first such case, as far as I know, of such compensation in Korea. It is clear under international law as well as Korean law that there is no distinction between discrimination based on actual or presumed HIV status. If Lisa wins the CERD case, the Committee could very well recommend compensation.

In other news, in late 2012, Tyler Curry wrote an article titled "The Needle Prick: Reluctant Social Commentary of a Newly HIV-Positive 20-Something" at the Huffington Post, and followed it up with another titled "HIV-Positive, Unapologetic and Fabulous" in which he wrote:
I received messages from men across the country who were going through experiences similar to my own. They told me about their fears, the dread that lived in the pit of their hearts and their battles with depression. Weaved within these messages, however, was a sense of hope that maybe they, too, would begin to open up about their HIV-positive status.

I also received a fair share of criticism. Some thought I was flippant, maybe even cavalier in my approach to HIV awareness. Nevertheless, it seemed that these responses stemmed from a similar vein of fear -- fear of forgetting the past. I do not want to forget, by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, I want to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives by embracing the fact that HIV is not something to hide from under the covers anymore, and that we should modernize our approach to prevention.
The Dallas Voice revealed an interesting fact about the writer:
Tyler Curry understands the stigma of living with HIV.

Although he’s healthy and expects his medications to keep him that way for a long time, he spent a year teaching kindergarten in South Korea before returning to Dallas. After his diagnosis last year, he realized he can’t go back.

South Korea won’t issue work visas to people infected with HIV.
Well it will, actually, but it likely wouldn't issue a residence card, since the test is required when you submit documents for alien registration. The government said when it lifted HIV restrictions for most visas in 2010 that a positive test wouldn't necessarily mean the loss of visa status, but you'll have to forgive me for not believing them.

Lastly, this case was reported on Tuesday:
Doctor convicted for breaching confidentiality of suspected HIV patient
SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) -- A doctor in Seoul has been found guilty of disclosing confidential information of a patient suspected of being infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), court officials said Tuesday.

The doctor, whose identity has been withheld, was charged with notifying a fellow doctor of the HIV status of the patient last year, in breach of the relevant law that prohibits doctors or other medical personnel from disclosing any medical information on those infected with HIV.

The defendant divulged that a blood test had shown the patient had a high level of HIV, the virus which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), they said.

The Seoul Central District Court found the doctor guilty and delivered a fine of 200,000 won (US$175), saying that the defendant was willfully aware that the patient had HIV.

The court, however, suspended his verdict, meaning that he will most likely not be criminally charged.

The doctor has appealed a lower court ruling, court officials said.
As many teachers on E-2 visas - or in the public school system - have experienced, medical tests which include HIV and drug tests have sometimes become water cooler conversations for their co-workers (a friend had co-teachers mention to him that they'd heard his cholesterol was too high). As per the case above, HIV records of foreign English teachers - whether HIV positive, suspected of being HIV positive or HIV negative - should be private and shouldn't be released to public school officials without express consent from the teachers, but clearly that's not how things work. In the cases leading up to the CERD case, Lisa's lawyer, Benjamin Wagner, made this argument, but it wasn't successful with Korean courts and tribunals, hence the need to take the case to the CERD in the first place. Which, if we remember, is the case Korea keeps ignoring.

This issue is also dealt with in Groove Magazine's latest issue:

The article is an edited and updated version of the Journal of Korean Law article by Benjamin Wagner and I which was published last summer; the April issue of the magazine can be read online here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More on the fleeing teacher

Quite a few news outlets picked up Yonhap's story yesterday of the native speaking teacher fleeing the country, including the Joongang Ilbo, MBN (the Maeil Gyeongje, which made a slight addition to the title and concept: "'Anxiety over war spreading,' native speaking teacher goes AWOL... and the students?"), E Today, and TV Chosun, who went to the school and interviewed the principal and even showed the letter she left (translated into Korean). Newsis published an article today which used the letter from the TV Chosun report and seems to have tried, but not really succeeded, at writing a negative article.
'Perplexed' by female native speaking instructor who left the country without notice due to 'anxiety over war'
Amid a heightened sense of crisis over war on the Korean peninsula due to things like the closing of the Gaesong Industrial Complex and the preparation of a missile launch, an elementary school in Jeollanam-do is perplexed by its female native speaking teacher's sudden return to her home country due to anxiety over North Korea's threats. [...]

E was under contract to work from March 1 this year until the end of February next year, and was hired by the school's principal.

Calculating the cost of a deposit and personnel expenses, the school is searching for a replacement teacher, but a criminal record check takes two months to obtain and since the situation in Korea is not good, it won't be easy to find a replacement, and disruptions to English classes are inevitable.

As well, an official from the provincial office of education said, "From the position of the native speaking teacher and her family, they can't help but feel anxious when it comes to news related to war on the Korean peninsula." "There haven't been any other cases like E's of people fleeing the country, but we've received intermittent phone calls asking if people are still working."

In Jeollanam-do there are currently 460 native speaking teachers from 7 different countries teaching English, Chinese, and Japanese.
I just find it funny that among things Newsis describes as contributing to a "heightened sense of crisis," it left out North Korea telling foreigners in South Korea to "take evacuation measures in case of war." One wonders the effect that little announcement might have.