Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Can't the big-nosers leave Korea alone for even a moment?

In 1884, as George Foulk, an American naval attache and one of the first westerners to learn Korean, traveled around Korea, he chatted with a Korean man who considered him and all foreigners "half-barbarians who only thought of doing harm to his country."

One hundred years did little to change this attitude. In 1990 (as was noted by seouldout), Nonghyup distributed a comic to elementary school students explaining to children why opening the Korean market to imported agricultural goods wasn't such a good idea. As part of a multifaceted attack on imported goods, it was explained that they weren't as healthy as good Korean foodstuffs, that eating them was un-Korean, and that the imported goods sent to Korea would be rotten by the time they arrived. This page and a half explain further the great threat posted by these goods:

"If consumers only buy imported farm goods... Our more expensive agricultural goods won't be sold.
If this happens it will be impossible for farmers to eat and live (the baby cries, 'I'm hungry!'). Farmers will of course have to leave the farming villages. 
And without the farmers, our agricultural goods won't be produced at all. If that happens, we'll have to depend on foreign agricultural products even if we don't want to: "Please give us rice."  "How much?"

Then they will turn this against us...  "Let's make it expensive."
Since they can raise the prices as high as they like, we will have to choke back our tears [and buy it anyway]. "If you charge that much, how can we live?" "If it's expensive, don't buy it!"
And once again students learned the valuable lesson that if Korea was to open its borders even a little, rapacious foreigners would take advantage of Korea!

The solution was to monitor one's parents when they went to the market to stop them from buying foreign goods and bringing about the destruction of Korea's agriculture and way of life.

Of course, when the Washington Post decided to translate this scene, the Kyunghyang Sinmun, referring to 'Nonghyup's PR', headlined their article 'American media also joins in on trade pressure.'

So, in the 23 years of globalization since, has this view of the rapacious foreigners out to harm Korea changed?

Perhaps not. James Turnbull sent me this poster awhile ago, and it's barrels of fun:

For a close up:

Title: "Prevent the end of the railroads"
[Within the hand]: "Safety threats, fare increases, rail industry subordinate to foreign countries, local routes reduced or abolished."

"The complete opening of railways and subways to foreign capital - NO!"
"Starting the privatization of the railroads by separating the Suseo KTX corporation - NO!"

Most fun is the image below, showing the turning over of Korean trains by the traditional-roof-and-hanbok-clad 'Korean government' to a big nosed French or German compete with 19th century top hat, sideburns and moustache.

"Train, subway sale, sale!" (Separating and Privatizing the Suseo KTX [route])
"Wow - Thank you!" [Standing ovation - clap clap clap!]

Can we expect more projections of dastardly deeds by big-nosed foreigners in 2014? Only time will tell!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A heartwarming tale of blue-eyed Santas

The Gangwon Ilbo yesterday reported on a heartwarming tale of volunteers at an orphanage in Chuncheon:
The orphanage was warm as blue-eyed Santas arrived

American native speaking instructor James gathered with friends to do a good deed

A surprise visit carrying a bundle of presents; they also made cookies, sang carols and had a Christmas party with the children

"Christmas was fun with a Blue-eyed Santa"

In the midst of a cold snap, native speaking instructor James (37) and 24 of his friends visited an orphanage in Chuncheon on the morning of December 21. In one hand they had presents, while the other was full of different kinds of food, and when they entered the front room of the orphanage, the children cried out 'Wow!' and ran towards James and his group.

That day James and his friends called out the names of the 48 children at the orphanage one by one and gave each of them a present. They had received a list of the toys, clothes, shoes and dolls that the children wanted from the orphanage and collected money to buy the gifts they gave out that day.

After that, they had a great time playing soccer with the children in the small playground in front of the orphanage and also sang Christmas carols and made cookies and snacks with the children until late afternoon.

When this was all finished, the children thanked James and his friends and gave them a hug goodbye. One eleven year old staying at the orphanage said "I lost track of time while playing with Mr. James." "Though I can't speak well with him, I love him."

James, the blue-eyed Santa loved by the children at the orphanage, came to Korea from the US to work as a native speaking instructor in May of 2009. Since then he has worked at places such as Wontong Elementary School and Hallym University. James, who planned the community service activities, learned of the orphanage in Chuncheon by chance in March of 2010.

In the US as well, he was a community service volunteer who helped underprivileged people such as heart disease and AIDS patients, and he continued this community service in Korea as well.

James said, "My friends and I were concerned about doing something meaningful this Christmas so we looked for an Orphanage." "My native speaking instructor friends are thankful we were all able to do something good."

An official at the orphanage said, "As the end of the year is a lonely time, it was a much appreciated gift for the children." "I want to give my thanks to James and his friends who never forgot and sought out the children."
It's nice to see the Christmas spirit alive and well in Chuncheon. And to see that it was considered worth reporting by the Gangwon Ilbo.

Apparently the Christmas spirit is alive and well in Mokpo as well; this is the sight that greeted me upon arrival this past weekend:

(Not shown: Four more standing across the street at the crosswalk.)

And for a more cynical (if humourous) look at Christmas visits to orphanages in 1965, a story by James Wade can be read here.

I wish all of my readers a merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A somewhat unsatisfying Samsung CF


What's missing, I feel, is the ultimate conclusion to this guy stalking this girl ('Hey, I know we just met, but I secretly took not just photos of you but also video! Check it out!'), which would be later in the hotel room when (after he answers in the negative when she asks him 'Aren't you going to take the watch off?') he makes his own x-rated clip of her and spreads it on the internet, becoming a hot topic in Samsung-friendly news outlets in Korea (ie. all of them).

The comments are, to put it nicely, unsupportive of the ad, calling it 'creepy' and such. Come on, non-Koreans! Please try to understand that Korea is home to sayings, as James has noted, such as '"열번찍어 안넘이 가는 나무 없다," which roughly translates as "There is no tree that can withstand being chopped 10 times."' (Though, to be fair, this comment should be read in tandem with that quote.)

Still, one wonders if the old 'we know what foreigners want/like, so why the hell would we ask them their thoughts on our ad campaign' mindset played some role in this just plain bad ad.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Did the Ministry of Defense declare 'Arirang' a subversive song?

From the Kyunghyang Sinmun yesterday:
Ministry of Defense designates 'Arirang,' a song that even President Park loves to sing, a 'subversive song'

The inclusion of the traditional song 'Arirang' on a 'list of subversive songs' maintained by the Ministry of Defense is causing controversy. MBN reported on the 18th that the Ministry of Defense had designated around 50 songs, including Arirang, as subversive songs and directed that they be deleted from Noraebang equipment.

According to the article, of the 50 songs included on the list of subversive songs the Ministry of Defense included mostly songs calling for peace or reunification such as "Our Wish" or "Come the Day," but among these were also included four traditional folk songs, "Arirang," "Nodeul Riverside," "Miryang Arirang," and "Ggaturi Taryeong." As a result, these songs cannot be sung at noraebangs on military bases and even at some commerical noraebangs.

As this has become known it has led to criticism on the internet. Sungshin Women's University professor Seo Kyoung-duk, the Korea promoter who last year led the movement to have Arirang registered with UNESCO as an intangible heritage asset, wrote, "Last year I put a lot of effort into having Arirang registered as part of UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, such as placing one-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, but now that you can't sing it because the Ministry of Defense has designated it a 'subversive song'... I really don't have the words! Anyway, lets have civilians work together to protect Arirang."

The Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying "Other than North Korean songs, the Ministry of Defense has not requested the deletion from noraebang equipment of a group of normal South Korean songs." "Since around 2004, requests could be made by front line commanding officers according to their own judgement for noraebang equipment supplied to bases to have songs removed that are judged to be unsuitable for soldiers to sing." "After this, used noraebang equipment from military bases has been found to have entered the open market without being restored to its original condition."

Prior to this, while watching a performance held in the Blue House Garden titled 'Our flavor and style for cultural prosperity - Arirang,' President Park Geun-hye sang 'Arirang' with singer Kim Jang-hun.
The original MBN TV report is here. So... are we dealing with a heavy handed military here, or irresponsible, sensationalist media? Or a little of both?

While considering that one of the less-than-positive legacies of the current president's father was the destruction of much of the popular culture which is now drawing attention to South Korea (see Mark Russell's essay here, for example), including the banning of songs, widespread arrests of musicians (under the rubric of a 'war on marijuana'), and the destruction of much of the early 1970s rock music scene, it's likely not entirely fair to connect her personally to this story (especially if we take the military at their word and take into account that military units have been asking for songs to be deleted since the Noh Moo-hyun era), even if I might really like to...

(Hat tip to Ami.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


It was nice to finally get some snow today that stuck around (for most of the day, at least).

The kids were certainly having fun today...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Insert your own caption

The Simin Ilbo seems to have chosen an odd photo for one of its articles...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Groove Magazine is holding an awards ceremony for its contributors and up for grabs is best cover story of the year. I contributed to one such story - this one - so I invite anyone who liked it to vote away.

Dusty daze

It's kind of amazing how much all this dust is affecting visibility in Seoul. As reported in the Korea Herald:
The concentration of fine dust particles smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, or PM10, increased to more than three times normal levels Wednesday, with Gyeonggi Province recording the highest figure of 268 micrograms per cubic meter. [...]

The concentration raises the fine dust alert level to “very bad,” the highest level considered by the research center. A scale of zero to 30 is “good,” 31 to 80 “normal,” 81 to 120 “slightly bad,” 121 to 200 “bad” and 201 to 301 “very bad.”
Here are a couple of photos I took yesterday morning:

Not exactly the time of year for hiking, I guess, but at least, as a friend noted, it does trap the heat and make the weather warmer.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The countryside is no longer safe from foreign teacher drug addicts

On November 28 Yonhap broke the following story of a foreign teacher busted in Gyeongsangnam-do for smuggling in DMT via international mail. NoCut News' story, is, of course, far more amusing:
Elementary and middle school native speaking teacher smuggles in raw materials for, produces and takes new kind of drug
New kind of drug with powerful hallucinogenic effects easily produced... "From now on the provinces are no longer a drug-safe zone."

Dimethyltryptamine smuggled through ordinary international mail. (Photo provided by Changwon Prosecutors' Office)

A native speaking teacher working at elementary and middle schools was caught by prosecutors for smuggling a large amount of a plant that is a raw material for a new kind of drug and taking it.

The special unit of the Changwon Prosecutors' Office arrested A, a 24 year old British native speaking teacher working at an elementary and middle school in Changnyeong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do, for smuggling 1075 grams of the plant from which the psychotropic drug DMT is made, and for keeping and taking it in his home.

At the beginning of November, A ordered 1075 grams of the plant from which the psychotropic drug DMT is made from a seller in the Netherlands via the internet, paying $134 US for it, and it was caught being smuggled via international mail at Incheon International Airport on November 12.

He is also being charged with keeping at his home and taking drugs like DMT, LSD, marijuana, and 5-APB.

As drugs with strong hallucinogenic effects, dimethyltryptamine and LSD are classified as psychotropic drugs under item 1, article 3 of the Drug Control Law. In particular, LSD is known to have a hallucinogenic effect 100 times stronger than Cocaine and 300 times stronger than methamphetamine. As well, 5-APB is a new kind of drug that has recently been used in Europe.

A, who started working as an elementary and middle school native speaking teacher in May, graduated as an English major from a prestigious school in the UK but stated that he became absorbed in religion and took drugs to commune with god in a hallucinogenic state.

In particular, A processed the raw material plant for DMT into the finished product himself. Prosecutors are looking into the crimes he committed while taking drugs over this long period of time.

As prosecutors have seen a significant number of cases in which the raw materials for drugs have been bought over the internet and smuggled into Korea using international air mail for production and use here, they are planning to expand their investigation.

Prosecutors are paying attention to the fact that this new kind of drug which was seized for the first time in Korea, was not found in a large city or in the capital,

One prosecution official said, "Since the kind of drug we seized could get hundreds of people high at the same time, from now on the provinces are no longer a drug-safe zone."

As cases of native speaking teachers, whose identities cannot be accurately confirmed, taking drugs increase, educational authorities need to take caution, and the Prosecutor's Office plans to sternly punish drug smuggling in cooperation with customs and airport authorities.
As always, NoCut News - the (Christian) news outlet that produces the most negative stories about foreign teachers (after Yonhap and YTN combined) - doesn't disappoint, what with (most likely made-up) quotes like "from now on the provinces are no longer a drug-safe zone." I also chuckled heartily at the assertion that "cases of native speaking teachers, whose identities cannot be accurately confirmed, taking drugs [is] increas[ing]."

Especially since this is only the second foreign teacher to be reported being arrested for drugs this year. The only other case was an American teacher arrested on May 30 for smuggling pot visa international mail on two occasions (3 grams and 9.5 grams), with the latter occasion involving sticking it in a jar of peanut butter (which got him caught).

But yes, cases of foreign teachers getting caught for drugs are increasing! Say it enough times and it might become true, NoCut News!

As for this guy who got busted, if they can't prove he shared it with anyone, I'd be curious how the court would react to his defense. Considering the little illegal pharmacy he had at his house, I'd imagine not too well, but courts have been more lenient when it comes to drug smuggling in recent years, as long as people weren't sharing or selling it.