Friday, February 28, 2014

Russian tiger hunters on the slopes of Baekdusan

I hadn't realized Andrei Lankov has a blog, which I discovered the other day. Lots of interesting things to be read there, but one not-well-known story is that of the White Russians who fled the Red Army's victory in the Russian Civil War in 1922 and ended up in Korea. There were in fact several thousand White Russians who spent the winter in Wonsan that year before most moved on to other places. The story of those who remained can be found in several places, most notably Donald Clark's Living Dangerously in Korea: The Western Experience, 1900-1950, a book well worth reading, as well as Mary Linley Taylor's A Chain of Amber. One of the more interesting families were the Yankovskys, who ran a resort near Baekdusan; Lankov tells their story here. (Mary Linley Taylor also wrote a book about the resort called The Tiger's Claw, but I've never read it.)  Their story didn't end so well; to run such a venture in colonial Korea required ties with the Japanese authorities, and this, along with the fact that they were White Russians, did not serve them well when the Red Army poured into Korea at the end of World War II.

I saw a old movie poster in a restaurant the other day with Yul Brynner on it, which reminded me of this story, since he visited the Yankovskys' resort in the 1930s, so it was a little odd to discover Professor Lankov's blog a few days later and see their story right near the top.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The 10 Dos and 20 Don’ts of Urban Exploration in Korea

Over at asiapundits, Jon Twitch offers advice on what to do - and what not to do - when urban exploring in Korea. Having done some exploring myself and been taken to some pretty interesting places by Jon, I can say his advice is well worth reading - much better than learning the hard way (the photo below depicts where I learned for myself to check that the basement isn't flooded, for example).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ahyeon Overpass redux

Though Ahyeon Overpass was opened to pedestrians for (perhaps) the first and last time a two weekends ago before being demolished, photos of it as demolition begins can be seen at Daehanmindecline.

Gyeongbokgung after sunset

Last week Gyeongbokgung Palace was open in the evening until 9pm; unfortunately, tickets for these visits sell out on the first day and only occur a few times a year.

While in most places the crowds can make getting good photos difficult, the pond around Gyeonghoeru Pavilion not only provides a nice reflection (when it's not obscured by ice), it also keeps the crowds out of the photos.

As you might be able to tell, it's well worth the visit for the sight of Gyeonghoeru Pavilion alone.

(Thanks to Ami for the first two and last photos.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brian Myers on 'Subverted Engagement' with North Korea

At, Brian Myers argues that engagement with North Korea isn't subverting that country at all - it's subverting the West.
To which points I get the answer: “Okay, but it can’t hurt. Worth a try, eh?” Actually, when engagement makes money for the regime, and treats Pyongyangites to the spectacle of Americans bowing before statues, it does more to strengthen the status quo than to weaken it. In my book that’s a negative. But I would rather focus here on the near-unanimous assumption that in any “subversive engagement,” we will naturally be the subverting party. This complacency reflects the deep contempt for North Korean intelligence that one finds across the commentariat.
The entire article is worth reading. Being Canadian, I had to laugh at this, though:
Typical of the media response was an article in Maclean’s on how Rodman’s Canadian minder, one of the two grinning white men in the photos and clips, was able to make friends with Kim Jong Un. Judging from the tone of the magazine piece, interviewer and interviewee are equally proud of this attainment, as if it reflected a quintessentially Canadian gift for getting along with everyone.
The Macleans article in question is here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tales of love and loss

Well, one one of the following links is a tale of love (and loss), and might have better been posted yesterday, as an anti-Valentine (though the ultimate anti-Valentine would be the lonely, bitter, obviously well-off guy in Shanghai who started a movement to buy up all of the odd-numbered seats at movie theaters on the evening of Valentines Day).

First up is F5 Waeg's tale of 'John Stone,' a USFK military contractor who fell in love with a Korean woman, bought a bar together, and then... came the loss.

Next is 'Ashes,' the tale of the death of a friend and visit to a crematorium, told at 'Sweet Pickles & Corn: Shots and Sauces on the Tongue of Korea,' a fairly new blog with several contributors, and well worth checking out if you haven't yet.

Last is an interview with Kevin O'Rourke, an Irish Catholic priest and scholar who arrived in Korea 50 years ago and who I remember for his translations of poetry in the Korea Herald back when I had a subscription in 2001-2002. In the interview, he laments the loss of what Korea was like in the 1960s, when Koreans were happier and "folks were much easier going even when they had less."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A little more on the Kyunghyang Sinmun cartoon

Regarding the Kyunghyang Sinmun cartoon I posted yesterday, I realize now (via the Marmot) that the case of the artists, as is noted by the Hankyoreh here, refers to "Africa Museum of Original Art, which caused a furor by treating its performers like slaves." The artists are from Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso. What's fun is that the current chairman of the museum is Hong Moon-jong, secretary general for the ruling Saenuri Party, hence the interest of the Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang Sinmun. As I noted before, the latter paper, which published the cartoon, had made the point about double standards of treatments of foreigners in this 2005 editorial [that post looks closely at how that double standard has been portrayed over the years]. It slipped my mind, however, that it also published this op-ed article by Anti English Spectrum's leader, Lee Eun-ung, in early 2009, so perhaps it makes sense that their cartoonist would make a similar comparison once again. What was interesting was that this wasn't a response to a foreign teacher being busted for drugs - it's simply taken for granted that foreign teacher = drug smuggler. For whatever reason the Kyunghyang Sinmun sees foreign English teachers as fair targets, while the Hankyoreh, which also sits at the same end of the political spectrum, has never targeted foreign teachers in this way.

And I'd like to say that big noses and evil smiles remind me of North Korean anti-westerner propaganda, but I think it has become clear by now that it's simply a part of Korean anti-westerner propaganda; the DMZ doesn't really exist when it comes to this. (See the cartoons here for a good example of the Nam Joseon variety of such cartoons.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Double standards make for good cartoons, apparently!

So the Kyunghyang Sinmun published the latest edition of Park Sun-chan's 'Jangdori' in their hard copy edition today (online here, and on twitter here).
(Hat tip to Ask A Korean and Benjamin Wagner.)

A certain artist. 

"People from poor countries need to realize that they live in luxury in Korea."

A certain criminal.
[Holding bag of 'drugs']

[At a native speaker English hagwon]
"Thank you so much for deigning to visit our shabby place."
"Teacher!" [Bowing deeply.]

So there you have it. Black people are poor and kind and live hard lives in Korea, where as white people take and smuggle drugs and wear evil smiles and are treated very well as English teachers.

Yes, it is making a point about double standards, but the same paper made the same point nine years ago during the English Spectrum Incident.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A walk over Ahyeon Overpass

I mentioned the other day that the Ahyeon Overpass is to be torn down, and that on Saturday it would be open to the public. News 1 reported on the event, and is the source of the photo below:

Here's what the area around the overpass looks like; I hadn't realized the overpass is almost a kilometer long.

I also went for a walk with friends over the overpass that day; thanks to Ami for the photos.

There were lots of news crews to be seen.

'You have accompanied Seoul's history."

 There was even a jungle gym for the kids... well as hopscotch.

The apartments of the Ahyeon New Town can be seen in the distance.

The area to the north has been demolished to make way for the Buk Ahyeon New Town.

They'd just shooed everyone off the overpass at 4pm when this photo was taken from the Ahyeon Station end.

We explored the neighbourhood nearby and found this Hanok which was abandoned about 2-3 years ago (judging by an outstanding bill shoved into the door).

More shots of the overpass from below.

There's an astonishing contrast between the older areas around the overpass (including a market and red light district) and the New Town apartment complexes going up.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bits and pieces

Comedian Jeong Chan-u got more of a response than he bargained for when he appeared on 'Cult Two's Veranda Show' on MBC on Tuesday wearing the sweater seen below, causing controversy. Netizens weren't impressed, saying they were reminded of Japanese war crimes, and that even if it was unintentional he should have seen such a response coming, and so he apologized on twitter yesterday for causing offense.

(Also regarding MBC, someone decided to have some fun when an MBC program censored the breasts in Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.)

Speaking of controversy, a week ago it was reported that a restaurant in Itaewon had caused controversy by naming a fried chicken dish 'Heukhyeong,' or 'black big brother.' Mike Hurt dug to the bottom of this and found that it had been blown out of proportion by an irresponsible media outlet. It's nice to see Mike back to regular blogging.

On the topi of restaurants and eating, Gord Sellar has written a post placing the 먹방, or 'broadcast eating' in context, as well as another looking at why good restaurants so often go bad in the Seoul area.

As well, this interview with the elderly Chae Hyun-gook, a fascinating, if mostly unknown, figure who financially supported aspects of the democracy movement in the 1970s and 1980s is well worth reading. I liked this:
The worst of all is politicians who are desperate for strife. Ideologies and any other things are not important. They just can’t stand amicable relationships and are in need of discord to be influential.

At the other end of the age scale, I also found these personal looks by a young woman at the influence of her father on her decision to become a journalist and on his work with the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism worth reading.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Is the time of overpasses over?


A Donga Ilbo editorial about the demolition offers more information about late 1960s development plans as well as this: "The city government of Seoul has decided to open Ahyeon Overpass to the public from 11 am to 4 pm on Feb. 8 before demolition."

Original post: 

The Joongang Ilbo reports on the demolition of the Ahyeon Overpass, Korea's first overpass, which was built in 1968, so that it can be replaced with a bus lane.
The old overpass symbolized Korea’s rapid modernization, triggered by a huge increase in transportation infrastructure from the 1960s to 1980s. A total of 101 overpasses were built in Seoul during that period.

But these days, many of the roadways built during that time have worn down and are widely considered to be blights on the urban landscape. Since the early 2000s, urban planners have adopted a more sustainable and passenger-friendly approach, taking aesthetics into consideration.

In 2002 alone, 15 overpasses were taken down.[...]

Seoul’s decision to transform Seobu Highway, a main arterial road, into an underground road partly reflects a shift from the past.

The Seoul city government is now considering demolishing other dilapidated overpasses, including the one near Seoul Station. It has already decided to close the Seodaemun Overpass in Seodaemun District.

Acknowledging the overpass’s historical significance, the city government will allow citizens to come and walk along the overpass on Saturday before it is completely demolished.
Just in case you had no plans for Saturday...

Not all overpasses were so unsightly, however. Here is what Samgakji Rotary used to look like between 1968 and 1994:

As this blog post (the source of the above photo) notes, the rotary was also connected with trot singer Bae Ho's 1966 song 'Doraganeun Samgakji (돌아가는 삼각지),' which can be heard here, and which is also referenced in some of the older restaurants in the area.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Seoul's modernizing skyline... in 1897

On February 23, 1897, the Independent published this article about Seoul's changing skyline:

What's interesting about that article is that one gets the idea that a 'Europeanized' 'foreign settlement' with 'European buildings' was an accoutrement that Seoul - and Korea- needed in order to be truly modern.

As for the buildings referenced, the French Legation was located on what is now the grounds of Ewha Girls' High School in Jeong-dong. The 'new Cathedral in Chonghen (?)' refers, of course, to Myeong-dong Cathedral, while "another Catholic Church in Yakhen" is Yakhyeon Catholic Church, near Seoul Station.

The Russian legation once looked like this, but now only the tower stands (see here).

The British Legation still stands today, while the long-gone customs building stood near the old Shin-a Ilbo Building, according to a nearby plaque. The "New Methodist Church in Chongdong" still stands today as Chungdong First Methodist Church, while a later building from the 'Methodist School' [Paichai Hakdang] still exists today as the Appenzeller/Noble Museum (the building standing at the time of the Independent article can be seen here). The Japanese consulate (which was built in 1895 and stood on the northern slope of Namsan) can be seen here (fourth photo).

I've written about the Jeong-dong area before. Though Seoul may have been modernizing, neither that, nor the declaration that Korea was an empire later in 1897, saved Korea from being colonized by Japan. An interesting book being published this spring is Todd Henry's Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945; an excerpt of the book can be read at the link. I imagine the book will incorporate some of his earlier writings about colonial Seoul, including "Respatializing Choson's Royal Capital: The Politics of Japanese Urban Reforms in Early Colonial Seoul, 1905-1919," a chapter in the book Sitings: Critical Approaches to Korean Geography. This chapter has a fascinating map showing the Japanese government's original plans for colonial Seoul, which included streets radiating out from a plaza along present-day Euljiro. The plan was never carried through, but one city in which such a plan was carried out is Jinhae; a 1946 map of the city can be found here (first result). Right next to Jinhae is Masan (actually, both cities were incorporated into Changwon a few years ago); here is a post about Masan's first modern buildings.